Hmm. I was about to say I also write political speeches, but I think that counts as ‘writing’. I do also teach other people how to write for children and teenagers, but I’m going to be honest and say there is very little I do that isn’t related to books. I get very twitchy when I’m not writing something, and days when I don’t put something down on paper / computer / the notebook in my head are few and far between. I do however bake a mean brownie, and can ice skate, juggle and bicycle with no hands.
Do you listen to music when you’re working – or does it interfere?
I have to have something on in the background when I’m working. It comes from years of working in very noisy TV and radio newsrooms and government offices where we always had at least three TV channels on at once. Now I either work in cafes, or I put on 6music and let it disappear into a general background hubbub. I have been known to write to daytime telly – the kind that’s so dull you won’t get distracted.
On desert Island discs, Malcolm Gladwell said it’s much easier to make people laugh than cry – agree or disagree?
Agree. For me, anyway. I found a talent for making people laugh at a fairly young age, mainly as a) a way of making me interesting and b) if you can make bullies laugh they tend to leave you alone. Yes, I was that kid. Now I use humour even in heartbreaking stuff. I think it throws people a little, so when you hit them with the sad stuff it hits harder.
Cat or dog?
Neither. I’m more of a goat / monkey kind of girl – stemming from my desire to be either Heidi or Pippi Longstocking. I begged for a goat for years but the closest I got was working on our school’s farm. Now I have three Dumbo rats living in my basement. By choice, although they are going to be threatened with eviction if they poo on my shouder again.
When you’re reading for pleasure, what kind of books will grab you? Anything you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?
The best books for me are all about the voice, so I tend to read first person books with a distinctive tone or accent to them, and preferably a bit oddball and contemporary. So anything by Frank Cottrell Boyce works or Jenny Valentine works for me, and I love Tamsyn Murray’s new one Completely Cassidy.
And how does that compare to the books you were reading when you were 12?
When I was twelve, there weren’t that many books written actually for us, so once I’d graduated from Heidi and things like The Famous Five I moved on to adult books by Daphne du Maurier, and Stephen King. It wasn’t until Adrian Mole was first published in about 1983 that I really read and loved a proper ‘Middle Grade’ book – one written for people like me and about people like me.
Were you a library child?
A lot of books I hocked from my Grandma’s bookcases on long hot summers or rainy winters in Cornwall. But back home I lived in the library, getting dropped off there early on a Saturday morning and left on my own while my dad did the shopping. By the age of ten I’d exhausted the children’s section and was allowed free rein (to an extent) of the adult room, which is where I first read John Wyndham and HG Wells at a very impressionable age, along with the Molesworth books, which have stayed with me ever since and are an influence on my sense of humour and writing.
Thinking of the 12 year old Joanna – what kind of child were you?
I was exactly what you’d imagine a writer to have been: a bookish child, with a strong hint of nerd (and smell of school goat). I’ll sum up what life was like in that library for the 12-year-old me with a quote from Andy Robb’s brilliant Geekhood: ‘This is what libraries are to Geeks – sanctuaries where we can all lurk, safe in the knowledge that the only other inhabitants here are fellow worshippers. The silence is misleading, though, for if you listen carefully, you can hear nerdy spirits all singing together in a yearning for Something Other – to be like the heroes in books, to win the hearts of simpering heroines, to smite mighty foes. To be anything other than a Geek. But rather than being sad or forlorn places, libraries are the temples in which Geeks can briefly attain those goals, their souls soaring in snatches of printed glory.’
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Not a writer. I was far too busy, like the quote suggests, imagining I was IN the books. And I honestly grew up with no other plan than having a life so amazing one day someone would write a book about it. It took a lot of years and wrong turns (lifeguard, juggler, radio newsreader to name but a few) to realize that was probably never going to happen so maybe I should get on and write some of my own.
If you had to choose a last meal – what would it be?
I have an irritating condition which means I can’t eat a lot of foods anymore, so, given I wouldn’t be around to suffer the painful consequences, I’d go for several slices of toasted white bloomer bread, heavily buttered and topped with Marmite.
Jo Nadin is the pen behind the Rachel Riley Series and the Penny Dreadful series. Her most recent book is Joe All Alone – You can read an extract here. And a review, here.