Hilary Freeman has been busy. She has a new book out, When I Was Me, and she has a young baby daughter, who very kindly agreed to go for a walk with her Dad so her Mum could answer my questions. I like that in a child; an understanding that occasionally literature has to come first, like maybe 2% of the time. So here’s Hilary, sharing some of her secrets with us:
How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?
None: I’m the luckiest person in the world because my very first novel was published. Piccadilly Press approached me on the strength of my journalism and teen agony aunt work, and asked me to pitch some book ideas. They liked the outline for Loving Danny, asked me to develop it, and commissioned it based on just one chapter. I am incredibly grateful for that break. I’m not sure I’d ever have had the confidence to send anyone my fiction writing, if that hadn’t happened.
Best place for inspiration?
By the sea. I find it hypnotic and calming. It really helps to clear my mind and let me focus.
Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?
I would consider it, if there was a good reason, and I have been involved in a couple of ghost writing projects. But I do like having my own name on the front of a book, partly as an up-yours to anyone who put me down in the past.
As a journalist, I often masquerade as celebrities when I write first-person articles with them. Once I had to choose a pseudonym for a national newspaper because I had several articles in the same edition. I chose Sue Denim, thinking they’d just laugh and tell me to choose another. But they didn’t get the joke, and printed it. I later learned that when Kylie Minogue checks into hotels, she calls herself Sue Denim!
What would you never write about?
There’s nothing I wouldn’t write about (now there’s a challenge). When I trained to be a journalist I was taught that a good writer is able to write about any subject. You just need to do the research and ask the right questions… Which is how I ended up writing about insurance (yawn) early on in my career. It’s the same with novels. Of course, it helps a lot if you’re interested in the subject matter. I failed my maths O-level and gave up physics at 14, but I tackled quantum physics in When I was Me.
Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?
Will you allow me to be sentimental? I’m going to say, my baby daughter Sidonie, who is now just 10 weeks old. If I hadn’t taken myself away on writing retreats to Nice in France, I wouldn’t have met my partner Mickael, who worked in the apart hotel where I stayed, and we wouldn’t have had Sidonie. So in a roundabout way, she’s the result of my writing.
Which of your characters would you most like to be?
That’s a tricky one, because most of my characters go through difficult times or have big flaws, so I wouldn’t really want to be any of them. Rosie from The Celeb Next Door probably has the most fun, so maybe her. And, of course, Naomi in Loving Danny is semi-autobiographical, so I’ve already been her.
Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?
I think it would be fantastic. I love film as a medium, and the way I write is probably influenced as much by films as by books. Then, of course, there’s the money and the publicity too, which would attract new readers. To be honest, I can’t really think of a downside. So if anyone is reading this…
What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?
At a school visit in London, a girl asked me: ‘Have you ever met Nicki Minaj?’ (In case you don’t know, she’s a very loud American pop star.) I haven’t.
Do you have any unexpected skills?
I’m not sure what people would expect of me… I’m afraid I have no special talents (that are printable) but I do love a karaoke session. Once I get going, it’s hard to stop me. And I’ve been told that I can, surprisingly, be quite scary (not when singing Karaoke, I hope, but when I’m angry).
The Famous Five or Narnia?
Definitely Narnia. I loved those books when I was a child and there’s actually a little reference to Narnia in my new book, When I was Me. The idea of a magical world at the back of the wardrobe really fired up my imagination. I wasn’t allowed to read Enid Blyton as a kid – the only censorship my parents ever practised. They let me read anything on their vast bookshelves, but not Blyton.
Who is your most favourite Swede?
This is where I’m meant to say someone dark and brooding from a Swedish crime drama, right? I’m afraid my answer is far less cool. I love Abba (remember the karaoke) – all four of them – and actor Alexander Skarsgård is yummy.
How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?
I’m quite a messy person and my books are not arranged in any particular order. They’re shoved wherever they will fit. In fact, the bookshelves are so overfilled that they’re now bowing, and there are piles of books on the floor in several rooms. That’s why I really only buy e-books these days.
Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?
I’d give him a book that appealed to an interest he was passionate about, such as football. In fact, I once contributed a short story to a book called Football Shorts (Walker), which was aimed at encouraging literacy in young boys, and which contains stories by both children’s authors and footballers.
If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?
What an impossible choice. They go together like rhubarb and custard, one making the other sweeter and one, sharper. I keep changing my mind but I think it would have to be writing because the urge to express myself in words is like an itch. Although I guess I could speak the words out loud instead. Would that be cheating?
A big thank you to Ms Denim, and if you must sing Mamma Mia non-stop, please do it somewhere else. You’ll wake the baby.