Who is your favorite character from My Invisible Boyfriend?
The real answer will give away too much – so I will say Betsy, the owner of the Little Leaf Cafe, and Heidi’s boss. She’s like a big sister, providing encouragement, advice, and savage mockery. (I have 3 big sisters. I know what they’re like with the savage mockery.)
Why did you choose to incorporate that feeling of being the odd one out? I've lived in 6 different countries, so I know how I can empathize with Heidi =)
6 countries, blimey! I stayed in just the one place and still felt lost. Heidi’s situation makes it a million times harder – moving from school to school, having teacher-parents – but I think every teenager feels like the odd one out, at least some of the time. I work at an international boarding school, and our students all struggle with being away from home, and integrating into a different culture. That’s what Heidi doesn’t realize: even if they seem so much more confident and self-assured, all her friends have the same insecurities.
Why did you integrate the concept of having a fake boyfriend?
I had this mental picture of a girl who worked in a cute, quirky cafe, and I wanted to write something romantic and fluffy that went with it. Then I realised that all my favourite boys didn’t exist: I tend to conduct my longest romances with fictional heroes, the kind that have spaceships or solve crime in the 1930s, and that gave me Gingerbread Ed on a plate.
What do you personally think about the concept and idea of popularity?
It’s brutal. Seriously, it’s like Carrie out there in the real world. Social networks where people get to literally add up how many friends they have: a world where ‘footballer’s wife’ is seen as a valid career option, because it brings attention with it – it’s all so depressing, especially for young women. It all takes up so much time, so much mental energy.
Which character do you resonate most with, in My Invisible Boyfriend?
Heidi’s geekiness is very ‘me’, but my teenage self connects most with Fili, Heidi’s suddenly-absent best friend. She’s this secretive girl, who enjoys being theatrically doom-laden, but half-wishes she could just be happy, even if she’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe to match. Her playing Feste/Pierrot in the musical is definitely me playing vicarious dress-up: we studied Twelfth Night at school and I always loved that character.
What was the message that you tried to get across to your readers with My Invisible Boyfriend?
There are a few, I suppose: the obvious is the old ‘what a fearful web we weave’ business, because once Heidi starts to lie, she can’t seem to stop. I wanted to show a few different versions of romance too: like a mini Love Actually, minus Hugh Grant and that unsettling sense of nausea. But it’s really about friendship, trust, and self-esteem. Heidi’s got friends who love her for the person she is, not who they imagine she’s going out with – and she needs to be just as good a friend in return. It’s a romance, but ultimatelyI think the most important relationships in the story are those between the friends.
The premise of My Invisible Boyfriend is quite unique. How did the idea bloom?
I mentioned it to my writing group and suddenly people were confessing to fake teenage boyfriends all over! That’s when I knew it was something other people would ‘get’.
What would you have done if you were in Heidi's place?
I am THE worst liar in the world. No exaggeration: my face is too expressive, people can read my mind right away. Personally I’d have been inventing an invisible girlfriend – but there’s no way I’d be able to keep up the pretence!
How did the title My Invisible Boyfriend come to be?
The UK title is Girl Meets Cake, which I think is so cute, but we’d been through hundreds of alternatives to get there, so when my US editor said she fancied something different, we had plenty to pick from. Titles are impossibly tricky, honestly.
The cover is really cool and creative! Did you have any input in it?
This is so embarrassing, but actually I wasn’t keen at first (I believe ‘why are they in an Indian takeaway in 1972?’ was the phrase). This is why I write the insides and leave Talented Designer People to do that bit. Heidi is so not that pretty - and she would totes never layer lemon and turquoise, dahling! - but it’s an adorable cover.
What's the most interesting thing a reader has ever said to you?
I had an email from a 12-yr-old who’d read my first book (an adventure story, now out of print), asking if there would ever be a sequel. I told her I was mainly writing for teens now, so maybe she’d enjoy the new stuff, and she firmly and brilliantly informed me that she might when she was a teenager, but right now she was 12 and wanted to read things for 12-yr-olds. I loved that. Not everyone’s in a hurry to grow up.
What’s up next for you book-wise?
Time-travel and birthday wishes! On Poppy’s 14th birthday, she realises she’s a teenage failure – so she wishes herself back to her 13th birthday, to relive the whole year. Think Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls. It’ll be out early 2011 in the UK, and, um, no I can’t tell you the title. (Like I said: titles are tricky.)
Book you've faked reading:
Bleak House by Charles Dickens! It was my first week at university and I just couldn’t get through the bloody thing. I’ve since taught undergraduates trying to bluff their way through Virginia Woolf 101 and discovered quite how obvious it is. OH THE SHAME.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. For a grown-up, literary take on fairies and magic, look no further: that is an amazing book.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, because no one told me about it until I was an adult, and I cannot imagine a teenage girl (the kind who thinks too much and would maybe ever so slightly like to be a writer) who wouldn’t hug it to themselves like a prize.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Great questions, Reggie – and thank you for having me!