As part of the Count Down to 5th June Blog Tour, today I'm interviewing UKYA author Sarah Sky whose debut YA novel, Code Red Lipstick, is being published by Scholastic in the UK on 5th June 2014. Read on for more:
Code Red Lipstick by Sarah Sky - Models, spies and lipstick gadgets in this fast-paced new teen series. Jessica Cole is just your average teenager, except when she's strutting down the glamorous catwalks of Paris. When her father, a former spy, vanishes mysteriously, Jessica takes matters into her own hands. She's not just good at striking a pose, she's going to take on MI6 and beat them at their own game. Following her father's trail, Jessica's investigation lands her hot on the heels of a deranged former supermodel, Allegra Knight, who plans to unleash mayhem on an unsuspecting teenage population with the launch of her new miracle face cream, Teenosity. from Amazon.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a freelance education journalist – Sarah Harris – and over the years have enjoyed interviewing children's authors including J.K.Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson. I live in West London with my husband and two young children. I love martial arts and am a green belt in kick-boxing and a brown belt in karate. I'm way too competitive at table tennis and enjoy reading YA and adult fiction, watching Game of Thrones and 24 – I’m hugely excited that Jack Bauer’s coming back. I mourned the end of Breaking Bad.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
Yes. As a child I carried a notebook around with me and wrote stories about mice and other creatures. I tried to get my first book, The Moondrop Family, published when I was about seven. I got a really kind rejection letter from a publisher which I was quite chuffed about.
How did you come up with the idea for Code Red Lipstick?
When I first set out in journalism, I trained at the Western Daily Press in Bristol and interviewed quite a few schoolgirl models such as Sophie Anderton who’d won a local modelling competition. I was always interested in finding out how they managed to combine schoolwork and jobs. Years later, I still enjoyed reading about the fashion industry. I also came across a diary that a famous supermodel wrote for a national newspaper about being at Paris Haute Couture Week while still at school. It made me think how those kinds of travel opportunities could open doors to another very different world. A character came into my head – a teenage girl who travelled the world as a model, but also had a secret life that she couldn't share with her friends back home. Jessica Cole, a model spy was born.
If you could describe Code Red Lipstick in three words, what would they be?
Model spy thriller
Why will readers like your main character, Jessica Cole?
She's independent, feisty and fiercely loyal to her friends and family – when her dad disappears and MI6 refuses to help, she takes things into her own hands to get him back. She’s strong, but also has her vulnerabilities. As the series progresses, her secret life starts to take a toll not only on herself but those closest to her.
What research did you have to do for Code Red Lipstick? Was there anything you found that surprised you?
I always cut out articles from magazines and newspapers that I think will make good stories and file them away for a later date. I've got folders full of stuff. I did two very different kinds of research for this particular series – fashion and spying. For fashion, I kept cuttings of interesting modelling shoots and runway shows and made sure I was up-to-date with what was going on in the industry. For spying, I did lots of research on gadgets and trawled the internet for latest spy technology, modern warfare methods and how MI5 and MI6 operate. I attended the Counter Terro Expo at Olympia last year – it was mind-boggling. I was shown how to scale a submarine with grapnels, use facial recognition technology to find a suspect, get rid of a tail in an armoured car and learnt about the biggest terrorist threats to the UK. I can’t wait to go back again this year!
Tell us about how you write; do you write in a particular place? Do you have any music playing? Do you have any must-haves with you while writing?
I always have to start with a cup of coffee. I can’t do anything without that. Then, I either work on the computer in my office upstairs or on my laptop at the dining room table, staring out at the garden and longing to have a game of table tennis. I can work pretty much anywhere - as a journalist you have to - as long as I'm not distracted by the internet. Sometimes I work in cafes. I always carry a notebook around with me so I can write in longhand, typing it up when I get home. That’s the plan, but being a journalist means that my handwriting is appalling as I usually use shorthand. Sometimes it’s hard to read back my scrawl!
What was most surprising to you during the writing process?
That I wasn't afraid to rip up the book and start again. I knew I had to keep going with it and it was actually quite liberating, realising that you can’t always just tinker around at the edges. Sometimes you need to totally rethink what you’re doing. I also found another author's advice useful - that if in doubt about whether to use plot A or B, use plot C. That worked out surprisingly well for me!
How does it feel to know your book will soon be in the hands of readers?
Exciting but also terrifying.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d want to encourage anyone else trying to get published to keep going. I had a very rocky road to publication. I had two four book contracts for my younger fiction and an agent with PFD a few years back. Then everything went wrong. PFD axed its entire children’s department and I lost my agent and to top that, my publisher went into voluntary liquidation. It was devastating to have come so close to publication and never quite making it. I eventually picked myself off the floor and started writing again. I managed to get a new agent with LBA Books and a contract for the Jessica Cole series with Scholastic. I’m so glad I didn't give up. You shouldn't either.
Thank you, Sarah, for such a great interview! What fun researching this series sounds, huh? And how cute to get a rejection letter at 7! Such great advice from Sarah at the end, too! You can find Sarah on Twitter @SarahSky23, and also follow @ScholasticUK.
Be sure to head to The Pewter Wolf tomorrow, where Bea Davenport will be visiting for the next stop on the tour! And thank you to Jim @ Count Down YA for arranging this awesome blog tour!