All my teen books are set in the contemporary world. The stories may contain elements of fantasy (psychic powers in the Medusa Project series) or science fiction (human cloning in the Blood Ties series) but the settings are ‘real’. This doesn’t mean I always use actual place names. Sometimes I make-up names that sound like the sort of town you’d find in a particular area (such as Evanport in Connecticut for Girl, Missing) but that’s just so that I’m not tied to the geography of a particular location.
I have huge admiration for authors who create worlds from the ground up, whether they’re writing fantasy stories where the settings are born out of their imaginations or whether they’re creating historical narratives demanding a gruelling level of patient research. For me, the fun is mostly in the writing, and using our own, ordinary world as the backdrop to often extraordinary events makes it easy to orientate my readers with references to the types of buildings, brand names and local customs we are all familiar with.
Sometimes, of course, my characters venture outside London and when that happens I’m often relying on my memory to supply places that I can describe convincingly. I’ve visited Spain on holiday many times (and, when I was 18, as an au pair) and Spanish is the one foreign language where I know a few words and phrases that I can use in my stories. I deployed my memories of Spain when I was writing Three’s a Crowd – largely set in a hotel in Mallorca – and also The Rescue, though I have never lived in a boot camp in the desert!
Sometimes I write about locations I have recently spent time in. I was working on Blood Ties during a visit to my brother, who lives in Washington D.C. in the United States. My memories of M Street in Georgetown and the Lincoln Memorial were both very strong when I wrote the scenes set there. I wrote Blood Ransom shortly after a spate of book tours in beautiful Scotland. Roslinnon, where Rachel has been relocated, and the mysterious Isle of Calla are made-up, but I have seen places that look very like them.
Although I am based in London I have friends and family who live on the South Coast of England. When I wrote Sister, Missing, I created a place called Norbourne as the location for the holiday home Lauren is staying in at the start of the story – and the beach where her sister goes missing. Norbourne is loosely based on Westbourne, near Bournemouth. I changed the name because the references are not exact – but when I was writing about the pizza restaurant which Lauren visits when she’s trying to track down the boy who stopped her on the beach I was totally imagining the seafront restaurant Vesuvio in Alum Chine!
I love the trailer my publishers made for Sister, Missing. It wasn’t filmed in the precise place I’d imagined the story happening, but it absolutely captures the sandy beach and row of beach huts of my imagination.
A lot of my stories feature North London, where I now live. Ketty has a vision of herself hiding behind a tomb in Highgate Cemetry – a place she later visits for real in The Hostage. Luke and Eve spend time in Waterlow Park in Six Steps to a Girl while Flynn and River meet in Priory Park in Falling Fast. It’s fun referencing these places which I know so well – and very easy to see the characters in my mind’s eye.
Two of my son’s schools have featured in my books: Theo’s school in Blood Ties – which he escapes from over a high wall - was loosely based on my son’s junior school, while a later school was the inspiration for Fox Academy.
My own school, in South-East London, features in Blood Ties. Rachel is possibly the character I felt closest to when writing – so maybe its no surprise that whenever I wrote about her school building I was imagining the school I attended, even down to it being positioned on a hill.
Places I've lived
Places I've visited
MY STORY SETTINGS
Where my ideas come from
Girl, Missing is about Lauren, an adopted 14-year-old girl who suspects she was stolen from her birth family when she was three. Lauren finds a picture of a missing toddler she thinks might be her and goes searching for more information.
This story started when I was browsing the internet and came across a missing children’s website. I saw a picture of a little boy who disappeared when he was a toddler. Alongside this was an age-progressed picture of how, now aged 14, he might look like today. It struck me that if I was looking at this picture, then so might the boy himself, if he were still alive. I imagined him examining the two images of himself and reading the biographical data and wondering… could that be me? And then, I thought, what would he do? What would I do? What would you do? The rest of the story developed from there. Lauren goes in search of the truth about her birth and early years and gets into terrible danger as she discovers more than she bargained for.
I didn’t think there would be a sequel to Girl, Missing for years, then one day I was watching a movie on TV and one small aspect of the plot gave me the seed of an idea for another story about Lauren. Whereas in the first book she is the victim, in Sister, Missing Lauren has to step up and take responsibility for finding her missing younger sister. Again, she has to take huge risks and brave severe dangers to win through.
I had two goals with this series. Firstly, to write about what it might be like to have a psychic ability. I asked all my friends and family which superpowers they would like most, then narrowed the list down to my four favourites: telekinesis, mind-reading, visions of the future and protection from physical harm. Those are the psychic skills which the original Medusa teens develop during the first story. After the first four books I was ready to introduce some new abilities so I asked students at the schools I was visiting which other psychic gifts they’d like to see in print and picked the most popular. Two new characters are introduced in the fifth book, Double-Cross: Cal, who is able to fly, and Amy, who is a shapeshifter.
Secondly, I wanted to write a series with four main characters, each book narrated by a different person. There are six Medusa Project novels. Books one and five are told from Nico’s point of view. Books two, three and four are narrated respectively by Ketty, Ed and Dylan. The sixth book, Hit Squad, is told by each of them in turn. It was a lot of fun telling the stories from these different perspectives. Ketty was the most problematic, because her ability to predict the future also meant she was liable to give away the plot. Nico was easy (though The Set-Up took the longest to write of any of my books so far) – telekinesis offers many excellent opportunities for action-packed scenes. Ed’s narrative allowed for the most analysis of what was happening in the stories, as Ed himself is such a thoughtful character. My favourite viewpoint to write from, however, was Dylan’s. I enjoyed her because she is funny and spiky and yet so vulnerable underneath her brittle exterior.
Blood Ties and Blood Ransom were planned as a two-book project. I’ve always been fascinated by human cloning – not the science but the emotional and political consequences of creating genetic copies of human beings.
Blood Ties and Blood Ransom grew out of my frustration that, in fiction, most clones feature as unthinking robots set on a destructive path by their evil creators. I wanted to show what the effects on a cloned child of being a genetic copy might be. I also wanted to write an action-packed love story with the chapters alternately narrated by the boy and the girl.
Having said that, the first idea for Blood Ties came when an image of a boy escaping from his bodyguard popped into my head. When I realised the boy didn’t know why he had a bodyguard in the first place, I was hooked and had to work out the rest of his story.
Part of the idea for the first book, Six Steps to a Girl, came from the music I was listening to at the time – a load of old 80s records from when I was a teenager. I imagined a father dying and leaving them to his son as a way of showing that he understood him. The main part of the story – Luke falling in love with an older girl in his sister’s class – was loosely based on something that happened to my brother when he was a teenager. In fact, Luke is quite like my brother and his family is quite like mine was when I was growing up (which, yes, makes me Chloe…!) There are three books in the series because I enjoyed writing from Luke’s point of view so much. Three’s a Crowd and The One and Only weren’t my original titles, but they actually suit the books really well.