So, you know how there are those girls that you just totally dig? The girls that rock and rule at everything they do?
Sarra Manning is one of those girls. Now, I could be a complete girl o\’ gush about this awesome writer-girl, but I\’ve already done that here, so instead, I\’ll be extremely professional and journo-like and tell you that Sarra Manning, author-girl supremo of the Diary of a Crush series, Let\’s Get Lost, Guitar Girl and the most recent Fashionista series, has just released her first book for grown-up girls, Unsticky, and I\’m not going to lie&it\’s a bit freakin\’ good.
I\’m not the kind of girl who tells people what to do, but you HAVE to read this book. Really, you do, but come meet Sarra first, I guarantee you\’ll put her on your â€˜Girls who Rock and Rule\’ list too.
So Miss Sarra, you know I\’ve got a whole lot of love for your teen books, so I\’m beyond excited that Unsticky is for grown-up girls – tell us ALL about it!
It\’s the story of 23-year-old Grace Reeves who\’s the fashion assistant on a British glossy magazine. On the surface she has a cool job, lives in London and does all sorts of glamorous things, but scratch beneath that and she\’s tens of thousands of pounds in debt, can\’t stay in a relationship and has been stuck in the fashion cupboard for two years. So when she meets a wealthy art dealer called Vaughn who asks her to be his mistress for a monthly retainer and a clothing allowance, she thinks all her prayers have been answered. Except, of course, the trouble is only just beginning.
The idea for Unsticky came from an E M Forster quote, a focus group I attended when I worked as a magazine consultant, and something I witnessed at Los Angeles airport when I was on a press trip for ELLE.
The book starts with Grace getting spectacularly dumped in public on her birthday – not cool – do you draw on personal experiences when writing?!
I\’ve never been dumped on my birthday or in Liberty\’s, but there are always things from my own life that I draw on when I\’m writing a book. Sometimes it can be just the most random vignette that happened 20 years ago that suddenly pops into my head. With Unsticky, Grace was definitely living in the same unheated bedsit in Archway that I lived in when I left University. Right down to ironing my sheets before I got into bed and the water in the toilet bowl freezing over!
Sarra, your writing style isn\’t exactly chick lit, is it? Yet, Unsticky may be catagorised as that on book shelves – how do you feel about that? In fact, how do you feel about the term â€˜chick lit\’ in general?
I have no problem being categorised as chick-lit, especially if it encourages people to pick up and buy my book, who may not have noticed it otherwise. I\’m a female writer who always has a female protagonist in some kind of romantic entanglement and though I hope that my stories and characters are always a little dark and quirky, that is pretty much the definition of what chick-lit is. Which is cool, it means Jane Austen wrote chick lit too!
How does a story start for you?
Usually I get the germ of an idea and I let it percolate for a couple of years so that when I start writing it, it\’s already fully plotted and fleshed out in my head â€“ I even have huge chunks of dialogue all worked out. Weirdly though, I went swimming the other week (I do all my best thinking while doing laps) and I got an idea for a teen book. By the time I\’d done my 130 lengths, I had the title, characters, plot, sub-plot and brand extensions. That doesn\’t happen very often!
You write awesome teen books, did you always want to write for both adults and teens, and does the writing process differ at all?
Always. Both seemed like an absolute impossible dream for a long time. Then when I started writing teen books, writing grown-up books seemed like an even more impossible goal; as if I\’d managed to trick people into thinking I could write teen novels, but no way would anyone fall for it a second time. The process is pretty much the same in how I plan out and plot, but the actual writing of Unsticky was really hard. It took two years and umpteen drafts plus actual tears before I had a partial manuscript ready to be sent out. The problem was that I write very grown-up teen fiction so when I came to write Unsticky, the change in my writing was more subtle and nuanced. I think it would have been easier if it had been a very big leap in style. And I had to remember that I wasn\’t writing about a sulky teenager anymore but a sulky twenty-something and they don\’t tend to have screaming rows in department stores and flounce about so much.
Sarra, you gave me my first gig on the best teen girl magazine ever, J17 and have been a total inspir-o-girl ever since, was there a book or an author that inspired you to write?
Aw, thank you for that! I\’ve always loved reading and always wanted to be a writer so I\’ve always had authors that I loved, but I think what inspired me to write was that I\’ve had really wonderful female mentors all the way through my writing life. From my English teacher, Miss Hill, who\’d lend me her own books to wonderful editors like Sarah Bailey who gave me my first job on Just Seventeen to Ally Oliver who commissioned Diary Of A Crush to my first agent, the late Kate Jones who saw something in me that I couldn\’t see myself.
Who\’s your favourite female fictional heroine?
It would be impossible to pick just one! Reality Nirvana from Fabulous Nobodies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Elizabeth Bennett, the provincial lady from E M Delafield\’s Diary Of A Provincial Lady, Sara Crewe& I could go on and on and on and on&
What\’s the best book you\’ve ever read and why?
Again, there are too many to just go for one! I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that the minute I send off my answers, I\’ll think of another book that is my best ever book and spend days castigating myself.
What\’s a typical day in the life of Sarra?
I get up around 9-ish (how I ever managed to get to work for 9.30-ish, I\’ll never know.) I spend an hour coming to with the application of museli and coffee, check my email, read the Guardian website and my blog feeds. Then I go the gym for a couple of hours because I\’m not a morning person, I lead a very sedentary life and I do a lot of book thinking while I\’m sweating buckets on the elliptical trainer.
I stop at Sainsbury\’s on the way home to say hi to Joyce, my favourite cashier, and stock up on supplies. Then shower, more coffee, I answer emails and make phone calls, do my invoicing and if I\’m doing freelance journalism I\’ll work on a piece.
I have lunch around 3 and hope I have an episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen saved on my Sky+ TV planner. It\’s now about 3.30 and I start writing. Or I open my current book document and stare it, interspersed by much playing of Scramble on Facebook, Twittering, bidding on stuff I don\’t need on eBay.
By about 6, I\’m writing properly. I have dinner at 8.30, then I write and faff about until 11.30-ish, when I have an hour of watching TV before I go to bed.
I do other more exciting things but this is pretty much a typical, boring, chock full of procrastination day.
What\’s your motto for life?
Life is hard for dreamers&
Quick Fire Round: What\’s your favourite:
- City: London
- Food: Roast chicken and my sister\’s roast potatoes.
- Magazine: New York
- Website: www.Jezebel.com
- Shop: Liberty\’s
- Holiday destination: Cornwall or New York
What\’s next in the world o\’ Sarra?
Just finishing my next teen novel, Nobody\’s Girl, which is out in February 2010. Then I\’m writing Lightweight, my next grown-up book, but in between I\’m banging out a huge, detailed synopsis of the teen book I thought of in the swimming pool, doing some freelance work, pitching some TV and film stuff and hoping that I might get to Paris at some stage this year. Also that I earn enough money to fix my leaking roof.
Sarra\’s new book Unsticky is on Australian shelves now: $29.99