Guest Post: Catherine Bruton on Pop! Part 1

It’s my pleasure today to host Catherine Bruton, author of Young Adult novels We Can Be Heroes and, her latest book, Pop!  Catherine has written a couple of fantastic posts for me about how Suzanne Collins pipped her at the post and how Pop! came to be.  Thanks Catherine!

Why I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’  – or how Reality TV and the novel have been getting it on for years!

I should have written ‘The Hunger Games’! No,  seriously,  it should have been me!   Suzanne Collins – Schmollins.  I should be topping those best seller lists and tripping down the red carpet to film premieres (although I haven’t a thing to wear!)  Cos  it was my idea, you know!  Well, sort of… I mean, I totally… practically… well almost thought of exactly the similar-ish plot.

OK, here’s how it was:  I’d been reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ whilst watching ‘The X Factor’  (yes, at the same time – I know, weird)  and I thought,  ‘Oooh! I should write a novel about a reality TV show where the contestants have to kill each other.’  I got a little way into plotting it too  (I have the notes in an old ideas book which I unearthed recently  in order to prove myself that I had basically written a best seller – sort of) but  then I remembered that I don’t much like blood. Or gory bits in books. Or killing off my characters really. And I’m rubbish at writing dystopian fiction.  And that’s as far as it got.

Only it didn’t – not really. Cos The Reality TV bit stayed with me, nagged at me – in that way certain plot lines tend to do. I think  it was Frank Cottrell Boyce who said that some plots  hunt you down, relentlessly   – like a predator, on your tail night and day until you get them onto paper. And that’s what this one did for me.  And as it went along it got muddled up with a load of other stuff:  oil refinery strikes and  kids with Olympic dreams and ‘Shameless’  and ‘Billy Elliot’ and Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ via  Richard Armitage (him from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!) and ‘Glee’ and my sister making me pierce her ear with a fish-finger and my friends and I starting a girl band when we were seven  (we made dresses out of bin-liners) …  and somehow my ‘Hunger Games’ turned into a totally different novel which  eventually became ‘Pop!’ It’s still about Reality TV  – after  all it was the perfect cover for my BGT/ X Factor obsession – and it’s even got a love triangle but more it’s more  ‘Millions’ than ‘Mockinjay’. Less murder and more mayhem and madness , basically!

Cos I might be a bit too much of an optimist to  write dystopia but I do love a bit of Talent TV. OK I admit it – I’m a Talent TV addict. In fact some of the key moments of my life I associate with Talent TV. Novels got me through childbirth (yes, seriously: ‘Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix’ for child no 1 – it was a long labour – and ‘Wives and Daughters’ for child no. 2 – I still haven’t finished it!) but  ‘Pop Idol 2003’ (and ‘Pop Idol Extra’) got me through the new baby sleepless nights phase and ‘BGT’ was there for me the day  my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Stavros Flatley – better than Valium. God bless those little chubby river-dancers!

And I’m going to go  out on a limb here and declare that the editors of shows like ‘The X Factor’ and ‘BGT’ are some of the best story-tellers around today.  Yes, storytellers. Think of those perfect narrative arcs they script for the characters (sorry contestants); the heart-rending back stories; the will- they won’t they moments; the rollercoaster rides;  the butterfly from the cocoon makeovers; the nail-biting cliffhangers; the tearjerking  goodbyes and the edge-of-you-seat grand finales. It’s fictional gold dust!

Yes, there’s an element to which the editors have to relinquish control of their scripts to the voting public, but if you ask me that’s just a bit like one of those ‘fighting fantasy’ adventures – you know the ones you read when you were a kid (if you were a kid in the eighties, like me!) where you get a choice what to do at the end of each chapter. But the thing was that no matter what you chose they’d scripted a possible outcome for you – just like they’ve got every possible ending lined up in the Talent TV the edit suite, ready to roll out when the phone lines close. Honestly, those Talent TV bods know how to write a good story – and that’s what gets me hooked every time!

But I wanted to invent a kid who could see the narrative clichés of Talent TV and set out to exploit them. So my main character, Elfie Baguley, reckons she knows the ‘Rules of Talent TV’  inside out.   Her  useless –good-for-nothing mum is celeb obsessed  – and she watches so much Fame TV Elfie’s sussed out the ‘winning formula’.   So when she and her mates decide the only way to sort out their rubbish lives is to enter ‘Pop to the Top!’ (my fictionalised – and barely disguised –  version of The X Factor’!)   Elfie knows exactly how to ensure they get all the way to final – and if that means making up the odd whopping great lie and landing her best mates in a whole load of trouble along the way then  what can you do?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Catherine’s guest post tomorrow.  Pop! is out now in NZ so grab a copy from your library or bookshop.

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