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!
I guess ‘Pop!’ is a bit like my previous book ‘We Can be Heroes’ in that it’s silly and madcap and bonkers but underneath all that it’s actually dealing with some pretty serious issues. The whole reason my main characters enter ‘Pop to the Top’ is because it’s the only solution they can think of to the rubbish stuff that’s going on in their lives – or maybe a way to help them forget all that. A strike is dividing the community; Elfie’s mum has run out on the family (again); her dad is on the verge of bankruptcy; and if that happens he’ll lose custody of Elfie and her baby brother too. Winning the prize money is Elfie’s last chance to save her family.
But she needs Agnes if she’s going to do it. If Elfie is the brains behind the operation, Agnes is the talent. The only problem is that the girls’ families are on opposite sides of the strikers/scab divide. Agnes’s family are under attack and ostracized by the whole community so going along with Elfie’s crazy plan is the only way any one will actually talk to her (not in public mind you – like Elfie said, this is strictly business and totally top secret!)
Then there’s Jimmy. Sweet, long-suffering Jimmy who’s been in love with Agnes since they were eight years old. Jimmy’s got his own problems: his dad wants him to be an Olympic swimmer. He reckons everyone should have a dream and this is Jimmy’s apparently. Only sometimes it feels like he’s only doing it to keep his dad happy – and now his dad talking about crossing the picket line to pay for Jimmy’s training and Jimmy has to stop him.
Jimmy gets dragged into Elfie’s ‘Pop to the Top!’ plan because – well, basically because he does whatever Elfie tells him to do – it’s just easier that way. Even if it does mean posing as the teen father of her lovechild and pretending to be in love triangle with Agnes and Elfie – which he sort of is anyway ( not that he is EVER going to admit that to anyone – especially not Elfie!)
Of course I had to watch my step writing about Talent TV. My original judging panel line up for ‘Pop to the Top!’ would have got me sued by Mr Cowell and Co! And the minute I changed my lead judge to a North West Pop Legend who’d headed up a Uber-famous boy band in the 90s what goes and happens? Gary Barlow only gets the top spot at the X Factor. So, can I do that disclaimer bit you always see on films: ‘Any similarity to real event and people is purely coincidence etc etc!’ Cos I love Gary, me! Despite how it might seem when you read the book!
It was a character from George Orwell’s novel who spawned ‘Big Brother’ – the first ever Reality TV show. And now Reality TV is feeding right back into fiction and shaping the way contemporary authors are writing. From ‘The Hunger Games’ and the ‘The Running Man’ to novels like ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece’ ,‘The Money, Stan, Big Lauren and Me’, ‘L. A. Candy’ ‘Strictly Shimmer’ – and loads more – see my list below – Reality TV is such an integral part of our culture that it’s hardly surprising that it should be a topic of interest to contemporary novelists.
And I might be a Talent TV addict, but that doesn’t mean I don’ t think it needs to be mocked a little – OK, more than a little! Or maybe the’ ‘Rules of Talent TV’ that head up every chapter of ‘Pop!’ really are a fool-proof recipe for Talent TV success – perhaps someone should follow them all and see! Only it won’t be me cos I really, really, really can’t sing! And I don’t have any talent really – oh, except writing, obviously (I think I’m meant to say that aren’t I or no one will read my books!)
Anyway, I guess I’m OK with not writing ‘The Hunger Games’. I mean, thank goodness Suzanne Collins did cos they totally rock (I read all three in four days and barely ate, slept or spoke to my children whilst doing so). But I’m so indecisive I’d never have decided between Pet and Gale and I’m so squeamish no one would actually have ever died in the arena. And most importantly, what would I have worn to all those film premieres? I just don’t have the shoes! So perhaps I’m glad I wrote ‘Pop!’ instead. Which is not to say I would mind if any lovely film buff came knocking on my door … in fact, I think it’d make a cracking film you know … call me anytime, Mr Spielberg!