- How old are you, Miss?
- How much do you earn, Miss?
- Do you know JK Rowling / Jacqueline Wilson / David Walliams / any other much more famous author?
But the one that comes up time and time again, often several times in the same session, because, you know, attention span, is: ‘Where do you get your ideas from, Miss?’
I was asked it today at a bookshop signing, and I told the gobsmacked little girl the same as I tell all the other gobsmacked children: Mainly I steal them. Because it’s true. I magpie from everywhere. Bits and bobs and names and words and tiny little seeds. We all do it (even Shakespeare did it), but it’s what we do with it that stops it being plain theft.
In fact there were two eggs of ideas for Birdy. Firstly the name: Birdy Jones. I came across it somewhere (a newspaper perhaps?) and pocketed it (written it in my Book of Ideas), along with the word ‘audacious’ which is a delicious thing in itself. I knew then (about three years ago now) that I wanted to write a book about a girl called The Audacious Birdy Jones. But who was Birdy? I had no idea and tried several out for size: small funny girls, older girls full of swank and swagger, but none seemed to take. Until one day, I was staying in a house by the sea with another writer called Liz Kessler, who lent me a book she’d just read, about someone who thought their dad wasn’t their real dad.
As soon as I got to that bit I stopped reading. What would happen, I wondered, if a much younger girl or boy found their birth certificate, and the man they thought was their father wasn’t on it. What if just said: ‘Unknown’. And so the egg began to incubate with more questions: What if the girl who found it was struggling to work out who she was? What if her real mam had died and she was living with her supposed dad and stepmam? What if she decided to go and find her real dad? And then the final, obvious question: what if the girl was called Birdy Jones? Only she didn’t feel audacious at all. Not yet.
The pigeons came from the film Little Voice. The names of the birds from the 1970s Leeds United line-up. The dad from Game of Thrones (imagine Sean Bean when you’re reading it). And Birdy herself is played by Eleven from Stranger Things, at least in my head (only with a Leeds accent). Little bits of sparkle stolen and shone up and turned into something new.
It’s out on July 12th for 8-12 year olds, and you can pre-order it here.