Likely to appeal to fans of Jacqueline Wilson, Cathy Cassidy or Annabel Pitcher, Dandelion Clocks is Rebecca’s debut novel and I recently caught up with her to ask a few questions about her first book, her inspiration and what she has planned next.
FCBG: Happy publication day! How does it feel to have your first book published?
Rebecca Westcott: Thank you! I’m so excited that Dandelion Clocks is actually going to be out there – it feels quite unbelievable. I can’t begin to imagine what it will feel like to walk into a shop and see it on a shelf but I suspect I will make a fool of myself the first time it happens. Waterproof mascara might be necessary. The whole process of going from writing for fun to having a book published has been really incredible and a real eye-opener. Each stage has added something extra, from the support of my lovely agent, Julia Churchill, to the sensitive, thoughtful editing experience, to the creation of an amazing cover – I had no idea before how much of a team effort it is to create a book and the fantastic team at Puffin have enabled me to do something that I certainly could not have done alone. I don’t know how many people it takes to create a book, but I do know it’s a lot!
FCBG: Could you tell us more about ‘Dandelion Clocks’…
Rebecca Westcott: 11-year-old Liv is having a rough time. Her life is full of rules, most of which exist to help her older brother, Isaac. Isaac has Asperger’s Syndrome and needs rules to help him make sense of everyday life. Then, Mum and Dad start acting strangely. Mum keeps trying to teach Liv new things, like how to cook Spaghetti Bolognese and giving her top tips for dealing with friendships. Liv starts to understand that something is going on at home but she isn’t sure what.
Then, Mum gives Liv her old diaries and tells her that while it won’t always be easy for Liv to talk to Mum, she hopes that the diaries will remind Liv that she isn’t on her own.
As the awfulness of their situation starts to dawn on Liv, she turns to Mum’s diaries for comfort and advice, striving to do as Mum has asked and live life loudly.
FCBG: So what was your inspiration for Liv’s story?
Rebecca Westcott: One day in the spring of 2012 I stumbled across an old box in the back of a cupboard in our house. Inside the box were lots of letters and cards and random things that I had kept since I was a child. There was also a stack of my old diaries, ranging from when I was 8 years old to 21 years old. I started to read them and was horrified at how embarrassing and cringe-worthy the entries were! I started talking with my children about what it would have been like if it had been them that had discovered the diaries when I was no longer around. We also had lots of conversations about what would be in their memory boxes – what would they choose to keep to remind them about who they really were?
One day, talking in the garden with my daughter who was then 10 years old, we came up with the idea for a story about a girl who discovers more about her mum from her mum’s old diaries. I raced inside, started writing, and six weeks later, writing after school in the evenings and at weekends, the first, very rough draft of Dandelion Clocks existed! Some of the diary entries in the book are based on my own diaries.
FCBG: Wow, that sounds fascinating. Canyou give us a sneak peek from the book?
“I open up the box and pull out the first book. It looks really battered. The front cover is all creased and there’s a stain that looks like it might once have been Weetabix. The title says “My Secret File: A Do-It-Yourself Dossier For Your Darkest Thoughts” and the price on the back says 95p. Crikey – it must be old then – you can’t buy anything for 95p nowadays.
I open it up. The first page says My Vital Statistics and is full of fascinating (not!) facts about Mum, like she weighed 5 stone and had size 2 feet and brown eyes. Nothing remotely interesting here, then. The next page is pretty similar – she’d written that her nickname was ‘Rat’ and that she was eight years and two months old. Her handwriting is terrible – I can’t believe she has the nerve to have a go at me for writing sloppily. I can barely read what she’s written in some places! I flick through and then find this page:
– MY PETS: Rover, my fish
– MY FAVOURITE BOOK: All the Famous Five
– MOST USELESS THING I OWN: My Little Pony
– HOW MUCH POCKET MONEY I GET EACH WEEK: None
– HOW MUCH I’D LIKE TO GET: 50 pounds.
– NOW A SERIOUS ANSWER: 10p
– IF I HAD £100 I’D BUY: A big doll
– FAVOURITE FOOD: Angel Delight & Fish Fingers
– BEST RECORDS: Culture Club, Adam and the Ant
– I AM TALENTED AT: Licking my nose.
Hahaha! Mum had a My Little Pony! She is always telling me what a tomboy she was and that she spent all her time playing outside and climbing trees and helping out in the garden – and it turns out that all she actually wanted was a ‘big doll’? What a waste of £100. If I had £100 I’d buy a new iPod or loads of iTunes vouchers or a touch screen phone. What was she thinking?
I’m a bit concerned about her lack of ambition as well. Settling for 10p a week pocket money? Seriously? I know stuff was cheaper back then but that’s taking the mickey – what could she possibly have bought with 10p? I suppose she could have saved up for six weeks and treated herself to a Mars Bar – she really loves them!
I’ve never actually heard of the bands she’s written down but that isn’t particularly surprising cos I haven’t heard of any of the music that she listens to now either. It’s always really embarrassing whenever she takes me and Alice anywhere in the car – she goes on about developing our musical education and then puts on a load of rubbish that nobody would ever want to listen to.
I return the book to the box and slide the whole thing into my wardrobe, pushing it to the back. It’s just as I thought – funny, but irrelevant to me in every way.”
FCBG: So what next?
Rebecca Westcott: My second book, Violet Ink, is out on 3rd July 2014. It tells the story of two girls, 12-year-old Izzy and her 17-year-old sister, Alex. Izzy adores Alex and wants to be just like her. Alex is beautiful and popular and everyone loves her – she’s all the things that Izzy thinks she can never be. Even when Grandpa starts behaving in a worrying way and keeps disappearing, Izzy knows that Alex will always be there to look out for her.
But then Alex gets a new boyfriend and things start to change. For the first time ever, Izzy begins to wonder if she can trust Alex or if maybe, Alex is breaking the sister code and not telling Izzy the whole truth.
Like ‘Dandelion Clocks’, this is a really personal story for me. Alex writes letters home in her distinctive violet ink – and I based some of her writing on letters that my Granny gave to me, written by my mum before I was born.
FCBG: Thank you Rebecca. Many congratulations on your debut publication day!
Rebecca Westcott was born in Chester. She went to Exeter University to train as a teacher and has had a variety of teaching jobs that have taken her to some very interesting places, including a Category C male prison. She started writing a diary when she was eight years old, although she had no idea that one day her entries would be used to help her write a book. Rebecca currently teaches in a primary school and lives in Dorset with her husband and three children. Dandelion Clocks is her first book.