Q&A with Giovanna Fletcher on Billy and Me Transcript
Tell us about your book
Billy and Me was actually my debut novel and it follows a girl called Sophie May who lives in a little village in Kent. She’s very happy there, she’s got a job in the local teashop, she’s quite reclusive but happy. And along comes Billy, who’s part of this big film crew that are filming in the village and they basically get on very well and he pushes her out of her comfort zones.
Billy and Me looks at the price of fame and having a relationship in the spotlight. What made you draw on this subject?
Well obviously I date someone in the public eye, and have done for a very very long time, so it’s something that I know a lot about. That being said, it’s all fiction. So although I know elements of how she’s feeling, I’ve not been in those situations that she’s in. And I actually think that sometimes writing what you know is great to a certain extent but there has to be a clear definition because otherwise you can actually end up being quite stifled when you’re writing. So yeah, I think it terms of that, it’s a theme that people assume I would write about, I guess. I really enjoyed writing about it and it’s always nice to write something that you do know those feelings. But it’s just put through someone else’s eyes.
Are any of the characters based on people you know?
There’s one character that’s based on someone I know, and that’s Molly. Molly was a huge part of my life growing up, she’s actually called Molly, the real lady is called Molly and this lady is called Molly. And I started working in a florist when I was thirteen, and me and Molly used to work at the front of the shop every Saturday and she was absolutely an amazing lady and that’s definitely who the Molly in this book is based on.
Billy and Me is set in a tiny village in Kent. What made you choose this part of the world as the setting?
I wanted Sophie to live somewhere that was really beautiful and quaint and very British, and Kent is known as the garden of England, and I just thought it was the perfect little setting, idyllic. So that’s why she’s there.
One of the themes of the book is focusing on your dreams and not losing sight of who you are and what you want out of life. What is it about this theme that made you want to write about it?
When I first started writing Billy and Me, I was at a point in my life where I was acting but not quite getting what I wanted, or where I wanted to be with it. And I kind of found writing, and through that another dream was made. I felt like I had control and that I could pursue. So for me actually, it’s funny for me to look back and realise that that was a running theme throughout it, because it’s actually something that I was discovering as I was writing it. Because I think it’s so important to have dreams and to chase them. And to continue moving forward. And not to feel disheartened about things when they might not go your way because there’s always another way.
Sophie suffers from panic attacks and anxiety. Do you ever suffer from stress and anxiety and how do you deal with it?
I think everyone suffers with stress and anxiety on a certain level. Obviously there are times when it’s a bit more overbearing and you can feel quite down and everything. I have a good cry, a good breakdown. Basically I say yes to everything until everything is a bit too much and then I have a good cry and actually realise that everything’s doable. I write some nice lists. Lists always help me, because usually my stress and anxiety comes from having too much on my plate. So if I write lists, I cross them off as I go, and that helps me get through it. Obviously I know it’s not the same for everyone, and there are varying levels of anxiety. I know that lists wouldn’t help Sophie, for instance, but talking about it definitely helps, and realising that you’re not alone. I think there are so many people now talking about their anxiety, because yeah I think a huge part of it is that you feel trapped and you can’t talk about it because you’re on your own. So hearing others talk, I think it’s amazing.
There are some difficult topics like grief and anxiety in the book. Did you find those themes hard to write about?
Yes. I found those topics really, really hard to write. There’s a scene that I can’t really say what it is but later on in the book, that I cried writing it, I cried editing it, I cried re-reading it, I feel like I could cry just thinking about it. For me, I write from the heart, so I kind of try and feel it as I write it, and so it makes it really difficult. I kind of try to use my acting in parts, so even in other books where I’ve got a romantic scene where they’re dancing for instance, I’ll be in my office and kind of dancing and kind of acting it out a little bit. So I think because you kind of put yourself in that position, it’s always really difficult. But then I think that’s why, for me, those scenes work. Because they’ve moved me to the point of crying even years after writing it, so hopefully the readers will be moved by it too.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I didn’t always want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress, and I was acting for a while, it was quite quiet so… I kind of feel that with acting someone else is in control of what you’re doing, if you’re succeeding or if you’re not. And I was always waiting for the phone to ring. So I started this blog as an activity, just sharing positive pictures or quotes and stuff, and I started doing book reviews for Heat magazine. Book reviews on Heat and on my blog. And I met an author and an agent at a book launch, and the agent asked if I’d ever thought about writing myself. And I’d been such a bookworm growing up, I absolutely loved books but I always thought it was something that really intelligent people did, like people that had gone to uni to study English and things like that. I studied acting, no writing involved, I think we did three essays in the whole three years I was there. It seemed like an unrealistic goal. But then I met Dorothy Koomson for lunch one day, and she was just saying to me how everyone says to her when they find out she’s a writer “oh I’d love to be a writer, I’d love to be able to do that” and her big thing that she always said back was “well write then”. If you want to write, write. That’s all you can do. It’s one of those professions where unless you write you can’t get anywhere. And I kind of went home that day and wrote out three different summaries, and I sent those summaries to the agent I’d met, and we picked one of them and I started writing it. And then that became Billy and Me.
Do you think it’s important for teenagers to read? Did you read as a teenager?
I read all the time as a teenager. I read all the time growing up anyway but it really came to life for me when reading Jemima J by Jane Green. I just think she’s a flawed central character, and just realising that there are other people out there – that you don’t have to be perfect. I think maybe a lot of fiction growing up felt that way, and all of a sudden there was this person who was a little bit overweight, who was insecure with how she looked, and I just identified with it completely. And that, I think, it kind of intensified my reading because then I wanted more of books like that and these adult themes. I think reading is so so so important! I think on many levels, not just an intellectual level, but it helps you assess your emotions, I just think it’s wonderful. People need to see past the books they’re given in school. And also, the books that you’re given in school are probably great, it’s because you’re forced to read them and then dissect them beyond even probably what the authors meant for them to be dissected. I think Shakespeare, if he thought that everything was being dissected now he’d be like “oh I wish I’d not written it like that” or “I can’t believe they’re thinking that that means that”. I just hope that a younger generation finds a new joy in reading, and hopefully that’s what the book club is going to help with.
What tips would you give people wanting to pursue a career in writing?
Hmm, write! I’m going to use the advice that Dorothy loosely gave me and just say write. If you want to write, write. Write and read, that’s all you can do.