Hi Giovanna, thanks for speaking to us! The book jacket for Billy and Me is gorgeous and received a lot of praise online! What made you decide to go with this one? Did you have an idea of how it should look in your mind? Were there any other designs that you considered?
I was discussing the cover with my editor when the suggestion of using silhouettes came up. I’d got married a few months before and the invites were laser cut images of my husband and me kissing beneath two trees, woven with items of our ‘story’, so I sent images of that across as it seemed to fit the idea. Sarah Gibb did a fantastic job of turning that into the beautiful image of Sophie and Billy standing in front of the moon with the village below. I loved it instantly. The attention to detail is just magical. I especially love the little sheep and the smoky heart.
The original cover was yellow and blue before it got changed to red, so it’s funny to be going back to blue with the special edition of the book for the Zoella Book Club. I love it.
We’re pretty sure everybody wishes they had someone like Molly in their lives! Where did her character come from? Is she based on anyone you know?
She’s actually based on a woman I used to know called Molly. I worked in my local florist from the age of thirteen and Molly and I used to work at the front of the shop. I had the horrible job of cleaning out dirty buckets, but I strangely enjoyed it. Molly was wonderful and I always felt I could tell her anything. She made such an impression on my heart. When it came to writing Billy and Me I felt I wanted there to be someone like that for Sophie.
Billy seems to be a perfect English gent. What do you think it is about him that makes him so appealing to readers?
He’s charming but not in a smug way. He’s also extremely attentive and kind. Plus, he seems fairly unaffected by the fact he’s adored by millions of fans. At times he’s even bashful about the attention, which I find adorable. He’s flawed though, as we all are. He wouldn’t be interesting if he was perfect.
Billy goes all out to spoil Sophie on their first date. What would you describe as your perfect first date?
That’s a tough question as it’s been roughly thirteen years since my last first date and I ended up marrying the guy. Ha! But I think for me it would be something relaxed yet thoughtful. I could easily be won over with a trip to the zoo (where we could feed giraffes) or a delicious meal. The company makes it perfect though, so as long as my date made me laugh lots I’d be happy.
Sophie leads a very grounded and simple life, which is what Billy likes about her. What do you think are the important things in life?
Family, friends and human interaction. It’s certainly not about possessions or how much money you’ve got in the bank. When someone passes away you don’t hear people saying things like, ‘Such a shame . . . he had a lovely boat in Majorca.’ They remember how you made them feel and the qualities you brought to their lives. Love and kindness are so incredibly important.
Why did you decide to write about the reality of being in a relationship with a celebrity? Did you draw on any personal experiences?
When I first decided to write a book I came up with three different ideas, but found myself more drawn to this one. The book and situations Sophie finds herself in are purely fabricated, but I suppose being married to someone in the public eye allowed me to relate to that situation better than most could. The storyline is far more that ‘girl meets famous boy’ though.
Was Tea-On-The-Hill based on a real place?
There’s a place called The Doll’s House on Hill in Harrow-on-the-Hill that I absolutely love. It became the inspiration behind Tea-On-The-Hill. They sell the most delicious cakes ever! Plus their rum and raisin ice-cream in the summer is yummy.
Sophie suffers from panic attacks, although at first she doesn’t know what they are. What advice would you give to someone who may be suffering from them?
I’m not an expert on mental health issues, but I’d say talk to someone. A few people very close to me suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and I know how lonely it can be to go through those irrational moments – especially when they usually hit without warning. Hopefully speaking to others will help make those scary moments seem more manageable. It’s important to remember help is out there. You just need to make people aware of what you’re experiencing and speak to your GP.
Were you shy at school? If yes, when and how did you come out of your shell?
My initial response to this question was to say no, that I wasn’t shy in any way. But actually I was badly bullied and therefore spent a lot of time on my own, wandering around the playing field and making up stories and singing songs to myself. It’s only when we moved house when I was nine years old that I discovered my passion for performing and making people laugh.
My childhood experiences of feeling like an outsider led me to have a deep-rooted desire to have people like me – and this is something that stuck with me until I had children of my own. It makes me sad to think I wasted so much energy on people who didn’t deserve it, but I now make sure I spend my days surrounded by people who shine a positive light on my life, rather than dim it with their negativity. Who we choose to be friends with has such a major effect on the people we become.
What was your favourite scene/moment/quote in the book?
I love the first meeting between Billy and Sophie. It’s all so innocent, light and awkward until she has a panic attack. That’s when we really get a glimpse of the weight Sophie’s carrying around, but also of Billy’s gentle nature.
Who was your favourite character to write?
Molly. She’s not just a woman with a big heart, she’s also a huge character who’s really funny. She can be quite unpredictable with her saucy one-liners too.
Sophie seems to be a fan of the classics, do you share that with her? What are your favourite classic books?
The thing that draws me to the classics is the fact they are classics. They were written so long ago but something has kept them alive – and I’m not just referring to the school curriculum.
I love Jane Eyre. I think it’s incredibly romantic. The same with Pride and Prejudice. I would say times were simpler when these books were written, but social politics were hugely important and that’s what I love. I love reading about relationships, desires and obstacles. There’s nothing truer than matters of the heart and the bond between humans.
Why did you choose Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice as the character Billy plays in the village?
It’s a hugely iconic role for a leading man to play. Colin Firth did an amazing job with a BBC adaptation in the nineties which really launched his career. If it wasn’t Mr Darcy though it would’ve been Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre. He’s another complex dreamboat.
Do you share Sophie’s obsession with Jude Law?
Yes, yes, yes! I just think he’s immensely talented. I’ve met him actually as we were both acting in the same season of plays in London about eight years ago. He’s blooming lovely!
Is there a message that you’d like readers to take from the book?
Friendship is a huge theme of the book. Often we experience hard times and revert into our shells and try to cope on our own, not wanting to put others out or show our vulnerability. But we’re all human. Be kind to other in the hope that they’ll return the favour when you need it. Spread love and believe in people.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, at what age would you want to speak to yourself and what advice would you give?
Every now and then I do that thing where I write a letter to my fifteen year old self and share some new pearls of wisdom. But right now while I’m writing this I’m pretty content with life and as the great Doc warns in Back to the Future you should never mess with the natural order of things as it can change what comes next.
I’d love to go back and tell the eight year old me that those two cows who bullied me weren’t worth getting upset over. That I should’ve gone and made friends with other girls in my class who made me feel good, but if that had happened then me and my family wouldn’t have moved away, I wouldn’t have found a joy in performing, I wouldn’t have gone to drama school and met my husband, I wouldn’t have had my two boys . . . I would however offer some words of encouragement. I’d tell myself to believe in the goodness of people and value my self-worth.
Are there any people or authors who particularly inspire you to write?
My husband inspires me a lot. He has a creative thought and he acts on it before self-doubt has a chance to seep in and dampen his creativity. Even though it’s not what he’s known for he’s not afraid to venture out of his comfort zone and follow a new creative path away from music when an urge takes over. Living in a creative house certainly makes me feel as though anything is possible if I work hard and believe in myself.
Outside of that there are many authors I love, admire and respect. They’ve moved me and have made lasting impressions on my heart. Dorothy Koomson, Jane Green, Adele Parks, Cecelia Ahern, Tony Parsons, Jojo Moyes, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Shakespeare! Gosh, there are so many writers I love. I feel like I could just keep going. That’s the beauty of writing and reading – we’re continuously opening our hearts and asking to be moved. Being able to read work from a variety of writers and hear from a plethora of characters is simply amazing. There’s such a rich body of work out there with something for everyone. It’s truly magical.