Interview With Author Fiona Dunbar!

29 July 2012

I'm very pleased to welcome one of my favourite authors, Fiona Dunbar; who wrote The Silk Sisters Trilogy, The Lulu Baker Trilogy and The Kitty Slade Series.
In this interview I quiz her an all things bookish, from all her books, to why she became an author and she gives us some tips on how to become a good author and even a ''first line'' that we can turn into a story!
I hope you enjoy yourself reading this! :)

Welcome to Ebony Black Lines *passes plateful of Jammy Dodgers*, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your books?
Mmm…nnn…gghhh…can't spik, teeth stck tgther…ah! That's better. Sorry: Jammy Dodgers have seriously gooey centres! Ahem. About me: well, like a Jammy Dodger, I am small and round (well more than I used to be, anyway – why are you giving me Jammy Dodgers?! Pass the celery). I am also Jammy, as in lucky, because I get to do what I love as my job: write books. And I'm Dodgy because…no, this analogy isn't working any more. I am not dodgy, nor do I have a gooey centre (you thought I'd say I did, didn't you? Well, you were wrong, ha ha! If I had a gooey centre, my organs wouldn't function properly and I'd die). I am woefully under-educated, but to my never-ending surprise, people keep wanting more books from me. I have written two trilogies – Lulu Baker and Silk Sisters; a one-off book called Toonhead, and four Kitty Slade books. All are set in the real world (although the Silk Sisters books are set in the future), but all feature a hero or heroine who has something extraordinary about them. Lulu Baker inherits a magic recipe book; Rorie Silk takes on the appearance and knowledge of another if she puts on an item of their clothing, following an incident involving a chameleon and a bolt of lightning; Pablo in Toonhead sees the future in the cartoons he draws, and Kitty Slade has a rare genetic condition called Phantorama, which means she can see and communicate with ghosts. IF they cooperate. Which often they don't.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I have always written, but as I'm an artist as well, my early stories were all picture stories/cartoon strips. For the first ten years of my career, I was a commercial artist, then an illustrator. I wrote and illustrated three picture books (alas all out of print now) and illustrated other people's books as well. So the novel-writing came later.

What obstacles came your way while you were trying to get your first book published?
Extremely large boulders. Swarms of locusts. It's really easy to get your book published once you get past the boulders and the locusts. Not many authors will tell you that. Not being able to write can also be a drawback; in my case, it was a two-year learning curve, involving some lovingly dispatched hatchet jobs from Proper Writers. Then there's the business of finding an agent: why should they care? What have you got to offer that's different from all those gazillions of other writers out there?

What is your usual routine for writing in a day?
I need to write in the morning; I get very grumpy if there are obstacles like boulders or tax forms or housework or locusts or children getting in the way. Halfway through the day my brain turns into cement, so I need my mornings, dammit. Unfortunately there are always obstacles, so I'm grumpy most of the time. In the afternoon I go on Facebook. I lie down in a darkened room. I go on Twitter. These things can be done with a cement brain. Occasionally I get a second wind, and when that happens, my family don't get fed and have to go and forage for themselves. My husband goes 'hi honey, I'm home!' (he actually says that – he's American) and I growl at him. He skulks off, makes himself a mustard sandwich and channel-surfs.

What gave you the inspiration for the Silk Sisters trilogy?
I started out wanting to do something about fashion, because it's a subject I'm passionately in love with, while at the same time it's an industry that's deeply problematic and morally questionable (see my interview here for more explanation on this). I think it's interesting to explore things you feel ambivalent about in that way. Elsie was inspired by the childhood antics of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, as described in her autobiography A Shocking Life. The real turning point – the moment when I realised this idea did actually have some mileage in it – was when I decided to set it in the future.

Fashion and Identity play a central part in the Silk Sisters trilogy. Why is that and what research did you have to do for it?
In our early teens we try out new identities – it's something I remember very strongly from that time in my life. I was so unsure of who I was, but very conscious of how I presented myself to the outside world. I was constantly experimenting. In the books, Rorie literally gets to try out 'being' other people. She lacks Elsie's self-confidence, and that's important in view of what comes later. Then once I'd decided on the futuristic setting, the fashion/identity parallel really came into its own. What if there came a time when people's identities really could be stolen? The great thing about setting your story in the future is that it hasn't happened yet, so people can't say, 'no, it wasn't like that'. Of course, they could still say, 'this is completely implausible' – to which my reply would be, 'you don't say!' I did research the Smart clothing technology, but only so I could use it as a springboard for my own imagination. But I didn't allow myself to get bogged down with the other technologies, because the books are only set just a little way into the future – that's the whole point. When George Orwell wrote 1984, he was commenting on 1948. I was writing in 2007-8 in a similar way. Well, only I'm no George Orwell. I'm a huge fan, but I'm not deluded. However, you do have to make parallel developments roughly plausible.

What gave you the idea for Rorie's chameleon powers and why didn't anything special happen to Elsie?
Ah, well I think I've partly answered that one already. Rorie is the main protagonist – the one I expect readers to identify with. She is the archetypical Early Teen, and so the chameleon powers are a metaphor not only for the physical changes we experience during puberty, but for the sort of experimentation I describe above. It's hard for me to deconstruct in retrospect where the idea came from; I think that as well as the metaphorical aspect, it was a useful device for allowing Rorie to 'get inside' other people's minds. Elsie manages to make a lot of things happen just by virtue of the fact that she's an impulsive risk-taker; there was simply no need to add anything extra for her, and actually I think it might have made for a very muddled story if I had! Similarly, Kitty Slade is the only one in her family who has Phantorama, although her brother Sam and her sister Flossie play prominent parts in the stories.

What are the best and worst things about writing?
Best thing is when you make yourself laugh or cry. It's nice to get good reviews and fan mail. Worst thing? God, there are so many! Obviously being stuck is not fun; going for a walk can help. Which is a good idea anyway, as writing makes you fat. Writing REALLY makes you fat. It's a terribly unhealthy occupation. It's bad for your posture, and it's anti-social. It makes your skin turn grey and your teeth melt. Don't do it.

Can you give us five tips for all the budding authors out there?
Yes: don't do it!
Only kidding. I can give you more than five actually, as I have a whole page of them on my website here

Could you give a first line or title that we can make into a story?
Somewhere at a place where the prairie and the Badlands meet, there is a hidden cave.

Where is your favourite place to write and why?
I am lucky enough to have a study all to myself, in my house. I am surrounded by favourite books, family photos, old drawings of mine and a gilded chicken called Alfonso. All these things give out positive energy. Alas, it's also where I do my household admin work/taxes etc: ideally, such things would not exist. I have French windows leading out onto a deck, which is nice on sunny days. I haven't been out there much lately.

Who inspired you to write your first book and how?
That's a tricky one. I don't think there really was a 'who', more a 'what'. I think the 'who' part comes later: I write characters and then I think, 'oh, I know where that came from'. I had guidance from writer friends and editors. I have said elsewhere that reading to my kids inspired me to try my hand at writing longer fiction (The Truth Cookie wasn't my first book , of course, but it was my first novel), so I guess Roald Dahl played a role! And lots of others…Louis Sachar impressed me a lot. I liked the humour and the straightforward, unfussy storytelling of both.

What is your favourite writing snack?
Almonds and raisins, but I've had to give them up because although they're healthy I can't stop once I've started, and this MAKES ME FAT.

Who were your top ten authors/books when you were a teen and what is your current favourite YA book?
I'm so old, teen/YA books hadn't been invented when I was that age. We just used to go straight from kids' books to adult, and in my case it tended to be just what I found on my mum's bookshelves (I was scared of libraries; see my blog post here Like a lot of teens I liked Sci-Fi, particularly John Wyndham. And I liked horror too, so read a lot of Dennis Wheatley. Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby. For lighter, more frivolous stuff it was Jilly Cooper. There's a whole sub-category here of books I read in later life, but wish I'd read as a teen: JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, John Fowles' The Magus, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Colin MacInnes' Absolute Beginners… I wish I'd had the guidance of a good librarian! I got there in the end. My current favourite YA book is Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels – astonishingly good. I should mention here that some of these books are definitely not suitable for younger readers!

Quick Fire Questions:
Reading or Writing? Both (who in their right mind would pick just one and not the other?!)
Book or E-book? Both.
Inside or Outside? Both. (This is getting monotonous…)
Rorie or Elsie? I'm more Rorie, but I'm very fond of Elsie.
Designer Brands or Charity Shop Find? Charity shop finds, definitely!
Short and Sweet Or The Longer The Better ( writing style ) ? Short and Sweet.

Don't Forget To Smile!! :D

P.S Go and win a copy of Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Jones HERE


  1. Great interview! I haven't read any of her books although my younger sister has.

    I have only watched the TV series Jinx which is based on the lulu baker trilogy. But I'll be sure to read one of her books!


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  3. Great interview, both of you! I didn't realise that Fiona illutstrated her books too. I have read the first Kitty Slade book and I really need to read the next ones! :)

    1. Hi Zoe, thank you! Just to be clear, I haven't illustrated for years and had nothing to do with the cover artworks on my novels. I think I've lost my drawing mojo now...

  4. Fab interview, Fiona, and hilarious and OMG yes, re. writing being grey facingly, teeth meltingly bad for you, it's made my eyes cross too!

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  8. i've never read anything by this author, but the interview was great. I think i might go and see if i can find a book by her in my library ...

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  10. Oh, and btw, i have nominated you for The Toujou Blogger award! The url below will take you to the post (:

  11. Great interview! Now craving a Jammy Dodger!!
    By the way I nominated you for the Belle Blog Award too

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