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All About the Hype

Paige Toon

JESSIE JEFFERSON is a rags-to-riches story about a British teenager who discovers her dad is none other than the famous rock star Johnny Jefferson!

For Jessie, whose mum died in a sudden accident, life is tough but things take an unexpected turn when she discovers her real dad is rock star Johnny Jefferson. In the first two books in the series, The Accidental Life of Jessie Jefferson and I Knew You Were Trouble, Jessie gets to know her famous father.

In the latest book, All About the Hype, we find out how Jessie - torn between her old and new lives - discovers where her heart lies.

We were thrilled to speak to Paige Toon about her writing and the Jessie Jefferson series:

Q: One of your first jobs was being a reviewer for heat magazine. Had you always wanted to be a writer and did your job at heat help you get there?

A: I've written stories ever since I can remember, so I think I was always destined to be an author. I also used to love the idea of working for a magazine, so I was beside myself when I got a job at heat. Working at heat was great fun - I was able to see any film I wanted to, usually weeks or even months before it came out and sometimes during the daytime when I could've been sitting at an office desk.

It was incredible having access to any book, DVD or CD I could want, although books used to sometimes make me feel daunted - as if I could feel my dream slipping away. I just didn't know how to spin an idea into a 100,000 word novel and then stand a chance of it seeing the light of day.

Heat definitely helped me tread the path to becoming an author. As a journalist, you meet people who might be able to help, but at the end of the day, you're the one who has to make it work.

Q: Why did you decide to move into YA writing with the Jessie Jefferson books, and do you feel you've brought many of your adult fans with you?

A: I wanted to write two books a year because I managed to write one a year as a full-time mum, only writing during my baby's nap times and limited nursery hours. Once both my kids were in school I was set to have three times the amount of working hours, and I could think of nothing I'd rather fill those hours with than writing.

I had the idea for a Johnny's daughter story a few years before, then when a friend (author Ali Harris) suggested I write YA, I thought the storyline fit much better as a YA series. I think I brought some fans with me, definitely, but a lot of my adult readers have resisted reading the Jessie series, thinking it doesn't apply to them.

I personally disagree - I enjoyed writing the Jessie books every bit as much (and sometimes more) than my adult fiction, and I've realised over the years that if I enjoy writing it, my readers will likely enjoy reading it.

Q: Do you read much YA fiction and why do you think so many adults now are reading it?

A: A great story is a great story, no matter how old the protagonists are. I adore reading love stories, and YA love stories are some of the most passionate out there. Often it's because they're about first love, surely the most passionate love of all.

I also have a real weakness for YA fantasy - there's nothing I love more than reading about two characters who are destined to be together, but have something keeping them apart. There are so many more ways to keep characters apart when you're not just talking about ordinary people and everyday settings.

I love this genre so much that the next book I plan to write will be a love story set in the future - I came up with the idea straight after getting a Jessie book deal, but it's only now Jessie's story is finished that I'll have time to write it! Watch this space...

Q: What have you enjoyed about the Jessie Jefferson series compared with writing your adult novels?

A: Jessie is a really fun character to write - she's naughty and feisty and she has a great rags-to-riches story. I think Jack absolutely gives Johnny a run for his money when it comes to sexy, bad boy rock stars. It's been fun to write about Johnny as a resigned dad character - I still fancied him, though. And I know that's weird...

Q: Did you draw on your own background - your father was a famous racing driver - in writing about a child who moves from an ordinary background to one of famedom?

A: Maybe unconsciously I did, although I've never thought about that! I grew up with my dad being well known in racing circles and in our hometown, so I didn't know any differently - I was just proud of him for everything he'd achieved. Johnny is on a whole different level of fame, though, so that was probably more inspired by the celebrities we used to feature in heat!

Q: Jessie makes a lot of mistakes especially in the early part of the book - what is her biggest lesson to learn?

A: That Stu (her stepdad) is her friend, not her enemy. She used to act like he was out to get her, but she learns that he'll be there for her through everything - and she comes to appreciate that. He knows her very well - better than Johnny, even - and that's something she comes to realise most in the final book, All About The Hype.

Q: With our fame-obsessed culture, do you feel you're showing that there are two sides to being famous?

A: I hope so - there are definitely some major downsides. I hope I've been realistic about the ups and the downs, but there are probably even more downs in real life.

Q: Why did you choose LA as your setting and how much did you already know about the area?

A: I first wrote about LA in Johnny Be Good - Johnny and Meg's story - and it felt right for that setting: the sun, sea, famous people, etc. I personally prefer New York to LA, but New York just didn't seem to fit Johnny's laid-back (but also crazy) rock star life-style as much.

I had to go to LA to research the setting properly, and stayed at hotels The Mondrian and the Standard Downtown to really get a sense of the bars and celeb hangouts. It's a hard life.

Q: Which city would you choose to live in if you could live anywhere?

A: I'd choose to live in Cambridge, where I actually do live! It's so beautiful - I love it. I also adored living in London. My brother lives in Melbourne, and every time I visit him I can imagine myself fitting right in with that incredible laid-back, cafe culture lifestyle.

Q: There are lots of references in the book to latest culture, clothes etc - is that all something you loved / would have loved as a teenager? Which bit of Jessie's wardrobe would you happily steal?

A: I've never really followed the latest fashions, so that part of the story was down to research and trying to embody Jessie's character. I wear things that suit me and I'm not particularly adventurous. Jessie has so much confidence that I think she could wear just about anything and get away with it.

Q: How close do you get to your characters when you write them and was Jessie one you will miss writing about with the ending of the series?

A: I'll definitely miss her, but I never say anything is the end. I've written about so many of my past characters in future books - just giving them little cameos, even, so I can drop in on them and still feel connected.

You haven't seen the last of Jessie, I'm sure of it, but I will miss being so deep inside her head that I can hear her carrying out conversations with other characters. I am completely connected to my characters when I write about them - I laugh when they do and cry, as well.

Q: Were there always going to be three books in the series? Is there an opening for more?

A: Initially I thought it would be a four-book series, but when it came down to it, it felt more like three. I'm happy to leave Jessie where she is for now, but if inspiration strikes and I want to pick up with her - or even one of her friends, like Lottie, who intrigues me - then I may do that at some point in the future.

I just really want to write my fantasy novel now. It's been playing out in my mind for so many years that I'm out of patience - I have to get it out of my head and onto paper, hopefully for you all to enjoy at some point.

Q: Where do you write and what is your writing schedule like?

A: I write in a little office at the top of our house, overlooking the fields. It gets really hot in the summer so I'm never that productive then! Autumn is my best time to write - I tend to fly through books. I work when my kids are at school, and usually cram in all the housework then, as well.

School holidays are my holidays, too. I almost never write when the little monkeys are around. There's too much chaos to really get inside my characters' heads!

Q: What's your favourite escape from writing?

A: Just being with my family, being a mum. It's the best job in the world - even better than writing, and that's saying something.

Obviously I also like me-time (I'm not a total saint!) so a few drinks with mates at a cool bar, or going to the movies and escaping into somebody else's imagination while eating a big bucket of popcorn... Pretty much perfect.

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