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Cat Clarke

Girlhood follows a group of four best friends in their last year at boarding school. Harper, the latest to join the group, is still grieving the loss of her twin sister to anorexia, something she feels responsible for. Then a new girl, Kirsty, arrives and seems to understand Harper better than any of her other friends. But what does she really want from Harper? This novel is aimed at readers aged 14+.

We asked CAT CLARKE to tell us more about GIRLHOOD:

Q: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

A: I've known that since I was 13, I was a huge fan of Christopher Pike whose books were all about US schools and cheerleaders and I thought it was all very cool. I discovered his books at Haringey Library and then I had to buy them all with my pocket money. I started writing stories in the same style - what would be called fanfiction these days.

I actually got a job as a writer of non-fiction at publisher Usborne and that got me thinking about my dream again and I started to write Entangled, my debut, which took three years to finish.

Q: Why did you decide to write for YA readers?

A: I think I was just closest to that age range, I never considered writing for anyone else. The voice comes naturally to me; I have to work at the plotting and character development, but the teen voice and dialogue comes naturally and I find it fun writing - even if my books are quite dark...

Q: Which YA writers have caught your eye recently?

A: I've just finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas which was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and it's just as phenomenal as everyone says, and Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence which I loved, she's a talent to watch. I also really enjoyed Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, an Irish writer who I'd love to see published here.

I think the author who inspired me the most to write myself though was Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote Speak about a girl with selective mutism, and Wintergirls about eating disorders. If I could write even ten percent as well as her, that would be my goal.

Q: What was the starting point for Girlhood?

A: I had two things I wanted to draw into the story, which is how I begin many of my stories. For this book, the first was my love of boarding school stories, I was obsessed with Malorie Towers so Girlhood is my love letter to those books although Enid Blyton would be appalled!

The second thing was my fascination with the idea of the best and worst things happening simultaneously - that you can have the best thing happen while everything else crashes down around you. I'd actually had this idea a while ago but was waiting for the other half, the boarding school moment, to arrive.

Q: You decided to make your main character a twin, why was that?

A: I'm fascinated by twins and love reading about those strange coincidences, when you read how one has a pain and the other has an operation on the other side of the world. I wonder what it must be like to look at someone with your face so I'm fascinated by them. There's also a parallel with the twins in Blyton's St Clares, although here the twin comes to boarding school alone.

Q: Harper lost her twin, Jenna, to anorexia. How difficult was it to write about bereavement?

A: It's something I write about a lot in my books, four out of six have bereavement in them, and it's a subject close to my heart. My mother died seven years ago just before my debut novel came out, so it's something in me that I am exploring.

I also think it's important to write about bereavement for teenagers because we all need to come to terms with the idea of our own mortality and at some point, we start to lose people we love.

Q: Harper is carrying the guilt about her sister's death, and Kirsty, too, has her secrets. Why did you want to take such a close look at guilt?

A: It's one of my favourite obsessions which I keep coming back to. It's something everyone can relate to at some level, the guilt that Harper feels is the worst you can imagine but any of us can feel guilty about sending an email that we shouldn't have, or lied to a friend about not being able to make it for dinner, and guilt can be powerful and destructive.

As a writer, I just think about whatever guilt I have felt and multiply it. It's that horrible, all-consuming feeling and its tendrils get into every aspect of your life. It's fascinating to write about and to read about.

Q: Harper is lucky to have found a group of such mature girls as friends - why have you made them so understanding of her and Kirsty's issues?

A: Sometimes the world has a very low opinion of teenage girls and I wanted to show the reader that, while these girls can all make mistakes, ultimately they can surprise. Look at the kind of journalism that Teen Vogue is doing in Trump's America!

Q: You focus on this very strong group of friends in Girlhood, but how did you navigate friendships as a teenager?

A: I was one of those floating people who went between different groups, so I was friends with the nerds because I am one but I was also friends with the popular girls. But I never really found 'my people' which is why I wanted to write about this close friendship.

I think that school is weird, putting children together and expecting them to get along because they were born in the same year. At university, everyone has chosen to be there so I think there's a bigger chance to be friends.

Also, lots of YA books focus on romance but I think friendships are much more important at that age. A lot of young people won't be in a relationship but they will have friendships and friendships are something that fascinates me. As teenagers you are still trying to work out who you are and you're also navigating your friendships so there are a lot of interesting things to explore in friendship and how people became friends.

Q: Winning the Lottery also forms part of the story - if you won it, what would be your first purchase?

A: I don't buy Lottery tickets although I still somehow think I'll win it.... but if I had bought a ticket and it has won, the first purchase I would make would be a house by the sea where I could grow veggies - I've just got into gardening - and a flight to New York city, but only once Trump is no longer president.

Q: And if you had the money to buy your dream writing shed?

A: That would be a cafe, one with lots of bookshelves and a view with people walking past and I'd allow other people to come in but only if they talked in a low murmer - because otherwise, when someone sits next to me I have to listen to what they're saying.

Q: Where would you like to see yourself as a writer in ten years' time?

A: I would just like to still be writing and telling the stories that I want to tell. There's always the fear that the ideas will dry up. So I'd like to be writing and to be writing all sorts of things. As well as YA fiction, I write non-fiction for children, it makes a nice change and I like doing the research for these books. My latest is about Richard III and how they found his remains. So I can immerse myself in research about King Richard III or polar bears and write a book before returning to my angsty teen writing.

Q: How does your writing day go?

A: Even though I enjoy it, sometimes it feels like writing is the last thing I want to do and I'll go and empty the dishwasher instead - something I normally hate doing. But I have found a way around my laziness by writing in small, concentrated bursts of 25 minutes and then I'll go and do something else. I might go away for five minutes, or for two hours, but it seems to work for me this way.

Q: What are you writing at the moment?

A: I'm writing my next YA novel called We Are Young and I'm enjoying writing that. I was stuck with it for a while because I was writing it in the wrong tense. All my books are written in the first person, present tense, but I'd started this in the past tense. I wrote a few thousand words and then stopped. Now I realise it's because I need to feel the immediacy of the action.

Q: What do you do to relax?

A: I like drawing and playing the guitar, but otherwise I pass from one obsession to another. At the moment, it's gardening and I'm trying to tame the back garden. Wish me luck!

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