We put authors Sif Sigmarsdóttir and Lydia Ruffles in the hot seat to grill them about their writing habits, favourite books and more. Read on to find out who refers to bad writing as roadkill and can’t write without humous, and who writes under the influence of chocolate.
Tell us about your books in one sentence
Sif: What would you do if the world as we know it was coming to an end? 1) Go to a party and try to forget all about it. 2) Watch cat videos on YouTube until the battery on your laptop ran out. 3) Try to change the course of history. I Am Traitor is the story of a girl who is forced to answer this question.
Lydia: The Taste of Blue Light is a story told by a 17 year-old artist called Lux Langley whose world unravels after she suffers a mysterious blackout and starts dreaming in red after going to a party – it’s about creativity, colour, invisible illness, modern threats, and first love. (That was a long sentence – sorry!)
If you were hosting a dinner party for writers, what writers – dead or alive – would you invite?
Lydia: I hope all the questions aren’t going to be this hard. Obviously I’d be delighted to dine with Sif but since it would be easy enough for me to WhatsApp her to arrange that I’m going to say Bryony Gordon, Matt Haig, and John Green. And the dinner would have to be catered or held at a restaurant, unless they all really like humous.
Sif: Oh wow! I think I’d just crash Lydia’s dinner party. I am absolutely obsessed about Matt Haig and John Green! I would be so star struck I wouldn’t be able to keep my humous down. I would also ask Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling to join us – it was after reading His Dark Materials and Harry Potter that I decided to do a degree in children’s literature – my dad will never forgive them; he wanted me to become a lawyer.
What is your writing routine/ritual?
Lydia: I’m not big on routines generally (it’s the rebel in me) and I think it’s useful to be able to write anywhere so I don’t really have one. That said, I’ve trained myself to associate the smell of eucalyptus with writing so I’ll light a candle or sniff some oil at the start of a session to focus myself. I also doodle or look at images and use music to get myself into particular mindsets but I generally do the actual writing bit in silence. I usually read through what I did the day before and tinker with it a bit – lots of people say not to edit as you go along but I can’t proceed if I know there’s roadkill behind me and it also helps me get back into the story. One of the best thing about writing is that daydreaming is part of the job so I make sure I do plenty of that too.
Sif: The only routine I have is to make myself sit down at my desk every morning. As Woody Allen allegedly said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
Where do your ideas come from?
Sif: Truth is often stranger than fiction. I am a news junkie and current affairs are an important source of inspiration to me. So is history. A news story or an historical anecdote can act as a seed that grows into a novel. The seed to one of my books was the story of a Chinese Emperor and his obsession with eternal life. He died by drinking mercury, believing it to be an elixir of immortality. Calling it irony is an understatement.
Lydia: I agree that you need to find the right seeds. I find them everywhere – inside and out. My writing teacher at Richard Skinner at Faber Academy says our novels are already in us and we just have to dig them out, and I think that’s true. The world is also a really generous place for giving ideas if you just open your eyes and take out your earphones. A useful thing I’ve learned about ideas is that you need more than one to create enough friction and momentum to carry a story.
What is the best YA book of all time?
Lydia: I’m going to cheat and choose three because this is an impossible question. The first YA book I fell in love with was The Outsiders. I even told my sister that I was going to call my children Sodapop and Ponyboy after characters in the novel. I have to also say The Catcher in the Rye, which I actually didn’t read until I was about 20 but now have 15 copies of in seven languages. In terms of contemporary books, I’d say Orangeboy or The Fault in our Stars. Oh, that was actually four.
Sif: The Brothers Lionheart by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. It was published in 1973 and has been translated into 46 languages. It’s so sad it should be sold with a package of Kleenex attached. But it’s so beautiful.
Favourite writing snack?
Sif: Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.
Lydia: I have the palette of a five year old and am also of the opinion that every meal that isn’t cheese and crackers and/or humous is a wasted opportunity so usually that. And I usually chop up a bunch of fruit and vegetables in the morning for mindless, one-handed grazing while I’m clacking away at my laptop throughout the day.
Tell us your best writing advice
Lydia: Write as only you can and do it with intent. So, for example, if you’re not a morning person, ignore all the advice telling you to get up at 5am to write – just do it your way. Write about the things that relate to your unique experience even (in fact, especially) if it’s scary – that’s where the good stuff is. And when it comes to editing make sure every word and sentence serves your story and characters.
Sif: It’s an overused cliché that is more likely to be associated with old sneakers than writing but it does hold a lot of truth: Just do it. Waiting for inspiration to strike; waiting for the perfect sentence to come to you; waiting for you to be ready; it just leaves you with an empty page and in a foul mood.