Today I’m delighted to welcome Polly Courtney to Me, My Books and I:
Polly Courtney is the author of six published novels. She started out as an investment banker and wrote her first book, Golden Handcuffs, because she wanted to expose the reality of life in the Square Mile. Having discovered her passion, she went on to write Poles Apart, a light-hearted novel based on her Polish migrant friend’s experiences in England. Subsequent novels have covered sexism, racism, fame culture and the summer riots. She is a passionate champion of the underdog and this is reflected in her novels as well as her broadcast appearances.
In late 2011, Polly famously walked out on her publisher, HarperCollins, for the ‘girly’ titles and covers assigned to her books.
Polly is a regular commentator in the press and on TV and radio. She has a fortnightly slot on Sky News and often appears on the BBC and Channel 4 News to discuss a range of subjects including sexism, racism, youth frustration, the wealth divide, City culture and stereotypes in women’s fiction. Polly gives regular talks on the future of publishing and as a keen advocate of self-publishing, she offers masterclasses to other authors.
Much of Polly’s spare time is spent on the football pitch. She plays for her local side, Acton Ladies, and is a firm supporter of the women’s game in the UK. Polly also plays violin in the semi-professional string quartet, No Strings Attached, which provided the inspiration for her third novel, The Fame Factor. The members of No Strings Attached met in their first week at Cambridge University and have been performing together ever since.
To find out more about Polly Courtney:
Where did the idea for Feral Youth come from?
In 2011, I was lying in bed, smelling burning cars and scrolling through Twitter as the riots ripped our cities apart. At around the same time, I started looking into mentoring a young person at Kids Company – a charity that helps disadvantaged children across London.
After the riots, I was left thinking why did that happen? I kept waiting for answers but none came. As I learnt more about the lives of some of the most deprived children in our capital, through Kids Company and other organisations, I found myself trying to piece things together. Yes, large numbers of ‘rioters’ were opportunistic looters, but the ones setting fire to police cars? The ones hurling road signs at armed police? They weren’t just rebels without a cause. I wrote Feral Youth to explore the root causes and to try and give a voice to the young people who are either ignored or stigmatised in our mainstream media.
How do you decide on names for your characters?
They often evolve as I write. Alesha (the main character in Feral Youth) actually started life as someone else, but I knew as soon as I renamed her that Alesha was the name for her. I eavesdrop on buses a lot – that had stood me in good stead for this book in particular!
Which of your characters would you like to meet in person and why?
I’d like to meet both Alesha (‘bad girl’ main character) and Miss Merfield (floral dress-wearing, tea-drinking middle-class character) at once – preferably before they’ve had all their ups and downs! I’m sure they’d both have a lot to say.
What do you hope readers will learn from Feral Youth?
I want to open up people’s minds to see the world from a different perspective: Alesha’s perspective. I’d really like to think once you’ve read the book, next time you see a bunch of young people on the street corner, hiding beneath their hoods, you won’t just look through them as though they’re invisible, or ‘up to no good’. We’re all just products of our upbringings and a lot can rest on the decisions we make when we’re young. I would love to hear that someone has started mentoring a young person as a result of reading Feral Youth. That would be a dream come true.
Do you get emotional when you finish a book?
I did this time! I really, really fell in love with the characters in this book and I didn’t want them to leave me!
Do you think your writing style has changed since your first book?
Definitely. I think (hope) it’s got better. I’ve certainly become more adventurous in the subjects I cover. I can see now that my first two books had plenty of biographical elements to them, but Feral Youth is a step into a whole new world.
Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you let them influence your writing?
I read them from time to time. If there’s constructive criticism in there, I’ll definitely tuck it away in my mind as something to work on. The first few positive reviews always provide a massive confidence boost if I’m writing the next one.
Have you ever written something you hated?
Yep. I wrote an entire book under the guidance of my first literary agent, which was so constrained by what I was being ‘advised’ to write that it ended up being weak on all fronts. I’ve never looked at it since I finished it but I have a feeling I’d hate it if I did!
What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?
Paperback or eBook?
eBook – I read on my phone all the time.
Milk, white or dark chocolate?
Morning or night?
Can I say afternoon? That’s when I write best!
Snow or sun?
I’m a snowboarder, so can I have both?
Listener or talker?
Hmm, tricky. I like to think listener, but I do my fair share of talking. Go on, then – talker.
Any last words for your readers?
Keep in touch – I’m in all the usual places online and I love hearing from you!
Thank you so much for being here today Polly, it was a pleasure to have you on my blog. I particularly enjoyed reading about how you got the idea for Feral Youth – I think it’s great that you took a horrible situation and turned it into something inspiring!
Now check out the book:
““The truth is, it ain’t just a race thing. They talk like it is, but really and truly it’s black against white, young against old, authorities against the rest. It’s countless of things. There’s bare reasons for feeling vexed right now.”
Growing up on a south London estate and excluded from every school that would take her, Alesha is the poster girl for the nation’s ‘feral youth’.
When a young teacher makes an unexpected reappearance in the 15-year-old’s life, opening the door to a world of salaries, pianos and middle-class housemates, Alesha’s instinct is to pull up her hood and return to the streets.
But fuelled by a need to survive, she falls into a cycle of crime, violence and drug-dealing, her one true ally deserting her when she needs him most. While everyone around her is rallying against the authorities in a war of haves and have-nots, Alesha finds herself caught in the crossfire, inextricably linked to the people she is trying to fight against.
Can she see a way out? And as riots sweep the nation, whose side will she take?”