Plotting what Sadie did next

Ellie Phillips, author of Scissors, Sisters and Manic Panics
Ellie Phillips, author of Scissors, Sisters and Manic Panics
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Ellie Phillips signed up for a course on writing for children because she thought it might be nice to create stories for her young son.

But she ended up writing Young Adult fiction for early teenage girls.

She admits she couldn’t quite get into the boy mindset but now has a second novel “for the Jacqueline Wilson generation, from aged nine onwards” just out.

Scissors, Sisters and Manic Panics (Electric Monkey £7.99) is very much set in the teenage world of London 2013 with its preoccupations and jargon from which Phillips is surely distant from these days. “The voice and the feelings don’t change,” she insists.

The background of her protagonist, Sadie, reflects Phillips’ own. “I am Jewish and my sister has married into a Filipino family and it’s a culture which produces strong women who tend to be quite loud and fun but also quite annoying to a young person.”

The story is set in Hackney in East London which was where Surrey-born Phillips and her musician husband were living when she started the book before relocating to Sheffield to escape the London rat-race.

One of the themes is being a child of sperm donation. In the first book, Dads, Geeks and Blue Haired Freaks Sadie tracks down her natural father and in the second learns that she has a half sister.

The idea came after she followed her writing tutor’s advice to use newspapers as plot sources. “I thought it would provide a modern-day quest and no one had written about it as far as I know,” she explains.

Another strand is Sadie’s attempts to get her qualifications in hairdressing. “I wanted her to get focused on a real thing and thought hairdressing was believable for that age group. I like books which are rooted in the real world and all women go to the hairdressers and observe what goes on.”

For research she spent a day at the Vidal Sassoon School of Hairdressing talking to students .

Phillips, who supports her writing by editing a town planning journal at the University of Sheffield, has since completed two more books which are currently under negotiation with publishers.

One is set in Sheffield and aimed at younger readers. “I started out with a boy as the main character but my agent said I hadn’t got the voice right and made me swap it round.

“It’s called A Cockatoo Ate My Homework but it probably won’t end up as that. Sales departments of publishers have the final say. Dads and Geeks started out as 250 Million Swimmers and Me but they wanted a title which they could format.”

Phillips uses her son, now 10, and her nieces as sounding boards and continues to belong to a writing group in London (via Skype). She hasn’t got round to finding a similar group in Sheffield but has linked up with a local film-maker to write a sitcom.