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Jill Hucklesby

By Sarah Hutchings

Jill Hucklesby

This interview with Jill Hucklesby was first published on The Deckchair website on 09/10/2007. The image is courtesy of Orchard Books.

How did you get your first break?
It wasn't so much a 'Eureka!' moment as a series of events which changed the direction of my writing. I was concentrating on trying to write for television and film and had a number of scripts doing the rounds. There were endless meetings and no breakthroughs. I was also submitting ideas for children's TV to different companies and was commissioned by United TV to write for the 'TeddyBears' series. Things seemed to be gathering momentum. Then Christopher Pilkington at Endemol TV optioned 'Amy's Law' - a proposal for a TV series about a teenage champion swimmer who has to rebuild her life after an accident. After a second option elapsed, he suggested I write the book instead. The idea became the basis for 'Deeper Than Blue', my first novel. Perhaps that was the true break - but it took another two years to find an agent and publisher.

Could you describe your working day.
I'm not a morning person. If I'm not doing the school run, I like to stay huddled under the duvet until quite late and then start writing at about 11 am. If there's a deadline, I will carry on all day and sometimes into the night, working straight onto the computer. Even if there isn't, I will usually write up to 1,500 words a day and then maybe work on new ideas for other projects. Mostly, it's about being solitary and getting the work done. Family life and dog walking happen in and around this schedule, which is probably just as well. You hear about mad old writers who just live in their pyjamas and never get their hair cut...

How does an idea become a novel?
'Deeper Than Blue' was evolutionary - a big learning curve after screenwriting, which is very economical with language. I had expert advice from my agent, Rosemary Canter at PFD, and great support from Christine Lo, my editor at Orchard Books. Characters came and went, but the thrust of the story, Amy's great determination to overcome her losses, remained the central core. I found her character drove the story on, helping me focus on the challenges she faces after the accident which takes away part of her leg and her best friend, including the change in family relationships. The time frame of a year came naturally through Amy's own determination to compete again - she is used to training against the clock. The people who help move her forward - Harry, her irreverent mate in hospital, and Ramoul, her rap-fiend physio, developed more as Amy needed more support from them. Her struggle is not just about survival or following a dream. It came to be as much about identity and the power of love, tested by the secret Amy is forced to keep. With family tensions at breaking point, getting back in the water has a cost she never imagines.

Which book do you wish you'd written?
That's like asking which life you would rather have had!  I think writing is shaped by your own individual experiences, weaknesses, strengths, circumstances. You can only be true to who you are, and hope that the worlds and characters you create will have some resonance with readers. Maybe it's better to say that there are writers who take my breath away - quite a list, and reading their work fires me to take risks with my own.

As a reader, do you always finish a book you've started?
No. It has to hit the spot, or I give up quickly. It feels like spending time with someone you don't like otherwise.

If you weren't a writer, what job would you like to have done?
Film director. No question. Exotic locations, big budgets, catering. I grew up watching Bond movies and as a journalist in my twenties, covered the filming of 'A View To A Kill' with Roger Moore at Amberley Chalk pits in West Sussex. It was another world - energised, creative, glamorous. I was living in Bognor at the time and earning £60 a week, but went home inspired that all I had seen began with a book, or a script, and the director's vision.  Maybe there's still time ...

Describe your perfect day.
Listening to a lunchtime concert in the Brighton Festival, and watching the sun go down over the sea with family or friends and a bottle of something nice.

What keeps you awake at night?
Very little, apart from the seagulls, which have squawking contests at 4 a.m., or my retriever, who barks at badgers in the garden.

Why did you choose to live in Brighton and Hove and what keeps you here?
I was born in Brighton and went to Windlesham school until I was nine. I've lived in other parts of Sussex and Hampshire, but have always felt my roots are here. Returning 18 years ago was definitely like coming home. I love the coastline and rent a beach hut at Rottingdean - a great place to work. Everything is here - space, ocean, culture, warm-ish climate. It feels such a privilege just to see the sea every day.

How does living here inspire your work?
Landscape is quite a focus for me and Brighton features strongly in 'Deeper Than Blue'. It gives Amy, the main character, the space she needs to mend and rebuild her life. The proximity to the water came to be symbolic - it's not the controlled environment she was used to training in, but reflects the new, more turbulent situation she faces.

My new book is set in London and the marshes of Kent and both have a powerful effect in shaping the perceptions of the main teenage character, Jaz.

This page was amended on 03/02/2012
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