Saturday, 15 December 2012

Interview with Sarah Billington

Sarah Billington is an Australian writer and editor who likes to write stories with love, laughs, suspense and zombies. Sometimes all in the same story. Her favouritest thing to write about are those horrendously awkward moments that come with being a teenager. Or a human being. Sarah was extremely accident-prone and klutzy as a kid and teen, so her cup runneth over with experiences of horrendously awkward moments to draw from in her writing. Thankfully, she has grown out of her klutziness. Mostly.

Welcome, Sarah! How long have you been writing?


Tell us about THE KISS OFF. What’s the story about?

The Kiss Off is about Poppy Douglas, a rather opinionated girl who writes music and sings it on Youtube. She writes an angry rock song, called The Kiss Off, about her stupid ex boyfriend who cheated on her with a friend, and it gets shared and shared and shared and goes viral. A local rock band (with a super-cute lead singer) ask if they can play it at a gig and before they know it, they're signed to a label, recording an album and Poppy's hurt feelings and anger are all over the radio, at the top of the charts, and everyone wants to know the private details about where the song came from.

How did the idea of the story come to you?

I don't know exactly where the idea came from, the whole rockstar and fame aspect was a subplot of a different book I was writing, in which Poppy was actually a blogger and all the kids at her school caught on to the juicy stuff in the blog about people they knew. But I wanted to make the story bigger. I was watching a lot of Youtube videos at the time, of these normal people who I just really liked and it seemed hundreds of thousands of other people really liked as well. And some of them occasionally wrote and performed in their bedrooms or living rooms, silly songs. I thought to myself that Poppy could most definitely do that. Plus I don't know many books written about songwriters and this modern age in which ordinary people can become famous all over the world just for being themselves.

Do you have a critique group/partner or beta readers, or do you self-edit?

I don't have an official critique group or partner, but I definitely have other people, other writers I respect read my work and give me feedback. It has to be HONEST feedback. I also have a weekly lunch-writing date with a friend and we discuss our plots and what we're struggling with and how to tackle scenes and if what we've written is awesome or stupid. I really value these lunch dates as a part of my process now.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I'm a plotser! Sort of. I have been a pantser in the past, and as a consequence have written a couple of books twice, because the first version was a mess and it was easier just to rewrite the majority of it and add in the odd bit that DID work from the original version.

This is a slow, very unproductive and exhausting way to work, let me tell ya.

So I'm working really hard on structure and plotting the book out ahead of time, but awesome things can happen in the writing process where one comment or line you've written can take you off on a tangent you didn't expect. Lots of the time this can be really bad and has to be cut because you lead yourself to a dead end or a hell of boring writing, but sometimes it can open up potential storylines and characters that you hadn't planned from the beginning. It keeps the writing process fresh and fun when that happens, rather than just working off notes.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

I work as a freelance editor, mostly working on big picture plot and character and setting stuff (as opposed to spelling and grammar) so my job is to be really critical of other authors' manuscripts and help them spot missed opportunities and what's not quite coming across as realistic yet but has potential etc. I'm VERY critical, because if I don't do it, the reader will, and that's the worst thing that can happen for a wrter.

Because of this highly critical mindset, the hardest part of writing for me is second-guessing myself. These days I have some trouble switching off that editor and just letting myself write, letting the words that end up on the screen be as horrible and cliche as they need to be in order to have something to fix later.

What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?

Wow. Tough question. Um...nothing? The only thing I really need is my computer. My netbook, preferably. I don't need a drink or music playing or my dog at my feet - actually, it's better if I DON'T have my dog at my feet because they generally want you to pat them. And when I'm writing, my hands are busy, you know?

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I want a Time Turner, like Hermione. It may not be a super power, but it's kind of super, right? I want to be able to do all the work and all the fun stuff too and not have to choose one or the other. You know, Christmas is coming up you guys. I'm just saying.

What's the weirdest thing you've googled?

There was one that I remember thinking "wow, I'm gonna be put on a watch list for this one" but I canNOT remember what it was. Since then it might be just different (potential) causes of the apocalypse. And how people get amnesia. Pretty boring ones, really.

Quick writing test! Use the following words in a sentence: butter, activity, and repeat.

"No..." I said. "You want me to do what now?"
He shrugged, arms crossed. "It's the only way."
I stared at myself in the mirror and grimaced.
"I don't know what you're complaining about, you organised the activity, didn't you?"
"Yeah, but-"
My hairdresser poured the melted butter over my head and I squealed as the warm liquid slid down my hair and dripped onto my shoulders. "Rub it in," he said. "And repeat."

A friend of mine dressed up as the Joker (in his nurse's uniform) recently and had to put canola oil in her hair and green hairspray to get just the right freaktastic look. So that's what I was thinking of. :)

That was supposed to be one sentence using all three words, but that's okay.

Finish this sentence: If I'm not writing, I'm probably ...

Watching TV pilots. I love new shows, shows I've never heard of and know nothing about, watching how the writers set up the premise in a way that will sustain a whole season so well - or not so well.

Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Let's hear your shout outs.

My family are always going to be my shout outs. Hazell, Colin and Kate. I've been writing and reading forever, and had my head in other worlds for just as long and they've been very patient with me all these years. And my friend Caitlin (weekly writing date) who helps me work out plot points. And my university course, NMIT's Bachelor of Writing & Publishing which, because of a major assignment about digital media, got me started on the whole ebook thing in the first place.

And finally, where can people find you and your books online?

My website:


The money's in! Poppy's royalties for penning the accidental hit song
The Kiss Off that shot her boyfriend's band to super-stardom are in
and she knows EXACTLY what she's doing with it.


“See that?” I said, pointing at the feature band name on the flyer.
“Academy of Lies are headlining Bay Fest over in Tallulah Shores.”
“They’re headlining? Are you serious?” Mads said.
I grinned. “Pack your bags, baby.”
“Shut up.”
“Two words: road trip,” I said. “One word: camping.”
“Shut up.”
“Five wor — is it five? Yeah — five words: One week by the sea.”
“Shut up.”
“Four more words-”
“Enough with the words already.”
“I’m nearly done,” I said, “four final words: you, me and Van.”
She bit her bottom lip, staring at me when her hands started wringing
in front of her again. And she started bouncing.
“No,” I said, “no, no. You shut up. You start screaming again and
you’re not coming.”
Instead, Mads squeezed me in a bear hug and planted a kiss on my
cheek. “I’m going to Babe Fest. I’m going to Babe Fest!”
Bay Music Festival. Of all the nicknames in the world, it could have
been a lot worse.

THE KISS OFF 2 will include:

A road trip with an unexpected passenger.
The realization too late that they don't actually like camping.
Accidental topless swimming.
Paparazzi punch ups.
A news-worthy (yet totally false) love triangle.
Obsessed fan girls.
A stalker.
And an overwhelming request from someone super-famous.

THE KISS OFF 2: Coming 2013.


Stuart R. West said...

Oh, Sarah, you had me at zombies and awkward teenagers. Two things I'm intimately familiar with. Call me intrigued!

Sarah Billington said...

One sentence? Oops. I'm such a space cadet. Thanks for having me!

And Stuart, you can not go wrong with awkward teenage zombies. ;)

Jamie said...

Nice thought. Looks like interesting story.

Darryl said...

Sounds good with full of love and fun.