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Interviews

The Butterfly Effect: Denise Deegan

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Michelle Moloney King © 2 August 2011.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Children & Young Adult · Interviews ).

And By The Way is the latest book from best-selling Dublin author, Denise Deegan, the first in The Butterflies Novels series. Although it’s aimed at the YA market, this book deals with real life issues, making it a great read for all of us who are forever young. Denise’s previous books include Turning TurtleTime in a BottleLove Comes Tumbling, and Do You Want What I Want? The second eagerly awaited book in The Butterfly Novels series, And For Your Information is due out in October 2011.

In And By The Way we meet Alex Newman, the daughter of a famous Irish rock star who goes to Strandbrook College in South County Dublin, an exclusive school where everyone is the son or daughter of someone. “We are Kids Of. Kids of diplomats, media stars, musicians, artists, actors . . . but it’s like, so what?”

When the book opens, Alex’s mum has recently died of cancer and both Alex and her father are finding it difficult to cope. While her father throws himself into his work, Alex pushes everyone, including her father, away. It’s only when an American boy in her class, David McFadden, starts to pay attention and really listen to Alex, that things slowly begin to change.

A recent review in the Independent described And by the Way as “Packed with contemporary references — Paris HiltonAnne Hathaway, The Simpsons — this novel deals with teen issues in a very straightforward and honest manner. Alex’s journey through grief is chronicled in heady detail, as are the teen parties, the friendship scuffles and, when it all goes horribly wrong and David moves to San Diego, the drunken sex with the brother of a friend and the lingering regret and self-loathing that ensues.

The dialogue is sharp …the writing tense, and emotion ripples through every page.

Deegan nails Alex’s caustic teen voice, and leaves the reader rooting for her heroine throughout. Think 90210 with a sprinkling of Dublin grit. This might be just the book to get older teens reading again.”

So how did Denise Deegan get to be a best selling novelist?

Having completed a Masters in PR, Denise was used to putting words on the page, and for her, when she first started writing it felt very natural, but she told me, “I didn’t realise, at the time, how much I needed to learn. I just thought, ‘I can do this’, and off I went. I say this to encourage new writers – if you worry too much about your ability, you might never start. I wrote my first novel,Turning Turtle, in six months, and sent it out to editors and agents without editing. I can’t believe that now! I edit every book at least three times before it even goes near a publisher. Luckily, the book had something – a voice, I think – and I was taken up – after I learned to edit.”

Denise has had a very varied career, everything she’s done informing her writing: “I’ve been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales representative, a public relations executive, a lecturer, and I ran my own public relations business. It did take me a while to come to the decision to quit my business to write – I was throwing away something lucrative, not knowing if I’d ever get published. I look back now and think, mad, but it was the right decision, gave me time to really focus on my work.”

Spending at least three hours each day writing, Denise admits that she spends more than her allocated time on Twitter, the social networking site that is growing increasingly popular with writers. “I follow other writers, but I do get stressed when people talk about word counts and writing at the weekend. Personally, I just sit down and write – some days are great, others aren’t. My favourites writing days are when my characters take over and time disappears, and that’s been the case since I started writing for Young Adults. I love my characters. I love their world.”

Denise’s writing process has changed with each book, but she prefers to write organically, allowing her characters to guide her through the story. “Every book has been different. Some have been much more planned than others. I like to have an idea of where I’m going, but not too much an idea. What I want is for the characters to come alive and do things I’d never expected. I want them to take over and surprise me as much as my readers.”

Character is key to Denise’s creative process, she told me “for The Butterfly Novels the characters muscled their way into my head and wouldn’t leave.” Denise has even put her characters CV’s on her website http://www.butterflynovels.com/meet-the-characters.shtml, She says, “it is a way of inviting the reader to engage with the characters on a new level, adding greater depth and realism.” And as well as being great for readers, it’s an ideal way for new writers to see the depth of information a writer needs to really understand their characters. As Denise says, “Alex, Rachel and Sarah are the main characters in The Butterfly Novels series. I hadn’t planned to write for teenagers but Alex came along first, angry but vulnerable, followed by Rachel, her supportive friend. Then Sarah arrived, messed up. She has become my favourite.”

Writing a series of books based on the same cast of characters, keeping the storylines fresh and interesting, can be a challenge, but Denise has found a novel approach to this: “What I love about this series is that each book is told from a different point of view. So we are looking at the same world from three very different perspectives – and changing our opinion about the characters with each one.”

As the success of her books has shown, Denise succeeds in capturing the language of contemporary teenagers. Language shifts with each generation, buzz words from your youth can have a completely different meaning to the modern teenager. I wondered if Denise had to do a lot of research for The Butterfly Novels? “It’s funny, but since I started writing for teenagers, my own dialogue has changed a bit. I find friends looking at me strangely sometimes when I continuously use words like, ‘random.’ It was the voices of the characters that came to me first and insisted I air them. It feels natural for me to write sixteen year olds – maybe I never grew up!”

And By The Way, takes the reader on shopping sprees, sailing, on the DART, from rock stars to stylists and I was eager to know what was coming next. Denise confided, “Tomorrow morning is set aside to go somewhere really interesting for research. Can’t say where or I would give the plot away, sorry! But I’m looking forward to it.”

Denise is a firm believer that new writers should just keep writing until their achieve their goals. I asked her if she’d still be writing if she hadn’t had that first positive response from a publisher. She assured me, “I don’t quit easily. Especially on dreams.”

And Denise has some superb advice for writers:

  • Be true to your voice.
  • Don’t be afraid.
  • Enjoy the journey.
  • Buy The Artist’s Way and live by it.
  • Be good to yourself and have fun – make sure you tear yourself away from the computer, because the real world is where the best ideas come from.
  • Fall in love with your characters.

For those of you eagerly awaiting And For Your Information, here’s a sneak peek – Sarah’s life is about to change when she is caught shoplifting:

At my favourite cosmetics counter, I pick up an eye shadow. It’s bluey-green like peacock feathers. When I move it under the light, it sparkles. I find a tester and try it out. Oh my God. It’s amazing. It makes my eyes totally stand out. In a good way. Not like a frog’s or those people you see with thyroid problems. I check the price. And put it back. I try to think of a way. If I went without smoothies for a week…. But then you can’t exactly sit with nothing in front of you while your friends suck away for hours.


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