I wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies at the tender age of 20. Scary, huh? At the time I was on my gap year, having finished A-levels. Strictly speaking it was my second gap year, as I’d gone to Quebec as an exchange student after my GCSEs. I was in France taking lessons in French (oddly enough). I’d signed up for mornings only, thinking that full days would be a bit much, so I had plenty of free time and needed something to do with it.
This was spring, but in the summer I was doing a week-long summer school in creative writing at Oxford University Summer School for Adults. This is a lot less prestigious than it sounds, as all you have to do to get in is pay (it’s not cheap, but I wholeheartedly recommend it). So, I decided I was going to spend my afternoons writing a novel.
I’d written plenty of stories over the years. Much of that was fanfiction, in genres such as Lord of the Rings and the sci-fi show Farscape. My experience of writing original fiction was limited. As I recall, I first wrote a YA novel (which I will have to read back at some point, although I don’t think it was very good).
Then I picked up a copy of Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret?, which remains my favourite of her novels, and laughed my arse off. I’d never liked books written in the first person before, and hadn’t written anything in that style, but I decided then and there to write a book like hers.
Before going to France, I was a temp in an insurance claims office, which was going downhill rapidly while I was there (nothing to do with me, I assure you). I have to admit I was thinking of it when I wrote Mel’s workplace, although none of the people I worked with appear in the book (I promise). The rest of the book is imagination. I don’t have a lifelong best friend like Will, although when I read the book again before publication, I was struck by the number of similarities between him and my husband – who I hadn’t yet met when I wrote it.
The book is based loosely on Emma by Jane Austen. There’s one really good reason for that: it was on the reading list for the creative writing class I was taking! I hadn’t read it before, although I had read Pride and Prejudice, which I refer to several times in the book. Like everyone in my generation (and a few others I think), I loved the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. One day maybe I’ll write my own version of that.
I wrote about two-thirds of the book in France, in about four weeks, and the rest scene-by-scene over a few months when I got back (I was working, so had less time). I was tremendously proud to have completed a novel. I still am. I think it was my greatest achievement so far, although it’s been superseded since then.
Over the years, I spent a lot of time editing it. I always planned to send it out to agents, but I was never happy with it. Perhaps if I had it would have been published years ago. Or perhaps I would just have a nice stack of rejection letters. I suspect I’m better off publishing now. Putting your work out there for people to read and criticise is not easy and I think I would have had a harder time coping with it at 20 than I do now at 30.
Anyway, it’s now out in the world for you to read. I hope you like it.
The Dr Pepper Prophecies is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and other Amazon sites.
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