On 11 December, I popped into Waterstones Covent Garden for ‘An Evening with Giovanna Fletcher,’ the wonderful author’s first bookish event of its kind, which just so happened to be sold out. I had purchased a ticket, of course, so my mum and I sat down with a mince pie or two ready to hear from Giovanna, who has written two novels and a festive short story: Billy and Me, You’re The One That I Want and Christmas with Billy and Me.
Giovanna (which I’m sure is pronounced GiovAnna not GiovAHnna but my mouth refuses to accept that it seems), joined by Heat’s book reviewer and fellow author Isabelle Broom who was chairing the Q&A, started off by talking about Christmas with Billy and Me, including why she wrote it and how she felt whilst doing so.
“Writing this – it’s felt like revisiting old friends,” she said. “It’s so nice to go back and start writing something where you already know who they are. I’d be a bit foolish if I didn’t go back and revisit them.”
Giovanna hinted that Christmas with Billy and Me may not be the last time we ever revisit Billy and Sophie’s story. She suggested that, as with any book that ends with a happily ever after, there’s always still the question of what happened next. “I don’t think any book really ends. Unless they die…,” she giggled.
She noted, though, that she doesn’t think every book needs a sequel, but that it’s well worth it “as long as you’re not churning out books for the sake of it.”
“My heart has always told me that I want to go back to it anyway,” Giovanna continued. “Billy and Me is my debut and it means a lot to me. I’ve poured a lot of my heart and soul into it so I always knew I wanted to go back.”
“With Christmas with Billy and Me, I wanted to do something that let us see them in a certain space and time but didn’t show too much of them that would mean, if there is another book, we’ve missed a chunk,” Giovanna added. “Christmas with Billy and Me is a snippet of where they are this Christmas. It’s heartfelt and lovely and magical but doesn’t take away from what could happen further down the line.”
Giovanna said that she loved writing the short story, though she only wrote it a couple of months ago, in September, after the unexpected early arrival of her adorable son Buzz, who is now nine months old (how time flies!).
When talking about the characters in her books, Giovanna said: “I see myself in all of my characters, and that makes it easier, because you’re writing from the heart. I look at things from an actors’ point of view in that way, so I put myself in their position. I act through things. That’s the actors’ way of finding the truth.”
Isabelle then asked Giovanna who she’d choose to play Billy and Sophie in the Billy and Me movie, should there every be one. She’d like a blend of Carey Mulligan and Hayley Atwell for Sophie, and a blend of Eddie Redmayne and Dominic Cooper for Billy. Others have suggested Douglas Booth for Billy, but Giovanna joked that it’s made her realise how old she is because she doesn’t know who Douglas Booth is (for the record, she’s not old at all).
There’s only one character Giovanna’s written that’s based on a real character, and that’s Molly, who was a wonderful lady that Gi worked with in a florists as a teenager, and who made a big impression on Giovanna.
Gi also has a least favourite character, and that’s Paul from Billy and Me. “What an idiot,” she said.
Giovanna loves Christmas, but when asked whether this year would be lots different now that she’s a mummy, she suggested that this year will be similar to previous years but next year Buzz will know what’s happening so it should be pretty special.
“You gather these ideas, and remember how magical things were,” she said, reminiscing about her childhood. “My mum and dad used to close the living room door where all the presents were, and I can remember Mario and Giorgina, my brother and sister, knocking on my door and saying: “Shall we go downstairs?” and I can remember opening the doors and seeing all the presents there and it just being the most magical thing ever. So I can’t wait to bring all that magic in.”
“But this year, Buzz doesn’t know, so me and Tom are just doing one present each for him and we haven’t told each other what we’re getting,” she revealed. “So it’s for our benefit really.”
Giovanna says the book she’s looking forward to reading next is The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, because she recently read The Rosie Project and thought it was “just amazing.”
Giovanna doesn’t find reading while writing her own novels distracting: “I have been reading in the evenings when I can. I find it really inspiring. Sometimes I shut myself off if I know I’m in a point where all I can do is think about those characters, but it’s like having two different groups of friends. You wouldn’t say – oh, I can’t see you anymore I’ve got a new group of friends!”
Among Giovanna’s favourite authors are Jane Green (Jemima J is the first adult book she read and she’s gone on to read everything by Jane Green since), Adele Parks, Dorothy Koomson, Paige Toon, Lindsey Kelk and Cecelia Ahern. She wishes that she had written Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, because she thinks it’s a simple idea that’s complete genius.
In addition to being an author, Giovanna also vlogs, blogs, reviews books, and is a mum to a small baby. Wowzers! How does she fit it all in!? “Vlogging is a lot of fun, and I’m loving it,” she said. “I think I’m fitting it all in because I genuinely love it all, so none of it feels like a chore.”
On getting a book deal
The day Giovanna found out she had a book deal under her belt was a pretty special one, and not just because Penguin wanted to sign her. She was also on her way to a wedding dress fitting when she got the call from her agent Hannah with the good news! What a day!
Giovanna found book one, Billy and Me, much easier to write than book two, You’re the One That I Want. “With book one, I was sat in my office with no expectations. I was just writing something that I really, really loved, and not one part of me thought, ‘oh, my Dad’s gonna read this’.”
“With book two, I had so much expectation from myself,” she added. “And I knew who was going to read it. I remember, when I was writing a naughty scene, all I could think was, ‘Dad’s going to read this’. I tweeted it, and he tweeted back (he’s quite cool) and said, don’t worry daughter I’ve seen a lot worse. I was like ‘eewww!’.”
“I don’t have a strict routine,” Giovanna revealed. “I have an idea and just go with it. There’s people who have post it notes for every single chapter so they know what’s going to happen. I don’t do that. I did try… I don’t like the restrictions of trying to fit a character into a box. I’d rather just let them be free.”
Giovanna says that the best thing about being a writer is sitting in he pyjamas all day and rewarding herself with Nutella (which she swears she’s not sponsored by), but that’s also the worst thing about being a writer!
“Dorothy Koomson’s advice to me was to write,” Giovanna said simply when asked what advice she’d give to aspiring authors. “Because unless you write, nothing else can happen. Dorothy felt that a lot of people said to her, I’d love to write a book, and she just said: Write it.”
“It took me about a year to write Billy and Me – about 18 months from first writing it to publication. You’re The One That I Want was nine months from starting to write it to publication.”
Giovanna can’t decide which of her two books is her favourite (that was a tough question!) “I do love Billy and Me,” she said after some thought. “But I love You’re The One That I Want because you see people from when they’re kids, all the way through. The idea that I love in that, is that things happen to all of us when we’re kids and they can dictate what happens and who we become.”
Gi also talked a bit about the editing process, which some writers hate but Gi says she quite enjoys. “Nothing is ever edited for me – I get suggestions and it’s up to me to cut things out,” she explained.
“If there’s something you feel really strongly about during the editing process, put your foot down,” Gi advised. “In You’re the one that I want, people wanted the ending to be different, and I was like: no. This is the point of the book. The point of me writing that book is the ending. I didn’t want what people wanted.” You go Giovanna!
She feels similarly about movies that start life as books. “I watch films from books and I tut all the way through,” she said to unanimous agreement from the crowd. “But there’s a reason why they change things and cut bits out. I don’t know what works in films and what doesn’t. If Billy and Me gets picked up by some big arse director (not that he has a big bum), I hope we can discuss it.” And yes, she really did say that bit in brackets.
Giovanna has always been a bookworm, but she never gave herself the credit that being an author was something she could do. However, she ended up doing some work experience with Isabelle at Heat, and there she began writing book reviews. From there, she met authors, agents and more and eventually came up with her first book idea which she pitched to her agent before sending it out to publishers for consideration. “I don’t like people to thing that it was really easy or that it just fell on my lap,” Gi said. “I had to work hard on it. It’s hard writing a book, but it’s lots of fun.”
I found it really interesting to hear that Giovanna struggled through her second book at times. “I have a target of 1,500 words a day. Sometimes I can write 100 words, and it’s like pulling my teeth out. Writing book two, I got myself into such a tiz that I stepped away from it for a month. But then I spoke to loads of other authors and they agreed. I call it second book syndrome,” she said.
While writing, Giovanna reads what she wrote the day before, and bits that she’s put in red that she knows needs more work. She says that she goes back and she layers things. “Reading over your work is really important.”
When asked about how she felt about ghostwriters, after the subject was propelled into the media by the success of vlogger Zoella’s book Girl Online which was written by a ghostwriter, Giovanna said: “I think that ghostwriters help people tell a story that they want to tell. I’ve read the book, and it’s very Zoella. You can’t take that away from her. The reason it’s sold so many copies is because it’s her book. What she gave that book is very evident. I think it’s amazing what she’s done. Ghostwriting – there’s no scandal. They exist and they help people tell their stories.”
On future projects
Giovanna did talk a bit about her forthcoming book, but it’s a SECRET! So I’m not going to spoil it here 🙂 What I will say, though, is that it sounds extremely intriguing, and Gi seemed particularly excited about it so I think it’s going to be a good’un. Maybe the best one yet.
And I have a feeling there will be many more books after that from Giovanna’s imaginative brain. “I have a folder in my computer called future,” she said. “I’ve got a list of ideas and then every time we go in for a meeting about the next book I bring out that list. There’s usually one that you’ve worked on a little bit more and developed. It glows because you’ve spent a bit more time on it. You can feel when you’re voicing them – this is the one. It can be simple things that trigger an idea. Life is one big inspiration.”
Below is a very blurry photograph of Giovanna and I, followed by the funny dedication in my copy of Christmas with Billy and Me. Giovanna is one of the funniest, loveliest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!
What an amazing evening! Thanks so much to Waterstones, Isabelle and of course Giovanna for making the evening so enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the next one already 🙂
You can find Giovanna’s books on Goodreads by following the links below:
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