Paige Toon's latest novel is The One We Fell in Love With. A philosophy graduate, she has worked in magazines, including as reviews editor for heat magazine. She was born in England but spent much of her childhood in Australia. She lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge. (Interview by Jade Craddock)Interviewee A to Z
Where did the idea of a story about triplets come from?
I was remembering the identical triplets who went to the same school as me in Australia, where I grew up. I was wondering what it must’ve felt like for them with everyone knowing who they were – they probably felt a little like celebrities. But then I thought about what it would’ve been like at home, when they were one of three, and what it might have felt like to share their parents. The idea for The One We Fell in Love With spun from that. ‘The One’ is Angus, the boy who moved in next door when the girls were seventeen. Now in their late twenties, one of them is marrying him, but the past has not been laid entirely to rest.
Did you have any preconceptions about what it would be like to be a triplet before you wrote the book and did any of those change?
I thought it must feel pretty special to be an identical triplet, because you’d be so unusual. What I didn’t fully understand until I researched the book was just how difficult it would be to share everything from knickers to toys and birthday parties, and to be constantly compared to each other by friends, family and teachers, etc. If my older brother does something better than me, it doesn’t feel like a competition, because he’s older and a boy, so he’s different in so many ways. But to have a sister who is exactly the same age… I can imagine that people would expect you to achieve the same things, and it would feel terrible if you fell well short of your goals.
Did you always have a clear sense of each of the triplet’s individual stories or did their plots develop as you wrote?
Plots will always develop as you write them, but I think I had a pretty clear idea of who each of the triplets were. Phoebe was the hardest for me to understand, because she’s so different to me with her passion for rock climbing, so I had to do a lot of research to make sure I fully appreciated what made her tick.
Despite them being triplets, you manage to create three entirely distinguishable and unique characters in Phoebe, Eliza and Rose. How easy was it for you to differentiate between them in your own mind and then on paper?
That’s lovely of you to say! It’s funny, when you’re inside a character’s head, they are their own, unique person. So they never felt anything other than who they were to me. It’s the same when I’m writing about fifteen-year-old Jessie Jefferson from my young adult series – she’s herself, so there’s no need for me to try to embody a younger character. She just feels so real to me when I’m inside her head, thinking what she’d think. All my characters feel real to me in this way.
Having Angus as a love interest for all three was so original, did you ever worry about how you could pull this off?
I think I believed that, as long as I could really imagine how each of the girls was feeling, their emotions would be authentic, so I wasn’t too worried about being able to pull it off. Saying that, Rose’s part of the story did change slightly in the editing process. Initially, she thought she was still in love with Angus and later realised it was just a crush, but that wasn’t quite working, so in the finished book, she’s more aware early on that her feelings aren’t overly serious. As for Angus, I knew from the start how he would connect to each of the girls – how he would feel about them. That never changed while writing.
Readers are somewhat used to the idea of a girl choosing between two guys in chick lit but this throws all that up in the air, how exciting was it to do something so different?
Really fun, but I didn’t want there to be any cheating in this book, so I had to be careful about how to handle that. My last book had a full-scale affair and that was something I’d never done before, but this time around I was keen to make it more of an emotional dilemma. I try to change things up a bit with every book – I don’t want to become predictable to my readers.
The One We Fell in Love With was published on the tenth anniversary of your first novel, Lucy in the Sky, how would you sum up the last ten years? And do you have any hopes for the next ten?
The last ten years have been absolutely incredible – the best of my life. In the last ten years, I’ve signed books deals, written books (something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child) and had two beautiful children, so I consider myself very, very lucky. In the next ten years, I hope to write at least ten more books – maybe even twenty, as I’ve been writing two books a year for the last three years! That’s if I don’t run out of ideas...
How have you changed as an author in the ten years you’ve been writing and what changes have you seen in the industry?
I still write from the heart as much as I ever did, so that hasn’t changed, but I definitely think I’ve become a better writer – more mature, I guess. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. As for changes in the industry, ebooks would be the main one. Personally, I love ebooks as a reader because I can take lots of book on holiday. And also, they give readers access to any book, even if they can’t find them in the shops. My fourth book, Pictures of Lily, was part of Apple’s 12 Days of Christmas giveaway a few years ago, and I still have readers writing to me, saying that they first discovered my books through that promotion.
Does writing ever become a chore?
It honestly doesn’t. I love writing. The only thing that I find frustrating is when I sit down to work and have to catch up on all of the other stuff before I can get to the book. Mondays are the worst, because I don’t tend to do much on social media on the weekend, so it’s a catch-up day. There always seems to be a lot of housework on a Monday, too!
What prompted the decision to take up YA and has writing this genre changed the way you think about writing for adults?
I used to write a book a year around baby nap times and, later, limited nursery hours, but when both children were in school, I found I had three times the amount of working hours in my week. I’d rather spend my free time doing my dream job, and I work better under pressure, so I thought I’d squeeze another book in! My friend and fellow author Ali Harris suggested YA, and I already had an idea for a spin-off from the Johnny series. When I thought about it, the idea worked even better as a young adult series. I used to alternate writing about ordinary people and people who had a link to celebrity in some way – I think this harks back to my Heat magazine days, (where I was Reviews Editor for seven years). Now that I get that fun celebrity fix in my young adult books, I’m probably more likely to write about everyday people in my adult books from now on.
What’s up next for you in terms of your next YA and adult novels?
My next adult novel stars a character from Thirteen Weddings and The Longest Holiday – Bridget. She was so much fun to write about as a friend character, and I remember quite a few readers asking me to write her a book. I penned a short story called The Pieces of My Heart for subscribers of my newsletter, The Hidden Paige, and the idea for her book came from that. It’s free to sign up – at paigetoon.com – if anyone wants to read it. As for YA, the third and final book in the Jessie Jefferson rock star series comes out in July, and after that I plan to write another young adult series – a love story set in the future. I came up with the idea for it a week after signing my Jessie book deal and I’ve been dying to write it for about four years, so I can’t wait to get stuck in.
And finally I suspect this book will be one that readers will fall in love with but what is the one book that you’ve fell in love with this year?
Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover. I loved it so much. It was pretty much perfect and I was completely and utterly swept away by the love story. I would recommend it to anyone.
Tell us about how you developed the idea for Johnny Be Good.
I was reading Robbie Williams' book Feel, by Chris Heath, and liked the idea of an ordinary person becoming friends with a rock star. I imagined what it must be like to be a PA to a rock star and the story developed from there.
Which real life rock stars inspired your character of Johnny?
Even though Robbie's book inspired the story, I actually imagined the character of Johnny to be a bit more like Kurt Cobain from Nirvana.
Which celebrity would you most like to be a PA for? And who couldn't you stand to work for?
This is a tough one. I wasn't that big a fan of Robbie until I read his book and felt a bit sorry for him because he was so troubled. I'd quite like to be his PA so I could see him right! The other one is Brad Pitt, for obvious reasons... I wouldn't like to be Mariah Carey's PA - can you imagine all the demands she'd make on you? Nightmare!
What's the best thing and worst thing about working for a magazine?
I don't work in the office any more because I wanted to look after my son full time, but I do miss the people and the lively, fun atmosphere. AND the freebies! I was Reviews Ed and got all the free books, CDs, DVDs and film tickets I could ever dream of - bliss! The worst thing... I didn't hate anything about my job. I suppose the only slightly annoying thing was always being asked by people what the latest gossip was - and the only reason that wasn't great was because I was always completely clueless as I didn't work on the news desk!
What made you turn your hand to writing your first novel, Lucy in the Sky?
I came up with the idea of Lucy a few years ago when my parents and brother moved back to Australia and I was still in England at university. I felt very homesick and torn between the two countries. I started writing it then but it was a completely different book - much darker - and doesn't resemble the finished product in any way! I actually only starting writing Lucy properly after I got a book deal - I got the deal based on the idea alone so was very lucky.
What inspired the opening scene of Lucy's flight from hell?
I think I was on a plane to Australia myself when I imagined (I have an overactive imagination) getting a horrid text and not being able to do anything about it for 24 hours.
Why did you add a brief mention of some of your Lucy characters in Johnny Be Good?
I love it when I read books myself and get an update of characters I've read about in the past - I want them to carry on living in their own parallel universe!
Tell us about your third book. I believe it's to be set in your father's world of motor racing?
That's right - it's actually about Johnny's former PA before Meg. She was a character who interested me in Johnny Be Good, so I decided to take her further. She's now working for a Formula 1 team and falls in love with a racing driver, but he's still going out with his childhood sweetheart...
How have your travels influenced your writing?
I personally love reading about different places and I have a few experiences to draw from, but it's really important to me to do proper research so I can live like the characters. For Lucy In The Sky, I spent a couple of days in Sydney to work out exactly where I imagined Lucy and her characters would live, work and party. For Johnny I did the same in LA. It's not possible for my third book to travel to all the countries where the races are held, but I've been to a few anyway and the rest is internet research and chatting to people who have!
Your books have had clever titles and great artwork. How much importance do you place on getting the right title and cover?
MAJOR importance. I know from working at heat that you actually DO judge a book by its cover. It tells you so much about what to expect inside. I have to thank my brother for the titles and my publishers have come up with great artwork, although my husband (an architect/designer) has also had quite a lot of input on the latter.
Who are you most like - Lucy or Meg?
I guess I'm most like Lucy because I'm half-Australian and understood what it felt like to be torn, but all of my characters have a little bit of me in them. I remember so many friends and family found it hard to not think of me when they read Lucy, but didn't have that with Meg, so they'd definitely say Lucy!
Who are your favourite chick lit authors?
I love Marian Keyes - she's the queen of chick lit - but I also like Lisa Jewell, Freya North, Adele Parks, Jane Green - all the biggies!
13. Do you mind your books being branded chick lit?
Of course not! I love chick-lit myself and that's what I wanted to write.
What do you do to escape writing?
Hmm - I never really escape it because even when I'm not writing I'm often thinking about the characters and what's going to happen to them. But as I only write when my 13-month-old son naps, the rest of my time is spent doing nice things with him, like going to parks, playgroups, cafés with my antenatal friends - that sort of thing. I've always wanted to be an author and when I got my book deal, it was the happiest time of my life - until I had my son Indy, and now being his mum trumps that a million times over, so I'm a pretty damn happy chick right now!