January 2008


Milly Johnson is the author behind last year's The Yorkshire Pudding Club - which won her a Chicklit Club award for most promising author. The mother of two sons lives in Yorkshire where she is researching a book on local Barnsley wrestlers - part of that research is undergoing a WWE-like training regime. Her latest novel, The Birds & the Bees, is out this month.

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  1. How did the story behind The Birds and the Bees come about?

    Firstly I wanted to pay homage to my Scottish heritage and my hero was to be a magnificent and sexy Highlander. It was an exercise to see if I could introduce him as a controversial love interest and make him grow on my readers. Secondly I wanted to do something with the plot of two people who are cruelly abandoned and yet in the end they're the ones who are happiest. It was a joyful trial to see if I could keep them believably apart until the end. I'm just a sucker for a storyline that leaves a reader with a big smile and a warm glow. And thirdly I wanted to highlight the plight of single parents, especially those covering both mother and father roles, and the guilt they often feel at not being able to provide that storybook two-parent family unit. Add to that - the responsibility of letting a new partner into the family unit and the devastation that can cause if they're the 'wrong one'. I know it's a minefield (I've done it AND got it wrong!) so I know it will resonate with a lot of single parents out there.

  2. Is it easier writing the nice (ie Stevie) or nasty (Jo) characters?

    It's not easier or harder, just different. They both have to be real enough to be believable and have the reader cheer for the good guys and feel satisfied if the baddies get their due comeuppance. My goodies and my baddies all have back-stories that round them out because I want my readers to know how they've evolved into the people they are. The ones in the middle are great fun - ie in The Birds and the Bees, Matt is weak rather than wicked - I'm quite proud of how he turned out.

  3. How's Adam's Scottish brogue going to translate for the audio version?

    I haven't a clue - I'll leave that one to the experts! I hope they don't miss all the unintelligible parts out though - part of the fun is Stevie's inability to understand him (and when she is really at a loss, he does 'translate' for her - and the reader!)

  4. Tell us about your career writing greeting cards?

    It started off as a hobby in the late 1980s - I was lucky enough to be right at the beginning of the Purple Ronnie phenomenon and wrote for the card company that produced them - that's always looked great on my CV. I only ever did it for pin money though - until I lost my job when I was two weeks pregnant in 1997. It was my only choice at the time to see if I could up the ante and turn a hobby into a business and I did it, and still do it, very successfully. I've got a lot of wonderful friends in the business and it supports my novel-writing because it keeps my finger on the pulse about what's topical and in vogue and what moves people to laughter and tears. It would take something very drastic for me to ever let card-writing go completely!

  5. Describe how you went from unpublished writer to an author with a two-book deal?

    I'd been trying to get published for 15 years on and off. I'd submit manuscripts, receive rejections and then decide to forget about writing as a career and got on with living life. Then invariably the urge to write again and re-submit would loom and the cycle would begin again - it was the dream that wouldn't quite die. Living life gave me experiences to write about, reading other people's work gave me ideas of writing styles and the more I wrote, the better I got, as you do when you practise. I suppose you could say 'I grew up' in a literary sense, enough to hook me the agent I'd been beggaring for all those years and for a publisher to take a chance on me as an unknown. It was a struggle - but one SO worth it now I've earned my author status. I'd say to anyone who truly wants to write, give it your all!

  6. Which of the Yorkshire Pudding Club girls - Helen, Janey or Elizabeth - do you most identify with?

    There's a little bit of me in all my girls. Helen has my inner strength that rises up to help her when she most needs it and Janey has my mouth - usually got a foot in it. I have to say though, Elizabeth and I are the most similar. We're both loyal and love a lot and feel slightly off kilter with the world. Bless her!

  7. I believe you have another two books on the way. What are they about?

    Book 3 is written and is about a Barnsley woman who has become rather a shadow of her former magnificent self until a simple magazine article helps to, not only lift her out of the rut, but reconnect with the woman she used to be and go for all the dreams she's buried over the years. Book 4 is about a group of five women all different ages who become friends at work, again set in Barnsley. Oh and my ladies from the Yorkshire Pudding Club return in book 4 - although it's by no means a sequel.

  8. How's your wrestling training going?

    Fantastic - I look exactly like Big Daddy. Joking apart, it was going great before Christmas then we went on a cruise and there have been too many celebratory lunches since we hit terra firma. It was a daft time to commit as I'm so busy promoting the book but I have to say, I have even more respect for the discipline body sculptors have to have. I thought I was disciplined - but compared to those guys, I'm not! I'll be back at the gym after my book-signing - promise!

  9. What's been the best feedback you've received for one of your books?

    Lots of people have written to me and said that they really identify with the friendships going on between my characters and that was the best sort of compliment and greatest feedback because it was exactly what I wanted to hear. I was so chuffed to be told that I'd got it right and that readers identify with my characters and pull them into their hearts because they feel so real to them.

  10. What's been the toughest test you've faced as a writer?

    Seeing the first criticisms of my work on a site. It was as if someone had slagged off my baby! Of course it will always hurt - but one has to think 'water' and 'duck's back' ie feel the sting of the raindrops but try not to absorb them. Of course there are 'trolls' who are vicious for the sake of it, but fair criticism yields some useful pointers. Then again, you're never going to please all the people all of the time and that I've had to accept. Knowing it and feeling it, though, aren't quite the same.

  11. How has being short (five foot) affected your personality?

    Okay, so I was never the leggy one that the university guys lusted after, but they treated me like a little sister, a mate and I enjoyed that. There's a lot of humour in my family but I think mine has been super-developed to make up for the fact that I was never going to get any attention from my supermodel looks (not). Yes I've occasionally felt the desire to be taller. I like tall men and smooching with them was always a sight to behold. It's been a source of amusement to friends - and I'm used to having the **** taken out of me - but it's always been very affectionate. Oh and I'm actually just under 5ft - I lied!

  12. What inspired your involvement in Bully Off?

    I was never bullied at school and so it came as quite a shock to realise there were bullies in the workplace. I went through an incredibly stressful and upsetting time in my last job and when I fought the system I found there was no suitable structure in place to deal with what is now an epidemic in workplaces. There are forums in place to share experiences, so it would have been silly to set up one more. Instead I wanted to go for change. Because of that, it's very slow moving, but a sea change in people's attitudes is needed and it does happen - think of how smoking used to be accepted and how it's not tolerated any more because of a build up of pressure to act for people's best interests. The more my profile grows, the more chance I have at getting people who can make a difference to listen. It certainly wasn't in my nature to sit back and take that kind of injustice without fighting my corner. I felt I lost my job only because I refused to drop friendships that the establishment disagreed with. But at least I had prospects - what happens to the guy who hasn't got anything else to go to and has to accept that he's been driven out of his job because his 'face doesn't fit?' And the people in their late 40s/early 50s who are going to find it hard to get another job. Being driven out of work by bullying causes the most tremendous damage to people and their families. That's why I want to help break the power of the workplace bullies!

  13. What/who is your favourite:

    1. Book
      Jane Eyre. I read this first at school and it has everything for me - passion, drama and even a hint of the supernatural. It was a very influential story - with its plain heroine and un-handsome lead male. I still hold my breath at the part where Rochester comes after her up the staircase.
    2. Character
      I'm sticking with Charlotte Bronte and going for Edward Rochester. I think if I met him I'd go weak at the knees. What a man! I imagine he'd be a tremendous and tender lover and great fun to banter with.
    3. Author
      Difficult - because I like so many diverse genres and have favourites in all of them. Classical wise - I love Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, contemporary-wise - I love Marian Keyes. Her writing was a great influence on me too.

  14. If you had one wish that could come true, what would it be?

    I'm going to plump for the good old-fashioned 'Health guaranteed' wish for all my friends and loved ones. Without that - you've got nothing - with that, anything is possible. But, if I'm going to be flippant, I'd love a pair of functioning and fully retractable wings� I would LOVE to fly!

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