GENEVIEVE: Lou is the quintessential angsty teenage girl--was there any particular inspiration for writing her story?
CHANTELLE: Well she came into my head quite by accident, quite suddenly in fact, and once she started talking she wouldn't stop. In a lot of ways she is me, or parts of me. Writing her character was a bit like being allowed to go back to my own youth and speak out about all the things that annoyed me! She is much feistier than I was, much naughtier too, so that was quite liberating actually. My thoughts and feelings as a teen girl were very similar to hers, but I was much more likely to keep it to myself or write it down. A lot of the things she goes through in the story are things I can relate to, or remember about being a sixteen year old girl. It is kind of a horrible yet wonderful time of life. Very confusing, trying to work out who you are and what you believe in. The temptation to rebel is always there, but so is the longing to be accepted.
GENEVIEVE: I appreciate that your work feels very character-driven more so than plot-driven. Is it easy to get into your characters' heads or do/did you ever get stuck trying to work through a scene? Did the characters ever take you somewhere you didn't expect them to go at first but ended up there as you developed them more?
CHANTELLE: It was very easy to get into their heads really. They were in my head for a long time before I started writing it, so I knew them all really well before I started putting it together. Apart from Leon maybe, who I think no one ever really gets to understand. The scenes unfolded quickly because the characters were so real for me. They just sort of wrote it for me, if that makes sense. They would pop up in my head all the time, having arguments and conversations, and I would have to quickly go and write the dialogue and the scenes down before I forgot. I think the only characters who possibly surprised me a bit and changed direction, were the parents of the teens. Lou's mum, and Joe's mum and step-dad. To begin with I perhaps saw them just as Lou and Joe did. The enemy. As time went on, and the drama unfolded, I came to see them differently and more sympathetically, as did Lou and Joe I think. They were always trying to do the right thing in their own way.
GENEVIEVE: You portray Lou and her thoughts about herself, the drugs, her friends, and general teenage issues in very true-to-life form that works well within the diary framework of the novel. How did you come to choose this type of writing style and format?
CHANTELLE: When I was her age I used to write a lot of diaries and journals and notes. I also used to write on my bedroom wall and on the floorboards of my room. It was my way of getting things off my chest and making sense of emotions. So when she started talking to me, it came into my head that way, as a diary form, or as her addressing the world at large, or even the reader. Someone she imagines is listening! It just seemed to work that way. It gave her a chance to off load and be brutally honest about her thoughts and feelings.
GENEVIEVE: A lot of heavy topics are talked about in The Mess of Me. Self-harm as well as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and a hyper-consciousness of weight are relevant to many women, young and old, and you capture these items in a very nuanced way. Can you speak a little to what drove you to write about these topics?
CHANTELLE: Yes like you say, many women of all ages experience issues with weight. It does seem to be especially hard in the teenage years, when you are growing and changing and undoubtedly comparing yourself to other people. I think as you get older you become more accepting of yourself, and certainly when you become a parent yourself your outlook changes a lot. But as a young girl I went through many of the same things Lou did. I was not comfortable with my looks or my body and neither were a lot of my friends. There were always diets and fads and things we were trying to get 'the perfect body.' When I started to develop Lou's character, she had all these dilemmas and issues, and was trying to make sense of them. Trying to be grown up, but getting it all wrong. Her friend Marianne is an interesting one. I think we've all known people like her. People you can never quite work out whether they are on your side or not! I don't think there was ever any conscious decision to write about certain issues. It just so happened that the characters all had these issues, all had these inner dilemmas going on amidst the rest of their chaotic lives!
GENEVIEVE: You've written a few other books since The Mess of Me was published. Do any of them speak to similarly heavy subjects?
CHANTELLE: I wrote The Boy With The Thorn In His Side first, but it was not 'ready' to publish before The Mess Of Me, as it is a much longer book and has been with me a very long time. In fact I wrote it when I was 12 and then rewrote it many times over the years between then and now. It deals with even heavier issues, to be honest. It's about a boy who tries to deter men from his single mother, but meets his match when a powerful psychopath sweeps her off her feet and starts to control every aspect of their lives. It's about that struggle, about growing up and not fitting in (the main character Danny is another misfit, as are his friends!) but it is also about music and the power of words and lyrics in your life in times of strife. It's also quite violent, very gritty, and contains drug use. This Is Nowhere is a much gentler affair and I published this in December 2014. It's about a young man who is essentially homeless and jobless but seems quite happy. He is estranged from his family and one night his sister calls him home to help care for their elderly father who is developing dementia. The man, Jake, then has to go back to his hometown and face the past he ran from at a young age, in order to find out what really happened to his free spirited mother who vanished in 1996. It's essentially a family drama/mystery, but covers subject matter such as mental illness and suicide. There is also a sequel to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, called This Is The Day, which will be out very soon. I am just waiting for the cover to be finalised!
GENEVIEVE: How did you make the decision to self-publish your novels? Have you found it particularly rewarding or challenging?
Originally I tried the traditional route, but I can see now that what I sent out was nowhere near good enough. I have revised both The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and The Mess Of Me since then, and I think and hope I have also improved as a writer. I was very cautious about self-publishing to begin with. I had no idea how to go about it or whether it would be a mistake in the long-run. Then one day I saw a Facebook ad for a company called Autharium (they are now called Indie) who were offering a publishing platform for ebooks. I looked into it, submitted The Mess Of Me and went from there. Funnily enough, not long after I threw myself into the independent publishing adventure, I was contacted by one of the small presses I had submitted to. They wanted to sign The Mess Of Me and after much deliberation I agreed. However, a year passed with the book unavailable to anyone and very little communication from the small press. Meanwhile Indie seemed to be going from strength to strength, signing great authors, promoting their writers and generally creating a nice community atmosphere. I asked the press to revert the rights back to me and they agreed, and it went back to Indie. I have found it very rewarding, but would best describe it as a rollercoaster! I would love more sales and find it really hard to catergorise and market my work. I am learning though, and slowly seem to building a small following, which is lovely. I had no idea about promoting or marketing in the beginning. It really is a full time job and a steep learning curve. The nice thing is though, there is loads of help available. I have loved connecting with other indie authors, learning from them and discovering some great books in the process.
GENEVIEVE: Do you have any additional novels in the works?
CHANTELLE: Yes I have written a YA dystopia novel called The Tree Of Rebels which is currently in its second draft. It is set in the future and I wrote it for my daughters aged 11 and 12 , in the hope of impressing them! I am submitting this book to the Spring Pitch! I have also just started writing a brand new book which has been in my head for ages now. It will probably be called Elliot Pie's Guide To Human Nature, and is about a young boy who wants to prove to his agrophobic mother that there are still good people in the world. He decides to follow and befriend strangers in a bid to find out more about human nature and prove a point to his negative family. I already love his character and can't wait to get going. There is also a sequel to The Mess Of Me which I have written some of. It will be called The Mess Of Us and is set two years on from where the first book ends.
Find it on Amazon
Like it on Facebook
Follow Chantelle on Twitter
Visit Chantelle's website
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Genevieve Shifke Ali is an Assistant Editor with an independent publishing house. She writes occasionally on her blog genevieveshifkeali.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @GShifkeAli.