Saturday, September 24, 2011

Life Was Cool Until You Got Popular: An interview with Middle-Grade Author, Sarah Billington

Today, I'm talking with middle-grade author Sarah Billington about her amusing teen story of angst and friendship, Life Was Cool Until You Got Popular.

1) Tell us about your book.

Life Was Cool Until You Got Popular is a funny girl book filled with drama that is regularly compared to Louise Rennison's Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series. I take this as a high compliment, indeed.

Thirteen-year old Kaley’s best friend Jules is an alien clone. That has to be it. Because Jules wouldn’t dress like that or act like that…and she definitely wouldn’t be friends with Meg-a-bitch.

Kaley can't wait to start at her new school with her best friend Jules. Jules was away in Europe all summer (worst summer of Kaley's life!) But it's cool, now school is starting and everything is going to be awesome. However as the school bus pulls up on that first day, Kaley barely recognizes the silky hair and glossy lips as Jules gets off with the cool kids and with their arch-nemesis Meg, the popular girl (God only knows why) who made Kaley and Jules's lives miserable in elementary school. In Europe, Meg had somehow won over Kaley's best friend and Kaley finds herself frozen out.

Life Was Cool Until You Got Popular is a first person upper-middle grade told through Kaley’s eyes, chronicling the initial pain and incomprehension of what happened to destroy their friendship. But that doesn't last long. Kaley decides that underneath the bleached blond clone with the personality transplant, Jules is still in there. Somewhere. And she is going to get her best friend back! 

2) Middle Grade can be tough to manage. A lot of adults barely understand why kids do what they do, let alone understand it enough to write a convincing book from their perspective. Why choose MG versus something like YA where the greater sophistication can be easier to manage?

The book actually started its life as a YA, but the story is more about a topic that is of interest to younger teens than older teens. It's (mostly) not about boys, it's about girl friendships and how important your friends are in your life. So I aged the story down to thirteen year olds as it definitely speaks to them. It's about trying to work out who you are, testing out different personalities, different roles within your social sphere. At its essence, Life was cool is a coming of age book. 

3) Was managing a MG voice difficult?
Not for me, apparently you can hear me quite clearly in this book so obviously I haven't grown up since I was thirteen. :) 

4) Did you employ any young teen beta readers?

I didn't! Sadly, I don't actually KNOW any tweens or teens. I am the youngest person in my whole family (I have a small extended family) aside from a couple of babies, and as I'm 27, my friends who have children only have teeny weeny ones. In ten years I will hopefully have an abundance of teen beta readers though. :) 
5) What inspired you to write this book?

The title. It's funny like that. The title came to me one day and I liked it and decided to write a book about that topic.

I suppose, my whole life I've always felt a bit on the outside looking in, which may surprise my friends and family, but I think it comes with the territory: I am OFTEN looking in. Observing others. It doesn't mean I'm not a part of it all though. In the book, Kaley is on the outside, looking in, wanting to be a part of one element, and wanting to understand another.  It's something I could relate to which I suppose is why I wrote this book. To be honest I've never really thought about it too much, it just...the story was somewhere in me and needed to come out.

6) Do you think it is important that teens read books about characters like themselves?

I think it's important for teens, children, adults, for EVERYONE to read about characters like themselves, yes, but also about characters completely different to them.

It's important to read about characters like yourself because you can feel comforted, you're not alone, you're not weird etc. It's also important to read about people who are completely different to you as it helps you to understand them, understand their experiences and how it may effect the way they think and behave. To me, reading can teach empathy and compassion, regardless of the genre. 

7) A lot of MG and YA books are paranormal these days. Have you ever been tempted in that direction?

I do like paranormal and creepy things, but I'm generally not very mainstream about it. I've never been into vampires or fairies. That said, I am very into zombies, and zombies are becoming more and more mainstream these days, aren't they. I am currently writing a YA zombie novel under my pseudonym, Edwina Ray. It's a black comedy but also quite brutal and horrifying in parts. At least that's the goal. I want to write a book about a team of paranormal investigators as well, so the answer is yes. I am tempted by the paranormal.
I also want to write two sequels to Life Was Cool Until You Got Popular but will hold off on those until readers say they want them. There are just too many stories to write!

Thanks so much for hosting me, J.A.


If you'd like to hear more from Sarah, you can find her at,, and

Life Was Cool Until You Got Popular is available from Amazon, Smashwords, and all good ebook distributors. 


Lynn Hubbard said...

Good Post! There is a massive shortage of realistic books out there for tweens and teens. I hope it flys off the shelves!

Sarah Billington said...

Thanks Lynn!
Paranormal fiction is flooding the market, contemporary, REAL fiction can sure make a nice breather, can't it.