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Gemma Malley studied Philosophy at Reading University before working as a journalist. She edited several business magazines and contributed regularly to publications including Company Magazine and The Sunday Telegraph before moving to the civil service, where she held a senior position within Ofsted, the education and care watchdog.
She is married to Mark, the head master of a preparatory school in North West London.
Q & A
What are your favourite children's books and why?
It's difficult to come up with favourites because different books were important to me at different times — I loved Enid Blyton and CS Lewis when I was younger; adored Harry Potter as soon as I read the first chapter of the first book; was completely blown away by Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and was utterly gripped by Jennifer Donnelly's A Gathering Light. I think the most important thing in a children's book is a wonderful story, one that can completely transport you. That's why I loved reading when I was younger (and why I continue to love it now) — because every time you pull back a cover, you start a new adventure.
Who are your favourite children's authors and why?
My favourite children's authors are those who, in my opinion, make the most of the genre with great storytelling, extensive imagination, and who aren't afraid to tackle difficult and complicated subjects. Philip Pullman is certainly one, as are Meg Rosoff, Jennifer Donnelly and Jacqueline Wilson. I think that Oscar Wilde's fairy tales are also absolutely wonderful.
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer?
I've wanted to be a writer since I was very young — I was always writing stories, and spent the vast majority of my childhood creating imaginary lands in my head. I got a job as a journalist after university and that was a huge confidence boost — to know that someone would actually pay me to write! I always knew that I wanted to write a book — I just had to wait for the right idea to come along.
What inspired you to write your latest book?
Lots of things inspired me to write The Declaration, but the most important one was an article I read in a newspaper, which was about how scientific breakthroughs meant that within a few years, we could all be living much longer, and about a scientist who said it was the moral duty of the scientific community to do everything it could to extend the life span of humans — perhaps indefinitely. And as I read this article, I began to think that if everyone lived forever, or even for a very long time, there wouldn't be any room on the earth for us all before too long. And then I wondered if, maybe, if everyone lived forever, people would have to stop having children. That seemed to me the most appalling and horrific idea, and as soon as I'd had it, the idea of Anna came to me. Actually, she didn't just come to me as an idea — she had soon moved into my head full time and wouldn't let me rest until the book had been written.
What's the best thing you've ever written?
Probably the letter to my agent, Dorie Simmonds. It was that letter that led to my books being published instead of languishing on my computer hoping to be read by someone!
Is there any particular ritual involved in your writing process (favourite pen, lucky charm, south-facing window)?
I don't have too many rituals when it comes to writing — I sit looking out into the garden, which is lovely (and provides welcome distractions when required), and I can't even start thinking about writing until I've had a cup of hot, steaming tea. Other than that, I try to clear my mind completely, think about my characters, and then write as much as I can before my next tea break!
What is your favourite colour?
I think my favourite colour is probably yellow — it's not a colour I'd ever wear, but when I walk into a yellow room I immediately feel uplifted. It's probably because yellow is the colour of sunshine; because it's bright and bold and carefree.
What is your favourite food and worst?
I have lots of favourite foods — spaghetti bolognaise, baked potato, vegetable soup, dark chocolate with nuts, fresh figs. In the winter, I love comfort food — food that's warming and nourishing, like sausage hot pot; in the summer I can't get enough of salads and fruit (particularly strawberries and cream).
There aren't very many foods that I don't like, but liver is certainly one of them. Another is porridge — it always looks so appetizing, but when I try a spoonful it never lives up to my expectations.
Do you have a pet?
I do have a pet — a cat who invited himself in and hung around the house until eventually, having made sure that he was a stray, my husband and I adopted him. We called him 'Lodger' because my husband was convinced he'd only ever stay for a few months, but he seems to be a permanent fixture now. He loves nothing more than waiting until I'm really engrossed in my writing, then jumping up and lying across my keyboard. I don't mind, so long as his paw doesn't go anywhere near the 'delete' key…
What subject did you enjoy most as school... and least?
I loved English and History — loved stories and words. I never really enjoyed Geography — I was interested in foreign lands, but all we seemed to do was study ordinance survey maps and learn about population growth.
What is your favourite film?
That's a very tough one — I love films. I grew up watching musicals — everything from The Sound of Music to Singing in the Rain, and I still get excited by the prospect of a Sunday afternoon musical fest. I also love action films — from Indiana Jones to the Bourne Identity. But I think my favourite film is probably one called Babette's Feast, which is a beautifully filmed story about a French woman who loses everything and moves to a small Swedish village. It's a film about friendship, loyalty, acceptance… and food!
What music do you like?
I love all sorts of music. I listen to a lot of classical music — I was a keen musician when I was younger and played in lots of orchestras. I also love indie music — the Kooks are a current favourite, along with Muse and The Killers.
If you hadn't been an author, what would you have been?
I'd like to say an astronaut or an adventurer, but I think I would have ended up writing in some way — perhaps as a journalist, or perhaps working in education. I might even have become a teacher — I think working with young people and getting them excited in a book, a subject or the world around them is about the most rewarding thing you can do.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It really depends — it can take weeks, months or even years! Sometimes a book just flows out of you; other times you have to wrench it out.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I get my ideas from all over the place — an overheard snippet of conversation, the news, films… Having said that, I generally tend to have my best ideas on holiday, in the first few days when my mind is still racing but it's got nothing to focus on. It doesn't take long before my brain shuts down completely, so I have to make the most of any inspiration while it lasts!
A powerful, gripping and tense futuristic novel about a world which has gone mad, a world where life is forever except for the likes of Peter and Anna (who shouldn’t be there at all according to the declaration) who are struggling to escape the past in order to find a better future. The Declaration is a chilling, dystopian view of how life may be in the not too far off future, reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and PD James's The Children of Men but written for a young teenage audience. It’s a novel that highlights many issues which affect us today in modern Britain: the obsession with youth and beauty; our pill-popping culture where each ailment can be remedied with some unknown chemical cure; the over-population of the earth; our age-old fear of teenage culture. The author, Gemma Malley has expressed quite brilliantly and concisely these many different issues in this ground-breaking, mesmerizing and compelling novel. To find out even more about this series click here to visit a site created by the publisher. Click here to download a document where Gemma talks about the inspriation behind the Declaration series.
This is a powerful, absolutely chilling sequel to Gemma Malley’s acclaimed debut, The Declaration. With a dark and sinister vision of the future, it is set in 2140, The Resistance is an incredibly thought-provoking read. We raved about her first novel and this one is once again beautifully written, tightly plotted, utterly compelling and completely impossible to put down.
February 2010 'new gen' Book of the Month. The Returners is a gripping and thought-provoking thriller from the author of the equally provocative futuristic novels, The Declaration and The Resistance. What happens when your past catches up with you and you don’t like what you see? This powerful novel questions how we take responsibility for our actions whilst providing an edge-of-your-seat, adrenalin fuelled read. Set in an alternate future, the gripping narrative will challenge readers to consider the role we all have to play in making our society, and asks how much we are prepared to stand up for what’s right. To find out even more about this series click here to visit a site created by the publisher. Click here to download a document where Gemma talks about the inspriation behind the Declaration series.