Q&A: Estelle Maskame, author of the DIMILY series
'I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to get published 10 or 20 years ago.'
Set in California, Did I Mention I Love You? is book one in a young adult trilogy by 17-year-old Estelle Maskame from Peterhead in north east Scotland. Kelly Apter finds out how social media sky-rocketed her from bedroom writer to internet sensation.
Your book reads as though it was written by somebody who has lived in America all their life – how did you find out all that detail?
By doing a lot of research. Talking to people who actually live in the cities I write about – Portland and Santa Monica - asking questions on Twitter. If I needed to double check something, like slang words, I would go online and ask ‘do you guys say this phrase?’. People were really helpful. And, like a lot of teenagers, I’ve grown up watching American TV, so I picked up a lot from there.
Authors are often advised to write about what they know. Wisely, you ignored that advice - why?
When I read or write, I like to escape from reality, and I think a lot of people are like that. My reality is Peterhead in Scotland, I live it everyday, so it’s nice to actually go to this other place, even just by imagining it. And I think a lot of British teenagers like the idea of America, and the images they see on TV, so I knew a lot people would like reading about it.
You posted your work on Wattpad to begin with, and used Twitter to help generate interest. How much has social media helped you get to this point?
Without social media I definitely wouldn’t have gotten the exposure I have. I posted my work online, and it was free and accessible for people to find. Then it was easy for readers to tweet about it and get other people interested. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to get published 10 or 20 years ago. I think it’s also easier for publishers to take a risk now, because they can actually see what the public’s reaction is to a writer.
Did I Mention I Love You? is dedicated to your readers - you say “this book isn’t mine, it’s ours”.
Some of my readers have been reading this for over four years, since I first started posting it on Wattpad when I was 13. They’ve shared this experience with me, they’ve helped me, so it feels like a joint project in a way – I couldn’t have written it without them, and I just want to thank them for it.
Have the books changed much from what was originally posted online?
All three books have been revised. They’re not different in terms of plot, but some of the facts have been altered to bring it right up to date, and the writing has a more mature feel. When you have an editor to guide you, and you know what’s expected, it really helps bring your standard up.
When you were posting on Wattpad, did you think that one day you would get a publishing deal?
I had a dream in the back of my mind to get published one day – but it was always just that, ‘one day’ – it was never something I thought would happen now, because I’m so young, and I didn’t think my writing was good enough. But then the news found out about this girl from a small town who was getting all these views online, so other media started contacting me. Then Black & White Publishing got in touch, and I got the book deal. It feels insane that this dream I had, of something I would like to do in the future, has happened now.
You used to post one chapter a week on Wattpad, how did the response help you?
One of the benefits of posting it online, was that whereas most people can read a book in a few days or a week – these people were reading it for a year. I would post a chapter and then they would be thinking about it and discussing it with each other for a week, while they waited for the next one.
The more people asked for chapters, the more I didn’t want to disappoint them. I would work harder and faster, and make sure it was good, because I knew they were waiting for them.
Readers used to speculate about what would happen next – did that influence you?
I always knew what was going to happen next, so it was fun to watch their reaction. There were a couple of times when people guessed what was coming, so I did a bit of re-writing so it wasn’t so obvious.
The novel focuses on a 16-year-old girl having a relationship with her step-brother (who she has just met) – has that caused controversy?
A lot of people have been against it on Twitter, saying it’s incest, which it’s not. But that just reinforces the accuracy of the book – because the characters are scared of society judging them. It doesn’t bother me that people make comments, because you’ve got to push the boundaries in writing and do something a bit different.
The next two books in the trilogy are currently being revised – after that, what’s next?
I’m going to start a stand-alone novel, in the same genre of contemporary young adult romance, because that’s what I’m comfortable writing. I don’t think I’ll be posting online again – but I’ll see how it goes.
Did I Mention I Love You? is out now, published by Black & White Publishing. Did I Mention I Need You? will be published in Sept 2015, followed by Did I Mention I Miss You? in January 2016