William Sutcliffe: 'You can't get away with anything pretentious with YA'

William Sutcliffe: 'You can't get away with anything pretentious with YA'

William Sutcliffe answers our questions about his satirical novel The Gifted, the Talented and Me (Bloomsbury), which has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2020.


1. Can you sum up The Gifted, the Talented and Me in one sentence?

It’s a funny novel about a proudly ordinary teenager who gets sent (against his wishes) to a school for gifted and talented children, and has to find a way to somehow fit in.
 
2. What inspired the book?

Like a lot of teenagers, my son is more interested in his phone than in books. He loves comedy, and when I found myself looking for something funny for him to read, I realised that in amongst all the tearjerkers and dystopias, there was very little to choose from. So I decided that I’d just have to write one for him myself.
 
3. Which character in the book is your favourite?

Either the protagonist, Sam, or his nutty but very brave little sister, Freya.
 
4. What does being on this year’s YA Book Prize shortlist mean to you?

It’s such an interesting and varied list. I’m very proud to be listed alongside such excellent writers.
 
5. What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

You can’t get away with anything pretentious with a young audience. If you’re writing YA you have to keep your feet on the ground and stay focussed on telling an interesting story.
 
6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, which was in some ways the inspiration for this novel.

7. What is your top writing tip?

Just get something – anything – down, and worry about getting it right later. Don’t let your anxieties about whether or not it’s any good (which afflict every writer) stop the flow of words.
 
8. What song would be on a playlist for The Gifted, the Talented and Me?

“You’re So Vain” might be a good song for The North London Academy for the Gifted and Talented, which is the school where the book is set.
 
9. Who would you cast in a film version of your book?

Emma Thompson would be perfect for Sam’s mum. As for Sam himself, I have no idea.
 
10. Which book, film or TV show would you recommend to someone who enjoyed your book?

My favourite recent funny YA novel is Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema.

Find out more about The Gifted, the Talented and Me by William Sutcliffe and read the first chapter of the book on the YA Book Prize website.​