1. My name is pronounced BER-STEEN. Yes I know it looks like it should be said Burn-Stine (to rhyme with Frankenstein), and maybe once upon a time it was pronounced like that, but not today. My family came over to the UK in the 1900s escaping persecution in what is now Poland (back then it would have been a Russian territory) and over the years, due to spelling mishaps and anglicisation, names change. Its a common thing with the Jewish diaspora from Eastern Europe. I understand my name comes from the Russian/Polish/Yiddish word for amber, which I think is quite nice.
2. Just because I’m generally a pretty bubbly, extrovert kind of person, doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious. I actually do suffer from anxiety issues, and I feel its worth saying that its when I’m at my most bouncy and loudest, that I’m probably feeling my worst. I envy introverts who get to be quiet and hide away – my instinct usually means that I’m prone to embarrass myself or say the wrong thing to the wrong person or generally just be a bit crazy. I’m much better now than I used to be, but trust me when I say that being a natural extrovert isn’t all its cracked up to be…
3. I suffer from a condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, otherwise known as PoTS. The simplest way of explaining this is to just go with what my symptoms are: my heart beats really fast and really hard (I have high blood pressure and a high pulse rate). This is a complication of a condition called Hypermobility Syndrome, which is pretty common. Fortunately, this condition isn’t sinister, but it is pretty annoying. I get dizzy spells, and I tire really easily. I also find that I need a lot more sleep than other people (I usually have one ‘sleep day’ a week, during which I will sleep all through the day and into the following night, all in order to recharge my batteries). You can find out more about my condition HERE, plus more information about why I sometimes use a walking stick HERE.
4. I have four dogs, all Bichon Frises. Beau is a bit of a grumpy old man and a very sensitive soul, and after our older dog Sandy died, he became rather lonely. So in November 2015 we added two puppies to the family, Poppy and Daisy. They are ADORABLE. When we picked the puppies up, the breeder asked if we’d like to take home their mummy too, who is a retired show dog, called Tate. So Beau definitely isn’t lonely anymore!
5. I’ve done some pretty strange jobs, and it took me a while before I decided to plunge myself into the quest to get published. My first ever job at sixteen was working as a gallery attendant at the Natural History Museum. I have also been a summer camp counsellor in the states, a toy demonstrator at Hamleys, an audience researcher for the X Factor, and a travel news broadcaster on the radio (and no, I never got to go in a helicopter). By far and away my favourite ever job was working for Waterstones as a bookseller at the flagship branch at Piccadilly. I took this job to sustain myself whilst I did my Masters in Creative Writing, and fell in love with it. What an incredible place, and I got to meet and work with so many amazing people.
6. When I was a teenager, I wrote Star Trek fan fiction. Except it wasn’t called fan fiction then, and I only showed about two people, because back then being in such a fandom wasn’t something you shouted about. I wish I had the internet (in its current form) when I was younger, it would have made my teenage years much more bearable! Star Trek was an incredibly important part of my life. I wouldn’t call myself a member of the fandom now – I watch episodes here and there when I can, but the passion isn’t what it used to be. Star Trek gave me a world where I could be myself, when the real world was too difficult. I like to think that I get on pretty well with the real world now!
7. I’m a very fussy eater. Vegetables in particular are very awkward for me. I put this down to having a very restricted sense of taste and smell, so I go by texture quite a lot (mushrooms = YUCK). To be honest, I’m quite happy with having a bland palate. I love things plain and simple and easy to distinguish on the plate, so plain cheese and tomato pizza = YES. Curries and stews and anything spicy = NO.
8. I’m a Jewish Humanist. I take an immense amount of pride in my heritage, and feel that being Jewish today is a huge responsibility. For me, Judaism is about my family, the community and the culture (food, language etc). But I do not believe in God. I’m lucky that I live in a world where I can be a secular atheist, but also a proud member of an ancient and rich community.
9. I didn’t read much as a teenager, and its one of my biggest regrets. I always loved books, and English was my best subject in school (I went on to do a degree in English Literature at Durham) but I never read then like I read now. In fact, I’d say that its only been in the last five/six years or so that I’ve become the reader I am. After I graduated from university I couldn’t even look at a book for years – I was completely burnt out from reading everything I could on the syllabus, which was mostly classic literature canon. So I feel that I’ve missed out on a lot. Harry Potter blew up just as I was leaving secondary school, so I’ve never got around to reading past book four, and there’s plenty of modern fiction that has completely passed me by. I consider myself a slow reader, but like any muscle, the more you train the faster and better you get. Keeping up with reading is a vital part of my job as a writer, and I have to make sure that I put time aside every day to read (unless its a sleep day of course) otherwise I could very easily not read anything. Reading may be work for me, but I keep it fun by reading exactly what I want to, which is mostly YA, science fiction, a touch of fantasy, a little bit of adult literary here and there, and a good dollop of non-fiction too.
10. The moment I knew that nothing would make me happier than writing was back in sixth form, when I wrote an essay about all the cliques in my school in the style of a David Attenborough nature documentary. I showed it to one friend, who showed it to someone else… and soon people were crowding around tables to look over shoulders to read it. The buzz of having people reading and enjoying your work is the Best Thing Ever. Then I got called into the Head of Year’s office, and I thought I was going to be in serious trouble… turns out my work was being shared around the staff room and enjoyed by my teachers too! That was the first time a teacher took my aspirations seriously and gave me advice about writing as a profession, and even though some things got in the way over the years, it was a huge moment in my journey to getting where I am today.