An author who turned down a two-book deal and instead chose to self-publish a new novel for teenagers will be sharing her story as part of Hillingdon Arts Week. SIBA MATTI talked to her to find out about her career to date
SIOBHAN Curham is the brains behind Dear Dylan, a moving exploration of what happens when 14-year-old Georgie Harris turns to the internet for solace from her troubled family life, and starts up a correspondence with a stranger.
The 40-year-old writer, of Chelston Road, Ruislip Manor, said the inspiration for the tale, which is told through a series of emails, came from the discovery that the mother of Beatles legend George Harrison became a long-term pen pal to one of his fans.
Siobhan, who also works as a freelance journalist, explained: "In the story, Georgie's step-dad, who is a bit of a bully, bans her from going to a local drama club in the summer holidays and she resigns herself to six long weeks of looking after her younger sister, who is obsessed with the tooth fairy.
"Tired of feeling like an outsider, she begins emailing Dylan Curtland, the star of a soap opera called Jessop Close, and when he begins to respond, she finally feels like someone else understands.
"The book is set in Ruislip and the drama club is based at Manor Farm. Nearby towns, like Ickenham, also get a mention. I think people enjoy reading books set where they live, rather than the usual places, like London and New York."
But Siobhan, who has a teenage son, Jack, 13, insisted that the story is not a dark tale of online deception.
"The internet gets a lot of bad press and there are so many scare stories, but not every adult online is a paedophile," she said. "As a mother, I am fully aware of the dangers it poses but I think some parents are at risk of making their children more afraid of everything and less independent.
"In Dear Dylan, Georgie is in more danger in her own home. She needs someone to talk to about her feelings and she finds that online.
"Sometimes it is easier to talk to people via email than face to face.
"I think adults and teenagers can learn and gain a lot from friendships with each other and I hope the story will inspire young people if they are in a similar situation to Georgie, and have problems at home, to do the same."
Siobhan's first book, a self-help guide entitled Antenatal and Postnatal Depression, was published in 2000 after several articles she had penned on the subject appeared in women's magazines.
Two years later, her first novel, Sweet FA - a tale about the perils of being a footballer's wife - hit the shelves.
"It was always my dream to be a novelist and when my first book was published it gave me the confidence to pursue my ambition," she said.
"After three of my novels were published I wrote a book specifically for young adults, Dear Dylan, for which I was offered the two-book deal, but after problems with my publisher I decided to go it alone.
"These days publishers seem to be more interested in celebrity biographies or misery memoirs and I know other writers who have been successful going down the same route."
But Siobhan admits it was not an easy decision.
"From having the original idea, it took me a year to write the book, which I loved. It came really easily and writing it in email format was a great experience. But the worst part was sending it off to publishers and waiting for their response.
"When I started getting messed about it was so disappointing. The idea of self-publishing was scary but once I actually did it I felt a renewed sense of independence and confidence, which was incredibly liberating."
Siobhan decided to give her book away for free via her website, www.siobhancurham.co.uk, to build up her readership among teenagers, a new target area for the author.
"It is something I would recommend to any aspiring writer who wants to break into the industry, but particularly teenagers, who are more likely to embrace something online than older people," she added.
"I also think that, for young people, a message is more effective through fiction rather than presenting facts saying you must not do something." * Siobhan will read extracts from Dear Dylan and talk about the process of writing the book from 8.15pm on Tuesday at Uxbridge Library, in High Street.
Admission is free but places are limited. For more information and to book, call 01895 250 714 or 01895 250 600.