Jo Cotterill was an actor and a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two daughters. She likes music and roller coasters. And cheese. And chocolate. And monkey nuts. And CAKE.
Before I was an author, I taught for a while at a girls’ boarding school. Boarding schools are completely different from day schools: they have their traditions, their schedules and their unique names for rooms! I used to teach in a room called ‘Nuts’ (make of that what you will…!) and the dormitories had wonderful names like Mousehole and Pink Panther.
When I came to write Hopewell High, I wanted to create a similar environment for my characters, who share a bedroom. I called their room ‘the Nest’ because it conjures up images of a cosy place where people can feel safe. In fact, the series itself was originally called ‘A Nest of Secrets’, which gives a hint of the dark and difficult issues the characters are dealing with.
Hopewell High features a set of four friends, and each girl takes centre stage in a book in
the series. Each one is struggling with her own issues: in All Too Much, Samira resorts to self-harm as a way to deal with extreme academic pressure, and in Stage Fright, Alice’s anxiety attacks threaten to ruin her chance to perform in the school production of Legally Blonde. The last two books in the series will feature Hani, a champion athlete, and Daisy, a girl who doesn’t feel complete without a boyfriend.
Being a teenage girl is harder than it’s ever been, I think, thanks to educational reforms and the internet. Girls these days are expected to want it all, to aim high, to throw off the shackles of patriarchal expectation – and yet, still to be pretty and attractive and know when to keep quiet. Hopewell High touches on the issues many teens face without being too heavy, I hope – and also to emphasise the importance of friends and good friendship, which can overcome almost anything. Girls need to be encouraged to support each other in times of trouble, and a boarding school setting proved the perfect place for me to explore this. My only regret is that I didn’t manage to work in a midnight feast!