Author interview: Holly Smale

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Firstly I’d like to wish a very happy publication day to Holly Smale as the second book in the Geek Girl trilogy is published today! I’ve already got my copy preordered and can’t wait to read it!! Holly has very kindly agreed to be interviewed by me to celebrate the publication of Model Misfit.

1. Hi Holly! Welcome to Sheli Reads. Can you tell us a bit about Geek Girl, and the latest book in the series, Model Misfit?

Geek Girl is essentially a modern, comedy fairytale: a kind of retelling of The Ugly Duckling crossed with Cinderella. It’s about a fifteen year old geek, Harriet Manners, who gets unexpectedly spotted on a school trip by a modelling agent and decides that this is her opportunity to reinvent herself. As she soon finds out: life doesn’t always work like that.

In Model Misfit, Harriet is still a model but there’s an entirely different set of challenges. She’s still finding her way, like most teenagers (actually, like most adults too), and she makes mistakes and chooses the wrong path more often that not. Hopefully those who loved her and her friends and family in the first book will enjoy seeing them again, although there are some new faces this time as well!

2. I felt that your main character, Harriet, was quite similar to me as a teenager (apart from bring beautiful and getting a modelling contract – I was average and got a job in a museum!). Did you base Harriet on your own teenage years?

I did, yes. We’re not identical – in my head she looks different, and we have subtly different temperaments (my temper is far worse) – but I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t largely based on me as a teenager. My agent has a terrible habit of calling me Harriet, which indicates I haven’t changed much since then!

3. Some of the situations that Harriet got into made me laugh out loud when reading the book. Were they based on real life events?

Yes and no. I tend to blend real life and imagination to the point where I’m not even sure what’s real or not anymore. Some of the really key narrative points did really happen – I was a geek, I was unpopular, I was spotted at the Clothes Show, and the Big Bullying scene was based on a real event – but the vast majority of it is a story I made up. I’m never sure if that’s what people want to hear or not!

4. What can we expect Harriet to get up to next in Model Misfit?

Model Misfit starts six months after Geek Girl finishes, which means there’s a whole new set of problems for Harriet to contend with: exams, a heavily pregnant stepmother, the prospect of a new sibling, a summer holiday without Nat… And Nick. As Harriet is still realising, things don’t always go according to plan – no matter how many you write to try and make them – and her love life is certainly no exception.

In an effort to run away from it all she takes a modelling job in Tokyo, and – in typical Harriet Manners style – only succeeds in getting into even more trouble.

5. What inspired you to put pen to paper and write the Geek Girl series?

I wanted to write a story about outsiders, about fairytales, about what it feels like to feel lonely and sad and lost and fit in nowhere. I wanted it to be funny, and I wanted it to be wholesome, and I wanted it to be warm and good-hearted. I guess the geek-turns-model seemed like a perfect twist on the Ugly Duckling story, and it felt right. It felt like a story I knew how to tell.

6. YA is a genre that seems to have exploded in recent years with some fantastic books being published. Have you got a favourite YA author?

What’s strange is that there have been amazing YA books for decades; it’s just our awareness and definition of them that has changed, because they have their own separate category now. To Kill a Mockingbird is largely from the perspective of a six year old narrator; in Catcher in the Rye, Holden is 17; Lord of the Flies is about a group of teenage boys. Lord of the Rings is YA, and so is The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Discworld; everything by Judy Blume; Adrian Mole. YA has always been some of the best fiction in the world: we just used to lump it in with adult fiction.

As a teenager I loved LM Montgomery, Sue Townsend, Harper Lee: they probably had the biggest impact on me, and I still reread them as an adult.

7. Do you have any writing tips for fellow geek girls who aspire to be an author one day?

I think writing is like anything: you have to learn the nuts and bolts before you can do anything really creative with it. You wouldn’t try to build a wardrobe without knowing how to make a finger-joint or use a plane, and the same goes for books: read as much as you can, of as many different types and genres as you can, and learn the basics of grammar and punctuation until they’re second nature. Then write and write, practice and practice, until you find a unique voice that’s yours.

That’s the key, really. The more you can be yourself in writing – using the tools you’ve learnt from others – the better the writing will be.

8. What is your favourite place to write? Do you have an office at home or do you like to be more creative with where you work?

My favourite place to write is on a laptop, in a comfy cushion, staring at a rice field or sea, surrounded by flowers and a light breeze and the smell of a delicious dinner cooking. Unfortunately more often than not I tend to write in my dark little bedroom overlooking a T junction in central London, surrounded by a pungent reminder of burnt toast and the sound of sirens from Elephant and Castle.

9. Do you have a favourite snack to eat when you are writing?

Almonds and apple green tea.

10. What is your first book related memory? Do you think that it inspired you to go on to be a writer?

When I was five, I was totally obsessed with The Faraway Tree and would carry it around with me everywhere like a teddy-bear: I was so deeply engrossed in the world it gave me that I couldn’t bear to physically put it down. I think I knew from that moment that I wanted to part of that magical process. I wanted to create worlds too.

11. And lastly, if you were an animal, what would you be?

A cat. I am disturbingly cat-like.

Thank you so much Holly for some great answers and for being a great sport. I too have always loved Sue Townsend and never thought of Adrian Mole as being YA! Also, I love the comparison to a cat!

Again, happy publication day and I hope to review here at Sheli Reads very soon!

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Holly Smale fell in love with writing at the age of five, when she realised that books didn’t grow on trees like apples. She completed her first rhyming couplet poem – “The Unicorn” – at the age of seven, and still brings it out for public readings at family dinner parties.

A passion for travel, adventure and wearing no shoes has since led her all over the world: she has visited 18 countries, spent two years working as an English teacher in Japan, volunteered in Nepal, been bartered for in Jamaica and had a number of bags, wallets and ear-plugs stolen in both Australia and India.

As a teenager, she also modelled (very badly) for a top London agency in the hope that eventually they would send her somewhere exciting.

They didn’t.

Holly has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Shakespeare, and is currently a writer based in England.

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