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>> New series for Holly Smale

New series for Holly Smale

New series for Holly Smale

HAPPY GIRL LUCKY kicks off the start of a great new series by Geek Girl author HOLLY SMALE, which features different children from a famous acting family, the Valentines.

The first book, Happy Girl Lucky, focuses on 15-year-old Hope, who lives her life through the lens of an imaginary camera and her horoscope, waiting for the perfect romance. But this is not a traditional romance story.

We asked author HOLLY SMALE to tell us more about HAPPY GIRL LUCKY:

Q: How did you feel about leaving Harriet Manners and Geek Girl and moving on to new characters and a new series?

A: It was sad - and hard - but both Harriet and I were ready. I'd worked on Geek Girl for nearly a decade, and I saw Harriet grow up so much in that time: she's a real person to me, and I'd seen her change from a scared little girl to a confident, kick-ass nearly-woman. I knew instinctively that this part of her story had reached its conclusion and that it was time to let her go: if not for forever, then for a little while. It felt a bit like being the mother of a teenager leaving home. She needed time and freedom to go and do her own thing without me staring over her shoulder all the time, and I needed time to clean the house, turn her bedroom into a gym and start something new.

So I was sad, and I was scared - I had no idea what I'd come up with, who I'd write next, whether I would do it justice - but I was also incredibly excited and exhilarated. Luckily, I love Hope just as much as I love Harriet. I guess, as with children, there really is no limit to the amount of love you have for the people you create.

Q: Your new series, The Valentines, focuses on siblings in the Valentine family who come from a long line of actors. What made you decide that your new series would focus on acting? Have you ever thought of acting as a career?

A: I think it started with a genuine love of acting and theatre; for much of my English Literature degree I focused on drama and my MA was in Shakespeare, so stage and screen felt like a world I could happily (and relatively confidently) spend the next few years absorbed in.

I'm shy and self-conscious so I'm not a good actor myself - which I knew I could draw on for at least one of the sisters - but I do find it a fascinating process and have done a little training in it. There's a surprisingly small leap between writing a new character - living and breathing them, thinking like them, feeling as they do - and acting one, so I think the gap between authors and actors isn't as large as many think. One is just internalised play-pretend; the other is externalised.

I've also been lucky enough to have friends and contacts in the industry to help me out with work experience and any questions I had (one even gave me a role in her film so I could see what it was like, which I found terrifying).

From a practical perspective, I also needed a career that would make a large family very famous and rich, that could be passed on from generation to generation and that would require genuine skill and talent. Acting felt like the most natural fit.

Q: Were many afternoons spent watching old films for research purposes? - did you feel you needed to research for these books?

A: I based Hope's fantasy scenarios on general romance film cliches, of which - like most of us - I had a whole life of absorbed material to choose from. It was important to the plot that they were generic, badly written, vague, unrealistic, awkwardly scripted. Which was obviously great fun as a writer, because instead of having to create decent romance films (a lot of pressure) I got to make these fake-films as terrible and as cheesy as possible.

Research was necessary, but it came more in location and lifestyle: I went to both Richmond and Hollywood to make sure they felt real (I'm not complaining). I'm not really into pure romance films, to be honest, and luckily in this novel I was able to use my cynicism to maximum impact.

Q: The teenaged Valentines seem to have it all - fame, a big house, money. Why did you decide to give them such a privileged background?

A: Part of the point of The Valentines is that it's the anti-fairytale. It's not about chasing the dream; it's about being given the dream and not being quite sure what to do with it. Their level of insane privilege is not a background I come from - at all - but it is one that felt right for this particular story. I wanted to give my characters everything from the start so I could see what it did to them: what broke them, what fixed them, what they let go and which bits they held on to. I think it's a life many of us are curious about, and I wanted to explore that curiosity within the context of specific characters: especially in a comic setting.

Q: Why did you make Hope the lead character in this story - since you could have chosen any of the siblings to feature?

A: I knew very early on that each book was going to feature a different sibling, and my gut instantly told me to start with Hope. She's the youngest, she's the perhaps most instantly likeable in her optimism and ditsiness, and - because of her ability to shut out the world around her - it left huge scope to reveal each sibling more organically throughout the series.

If I'd started with the more clear-sighted Faith or sharp-tongued Mercy, that slow reveal would have been difficult to manage. Hope also felt like the right introduction to the family because of her distance from her siblings: because of her situation as the youngest and not-famous-one, she almost sees the life of the Valentines from the outside, much like the reader does. It gave an unfamiliar situation a more organic and natural introduction, because we're tentatively exploring a new world at the same time as our narrator explores it too.

Q: Since Hope is incredibly sheltered and naive, how difficult was it to explore what the problems are within the family and for herself - especially as it's written through her perspective?

A: It's always tricky to explore a wider story from a restricted view point. But part of the joy (and challenge) of writing in first person is that everyone on the planet is an unreliable narrator: no matter who you're reading, you're never getting the world as it is, you're getting the world as that character sees it. Every single thing - every thought, every action, every tree or flower - is filtered through the eyes of the personality you have telling the story.

With Hope, her naivity and inexperience is part of that view-point, and it allowed me to hold back information that would have... ruined the over-arching plot. It also allowed me to be subtle with what I gave away and what I withheld, which is important: to layer stories and peel the parts away slowly, just as life is layered and complex. That's the draw, to me, of first-person narrative. You can write a story that feels as real in its omissions, gaps and errors as it does in its words.

Q: Hope is searching for true love - why do you make that her mission in this story?

A: Without too many spoilers, I wanted to directly challenge the genre of rom-com. I think, especially for girls, the focus of life is still on love: finding it, getting it, keeping it. Society still positions romantic love as the purpose of the female life (which is why romance films are insultingly dubbed 'chick-flicks' - they're not deemed relevant for men), and that's filtered down to girls at a scarily young age.

As women, our inherent value seems to be tied to who loves us, who wants us, who loses us. And I was getting a bit tired of it, so I thought: right, I'm going to write a girl who has wholeheartedly and completely swallowed all of that tosh. I'm going to really investigate why she needs love so badly: what's missing in her own life. And I'm going to see what happens when she chases it to the oblivion of everything else.

Q: Who is your favourite supporting character in this book?

A: I love all the characters I write; if I don't love a character, I keep editing and re-writing them until I do. Even the not-so-nice ones are enormous fun to explore and fill-out. But I'd say that Mercy's meanness and one-liners are pretty satisfying, Jamie was highly satisfying, and Dame Sylvia Valentine (Nanny Vee) takes over every scene she enters. I've also got a soft spot for Hope's imaginary clique: they're brilliantly indifferent for fake-friends. You'd think she'd just invent better ones.

Q: Going forwards, will the series feature each of the siblings - and if so, who is next? Will the books cover the same or different timelines?

A: Yes, each book of The Valentines is going to feature a different sister: Faith is next, followed by Mercy. The timeline is consecutive, like a relay race, so the end of each book leads on to the beginning of the next. I did briefly consider one timeline covered from three perspectives, but I realised a) I'd get bored repeating it b) the readers would know what was coming after the first book and c) it's much more fun (and more of a challenge) to create a larger, overall story told by a shifting, consecutive view-point.

Q: Does Happy Girl Lucky, like Geek Girl, cover themes that are close to your heart?

A: I only ever write about things I'm passionate about; a book takes a long time to write and plan, a long time to research, and - selfishly, perhaps - life is just way too short to voluntarily spend mine doing something I don't care about.

I do genuinely believe that books are a little bit magic, and something of the writer seeps into them: if you're faking it, or bitter, or jaded, your readers can tell. Plus, if you don't believe in what you're writing, then why the hell are you taking up precious bookshelf space? There just isn't room. So yes: if I write something, I mean it.

Q: What are your top tips for young writers?

Write what you care about; care about what you write. There are going to be many, many times that you'll stumble during the writing process: times when you feel discouraged, tired, uninspired, doubtful, straight-up dumb. And what's going to keep you going is not the desire to be 'a writer' but a deep and genuine love for the story you're telling. If you care, trust me: the readers will be able to tell, and they will care too.

Q: If you could escape to anywhere during 2019, where would it be?

A: I'm lucky enough to be free to travel pretty frequently throughout the year, and I think this time it's going to be South or Central America: I'm thinking Costa Rica, Mexico or Belize, although I'll need to work on my Spanish and Portugese skills! Maybe a quick jaunt to Greece too, and I'll be in Italy for work.

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