I’m Holly Smale: writer, dreamer and pat-ter of other people’s kittens. GEEK GIRL was my debut novel, and featured my eponymous fifteen year old geek, Harriet Manners. She’s clumsy, socially challenged and extremely unpopular. When she’s unexpectedly spotted by a model agency on a school trip, she decides it’s her chance to transform herself and maybe make life a little easier while she’s at it. She doesn’t get quite the journey she’s expecting, because in real life we rarely do.
The Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Infinite Sky – CJ Flood
Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
I think young people today feel quite a lot of pressure to be the best at everything: the prettiest, the smartest, the funniest, the most popular, the bravest, the coolest, the cutest dressed. To some extent it’s always been like that, but for the last few years we’ve been surrounded by a plethora of uber-alpha heroes and heroines in fiction, film and media and I really wanted to move away from that with GEEK GIRL. I wanted to write a teenager I recognised, who was flawed and self-critical and massively imperfect and sometimes very irritating, and who struggled with that on a daily basis. I wanted to show young people that you don’t have to be the best to be worth something, and I guess I did that with Harriet.
I also wanted to write comedy, because… Well, we’re super funny in Britain, right? And I honestly think that people should laugh as much and as often as physically possible. It gives life light.
In your opinion, how do you think UKYA novels differ from novels written by foreign authors?
It’s hard to generalise as every book and author is different, but – using VERY broad strokes – Brits in general tend to have a very dry and self-effacing sense of humour: if you look at any of our big comedies and compare them to their foreign equivalents or remakes, we do tend to attack ourselves a lot more. The laughs generally come from pointing out the flaws and weaknesses in ourselves and encouraging other people to poke fun at us. Because we are so hard on ourselves, I think that often comes across in the characters we create and in the way we write our books. I personally love it: I think it makes the UKYA voice unique, even when it varies massively from author to author.
Why do you think it’s important to support the UKYA community and can you give a few tips on how people can help?
UKYA has produced some of the best ever books in the English language canon. The Lord of the Rings, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lord of the Flies, Harry Potter… I could keep going. We have a unique literary history, and we should be proud of that. I think it’s also important to remember that although there are a handful of “Literary Rockstars” in YA (John Green, Stephanie Meyer, JK Rowling to name a few) there are great debuts from unknowns coming out all the time, so people should venture outside of their normal genres or favourites. You never know what you could end up connecting with, or what could have an unexpected impact.
If you could bring one of your characters to life for the day, who would you choose and why?
This feels like Sophie’s Choice: what happens to the characters I don’t choose? Where do they go? I’m not sure I can pick a favourite without hurting the others!
I love them all to pieces, but I’d probably choose Annabel. She’s so warm and strong and kind, and every chapter I write with her in it is so comforting: I can sort of hand it over to her and let her take control for me. I love her sense of humour too. Of the whole book, it’s probably the closest to mine in real life.
I’d also like to meet a (much) older version of Nick, but who on earth wouldn’t?!
What’s next for you?
I’m tying up Geek Girl: Model Misfit right now, (otherwise known as GG2), and then I’ll be starting on the plan and research for GG3. I “have” to travel abroad for it, which means: I have itchy feet so I’m going to whether or not it’s actually strictly necessary.
Favourite non-UKYA book? To Kill a Mockingbird.
Favourite TV show? Peep Show.
Favourite comfort food? Cheese. On anything, under anything. Or just cheese. I love cheese.
Holly fell in love with writing at five years old, 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 at dinner parties. A passion for travel, adventure and wearing no shoes has since led her all over the world: she has visited 21 countries, spent two years working as an English teacher in Japan, volunteered in Nepal, been bartered for in Jamaica and had a number of ear-plugs stolen in Australia, Indonesia and India. As a teenager, she also did a little modelling in the hope that eventually she would be sent somewhere exciting. She wasn’t. Holly has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Shakespeare, and currently lives in London with a very chatty but totally imaginary cat.