Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Debut Authors Bash: Interview with Geek Girl Author Holly Smale

Debut Authors Bash at 

I'm pleased as punch to be part of the YA Reads America 2013 Debut Authors Bash! One of my favorite books of this year, which I reviewed here, is Geek Girl by Holly Smale. Earlier this year, I received a message from a representative from HarperChildren's and not long after I received a package from England! This was the first time I received a blog-related package from England and I was SO EXCITED! It included an advanced reader copy of Geek Girl, some cards, and a pair of Geek Glasses! It was amazing! Be sure to check out my review.

It's my esteem pleasure to have been included in this blog tour and to have the opportunity to ask Holly a few questions. Let me say that I can read her answers in a British accent and I really wish that this had been a recorded interview because I love accents so much. In this brief interview, Holly answers questions about what it's like being a writer as well as sheds some insight into the character of Harriet Manners.

Kentucky Geek Girl: Do you think Harriet is kind of a geek everywoman?

Holly Smale: I don’t think there IS a geek everywoman, to be honest. Every person is unique, and so every geek is different in their own way. Whether you love Star Trek or physics or fashion or video-games or Shakespeare or trivia about The Hunger Games, geekiness comes in all shapes and forms, and all of it should be celebrated. Even ‘cool’ people have their own little geeky habits if you dig deep enough: a love of collecting football T-shirts or lining their shoes up straight before they go to bed. Harriet represents her own special brand of geekery, which is exactly how it should be. After all, if you conform to individuality it kind of defeats the point, doesn’t it?

Saying that, I’d like to think there’s a bit of Harriet that everybody can empathise with, however small.

KGG: What would you say to those who want to tell girls that they are "fake geeks?"

HS: Let everybody be whoever they want to be. People should be able to express themselves however they want, and do whatever they love, and be whatever makes them happy. Honestly, I don’t advocate being a “fake” ANYTHING – I don’t think it’s satisfying in the long-run - but you know what? If somebody DOES want to pretend, that’s their choice too. There’s so much irony in creating a geek hierarchy: you can’t tell people they don’t fit in to not-fitting-in. Let people get on with doing their thing, and focus on doing yours.

KGG: Did you set out to write a book that has a moral behind it?

HS: I didn’t sit down and think “now I shall tell a moral in the guise of a story” – the story always came first – but I knew I was retelling a fairytale, and that’s essentially what fairytales are: it’s why they exist in the first place. So I did know it was going to be impossible to write Geek Girl and escape some kind of moral. More importantly, I knew how I felt about The Ugly Duckling from a young age: outraged that the lesson was “your peers will accept you once you’ve changed and are beautiful”. I knew I wanted to flip that around, and write a story that said: “be who you are and ignore everybody else”. So yes: I knew I wanted the book to have a moral, but for the most part I was just excited about telling the story.

KGG: How do you prepare to write like a teenager?

HS: Worryingly, it’s the other way round: most of the time, I have to prepare to live like an adult. I’m nearly 32, but there’s still such a huge part of me that has stayed young, and lost, and naive, and all I have to do is pull confused Little Holly out of big old adult box I’ve put her in for sake-keeping. I think that’s the secret to writing as somebody younger: just find the bit of you that’s still that age, and write from it. It’s almost always already there.

(Although I do find that when I’ve spent too much time writing Geek Girl I have more hissy fits with my parents than I perhaps normally would. And slam quite a few more doors.)

KGG: What's your ideal setting for writing? Do you use a soundtrack?

HS: I’ve written chapters everywhere: on beaches, in cafes, in hotels, in restaurants, on buses, trains, in the back of a car (although I do tend to get travel sick). As long as I have my laptop, I can normally write. Saying that, I do prefer to be at home so that I can get comfy and drink coffee and listen to music: I rarely write in total silence. The music changes by the day, depending on how I feel or what chapter I’m writing. I tend to play the same songs over and over again, as it puts me in a kind of zen-like trance and helps me concentrate. Luckily my flatmates don’t work from home or I’d drive them insane!

KGG: Why "Geek Girl?"

HS: Honestly, that was entirely down to my publishers. For the entire time it was being written it was called “The Metamorphosis of Harriet Manners” – “Harriet” for short - and my agent encouraged me to change it to “Geek Muse” for submission to publishers. HarperCollins then asked if they could change it to “Geek Girl” and I agreed. I wasn’t totally sure at first, but - hats off to them - they knew exactly what they were doing. I don’t think I’d have sold a single copy with my original title: especially as I wanted a picture of a polar bear on the cover.

KGG: How would Harriet react if approached about a reality show?

HS: She’d be horrified. Can you imagine anyone who’d be worse at it? She’s very private, and very anxious and shy, and I’d imagine she’d spend most of the time hiding under a table. That’s the great thing about writing in first person narrative: you essentially get to follow somebody around and see what they’re thinking and doing without actually having cameras to freak them out.

KGG: What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

HS: A sense of humour, and not taking yourself or the book industry too seriously: we’re all just fumbling our way, feeling like we’re winging it constantly and about to be exposed as frauds. From what I’ve seen, that goes for new writers and it goes for established bestsellers too.

Also, you really need to maintain a life outside of writing and reading. If I spend too long writing, I go a little crazy; it’s not healthy for me, and it’s not healthy for my writing. My imagination is so much brighter and snappier when it’s had time to breathe, so no matter how tight my deadline is or how involved I am in the writing I force myself to go for walks, meet friends, go dancing, watch films, make dinner.

I think you also need to surround yourself with people who can help you draw the line between reality and fiction on a daily basis, or it can get a little blurred!

KGG: What is an occupational hazard to being a writer?

HS: A combination of numb-bum and too much caffeine are the two biggest problems: I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve stood up after ten hours and discovered I can’t feel my legs properly. Also, nosiness. You listen to strangers talk, you make mental notes when your friends tell you anecdotes, you listen to conversations you have no business listening to. There’s no real “switch off” button, and it can be exhausting.

Plus with writers there’s always a tendency to over-dramatise your own life and self-narrate constantly – transforming everything into a little scene in your head - but I think that’s a chicken/egg situation: do I do that because I’m a writer, or do I write because I’ve always done that?

KGG: What is your favorite word?

HS: Metamorphosis. It feels like the closest thing we have to magic in real life: something starts as one thing, and then totally transforms into another. It’s also the key to all stories. A book is a journey from one state of being to another, and if that’s not a kind of metamorphosis then I don’t know what is. I love the word; there’s so much hope and potential in it.

A huge thank you to Holly Smale, HarperChildren's, and YA Reads for allowing me to participate in the 2013 Debut Authors Bash! Let me know if you're interested in seeing me do more author interviews and please leave me a comment with an author you'd like for me to interview!

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