Holly Bourne’s first young adult (YA) fiction novel, Soulmates, was published in 2013 and since then, she has written five more books, including the recent novella …And A Happy New Year? That’s six books in three years – pretty impressive by any standards.
When we ask her via e-mail about what inspires her to write, Bourne jokes that nothing spurs her on as effectively as deadlines! The British author is actually an ex-journalist who worked at The Surrey Mirror, and has a first class degree in journalism from the University of Sheffield, where she served as editor of Stiletto, the student union women’s magazine.
It was during her two-year stint at The Surrey Mirror that Bourne wrote Soulmates – probably the longest she’s ever taken to write one of her books.
As to how prolific she has since become, Bourne says, “Well, I’ve always believed that if you put in a little bit of effort every day, you will achieve great things in not a very long time. I just make myself sit down and write every day. Honestly, the words add up quicker than you think.”
Soulmates was followed by The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting (2014), and both these novels have been translated into six languages.
Bourne’s most popular novels, though, the ones that get people talking, are the ones in the Spinster Club Trilogy: Am I Normal Yet? (2015), How Hard Can Love Be? (2016), and What’s A Girl Gotta Do? (2016). This latest addition, …And A Happy New Year?, is a novella that acts as a sort of coda, a special bonus add-on to round off the series.
It’s Bourne’s characters more than anything that set these books apart from others in the genre. Each book focuses on one teenage girl (Evie, Amber and Lottie) grappling with the usual teenage problems and then some – but the difference is the feminist slant on the way they view their lives and face their challenges.
The girls even form their own feminist collective (the Spinster Club), which initially serves as a support group for them but which soon attracts other young women in their Sixth Form class, evolving into an official college society, and which (in What’s A Girl Gotta Do?) organises and launches a controversial anti-sexism campaign.
While there are other YA books with feminist sentiments and messages, Bourne’s trilogy wears its feminism on its sleeve.
In these books, Bourne (and her characters) make no bones about their agenda: to influence and educate young readers. As a result, some parts of the stories (especially in the final book, What’s A Girl Gotta Do?) do come across as somewhat heavy- handed. There is a lot of info dumping, but, admittedly, those who are interested but clueless about feminism may find Bourne’s approach useful and helpful.
For example, the book’s protagonist, Lottie, has to educate her college mates and the newer members of the Spinster Club, and her talks are basically mini Feminism 101 lectures covering key points, FAQs and popular misconceptions (“Do feminists burn bras as a hobby?”).
“My biggest bugbear is people who think feminism is about hating men,” says Bourne. “It really isn’t! It’s about equality for everyone and yet so many people refuse to believe that.”
For readers whose appetite for feminist theory has been whetted by Bourne’s books and want to learn more, the author recommends I Call Myself A Feminist (2015), “a great anthology of essays written by young feminists”; and The Disreputable History Of Frankie Landau Banks (2008), “an excellent YA novel about feminism”, by E. Lockhart.
Bourne herself became a feminist after reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman (2011). “It lit the flame for me,” she says. “That book changed my life in the most profound and positive way.”
Reading, says Bourne, is one of the most important things in her life. “It helps me relax, it opens my eyes to experiences I’ve never considered before, it helps me escape my own brain when it’s having a bad day.”
Harper Lee’s 1960 classic To Kill A Mockingbird is her favourite book and the one book that she re-reads regularly. Other favourites that she read growing up include the Harry Potter books and the late Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson series.
“Reading definitely inspired my writing,” Bourne says, “particularly all the hilarious female characters in the Georgia books and how they celebrate female friendship.”
But while she tries to read “as widely and as diversely” as she can, Bourne admits that “one of the worst things about being an author is that your reading journey isn’t as fluid as you always want it to be.”
She says that she finds herself having to read a lot of “genre fiction to keep up with what’s going on”, as well as “a lot of nonfiction for research”. On top of that, Bourne, as a successful author, is frequently asked to provide promotional blurbs for books.
“This is a great privilege and I feel very lucky,” she says, “but it’s rare that I get the chance to read a book just because I’m in the mood for that particular story.”
However, Bourne loves YA fiction and enjoys writing it so much that she doesn’t see herself leaving the genre any time soon. “That said,” she adds, “you do have a few constraints on you because your readers are under 18. I do like the idea of writing an adult book so I can include a few dirtier words and more unlikable characters!”
If she had to recommend just one YA book that she thinks everyone should read, Bourne cheats a little and chooses a whole series: Rennison’s 10 Georgia Nicolson books.
“Just because people need funniness in their lives!”