Year 9 students from City Academy Norwich had a talk by best-selling author Holly Bourne recently. Her books include Am I Normal Yet? and Soul mates; Holly writes Young Adult novels about feminism, friendship and the issues teenagers face. She is a rising star of UK Young Adult fiction with a style that is raw, real and relevant. Year 9 students Tommy and Peyton were lucky enough to get the chance to ask Holly a few questions:
Were you good at English at school, was it one of your main subjects?
It was one of my favourite subjects. I was really good at the English language side of things, which was where you got to write your own stories, but the English literature side of things where you had to analyse poetry and the like, I wasn’t so good at. I actually had to drop English after my first year of A levels because I didn’t get a good enough mark, so it just shows you don’t have to be really good at English to be a writer.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
It’s really simple: try to read and write every day, as reading is just as important as writing if you want to be a writer. I feel that you can’t contribute to something that you don’t take part in. I spend half of my working time reading as it’s just so important and you can learn so much from it. Of course I try to write every day too, it’s a habit for me, just like some people like to get up and do yoga, or have a good breakfast, or wash their hair. I try to write every day, even if what I write is terrible and you feel like you hate it, just do it. It will really help you to get the hang of your voice, what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
Have you ever faced the dreaded ‘writer’s block’? How do you get through it?
I do, regularly, always half way through a book, and it’s awful. I get really scared that I’m never going to get through it, and that the whole book is going to be terrible. My answer to getting through it is to go on really long walks. Especially if you live somewhere beautiful like Norwich, I just literally go walking. There’s actually real scientific proof that walking around and looking at all the scenery could actually unblock it. As I live in the South Downs I just go hiking up hills and mountains, and I won’t let myself come down until I know what I want to happen next in the book.
What do you use to write, pen and paper, type writer, or a laptop?
I use a laptop, in fact I’ve just treated myself to a new MacBook, which is one of the most exciting things that’s happened in my life, even if I’ll have to eat beans for the rest of the year to pay for it. So I write on a laptop because I used to commute into London every day for my job. It was an hour there, and an hour back so used to make myself write for that two hours. It was really unglamorous just sitting on a train writing, but that’s how I got five books.
On average, how long does it take you to write a book?
My first one took a really long time, it took 2 years, mainly because I went in and out of it, and only wrote when I was in the mood. Then I discovered that’s a complete myth, and you can make yourself write. But the third book in this series, ‘What’s a girl gotta do?’ that comes out this August, only took two months, just on a train journey from London. If you compare two months to two years, it’s amazing what you can do.
As you read as much as you write, what do you like to read? Do you have a particular favourite author or genre?
I read a lot of teen fiction because it’s important to read what you write. So I read a lot of books aimed at your age (Year 9), but I also really like crime fiction, J.K.Rowling is writing a lot of crime fiction, I’ve got the new one in my bag. And Maggie O’Farrel, I tend to read a lot of women’s stories. Although I basically love everything, it’s really hard to give me a book I don’t adore.