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Author of the Month, Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne, the Queen of YA writing, is our Author of the Month for June 2021.

In September 2013 LoveReading4Kids reviewed a debut called Soulmates, a romance with a difference and described "A home-grown young author with a fearless freshness, poised to take the YA market by storm". How right we were! Holly Bourne has gone from strength to strength publishing a string of gripping, inspirational and life-affirming YA reads tackling topical teen issues, including peer pressure, toxic friendships, anxiety and sexual harassment. Holly writes with wit and honesty and her books are perfectly pitched to her audience. Many of her novels have been reviewed by our Kids Reader Review Panel..here's a taste of what they thought..

'Holly Bourne knows exactly how to write a funny and uplifting, yet hard hitting, YA book on feminism.'

'Inspirational, funny and truly empowering....Holly’s books are what all teenagers should be reading right now!'

'I really enjoy the tone and voice of the book. It is able to talk about the serious topic of OCD while still being humorous.  It is a perfect mix of informative and amusing.'

'Holly Bourne is one of my most favourite authors out there- she writes brutally honest, funny and relatable novels that capture what being a teenager is like.'

Her latest novel is The Yearbook - an candid, and sometimes dark, experience of sixth-form high school students. Our expert YA reviewer, Joanne Owen wrote: " Honest, authentic and (ultimately) uplifting, Holly Bourne’s The Yearbook will strike a powerful chord with young women on the brink of leaving secondary school. Realistically raw in its portrayal of toxic relationships (from poisonous school peers to abusive partners), with an underdog protagonist readers will wholeheartedly root for, and a sweet, slow-burning romance that will melt the most cynical of hearts, this is classic contemporary YA."

We spoke to Holly about her new novel, writing YA fiction and thoughts on the industry...

The Yearbook reads incredibly authentically, especially Paige’s voice and how she tackles her problems. On that subject, did you do much research into real-life experiences of the kind Paige goes through, such as her father’s behaviour, and how her mother reacts to him?

I’m the youth ambassador for Women’s Aid, so know a lot about abusive relationships and how they ripple through the wider family. One of the things I’ve learned from working in domestic violence is how abuse of the mother is abuse of the child too. No matter how much a perpetrator thinks they may be hiding the abuse, the children know and are negatively impacted. Abusive relationships are terrible and complicated things, and, unfortunately, they are very common. So many teenagers are sadly living in situations very similar to Paige’s. 

 

Related to the theme of authenticity, was your initial idea sparked by any real-life incidents or accounts?

I wanted to explore loneliness in this novel, and spent a lot of time thinking of different ways people can be lonely. And, I do feel that, no matter how many friends you have, or people who ‘follow’ you on social media, you can still be very lonely if you’re not truly yourself. Human connection requires vulnerability and honesty. The most amazing feeling in the world is having a truly authentic connection with another human being because you've both been brave enough to be honest with each other. I know inauthenticity is widely rewarded in society right now, but it’s not rewarded in any meaningful, nourishing way. 

Why did you choose To Kill a Mockingbird to be the book Paige and Elijah meet through?

Ha! It’s my favourite book and I love it! My favourite part of planning The Yearbook was deciding which books they were going to read and leave messages in. Lots of people see To Kill A Mockingbird as a book about racism, and while that is a huge part of the plot, it’s not my draw to the book (and there are books that I believe tackle racism better). I love it because it’s a masterclass in teaching the importance of empathy, and its depiction of childhood ending  with that loss of innocence. 

 

We love Aunt Polly! Was she a pivotal part of the plot from the outset? Was she based on a real person?

OK, so I initially wrote her in as an in-joke between me and my editor. I named her very closely after myself, made her a slightly eccentric aunty (of which I am also) and gave her loads of cats named after Keanu Reeves characters. I was honestly just trying to make my editor giggle. But she wrote back in her edit notes, “POLLY HAS TO STAY”. 

 

What do you hope - above all - readers take from The Yearbook?

The same hope I have with all my books, that it helps people feel seen. That it helps them feel brave enough to be themselves, and to know there’s nothing wrong with who they are. And, specifically with The Yearbook, I guess I hope readers feel inspired to come out of the margins and tell their own stories. 

 

You have an obvious affinity with young people and a genuine urge to help and guide them through the difficult teenage years. Do you think fiction is a useful form of counselling and support?

Completely. Fiction is a very safe space to explore some very dark topics, and yet it’s so powerful. You can feel a character’s feelings as they feel them, experience their experiences as they experience them. That is such a potent way of educating people about important topics and teaching them empathy about them, as well as helping readers who identify with the characters feel less alone.  However, I always signpost at the end of my books towards support services as there are limits to what a book can achieve. The power of a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor is an amazing thing and I wish there weren’t such long NHS waiting lists for young people to get support. 

 

Can you tell us about your role as an ambassador for Women's Aid?

My work with Women’s Aid is such a career highlight and I believe in their cause so passionately. I’m the ambassador for their ‘Love Respect’ website which is aimed at specifically helping young people understand abusive relationships. Not only is there an epidemic of abusive relationships in teenagers, there’s an epidemic of misunderstanding what an abusive relationship actually is. So many young girls don’t realise they’re being abused because they think it’s something that only happens to wives with children. Before lockdown, I travelled with Women’s Aid around the country, going into schools and universities, and educating students on what healthy love looks like.

 

How have you found the last year in lockdown? Has it been easier to write - and how has it effected how much or what you read?

I’ve been able to write through it, but I haven’t been able to write concisely or cleanly. My first drafts have come out way too long, with giant detours all over the place. I think it’s because my mind is such mush from living in constant fear and despair, like everyone else. So I’m missing deadlines even though I’m reaching my word-count goals. It’s quite frustrating, but I’m trying to be kind to myself considering the whole pandemic thing. 

 

One in three of all books sold is a children's book yet children's books only get 4% of review space in the media. Why do you think this is - and what can be done?

This truly vexes me, especially as children’s books are so important. As my editor says, “If we don’t do our jobs properly, people in adult publishing won’t have jobs in ten years time!”. Children’s publishing is vital for building new generations of readers. It should be the most cherished part of the industry - not the most ignored! That’s not even taking into account just how important stories are for the good of society. Reading for pleasure has an incredible impact on people’s mental health and empathy skills - something essential for a healthy society. It really baffles me and makes me quite angry really. 

 

What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?

It means the world! You’ve been such a huge advocate of my writing from the start, and what you do to amplify children’s publishing is so important. Thank you so much!

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Thanks Holly - that is great to hear. We've loved following your career so far and will be looking out for your next novel with glorious anticipation!

You can read Joanne's entire review and download an extract of The Yearbook here.

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