YA Author Holly Smale visits on World Book Day

The international best-selling YA author Holly Smale treated year 5-9 students to an engaging and inspiring presentation for World Book Day. Holly entertained students with stories about her childhood, being a desperately unhappy teen and how she has managed to turn the negatives into positives.

She began by talking about decisions she remembered making when she was only 4 years old which have stuck with her ever since – being a vegetarian, being a feminist, and wanting to be a writer. She recalled hitting a boy with a stick when he said she couldn’t be an airline pilot because she was a girl – she was angry and indignant because she believed she could be anything she liked and was adamant that boys and girls were equal. Holly called this being inherently feminist. She only realised as an adult that she didn’t like airplanes!

Holly attributes her love of books to her mother, a retired English teacher, who read Shakespeare, Tennyson and Keates to her as bedtime stories when she was a toddler. She fondly remembered the first age-appropriate book she was given, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and being completely entranced by the magical world it portrayed, taking the book absolutely everywhere with  her.

When asked where the book came from, Holly’s mother explained about “the lady making up a story, getting it published millions of times all around the world, becoming rich and famous, then dying” – a goal Holly, aged 4, decided to emulate.

A naturally curious and inquisitive child, Holly enjoyed primary school but on starting secondary school was targeted by other students as weird, geeky and different to them. Holly spent a lonely 5 years turning from a happy chatty child to a shy insecure teen. At break times, Holly would hide in the changing rooms to escape into the world of books, and just read and read.

On a school trip to the Clothes Show at age 15, however her life changed when she was spotted by a modelling agency. This was an opportunity for a gangly teenager to make a transformation – to become a sophisticated woman which would help her fit in with everyone else. Sadly it just made things worse with her fellow students, so after acing her GCSEs Holly decided to quit modelling and forged her parents’ signatures in order to change school for sixth form.

Life improved for Holly and she tucked all her bad experiences away, completing an MA in Shakespeare and attempting to pursue her goal to become a published author.

Holly’s first book, a horror story for adults, was rejected by publishers. On the suggestion of a good friend she began writing a YA novel about a teen wanting to be like everyone else and not be different who gets spotted by a modelling agency and the Geek Girl series was born.

Ten years later Geek Girl has sold some 1.4 million copies in 34 languages and series has grown to 9 books. This has literally changed Holly’s life and reinforces her belief in the power of books as well the importance of being able to turn things around. In the Q&A Holly said her favourite word was metamorphosis.

Holly’s new books series The Valentines is about 3 sisters and a brother from a generations-old movie-star family and about their lives as famous people and perhaps wanting to be more ordinary. The first in the series Happy Girl Lucky is told from the perspective of Hope who lives much of her life in her own made-up film scenes.

Following the presentation two groups of students enjoyed inspirational workshops with Holly creating a collaborative story using the 8 point arc method discussing genre, setting, characters, and critical choice.

– Mrs Pett, Librarian & Careers Leader

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