Introducing The Valentines. Fame – It Runs in the Family!
Sisters Hope, Faith and Mercy have everything: fame, success, money and beauty. But what Hope wants most of all is love, and it doesn’t matter how far she has to go to find it.
Except real-life isn’t like the movies. Even if you’re a Valentine…
Why did you want to write The Valentines?
I knew I wanted to write a big, complicated, sweeping family drama; one from multiple perspectives, with lots of layers, lots of characters and an overarching story. Books about sisters have always pulled me in – Little Women, Ballet Shoes and Pride and Prejudice – so I knew I wanted to write a contemporary version of the things I loved as a child. I was also fascinated by the concept of fame; Geek Girl was always about an ordinary girl being given a fairytale, but I wanted to see what would happen if I flipped that. The three Valentine sisters are born into the fairytale, and are trying to find ordinariness within that. They’ve got fame, they’ve got attention, and now it’s about what they do with that and how it makes them feel. I think, in the end, I found the story that spoke to me the loudest: one that resonated with me on a number of levels.
Social Media (aka instafame) puts a filter on life, do you think is influences teens beyond just snapping a quick picture, actively shaping who someone is?
I think we’re spending so much time editing our own lives into a highlight reel that it’s easy to forget what’s real and what’s not; to believe that other people actually have the glossy life they’ve posted, while expecting yours to follow suit and being disappointed when it can’t. I also think that it’s now less about documenting what’s already happening, and more about actually creating that reality in order to document it. We’re creating a false network – a sensation that we’re all linked and close – while also feeling further apart from each other than ever. We’re attaching a sense of value and worth to the perceptions of strangers: to the number of likes we get, to the amount of feedback, to the quantity of people watching. The private has become the public, and fiction has blurred into reality. Of course that has an impact on how we form an idea of ourselves. How could it not?
Does it impact on everyone?
Yes, I think it does. Unless you live in a community with absolutely no wifi access, no phones, no media, no computers and no peers, you’re going to be influenced by modern culture. Even if you shut yourself off – do a technological detox or whatever – it’s still there: waiting for you when you get back, filtered through the people around you. Even older generations who traditionally don’t use social media platforms as much aren’t able to escape it completely: my octogenarian grandfather has a Facebook page and reads his news online. And while I think it has a far heavier impact on younger generations (largely because we remember what life was like without these platforms so find it easier to separate ourselves), I do think it’s kind of inescapable for everyone. Maybe there’ll be a backlash in the distant future, but until that happens most of us are living two lives: the real one, and the one we’re trying to present online.
When you were growing up did you have influences like that, which impacted on how you were supposed to behave? If so, did you follow these?
To be honest, I was a teenager in the nineties and it doesn’t feel like the celebrity or media influences were that oppressive. We had well-known pop-stars, actors, television presenters – obviously – but they all felt quite unrelated to me and my real life, as a young person. In fairness, I was pretty geeky so I didn’t exactly have my finger on the pulse, but there was no internet and no social media, so what we all picked up on a daily basis was more from older teens, siblings, maybe a magazine or sit-com. The pressures were far more from peers than from strangers: they were coming from the kids in your class, hanging around the shopping centre, kicking around the park. Which could be quite claustrophobic, but there was also a definite sense of escape. You could leave, go home, and have nothing to do with any of it. Now, with social media and online culture, it’s almost impossible to avoid. That makes it far more powerful and influential, because there’s no ‘off’ button (that isn’t a literal ‘off’ button).
Is there a character you’ve written/read that is especially close to you?
I’m close to all of my characters; both protagonist and secondary (even tertiary characters bring me much joy). Obviously I spent ten years with Harriet, so there’s a very special connection there. But I feel very close to the Valentine family too, and the three girls – Hope, Faith and Mercy – are all lodged close to my heart, very much where Harriet is. It’s strange, because I know to the outside world Harriet and I will always be synonymous – because of the obvious autobiographical link – but the Valentine sisters have just as much of me in them: they’re just not parts I share with the public as often or as easily. Hope, in particular, feels very personal. I feel very protective and maternal about her: like Harriet, she’s part of my family.
Why do you think the words ‘feminine’ & ‘feminism’ carry so much weight, and why are they so often shown as opposing sides?
These words carry weight because they’re incredibly important: because adjusting the role of women and how they are culturally represented is essential to the establishment of equality in society, and to the health, happiness and productivity of all of us. Feminism addresses the historical imbalance between the genders, taking into account the power tilt in favour of men.
Sadly, we do still function within a patriarchal society – one built by men, for men – and language is still a part of that. It’s an extremely complicated topic, because obviously the pressures that filter through to each gender over thousands of years cannot just be untied at the root overnight – although it would be lovely if they could – but being feminine is generally seen as lesser (whether you’re a man or a woman). Things that women traditionally do, like, are interested in and pursue are generally diminished, while the masculine is revered: that’s the way society has been specifically set up and it still lingers in our collective mind-set and language. Some topics, some colours, some animals, some words, some actions – love, pink, kittens, shoes, cute, crying – are regarded as being for women, and that immediately makes them of less value: fluffy, frivolous, trivial, weak. Femininity is no better or worse, inherently, than the masculine: it is certainly not a stick to beat women with, especially not by other women. Harriet in Geek Girl was not a particularly ‘girly girl’ – although her opinion of feminine topics does change over the series – so I thought it was important, in Happy Girl Lucky, to have quite a feminine main character: one who is shameless and flamboyant about her love of ‘girly’ things, without in any way being made lesser by it. Who is empowered by her own femininity, while also being a kick-ass, strong and interesting feminist.
In essence, I think there’s often a misunderstanding of what feminism is – that you can’t be both feminine and feminist – but it’s such a diversion tactic: it creates divides between women, which in turn makes the movement weaker. Feminism is the freedom to be exactly what you want to be, to like what you like, to do what you want to do, to follow your own passions and interests, to wear what you want. To be in no way limited by your gender, and to have exactly the same opportunities as someone with different sex organs. So if you like pink, wear pink (it was traditionally a colour for boys, FYI). You love flowers? Buy flowers (flowers are both genders). Got a soft spot for kittens? Get a boy or a girl kitten (as long as you can look after it properly). And don’t allow anyone to shame you into feeling less powerful for any of your choices. That is feminism.
On a lighter note, what hashtags would you create for your characters to make them happy?
I reckon all three sisters would love #ValentinesDay. Ha!
Also, would you like a lifetime’s free supply of chocolate?
Well remembered! And I’ve changed my mind in the last few years: absolutely not. If chocolate is in the house, I eat it. You give me a lifetime supply, it’ll be gone within the week. Please don’t do that to me.
Holly Smale is a British internationally bestselling author.
She wanted to write from the age of five, when she realised that books didn’t grow on trees like apples. Her journey took her to over thirty-two countries, and included: modelling, journalism, teaching English in Japan, cocktail waitressing, PR and packing courgettes in Australia.
Holly has a BA in English Literature and an MA in Shakespeare from Bristol University, specialising in feminism and gender studies.
GEEK GIRL was her first novel, and was the number one selling teen fiction in the UK in 2013. So far, the series has sold 700,000 copies in the UK alone, extends to nine books and has been published in thirty languages.
She was an official World Book Day author in 2015, and her debut was named by Booktrust as one of the “Fifty Books That Will Change Your Life”.
When she’s not travelling, Holly lives beside the seaside in Hove, England.
Happy Girl Lucky is out today!!!