Holly Bourne Q&A
Writer Holly Bourne on her new book The Places I’ve Cried in Public, the challenges faced by young people today and how she likes to empower them
Your new book The Places I’ve Cried in Public (due out on 3 October) depicts the girls we have all seen, or been ourselves, silently crying with their face against a bus window, or wiping a tear away in a crowded classroom. Was Amelie’s experience of heartbreak inspired by a real-life story?
The book is not autobiographical but I did get the idea for it while crying in public. Platform 13 of Clapham Junction train station to be precise. I’d been having quite a time of it and ended up stranded there due to train strikes for an hour and a half and just totally and utterly lost it. I’d wanted to tell a story about toxic love for quite a while but was struggling with how to frame it. But on that very cold, snotty, platform – the idea of linking it to crying in public came to me and cheered me right up.
And do we put too much hope in romantic love as the recipe for happiness?
I think there are so many different types of love and we do tend to focus on romantic love as the big win. We can often not notice all the other ways we are loved, by our family and friends and pets, and, hopefully, ultimately, by ourselves. With that said however, humans are built for attachment and romantic love is a hugely powerful force. I don’t think we should judge ourselves, or others, for focusing on it so much. When love’s done right it can be one of the best bits of the human experience. When it’s done wrong, however, it’s one of the worst. Which is what I wanted to explore in this book.
Do you think that young people – broadly speaking those aged 12 to 25 ¬- these days are under more pressure than their parents’ generation were? And where do you think that pressure comes from?
I do think there are a lot of ‘evergreen’ pressures facing young people that our parents faced – puberty, exam pressure, poverty, friendship issues, bullying, love problems, mental illness etc. Lots of things aren’t new and the pain of these evergreen issues are often marginalised which is unhelpful. The two new issues that I see hitting young people are particularly,
a)How all these evergreen problems are exacerbated through social media and the internet, and, b) The huge concern of climate change.
You have said that people are their own worst critics – how would you advise we try to silence that harsh inner voice?
I’m a big advocate of compassion-focused therapy, which I touch on in my novel Are We All Lemmings And Snowflakes? It’s about being brave enough to examine what happened to you that has created these harsh inner critics, and then learning how to being kinder to yourself about the unhelpful coping strategies you’ve developed as a result. There’s a really great website called The Compassionate Mind which offers a range of practical exercises you can do to strengthen your inner compassionate voice. And, if that voice is relentless and too loud and you’re really struggling with your mental health – do go speak to your GP, or phone the SANE helpline for advice.
Your books tackle the sort of issues that many people face in their own lives, such as fitting in and making friends, falling in love with the wrong person, anxiety and mental illness.
Did you start writing YA books in response to issues such as these, as a result of working to help young people as a relationship advisor?
My job as a relationship advisor was the most transformative job I’ve ever taken and I learned so much from it. Not just about all the issues facing young people, but how to speak to teenagers in a way that that lands and helps them. I will always aspire to write novels that empower young people to make informed, healthy decisions about their lives, and that help them feel understood and less alone.
Do you believe that reading can help our mental health?
Completely! And there’s a wealth of evidence to back me up. Reading helps your sleep, lowers your stress levels, helps build empathy both towards yourself and others…the list of its benefits is endless. There’s nothing more powerful than coming across a book that ‘gets it’. That said, there’s also the power of getting totally lost in a story that has nothing to do with your life and is just a fun way to escape. That’s why I believe you should never judge anyone for what they’re reading. If they’re reading, and they’re enjoying it – I don’t care that it’s not Moby freakin’ Dick – shut up and let them get on with it. What they’re reading is great because they’re reading it.
Your legions of fans say they see their own situations reflected in your characters, who are rounded human beings and not simply issue led. They say your books make them laugh and cry. Have any of your books been inspired by someone contacting you about a situation and you thinking ‘I need to write about this to share it with others who may have been going through something similar’?
I could never take direct inspiration from a specific young person as I’d feel like I was taking their story from them in some way. However, from my charity work and through my research, I do come across themes that I explore in my fiction that unpick the problems many teenagers face. I think my readers find a lot of relief in knowing they’re not the only one to have gone through something, or to feel a particular way.
You’ve also written an adult novel, How Do You Like Me Now? Do you think labels such as ‘adult’ and ‘young adult’ are useful for readers?
With a safeguarding hat on, I do think the distinction between adult and young adult is helpful as the wellbeing of my readers is always my top priority. When I write a piece of teen fiction, I am super aware of their age and how careful you need to be when handling different issues, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a 13-year-old reading my adult fiction.
What do you do to unwind and de-stress yourself?
I go on very long walks along the canals near where I live which brings me great joy. I’m also a very dedicated meditator. It sounds weird but it really does work! I’m a different person since I’ve started my daily practice.
And finally, what are you writing about now?
I’m working on my next YA novel which is a story all about stories, and the legacy we leave behind at secondary school.
Holly Bourne is at Bath Children’s Literature Festival on Sunday 29 September at the Guildhall in an event sponsored by Bath Spa University. For tickets visit: bathfetsivals.org.uk or tel: 01225 463362.More news