Holly Smale's Tips For Bedtime Story Competition Entrants

We were ecstatic to have the opportunity to interview award-winning young adult author, Holly Smale, writer of the hilarious Geek Girl series. Find out how Holly finds inspiration, what she thinks makes the best heroes and villains, and her advice for our Bedtime Story Competition entrants...

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Author Questions

1) How do you come up with an idea for a story?

Most of my best ideas turn up when I'm bored: when I'm washing up, or waiting in a queue, or staring out of a window on a long train journey. It's actually really hard to be bored - there's so much to keep us all busy - but it's essential for creativity: after a while of nothing to do, my brain starts to make its own entertainment.

Ideas come from everywhere, and I try to pay close attention to what genuinely fires my imagination. If I find myself Googling something to find out more about it, or asking lots of questions, or thinking about something that has happened a lot, I know there's a story idea buried in it somewhere: my head has snagged on the seed of something. Then, when I know what it is, I plant it and give it time to let it expand naturally, adding on ideas and letting it grow bigger in any way it wants. It's one of the most exciting things about writing: watching a tiny, random idea develop into an actual, fully fledged story.

But boredom: that's the key to it! Don't be afraid of feeling bored. That's where our brains do some really special and magical stuff.

2. How do you come up with your main character?

All my characters grow from seeds, just like my plot ideas. They usually start with one or two basic traits - sometimes from inside me, sometimes from people I've met or know - and then as I write they start to expand: developing quirks and flaws and inconsistencies and perspectives all of their own. I'm not interested in writing "strong characters" because to me that means flat, unrealistic and boring. I'm interested in characters who are real, who change, who learn, who are complicated and dynamic and fascinating, like actual humans are.

So whatever my protagonist is like - and there will hopefully be many over the upcoming years - that's what they'll have in common: they'll feel as real as I can possibly make them, regardless of their different characters or the varying situations they find themselves in.

3. What inspired you to become a writer?

My mum is a retired English teacher, and she used to read me really inappropriate poetry in bed when I was a toddler: Keats, Tennyson, Shelley, Shakespeare, lots of people drowning, dying, fires etc. But it gave me a passion for stories - no matter what form they're in - and I immediately started to replicate them: producing my own, whether written, anecdotal or simply made up and told aloud. At four, I realised where books came from and knew immediately that was what I was going to spend my life doing: telling stories and trying to create the magic that books had given me. And I've never wobbled from that (apart from a brief month where I wanted to be the world's tallest ballet dancer), so I'm incredibly lucky that I get to do it for a living now.

4. What do you think makes a great bedtime story?

Hilariously, a productive bedtime story is probably a very boring one: a story you don't really have much interest in and which fires the imagination as little as possible. I've lost count of the nights of sleep I've lost because the book I've been reading has been too absorbing or exciting, either because I can't put it down or because it then stops me sleeping and fills my dreams.

But a great bedtime story? It has to grab the imagination and refuse to let go. It gives you another world, makes you part of it, and then makes it impossible to leave again: makes it haunt you even when it's been put down. That's the key to a brilliant bedtime story. One that stops you sleeping, essentially.

5. If you could give our young writers one piece of advice what would it be?

Play. That's what all stories are: playtime in the imaginations of other people. So when you're sitting down to think up a story, or write it down, you've got to let the playful bit of you go free, no matter how old you are or who you're writing for. Give your imagination the freedom to do whatever it likes, and say whatever it wants to say, without worrying about how it'll turn out or who will want to read it. And trust in that instinct. Humans have been telling stories in one form or another for thousands and thousands of years: we all know what a story is, even if we don't know how we know. So play, have fun and let the story-telling that's built into you take over.

Oh, and - as I've said - get bored. Look boredom straight in the face, tackle it to the ground and force it to tell you something interesting.

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Quick Fire Questions

What's your favourite bedtime story book?

Where The Wild Things Are. And as a godmother and aunt I've enjoyed stopping the little people in my life from sleeping after reading it too.

If you could be best friends with anyone from a book, who would it be?

I love Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird: she's feisty, smart and takes no truck from anyone.

Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?

I did: my imaginary friend was Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, and I used to talk to her in my head and tell her how my day had gone, or ask for her opinion when I had problems, or check to see what she'd do in a similar situation. I was quite a lonely child, and over the years Anne became very real and precious to me.

What's your favourite word?

Metamorphosis. It's the closest thing we have to magic in the real world, and it was part of the original title of Geek Girl.

What makes a good goody and a bad baddy?

Inconsistencies. Few people are all good or all bad, and if you can show a tiny chink in whatever emotional armour they're wearing you've immediately got a more interesting and multi-dimensional character. Saying that, part of the joy of really great villains - the Mrs Trunchbull or Head Witch type - is that you're expecting a softening or glimpse of humanity or compassion and you don't get them. So that's great fun to write too.

Who's your best friend? What makes them so good?

My little sister is my best friend. She's funny and compassionate and smart and kind and cool, and she knows and understands me like nobody else ever has. I don't have to pretend to be anything else with her, or even explain myself - because she already knows who I am - and that is a rare and precious gift.

Tell us something we don't know about you...

I have never eaten an egg in my entire life: they freak me out.

Check out our range of Holly Smale books to see why her novels are so loved!

  • AJRKJ
    Holly Smale
    (1)
    • £5.59
    • RRP £6.99
    • Save £1.40
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek." Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite. But she doesn't know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves. Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did. As her old life starts to fall apart, will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything? The award-winning debut by bestselling author Holly Smale.
  • ISF2 11 years +
    Holly Smale
    11 years +
    • £3.99
    • RRP £6.99
    • Save £3.00
    The sequel to Holly Smale's bestselling Geek Girl, Model Misfit finds Harriet Manners still a fish out of water in the modelling industry, but with her stepmother pregnant and not knowing where she'll fit in once the baby comes along, she has the perfect opportunity to get away from everything by taking a modelling trip in Japan.

    But how will Harriet cope with not only the craziness and cultural differences of Japan, but also her competitive model flatmates, her grandmother's 'chaperoning' and the fact she sees Nick wherever she goes?

    A feel-good book from talented author Holly Smale for those aged 11 and over.
  • APIWI
    Holly Smale
    • £16.78
    • RRP £20.97
    • Save £4.19
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek." The first three hilarious novels in the award-winning GEEK GIRL series - now available as a 3-book collection. Geek Girl: Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. But she doesn't know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself...Model Misfit: Harriet Manners knows that humans have 70,000 thoughts per day. She also knows that Geek + Model = a whole new set of graffiti on your belongings. But Harriet doesn't know where she's going to fit in once the new baby arrives. And with her summer plans ruined, modelling in Japan seems the perfect chance to get away...Will geek girl find her place on the other side of the world? Picture Perfect: Harriet Manners knows that New York is the most populous city in the United States. She knows that its official motto is 'Ever Upward'. But she knows nothing whatsoever about modelling in the Big Apple and how her family will cope with life stateside. Or 'becoming a brand' as the models in New York say. And even more importantly, what to do when the big romantic gestures aren't coming your way from your boyfriend...Does geek girl go too far this time? The award-winning debut, GEEK GIRL, and brilliant follow-up titles in the bestselling series by Holly Smale.
  • AUJLW
    Holly Smale
    • £10.39
    • RRP £12.99
    • Save £2.60
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I'll always be a geek." It's the hilarious third book in the bestselling award-winning GEEK GIRL series! Harriet Manners knows more facts than most. She knows that New York is the most populous city in the United States. She knows that its official motto is 'Ever Upward'. She knows that one in thirty-eight people living in the US lives there. But she knows nothing whatsoever about modelling in the Big Apple and how her family will cope with life stateside. Or 'becoming a brand' as the models in New York say. And even more importantly, what to do when the big romantic gestures aren't coming your way from your boyfriend...Does geek girl go too far this time? The laugh out loud follow-up to award-winning debut GEEK GIRL and MODEL MISFIT will have you in stitches!
  • AULQN
    Holly Smale
    • £5.59
    • RRP £6.99
    • Save £1.40
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I will always be a geek." The fifth book in the bestselling, award-winning GEEK GIRL series. Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is. She knows duck-billed platypuses don't have stomachs. She knows that fourteen squirrels were once detained as spies. She knows that both chess and snakes and ladders were invented in the same country. And for once, Harriet knows exactly how her life should go. She's got it ALL planned out. So her friends seem less than happy, Harriet is determined to Make Things Happen! If only everyone else would stick to the script...But is following the rules going to break hearts for GEEK GIRL?
  • AUHRX
    Holly Smale
    • £7.99
    • RRP £9.99
    • Save £2.00
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek." A brand new summer story from the no. 1 bestselling and award-winning GEEK GIRL series! Harriet Manners knows many facts. And she knows everything there is to know about Paris...except what to do when you're the hottest new model at Fashion Week. Can Harriet find her je ne sais quoi or will it be sacre bleu! on the runway? Find out in this hilarious summer special GEEK GIRL novella from the no. 1 bestselling author Holly Smale.
  • ALZPB
    Holly Smale
    • £5.59
    • RRP £6.99
    • Save £1.40
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I'll always be a geek." It's the hilarious third book in the bestselling award-winning GEEK GIRL series! Now in paperback. Harriet Manners knows more facts than most. She knows that New York is the most populous city in the United States. She knows that its official motto is 'Ever Upward'. She knows that one in thirty-eight people living in the US lives there. But she knows nothing whatsoever about modelling in the Big Apple and how her family will cope with life stateside. Or 'becoming a brand' as the models in New York say. And even more importantly, what to do when the big romantic gestures aren't coming your way from your boyfriend...Does geek girl go too far this time? The laugh out loud follow-up to award-winning debut GEEK GIRL and MODEL MISFIT will have you in stitches!
  • AXFVS
    Holly Smale
    • £10.39
    • RRP £12.99
    • Save £2.60
    My name is Harriet Manners and I'll be a geek forever...The FINAL book in the bestselling, award-winning GEEK GIRL series is here! Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is. Modelling isn't a sure-fire route to popularity. Neither is making endless lists. The people you love don't expect you to transform into someone else. Statistically you are more likely to not meet your Australian ex-boyfriend in Australia than bump into him there. So on the trip of a lifetime Down Under Harriet's to-do lists are gone and it's Nat's time to shine! Yet with nearly-not-quite-boyfriend Jasper back home, Harriet's completely unprepared to see supermodel ex Nick. Is the fashion world about to turn ugly for GEEK GIRL? It's time for Harriet to face the future. Time to work out where her heart lies. To learn how to let go...
  • BCVRR
    Holly Smale
    • £5.79
    • RRP £5.99
    • Save £0.20
    "My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek." A brand new summer story from the no. 1 bestselling and award-winning GEEK GIRL series! Harriet Manners knows many facts. And she knows everything there is to know about Paris...except what to do when you're the hottest new model at Fashion Week. Can Harriet find her je ne sais quoi or will it be sacre bleu! on the runway? Find out in this hilarious summer special GEEK GIRL novella from the no. 1 bestselling author Holly Smale.