Holly Bourne, best known for her novel 'How Do You Like Me Now?' started her career as a news journalist before working as an editor, relationship advisor and all-round 'agony aunt' for a youth charity where she was committed to helping young people navigate relationships and their mental health. This line of work later inspired Holly to write teen fiction and off the back of her best-selling and award-winning 'Spinster Club' series, she wrote her first adult novel which examined the intensified pressures on women once they hit the landmark age of thirty.
Aside from writing, Holly is a passionate women's rights advocate and we caught up with the author of the moment to discuss her work, her career to date and her views on how best to support young women.
When did you know that you wanted a career in your chosen field?
Books and stories have always been a huge part of my life, and my earliest memories are of writing a book with my Dad before I’d even started nursery. I created this character called ‘Cool Pig’ - a pig who always kept his cool and constantly wore sunglasses – and I’d sit on my dad’s lap and tell him the story while he typed it on his typewriter. I’d also never sleep at naptime and binge-read books instead, pretending to sleep if my parents checked on me. This love of stories never left, and I was so lucky to grow up in a home where it was encouraged. English was always my favourite topic at school. I’d fill notepads upon notepads with poetry, short stories, or just angsty diary entries. At university, I trained to be a journalist and worked as a news reporter for two years after graduating, But I hated dealing with all the awful things happening to people every day and started writing a novel around my shifts as a way of de-stressing. That book turned into my debut published novel and I’m still pinching myself that this is my life eleven books later...
Are there any cultural, political or news-worthy moments that have inspired or impacted your work?
I always write about women and issues facing women and the fourth wave of feminism has hugely influenced this. Fiction is such a powerful place to tell the truth – to help readers feel less alone, less shame, and to feel more understood and empowered. I see my fiction as my activism and hope they empower my readers to make healthier decisions and fight for a healthier world to live in.
What aspects of your work give you the most gratification?
Nothing beats the feeling of a reader contacting you to say your story helped them in some way. I honestly can’t describe what it means. Lots of women have contacted me since reading How Do You Like Me Now? to say they broke up with their toxic boyfriends afterwards. That’s exactly what I wanted this book to do, and I cry every time I get one of those messages.
Have there been any particular high points in your career?
Headlining London Book Fair this year was my biggest pinch-me moment. I can hardly remember the day as I was in such a continual state of shock. I couldn’t get over this was my life, mine!? What was so amazing about that moment was the years of hard graft it took to get me there. I was not an overnight success story. I built my readership in teen fiction steadily, book by book, year by year. I worked full-time alongside my writing for five years, writing on weekends, using my annual leave to go on tours. I’ve travelled the country endlessly - speaking in schools, meeting librarians, doing festivals and writing workshops. I didn’t have a holiday for over six years at one point. There’s that clichéd saying ‘luck is when hard work meets opportunity’ and I really believe that. I’ve definitely had a few lucky breaks along the way, but I also know they wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t put the graft in too.
What five words would you use to discuss your career path?
‘A continual leap of faith’
It takes a lot of courage and self-belief to want to tell your story, and to put the hours in transferring that story from your head into a book. Self-doubt has vexed me every single step of the way. Voices in my head constantly say: Who cares? Nobody will want to read this? So-in-so is better/more literary/more commercial/younger/smarter/funnier than you. But, somehow, no matter how loud they are, I’m able to push through and keep writing. I somehow keep the faith that someone out there wants this story and needs this story. Publishing is tough, and you have so many knocks, but you have to keep picking yourself up and believing in the story you’ve chosen to tell, knowing you’re the only person who can tell it this way.
What is the most valuable thing you have learnt from your career?
Early on in my writing career, an author told me to go onto Goodreads and read the reviews of my favourite books. Oh my God, you should see the hate people have for To Kill A Mockingbird! And for so many prize-winning, or hugely successful books. It was a great lesson in knowing that someone, somewhere, will definitely hate your story and think you suck. Any good story provokes strong emotions, and sometimes that emotion is going to be ‘I HATE THIS’. But, to other people, like with me and To Kill A Mockingbird, that story lodges into their heart and changes their life for the better. Focus on those people, not the inevitability of someone somewhere telling you that you suck. It’s great advice for anyone who is creative for a living.
Are there any particular women or female entrepreneurs that have inspired you and why?
I’m a huge fan of successful women who lift other women up along the way - with their deeds, as well as their words. So Marian Keyes is a huge inspiration as she spends so much time championing debut writers. She also stands up against industry sexism with so much grace and humour.
And finally, how do you think female entrepreneurs should be helping each other? What would you like to see more of?
I think it’s about overcoming the problematic mindset that, for women as an oppressed group, there’s only so much success to go around and we have to fight one another for it. I have a piece of art in my writing room that says ‘Her Success Is Not Your Failure’ to remind me of that. I think great collaborations between motivated, excited, inclusive women can have such powerful results. We really are stronger together than we are apart.
Buy Holly Bourne's 'How Do You Like Me Now?' here.