A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Like a lot of writers, the majority of my friends as a child were fictional.
Matilda didn’t laugh at me for using an unnecessarily long word. Max and his Wild Things didn’t think I was weird for trying to make my bed fly. Mog or Tiger didn’t stand outside the changing room, calling me names. And, as I grew older, my social life became more and more fascinating: Mr Saucepan Man, Moonface and Silky, Mildred Hubble, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil, Peter and Wendy, Dave and Bella, Charlotte and Wilbur, Alice and her white rabbit; my BFF and Kindred Spirit, Anne Shirley and our slightly irritating tagalong, Pollyanna. The life inside my head grew and grew, and it didn’t matter how much trouble it got me into or whether I was supposed to be ‘outside’ or ‘playing’ or ‘eating dinner’. If I could find a way to slip away and be with them, I did it. There were doors into worlds I wanted to be in, and nothing on earth could keep me out.
To me, these books were real. When I think of my childhood now, there is no line between reality and fiction. Afternoons spent wandering Neverland or the Land of Take What You Want feel as real as those spent sack jumping at the school fete; dancing with the Fossils is almost inseparable from my real memories of ballet class. I flew broomsticks and ate honey and dyed my hair green; I span webs and shrunk and grew and slid down trees. These characters didn’t just entertain me: they helped me, supported me, understood me, taught me, made me see life differently. Through them, I learnt what it was like to be a million people, to love a million different things and to be anywhere I wanted.
Immersed in stories, there has never been a moment in my life when I haven’t also written them. The need to become part of that world in any way possible – to create as well as take – has pushed me from the moment I could read. I wrote my first unicorn into existence at six years old, and (while the unicorns may have taken a back seat somewhere along the line) I have never stopped.
I still love reading, but no adult book ever becomes a part of my life in the way those people and places did when I was a child. And now, when I write for children, I try as hard as I can to create characters that feel real. To give them another door: a different world, with brand new people in it. An escape from wherever they are and whoever they are. And when it works – when I get a letter from a little girl who says Harriet Manners is her best friend, or their day was better because they got to be somewhere else for a few hours – I feel I’ve given just a tiny bit back to the pot I ate from so hungrily as a child.
As I’ve grown older, I have slowly learnt to love real people as much as I do those in my imagination. But my affection for my old friends has never changed or faded. With each day I write more and more people into existence, and so – in essence – I find myself spending just as much time with characters who aren’t really there as I ever did as a child.
Except – for me – they are. Because they always were.
Holly Smale fell in love with writing at five years old, when she realised that books didn’t grow on trees like apples. A passion for travel, adventure and wearing no shoes has since led her all over the world: she has visited 20 countries, spent two years working as an English teacher in Japan, volunteered in Nepal, been bartered for in Jamaica and had a number of ear-plugs stolen in Australia, Indonesia and India. As a teenager, she also did a little modelling in the hope that eventually she would be sent somewhere exciting. She wasn’t.
After thirty years of optimistically scribbling on pieces of paper and putting them in piles under her bed, Holly signed an international three book deal with HarperCollins in 2012. Her debut children’s novel, GEEK GIRL, was published in February 2013; foreign rights have already been sold in nine languages.
Holly has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Shakespeare, and currently lives with a totally imaginary but very chatty cat in London or @holsmale