In conversation with... Chloe Coles

Hi Chloe! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Bookshop Girl. Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Hi Silvia! Thank you so much for having me and asking me to talk about my first ever book! Bookshop Girl is the story of Paige Turner, a sixteen year old bookseller who tries her best to save her town’s one and only bookshop when it faces closure. It’s an introduction to activism and girl power. Friendships and unlikely allies. Sulky art school hunks and badly-chopped fringes. 

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page and did something that you were not expecting?

A: When I started writing, all I knew was that if it was going to be about growing up, it was going to be about growing up in a bookshop. I (like Paige) started bookselling when I was sixteen, so bookshops and the people in them made my teen years what they were. I can’t think about the first time I fell in love without connecting it to the first place I saw that boy (Waterstone’s Northampton btw) or the first real stinker of a hangover I spent feeling very weird about shelving Children’s Bibles as the Jagermeister from the night before seeped out of every pore on my body. The plot was muddled and tangled for a long time. When I knew where I wanted to take Paige and her campaign things started to unmuddle and untangle. 

If this novel could be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Paige and Blaine?

A: I’d trawl the streets of every boring market town in the Midlands, find a girl leaning on a chippie counter and a boy checking his reflection in the window of Costa. I’d pluck them from obscurity and fling them into stardom. 

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: I really enjoyed writing the scenes set in the life drawing class. At uni, those lessons were a real chance to sit still and shut up (pretty rare for me tbh) I spent hours in that studio, drawing Naked Sues and learning so much more than I bargained for. Drawing bodies IS funny at first, and it can also be a real eye opener as a teenager. I think seeing other women stand strong and proud and comfortable in their own skin was crucial to me at that age. It kicked any preconceptions I had about body image to the curb. It was important for me to write budding relationships like the one between Paige and Sue, because growing up in bookshops forces you to make friendships you wouldn’t otherwise find, and the Posers life drawing class seemed like the perfect vehicle for their story. 

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: There are lots of things. This is the first ever book I’ve written, so my initial approach was to fling everything at it. Working with my editors and my agent really taught me to hold some things back. Mostly because they weren’t relevant, and sometimes because they were too bloody rude. I wrote a scene where Paige and Holly wee into a verbally abusive sexist man’s pint as an act of revenge. It was inspired by true events, but I’d been advised to tone it right the way down. I made a big song and dance about keeping it in the story until our very last mark up, when I realised the real life tale was much better, and what was the point in writing it for Paige if it didn’t contribute to her story? They say kill your darlings, right? Well, I’d agree. I’d say, piss on them, then kill them. 

Which are your top 3 bookshops and why?

A: Obvs I work in Foyle’s which is a gorgeous, shiny, mecca for book lovers from all around the world. Every day I find new treasures that I can’t live without and I love working in Soho. We see all walks of life come through the door and it can be really fun and really fascinating. I used to work in Heffer’s Bookshop in Cambridge which is another of my faves. It’s an Aladdin’s cave filled with happy memories for me. I’m also pretty incapable of avoiding bookshops that I don’t work in, especially on holiday. There’s a bookshop megastore in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo that felt MASSIVE and was open ‘til 10PM and despite the fact that I couldn’t actually READ any of the books (or the signage to know what department I was in) me and my boyfriend spent hours getting lost in there. I found a load of beautiful books that I couldn’t leave behind. V dangerous. 

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: Yes! I’m currently working on Bookshop Girl 2: Life’s a Beach, where we follow Paige and Holly to a literary festival in fictional seaside town, Skegton-On-Sea. Paige has big plans to meet one of her all-time favourite illustrators but keeps missing out on opportunities to show him her sketchbook because she’s lumbered with a complete DIVA of a Romance Novelist called Lady Minnie Rockwell. After plenty of soggy bags of chips, mishaps with a local lad and trips to fetch fresh flowers for ‘Britain’s Number 1 Bodice Ripper’, it turns out that Paige has a lot to learn from Minnie, and that maybe they’re not so different after all…

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: The support I’ve received on social media from the online reading community so far has been lovely, and I think it’s really valuable. I’m juggling a lot already, working full time and writing, but I can’t imagine not having time to interact with people who have made the effort to read something I’ve made up. It’s an amazing thing! We’re so lucky to be able to reach other and make new friends this way, it seems like it would be a waste not to. 

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: GO FOR IT! If you want it, then do it. It can feel like a really slow and tiring process, and then one day you get a bundle of The Finished Things in the post. I still haven’t got used to turning Bookshop Girl over in my hands, flicking through it, thinking ‘OMG it smells like a real book!’ and knowing that I put all of those words inside it. 

Thank you for your time! 
Bookshop Girl was published by Hot Key Books on June 14th. You can find my thoughts on the book here, where you also get a chance to win a copy!

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