Earlier this year at YALC, I got the chance to speak to Manuela Salvi and speak to her about her book Girl Detached which has been translated and is here in the UK in September. Here’s what she had to say about her book!
Where did the idea for the book come from?
The book was published in Italy before being published in the UK, and the idea came from my publisher as I had published another young adult book about the mafia. That book sold very well, so I was asked to write something else, and they wanted something controversial, something very current and we decided together to write about the topic of prostitution and the grooming of girls, because the topics were in the media, so I decided to deal with these topics for that reason. Basically, it was my publisher’s idea!
They are very tough topics though…
They are. The research was very tough because I had to read a lot of books about girls who have prostituted themselves. A lot of the books were American or Canadian because journalists there are exploring this topic more perhaps than we are here in Europe, and there were a lot of stories about young girls, girls much younger than my main character, prostituting themselves for money. The research was very tough.
This book is a hard hitting one, and I personally think it is going to shock people. Do you think your book is one that needs to be read?
I don’t know, because I’m the writer so my feelings on the book are different from that of the reader’s. For me, it is not as controversial because I think young readers are exposed to sex all the time in the media, so I’m not sure that this book can be defined as shocking. It’s just honest, and it explores the topics in a very natural way because I don’t believe in taboos.
But it is a bit of taboo what you’ve discussed in your book. Would you like your book to be used to help break down taboos?
I would love that. When I decided to become a children’s writer, my main aim was to break down taboos. I’ve always hated taboos and people that used to say to me, “You are a girl, you should behave like this,” or, “You are a girl, so you can’t do this.”
I would like to meet young readers because in Italy I visit schools all the time and I would like to meet young readers to discuss this topic together because I think young readers sometimes can need adults who are not scared to talk about things, to deal with things because as adults we are models, so if we are scared how can we help young people not be scared about these topics as well?
I think young readers are exposed to sex all the time in the media, so I’m not sure that this book can be defined as shocking.
Girl Detached comes out here in September. How excited are you?
I’m very excited because at the beginning when I set out to get this book published here in the UK, I thought it was impossible. But I tried it anyway, because I’m a dreamer. I really thought that it wasn’t possible.
Why did you believe that it wouldn’t be possible? Did you think no publisher would take it on?
Yes, because it’s in translation. I think I’m the first Italian writer to have a book translated and published here in the UK, perhaps there are a few colleagues of mine as well, but it isn’t common. When I said in Italy, “OK, I’m going to the UK and I’m trying to get this book published there,” they laughed and said, “You’re crazy. It’s not possible.”
But now who’s laughing…
*laughs* Yes! It’s exciting, but it’s scary at the same time.
So when the book comes out, what would you like readers to take away from your book?
I don’t believe in lessons. I believe that readers should take from books whatever they want or need. But, I believe in positive endings, I believe in hope, maybe because I was a teenager between the eighties and the nineties and hope was the thing. We believed in the future, we believed that if you try you can do it, that if you insist you succeed. Today is different, there are more uncertainties and the future sometimes is kind of foggy for young people. That’s why I believe in positive endings because I think everyone can be a hero of their own life. If something is negative, you can turn it around and make it a positive thing for your life.
So, it’s always about choice. That’s my message in every book I write. It’s not a lesson, it’s just a suggestion. You can do it!
Did you draw anything in this book from your own life experiences?
Not my own life, no. Of course, there’s something that I experienced or remember from my teenage years, because I’m the writer! But, this book comes mainly from research and then the name of the character comes from an air hostess, because I liked her name! It didn’t take long to write it at all, the research was much longer.
Would you like to see more translated fiction come to the UK? Are we missing out?
I think that international literature is an opportunity for everyone. I think you are missing something, because there is some very good literature from, for example, Scandinavia or France. They can be controversial when they write. It would be nice to share more literature. We read a lot of English and American books in Italy, so it would be nice to exchange experiences.
We definitely have a very strong UKYA community with some great titles.
Yes, and it’s good literature, so it’s not a problem, but maybe internationality is a good thing because literature is about experiencing other people’s lives. If you only read English people’s lives, you’re only getting one experience, but if you read about someone from another country, it can be more inspiring. You can know the world!
Plus, if you don’t have money and can’t travel, this way you can just read and explore the world!
How many books have you had published in Italy?
But this is your first one here?
As an experienced author, what tips would you give to aspiring writers or even anyone who wants to learn a new language?
First of all, you should be reading a lot because you need to know what other writers are writing, but I think sometimes that when beginners start to write something, they are more influenced by their own readings and their own visual experiences, like TV programmes or movie narratives, so when you write you are influenced by all those inputs. So, if you try to forget a little bit about all those things, and try to explore your own originality a little bit more, that’s the point in being a writer. We all can be conditioned by stereotypes or things we just assume are that way. Because you’re used to it, it’s all you know. Try to be more open. Be ready to discard the things you don’t need. Don’t discard everything of course, but discard a little bit to try and be more open because literature is an adventure.
You are an explorer when you write. If you have baggage that is too heavy, it’s going to make it more difficult to write!
Thank you so much to Manuela for speaking to me at YALC, and thanks to Nina for setting up the interview at YALC as well!
Girl Detached is out in the UK on the 6th September 2016.