Spotlight on Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective

Girl Defective has been one of my favourites of the year. Unique voice and characters and a strong sense of place. Not to mention two amazing covers. I’m a bit obsessed with novels at the moment where the setting is one of the main characters. This year was the first time I couldn’t travel for research. I don’t regret setting my manuscript on the other side of the world because I feel that it couldn’t have been set anywhere else, but reading Girl Defective reminded me that I need to get it right.

Below, Simmone answers a few questions about her work and research. Directly below is the Australian cover, published last year. The other is the US cover, published this month.

Girl Defective

When did you first get the idea for Girl Defective, and was the music always central to it?

Sometime around 2008, in the middle of another novel which I subsequently didn’t finish, I had a scene in my mind of two girls on a rooftop in St Kilda watching and commenting on all the people passing by. Then I decided it was going to be a swift romantic thing – a record shop romance. I wanted a girls’ version of High Fidelity. Having worked in record shops you get used it as a male-dominated landscape, I wanted to turn that around. When I was a teenager music was so important to me – it still is – but back then it was like my lifeblood. I was very specific about the kind of music I wanted as Sky’s soundtrack and I also wanted it to be a bit of a musical treasure hunt. The song Wishing Well by the Millionaires, which is the book’s ‘golden object’ was introduced to me by my husband. It’s a deeply strange song. I must have listened to it a thousand times while I was writing. It supplied me with an ‘outsider’ theme that eventually took over the novel

Did much change from your original vision? Any examples?

 The character of Nancy was fun to write but in the original version she didn’t have a very happy end. She was inspired by beautiful girls that hang around rock music scenes – who I always found more fascinating than the actual bands – the Anita Pallenbergs and Bebe Buells. In the novel Sky likens Nancy to Ruby Tuesday and that line: ‘She would never say where she came from…’ was a definite starting point. But she proved to interesting for me to do away with. In a way it was like she was Scherezading me, dropping crumbs from her past so I’d keep her around. I don’t think she’s a bad friend, particularly. But not someone who Sky can rely on -unless you count the fact that she can reliably get Sky into trouble.

girl-defective-9781442497627_hr

How did you keep track of the different story threads in Girl Defective? Did you outline?

I went through so many different versions. I tried writing with a plan but then the characters would hijack it. In the end I think I was just writing to a theme and the theme was innocence to experience. The working title for Girl Defective for the longest time was Girl in the Water. I had written a (grim) short story about a modern Ophelia, a groupie girl recounting her sad demise from the bottom of a well. In the novel, the name of Sky’s parents’ band is Little Omie. This came from an old folk ballad called Omie Wise. This was another song that hung around while I was writing. This song inspired Sky’s dreams about Mia Casey, ‘The Crying Girl’. When I write it’s like all the things I’ve ever been interested start knocking against it other and it can be hard to know which things to keep. I love that about writing though, that every story has its ghosts and layers. I think about Virginia Woolf: Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms …*

To me, the challenge of writing a novel, any novel, is to be able to shape the impressions so that they serve the story, and the story itself must come from the character. I don’t always feel that I’m successful at this, but it’s the thing I work towards.

*This is from The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf

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