I had a wonderful time talking all things THE NICEST GIRL with fellow author Emma Finlayson-Palmer and the #UKteenchat community. If you missed out on Emma’s questions, here’s an easy-to-sift-through summary — and be sure to swing by the #UKteenchat hashtag on Twitter to pick up on all the other questions and chat!
Could you tell us a little bit about THE NICEST GIRL?
THE NICEST GIRL is a Teen/YA book about a 17 year-old girl named Anna who realises (you’ve guessed it) that she’s ‘too nice’ and decides she’s gonna do something about it. Think people-pleasing turning into boundary-setting, with a lot of relatable setbacks on the way…
Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write about a character who is too nice to say no?
In my 20s I reached a point where I was sick of hanging out with people who spoke to me disrespectfully, taking on extra work in the office, and always being the one who said “I don’t mind”. I realised I did mind! And so a lil seed of an idea came from that.
A lot of people inspired me as I was writing about Anna – Marissa Cooper from ’00s TV show ‘The OC’, for example! She is a real Nice Girl and the people around her often take advantage of that or read too much into her kindness.
You know who else I found oddly inspirational: the Vicar from the BBC programme ‘This Country’. He is the nicest man, but ALWAYS at the detriment of himself and his own enjoyment of life. I loved how the show explored his reasons for being so generous with his time.
Did you need to research anything for THE NICEST GIRL?
I spent a lot of time checking in with friends to find out their own experiences of ‘niceness’. Honestly it was really comforting to learn that people I’d always thought were SUPER ASSERTIVE and NEVER EVER MEEK OR MILD had their own struggles with saying the word ‘no’.
I find it SO interesting to explore why people act the way they do, so I wanted to use my novice take on things like attachment theory to explain why my characters might be behaving in a certain way.
I actually wish I’d gone deeper with that sort of stuff in the book and delved into the fact that some people (those who’ve experienced trauma or are neurodivergent, for example) are ‘too nice’ because at some stage in their life, being nice was actually the only safe option for them.
Without being too spoilery, is there a scene or moment in THE NICEST GIRL that you particularly enjoyed writing?
Anna has a big argument at one stage (won’t tell you who with!), which was so much fun to write. All of her frustration and resentment comes out at once!
I also really liked writing Anna’s messages with her best friend Marla, who is constantly terrified her boyfriend Carl is about to leave her (and v vocal about it too). I’m probably biased but I think Marla is an absolute hoot.
Are you a plotter, or are you a pantser who prefers to write and see where the story/characters go?
I used to think I was a pantser, because I am with most things, but then I had to take a good look at myself and wonder why I never got anywhere with a writing project and consistently felt lost, hahaha. And it transpired… this was why! So now I have a loose chapter-by-chapter plan and a calendar, which helps me with pacing.
Has your work as an ambassador for Women’s Aid inspired any aspects of THE NICEST GIRL?
Definitely – one of the characters has just come away from an abusive household so I liaised with a lovely contact at Women’s Aid to make sure I was telling his story in a way that felt true to life.
There’s also discussion in the book about male/female friendship and about boys taking kindness from girls as something romantic when in reality it’s anything but. So many girls/women have experienced the hurt and frustration of a straight boy/man not wanting anything to do with you the second he realises you’re not interested in him romantically. Although that’s not directly linked to domestic violence, I am a fierce believer that these kinds of issues are linked and are all different sides of the same (deeply misogynistic) coin…
What advice would you want readers who are ‘too nice’ to take away from THE NICEST GIRL?
I really hope that readers take away the nuances of it all – like, it isn’t a character flaw to solve so that people think you’re the fun friend or the funny friend or the assertive friend instead of the nice friend. It’s a reeeeeally complex thing (and we all have our own reasons for struggling to set boundaries or say no).
Being kind and courteous and self-aware is underrated, in my opinion, so the book isn’t trying to tell anyone to start being mean. It’s a reminder that it’s OK to push back sometimes and say, no, that isn’t alright with me, and the world won’t end if you do.
Also, I hope that it comes across that everyone has their own issues and learned behaviours / defence mechanisms. Yours may be Being Nice and someone else’s might be Never Acting Serious or Keeping Constantly Busy, you know?? We are all just trying our best.
Do you have any writing rituals or a favourite place to write?
My ideal writing situation is a really long lunch at a restaurant by myself on a super-quiet weekday, so I can eat nice food and drink ridiculous amounts of Diet Coke and get lots of work done and nobody wants me to be anywhere else anytime soon. Doesn’t happen a lot!
Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?
I’m currently writing a YA with a main character who’s very feminist and boundaried and opinionated — a huge change from Anna and v fun to do.
One day I would love to write something about Anna’s world again. I am obsessed with her best friend Marla and the thought of writing a book from Marla’s perspective just fills my lil heart with joy.
Do you have any writing advice or tips you’d like to share?
I find it hard to share tips because I still feel so new to all this and WHO AM I TO SHARE ADVICE??? WHO?
But as a result, that probably IS my advice: respect yourself and your work and its importance. You are writing for a reason and somebody needs to hear what you have to say! So buckle up and get some typing done…