St Anne’s bookseller and author Katie Clapham chatted to Linda Hampton about her latest YA book, Three Girls.

As I walk into Storytellers Inc., the delightful independent bookshop on The Crescent in St Annes, co-owner and author Katie Clapham is happily sorting new books to display. The bookshop, opened with her mother in 2010, was named Vintage Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2013 amongst other industry awards, while Katie has won several awards for her own bookselling achievements.

But Katie is also a writer. I’m here to interview her about her latest novel for young adults entitled Three Girls. While Katie chats with a customer, I browse the inviting shelves, mentally adding titles to my wish list.

“I’ve been a writer since I was probably old enough to realise that I had an affinity for it,” she tells me once her customer leaves. “I have work from junior school where my teachers pointed out that I was doing quite well and it was something that I was quite good at. But with most things I will procrastinate and avoid doing it.”

Katie busied herself with writing adjacent undertakings instead. Her bookshop, of course, but before that she studied creative writing at university, gaining a masters in contemporary poetry theory and practice. “All very much a tactic to make sure I was still writing myself because I know if I’m left to my own devices I will stop.”

Three months time out on the Isle of Skye – a writer’s dream – after university found her writing every day. “There was nothing else to do – I was in isolation. That was a great way of making that happen,” she says.

But on her return to St Annes she next realised another dream and opened her bookshop, the demands of which swallowed up her time. The tinkling sound of the traditional bell makes us both look up as the shop door opens. As customers browse the shelves.

Once the bookshop was established, Katie acquired a dog and, more importantly, a beautiful baby daughter. When her baby was a year old she realised that Three Girls – “a celebration of finding happiness and being ok with not quite knowing your whole life plan” – was a story she wanted to tell. With characters drawn from her own teens, the story is about girls’ everyday lives and mutual love of running.

“All three characters are telling various parts of my adolescent feelings and then there’s some embroidery and other people’s worries on top of that. It was the idea that I had and the story that I wanted to tell.”

“I had just started reclaiming my fitness and running again after I had my daughter. Things like this have to be taught and I felt a bit resentful that I hadn’t been encouraged to learn those things and wished I’d done it as a teenager. I wish someone had suggested to me that things like going for a run or exercise can be just for yourself and not just for some competitive situation at school. I wished that I had known these things when I was around 14 so I decided that it was a good place to set the story.”

The story emphasises the importance of finding new friends as life progresses. Katie explains the book’s celebration of joyful experiences for teenagers, as an escape from a culture that suggests that you have to have major issues to be story-worthy. It’s a novel about teenagers overcoming their own problems but not great adversities.

“There was a trend a few years ago in YA fiction towards very tragic stories, often doomed romance and things like that… I was interested in promoting healthy relationships, there’s a long-term boyfriend and girlfriend who don’t cheat on one another – it’s ok to just be happy. There’s no ‘bad boy’ characters who behave terribly but we’re still expected to forgive them.

“It was a challenge to myself – can I write an interesting and funny book about normal, everyday teenagers going about thier lives and not relying on throwing huge spanners in the works just to make it a novel? I like domestic stories about normal people going about their lives. I like stories about people like me that made me feel inspired and I hoped that the three girls could inspire readers to try a new hobby and not expect it to be life changing or be brilliant at it but just some small ways to make themselves happier.”

She was determined that there was no showdown or climax of a race in the book. “There isn’t a sports day or a public race, no one has to perform or compete. It’s just about what’s going to make you feel good for yourself. It’s quite dramatic and stressful being 15 and I didn’t want to write a book about dealing with that as well as doing something like saving the world.

“I’m not pretending that girls don’t know this message – I mean it’s not ground-breaking,” she adds. “I just know that it’s not that often talked about or suggested that it can just be for yourself… You can just do it at your own level, your own pace and that can be the end result.”

Three Girls was picked up by a German publisher, followed by an offer from UCLan Publishing in Preston. This innovative publishing department gives students real experience of the industry. Three Girls’ cover was also designed by a UCLan student, so the novel has been an inspiration for young people in more than one way.

Katie’s first love was poetry and by writing a book for young adults she’s now landed on a form that borrows from both for her next project – picture books.

“Short forms are interesting to me,” she says. “I always wanted to write picture books but I didn’t know enough about how they worked. Now that I have read a million of them, in my role as a bookseller, I’ve started writing them with a lot more understanding of how they work and I’m really enjoying it.”

As I take my leave the shop bell tinkles. It’s time for Katie to close up and start dreaming up her next story.

An uplifting and inspiring novel for girls aged 12 upwards, Three Girls by Katie Clapham is published on 2nd June 2022 for £7.99. You can get your copy from Storytellers Inc online or at any reputable bookshop.

You can follow Katie on Twitter @storytellersinc, Instagram @storytellers.inc, and Facebook @abookplaceforeveryone.

Read our review of Three Girls’ here


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