Today's 2016 debut is Manuela Salvi, author of Girl Detached. Manuela's debut has been far from straightforward. Not long after her book was released in Italy, it was banned and removed from shelves. Once translated to English, it was soon picked up by British publisher, Barrington Stoke. Here's Manuela to tell you all about her debut.
What has been the easiest thing about being a debut author?
The easiest thing was that it was actually my second debut so I was mentally prepared to deal with any potential negative reactions to my book. Oddly enough, my first debut in my home country was as “controversial” as my first book as a translated author in the UK. I started my career in Italy with a picture book about “princesses without a willy” then wrote a YA novel about underage prostitution and the grooming of girls for sex, which Barrington Stoke published in English in September 2016. Both books were banned in my home country, failing to make it past the gatekeepers. That made me stronger and more aware when it came to my English language debut. It also made me a lot more wary and a lot less naive. I had already figured out that a debut is not an end point, as many writers-to-be tend to think, but the starting blocks for an amazing but very complicated race still to be run.
What has been the hardest thing about being a debut author?
That's easy! Speaking English in front of a crowd of people was absolutely the hardest thing ever! My first public appearance was at YALC last July and I was on the same panel as Melvin Burgess, Louise O’Neill and Emerald Fennel, in front of about 400 people waiting for me to say something interesting, maybe clever, hopefully understandable. I’m a natural public speaker in my native language but, sitting on that stage, I really panicked for the first time in my life. I scared all my friends and relatives who were there to support me, as I had to take THREE antacids to calm my stomach. I felt so grateful, though, that I'd been allowed to have my translator there with me in case I panicked and my mind went blank.
I didn't freak out, though. Thankfully my ten years of professional experience stood me in good stead. Loads of people stopped me after the panel to say,“You were really good!”. The truth is, I don't really remember a word I said! I have no memories other than Melvin Burgess laughing at some point and me thinking in a daze: “Ok, I’m being entertaining, one way or another.”
What was the highlight of your debut?
The highlight was seeing my banned book – an event that changed my life from one day to the next, bringing my writing career to a sudden halt – back in print thanks to the passionate, intelligent, plucky people at The Bucket List/Barrington Stoke. When I decided to get my book translated, I knew it was the last desperate act of a very desperate and sad writer. I knew that my chances were thin, that the UK is not famous for publishing a lot in translation, and that, in Italy, being published in English is seen in as a sort of miracle. I must say I’m not a miracle kind of person but sometimes you reach such a low point in life that doing something crazy seems like the only sensible thing to do.
When the copies were sent to me at home, I cried. Yes, I got a bit overemotional, but as I held one in my hands, I thought of the long journey my book had endured, and me with it. The highlight was to see a book that had seemed doomed suddenly wake up to a new life.
What are your hopes for 2017?
My horoscope says that 2017 will be a great year for the Archer and I’ll be celebrating my 41st birthday on the 3rd of December. My bow has been drawn for years now, and I hope that, with a bit of luck, I'll be able to establish myself as a transnational author writing in English and publishing in the UK. I hope to finish my PhD and then travel, teaching creative writing around the world. I need to see the world. I want to find the time to write all the stories buzzing around in my head. I especially hope to find a place – physical or metaphorical – where I can be myself and feel at home.
What kind of reaction have you had from readers?
My readers have a special place in my heart. Really, they sound so mature, so attentive in their online reviews that I can’t help but feel proud they chose to read my book. The reactions have all been really positive so far, it’s like they just got it. With no gatekeepers in the way, "Girl Detached” was able to touch them. A young man at YALC said to me, “This book will be a classic in twenty years, I bet you!” I’ll never forget that.
The most satisfying comments about the story, for me, were also about the secondary characters: young readers noticed that they're not so secondary after all. They could sense all the time I spend shaping and imagining them, and that I always get really attached to them.
The moment I enjoyed most was at the Southbank Centre in London. I was in the audience at the YA Festival and after the talk was over, a girl came over to me and asked, “Are you Manuela Salvi?”I managed to say yes, trying to remember if she was someone from Roehampton, or someone I’d maybe met somewhere and couldn’t place. But then she said: “I just wanted to say thank you for Girl Detached. I read it and loved it so much. Thank you for writing it it.” Then she left. I know it sounds childish and I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I felt so cool right then! That reader made my day!
Aleksandra has issues with her voice. Stress makes her stutter, and her life is one of stress. She can only speak clearly on stage, freed by the words of the character she plays. Then, when Aleksandra befriends her new neighbour Megan, and through her meets charming, handsome Ruben, it seems she has discovered a doorway into a different world, and a different Alek. But Ruben wants Aleksandra to play a particular role for him, and it is one that will come close to destroying her.
To find out more about Manuela Salvi: