Talia Hibbert: “…we’re ordinary, complex people, and illness is just another part of our lives.”

5 Questions With...

Talia Hibbert

[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Talia Hibbert and ask her five(ish) questions. Talia’s novel Get a Life, Chloe Brown is out now! Also don’t forget to grab your limited edition Talia Hibbert notebook!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind Get a Life, Chloe Brown?

Talia: This romcom was cobbled together piece by rickety piece (really; you should’ve seen the first version of the hero, Red), but the original spark was inspired by my own experiences. I have fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and some other health conditions. I’m very aware of how unwell and/or physically disabled people are treated in the media, and it usually doesn’t align with my reality. If you trusted certain news publications and sappy films, you’d think chronically ill people were constantly miserable, and that we existed to dispense life-changing wisdom for our healthy relatives and execute some killer wistful sighs. (Shoutout to all the other #ownvoices creators working to shatter this narrative.)

In truth, we’re ordinary, complex people, and illness is just another part of our lives. A bloody annoying part. Sometimes a horrible part. But also, a funny part. For example, the last time my shoulder randomly dislocated, I did pass out and cry a little (#LIFE, amiright?) but I also laughed. Because, well, my shoulder had dislocated.  For no reason. What a drama queen. It seemed hilarious at the time, possibly because I was slightly delirious, but also because coping often includes humour – and when you’re always sick, you learn how to cope. You have to.

So I suppose that’s what inspired Get a Life, Chloe Brown – the humour of coping. I wanted to write about a chronically ill heroine who lived her life under the constant weight of pain and muscle weakness, and struggled because of it… but still had a personality, a sense of humour, and, eventually, a life. (Plus regular orgasms and someone to bring her snacks. All the necessities, in my opinion.)

What character do you most relate to and why?

Since Chloe and I share an illness, and since she’s experienced the limitations and discrimination that come with having a disability, we have a lot in common. This book is about the humour of coping, it’s true – but it’s also about Chloe’s quest to overcome the darker side of dealing with chronic illness in a world that, frankly, doesn’t give a crap. I’ve worked through that myself, so I can definitely relate. And then there’s her obsession with pretty notebooks, sparkly pens, and list-making. I do love a good list.

On the other hand, Chloe comes from a wealthier background than me and is more logical than I am. Red, her hero, is an artist and handyman, which I relate to more than Chloe’s professional computer nerdery. (That’s not because I’m an excellent artist and handyperson; it’s because I’m allergic to computers. Just typing these answers on a keyboard is giving me hives. My laptop could sense my fear and attack at any moment. I hope you’re grateful for my sacrifice.) Red also had an upbringing more like my own, and he has ridiculous tattoos. Same, man. Same.

Why do you feel romantic books with powerful and relatable characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

Romance is an incredible genre because it’s about people working on their flaws and fears, not only for the sake of personal growth, but so they can give and receive the kind of love they deserve. Romance novels place unashamed value on emotion, intimacy, and communication – which, I believe, allows readers to grapple with their own issues  vicariously. Sometimes, reading the perfect romance feels like accessing a blueprint on how to love yourself, and on how you should be loved.

Since this genre is so deeply personal, it makes sense that it’s becoming more and more diverse. Publishing, like most institutions in our society, skews violently toward the status quo – but that hasn’t stopped trailblazers fighting for wider representation over the decades. It feels like that fight is really starting to pay off.

When I was a kid, the idea that I might one day write a book about a fat, black, disabled heroine for a major publishing house was simply ridiculous. Maybe it could be done, but only by an outlier who had near-inhuman talent, twenty-five years’ of experience under their belt, and the luck of the gods. But while I was busy growing up, those same outliers were smashing glass ceilings and cracking limited opportunities wide open. The industry is finally noticing that truly diverse characters are the most relatable of all, so more and more authors like me are getting a shot at telling our stories. And, since readers like me want those stories, too, the demand keeps growing.

Please describe the content of Get a Life, Chloe Brown and what can readers expect from the read.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is an improbably funny, stubbornly sexy romance between a bossy, uptight woman who eats cereal from the box and a cheerful, trying-not-to-be-tortured artist who hates how much he fancies her. She’s posh, fierce, and fiery; he’s a certified working-class gent whose mind only turns dirty when it comes to her. So you can expect some opposites-attract and enemies-to-lovers magic. You can also expect endless banter, distinctly British snark, and constant, tiny moments of real-life tenderness that add up to something achingly romantic. (I sincerely hope they do, anyway, or I’ve fluffed it.)

What’s next for you in the book world?

I am horrible at forward planning. I’m also one of those people who feels pressured by their own plans and ultimately rebels against the tyranny of their past self by… uh… derailing everything. So I’m trying to keep things vague!

But I can say with confidence that, in 2020, things will be getting spooky. I’m planning to sprinkle some paranormal romance in with my usual contemporaries. It’s gonna be fun!  

Who is your favorite writer right now and why?

This question is torturous. How am I supposed to choose a single favourite author when so many are producing romantic brilliance?!

If I must pick one – I’ll go with Therese Beharrie, who’s absolutely killing it right now. Full disclosure, we are friends. But we became friends because I read one of her books and was seized by an urgent need to know the mind that could produce such a powerfully snarky, done-with-your-crap heroine. (If you’re wondering which book and which heroine I’m talking about, it actually doesn’t matter, because they’re all equally, delightfully badass. However, if you want maximum snark, try One Day to Fall)

Therese’s deeply emotional, immersive stories are set in South Africa, where, apparently, all the men are gorgeous and grumpy and secretly soft of heart. These romances will make you squeal one page, punch the air the next, and sob uncontrollably at regular intervals. Approach with caution. And by ‘caution’, I mean, ‘reckless enthusiasm, a packet of biscuits, and a box of tissues’.

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