Harriet spoke to fellow author Katherine Webber about her contemporary YA novel, which was just published by Roaring Books Press/Macmillan. Harriet’s a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online group for YA and MG authors debuting in 2016; Katherine rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
“This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.”
Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she’s hurtled through wormholes to her past:
To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.
Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide and someone’s heart is about to be broken.
With time travel, quantum physics, and sweeping romance, The Square Root of Summer is an exponentially enthralling story about love, loss, and trying to figure it all out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harriet Reuter Hapgood was born in Nottingham and has lived in half a dozen cities since. A freelance journalist, she’s the chief sub-editor of fashion periodical Marie Claire Runway, last year helped launch ELLE Wedding, and has contributed to InStyle and The Independent. Harriet began writing Square Root in north Norfolk, inspired by her German mathematician grandfather, and a lifelong obsession with YA romance – from her first-ever article in J17 to an MA thesis on Dawson’s Creek, via a dissertation on romantic comedies at Newcastle University. You can find her at harrietreuterhapgood.com and on Twitter
TALKING ABOUT ‘SUMMER’
Katherine Webber: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Harriet Reuter Hapgood: I never made a conscious decision to ‘be a writer’ but I’ve been writing for a long time. I wrote a really bad book when I was 18. It was the first in a trilogy and it was about 200,000 words. It was a fantasy novel about biblical ninjas and it was called Trailing Clouds of Glory, and it was terrible! And then in my final year of University, one of my modules was to work towards a novel. But even then, I never thought aiming to be a novelist was something that real life humans did, it is such a distant dreamy thing. It was never something that I declared, because who can possibly do that?
KW: You can do that! You are doing it! You are a real life human writer, and a very brilliant one.
KW: What prompted you to write Square Root?
HRH: I had been working as a journalist at a fashion magazine for about five years, and I really loved that I got to write and edit in my day job, I would write about restaurants and about what people were wearing on the red carpet, but I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I wanted to be telling stories, and I read a few books that really set me off, one of which was Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and I realized what you could do in YA, and then I had some bad stuff happen to me, and my grandmother died, and it was really awful, in a way that surprised me and shook up my life, and I dealt with it by sitting down and trying to write down my feelings about it, and then I thought, maybe I can make a book out of this, and I had no aim to try and do anything with the book, I just wanted to get to the end of my own story, I wanted to work my way through it on the page, and I thought that might help me out. And once I started writing I had a new goal which was to get to the end, and then edit it, and then start to take myself seriously.
KW: What gave you the idea for time travel in the book?
HRH: There was no time travel in the first draft, I sat down to write a summer book because I really like summer books…
KW: but not actual summer, right?
HRH: Oh no, I get all hot and blotchy and you’ve got suntan lotion on and you think I’m really uncomfortable and my hair is limp and everything is awful. I like Autumn and Spring, those are my seasons. But I love summer novel and I had this idea to write a summer book about grief, and I had the idea of a grandparent passing, because what had happened to me. And I wanted to write about a really clever girl, not that I am very clever, but I like the idea that intelligence might isolate you from your peers to a certain extent. So in Square Root, the main character’s older brother leaves the house, she doesn’t have a mother, her grandfather dies, and she’s left very alone, trying to figure stuff out all on her own.
And then I had all of these flashbacks, and it was written in a non-linear fashion, and she was always into physics and maths and how the world worked, and science is both rigidly logical but also magical and kind of otherworldly, and then it clicked that she was time traveling through her memories! And I wrote a little note that said I Do Believe in Time Travel! and pinned it above my desk.
KW: Do you, Harriet, believe in time travel?
HRH: Yes, the science is there and time doesn’t work in a linear fashion. There is a line in the book about how a clock doesn’t work at the same speed as a clock at the station, and that is true. Time is something we’ve invented as a language to describe how the world works. Minutes are not an inherent part of the universe. There is more than we know. I don’t know how actual time travel would actually work, but I think memories are a type of time travel, reading is a type time travel. So yes, I believe in time travel.
KW: How did you find your agent?
HRH: I was looking up agents on google, as you do, and I found an interview with Gemma Cooper [at the Bent Agency] on a blog where she said she was looking for time travel in the wibbly wobbly Dr Who sense, and at the time my novel had no concrete explanation of time travel, so I thought that’s the lady for me! And then I made a list of all the agents I was going to query, and I sent out 10 queries at first, because I didn’t think I could handle more than 10 form rejections at a time, and then I got 8 full requests in that first week-
HRH: I was lucky because it was very quick, but also kind of terrifying. And I had coffee with Gemma, and she talked me through her ideas for edits in a really calm way, where I felt like I was in a safe pair of hands that understood that I might need a more editorial agent, and I didn’t disagree with any of her ideas. And she also had a very, warm calming presence, and sometimes you have to go on instinct. She felt right.
What is your favorite writing snack
I eat a lot of Haribo tangfastics to the point that is a bit obscene. The cherries are my favorite.
Oddest job you’ve ever had
When I was a teenager I did silver service waitressing freelance, and I worked at the launch for a medieval themed video game, and I had to dress as a medieval wench, serving bread rolls silver service style, and cutting stuff off a hog roast.
I am the middle sibling! I have an older sister and a younger brother.
Do you write to music?
I switch it up. For Book 2 I am strictly listening to Joni Mitchell, Emmy the Great, and the Carpenters. For Square Root I didn’t really listen to music while drafting, but it was edited to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and Beach Boys Pet Sounds.
What were you reading when you were sixteen?
I Capture the Castle was my all-time favorite book, but I also read Lord of the Rings and anything by Truman Capote and F Scott Fitzgerald over and over again.
Do you write longhand or type?
I write longhand scenes sometimes and I also write things in the notes function on my phone when I’m on the bus. For my second draft, I print it out and scribble all over it.
A band you loved when you were 16 that you still love now?
Tindersticks! I’ve seen them maybe 15 times live. But I’m missing their next concert because I’ll be in the US on my book tour.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Katherine Webber was born in San Diego, California in 1987. She has lived in Hong Kong, Hawaii, and Atlanta. She currently lives in London with her husband.
Katherine studied Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis and Chinese literature and language at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She has worked at an international translation company, a technology startup, and most recently, a London based reading charity. Travel, books, and eating out are her favorite indulgences.
Her debut YA novel The Heartbeats of Wing Jones will be published Spring 2017.