09 April 2020
Award-winning children's author Jenny Valentine describes how her new novel Hello Now unexpectedly chimes with the times
Love is all about escape, and for me that’s what writing is about too. While we are all trapped in our own households, and distraction and comfort are in short supply, I am finding myself escaping more than ever. Apps and group chats are all fine, and they definitely help, but there’s a limit to how much I can take. After a while it all feels a bit thin and superficial, like sweetener instead of honey, and I keep retreating to dream and to books.
When I started writing Hello Now, I clearly didn’t know it was going to be released at this exact time of isolation and change, with all the things our society takes for granted suddenly threatened. I just wanted to write about love and how difficult and tricksy it is, as well as marvellous, like a dream, like magic, and also a very powerful form of delusion. I didn’t think I was into love stories at all, and I didn’t think I would ever write one. It’s a complicated subject, sugar-coated and full of false hopes. Our cultural obsession with love is so toxic, a kind of religion, and I think a lot of people suffer terribly because of that. I didn’t want to write something that towed the party line. So I found myself unpacking what it meant to me, the idea of being attached to someone in that way, the desire we share for it, even though it can be the opposite of free. Hello Now is a book about the miraculous, intoxicating side of love, the bubble we all create for ourselves, impossible to resist and bound to burst. And it is about the ties that bind – how that same attachment to another can leave us hamstrung and trapped, even with all the best intentions. It is also about still loving, even when you can’t have what you want, and how important that is, that love is something we have a shared ownership of, a shared investment in.
Jude meets Novo, and Novo isn’t the same as Jude. If falling in love was a person, then that is who Novo is. Impossible, miraculous, limitless, full of possibilities and illusions. Novo is magic, and the love between them that flares and burns quick like a match, is magic too.
It was an intense and consuming book to write and I fell in love so many times while I was writing it. Because falling in love doesn’t start with two people and end with marriage. I can fall in love fourteen times just walking down the street. Look at how in love we all are right now with our freedom, with our communities, our good news, our NHS. Look at how in love we all feel with the idea of a teeming crowd, or a beach party, or just a gathering of friends, in the same room. Look how in love we are with the thought of a hug.
There are so many different kinds of love, and romance is only one of them. The Greeks divided it into categories. They were so good at that. Family. Friendship. Enduring. Fleeting. Playful. Erotic. Love of Self. Love of Humanity.
Love is so many things, and so is isolation. We get told, again and again, from the time we are children, that ending up alone is not a good ending. That the Happy Ever After has to include someone else. More than ever now, we need to challenge that assumption and look for the multiple benefits of being on our own, single, complete, all that we need. None of that means we don’t need friendships or that we won’t feel love. I revel in the idea that those things are extra, that they add value instead of being props and scaffolding for a life that hasn’t worked out how to stand on its own two feet.
So Jude loves Novo and Novo loves Jude. And it is the definition of impossible for them to be together, for them to have what they think they want. So they stay apart. But they don’t fall apart. You don’t have to stop loving just because you can’t be with someone. The love is yours either way. That’s one of the things writing this book taught me.
Writing this book came at a complicated and painful time in my own life, and helped me work out where I stood and how I saw the landscape. I hope that’s what the best writing about love does – navigates us, carefully, through beautiful and dangerous places.
Hello Now by Jenny Valentine is out now published by HarperCollins.