Today’s the day! Chelsea High, my first young adult title, hits the shelves.
Described as Gilmore Girls meets Gossip Girl, it follows the life of Norah Whittaker who has lived an idyllic childhood, growing up on Mulberry Island, working on her mum’s Portobello market stall, laughing, joking, swimming in the river with her friends. But then her lovely dad is suddenly arrested for fraud and all their friends turn against them having lost their life-savings in his get-rich-quick schemes. Grandparents Norah knew nothing about swoop in to pay his legal fees as long as Norah is enrolled – like the generations before her – in Chelsea High, an exclusive school in the heart of London. When she turns up on her bike on the first day of term and is confronted by chauffeur driven Bentleys, students tanned from summers in St Barts, and an immediate backlash against her, Norah knows her life has changed forever. Her only hope is the school play and the gorgeous, illusive leading actor, Ezra Montgomery.
What inspired Chelsea High?
As a writer, you take things that have happened to you or situations you are familiar with and ramp them up to their highest level of conflict and excitement. I went to a school not dissimilar to Chelsea High – but without the added layer of gloss. It was cliquey and loud, bitchy and fun. You were friends one minute and arch enemies the next. To survive you had to know yourself and find where you belonged, and that isn’t easy as a teenager.
I wanted to take someone who thought they understood themselves and their life and throw it into chaos. In Chelsea High, that happens to Norah. When everything she relies on is stripped away, will she sink or swim?
Where is Mulberry Island?
I wanted Norah’s life prior to starting at Chelsea High to be a complete contrast to this glossy elite.
One day, I took a trip to Eel Pie Island which is just round the corner from where I live in South West London. Most famous for its hotel where bands like The Who, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones used to play, it’s a quirky little place with a real sense of community. The exact opposite of Chelsea High! Walking among the ramshackle bungalows and houseboats – buildings with giant fiberglass ice-cream cones stuck to the roof and fake sharks in the garden – the idea of Norah and her eclectic family came into being.
The Whittakers live on a houseboat on the Bohemian Mulberry Island where everyone knows everyone. The community is like a family. There are island parties, bands, theatre and swimming in the river.
There are lots of island communities up and down the Thames. If you want to visit Eel Pie Island it’s twenty minutes on the train from London Waterloo to Twickenham then you can either walk or take a five minute bus journey to the island. Alternatively you can take the tube – as Norah does – to Richmond and again hop on a bus.
If you want to see more of the inspiration behind Chelsea High then head to Pinterest and have a look at the mood board: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/JennyOliverBks/chelsea-high/
You can hear a reading of the first chapter to get a taste here:
And if you want more from Norah, Ezra and the Chelsea High gang, then you’ll be pleased to know I’m currently editing Chelsea High Two!