By Holly Bourne
The Manifesto on How to be Interesting
Bree supposed it was quite an achievement really – to be a failed novelist aged only seventeen.
Most people her age didn’t have a clue what they wanted to do with their lives yet. Let alone know, work really hard for it and then fail miserably. She was miles ahead in the life-ultimately-sucks realization that takes most people their twenties and thirties to figure out.
But Bree wasn’t most people. Well, she didn’t think so anyway.
She looked at the rejection letter in her hand, hoping, somehow, if she stared at it hard enough her longing would melt the ink on the page into a “yes”.
Thank you for your submission. We regret to tell you that your novel isn’t something we think we can take forward BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Generic response. They hadn’t even bothered personalizing it. That’s how much of a failure she was.
Four years ago, when Bree decided to become a novelist, she’d done what she’d always done – obsessively planned, researched and plotted a no-fail manifesto. She’d read everything she could about writing, including a book by Stephen King, aka GOD. He’d apparently been rejected LOADS – so much that he hammered a nail into the wall above his desk to spike all the “no” letters on. Delighted at the self-deprecation of it all, Bree also hammered a massive nail into the perfect plastering of her bedroom wall. And, month by month, year by year, the nail got clogged up with her own swell of rejection letters.
Ha ha, just like Stephen King, she’d thought, spiking the first “no” letter and flipping it the middle finger.
Then more came, and more.
“I can’t wait to talk about this emotional part of my journey when I’m being interviewed by the Guardian about my number one bestseller,” she’d told the clogged nail as she impaled another rejection letter. Yes, she’d got to the point of talking aloud to it. Like it was a person.
Now that Guardian interview seemed as likely as J K Rowling asking Bree to be her best forever friend. Her first novel had been rejected by every agent and publisher in
Then her second.
What the hell was she going to do now?
“Bree?” Her mother called up the stairs. “You’re going to be late for school.”
She stubbed the new letter onto the nail, pushing hard to make room for it.
“It’s alright. I’m almost ready,” she called back.
“Well I can’t give you a lift. I’ve got Bikram yoga this morning with the girls.”
She always did. Bree thought how ironic the usage of the word “girls” was to describe her mum and her mates.
In a rush now, she rummaged in her drawer and pulled out a pair of pink and black striped tights. She pulled them on quickly, wincing as the fabric brushed against last night’s fresh cuts on her thighs. It was the first time Bree had done it for a while. She would pay the price in pain whenever she sat down or stood up for the next two days.
Her phone went. It was a text from Holdo. No doubt double-checking they were still walking in together despite the fact they did so every day.
Good morning, Bree. Shall we meet at our regular corner at the usual time? Please let me know. From, Holdo.
Holdo didn’t “do” text-speak – considered it an aberration of the English language. He wrote everything out in full, with proper punctuation marks. Once, he’d forgotten to use a comma and Bree was subjected to a mammoth apology.
She fired back a response.
Sure. C U there.
She deliberately used the “C” and “U” to piss him off. She wasn’t sure why. Bree put on her school blazer and was about to run out of her bedroom door when last night’s list caught her eye.
She’d forgotten about it – it lay abandoned on the carpet. She made so many lists, it was hard to remember them all. She’d written this one on an adrenalin comedown. That familiar sensation of calm had reminded her that things weren’t that bad and so the list was meant to jog her memory for next time – hoping it may prevent a next time.
Reasons why I shouldn’t be so bloody miserable all the time
I live in a massive house, the kind that makes strangers jealous
I suppose, in their own sort of way, both of my parents love me
I could be pretty if I wanted…
I’m much smarter than most people
I know what I want to do with my life
I have Holdo
That was it. She’d wanted to list ten – because it just feels nicer, doesn’t it? But she couldn’t think of any more reasons. This, Bree supposed, could be the start of a whole other list.
Reasons to be bloody miserable all the time
My life is so crap that I can’t even think of ten stupid things that give me reason NOT to be miserable
But she didn’t have time for that list. Not now. She was late.
Bree ran down the stairs and into the kitchen. She ignored the bowl of muesli, fresh fruit and organic yogurt her mum had left her and took a Pop-Tart out of the cupboard instead. Strawberry. Just what she felt like. She shoved it into her mouth and held it there as she packed her school bag. Then she set the alarm and half-jogged out of the house.
As she waited for the security gate to open, she thought a bit more about her list. How stupid she could be sometimes – thinking her life wasn’t that miserable. Yes, she could list six reasons why things weren’t that bad. But those were just starting points for further elaboration. Elaboration that would ultimately collapse each point.
Take number one, for example.
I live in a massive house, the kind that makes strangers jealous
That, on the surface, was true as true could be. Her house was gigantic. And on a private road as well. Ashdown Drive was the sort of road poorer people deliberately detoured through so they could stare at the houses. Hers was one of the most impressive. It had a security gate with intercom to get through to the sweeping circular driveway. They didn’t have a garden as such – “grounds” was a more appropriate word. It took about five minutes to walk past the property. The outstretched dark-green-light-green-dark-green-light-green stripes of lawn were hidden by carefully manicured privacy hedges. It was the sort of house that everyone peers at, trying to get a glimpse of the lucky ones who live there, and thinks: Wow. Those people must have the most perfectly wonderful lives. I bet they don’t know what a problem looks like. If I lived there, everything would be okay. All the time.
The truth though? Bree hated the house. Nobody tells you that large houses have this horrible habit of making you feel utterly alone. Constantly. She could scream and nobody would hear her. She knew this, she’d tried once. (On a particularly low day.) And the only response had been her own yells echoing endlessly, bouncing around the marble entrance hall.
The security gate felt like a prison gate. She often wondered what it would be like not to be so rich and figured it would be a lot more fun.
“Shut up, Bree,” she told herself.
The gate closed behind her and she walked to meet Holdo. It was October and it was cold. She wished she’d doubled up on the bright tights today. Her mum always despaired of Bree’s fashion choices, which led her onto point two…
I suppose, in their own sort of way, both of my parents love me
It depends how you view love, doesn’t it? Bree had never wanted for anything. Did that mean she was loved? Her dad worked his arse off pretty much 24/7 so she could live in the aforementioned large prison house. He left home before she woke every morning, even Saturdays, and wasn’t usually back until after midnight. She wasn’t exactly sure what he did. In return, her dad barely knew how old she was. The extent of their communication went as follows:
Dad: (In rare moment they bump into each other on the stairs) You behaving yourself in school?
Or, there was that time on Christmas day…
Dad: (Carving the turkey) Do you want leg or breast?
Bree: I’m a vegetarian, remember?
Dad: Don’t be so ridiculous. (Carves off a bit of leg and dumps it on her plate)
Then there was Mum. At least she was around – in physical manifestation anyway. Her mum was a full-time yummy mummy. That’s what she liked to call herself. In Bree’s unhumble opinion, the word “yummy” shouldn’t be associated with anyone over the age of forty.
Her mum spent her time doing a variety of increasingly oddly-named exercise classes, getting facials, fillers and Botox done on her regular day trips to Harley Street, and reading about celebrities in garish magazines she left all over the house. She communicated her love to Bree with a constant stream of gift-wrapped packages left on Bree’s bed. Tiffany necklaces, Hollister jumpers – once Mum even got her some lingerie. Lucky, huh? But to Bree it was as welcome as a cat proudly leaving a beheaded mouse oozing blood
on your doorstep. She knew people wouldn’t understand. Who wouldn’t want a mother who loaded you with gifts? Especially top-notch ones most girls her age could only fantasize about. But Bree didn’t want necklaces, overpriced knitwear or fancy knickers. She wanted a mother who helped her with her coursework. Someone who made her
a cup of tea after school and asked her about what she’d learned, rather than grilling her about whether she’d made any new friends. All the time. Like being popular was the most important thing ever.
All she got was:
“Why aren’t you wearing that jumper I got you?”
“Is Holdo coming round again? Don’t you have any girlfriends?”
“You’re so pretty. Why don’t you just DO something
with yourself? You’re putting yourself to waste.”
Which led Bree onto…
I could be pretty if I wanted
She could. Now. But she didn’t want to be. She’d tried to be pretty once before, on her first day at secondary school, in some deluded burst of naivety that it might change things. Still blubbery with puppy fat, she’d hoicked her skirt up, carefully painted darker stripes through her hair with a home-colouring kit, smothered her face with blue eyeshadow and pink lipstick and shoved two socks down her bra. The result was the worst first day of secondary school the world had ever known. Jassmine Dallington and her cronies had positively dribbled with delight when they saw her, spluttering on their laughter and rushing to lob new and nastier names at her.
She’d been so stupid to try. And now, puppy fat gone and her face fully grown into, she wouldn’t bother trying again.
What pretty person achieved anything of merit anyway? Who cares what a writer looks like as long as their words are beautiful?
So, much to her mother’s despair, Bree made herself as unattractive as possible.
If you control what they laugh at, invite them to dine out on you…well, then, Bree found they usually stop laughing.
She would wash her hair, on occasion. It was a lanky mouse shade at the moment but had been an array of absurd colours in the past – pink most recently, which still hadn’t quite washed out. She wore the clothes of a frumpy forty-year-old going through a mid-life crisis – all neon this, and novelty-hair-bobbles that. She ate what she wanted, meaning her skin had a near-constant scattering of spots and her thighs rubbed together when she walked. And none of this mattered because…
I’m much smarter than most people
Being pretty was only important at school. And school wasn’t a part of Bree’s life she considered essential to her development. It was a time to endure before the beautiful world of adulthood opened its arms to give her a great big hug and a two-book publishing deal. School was a mere drop in the ocean of a human life. And for the pretty girls
at school, their moment would soon be over. They were peaking in their happiness-levels much too early. Which is why Bree stayed ugly – to delay the peakage to a more useful age. Another reason why Bree was much smarter than most people.
She needed to hurry up though. Bree was smart but she wasn’t very punctual. Like, ever. While Holdo was quite the opposite. She wrapped her blazer tighter around her to keep out the cold, barely allowing herself to think about the penultimate entry on last night’s list.
I know what I want to do with my life
But what if it doesn’t want you? All she had ever wanted to do was write. Well, for the past four years anyway. To have people read her words. To leave a tiny imprint of herself on whoever read them. What better way to validate your existence – to prove you had one? But maybe it wasn’t to be.
She wasn’t quite ready to accept that yet.
Though, in the meantime, she had Holdo.
There he was, waiting for her, like he always did. His trademark yellow headphones cupped his ears, and he was wearing that Velvet Underground banana T-shirt over his school jumper – an essential wardrobe item for any wannabe-indie boy. Holdo spotted her, pulled down his headphones and tapped on his watch.
“You’re late again.”
“I’m always late.”
“It’s disrespectful, you know, to keep other people waiting.”
“It’s only been five minutes.”
They began walking towards school, each too stubborn to break the silence. Holdo, of course, broke it first. After a record holdout of five entire minutes.
“So what did you get up to last night?”
Bree stared at the pavement. “I got another rejection letter. It was waiting for me on the doormat when I got home.”
She could see Holdo forgive her lateness as his eyes melted instantly. He never stayed mad at her for long.
“I’m sorry, Bree. I don’t understand it. You’re so
“I know,” she said, giving him a wry smile as an apology. “I don’t get it either.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” Not with Holdo anyway. When she was this upset, she always found his well-intentioned advice grated rather than helped.
The fallen autumn leaves crunched under her Dr Martens and she stamped to make the crunch louder.
“So what did you get up to last night?” she asked, kicking up a pile of yellow and orange ones and watching them float back down to the pavement. They didn’t have fallen leaves on her road. The handyman jointly hired by the residents blew them away every morning with a special reverse-vacuum machine.
“I watched Apocalypse Now Redux. The three-hour version. It’s so enthralling. Have you seen it?”
“But have you seen the extended rough-cut?”
“Yes.” She was lying. Bree had only watched the regular cinema version and found the film more puzzling than enthralling. She would never tell Holdo that though. (She’d rather die.)
“Well, we’re in the minority. Most people struggle with the regular one just because it’s over ninety minutes long. Honestly, the attention span of cinema audiences these days is insane. If there isn’t a massive explosion, or a gratuitous sex scene every five seconds, people just don’t want to know…”
Bree let Holdo’s well-exercised rant wash over her. She’d heard it at least twenty times. It was one of his favourites. Along with the ones about how reality TV was destroying the music industry, how Dan Brown should be hanged, drawn and quartered for his Da-Vinci-Code-shaped crimes against literature, and how the film industry had no original screenwriters any more as they spent all their time adapting bestselling novels rather than investing in raw talent.
She sighed. Holdo was her best friend. Her only friend, if she was being honest. Bree knew she wasn’t a very likeable person, but it didn’t bother her mostly. Yes, of course there were moments of crippling loneliness. And, yeah, it would be nice to have a girl to talk to from time to time. But generally she was happy with Holdo.
“…and it just makes me so angry that the Vietnam War was ever allowed to happen, you know? It was just so completely immoral and it’s not like America has learned from it, have they? You’d think they would—”
Ahh. The war. She’d wondered when he would start ranting about the war.
Holdo was your stereotypical rich-kid-rejecting-his-upbringing. The indie sort that honestly believed, if he and Morrissey were to meet, they would become the best of friends. His real name wasn’t Holdo – it was Jeremy Smythe. He’d renamed himself – yes – after Holden in The Catcher In The Rye (although the “o” on the end apparently made it “more original”). But Bree loved Holdo (in a strictly friendship way). He was the only person
around who shared her intellect levels and desires to DO something with their privilege instead of resting on the laurels of wealth. Holdo was designing a computer game – he actually knew how to write code for it and everything.
It was a cross between Grand Theft Auto and Bugsy Malone. As Bree understood it, the game involved a bullied geek running amok at school with a splurge gun, squirting bullies with cream. Holdo was eventually going to be a self-made millionaire. Bless him – he just needed to get through school first.
She interrupted his war monologue.
He stuttered to a stop. “What?”
“I’m a good writer, aren’t I?”
She knew she was. Of course she was. But she could do with some reassurance.
Holdo reached out and squeezed her hand. “Of course you are. I read everything you write and love every word.”
She looked at his hand, wondering how quickly she could detach herself. That was the thing with Holdo: strictly-friends-only wasn’t an opinion he shared.
“Thanks.” She dropped his hand and tucked hers safely back in her pocket.
“Why don’t you talk to Mr Fellows about it?”
She’d already planned to. Mr Fellows was her English teacher and the only adult in existence who noticed her.
“I’ve got English today. I could do.”
“He always seems to cheer you up.”
Bree smiled to herself.
Holdo had no idea.
Apparently I'm boring. A nobody. But that's all about to change. Because I am starting a project. Here. Now. For myself. And if you want to come along for the ride then you're very welcome.
Bree is a loser, a wannabe author who hides behind words. Most of the time she hates her life, her school, her never-there parents. So she writes.
But when she’s told she needs to start living a life worth writing about, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is born. Six steps on how to be interesting. Six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and make the biggest mistake of her life.
“Full of wisdom, heartache, and honesty, this tops John Green in my book.”
Never Judge a Book by Its Cover blog
Holly Bourne is a bestselling and critically acclaimed author. Inspired by her work with young people, and her own experiences of everyday sexism, Holly is a passionate mental health advocate and proud feminist.
Visit www.hollybourne.co.uk to find out more.
“"Tackles issues like peer pressure, bullying and self-harm, but so very readable."”
Bookseller Children's Buyers Guide
“Probably the best YA novel I've ever read, and that's a strong statement to make.”
“Incredible piece of YA literature. Finally, an author who GETS it. You can say "we were all young once..." but if I had a penny for every time I came across a "young adult" novel that had unrelatable characters, no flaws, unconvincing dialogue... Holly isn't like that. This book will pull you in and refuse to let go. Probably the best YA novel I've ever read, and that's a strong statement to make. ”
“I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone.”
Beth Reekles, YA author (The Kissing Booth)
“Very much in tune with her audience, this second novel from Holly has characters that readers will relate to and remember long after reading the last page.”
“Holly Bourne manages to revamp the whole theme of a geek having a makeover and suddenly becoming an IT-Girl... Not only does Bourne write an amazing story but she also sends out a positive message to teenagers and young adults about life and the unrealistic views people are fed all over the world on school, friends, beauty and life.”
“Holly Bourne has written an intriguing and well-written YA novel that keeps you turning the pages and is a meaner Mean Girls of sorts.”
“"The banter & bitchiness is UTTERLY ADDICTIVE."”
Non Pratt, YA author (Trouble)
“This is a book which is hard to put down and will find a large audience with readers both older and younger than the suggested age group.”
School Library Journal
“Poor Bree's plan sounds like a disaster waiting to happen and I just want to scream at her 'BE YOURSELF'. Unfortunately though, life isn't that easy and I know it sounds horrid but I can't wait to read her struggles!”
The Reader Ramblings
“As you’d expect this book is witty and clever. I quickly connected with Bree and was chuckling away after a few pages... I loved that this wasn’t a purely happy or sad book but a messy realistic in between – much like life really.”
Jess Hearts Books
“One of the most honest voices I’ve ever read in YA contemporary fiction.”
Books for YA
“My favourite book this year.”
Boxes of Foxes
“Intelligent but introverted Bree might not seem at first to be an ‘every girl’ but her fears, her emotions, her vulnerability... will strike a chord with both teens and their parents. Bourne is a prodigiously talented author who has the gift of making fiction seem real.”
Lancashire Evening Post
“I have depression and social anxiety and books are my escape from it but sometimes they are also my way of accepting and embracing it, and I think The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne is one of the latter – it may not have saved my life literally but it helped me save me from myself and I’m thankful for it.”
Bookrebel, site member
“A great book...It made me grateful that I never in my life have to go back to school ever again!”
A Book and Tea
“This is a book which is hard to put down.”
“Definitely a book with a few lessons to teach us and although it is aimed at a female audience there are many things that teen boys could learn as well. It really makes you think about the world our young people are growing up in.”
Books for Keeps
“I clung to my kindle and read as fast as I possibly could... The ending was explosive and when there was ten percent left, I really didn’t know how the plot would end.”
Emma Lou Book Blog