Sarah Forbes used to work on magazines, interviewing pop stars for a living. She’s now an editor, helping writers to create their own stories. Sarah writes herself and she’s here to tell us about her debut book, Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs. WELCOME to GHB Sarah.
Bad Girls: why is writing villains so much fun?
When I think back to the heroines of my youth, they all had a bit of spark to them. Darrell Rivers didn’t put up with any nonsense. Nor did Matilda Wormwood or Nancy Drew or grumpy Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. Or Kitty Killen in Goggle-Eyes (oh, I loved Anne Fine’s books! I must re-read Goggle-Eyes).
But these were all, at heart good, smart, loyal heroines, who just happened to be curious or opinionated or capricious. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the perfect heroine is always a bit hot-headed or outspoken; hello, Anne Shirley and Jo March.
But at heart they are good. And as girls and women, being good is meant to be a big deal, isn’t it? We’re so often brought up to be ‘nice’; to share, to look out for others, and to know when to be quiet.
Maybe that’s the reason that writing fundamentally bad, greedy or just plain mean characters is so much fun… especially when they are girls or women. The bad guys in the Elspeth Hart series are very bad women. Miss Crabb and her sidekick Gladys Goulash lie, steal, burp and fart their way through the story, thinking nothing of kidnapping children and making school meals out of slugs and cockroaches. I suspect part of the fun of creating these characters was that they have none of the traits that girls and women are traditionally praised for: kindness, generosity, softness. Miss Crabb and Gladys Goulash do not share. They do not play nicely. They play poker and guffaw about all the men’s hearts they have broken. Gladys Goulash picks the hairs from her chin and drops them into the soup.
They’re caricatures, and horrible ones at that — but they are really good fun to write. James Brown, the brilliant Elspeth Hart illustrator, informs me they are also his favourite characters to draw. I like writing Elspeth a lot, but the real chaos starts when Miss Crabb and Gladys Goulash enter a scene. So far, Miss Crabb has worked as a lollipop lady, a fake dentist, a school cook and a beauty therapist.
Right now, I’m just wondering what she might get up to next…. I’d love recommendations on hideous main characters that you secretly love, so feel free to share!
Ooh! Miss Crab and Gladys Goulash sound deliciously revolting anti-heroes. Thanks for dropping in to share them with our readers. Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-Offs with illustrations by James Brown is out now.