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Authorgraph No.206


H


olly Goldberg Sloan has had two novels published in the UK to date, both very well received. I’ll Be There is a breathlessly exciting


teenage love story that demands, and rewards, belief in destiny; just out here, and already on the New York Times bestseller list in America, is Counting by 7s, another story of love conquering all in difficult circumstances, though this time it’s family love, rather than the romantic kind. Goldberg Sloan already has a large and growing following both here and in the US, readers who love her books for the skilful, satisfying storytelling, intriguing characters and heart-thumping adventures. In addition to the novels, she’s had a highly successful career in the movies, as screenwriter, producer and director. She wrote the baseball classic Angels in the Outfield, as well as the comedy Made in America, which starred Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson and Will Smith.


I met Holly at the start of a ten day promotional tour, that would take her from Suffolk to Doncaster, by way of the Hay Book Festival. It all sounded pretty exhausting, but Holly was looking forward to it. As anyone can tell from her books, she’s fun, very intelligent, great company, and, horrible cliché though it is, has a real zest for life. ’I had an interesting and wonderful childhood,’ she explains, ’My father is a psychologist, he worked in many different capacities early on including designing tests for the astronauts’ programme – part of the programme was a psychological test to see if you could stay in a small, tight place and not flip out – from there he moved into aptitude testing. He spent his life trying to figure out if you can test for someone’s character, not just individual, but national character. I think it’s interesting that as writer, I’m obsessed with character.’


Her professor father’s job meant that the family moved a lot – every three years in fact. They lived in California, the Netherlands, Turkey (Holly went to high school in Istanbul), Washington D.C. and Oregon. ‘The traveling really informed who I am’, she says. ‘I had a choice early on to let the world come to me, or to jump into the world. I chose to jump!’ Her experiences in Istanbul she thinks, were particularly influential on her development as a writer. ‘When we were in Turkey, I felt other – I stood out the way I looked, I had long blonde hair then, blue eyes… I went to Robert College, it’s kind of a famous school, and there were maybe five kids there who weren’t Turkish. Most classes were in English, but some were in Turkish, and I couldn’t follow it. It’s a really difficult language. So


10 Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014


Holly Goldberg Sloan interviewed by Andrea Reece


I would go to the library then, and there, for whatever reason, I read every book in the section African American literature: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston – I think the truth of it was, I very much identified with the outsider, because I was an outsider. I still today identify with the person in the room who doesn’t look like everyone else, which is ironic, because in America, I don’t look a bit out of the ordinary – but you can see that in every one of my movies, in everything I’ve written.’ Sam, the central boy in I’ll Be There, is very much an outsider, he’s been forced to be. He and his little brother, Riddle, live with their father, a petty criminal with a nasty, violent streak. He took his sons away from their mother when they were very little, and has since kept them both out of school. They move from town to town, have no friends, and very little contact with anyone. Is that a comment on her own childhood? ‘I think the moving made me, and I’ll Be There is very much about that – what would it be like if someone made you move.’ The idea for the book came from a friend, who met a boy in church, in similar circumstances to Sam, and tried to help him. ‘He told me a bit about it, and I fictionalised it. That’s one of the occupational hazards of having a writer for a friend!’





When she was in college, Holly’s father and mother divorced, ‘my father left my mother for one of his college students – not the greatest thing to happen,’ she remarks. She actually made a movie about it – she adds wryly, ‘maybe don’t make a move about your family life if you want everything to stay on an even keel’ – and feels that in all her books and her movies, she’s writing about families being taken apart and put back together again. ‘A lot of writing can be a way to heal things in your life. My husband (he is also a movie maker) is a great sportsman, he writes about competition, how one person gets one over on another – that’s something that interests him. I’ve written two sports movies and I think you can tell they’re written by a woman. Instead of being about what happens, what matters to me is that families come back together, they may be in a


I think it’s


interesting that as writer, I’m obsessed with


character. ’


different shape or configuration to how they were at the beginning, but that’s what happens in life, nothing stays the same.’


At this point, Holly was distracted by a crying baby, which prompted her to tell an anecdote about an experience she had, which surely one day should become a novel, but also is a terrific physical demonstration of her overwhelming desire to create families. Standing in the queue at an airport check-out,


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