Behind the Pen with Genevieve Novak

I’m thrilled to welcome Genevieve Novak to Behind the Pen today, chatting about her debut novel, No Hard Feelings, which was released yesterday. You can catch my review here on the blog running alongside this interview. Enjoy!

How would you describe No Hard Feelings if you could only use 5 words?

Fun, loud, neurotic, relatable and hopeful.

What inspired you to write No Hard Feelings? Is it at all, even just a teeny bit, autobiographical?

I think it’s pretty normal for writers to draw from their life, especially with first novels. That being said, every young woman I know has a story about a partner who tells them and shows over and over again that their relationship isn’t going anywhere, and yet it never stops them trying. That’s a unifying experience!

I’ve struggled with my mental health, had difficult managers, and lost friendships. Did all of these things happen to me the same way they happened to Penny? No.

I adore my therapist, have nightmares that I quit my job and don’t get to work for my lovely manager anymore, and have never fought with my friends about boys.

Am I about to get a lot of text messages from ex-boyfriends asking if I wrote about them? Probably. They’ll be pretty disappointed when the answer is no. That’s okay — the feeling is mutual.

Do you have a favourite scene from No Hard Feelings and if yes, why that one in particular?

I always go back to the therapy scenes. They were difficult to write, but I love Penny’s therapist connecting the dots of her behaviour and its outcomes. It’s the moment that we see Penny go from a chaotic mess to a wounded creature who doesn’t know how to heal.

I also love love love love love the kitchen scene. It was one of the first scenes I wrote, and is virtually unchanged from the very first draft.

If No Hard Feelings was adapted into a movie or TV series (please let this happen) who is playing Penny and who is playing Leo? And while we’re at it, go on, what about Max?

From this post to God’s ears. Jodie Comer’s Penny would play brilliantly off Harry Styles’ Leo, don’t you think? (He acts now, right?)

Max would have to be someone so good looking you overlook how badly he treats you, so it would take a Riz Ahmed or Timothee Chalamet to pull it off.

How universal do you feel Penny’s situation is, with all the many things she was juggling to deal with, and do you think it’s unique to people in their twenties or more of a this is life for everyone nowadays sort of thing?

I’m not long out of my twenties, and I don’t know if it’s the passing of time, hard work, or pure luck that has made me a lot more relaxed than I remember myself being through that period of my life.

None of Penny’s problems are unique to your twenties, but my limited perspective tells me it’s a particularly turbulent time in your life, and you don’t have the experience, tools or objectivity to process it properly. Although I reserve the right to forego the quarter-life crisis and have an ongoing crisis forever, and so should everyone else.

Are you balancing a different career with your writing? How do you go about making time for your writing within limited hours?

It really helped that Melbourne’s lockdown was so long, and that I live alone, so I had months on end with nothing to do but write!

I still work my normal job in addition to writing books, but I always try to set aside at least one day to write non-stop every week. I’m very tired. The burnout is real and sometimes I go weeks without writing anything, feel awful about it, and then knock out 15,000 words in a weekend.

Maybe when Jodie and Harry sign onto the project I’ll be able to write full time. Until then, I’m really lucky to have a supportive manager who lets me use my leave to schedule regular writing days or blocks of time to get my projects finished.

Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?

I prefer to work my “real job” from my office and write from my living room, but if my mind is wandering it’s easier to lock myself in the office to hammer out a few thousand words at once.

It also depends on what I’m writing. Dialogue is often hammered out on my phone while I wait for the kettle to boil. Exposition usually takes more workshopping and is less intuitive, so a double-monitor setup is more helpful there. And then sometimes I can smash out a perfect, no-editing-required scene on my phone on a commute, while other days I’ll stare at a blank document for hours and write nothing. I can’t work from coffee shops or libraries though.

Is there any one particular season of the year that you find more creatively inspirational than the others?

I set out to finish No Hard Feelings by my 30th birthday, which was about a year and a quarter from the day I started. I’d never written anything this long and I didn’t know if it would take a month or a decade, so I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike.

There is something cosy and familiar about pulling an all-nighter with a massive cup of tea or black coffee in the middle of winter. Maybe it just reminds me of my time at uni, and all my assignments would take me by surprise at the end of the first semester when the weather was just getting cold.

What book is currently on your bedside table? Are you more of a print, e-book, or audio book fan?

Right now I’m reading 28 Questions by Indyana Schneider, and Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton, both print copies. I prefer physical books when I can. Like Leo, I like dog-earring pages with little quotes or phrases I like, and revisiting them later. There’s also nothing better than spending an afternoon in a lovely bookshop, then leaving with a sore shoulder and massive dent in your bank balance.

I live in a bookshop desert, though, so sometimes an e-book is all I can get. When I have the choice, I prefer e-books for commuting, or else I read three sentences, get distracted, then bounce off to Instagram again.

And lastly, hitting you here with the tough one, you can wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life. What type are they and what colour?

I’m not much of a shoe girl! My mum and sister are, but they don’t get my heartrate up. Even so, I can’t go past a little black ankle boot with a block heel. I must have about ten pairs, from everywhere from ASOS to rag & bone, and I really resent Melbourne’s eight-month summers when they have to be put away.

No Hard Feelings

Hungover, underpaid and overwhelmed, this isn’t where Penny expected to be as she reached her late twenties. A sharp, smart and witty look at adulting – Fleabag meets Sorrow and Bliss with a splash of Dolly Alderton.

Penny can’t help but compare herself to her friends. Annie is about to become a senior associate at her law firm, Bec has just got engaged, Leo is dating everyone this side of the Yarra, and Penny is just … waiting. Waiting for Max, her on-again, off-again boyfriend, to allow her to spend the night, waiting for the promotion she was promised, waiting for her Valium to kick in. Waiting for her real life to start.

Out of excuses and sick of falling behind, Penny is determined to turn things around. She’s going to make it work with Max, impress her tyrannical boss, quit seeing her useless therapist, remember to water her plants, and stop having panic attacks in the work toilets.

But soon she’s back to doom scrolling on Instagram, necking bottles of Aldi’s finest sauvignon blanc, and criticising herself with renewed vigour and loathing. As her goals seem further away than ever, she has to wonder: when bad habits feel so good, how do you trust what’s right for you?

Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Released 30th March 2022

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