Orlagh Collins is the creative genius behind one of this year’s most beautiful book releases. ‘No Filter’ is the story of Insta addict, Emerald, and what happens when her perfectly filtered existence gets flipped upside down. Emerald’s summer plans were meticulously created – and friendship fall-outs, boy battles, and parental problems were not part of the plan! It has gone from being the summer of her life to the season of woe in only a few short days. But a mysterious boy and some well needed distance might be what she needs to get an unfiltered insight into her own reality.
In between creating the perfect Summer read with the most Instagrammable cover, Orlagh Collins got chatting to us about life behind the book.
Your debut, No Filter, has a gorgeous, pastel-toned cover. What does this tell the reader about the story they are about to uncover?
Not to judge a book by its cover. Like Emerald, the front looks beautiful and uncomplicated, but both first appearances belie something of their depth and complexity. Emerald appears a little superficial at first, whereas really she’s afraid. As the child of an active addict, her self-esteem is fragile and she’s having increasing difficulty juggling the various different versions of herself: the girl she is at school, the girl she needs to be at home and the girl she projects online. A very real family trauma forces her to look at the space in between these selves and while in Dublin, away from the noise, she begins to peel back the layers and discover who she really is. As per the gorgeous cover ‘No Filter’ is a romance, but at its heart there’s another equally important story about a young woman overcoming her feelings of powerlessness and discovering her own voice.
Your protagonist, Emerald, is addicted to social media and has a hard time disconnecting from this filtered unreality. What is your stance on social media?
Social media can be both incredibly positive and crushingly insular. The internet is vast and brilliantly diverse and it offers connection and community for all sorts of exciting groups and ideas. There’s is also a great fun and freedom online to construct the identity we want, to literally curate the best elements of ourselves and present this to the world, which is really cool, but it’s important to remember this is rarely a complete picture. Always presenting our glossiest more ‘filtered’ versions of ourselves can lead to a gulf of expectation between what we share and how we really feel. I think there can be particular augmented loneliness that accompanies social media. In Emerald’s case, rather than help maintaining connection while she is in Dublin, the constant social media updates only compound her feelings of isolation. She needs distance to reconcile these different identities and to build a more robust sense of self. Social media is simply part our lives now and it’s important to find our groove with it. I guess it’s about balance and being present. I’m naturally a very private person and I’m uncomfortable sharing too much of myself so it’s important for me to be true to these instincts. I also think we often get more from being in a moment rather than constantly wanting to record it.
Emerald’s happiness soars when she manages to disconnect herself from the online world. What tech-free pastimes do you enjoy?
Yes, quite early in the novel Emerald has the epiphany that Instagram is making her miserable, and terrifying as it is, she decides to have a break from her online world, which is never a bad thing for our sanity. There are SO many other fun things to than stare at our phones. My background is in film and since I was a child I’ve been obsessed with movies. I watch tonnes. I’m a voting member of BAFTA so I get to watch all the screeners around awards season too, which makes Christmas one of my favourite times of the year. I’ve a particular soft spot for European coming-of-age films and American movies from the 80s, such as The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Stand By Me and the like. I also love music and I can’t help singing along to whatever I’m listening too. I’ve been known to dance and run too, but neither with much skill or ambition.
Teen girls can be a ferocious lot, as evidenced by Em’s friendship group! What were you like at Emerald’s age?
I lucked out on the friendship front and managed to escape the brunt of any serious bullying or bitchiness. I witnessed it though and certainly saw how devastating it can be. My best friends today are the girls I was in school with and I am enormously grateful for those incredible women. Although there’s no denying their capacity for cruelty, I have huge empathy and admiration for teenage girls. It can be a tough time and I think they’re too easily and too often underestimated.
Emerald and Liam share the sweetest of romances! Which celebrity couplings do you admire?
The celebrity couples I like are the ones who manage to keep their lives and relationships out of the spotlight. It’s the couples we don’t hear about that I deeply respect.
Which one aspect of each of the main character’s personalities do you think the readers will connect with?
Emerald is hard to warm to initially, but over the course of the story we understand her to be one of those people whose vulnerability, although not obvious, is very real. Personally this is something I can relate to and I hope others will too. I love how over the course of the summer, she finds her voice; not in a shouty way, but meaningfully, whereby you know she won’t easily be subjugated again and will never not stand up for what she believes to be right.
Liam is someone who is easy to overlook but to do so would be a real shame. For me he’s the real diamond. He entirely himself and has integrity in spades. He’s had my heart from page one.
The wild, ferocious beauty of nature has an impact on Em, once she learns to disconnect. Was the landscape of the book taken from any real locations?
YES! I grew up in a village very similar to Portstrand, which has an eye-wateringly beautiful beach complete with a concrete shelter and an incredible island opposite it. I spent a lot of time there as a teenager and drew heavily from this.
And where are some of your favourite outdoor places to explore?
We’re lucky enough to live in the gorgeous Somerset countryside and I love walking the dog through the fields around here. I do my best thinking on the move. We also travel a lot and I love cities such as London, LA and New York for their palpable drive where you can almost bite the energy in the air. But having grown up by the sea, nothing grounds me like a walk on the sand. There’s nothing like looking out at an unbroken horizon to make you feel like anything is possible.
Any secrets you can spill about any future projects?
I’m currently working on my second YA book, which is very different love story and set in London this time. I’m also writing a screenplay for ‘No Filter’, which I’m super excited about. As I wrote the book everything was broken down into scenes. It has some incredibly visual sequences and with the right casting I think will make a really moving and memorable movie.
And lastly, for a bit of fun, which Instagram filter sums up your personality?
Real-talk though; for standard Instagram filters, I’m partial to Clarendon as it immediately lifts and brightens (which makes it sounds like a face cream!) or Gingham, which is nice and nostalgic. I do love an app too and can lose myself for hours fiddling about, but I can also be easily overwhelmed with too much choice!