Sal hates standing out. But he lives in a haunted house – and everybody knows it. His oldest friend, Dirk, tries to help… but he wants to stay popular, and Sal isn’t helping. Elsie was popular – until recently. Now she’s on the outcast’s table too… and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Then there’s the new boy, Pax, who won’t leave Sal alone. His idea of a good time is hanging out in graveyards. And, for some reason, Sal just can’t stay away. Meet The Other Ones. We chatted with Fran Hart on this cozy, spooky story…
The Other Ones is pitched as Heartstopper meets Gilmore Girls. Using the characters from these two series, how would you describe Sal, Pax, Dirk and Elsie?
I’ve only recently started watching Gilmore Girls but am already a big fan! I think Sal is similar to Luke in some ways. They’re both grumpy on the surface, but secretly very loving and loyal. Sal also has a coffee addiction to rival Lorelai and Rory’s. Dirk is an amazing best friend, much like Tao in Heartstopper. He’s protective of Sal in the same way that Tao is protective of Charlie. Elsie would be Lane from Gilmore Girls. She’s quietly cool, and willing to forge her own path even if it’s more difficult than doing what’s expected of her. And, finally, Pax is… unlike anyone! But if I had to choose, I’d say he’d be a cross between Heartstopper’s Aled and Darcy. He has Darcy’s boundless enthusiasm, but Aled’s dreamy creativity.
The friend group works so well together even though they are so different. What was the process like in creating their personalities?
I created the two main characters, Sal and Pax, first. The book was written for NaNoWriMo, which offers loads of brilliant character building resources. I used those as a starting point and by the time I got around to the first draft, I felt like I already knew the two of them really well. I had a rough idea of Dirk’s character too, but he evolved a lot as I was writing. And Elsie was totally unplanned. I included her as a side character in an early scene, and then liked her so much that I kept writing her in as I went along.
And was there one character that was particularly difficult to perfect?
I think Dirk was the hardest to write, simply because he is the least like me. He’s very extroverted, loud and sporty. I focused on also making him loyal and protective, and gave him an unrequited crush, which I think makes him a more rounded character and, more relatable too!
The Other Ones focuses on the “misfits”, and also references The Breakfast Club. How do you view Allison’s makeover in The Breakfast Club?
I think Allison’s makeover in The Breakfast Club is an absolute tragedy! I remember watching it for the first time when I was about fourteen. I loved her character from the very start, and was so disappointed when they gave her a makeover at the end.
And how did you ensure this is reflected in The Other Ones?
The Other Ones is a little bit about ghosts, and a lot about love and friendship, but I think it’s mostly about being weird. I wanted to write a book which celebrated being different. It was written for anyone who has ever felt like an outcast, or the odd one out.
We have two very parental figures — Pax’s mum and Sal’s sister. Both of them are featured very heavily in the book, which is very rare in YA books. Why do you think it’s so important to let them shine?
It’s true that lots of teenagers have difficult relationships with their parents, but I think lots actually have really good relationships too. I definitely wanted to reflect that in the book. Pax struggles so much to fit in at school that I wanted to give him a really supportive parent to counteract that. Meanwhile Sal’s sister, Asha, features so heavily because she was so much fun to write. It almost felt like she wrote herself into the book and I had no control over her!
And why did you decide not to write about Sal’s internal struggle with his sexuality, or a complicated coming out process?
I think stories about struggling with your sexuality are really important, but it wasn’t something I wanted to explore when writing this book. Because coming out and understanding your sexuality can be so complicated, I wanted to write something in which being queer doesn’t cause any problems and in which the characters never suffer because of who they are or who they fall in love with.
And finally, without spoiling, can you share with us when you decided upon the twist in The Other Ones? Did you start writing the book with the twist in mind?
I started writing the book with a twist in mind, but it wasn’t the one I ended up with! It actually changed several times while I was drafting the book, and then was further tweaked with help from my editor. Writing a good twist is definitely one of the hardest parts of writing a book, but I was really happy with what we ended up with.
Get your copy of The Other Ones here.