About The Author
Rachel Hamilton has studied at Oxford and Cambridge and has put her education to good use working in an ad agency, a comprehensive school, a building site and a men’s prison. Her debut novel The Case of the Exploding Loo was published In 2014 and has since been longlisted for Redbridge Children’s Book Award 2015 and shortlisted for Leeds Book Awards 2015 and Worcestershire Awesomest Book Award 2014/2015. Her latest book is The Case of the Exploding Brains, in which a trip to the Science Museum results in an international mystery involving the moon, some mind-reading and an awful lot of grumpy people.
Below, exclusively for Foyles, Rachel explains why she loves geeky heroines.
The Author At Foyles
Why I Love Geeky Heroines by Rachel Hamilton
I love a good feisty, bottom-kicking heroine. Katniss running around, shooting things with her bow and arrow; Tris running around, undergoing extreme tests of physical endurance; Lyra running around, going from the roofs of Oxford to the end of the world and beyond. But, if I’m completely honest, I can’t see myself in their place. Far too much running around involved. When danger comes, you’re more likely to find me quietly backing away, looking for a safe place (hopefully with wifi) in which to sit and google, ‘how to defeat a baddie without getting out of breath’.
When it comes down to it, I identify with the geeks. The ones who shy away from physical exertion. The ones who value brain over brawn, and who associate the word ‘run’ with a computer command rather than with moving at a speed faster than a walk.
Happily, the media is full of geeks. No longer are they on the edges of society - nerd culture has exploded, with Big Bang Theory constantly on TV, people worshipping Joss Whedon and Simon Pegg as Earth-bound deities, and Stan Lee making a cameo in every other film that comes out. But the pleasing thing is that, increasingly, it’s not only boys. Amy Farrah-Fowler is just as clever, just as socially awkward, and, most importantly, just as funny as Sheldon. Because yes, the lady geek shall inherit the earth too. Girls can be coders, and scientists, and sleuths, and know their times tables really well.
Geeky girls abound in children’s fiction. My first nerdy-girl crush was Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I was working my way through the local library when we first met, and I recognised the way books transported this lonely girl “into new worlds … while sitting in [a] little room in an English village.” I wasn’t as good at mental arithmetic as Matilda, and I lacked her telekinetic powers, but the grown-ups in my life weren’t quite as awful as the Wormwoods and Miss Trunchbull, so revenge was less necessary.
Move on a few years and it was bookaholic Jo March from Little Women who caught my eye. Partly because of the fabulous hat she wears to mop up leaky fountain-pen ink (which may or may not have inspired my ‘writing dungarees’), but mainly because of her brilliant brain. Just as Matilda captured what reading meant to me, Jo represented the wonderful pull of writing: “Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world.”
And how could I resist Hermione Granger? She entered my life when I was teaching in a school where students would sneak their homework to me, glancing round first to check no one was looking. The pressure on kids to act like they’re putting in as little effort as possible never fails to depress me. So I loved Hermione’s enjoyment of her own intelligence and her unapologetic desire to do well in class, regardless of whether it annoyed the other students – or teachers. "Five more points from Gryffindor,” Snape says coolly, “for being an insufferable know-it-all." When a review of The Case of the Exploding Loo stated, “It’s not often that we see characters take pride and strength in their brains, and I liked that Know-All did,” I knew I owed a debt to Hermione.
As has probably become clear, geek girls have a special place in my heart. Matilda Wormwood, Jo March, Hermione Granger, Meg Murry, Mary Lennox, Yomiko Readman, Pandora Braithwaite, Harriet Manners, Amina Ambrose, I love you all. To me, these wonderful literary characters represent an achievable aim for young people today: read, write, learn. Be the brightest you can be. And don’t be ashamed if people think you’re a bit weird. As you get older and (hopefully) wiser, you realise normality is seriously overrated.