Helen Comer­ford’s debut nov­el, “The Love Interest,” released today, blends romance, action, and self-dis­cov­ery in the unique world of Nine Trees. Inspired by soci­et­al pres­sures she faced as a con­tent singleton, Comer­ford cre­ated Jenna Ray’s story to chal­lenge tra­di­tion­al roles. Nine Trees, inspired by Kent’s sea­side towns and a cli­mate crisis-driv­en evol­u­tion, sets the stage.

Jenna, a relat­able teen without super­powers, is thrust into the role of a super­her­o’s Love Interest. Her jour­ney of self-determ­in­a­tion and res­ist­ance against soci­et­al expect­a­tions aims to inspire read­ers. Comer­ford’s fem­in­ist per­spect­ive, Brit­ish set­ting, and diverse char­ac­ters offer a fresh take on the YA super­hero genre, emphas­iz­ing rep­res­ent­a­tion and empowerment.

Sup­por­ted by her dog Cocoa Bean, Comer­ford’s writ­ing pro­cess is dynam­ic and determ­ined. Fans can look for­ward to action-packed rom-coms, includ­ing the sequel to “The Love Interest,” prom­ising more heart­felt and thrill­ing adventures.

On pub­lic­a­tion day, we catch up with Helen to find out more…

What inspired you to write “The Love Interest” and cre­ate the unique world of Nine Trees?

The concept for The Love Interest came to me when I was a happy singleton facing a deluge of mes­sages from pop­u­lar cul­ture, and soci­ety in gen­er­al, that I should be in a rela­tion­ship. Instead of run­ning out­side and scream­ing ‘I’m happy as I am!’ or ‘This pres­sure drives people into unhealthy rela­tion­ships!’ or simply ‘Stop telling me what to do!’, I grabbed a note­book and craf­ted Jenna’s story.

Devel­op­ing Nine Trees, and the world it exists in, was less rage-filled. I’ve lived in a lot of places, but often came back to Kent and the South East coast of Eng­land. Nine Trees is an amal­gam­a­tion of the sea­side towns of my youth. The EV, the accel­er­ated evol­u­tion of the earth which gives the her­oes their powers, is what makes the Nine Trees uni­verse dif­fer­ent to our own. It is inspired in part by the cli­mate crisis, but also comes from my belief that everything in nature is con­nec­ted, people, anim­als, the weath­er, the plan­et itself. I asked myself what this con­nec­tion would look like if we could see it and decided it would be elec­tric blue …

Can you tell us more about Jenna Ray as a prot­ag­on­ist and how her jour­ney unfolds in the story?

I find her­oes incred­ibly endear­ing, espe­cially teen­age ones who are try­ing their best to do the right thing and mak­ing mis­takes along the way (eg Spi­der­m­an). Whilst Jenna doesn’t have powers, she does have a bit of a hero com­plex and gets her­self into trouble try­ing to save someone from a burn­ing build­ing. She’s res­cued by Blaze, a brand-new super­hero, and as the first per­son he saves, the world decides for Jenna that she will be his Love Interest.

I wanted to cre­ate the role mod­el I needed when I was in my teens. Jenna Ray is strong enough to know what she wants and to res­ist the world as they push her into the role of Love Interest. It’s a story of self-determ­in­a­tion and it would have been very short if Jenna got her own way at the start; there are dis­asters and vil­lains that bring her and Blaze togeth­er, not to men­tion an attrac­tion to Blaze that Jenna can’t quite ignore.

The concept of the Love Interest plays a cent­ral role in the story — what themes or mes­sages were you hop­ing to con­vey through Jen­na’s reluct­ance to embrace this role?

I love super­hero stor­ies and have spent hours watch­ing (or read­ing) her­oes sav­ing the day. How­ever, women, espe­cially love interests, aren’t, his­tor­ic­ally, treated well in this genre. They are there to be threatened, kid­napped or even killed as a way to move the story on. It felt good to have a young female char­ac­ter look at this expect­a­tion and go ‘No thank you, I don’t think that’s for me.’ I hope that Jenna’s mis­sion for self-determ­in­a­tion will inspire read­ers to believe that they don’t have to con­form to cer­tain roles or tropes. It’s a bit cheesy, but hope­fully the main takeaway is that we can all be her­oes in our own way.

How did you devel­op the rela­tion­ship between Jenna and Blaze, and what chal­lenges did you face in por­tray­ing their con­nec­tion authentically?

Nice ques­tion! In a plot full of action scenes and dra­mat­ic moments, the key to craft­ing Jenna and Blaze’s rela­tion­ship was mak­ing sure that there were quiet moments where they could talk, or laugh; where they could learn about each oth­er and just be togeth­er. That’s how love grows in the real world, so that became a pri­or­ity for me. They were also some of the easi­est scenes to write – yes writ­ing super­powered pigeons is hil­ari­ous, but two people inter­act­ing and fall­ing for each oth­er will always be my favourite.

What do you think sets “The Love Interest” apart from oth­er YA nov­els in the super­hero genre?

I know that The Love Interest could hap­pily share a shelf with TJ Klune’s The Extraordin­ar­ies series, (which I LOVED, and can recom­mend if you want a queer com­ing of age story with a neuro-diver­gent prot­ag­on­ist) as they both walk the line between super­hero action and romantic-com­edy. But, I think my story is one of the only fem­in­ist, Brit­ish (it’s very Brit­ish, Jenna drinks tea con­stantly), super­hero rom-coms that centres people of col­our. The Love Interest is basic­ally my whole heart strewn through a hun­dred thou­sand words and wrapped in a beau­ti­ful cover.

Can you speak to the import­ance of rep­res­ent­a­tion in lit­er­at­ure, espe­cially for Black Brit­ish char­ac­ters, and how you approach this in your writing?

I’m mixed her­it­age, Black Carib­bean and white Brit­ish, and grow­ing up I didn’t see char­ac­ters that looked like me, or fam­il­ies that looked like mine, in the books I was reading.

You can’t be what you can’t see and it’s vital for young read­ers to see them­selves rep­res­en­ted in every type of story, espe­cially stor­ies craf­ted to empower and enter­tain. Joy is revolu­tion­ary, love is revolu­tion­ary and every­one should be able to see them­selves in stor­ies where these are centred.

I plan to write a lot of stor­ies, most of them will be joy­ful and full of love, and all of them will have Black Brit­ish and mixed her­it­age main characters.

How did your own love of fem­in­ism and super-powered stor­ies influ­ence the cre­ation of “The Love Interest”?

I grew up watch­ing the X‑Men car­toon every Sat­urday morn­ing and adored Storm, a power­ful Black woman who could fly. I am a super­hero NERD, so when I decided to write a fem­in­ist tale of self-determ­in­a­tion, the super­hero genre’s love interest was the obvi­ous trope to subvert.

Along with right­ing the wrongs com­mit­ted against the Love Interests of the past I man­aged to squeeze almost everything I love about the super­hero genre into The Love Interest; stakes, super­powers, inex­plic­able explo­sions, over­dra­mat­ic bad guys, crazy cos­tumes, tense romantic moments, plucky sidekicks … I could go on.

Can you share any insights into your writ­ing pro­cess and what read­ers can expect from your future projects?

My writ­ing com­pan­ion has four legs, a love of cheese, and an uncanny knack of appear­ing at times when I should stretch my legs or take a break. Her name is Cocoa Bean and she’s a staf­fie. With Cocoa’s invalu­able sup­port, I’m start­ing to define what my writ­ing pro­cess is. I write a fast and mostly ter­rible first draft, sort out the plot in the next draft, find my char­ac­ters again in the third and then just keep rewrit­ing until it shines. I think the key to my pro­cess is to just keep going; I’ll put down some­thing I know is sub-par because it means I’ve got some­thing to fix later.

Next up from me is The Love Interest’s sequel, which I’m hav­ing a lot of fun writ­ing. Then I’ll be leav­ing Nine Trees for pas­tures new. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be stay­ing in the realm of action-packed rom-coms though, so if you like The Love Interest, you won’t be disappointed.

Read our review HERE.

The Love Interest is avail­able to pur­chase now. Click HERE to grab you copy!

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About Nadiya Shay

Hip-Hop Journalist, full-time reader and dreamer.