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Rebecca K. Reilly on Greta & Valdin photo

Rebecca K. Reilly’s debut novel Greta & Valdin was a bestseller in her home country of New Zealand in 2021, and today it’s being released in the US and the UK. Pitched as Schitt’s Creek meets Sally Rooney, the sparkly novel follows queer siblings navigating their eccentric family and messy romantic lives. 

Greta and Valdin share an apartment as well as a penchant for unrequited love. Valdin is a former astrophysicist turned TV travel show host with OCD, who’s pining for his ex-boyfriend who moved to Argentina. Greta is an English tutor and graduate student yearning for a colleague who can’t pronounce her name. Greta would love to focus on her crush, but her chaotic Maōri-Russian-Catalonian family keeps interfering. Just when things can’t get more dramatic, Valdin secretly flies to South America in an impulsive attempt to win back his ex. Through the perspective of these captivating siblings, Reilly celebrates the chaos of early adulthood and the relationships that make it all tolerable. 

Over WhatsApp, Rebecca and I discussed ampersands, competition, and New Zealand’s version of Cops

Anna: I really loved this witty, big-hearted book. can you briefly talk about how it came to be?

Rebecca: I wrote the book five years ago for my MA project, from beginning to end in seven months and it got picked up for publication in nz from that
It’s hard to describe what my intention was in writing it because those kinds of writing courses are so insular and at the time it feels like… your only purpose is to finish your book at the same time as everyone else and not have it be the worst one

Anna: Ah so it was for a school assignment? 

Rebecca: Yeah, to get into a one year MA programme here you’re supposed to have done a post-grad year in another subject already, so the whole course is just the one project no classes or anything
I had already been thinking about these characters for a long time before that though—I just needed the time pressure, and I guess the academic validation, to turn them into a finished project

Anna: And there was a competitive aspect?

Rebecca: Yeah 100%, though of course people denied it, but there was a prize at the end so it was hard to avoid
It was the sort of thing where everyone’s covertly meeting around the city to give their private predictions

Anna: Oh wow that sounds like it’s own novel, it actually kind of reminds me of The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz - did you read that? It has a really intense novel-writing competition but also it becomes dark (it’s a thriller, there’s murder)

Rebecca: No but I’m reading the blurb and it does sound like that! everyone believes it’s their one chance

Anna: Did the competition mostly motivate you or was it stressful too?

Rebecca: Our class was really mixed and I was one of the youngest at 27 so I felt like, how have I ended up in this café with this 60 year old woman telling me I have to write a better novel than this man who lives in his car out of choice as a public good

Anna: LMAO. This message reminds me of the very witty voice in Greta & Valdin. Do you set out trying to be funny or does it just happen?

Rebecca: Actually kind of the opposite—sometimes I think I’m being so melancholic and emotionally raw and then people are always like ha ha so funny
Maybe it is funny to feel things?? not sure

Anna: LOL. It’s definitely strange.  
Is it weird doing promotion for this book you wrote so long ago? I always like whatever I’m writing at the time I’m writing it but then by the time it comes out years later, I’m like… who was that person who wrote this?

Rebecca: Yeah it is, especially when I get asked really specific questions about an image or a line in the book—I don't know who that person was who thought that and why
It’s interesting though because of course only that person you were at that time could have written that specific book
But then a future self has to market it

Anna: Totally, that’s a good way of putting it

Rebecca: I came across people online talking about how g&v doesn’t make any specific references to neurodivergence and why that is, and the honest answer is I wrote it a year before anyone was talking about that

Anna: I’ve seen Greta & Valdin compared to a number of TV shows and movies, like Schitt’s Creek, Fleabag, The Royal Tenenbaums. Do any of these comparisons ring true to you, and is there an adaptation in the works?

Rebecca: Yeah that was interesting to me because I hadn’t seen Schitt’s Creek or Fleabag when I wrote it
Actually when I was in the MA I was feeling really depressed because I had to move cities to do the course and it was cold and I didn’t have money or know anyone and someone told me to watch Fleabag
And I was so annoyed because I was like why would I be cheered up by a show about a woman who can afford to get a haircut and doesn’t even like it !

Anna: Lololol fair! 

Rebecca: A production company tried to buy the rights a few years ago and I was totally perplexed as to why because they were the producers of essentially the nz version of cops
And the show where they interrogate people at the airport
But no one at my publisher at the time was the type to watch reality tv or even have a tv so they had no idea what I was exclaiming about

Anna: Lolol omg. The film/tv world is generally perplexing

Rebecca: It’s so perplexing
Reading the emails I never know if anything is good or bad in that world

Anna: Oh yeah it’s so much puffery
I live in LA so it took me a while after i moved here to realize pretty much everyone is full of shit
But in the beginning i was like… i’m a STAR!

Rebecca: hahahahahaha
Our national culture is based on competing to be your own biggest hater so it is v v different being in a zoom with anyone trying to make money in the US

Anna: LOL i need to move to New Zealand, this country can be very gauche
So i have to ask about the ampersand… my forthcoming book also has one and now i’m very on guard for them. amazon refuses to acknowledge them. why the ampersand? (i mostly just like the way it looks) 

Rebecca: Oh I’ve never thought about being on guard for that! Probably because I don’t like it when people write my name Rebecca K. Reilly because it’s americanised punctuation to have the period, and I think it looks clunky
I think the ampersand looks chic

Anna: It IS chic
Have you read anything inspiring recently? 

Rebecca: I just finished Our Wives Under The Sea and now I’m like… a novel does not have to be about everything that’s ever happened