Iconic Spice Girl, songwriter, and author Geri Halliwell-Horner joins Zibby to discuss her book, ROSIE FROST & THE FALCON QUEEN. Geri shares insights into her writing process and the inspiration behind her work. She also touches on grief, storytelling as a means of escape, and the value of staying true to oneself and finding purpose in service to others.


Geri Halliwell-Horner: Hello, everyone.

Zibby Owens: I’m Zibby. Nice to meet you. This is Geri.

Geri: It’s so nice to see you all. It’s very nice. Thank you so much for coming. I really appreciate it. It’s really nice to put names and faces together, people that have supported and new fans. It’s lovely, all coming together tonight.

Zibby: I think you’re going to kick it off by reading a little bit. Did you know that?

Geri: Apparently so. That’s really nice. I’ll pick it up here. It’s like your bedtime story. A lot of the times, I’m normally reading my son, who’s six, a bedtime story. He’s quite adamant I do it. It’s a privilege to read you something. I’m going to give you a little, where are we? Rosie Frost, she gets sent to this island. It’s called Bloodstone Island. It’s like a Jurassic Park but for endangered animals. This school that she arrives in was built five hundred years ago by Queen Elizabeth I in honor of her late mother, Anne Boleyn, who was, let’s say, shamed for being smart. She builds this school. She doesn’t want to get married. No wonder. She says, do you know what? The pupils, their ideas, really smart kids, they’re going to be my heirs. Five hundred years later, Rosie gets sent to this school. She arrives there. It’s this massive building. It’s a little bit creepy. She comes face to face, first of all, with the deputy head and then this, let’s call her a mean girl, Ottilie. She’s one of those archetypes that you think, okay, she’s gorgeous, smart, clever.

She locks her in what’s called the Falon Queen gallery. Anne Boleyn was known as a Falcon Queen. A Falcon Queen gallery really celebrates amazing women. There is a Falcon King gallery, but this one is Falcon Queens. It celebrates all women of history. Let’s say, for example, her mother, Queen Elizabeth, and herself, but also Charlotte Brontë, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, the pilot, all sorts of women that have done things, it’s in this gallery. Ottilie, she’s kind of like a Kim Kardashian, beautiful, gorgeous, smart as a whip. She says, oh, yeah, and she shows her it. Then she locks her in. She has to spend the night there. It’s her first night. Her mother’s just died. She’s going, what the hell is going on? This is what happened. It’s three AM. She wakes up. She’s all cold. She’s thinking, what the hell is going on? She hears a noise. Imagine this gallery. It’s oak wooden floorboards, big paintings. This is what happens.

“The same sound echoed again, this time accompanied by repeating tap, tap, tapping noise. Footsteps. Who’s there? Everything is fine. Everything is fine. ‘Hello?’ Rosie called. Her throat was tight, and her voice came out raspy. ‘Hello?’ she said again. A cold rush of wind bristled Rosie’s hair. Her skin prickled as if someone had just brushed past her. ‘Who’s there?’ She turned around and then back again, which was when the woman walked straight out of the wall into the center of the room. Rosie covered her mouth to hold back a gasp. Her heart was racing at the speed of a galloping horse. It was impossible. This is not real. This is not real. I’m just dreaming. The woman remained focused on what she was doing. She knelt in the middle of the room in front of the large fireplace and started muttering to herself. There was another flash of lighting, and Rosie glimpsed her deep, dark eyes, which had the same power as the storm outside. The woman then hung her head low, and smoky tendrils danced around her like a mist on the ocean. Where the light from the windows hit the woman’s body, she looked almost see-through. Rosie dug her nails into her palms trying to wake herself up, but she could feel the sharp pinch in her skin telling her she wasn’t dreaming. She shook her head, but deep down, she knew the truth. She was looking at a ghost.” That’s just the beginning to get you there.

Zibby: Geri, this book was so good. You are so smart. The way that this book is written — you will all see if you haven’t read it already, which of course, you probably have. It’s so well written. You know that Geri is such a history buff when you read it because there are all these little clues and things that are so important to world history. They’re so palatable when they come out in the book. You just don’t even realize that you’re learning. How did you decide to do the book this way? Was it on purpose?

Geri: Here’s the thing. I’ve always loved books. I’m curious, but I’m lazy. I like to know about anything or anyone. I think everyone’s got a story. I always liked the Tudors. It’s a really dramatic time. I wrote the character of Rosie and her friends around her first. I thought, she’s going to be at this school. There’s going to be conservation. It’s important. I thought, could I give the school some DNA ? The first person I thought of was Queen Elizabeth I. Then I thought, what about Anne Boleyn? I said it to a guy who’s in the publishing world. He said, “Oh, no, don’t pick her. She’s a bit contentious.” I was like, oh, really? Let’s look at her. Then I thought, actually, this is a story written about a woman that, five hundred years ago, she was executed for . Was it true? Then I started to feel sorry for her. Can you imagine if you were a mother and you’ve got to leave your little girl behind because somebody said some bad things about you? Maybe she was just smart, and people were threatened by her. I thought, let’s lean into her. The more I learned about her, I thought, actually, she’s pretty cool and amazing. She believed in reform and creativity. That inspired me to put it in.

Zibby: You’ve worked on this book for quite a long time. I don’t know if you ever saw the musical Six.

Geri: I have, yes.

Zibby: I was like, oh, I know Anne Boleyn. Now I know. She’s in the popular discourse. I felt like this is now the continuation.

Geri: Six is brilliant. It’s a light entry point of those six wives that are all fantastic. The only thing I thought was, do you know what, Anne Boleyn was smart. She was smart, but she was shamed for it.

Zibby: The best part of this, the crux of the book, where did it come from? When did you decide you wanted to write this? Why for this age? Where did it all come from?

Geri: When you say “this age,” I feel like the best stories are timeless and ageless. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ten, you’re thirty, or seventy-eight. If you’ve got a good story, a good character, it speaks to anyone. First things first. How did it start? I had written a younger children’s book before, and it did well. I always put my finger to the wind and think, how does the world feel? Sometimes when you write something, it’s like the words that other people can’t find. It’s just for them. I thought, I think the world needs a new hero, someone ordinary. Maybe we feel vulnerable. We’re not airbrushed. Can we find her in a story? I’d already written this children’s book before. I had this agent. His name was Christoper Little. He discovered Harry Potter. I asked him, I said, “Should I just age her up?” He went, “No. Start again.” I was like, okay. He’s not alive anymore, but he encouraged me for many years. I started writing Rosie. I started building her and the characters around her. For me, it’s always character first because if you don’t care about a character — whether they climb a mountain or whatever they do, big or small story, you’ve got to care about the character. Otherwise, you’re not going to page-turn. You’re not going to care. Why are you going to waste your time reading? I always go character first. Let’s make her true to you, whoever you are. Maybe she’ll match you on the inside. Maybe your outsides are different, but just feel her heartbeat. That’s what I try and do.

Zibby: I love how Rosie also flips the script on the traditional fairy tale of the Prince Charming coming and rescuing the princess, which she talks about in the book. Also, you have a scene very early on where, during the Falcon Games — I’m not giving too much away. There are these amazing Falcon Games that are the heartbeat of the story. She is in a position to rescue a boy as opposed to the boy rescuing her.

Geri: Let’s just be real. If you can see it, you can be it. There is this adorable boy in it called Charlie. I love him. All these characters feel real to me anyway. They are real. You see Charlies and Rosies and all sorts of these characters in our everyday life. I thought, you know what, boys and girls — sometimes boys cry. They can still be strong, but sometimes boys cry. I think it’s important. If you can see it, you can be it. It’s important for boys to see that you cry, and it’s okay. You still can be the tough guy. Also, girls get angry. We see Rosie, she does save the boy very early on. They make that connection. It’s always changing. Sometimes we’re good. Sometimes we’re bad. Sometimes we’re the hero. Sometimes we’re not. You’ll see it in one of the early scenes. The Falcon Queen games, they’re all testimony to the Tudor times, even though it’s set in modern day. They’re quite aggressive, aren’t they?

Zibby: Yeah. It’s like a great, new Harry Potter, really. There are games. It’s amazing. It’s just fantastic. Another element that this book has, though, that’s quite different and unique — I haven’t read this before — is this huge focus on conservation and animals and what it means to be a good citizen with all the other creatures around. Talk about that a little bit.

Geri: As I said, I care about the world, but I don’t understand things, how to save it. How can we save it? Sometimes in life, we might not know the answers, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at the problem. Can we put it in the landscape of things? I strived to make a story that was really prevalent to our life now. Bloodstone Island is this island that’s in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s got its own ecosystem. It’s really reflective of what’s going on now. It’s got all these endangered animals. That’s real. There’s wildcats, Komodo dragons. All sorts of creatures live there, and the plants, the whole of it, and the soil. It’s all very reflective of now. I don’t know what the answers are. I don’t know if any of you have had a chance to read it or got to the end of the book. I don’t want to give it away, but it lights up that question about, what are we doing? If you can’t be bothered that day and you just want a fast-paced adventure, that’s it. Off you go. There’s little questions in there if you want it. I care about the world. I love animals. I think animals are so honest. The world belongs to all of us. We’re just visitors, aren’t we?

Zibby: You have another scene in which — I don’t think this is giving anything away. I’ll just say a creature could be perceived as being very mean, and yet all of a sudden, she flips the script on that as well and gets the creature to calm down.

Geri: Oh, the wildcat.

Zibby: Yeah, the wildcat. There’s a theme, also, pervading the book of keeping your enemies closer. Is an enemy really an enemy? Can you kill them with kindness, essentially?

Geri: That’s the perspective of it. Rosie is experiencing grief. I don’t know if any of you have ever lost anyone. It’s sort of embedded in them. Again, it’s embedded in the story, but it’s not the forefront. You don’t have to feel it if you don’t want, but it’s there. She’s really uncomfortable. She’s in pain. This is a modern-day hero. We’ve had plenty of orphans in other stories, but their feeling is a little bit more on the surface about what grief is. She’s angry. She’s hurt. She’s defensive about it. Then suddenly, she meets an animal that’s actually — as I wrote it, it’s meant to be slightly reflective of her. They get this connection. First of all, you’re going to think, this animal, is it going to bite me? There’s some commonality going on. That’s the point of the wildcat. You sort of don’t know where you stand. As you say, in life, our differences, on the outside — we’re more alike than different, basically.

Zibby: I do think the way you wrote about grief was beautiful. It’s really beautiful and heartfelt. I feel like all of us kind of feel like kids when we lose somebody we love. There’s something so basic where you just want to be with that person. You miss that person’s hugs. You just want to be with them. Where did that come from for you? How did you tap into that?

Geri: I was told, write about what you know. Sometimes you just use it as an ingredient. Sometimes with characters — you’ve got . I know someone that’s like — she has a Muslim background. She likes wrestling. I thought, that’s so brilliant. She’s gorgeous. I used a bit of her with someone else. Regarding the pain of grief, I experienced that. It wasn’t until after I’d written it — the opening chapter when she finds out that her mother is dead, I wrote that. I was looking at it. I wrote that last, that chapter. I got asked to go backstory a bit more. That grief that she feels, I felt that. I felt so awkward. I think it’s the same thing in America. That’s a Western thing. We feel a bit awkward about showing our feelings. I think we’ve got better. I thought, can we just lay it out on the page, and honestly, simply? I did it in the letter writing. There’s a little bit of borrowed experience of myself in there.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Geri: It’s okay. You know what I believe in life? That you can turn all your poop or pain to fertilizer. It’s all useful. It’s all copy, whether you’ve been bullied or something hasn’t gone the way — it’s all useful. I actually thought the other day, I was really grateful for some of the things that I found challenging. I’ve had people say this before. I’m grateful for the challenges I’ve faced because I’ve been able to use it in a positive way. I never understood that before when somebody else has said it. I wouldn’t have been able to write what I’ve written if it wasn’t for that pain. Does that make sense?

Zibby: There has been a lot of articles lately on this new post-traumatic growth.

Geri: I’ve never heard that before.

Zibby: After you get through the trauma later, you have this new sensitivity, new appreciation for life. It has four to five bullet points of really significant, life-altering, long-term effects that are very, very positive, so there you go.

Geri: I’ll take that. That sounds useful. I like it.

Zibby: Can you go back to how you wrote this? This is involved. It’s over a long stretch. There are so many bits and pieces. It’s really an accomplishment. Tell me about the actual writing of this.

Geri: What I like about writing is that — I’ve always loved the power of words. I studied English literature before I went into music, theater and English literature. I’ve always loved books, the great escape. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got. I didn’t have a lot of money when I was younger. I was thinking, I could escape. You could find a character that you love. You could experience things. You’d get transported. I think any bookie loves that. Obviously, I always loved writing songs. The creative part of the music, I loved that. Then I’d written these children’s books. That was okay. This was an entirely different medium to do it. I’ll tell you what, first of all, I was just writing as I went. There was no plan, so to speak. I think it was either 2014 or 2015. I liked it because I took my laptop, and I’d go — if I wanted to go and be a nice wife, I’d go with my husband to write. I still wanted to be creative. If my children were at school, I still want to be creative. I want to be there for people I love. I started writing and would sneak off and get lost in it. I could feel it and visualize it all in my mind. These characters were evolving.

A few things that I learned as I went, one of the first things — Dawn French, she’s a comedian. She’s a writer. She said leave your phone outside the room. That is absolute creative killer. Otherwise, you can be on your laptop, and then suddenly, you look at your phone. You get drawn in. That’s it. It pulls you out of the moment. That was one of the first things I did. Then the other thing was, you have to make a commitment to that. Let’s say from nine until twelve I’m going to write even if I don’t feel like it and I just write, . It doesn’t matter what it is. Write. Have breaks as well. I read this book by Stephen King. He does a book, On Writing. He said things like pull the shutters down so you’ve got no outside stimulation. Towards the end of it, I started doing that. In the morning, I’m fresher. You know the darker scenes, like in the graveyard? I actually wrote that at night. Sometimes I’d think about a scene before I even got there. You get an aha moment of how to crack the case. I’m always borrowing things. You know how she unlocks that door?

Zibby: Yes.

Geri: Someone told me. I was like, oh, that’s really good.

Zibby: I was like, how did she know about that?

Geri: I know. How did I know about that? The other thing was I’d share early drafts with such generous writers. They were all encouraging. That’s a really nice thing about writers and publishers. Most of them, I would say, are just so lovely and encouraging. There was a writer called William Boyd. He’d written Any Human Heart. It’s amazing. It’s a chunky read. He is the Beethoven of — he’s so accomplished. He’s award-winning, brilliant man. I met him. This sounds name drop-y, but I met him at Buckingham Palace. I work for the Royal Commonwealth. They do this literacy campaign getting all kids around the world to write stories, and he’s a judge. He was just standing there. I didn’t realize he was William Boyd. I said to him, “Hello. Are you a writer?” He went, “Yeah.” “Are you published?” He went, “Yeah, at Penguin.” I was like, “Oh, my god, that’s amazing.” “My name is William.” Then I said to him, “I’ve written this manuscript.” I was a few drafts in. I said, “Would you mind reading it?” It was like giving Humpty Dumpty to Beethoven. This man was amazing. I realized who I’d given my book to afterwards. He was really generous with me. I said, “It’s not quite working.” He said, “You need to rewrite it in the third person and in the past tense.” I’d written everything in the “I” and the present tense. He goes, “You’ve backed yourself into a corner.” That was a massive lesson. It took me another year to just redo it again. I was learning. I was making mistakes. Afterwards, he said, “You could, instead, you structure it before you start.” There’s two ways to do it. I think that gives you more of a framework, which I’ve done for the second, number two. I’ve done that.

Zibby: What can you say about number two?

Geri: It’s darker.

Zibby: Darker?

Geri: Yeah. Never underestimate your reader. They grow and want more, so I’ve done that.

Zibby: Is this “we won’t be able to sleep at night” kind of dark?

Geri: Hopefully, because you wonder what’s behind it, little questions to ask yourself. Hopefully, for that reason.

Zibby: How long do we have to wait until that comes out?

Geri: We’ll see. I’m meant to be handing it in by the end of November. I’m like, oh, my god. I’m trying. I’ve just got an edit back. I’ll try. I’ll do it on the plane.

Zibby: Do you ever feel — I know many authors do feel this way, having interviewed a lot of authors — this imposter syndrome? There are all these authors out there who are fantasy or who have written fabulous tomes and all of these things. Can I really do it? Do you ever feel that way?

Geri: I think that’s the human condition, isn’t it? It depends on what day you ask. I put little nuggets of quotes in there sometimes. There is this drama teacher, Mr. Marcellas. He’s really theatrical and Shakespearean. He says our doubts are our traitors. It’s true. We can listen to this voice going, . We all have that. We can all think about, is this good enough? You get four rules, the Falcon Queen rules, in this book. Queen Anne Boleyn, she gave this rulebook to Elizabeth I. Then Anne Boleyn, the ghost, gives it to Rosie. That first rule is, have courage. Take the chance you fear the most. If I’m honest, I’m always thinking, oh, god, I’m a little bit scared here. Apply the other rules. United we stand. Get a little bit of support. Then be of service. It pushes me on. Then it’s not about me. Does that make sense?

Zibby: Yes. I also think if it was so easy, not everybody would be attracted to doing it as much. Part of it is figuring out how to give yourself the confidence to keep going and then doing things like rewriting from a different point of view or a different tense and not feeling bad about it.

Geri: I think it’s having the humility to go, it’s okay to — nobody likes the word fail. It just feels very ouchie, but to learn and to keep learning. I know I’m not perfect. Nothing is perfect. If you stand in truth, your words have power in anything you do. It’s not going to be perfect, but if there’s something true about that, then that’s good.

Zibby: That’s true. Tell me how you came up with the four principles.

Geri: Oh, my goodness. We’ve all got rules in life, haven’t we? Who likes rules? Those rules, I just think they’re really simple, actually, if you break them down. Have courage. United we stand. Never give you. Then make up your own rules. You can unpack them and broaden them. I think they all support each other. Do you know what the funny thing is? Sometimes I’m like, what should I do? I think, just lean on those rules. Lean on those rules. They work. They actually work. Rule number three. I could sit here and think, oh, my god, what does everybody think of me? Is this book good enough? This sounds name drop-y, but I’ll share this with you. I’ve just come back from doing Jimmy Fallon. I was thinking, it’s the Jimmy Fallon show. It’s a privilege to be invited to be on there. He was absolutely lovely. When I say to myself, just show up, and be of service — just step up. Rule number three, serve your kingdom, let’s say, whatever your kingdom is. Be of service to Jimmy, to you. Bring that in. Then suddenly, it’s not about me. It really takes that pressure off. Then you’re free to be your best self. Does that make sense?

Zibby: Yes.

Geri: That’s only through experience because my ego wants to tell me otherwise. It’s our egos that criticize us and goes, . Can I let go of that? It’s not about me today.

Zibby: Was that how you felt in the music world too?

Geri: I think I learned it, definitely. When I would go on stage or something like that, you think, oh, my goodness, but that’s human condition. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel afraid, as I said before, or feel nervous. I think it’s natural. It’s just to own those feelings and go, it’s okay.

Zibby: I listened to your interview at The View this morning, which was very interesting.

Geri: Did you? They’re amazing ladies.

Zibby: You were so charming, I have to say. If you all have not watched that, go on YouTube and watch it later. It was really wonderful.

Geri: Whoopi Goldberg, she’s amazing. She is such an inspiring lady. Joy, oh, my goodness, she’s eighty. I went on there twenty years ago. We all want to look to other women, going, how are you doing that? Whoopi’s just got this amazing energy. She’s strong, but she’s sweet at the same time. I just felt, how lovely to meet these women.

Zibby: Amazing. You were talking about advice that you wish you had told yourself at thirty and how you have to get through things. I was wondering what advice you have for all the ages. That’s a lot, but how do you get through some of the transitional times in life?

Geri: I’m still learning. I do not have the answers. I’m still learning. It’s just my experience. That’s all I can share. My experience is challenges are always happening. It’s like the weather. What was it like last week? I was here in New York. It was torrential heavy rain. Suddenly, it’s sunshine. The real constant thing is change. What am I going to do about it? Circumstances, sometimes it’s good weather, sometimes it’s bad weather, or somewhere in the between. It’s very much, how am I going to show up with that weather? Easier said than done. Can I give myself that support whatever the weather, whatever the circumstance? It always does change. That’s one thing I do know. Life just gives you different challenges as you go on. As you get older, with experience, you get a bit more perspective. Sometimes I can go into reaction, but sometimes it just gives me a little bit, okay, how important is this? A little bit more. What do you think?

Zibby: I agree. I think that’s great. I say that to my kids sometimes. They’re fighting about something. I’m like, really? In a year, are you going to look back on this fight? How important was this, whether you sit on this chair in the elevator or not? You’re never going to remember this.

Geri: I think we can all pull each other over the wall at different times, so to speak. Tomorrow, I’m fretting about something. A friend will remind me. That’s rule number two. United we stand, divided we fall. We just go, thanks for that reminding.

Zibby: Your kids and everybody in your family, have they read the book? What do they think?

Geri: We all want the love and support from our family. They can be our best and worst critics. I used to go off to this writing shed. My husband — I’ve got a husband now. It took me a while. He’d go, “Where are you going?” I’d say, “I just need to go and write. I’m sorry.” Then I’d go, “Would you read it?” He said, “No. When it’s published.” I’d be like, okay. Then when I got a finished version — this is about two weeks ago. He was going off traveling. This man, he’s going to be fifty. He doesn’t read very much. He’ll do an autobiography, if you’re lucky, once a year. I said, “Here it is. Big, chunky read.” He went, “Okay.” The first thing he said — he’d got into a hundred pages. He went, “It’s much better than I thought it was going to be.” I was like, okay. Then he finished the whole thing. He said, “I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I just wanted to know what happened next.” I was like, my work is done. That was good. Bluebell loved it. She’s been very supportive because she loves English literature. She likes writing. Monty, he is six and a half, so he’s like, whatever, Mom. I just want you to show up for me. He’s obsessed with Lego. It’s okay.

Zibby: That is the end of our questions. Thank you so much.

Geri: Thank you so much. You’ve been amazing. Thank you. So good. Thank you.

ROSIE FROST & THE FALCON QUEEN by Geri Halliwell-Horner

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