OUT OF THE ASHES

Cara Delev­ingne has mined her angst-rid­den teenage years for her first novel, writes Sharon Stephen­son

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The ben­e­fit of in­ter­view­ing Cara Delev­ingne on the phone, rather than in per­son, is not hav­ing to look at her lu­mi­nous skin, as­ton­ish­ing body and the world’s most fa­mous eye­brows and feel com­pletely in­fe­rior.

In­stead, I’m in Welling­ton and the Bri­tish model/ac­tress is her agent’s Lon­don of­fice, try­ing not to shout over a crackly line. She’s just started a day of in­ter­views: be­fore me there was an Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist and af­ter my al­lot­ted 15 min­utes there will be a Bri­tish ra­dio show. This is life on the me­dia con­veyor belt when you’ve got a book to spruik.

Be­cause, as if there isn’t al­ready enough plate-spin­ning in Delev­ingne’s world, the 25-year-old has just re­leased her first YA novel. Called Mir­ror Mir­ror (she’s clearly not a fan of com­mas), the 355-page book explores iden­tity, friend­ship and be­trayal among a group of emo­tion­ally rav­aged teenagers fac­ing a spin­cy­cle of is­sues: al­co­holism, de­pres­sion, eat­ing dis­or­ders and dys­func­tional homes. Throw in a band, a body and more twists than a cheap gar­den hose, and you’ve got a rol­lick­ing good read.

It’s not as though Delev­ingne needs the money (at last count she was es­ti­mated to be worth about $25.3 mil­lion) but the so-called “voice of her gen­er­a­tion” ad­mits the chance to reach out to her teenage fans was too good to refuse.

“I’ve had girls tell me about their is­sues with

eat­ing dis­or­ders, sui­cide, and re­la­tion­ships and writ­ing this book gave me the chance to be there for them and to of­fer them hope with how much I suf­fered as a teenager,” says Delev­ingne.

Although crit­ics have ques­tioned the par­al­lels with Delev­ingne’s own life (her pro­tag­o­nist deals with al­co­holic par­ents, Delev­ingne’s mother strug­gled with drug ad­dic­tion), she’s quick to shut down that line of ques­tion­ing.

“The book isn’t au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal in any sense. Yes, I grew up in Lon­don and yes, I was a drum­mer and yes, I had a rough time as a teenager, so while it is in­spired by my life, none of it is based on fact.”

That in­spi­ra­tion was pulled from Delev­ingne’s teenage di­aries, which would prob­a­bly have yielded enough ma­te­rial for sev­eral books.

“I al­ways felt alien­ated grow­ing up and I didn’t see my life go­ing any­where. I didn’t do as well as other peo­ple at school, which made me hate my­self.”

I’m not al­lowed to ask about her per­sonal life (onr her fam­ily or fa­mous friends) but Delev­ingne’s men­tal health strug­gles are well­doc­u­mented: there was an eat­ing dis­or­der at 11, de­pres­sion and a break­down at 15, sui­ci­dal thoughts and self-harm (she would run into trees to knock her­self out, or scratch her­self un­til she bled).

Delev­ingne has man­aged to lasso th­ese demons into the book, which she co-wrote with best-sell­ing Bri­tish au­thor Rowan Cole­man.

But how much did she ac­tu­ally write, and how much was Cole­man’s work?

“I’m not sure how many words we each con­trib­uted but the ideas were all mine. I had the fi­nal say on the story but Rowan helped to bring it to life.”

For much of the book’s ges­ta­tion, Delev­ingne was in Toronto film­ing Life in a Year, in which she stars with Will Smith’s son, Jay­den, so most of the copy was put to­gether via email.

“We had a pretty in­tense email re­la­tion­ship for over a year. But Rowan was fan­tas­tic to work with and she has a 16-year-old daugh­ter, so she knows all about the teenage angst thing.”

It’s ironic that Delev­ingne, who was prob­a­bly voted “least likely to be­come an au­thor” at the posh Bri­tish school she at­tended, has now done just that. She suf­fers from dys­praxia, a de­vel­op­men­tal co-or­di­na­tion dis­or­der, which meant school was par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing.

“My brain moves a lot faster than my abil­ity to write, so in ex­ams I would never do very well. I was made to feel bad about that.”

There is, how­ever, much in Delev­ingne’s life not to feel bad about. Her fa­ther is a prop­erty de­vel­oper, her mother was a model whose par­ents owned a pub­lish­ing em­pire (her grand­mother was a lady-in-wait­ing to Princess Mar­garet), her god­mother is Joan Collins and home was a man­sion in Bel­gravia where she was too busy watch­ing tele­vi­sion to speak to Madonna when she popped over.

With her ge­net­i­cally gifted looks and those lush, cater­pil­lar-like eye­brows, it was clear mod­el­ling was go­ing to find her. Delev­ingne has since clothes-horsed for an A-Z of cou­ture houses in­clud­ing Burberry, Chanel, Fendi and Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret. In 2014 mod­el­ling tipped over into act­ing, with roles in the films Pa­per Towns, Sui­cide

Squad and last year’s Va­le­rian and the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets.

How­ever, Delev­ingne says she found the process of writ­ing this book so cathar­tic she’d love to do an­other.

“The mes­sage of Mir­ror Mir­ror is that even in your dark­est mo­ments, there’s al­ways hope if you be­lieve in your­self. I know that more than any­one and I have a lot more to say about it.”

MIR­ROR MIR­ROR BY CARA DELEV­INGNE (HA­CHETTE, $20) IS AVAIL­ABLE NOW.

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