A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Today is the release of Non Pratt’s debut novel Trouble, and I’m delighted to be able to help celebrate her book birthday. I was lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of Trouble, and I’ve been a huge fan since I read the first page. Trouble is a warm, witty and honest twist on a teenage pregnancy novel that feels incredibly fresh and real. It’s one of my debuts of the year, a wonderful and absolutely hilarious read and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to get their hands on it! I’m delighted to have the chance to interview Non about herself and the book today.
To whet your appetite, here’s the official synopsis:
A boy. A girl. A bump. Trouble.
Hannah’s smart and funny . . . she’s also fifteen and pregnant. Aaron is new at school and doesn’t want to attract attention. So why does he offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby?
Growing up can be trouble but that’s how you find out what really matters.
And one of my favourite passages:
You hear about people changing their mind outside clinics because they find out that their foetus has already got fingernails or genitals or a tattoo saying “Mum” on its arse or whatever. But it’s not like fingernails = soul. They don’t qualify you for anything other than a manicure.I’m all for choice, but what happens when you really don’t want to choose?
And now, for the interview . . .
Sorry, Non, but before we really get going, I’ve just got to ask. What’s with the name?
Well . . . my ‘real’ name is Leonie – my mum is a huge Georgette Heyer fan and I’m named after a character from These Old Shades. Unfortunately it’s a pretty hard name to say when you’re little and I called myself Nonnie, which stuck. If you try and call me Leonie I have no idea who you’re talking to.
Where did the inspiration for the book come from, and how did it feel to begin the process of translating what was in your head to the page?
Honestly, I’m pretty vague on the inspiration for anything I write (helpful), but I *think* my thought process went something like this:
In terms of translating ideas to page – I started with the knowledge of who the father was and how the book ended and that was pretty much it. I just sort of bumble around until a book emerges (first draft = word vomit).
Until very recently, you were in the publishing business, as Catnip’s Commissioning Editor. Did your insider knowledge ever leave you feeling daunted, and how did you cope with your Inner Editor during the initial writing process?
Trouble was the first book of mine I ever tried editing (I have three completely unedited ‘drawer’ novels) and my Inner Editor was a pain in the arse as I redrafted. I refused to consider submitting to an agent until the manuscript was as good as something I would commission myself and (like all editors) I’m extremely fussy. Annoyingly so. “Too much dialogue. No, really . . . MAKE THEM STOP!” “Stop starting sentences with ‘I’.” “It’s 20,000 words too long.” “Too many characters’ names start with the same letter – it’s confusing.” Even once I was satisfied, I never expected to get published. There’s so many books that get passed over for one reason or another – being good enough to submit is not necessarily enough to get published. Rather than feel daunted by this, it was oddly freeing and every stage of acceptance came as a pleasant surprise!
Did your knowledge of YA help you create Trouble? Did you have any particular novels in mind while you were writing it?
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is the benchmark against which I measure all contemps YA . . . except mine because I refuse to believe anything I write could measure up to anything I read, so although I live and breathe YA, I never really had anything specific in mind whilst writing. Having said that, knowing how I want to feel as a reader meant I knew what I wanted to provoke as a writer. Plus knowing that the industry is a lot more tolerant than it’s given credit for in terms of ‘appropriate’ content meant I never felt limited. (Which is good, since I write for my fourteen-year-old self and she wanted to read about people who swore and had sex and went drinking in the park.)
Trouble is written in alternating sections, from Hannah and Aaron’s perspectives. Did you find it difficult to write in alternating POVs? Did you have a favourite voice, or one that felt easier to get under the skin of?
Dual narrative is the best! I LOVE IT. The way I write is fairly scatterlogical: I write scenes whenever I feel like it, no matter where/whether they fit in the timeline. This way of writing means that the voices come easily because you’re writing the voice that most appeals to you at that moment in time. When it came to editing it on the other hand . . . not so easy. Even though I knew my characters inside out by this point and had all kinds of Post-It notes up around my study about their idiolect (a technique stolen from this blogpost by Annabel Pitcher), for some reason going back in with my head instead of my heart got me muddled. At one point Aaron was distinctly more Hannah-ish than he should have been.
If you pushed me to pick a favourite to write, I’d say Aaron, even though Hannah was easiest.
Aaron is such a wonderful leading man, but his role in Trouble isn’t that of a traditional romantic love interest. Talk about the hero in YA novels – and do you see Aaron as going against the grain?
There was an article in the Guardian a while ago about brooding male love interests in YA, but in contemporary I think it’s important that the boys (and girls) are represented as real. I’ve never met a teenage boy whose glossy locks gleam with the shine of a show pony; whose teeth are as perfectly aligned as the stars that brought him into my life. I shy away from specific descriptions of how Aaron looks – although it’s clear from Hannah’s viewpoint that he’ll do – because the point is that to find someone attractive as a person, you’ve got to get to know them. That in itself isn’t going against the grain, but the fact that he’s a hero who isn’t there to save Hannah – he’s there to support her, might be.
Hannah, too, is a real contrast to the stereotypical YA heroine. Like all real teenagers, she absolutely makes stupid mistakes, and doesn’t always learn from them. She’s also very honest and positive about her sexuality. What do you think about sexual pressure on teens, especially girls, and were you hoping to respond to the issue by writing Trouble?
Teenagedom is different for every generation and young adults now have the internet and social media as an integral part of their lives. I honestly have no idea how that really affects a person – I can only imagine – but there’s no doubt that it’s a huge factor affecting how girls (and boys) perceive their role when it comes to relationships. For a start your mistakes can be permanently recorded and shared with millions of people (although I’m certain it’s only the small percentage you see every day whose opinion really matters) and I doubt that a girl will enjoy her first time if the boy she’s doing it with is using pornography as a template for sex IRL. Books can be an antidote to this – they’re private and slow to digest and can create reassurance and empathy. I write about teen characters who are comfortable exploring their sexuality, because that’s what I wanted to read when I was younger (I make fourteen-year-old Non sound sex-obsessed . . . ), and I wanted Hannah to be someone you might be tempted to shame for having such an easy attitude, only to discover that she’s actually just like anyone else: a person.
A lot of Trouble is about different kinds of love, and the many ways of having a relationship. What interests you most, friendship or romance, and do you think that they can overlap?
I love romance and I spend a lot of time forcing myself not to give in and let everything become an easy kissathon, because for all I love it, it’s not that interesting compared to multi-faceted dynamics of friendship. Romance only has two destinations: happiness or heartbreak. Friendships can lead you anywhere: they can destroy you; they can build you; they can betray you; they can heal you. The idea of whether two people supposed to be attracted to one another can ever be just good friends fascinates me, but one the flipside, I’d also argue that if your romance doesn’t have a dash of friendship in it, you’re missing out.
You’ve said that your favourite thing to write is dialogue. What’s your least favourite part of the writing process, and how hard is it to step out of your comfort zone?
There is not a single part of the writing process that I don’t enjoy (unless you count RSI), but there are plenty of aspects at which I am inadequate. Character and dialogue are my things – plot and pace are not. I have a habit of largely just throwing things into my writing until there’s a story and then spend the entire re-drafting process trying to take them out. And I suck at endings. Really, really suck at them. I see the finish line and start sprinting towards it collapsing before I’ve actually crossed it. Thankfully, this is the amazingness of editors: they hold up a mirror to your work and point out the areas you need to bleed at until they’re good enough.
Trouble is about a serious issue, but it also manages to be incredibly funny. Do you think humour is important in YA?
Thank you – there’s a joke amongst my friends that I’m only allowed one funny a year, so expect me to be entirely humourless next time you see me. I like YA that represents real life and people are funny in real life . . . so they should be funny (sometimes) in books. Furthermore I have a Big Issue with the likeability of characters: if I’m reading a book I’m spending hours of my time in the characters’ company and I want to enjoy the time I spend with them. If they aren’t going to wow me with literary amazingness or seat-of-your-pants action, I’d like them to be at least a little funny.
And finally, what’s next for you? What kinds of things would you like to write about in the future, and what kinds of things would you like to see more of in YA fiction in general?
I have just crippled my wrists with a second book about two friends who go to a music festival to get over their recent break ups*. (If we want to talk about comfort zones, I have idiotically switched from writing a book about a boy and girl who don’t know each other, set over nine months, with a clear hook, to writing a book about two girls who know everything there is to know about each other, set over a bank holiday weekend with no clearly identifiable theme. Awesome.) I’d like to see more non-white, non-straight characters who just are – and I want to see them all over the place, across all genres. (And I want to see more of them in younger fiction too, please.) Look at the trajectory of single-parent families: when I was a teenager, I never saw anything where a single parent wasn’t a Big Issue (endlessly frustrating when you’re perfectly happy in home where it really isn’t), today fictional divorced families are all over the place.
*No one’s read Book 2 yet – all this may change . . .
Thanks, Non! And a very happy book birthday to you!
And now all that’s left for me to do is to tell you all to go out and buy Trouble! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
After playing with glitter, stickers and short sentences in the non-fiction side of Usborne Publishing (where they insisted on using her real name ‘Leonie’) Non Pratt moved to fiction as Commissioning Editor at Catnip Publishing, still playing with sentences, but not so much with the glitter and stickers.
She’s written a book called Trouble that will be published in March 2014 by Walker Books in the UK, and later in the year by Simon and Schuster in the US. Non now writes full time and is enjoying having someone else tell her what to do with her sentences.
Robin Stevens was born in California and grew up in an Oxford college, across the road from the house where Alice in Wonderland lived. She has been making up stories all her life.
When she was twelve, her father handed her a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and she realised that she wanted to be either Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie when she grew up. When it occurred to her that she was never going to be able to grow her own spectacular walrus moustache, she decided that Agatha Christie was the more achieveable option.
She spent her teenage years at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, reading a lot of murder mysteries and hoping that she’d get the chance to do some detecting herself (she didn’t). She then went to university, where she studied crime fiction, and now she works at a children’s publisher, which is pretty much the best day job she can imagine.
Robin now lives in Cambridge with her boyfriend and her pet bearded dragon, Watson.