A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I talk about fourteen-year-old Non a lot. On panels, in blogs, but none of you have ever met her. Here she is/I am:
You might not guess by looking at me, but I was horny as hell. My every thought was accompanied by a low-level buzz of sexual curiosity and I fancied almost everyone and everything. (A girl with rose-tinted Bee Gees-esque glasses needs to keep her options open and her expectations low. I mean, look at me.)
This super-heightened horniness didn’t just apply to sex, but to everything that surrounded that world – thinking about alcohol, or swearing, or fighting seemed just as thrillingly illicit as thinking about what it might feel like to ‘do stuff’ with someone.
Every Friday, swathes of local teens would congregate in the park at the end of my road, drinking cider and snogging (Maybe? Is that what they’re doing? I DON’T KNOW!) round the corner of the village hall. Sometimes a fight might break out – swear words I didn’t dare use, objects lobbed at each other across the park, or maybe two boys would have one of those shoving/wrestling scuffles where it looks as if they’re trying to pull each other’s jumper off rather than inflict actual harm.
And I would lurk, like a would-be serial killer, just beyond the glow of the streetlight, my brain full of questions that couldn’t be answered. I couldn’t speak to – let alone drink with/fight/snog/sex – anyone in that park. Everyone there was older than me, and by definition cooler. (Also, actually cooler, see above photo.) They went to a different school, one where they didn’t wear a brown uniform and learn Latin. It was like looking into a different word within my own.
The internet couldn’t give me the answers I craved – it didn’t exist. But books and stories had always been the way I made sense of the world… only I couldn’t find any that would help me navigate this part of it. Many teens my age found Judy Blume, but I didn’t, I had no one to hand me her books and tell me that was what I was looking for.
So I wrote my own. The Rain Gods (titles have never been my forte) was about a group of teenagers who had nothing in common other than a love of the rain. The main character, a thinly-veiled version of fourteen-year-old Non’s wish fulfilment (who just so happened to have my middle name), was drawn into friendship with a slightly loopy outsider and her protective cousin, and the school villain who started fights and broke ribs, not hearts. It explored everything about which I was curious and even as I got older and cooler, and found someone to kiss me, I would sometimes stay in on a Friday and live this second life where all the brakes were off and I could do anything, exploring with my brain without risking my body.
Contemporary fiction was what got me hooked on writing. Once I started, I didn’t stop – a hobby that shaped my path through life and led me to where I am today. Trouble and Remix and Truth or Dare (when the damn thing finally gets there) are all written for the same person as The Rain Gods. I write to sate her curiosity, to reward it and to show her where it might lead. I give her characters that may seem stronger, who are more damaged, more dangerous, less happy, less lucky. I give her everything I’ve got.
I am handing fourteen-year-old Non a book and saying, “Here. This is what you have been looking for.”