A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
TRUTH OR DARE is an excellent read – full of friendship, first love, all the joy and mess of growing up – and I wondered how you would summarise it in only a few lines to a prospective reader?
Thank you! TRUTH OR DARE is (as ever) about two teenagers – Claire Casey and Sef Malik – who start up a challenge channel on YouTube to raise money for Sef’s brother, who has neurodisability. It’s about the secrets the two teens dare to bare and the truths they choose to hide.
Can you pinpoint what inspired the story?
Every story starts with a question, for this book I wanted to explore what it means to be brave. Claire considers herself a coward. She gives in to what other people want and would rather go unnoticed than stand out. Sef on the other hand will do (and has done) anything for a dare. So who’s the braver: someone who feels no fear, or someone who feels nothing but? That’s the question I’m answering, but the story spiralled out beyond that as I started planning – how society deals with the lasting effects of brain injuries, the relationship between who we are online and offline. The viaduct in my hometown of Yarm, in Teesside, played a significant role inspiring the setting too.
Alternate perspectives have come to characterise your novels – what is it about telling both sides of the same story that excites you as a writer?
It’s something that excites me as a person – I’m always trying to see other people’s points of view, looking at how our experiences form our identity. In TROUBLE and REMIX you experience events as they happen to two different people, but for TRUTH OR DARE, the reader sees everything from Claire’s point of view, before looking back at everything through a different lens entirely. I think it’s interesting to see if you can change someone’s opinion just by changing who is telling the story.
Whose ’side’ did you enjoy writing more – Sef or Claire’s?
I’m not sure I enjoyed either of them. Sef’s was the easier in terms of getting the words down, but I cried quite a bit while doing it. Claire was really really hard to get to know. Her section took me about five times longer to write than Sef’s. I’m pleased I took that time, though – writing Claire has changed me for the better as a person. She’s made me kinder, more patient and a lot more aware of how to treat other people. Of all the characters I’ve ever written, I think Claire might be my favourite. (Apart from Neville in TROUBLE.)
The immediacy and relevance of your stories is undeniable. For example, at the beginning of the book Claire is struggling with the fall-out from an inappropriate video being shared of her without her consent – was there anything that informed this particular storyline?
At first the event that Claire had to contend with wasn’t so bad… we have my editor Annalie Grainger to thank for the fact that Claire now experiences something that results in the nickname ‘Milk Tits’.(Sorry, even I still gak at that name.) The reason I wanted to write about something like this was because of how the internet has been integrated into social groups. Now there can be a record of our worst moments that we’re never allowed to forget. All I have to contend with is my friend Caroline reminding me about that time I told the whole school my new year’s resolution was to wash my hair more than once a week – I don’t have to relive it every time I get a notification on twitter.
Seren and Rich’s storyline is especially refreshing – I love the way you ‘call out’ and challenge tropes. Asexuality is hugely underrepresented in fiction – have you read any other books that deal especially well with exploring it?
Seren, Claire’s best friend is asexual and aromantic, which places her at the more familiar end of the spectrum in that she isn’t sexually attracted to other people, nor does she want to form any romantic relationships, but asexuality is more complex than a simple ‘I’m not up for it’ mentality that so many people reduce it to. RADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman does a good job of exploring a different area of the spectrum of asexuality – on page, without any faffing about. If you want more recommendations for asexual characters and a more detailed rant about erasure, I’d recommend YA Yeah Yeah’s post here.
One thing I will say, is that perhaps if we didn’t live in such a heavily heteronormative society, that maybe more characters we’ve encountered would have been comfortable identifying as asexual. Kind of like in the real world.
There are no neat endings in your books, only lives going on. Would you ever want to write a series following the same character(s) over an extended period of time?
Ah yes, I don’t really believe in resolutions in fiction because we don’t get resolutions in life. But always writing slices of stand-alone life is becoming a little exhausting. (It would be less exhausting if I didn’t go through all the planning stages of writing a cast of characters, school timetables and plotline for ten different books before ditching each one to start another.) There’s a part of me keeps toying with the idea of returning to the characters I created for UNBOXED, but I’ve always been someone who prefers new shiny ideas to revisiting old ones. So yeah, I quite fancy a series! But if I wrote one, I doubt it would have a contemporary setting…
TRUTH OR DARE would work really well as a TV series – if you were casting it, which actors would play your main characters?
I always suck at answering questions like this because the actors would have to be cool and young and I’m neither cool enough nor young enough to know any actors who would qualify. The only thing I’d do is shout from the rooftops that Sef is British Pakistani and any actor playing him should be too. (And maybe Robin Stevens and George Lester could have cameos as their namesake teachers.)
What’s your most embarrassing story from a game of truth or dare?
Come to Waterstones Piccadilly on June 8th and find out. It’ll be the first time I’ve actually ever played truth or dare!
What’s next? (please tell us more about FLOORED!!)
I’m working on two things which will come out next year – the first is another novella for Barrington Stoke called SECOND BEST FRIEND coming out in January. It’s about Jade who’s sick of coming second to her gorgeous, smart and generally awesome best friend, Becky. When her school holds a general election, Jade finds herself competing for votes against Becky – and decides that just this once, she’s going to win. It’s been weird to move from writing a character as kind as Claire to writing one whose insecurities are pushing her in the wrong direction!
FLOORED is a collaboration novel I’m working on with Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood and will come out in July. So far this has been an absolute riot, with each of us writing from a different perspective about six teenagers who experience a life changing event which results in them meeting up on the same date every year, taking them from their teens to their twenties. I can’t say much about it… other than that people will have to read the book to work out who’s writing which point of view…