Originally published on the UK Lesfic website.
I did a Q&A on another author’s blog a while ago, and I was asked what one message did I hope readers took away from my books? My answer was short and sweet: I wanted readers to know that it’s okay to be gay, and that assertion was at the forefront of my mind when I started to write my latest Young Adult novel, Because of Her. I didn’t want it to just be a let’s run around and tell everyone how fab it is to be queer, I just wanted people to read it and realise that, hey, the world isn’t going to stop turning just because you happen to be gay.
Because of Her packs a lot into its 264 pages. My heroine Tabby is uprooted from her small town in the northeast of England and enrolled in an exclusive girls’ school in London when her father’s new job forces the family to move. Taken away from her girlfriend Amy, Tabby hates her new life in London and rails against everything and everyone in the hope that she’ll get sent back to the northeast. That is, until she spots the lovely Eden across a busy classroom…
Whilst battling her feelings for her classmate Eden whilst feeling guilty about Amy, Tabby also has to run the gauntlet of prejudice from Eden’s two ghastly friends Gabby and Beth. Thankfully Tabby has an ally in her new best friend Libby; of course good triumphs over evil in the end, but writing the book made me think about every school kid that’s ever had to fight against homophobia.
Shortly after Because of Her was published, I read a review from someone that really made me stop and think. It was from a gay teenager who had just finished it and wanted to express how much reading it had helped her personally. She said she could identify with the heroine of the book, Tabby, because she too was at school and having to face the sorts of whispered comments Tabby faces because she was, as she said, “different from the other girls”. Although this reader wrote that she wasn’t out at school (Tabby is), her words, “I liked how I lost myself in this book and saw how Tabby faces her enemies. I really drew confidence from how Tabby reacted against the bullies” absolutely hit home.
Soon after I read the review, I received an email which was just as touching. It was from a reader in her late forties who told me she’d read Because of Her because she’d read my last novel The Road to Her and it had shown her that “YA books weren’t just for kids”. She told me she wished there had been books like Because of Her around when she’d been a teenager because she felt it would have helped her come to terms with being gay a lot earlier and, as she put it, “stopped her from living a lie for too many years”.
Both the review and the email struck a chord with me as I could genuinely identify with each one. To this confused teen growing up in the 1980s, lesbianism seemed stuck in the Victorian era; if we didn’t talk about it, then it didn’t exist. I had so many questions I needed answering: was I the only one feeling like this?Was it wrong? Was I going to hell in a handcart because I fancied Wonder Woman? Like reader number two, when I was a teen, I wanted to read books that would give me the answers to my questions, and those where I could identify with the lead character. I didn’t want to read about boy meets girl, or girl constantly being undermined by boy because she fancies him and he doesn’t fancy her back (yawn). And, just like the girl that wrote the review, I wanted to read books about what I was going through. I needed to read about characters that didn’t give a flying fuck what people thought about them; I wanted to read books that told me I wasn’t weird for being Team Bionic Woman rather than Team Bionic Man (I said it was the eighties, didn’t I?).
Most of all, though, through reading these books, I just plain and simple wanted to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone, because it sure as hell felt like it at the time.
It was only later when I was still trying to figure out what I was, and when lesbian fiction was starting to become more available, that I was able to devour the books I’d craved as a teenager. I loved them all, and drew comfort from them. I wished I could be the girl in the story; I wanted to be that confident lesbian who gave a middle finger to all those who didn’t understand. Those type of books are invaluable because they take you out of the real world, if only for a while, and place you into the type of world where you know you’d not only be comfortable with who you are, but where you’d also be accepted by others for who you are.
That was what I wanted to achieve when I first started writing YA novels: books that send out an important message to all ages, while still being the sweet, romantic girl-meets-girl stories I so wanted to read for myself way back then. In Because of Her, I wanted to show that with the support of others, you can overcome prejudice. If you believe in yourself, you can rise above the bullies and the haters and those that plain just don’t understand, and show that you are a better person than they are. My heroine, Tabby, does just that. She ignores the comments and snide remarks that she has to deal with every day at school and proves to herself and those around her that she’s a better person than they are. She’s honest to herself, doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and with the help of her friends, rises above the hateful whispers that follow her down the school corridors.
Because of Her, I hope, tells those reading it that they should never fall to the haters’ level,and that it’s the haters and the ignoramuses that end up looking stupid. If you can have confidence in who you are, and if you can continue to walk with your head held high despite everything, then the only losers will be those that choose to refuse to understand.
So if I can write just one book that a reader can identify with–whether you’re fourteen or forty– and take comfort from, then read again when they need the message reinforced that being gay is nothing to be ashamed about, then my job is done and the message is loud and clear.
Oh, and also that it’s most definitely okay to be gay.
Born and bred in Bath – the English city, not the tub – she worked for the British government for fifteen years, which probably sounds a lot more exciting than it really was. Fed up with spending her days moving paperwork around her desk and making models of the Taj Mahal out of paperclips, she packed it all in to go to university, and graduated as a mature student in 2006 with a degree in linguistics and history. After graduating, she worked at a university in the Midlands for a while, again moving all that paperwork around, before finally leaving to embark on her dream career as a writer.
She moved to the idyllic English countryside in 2007 where she now lives and works happily surrounded by dogs and guinea pigs.