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INTERVIEWS

Philip Ardagh
Malorie Blackman
Kevin Brooks
Robert Cormier
Cormier & Burgess
Sharon Creech
Joseph Delaney
Berlie Doherty
Anne Fine
Jack Gantos
Sonya Hartnett
Michelle Harrison
Tanuja Desai Hidier
David Levithan
Graham Marks
Chris Mould
Anant Pai
Mal Peet
Philip Reeve
Chris Riddell
Marcus Sedgwick
John Singleton
Robert Swindells
Nick Ward


UK promotion of your book has included "near-naked Flirt Boys handing out Flirt Cards"; how do you feel about that?


I feel very, very relieved that I wasn't asked to be one of the near-naked Flirt Boys. I don't think the book would cross over to as many adults if it was me in my skivvies.

But the big thing about BOY MEETS BOY is how lowkey it is about being gay, so isn't it a little ironic that the book's publicity and marketing has had to focus on the gay content?


I think there's an important distinction to be made here: I don't think the book is lowkey about being gay at all -- I think it's quite a gay book. The thing it's lowkey about is the notion that being gay is a problem, which it most certainly is not. The characters embrace being gay, but it's just a part of who they are, and most of them (with some notable exceptions) are absolutely fine with it. So I wouldn't want a publisher to shy away from gay marketing and publicity -- I'm happy they're embracing it. But really, the near-naked Flirt Boys are just one part of a really wide and generous plan. As we've seen here in America, the book has an enormous number of audiences -- not just gay teens and gay adults, but also straight teen girls and young women. I think Harper is really trying to reach out to them all -- you'll see the book mentioned not just in ATTITUDE and GAY TIMES, but also in ELLE GIRL. Different approaches are made to different audiences, but hopefully they will all find something for themselves in the book.

A recent episode of Shameless, a UK TV series set on a northern housing estate, featured a teenage gay character so terrified of coming out that he faked a relationship with a girl. Is the picture painted in Boy Meets Boy an idealised one, or is it typical of many places in the US?


I don't know if I'd call the picture painted in BMB "typical," but it does exist in spirit in many places. I think there is a huge range of gay teen experience -- from total misery to sheer joy, with a lot in between. The idea for Boy Meets Boy was to show the happier side, to create a romantic comedy where sexuality wasn't the issue. Does this reflect all gay teen reality? I wish it did, but no. But I don't think fiction has to reflect a majority reality. It can create its own reality, and it can show sides of life that aren't being shown in other literature.

There's a kindergarten teacher in the book who openly tells the narrator he's gay. Is that supposed to be believable? Did it happen to you?


Funny you should ask. Of all the things in the book, this one (which is often cited as the most outrageous) is actually one of the most autobiographical. My kindergarten teacher did make certain observations to my parents about me, which were much later shared with me. So the judgment was there, although she certainly didn't say it to my face. That scene isn't supposed to be believable, but it's supposed to get the reader used to Paul and his world.

The UK publisher, defending the book against criticism in the press, reportedly said that the company published issue books on their merit. But isn't the whole raison d'etre of this novel, notwithstanding what you were aying earlier, that it's NOT an 'issue' book. It's so NOT an issue book that I was halfway through before, as a reader, I realised, "This is it. There's no more to it. It's just a boy-boy romance." Is that what you set out to write - a boy-boy romance? The anthology that you're putting together with Billy Merrell suggests that you DO have an agenda of giving voice to the LGBTQ profile.


At heart, it most certainly is a boy-boy romance. But certainly there's a grappling with identity as well, in the plot involving Paul's friend Tony (who comes from a town not quite as idyllic as Paul). I absolutely want to give voice to LBGTQ youth, but I can't really say that the book was written out of an agenda or around an issue. I wrote it because I wanted to tell a story. Then, after the story was done, I realized how it could be important.

The Realm of Possibility (not yet out in the UK - but available via Amazon) is told in many different voices, some of them (how many?) in verse. It's obviously a very different book compared with Boy Meets Boy. If it comes out here, how will we be able to tell it's by the same author.


It isn't currently scheduled for the UK (we still haven't figured out which of my books will be next here), but it's about twenty kids who all go to the same high school and how their lives intersect in strange and wonderful and unpredictable ways. It's about understanding, and connection, and figuring out a place in the world. Thematically, I think it's very much in line with Boy Meets Boy, even though the form is completely different.

In your Nerve interview you're asked "Do you consume pop culture that you wouldn't if you didn't write for teenagers?" and you respond, "You mean my office subscription to Seventeen? Yeah, I probably wouldn't have that if I were an accountant."
In what other ways do you keep up with teen culture?[


Mostly through music -- I am a complete music addict, and am lucky enough that my taste intersects a lot with some of the cooler bands out right now. I'm growing used to being (at 32) one of the older people in the audience when I go to shows -- at Bright Eyes or Death Cab for Cutie or The Killers. But so much of adolescence is there. And obviously I read a lot of writing by teens and for teens. My website and PUSH's website are particularly great places to receive feedback.

You're the founding editor of the PUSH imprint in the US, which has published some of my own favourite YA titles (Born Confused, Martyn Pig, and others). The list has a great website. To what degree are you personally involved with that, and with your own site?


I'm the only editor on PUSH, and besides those books that we reprint from other house's hardcovers (like Kevin Brooks's novels, which Barry Cunningham so brilliantly edits), I am the one finding the authors and working with them to make the books as good as can be. I also do all of the managing of the editorial side of the PUSH website -- which keeps me plenty busy.

You already publish some UK authors on the PUSH list. Are there any others that you admire and would like to acquire?


Not to dodge the question, but PUSH is all first-time writers, so most of the ones I want to work with haven't been published yet. One of the books I'm most excited about, by a young Brit named Eddie de Oliveira, started out as a one-act play he wrote for the Edinburgh Festival. I read about the play and thought it would make a great teen novel. So I got to be a part of it as Eddie turned it into a novel about sexual confusion called Lucky. Now he's working on his second novel, Johnny Hazzard, about a Texan kid in London, and it's brilliant.

LUCKY has had some great reviews on Amazon - from UK readers who must have got hold of the PUSH edition - is any UK publisher planning on bringing the book out?


I'm hoping a UK publisher will pick it up -- I think it will reverberate even more on your shores than here. I know Scholastic is planning to offer both LUCKY and JOHNNY HAZZARD at the London Book Fair and Bologna. Hopefully someone will snap them up!

Boy Meets Boy has really started to establish you as a new YA voice in the UK. Are there any plans for you to come to the UK, say for the paperback or the second novel launches?


I'm coming over this time for a day or two to do some interviews. But for a tour? well, hopefully, I will be back again soon.

How do you mix/separate your writing & editing lives?


Five days a week belong to other writers, and two days a week belong to my own writing. That's the only real designation. But, honestly, it's the same mind.

© 2005 ACHUKA


 

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