Hello hello! The blog emerges from a long hibernation period for an extraordinarily good cause in all sorts of ways: YA Shot! I’m a big fan of this author-led YA & MG literary festival, and have not let the whole living-in-Scotland thing stop me from attending these past couple of years. This year’s festival takes place on Saturday 14 April 2018, in Uxbridge. I can’t wait to see you there! For more information, check out the YA Shot website.
For my stop on the #YASHOT2018 blog/vlog tour, I had the pleasure of chatting with Simon James Green, YA Shot panellist and author of Noah Can’t Even. See below the cut for more!
Hi Simon! Thanks for joining me for this conversation about things: primarily, I expect, books, but we’ll see what crops up! Let’s talk about Noah Can’t Even first: it’s funny YA, it’s LGBTQ+ YA, and it is unmistakably UK YA. That’s a combination of categories we don’t see all that often – what inspired you to write a coming of age story with jokes in?
Hi Sarah! Lovely to be here and thank you for having me on your blog! Two things really inspired me to write Noah. First, I’m a real believer in the power of funny books. The world can be an upsetting, stressful and depressing place sometimes, and I think funny books can really help us kick back, relax and escape. Laughter is good for us. But I also wanted to write something LGBTQ+ which was funny because I really didn’t feel there were many books out there doing that. Where were all the gay boys and girls having a laugh and being awkward? Funny, LGBTQ+ British YA is indeed a combination we don’t see that often, and I thought that was a real shame. I wanted to address that lack of balance.
There’s a whole batch of recent YA contemporary that has made me literally laugh out loud, but it’s either about boys kissing girls or… girls kissing boys! Being a gay teenager just as ripe for hilarity and hijinks, if not more so, in my opinion. Thank you for helping to redress the balance! What/who really makes you laugh – in YA, or beyond?
Well, it’ll come as no surprise that I have particular fondness for geeky kids being awkward, so books like Adrian Mole (who was a huge inspiration for Noah); films such as The Way Way back, Juno and Superbad; and TV shows including Arrested Development and Everything Sucks (which is new on Netflix), all hold a lot of appeal. But beyond that, my taste is quite eclectic – from Family Guy and Peep Show to plays like Abigail’s Party (by Mike Leigh), and pretty much anything by Joe Orton (but especially What the Butler Saw). Humour is very subjective, but I admire anyone who can make other people laugh, because it’s bloody difficult!
Do you test your jokes out on other people? I know I make myself laugh all the time, but humour really is very subjective and I suspect not everyone finds me as hilarious as I find myself! And did you approach writing for a teenage audience differently from writing for an adult audience?
You’re absolutely right, humour is very subjective and I think when you write a funny book, you have to accept that some people just won’t ‘get’ it. My editor at Scholastic, Linas Alsenas, is very good at picking up on jokes that just don’t land or work, and between him, my agent Jo Moult and my screenwriting partner Sarah Counsell, I’ve got some really good sounding boards for the humour. But in terms of approach, I really don’t do anything differently when writing for teens because the same principles still apply – it’s not really about writing gags, it all comes from character, and putting that character into situations, or surrounding them with people, that will make funny things happen. That’s a massive simplification of course, but that’s the essence of how I write comedy.
Do you think YA writers have particular responsibilities to their audience? It’s my impression that different writers have different approaches to this. There are all sorts of reasons writers might be cautious about writing LGBT characters – some of which are valid, some less so – but in my view at least, stories that might help LGBT teens feel less alone are incredibly important. (Side note, I am super excited for #ProudBook and I’m all ears if you have anything to say about that!!)
Personally, I do feel quite a lot of responsibility. All forms of media, be it books, film, or television have the power to influence people, to educate, and to change hearts and minds. And writing Noah, I do carefully consider every aspect – every plot point, line of dialogue, and the word choices I’m making, because I’m always asking what a teen audience would make of it. How would a young lad struggling with his sexuality feel about what I’ve written, for example? With Noah, I was very keen to show a positive side to being LGBTQ+, one that was ultimately happy and full of laughter, because absolutely, any LGBT rep helps to show LGBT teens they are not alone, but that rep also needs to be balanced and show that they can have their happy ending too. Of course, I also have a responsibility to hold a mirror up to the world and reflect what I see, and part of that might be bullying, doubts and angst, but it’s about how you then deal with that, and I think having characters facing the same challenges and situations that LGBT teens face is vital. I suppose my ultimate angle is: the difficulties, the struggle, is real. Homophobia very much exists. Parents aren’t always supportive. But it gets better.
Ahh! I was so happy when Juno Dawson and Stripes asked me to write a short story for #ProudBook. What a wonderful thing that anthology will be! I can’t really give you any details yet about what my contribution will be, but I will say it’s different to Noah, but will (I hope!) have a lightness of touch and a sense of humour that Noah readers will appreciate – as well as everyone else, of course! There are some truly fabulous people involved with the anthology, it’ll be a real celebration, and it’s going to be such a great addition to the LGBTQ+ stuff already out there.
What, no sneak peeks?! I suppose I can wait a whole year… How about some Noah Could Never secrets? Or the potential of Noah on TV? Writing this all out, I’m just realising how busy you must be… but it’s all exciting stuff! How do you make time to write? Is this actually six questions in one??
Ha ha! It’ll fly by! I had a lot of fun writing Noah Could Never and it gave me the chance to explore Noah and Harry’s relationship in a lot more depth. Noah struggles with issues like body image in this book, and finds it hard to believe that someone as perfect as Harry could possibly be in love with him. And, like any relationship, there are ups and downs, mistakes and reconciliations, as both characters work out what having a boyfriend means for them and how things change from being best mates. All of this is set against the backdrop of the French exchange kids turning up, including ridiculously sexy Pierre Victoire, and the story also sees Noah contend with a drag queen, some stolen diamonds and a literal wild goose chase – so there’s plenty of madness, mayhem and awkwardness to come!
In terms of the TV show, it’s been great working with the guys from Urban Myth Films who optioned Noah last year. This is the team who between them created and produced shows like Sugar Rush, Merlin, Misfits and Crazy Head, so I feel like Noah’s in good hands. We’ve been working on the TV pitch, deciding how the TV show might look, and it’s in the process of being pitched out to potential broadcasters – so fingers crossed! And yeah, it’s been a pretty busy twelve months, but it’s been hugely exciting, so I can’t complain. I just have to be very focussed about when I write, and make sure all distractions (email, social media, red wine) are removed. But I do find a bit of pressure helps the creative process sometimes.
Red wine is almost as distracting as Twitter, for sure. Especially when combined. Anyway, in part due to those distractions, we’ve about run out of time! I’m looking forward to your YA Shot panel on ‘family, faith and identity’ – I won’t ask you for spoilers this time, but how do you think it ties in to the programme theme of human rights? And why does it matter to have events like this? What’s the use of live literature?
Respect for your private and family life, and freedom of belief and religion are all fundamental human rights, enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 – although that doesn’t mean there aren’t attempts (both in the UK and around the world) to try and chip away at those rights. When we talk about the sort of world we want to live in, young people hold the key to that future, and I think YA fiction has a part to play in helping that generation explore, understand, and empathise. Of all forms of media, I think YA fiction has been at the forefront of pushing for change. I’m not saying it’s perfect – of course it isn’t, and there’s much more to be done, but YA fiction has lead the way, where TV and film have followed. That’s something to celebrate, but it’s also a chance to ask ourselves what we can do better – and no better way of doing it than an in-the-flesh live event! Having these discussions on social media is hard – trying to convey complex points within a character limit is a nightmare, plus difficult subjects are rarely black and white – and Twitter isn’t the place for nuance and subtle differences, so live events will always get a big thumbs up from me!
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Simon! Simon will appear on the Family, faith & identity panel at YA Shot alongside Sita Brahmachari and Antonia Honeywell, chaired by Katherine Webber. It’s gonna be grand! Tickets are available for the day here (£20/£15 concessions) and if you can’t wait until then, please do buy NOAH CAN’T EVEN (Amazon/Waterstones/Hive) and/or check out the other stops on the #YAShot2018 blog tour.