After years teaching English literature with teenagers in London, it’s time to write a contemporary Y.A./Middle Grades novel of my own!
Before I had my twins, I had some great conversations with my students that led to the seed of an idea for a character. Many of my students wanted to see themselves presented in more books as strong, talented, (and yes, flawed) British teenagers of colour who were more than merely ‘the best friend’ or a victim of racism. We need more diverse writers and characters. Representation matters and the industry does seem to be catching onto that now.
I had been writing Young Adult fiction as part of a masters course I was taking in the evenings. The more often I spoke with my students about their favourite books and heroines, a character and fun story began to take shape in my mind so clearly:
Ola is a feisty, music-obsessed girl whose mum makes her leave London for a fresh start in a small seaside town. It’s not just her friends she doesn’t want to leave behind, but memories of her dad too. A fish out of water, now Ola has to navigate new friendships, exciting potential romance and a queen bee at school who takes a dislike to her; all before a cheesy teenage pop star she can’t stand arrives and shakes things up even more.
I’ve provisionally called it Jason Browne Hits Your Town, which is the name of a radio competition within the story. Ola and her story was such fun to create. When I ran some chapter excerpts past my students and a couple of friends – especially those with Nigerian roots like my protagonist and her father – their feedback fired me up to keep writing!
I began to read more and more popular Y.A. and Middle Grades writers for inspiration, Malorie Blackman (a firm favourite of my students), Rainbow Rowell, Jacqueline Woodson and Becky Albertalli among so many others.
When my babies were born, I thought (naively) I’d be able to add chapters when they slept. It turns out twins rarely sleep at the same time! Then as they grew older, teaching in London and family life, both of which I loved, took over and the book was on hold for a while.
Now I’ve moved to New York with my little family and I have the chance to really focus on writing again!
Thanks for coming on this journey with me as I add short stories, excerpts and ideas about the writing process along the way.