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I love a boy to fall in love with. Especially if it's a book boy. (Yes, I am a grown woman, yes this does rather infantilise me. And?) I tried to write a character like this in LIES LIKE LOVE and think I sort of achieved it. My lovely Leo Bright has a little fan base (my proudest moment and proof of this was when a student asked me if he really existed so she could meet him. Sadly he was a fictional amalgamation of all the nice boys I've ever had a thing for (the losers I left out) but I'm sure there are real life versions out there somewhere...)
Having just finished ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES I have been pondering on how to build a boy like Theodore Finch, the heartbreaker of Jennifer Niven's recent YA novel, or my Leo, or Augustus Waters, or Eleanor's Park. And here's my how-to guide.
TEN WAYS TO BUILD A BOY TO FALL IN LOVE WITH
1. He must be fighting a battle he probably won't win against forces beyond his control. But he'll give everything trying.
2. He will love his family, especially little brothers and sisters and tolerate his parents' f**k-ups.
3. He will be bright and clever and kind. He will defend you/his love interest, perhaps resorting to unnecessary acts of violence on your behalf (think Park, lovely Park) which he will later regret.
4.He will have soul. As evidenced by his love of reading comics, playing music, collecting vintage guitars or cars; digging Bob Dylan, Depeche Mode, German theatre, skate-boarding; feeling Nature, the Romantic poets, metaphysics and knowing about Einstein's theory of relativity, or whatever. He is a boy who hurts and thinks and feels.
5. He will think of ways to make other people happy. He will try not to put himself first, even when he is in pain.
6. He will never, not ever, be a push-over. He has pride.
7. He will be flawed. Tragically so.
8. When, not if, he leaves you, you will cry.
9. He will make you wish you could help him. You know you cannot.
10. He will break your heart, but never mean to.
AND FINALLY:, most importantly...
He will never be a cliche!
Thank you and a very Happy Christmas to all who have bought and read my books this year, and to those that didn't too.
If you want to win a copy of Lies Like Love then enter my latest giveaway at:
LIES LIKE LOVE gets a lovely write up in today's Independent and there are a number of other super books listed too. I love the sound of the new Michelle Magorian; her Goodnight Mr Tom is a book I'll always adore. Emma Haughton's Now you See Me is excellent, too. We're spoiled for choice with great children's books, I think.Here's what Susan Elkin from the Indy has to say about LIES LIKE LOVE:
"Louisa Reid’s Lies Like Love (Penguin, £7.99) gives us 16-year-old Audrey moving to another part of the country with her mother, who doesn’t always behave well, and beloved little brother Peter. At the new school she meets, and is drawn to, Leo and his story is skilfully meshed with Audrey’s. Where is Audrey’s father? Why do they have insurance money? It’s a very long time before we learn exactly what has happened in the past – the skilled narrative unravelling makes it a good read."
Today this story hit the headlines :http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/mother-accused-of-poisoning-daughter-with-hormones-went-doctor-shopping-for-preferred-diagnosis-court-hears-9794577.html
The fact that this woman's daughter is still alive is a miracle, given the cocktail of drugs she's allegedly been prescribed and forced to take to treat non-existent conditions. Most children who are victims of Munchhausens by Proxy or Factitious Order by Proxy, as this girl perhaps is, don't live to see their teenage years - such is the devastating nature of this form of abuse. The victims are usually babies, the most voiceless and vulnerable of us all.
Before I wrote Lies Like Love there was a lot of work to do. The research for this novel was extremely important - I couldn't risk misrepresenting either parent or child - and so, before I started crafting Lies Like Love, I read countless medical reports and journals which left me shocked and horrified. When you're a mother yourself it seems impossible that anyone could hurt their own baby, toddler or child and the real life instances I discovered have haunted me ever since. In addition to this, the fact of a child's love for her parent which continues even in the face of this abuse, to the extent that she might be forced to collude with her abuser, is utterly devastating. Infinitely precious things, which most of us can take for granted, have been stolen from these children: the ability to trust their own caregivers and the knowledge that they are truly loved.
What makes the perpetrators of these crimes difficult to treat and to rehabilitate is, to my knowledge, their inability to accept responsibility for their crimes or even to acknowledge that any crime has been committed. I think this makes understanding people with MBP very difficult and it makes forgiving them harder still. My sympathy is with the daughter, the victim of this allegedly criminal mother, and I hope she finds the care and unconditional love she will need to recover from what has happened to her. As a novelist I was able to endow my protagonist with that hope and strength and that's where I most hope I didn't get it wrong.
I've just finished a second draft of a book I'm hoping will find a publisher in the next few months. It didn't take me long to write- in fact I wrote most of it in a frenzy of urgency over the summer holidays when I should have been doing other things like sunbathing and building sandcastles- because I knew that once term started there'd be no time or energy or head space to work on the first draft (I find redrafting much easier).
My agent loved the book but suggested some rewrites and in the second draft the tone and ending of the story have changed. I'm glad that, following my agent's suggestions, I decided to write less about the power of society to destroy women and more about the power of women and girls to fight back against exploitation and sexually motivated crimes. It's important for me to remember that as a writer for young adults, I not only have a responsibility to write the best book I can, but also to make the message I'm sending out a positive and important one.
It astonishes me (why? I should know this stuff by now) that in 2014 and living in the UK, a democratic and supposedly equal society, women still face both overt and covert harassment and violence; ideas about female inferiority are so deeply embedded in our culture that it seems impossible to uproot them. Just this week I saw a disturbing tweet from UKYA book blogger, Amber. She was sharing a list that had been made at her school by some of her classmates which gave reasons why women are less employable than their male counterparts in certain types of work. According to this list, girls don't have muscles; apparently they have less mental capacity than men, far shorter attention spans and are too afraid of breaking their nails to be any good in certain working environments. I'm gob-smacked to think that such attitudes, which I naively thought went out with the ark, are being aired by today's teenagers. I was under the stupid impression that anti-feminism was the preserve of the sad, lonely and somewhat disturbed tweeters who recently abused Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez, but I guess the hashtag #everydaysexism exists for a reason.
I'm pretty lucky, I can't think of many occasions when I've suffered abuse because of my gender. In fact there's only one instance which springs readily to mind: I was teaching in London at the time and was heavily pregnant with my first child when a very tall young man walked past me in the street and spat on me. It wasn't nice and I was quite upset but I explained the incident to myself by deciding, perhaps with my liking for extremes, that the man most probably had psychopathic tendencies. Perhaps he spat on most people he walked past, or maybe he just had bad aim? But with hindsight I'd say it's fairly likely that he spat on me because I was a woman who was unlikely to fight back. Looking back I'm not sure what I could have done to make it clear that this wasn't OK, most women in the late stages of pregnancy want to avoid a brawl with a man twice her size, so off I lumbered feeling sick and disgusted and off he went - probably quite proud of his achievement.
So, if this book I'm writing ever makes it to a third draft I'll be showing women's strength as powerfully as I can. We shouldn't be stereotyped, we shouldn't be silent and we shouldn't be victims. It's devastating that when you open a newspaper that these are the stories which so often confront us. I'm thinking of this example http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/10/justice/canada-teen-suicide/ and http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/21/twitter-trend-purge-film-anarchy-revenge-porn-laws just to name a couple. I'll be reminding myself that every word I choose is important, every representation of female experience loaded with cultural and social implications and that this stuff matters, it really does.