Today, I am delighted to have author Joanne Horniman stop by my blog to answer some questions about her novel About a Girl.
How did you come up with the idea for About a Girl?
A lot of ideas and images came together for me. There was a girl I saw on showery summer night in Brisbane running down the street with an electric guitar, and a boy; it turned out that she was the support act for a group we were going to see. I'm interested in young people and creativity. Then there was the incredible way I missed Canberra after coming back from a visit (my son went to study there and has lived there for a decade), and setting part of the book there was a way of being there. And then I wanted to write a short novel about love, inspired by Jack Kerouac's 'The Subterraneans' - a love affair that doesn't work out. And then my previous book 'My Candlelight Novel' had a relationship between two girls - it wasn't the main aspect of the book, just a part of it, and I thought I should do a book where it is the subject. Just a lot of things building on each other till I couldn't prevent myself from writing it. It's such a hard slog to write a book. There has to be a compulsion there for me. And the book has to grow in an organic way. In many ways it's more like gardening than writing - it's about nurturing and growing and not forcing things along. That's the kind of gardener I am, anyway.
Overall, to me, it felt like emphasis was taken off of Anna and Flynn’s sexuality in how they are seen by readers (despite how Anna’s sexuality has played a huge part in her own individual story in how she sees herself). About a Girl doesn’t feel like it’s about a lesbian couple, but about a couple who don’t quite fit. Was it intentional to make this distinction?
Yes and no. I think my attitude is that same sex couples are in many respects like heterosexual couples. I know that society doesn't see them that way - It is still a big deal to come out as gay. And so I think my attitude came through - let's just treat this couple as people. When society does that there will be true equality. But there are still a lot of people who want to be all up-tight about it -"Marriage is between a man and a woman" etc. But this week the New Zealand Parliament legalised same sex marriage (17th April 2013), and more politicians in Australia are getting behind it - public opinion is already there.
When I’ve heard people discuss sexuality and choice – or lack thereof – it’s usually used as a defence against homophobia; gay people don’t choose to be gay, they’re born this way, and therefore can’t choose not to be. Yet Anna looks at it differently, not taking pride in her sexuality, but wishing she had the choice, to choose an easier life. It’s a point of view I’ve not come across before – the trapped feeling of having no free will. Why did you choose to give Anna this point of view?
I think just because it is so hard to be different. And there's so much going on in Anna's family that she never feels that she can be a priority - she's the 'good' one, the smart one, the one without a disability. Her mother has enough to worry about without landing her with that as well. I think Anna may have ended up depressed even without the added pressure of her sexuality. By going away and meeting Flynn and getting through all that Anna grows up, in a way, and when she comes back she can tell her mother about herself, and relate to her in a more mature way.
Flynn was quite flighty when it came to her feelings about Anna. Was this to do with issues about sexuality, or simply because she couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be with Anna or not?
Both, really. She blows hot and cold about her feelings for Anna - but maybe she's like that anyway. I'm afraid I may have made her too fey, and not likeable enough. But I wanted to get across that thing with relationships, and why they fail, no matter how one or both parties want it to succeed. There's too much what people call 'baggage' there - just huge stumbling blocks to ever accepting that person or being with them for long.
Anna went through a rather dark period when she was younger, rooted in feeling different because of her sexuality, which lead to her being diagnosed with depression. It was a much darker journey to coming to terms with one’s own sexuality than I’ve read in other LGBTQ YA novels so far. Was it important to you to show this darker side before self-acceptance?
Yes. And as I said before, Anna may have ended up depressed, anyway. People are often so intolerant to people with depression - actually I think it's even less understood than same-sex attraction. And you're meant to get better without resorting to drugs - people don't expect that of people with other illnesses. I've been depressed, and I've recovered. Maybe I put that in because it's a personal beef of mine.
What research, if any, did you have to do for About a Girl?
None, to speak of. I'm a sponge. I walk around taking things in. I listen to people and use their stories (stealing them, if you like). I get a feel for a place, and the people who live there.
When trying to find a publisher for About a Girl, did you encounter any difficulties because of it’s LGBTQ themes?
No. I sent it to my regular publisher, Allen and Unwin, who loved it at once. They've never blenched at what I write - menstrual blood, milk leaking from breasts, stuffing a tissue down your pants after sex to catch the drips and heading off to work (Read My Candlelight Novel for that one). 'Keep it real', they say. I appreciate that.
What is your opinion on how YA novels deal with LGBTQ YA themes?
To be honest, I don't really keep up with them. I write what I want to write. Like Anna, I tend to read Dostoyevsky and listen to Okkervil River.
Were there any books you found dealt well with this topic when you were a teen?
Do you know you're speaking to a 60 year old? When I was about 17 one of my best friends told me he was gay, and gave me a book called 'One in Twenty' - not a novel - to read. Together, we went to a film made of D.H. Lawrence's 'The Fox', about a lesbian couple. And a few years later 'Maurice' by E. M. Forster was finally published. I can tell you, things have come a long way since then.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you, Jo, for interviewing me!
Thank you, Joanne, for such a fantastic interview! Check out Joanne's blog, and you can read my review of About a Girl here.