An Interview with Lisa Williamson

I’ve been a fan of Lisa for quite some time now. The author of the stunning The Art Of Being Normal and All About Mia, Lisa has now joined the seven authors involved in Floored (I’m apart of the blog tour for the promotion of this book, i can guarantee it will be incredible!) Lisa champions diversity and LGBTQ+ in all her work, and us being a very LGBTQ+ focused blog and having the LGBTQ+ Book Club, i figured who better to ask some questions about writing than Lisa.

Have you always wanted to include LGBTQ+ representation in your novels?
I’ve always wanted my writing to reflect the world around me and that naturally includes LGBTQ+ representation. At the very beginning though, I’m not sure it’s something I would have given a whole lot of conscious thought to. When I first started writing, I had no idea anything I wrote would be published some day and this made my focus quite narrow. Diversity in general is something I’ve thought about more and more about since being published and becoming part of the UKYA community. The reaction to TAOBN (particularly from young trans people) really alerted me to just how important representation is, especially for those who traditionally have been excluded.

I was initially inspired to write about trans teenagers following a two year spell as administrator for the Gender Identity Development Service (the NHS service for young people struggling with gender identity issues). Having noted a severe lack of transgender protagonists in YA fiction (this was back in 2012), I wanted to have a bash at writing something that explored gender identity in a way that reflected the experiences of the young people using the service. From the very beginning, I wanted to write a book that was about gender identity, but not defined by it. I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t worked at the service and become so immersed in my work there, it’s very unlikely I’d have written a book exploring trans issues. I like to think I’d have written something, but I have no idea what form that would have taken and I’ll forever be grateful that life nudged me on that particulate path and I was the one to tell Kate and Leo’s story.

Do you think that LGBTQ+ representation has been making an improvement in YA? Especially transgender representation?
Slowly but surely, yes. I was a teenager in the 90s and I don’t recall reading a single book that featured positive LGBTQ+ representation. Looking at it that way, we’ve made huge leaps and bounds. Having said that, stories featuring heterosexual cisgender characters do still tend to dominate the book shelves. Trans representation is still massively lacking. I have a horrible feeling that there’s sometimes a ‘one size fits all’ attitude to books exploring gender identity issues and with it, the entirely inaccurate assumption that the teenage transgender experience is somehow universal. Books like Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl (featuring a trans girl) and I was Born For This by Alice Osman (featuring a trans boy) are wonderful but the fact I’m struggling to name any other recent books with trans characters at their centre suggests we might still have a bit of a problem.

How important do you think it is for there to be side characters, alongside protagonists to be LGBTQ+ in YA novels?
Very. More that that, it’s just realistic. Go into any school, and a significant number of students will identity as LGBTQ+. All straight, all cis-gender casts simply don’t reflect real life.

Did you always know that you wanted The Art of Being Normal to show such important transgender representation?
During my time working for the NHS, I met a lot of young trans people and their families. Every single service user had a different story, different struggles, different hopes and dreams. Going into the writing process, I wanted to write characters that felt real; whose lives were rich with detail and complexity. I knew gender identity was going to be central to the story, but I didn’t want every page to be defined by it (just like the young people I met were not wholly defined by their gender identity struggles). TAOBN is also a book about family and friendships and falling in love for the first time and fitting in. Keeping a balance and showing light and shade were things I kept in mind throughout the writing process.

Do you think it’s as important for non-own-voices authors to create fiction as it is for own-voice authors?
It’s definitely important but I think own-voices authors should always take precedence. As for non-own-voices authors, I think it’s always important to decide why you want to tell a particular person’s story and assess whether you’re truly the best person for the job. If you’re not, there are plenty of ways to make your stories diverse and its our join responsibility to make sure our books reflect the world around us.

I’m often asked if I’d consider writing a sequel to TAOBN and my answer is always no. I love the characters and think of them often but four years down the line, I’m not sure I’m the woman for the job. I wrote TAOBN off the back of two years working with trans kids. If I ever was going to revisit the characters and themes, I’d have to do a hell of a lot of homework to make sure I was doing them justice.

What are some of your favourite LGBTQ+ books? YA or not.
I’ve got lots but have managed to narrow it down to five! Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, All of the Above by Juno Dawson, Unboxed by Non Pratt, Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman.

What would you like to see in the future of YA regarding the LGBTQ+ representation and community?
More books exploring the entire gender and sexual spectrum, more books about trans kids where gender identity isn’t central to the plot, more TV/film adaptations (just look at how well Love, Simon did!), more schemes to reach out to young LGBTQ+ writers/or those interested in publishing. More of everything basically!

You’re a part of the Floored seven, what was the best part of working with six other authors? And the most challenging part?
Writing can be lonely. Getting to bounce ideas about with six other authors was a dream, so much so, I always came away from our meetings feeling a bit giddy! Working with six other suitors sounds like it would be chaotic but it truly wasn’t. I guess the most challenging part was relinquishing control. For the first time, I wasn’t responsible for the overall shape of the novel, something I found freeing but also a bit discombobulating!

I want to say a huge thank you to Lisa for letting us interview her and taking the time to think about these questions! I really enjoyed getting to know her books and writing a little bit more, especially her opinions on LGBTQ+ themes in YA. I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa a few years ago at YALC and honestly she was one of the loveliest people i’ve had the chance to meet. We discussed creative writing and my degree in English and she posed as a very articulate and intelligent person. A wonderful lady who writes wonderfully inspiring books.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter for updates of her work, you can also buy her books on Amazon, All About Mia* and The Art Of Being Normal*, also you can pre-order Floored*, the collaboration between Lisa and six other incredible YA authors.

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