What Happens When You Don’t Write What Your Regular Readers Expect?
“You’ve co-written a novel about transitioning gender! But I thought you only wrote children’s picture books like There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake?”
As a middle-aged, married, mainstream author, it’s acceptable for me to write for children. Why isn’t it acceptable for me to write about other topics? Yes, I did write the ‘There’s a Hippo…’ series of picture books. But I’ve also recently co-written a Young Adult novel about transitioning gender from female to male.
f2m: The Boy Within is fiction. But well researched and not autobiographical. And yes, my co-author Ryan Kennedy has transitioned from female to male, which makes this YA novel an international ‘first’ by a trans ftm (female to male) co-author
Is this type- casting?
I have challenged type-casting before. I’ve co-written adult non fiction about difficult personalities, including sociopaths, been an Antarctic expeditioner and written science from a non scientific perspective, as well as YA fiction about stalking, religious prejudice and China (not in the one book!)
Why is ‘f2m: the boy within’ and the subject of transitioning gender so different?
Is it because readers fear the unknown? The subject might be sensationalised in recent sports media but our sympathetic handling in fiction, enables distancing and discussion for book groups, and we’ve concentrated on a story which is a good read (with a punk music setting). It is a ‘coming of age’ story of an 18 year old, with family and friends’ realistic range of reactions.
My mistake was to have three very different books out in the same period. But marketing departments decide that, not authors. Believe me, I’m not complaining, it was just circumstances.
Each story is about imaginative problem solving, but for different age groups.
Two were young children’s picture books’ Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time)’ Interactive Publications (IP_Kidz) and the sixth hippo book; ‘Hurray There’s a Hippo on Our Roof Having a Birthday Party’ (Penguin/Viking), the third was ‘f2m: the boy within’. A novel where the 18 year old character Skye transitions into a male called Finn. Medically correct. Formerly taboo subject. But equally valid to write about, and requiring the same skills, as creating a fantastic, imaginary friend who eats cake on a roof.
The timing was a problem. Media such as radio and TV only want to interview an author once in the same month. And the 30th anniversary of the well loved Hippo character was a safer story with a bigger audience and a mainstream publisher like Penguin. Fair enough.
Why did I write the f2m book and consider it the most important of my 200 published titles?
No one else had tackled such as potentially sensational subject in a humorous way. And with compassion. Well, we hope so. Neither Ryan nor I could have written it alone. Our collaboration is reflected in the title. f2m, like texting.
To complete the manuscript took us over a year and more than forty drafts, working online because we live in different countries. I knew Ryan as a family friend when he was 11 and presenting as a girl. Now I know him as a happily married man of 34. And a great co-author with whom to work. He’s a much better IT techie than me. He did our book trailer magnificently. And I have no trouble using the appropriate pronoun when talking about him.
Years ago, I co-wrote ‘Difficult Personalities’ with psychologist Dr Helen Mc Grath who was asked in a public forum about her co-author and our earlier edition of ‘Friends’ which was called ‘Friends Love Sex….
‘Isn’t Hazel Edwards the one who writes kids books?’
‘And your book has sex in it. Aren’t children and sex incompatible?’
No. And sex and gender may not be the same.
Unless you’ve met someone transitioning who is comfortable enough to talk about their experiences, how do others find out and understand that there could have been a mismatch, and it’s no-one’s fault?… challenges, most ‘mainstream’ people find it difficult to ask questions. They feel they are intruding on the family. Having a YA ‘fictional’ book to talk about, distances the gender transitioning, because you can ask questions about the character Skye-Finn’s experience. I’m willing to speak with secondary teachers who have to ‘teach’ gender but conferences talks or radio chats are possibly quicker ways of speaking to more people. I’m also finding that some readers can’t reconcile an author writing fantasy picture books like cake-eating hippos, with a ‘seriously researched ‘ but funny YA novel about transitioning gender. That’s why the experience of working with a good co-writer like Ryan who also happens to have transitioned,has broadened my education too.
The forthcoming e-book format will be easier to sell and buy. Those apprehensive about asking for a controversial book, can just order online.
f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy is published by Ford Street Publishing
About the Author
Hazel is an Astrid Lindgren Award nominee for 2010 and awarded the 2009 Australian Society of Authors Medal by her fellow writers. Best known for the classic ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’, which was recently translated into Chinese, Hazel writes across media, for adults & children. Pocket Bonfire Productions have created a short hippo film for the 30th anniversary. An Antarctic expeditioner, Hazel’s website at www.hazeledwards.com has details of her Antarctic books & plays. Hazel also runs Non- Boring Writing workshops for genealogists. Her 200 books have been translated into many languages.