Today’s post is my contribution to the #YAShot2018 Blog Tour. YA Shot is an author-run YA/MG one-day literary festival held in Uxbridge annually. There are panels and workshops with fantastic authors like Holly Bourne, Muhammad Khan, Sara Barnard, Melinda Salisbury, Patrice Lawrence and many more. The event raises money for their libraries-schools programme which pairs libraries and schools together for free author events that foster a love of reading and writing and encourage careers in the Arts.
This year the event will be held on Saturday 14th April. As I am living abroad at the moment I unfortunately can’t make it, but really want to go next year when I am back in the UK. For more information visit their website here.
For my stop on the tour, I was lucky enough to be invited to interview the amazing Laura Steven, author of The Exact Opposite of Okay.
Congratulations on the success of your recently published book The Exact Opposite of Okay. I read it recently and absolutely loved it as you can tell from my gushing 5-star review here. For those who haven’t heard about it, how would you sum it up?
The Exact Opposite of Okay is about a teenage comedian called Izzy O’Neill, who never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench emerge, the trolls set out to take her apart. Armed with best friend Ajita and a metric ton of nachos, she must figure out who’s behind the vicious website showcasing her sexploits – while keeping her sanity intact.
What inspired you to cover the themes of slut-shaming and revenge porn in your book?
Revenge porn – the practice of distributing intimate or explicit photos or video of someone without their consent – has been long been protected by legal loopholes, and still remains fully within the law in sixteen states in the US. And yet the phenomenon is so widespread it’s practically a pandemic. A 2016 reportfrom the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research found that one in 25 people in the U.S. have either been victims of revenge porn or been threatened with the posting of sensitive images. That number jumps to one in 10 for young women between the ages of 15-29.
One in 10. For me, hearing that figure was like a blow to the gut. Who are these exploited teens and 20-somethings? What’s it really like to be that exposed in a public sphere? What are the long-term effects on their mental health, their self-worth? And how can we bring them justice when the law refuses to acknowledge their suffering? It was these harrowing questions – and the lack of answers – that inspired me to write about TEOOO.
I loved the blog post entries the book was written in. What made you decide to write in this style?
Because a huge part of Izzy’s arc is learning to open up, I knew that in the early chapters she’d be totally closed off to those around her. But I didn’t want the reader to think she was heartless, so decided on a personal blog as means of sharing her real feelings. It also allowed me to fully embrace Izzy’s eccentric writing style. Izzy’s bold voice came to me before anything else; she was sarcastic, witty, bright but not conventionally so. Something terrible had happened to her and she was blogging about it. That’s all I had, but I knew it was gold. So I trusted my instincts and experimented with a different narrative style. I hope it paid off.
I read your recent article on YA and politics (Vote Dumbledore? How YA fiction could swing the next election) and found it really interesting. Do you think it’s important for YA fiction to start conversations about politics in the younger generations and show different world views to encourage empathy with others? Did you consider this at all while writing or do you think it’s just natural for politics to be touched on when it influences so much?
I genuinely believe the roster of young adult authors working today are the most fearless in the whole industry when it comes to tackling difficult issues. I read both YA and adult books, and whenever I pick up a YA novel after finishing an adult title, I’m always struck by how much more progressive teen fiction is in terms of race, gender, sexuality, ableism, class… It makes me proud to sit on the YA shelf. (Not literally.) Young adult authors like Holly Bourne and Louise O’Neill are currently carving out new paths and digging deep into complex feminist issues. When gender equality – or lack thereof – was first brought to the forefront of teen literature, it dealt largely in broad brushstrokes, introducing readers to the central ideas behind the movement. Now we’re dissecting some of the more nuanced manifestations of misogyny, with Bourne tackling the portrayal of toxic romance tropes in Hollywood movies, and O’Neill waging war against rape culture in the social media generation.
In The Exact Opposite of Okay, I really wanted to take down slut-shaming and revenge porn, but I also wanted to weave in some seemingly innocuous themes – like the concept of the ‘Friend Zone’, and the problem with men who consider themselves ‘Nice Guys’ – and unpack why they can be just as damaging as the more overt symptoms of sexism. That stuff is political too. So yes, the novel was incredibly politically charged, but I believe all good fiction is. In Why I Write, George Orwell once wrote, ‘The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.’ (He also predicted an imminent pro-Hitler upswing within the left-wing intelligentsia, but I suppose nobody can get it right all the time.)
Finally, what are you currently reading and what are your most anticipated 2018 releases?
I’m currently reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and absolutely loving it! I also have The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath on audiobook for my walk to work. My most anticipated reads of the year are Not Even Bones by Rebecca Shaeffer (Dexter meets This Savage Song? Sign me up!) and The Nameless Queen by Rebecca McLaughlin, who was my extremely talented Pitch Wars mentor in 2015.
Laura Steven is an author and journalist from the northernmost town in England. Her writing has appeared in The i Paper, The Guardian and Buzzfeed, and The Exact Opposite of Okay, her YA debut was recently published by Egmont. By day, Laura works for Mslexia, a non-profit organisation supporting women writers. She has a BA in Journalism and an MA in Creative Writing, and her TV pilot Clickbait reached the final eight in British Comedy’s 2016 Sitcom Mission. Laura is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary and Media Inc.
The publishers of The Exact Opposite of Okay have been kind enough to offer one signed proof and three unsigned final copies of the book to giveaway.
Over on Twitter I am running a giveaway for these books with one lucky winner getting the signed proof and three runners up winning the final copies.
So head over to my Twitter to enter (UK entries only)