Simon James Green is the author of ‘Noah Can’t Even’(Scholastic Fiction) and the upcoming ‘Noah Could Never’.
Here he talks about what’s in store for Noah and his boyfriend Harry, the need for diversity in YA books and offers an insight into the process he goes through when planning, drafting and writing a book…
Without giving too much away, could you tell us a little about your new book, ‘Noah Could Never’? What new adventures await Noah and Harry?
Noah and Harry have gone from friends to boyfriends, but is Noah ready for the difference? It doesn’t help that a group of French exchange students have descended on Little Fobbing – including sexy Pierre Victoire, who appears to have his eye on Harry. But that’s not all. Noah appears to be being followed by mysterious strangers in a black car! Is it because: Noah’s dad and secret half-brother have stolen gran’s diamonds? His PE teacher is getting suspicious cash infusions from Russia? A drag queen is hiding out at Noah’s house after a bare-knuckled drag feud? Or, none of the above?
How has the relationship between Noah and Harry developed in ‘Noah Could Never’?
The sequel explores what it means to be in a relationship, and how that’s different from simply being mates. It also tackles a lot of Noah’s insecurities about having a boyfriend – particularly around his body image worries. He’s seen all these pics of buff guys on gay websites and he thinks ‘Oh god, do I need to look like that?!’ It’s a real problem for him and it drives a lot of his anxiety around Harry.
Noah’s relationship with his Nan is a particularly moving part of the story – will she be appearing again in your new novel?
Oh yes! I love gran too, so we certainly see more of her. She’s back with more advice – some helpful, some less so, and Noah’s attempts to help her get into a more suitable care home are a large part of the plot.
‘Noah Can’t Even’ manages to brilliantly capture all the pain and embarrassment of the teenage years – how much of it is autobiographical?
The plot isn’t autobiographical particularly, but I think a lot of the humour comes from Noah’s character, and, painful as it is to admit it, he is quite a lot like me. So, in terms of Noah’s way of looking at things, yes, it’s autobiographical. And there are some moments that are loosely based on real life that I embellished and used as well. Everyone thinks the start of chapter one is based on some mortifying teenage experience. It isn’t. Thank god.
I loved the scene where Noah and Harry kiss for the first time because it brilliantly captures the giddiness and excitement of first love and also Noah’s terrible experience in assembly, with the banana, which manages to be painful and amusing at the same time. What was your favourite scene or chapter to write in ‘Noah Can’t Even’ and do you have a favourite scene/ moment in ‘Noah Could Never’?
In the first book, the scene where Noah tries to make Sophie a cup of tea was my favourite to write. It’s a few pages of gruesome detail about how everything he does is thwarted and I enjoyed the fact it was such a small, simple thing – in theory any way. In Noah Could Never there is a scene involving some baked cheese. You’ll know it when you read it. It was an utter joy to write! That said, I do always enjoy writing any scene that has both Noah and Harry in it. They’re so cute together, it’s always fun.
Noah’s mother and father are wonderful creations – despite being totally grotesque and selfish at times, I found myself loving them and rooting for them – what are you feelings about Noah’s parents?
I agree that dad is definitely a bad sort, and is only out for himself. What’s interesting is that Noah doesn’t really see that at first. His mum is entirely seen through Noah’s eyes, and he’s not the most reliable of narrators, in terms of how he views other people. I actually think his mum does her best. She’s tried to work hard and make money and keep a roof over their heads, and I don’t think she’s had an easy life. The Beyoncé tribute act is her escape – something to take her away from her mundane life. I think as Noah gets older he will gradually see that mum isn’t all that bad at all – and is probably a lot better than a lot of other parents, even if she is a bit unconventional.
With new YA novels like ‘Release’ by Patrick Ness and ‘History is all you left me’ by Adam Silvera, do you think there is a shift in children’s and YA’s publishing at the moment to reflect a more diverse society? How important is it, do you think, to have novels for children and teenagers that showcase a wide range of characters and storylines from different backgrounds and communities?
Yes, it feels like publishing is very open to LGBTQ+ characters and stories at the moment, and they’re selling and people are excited about them. What’s lovely is that these books are no longer relegated to a niche shelf headed ‘Gay Fiction’ but are out on the tables like all the other books – and quite right too! It’s vital that children and teens see themselves in books, so diversity is crucial. But it’s not just about gay teenagers (for example) seeing themselves. It’s about all teenagers exploring those ideas and coming to understand them; realising that whatever our supposed differences, we’re all alike. With understanding comes empathy and that leads to open minds, inclusivity and respect, and I think YA fiction has an important part to play in that process.
I think ‘Noah Can’t Even’ manages to be so much more than just a ‘gay book’ – it’s a great coming-of-age story and an insightful look at family dynamics – what did you set out to achieve when you wrote it?
Thank you! And yes, exactly that really. I never wanted the book to just be about coming out, because you’re never just coming out. There’s always other stuff going on in your life, whether that’s exams, family problems, health issues – life is often a complicated mess. The family angle was an important part of that, but so too was the wider Little Fobbing community, which is full of problems for poor Noah.
What inspired you to write ‘Noah Can’t Even’? Were there any books/films/experiences that inspired you?
The Adrian Mole books (which I loved as a teenager) were a huge influence, but other than that, I just wrote the sort of book that I would want to read with the sort of humour that I find funny. And I really wanted an LGBTQ+ book with a happy, positive outcome – not one where the gay kid ends up dead or desperately unhappy.
A lot of the characters in the story hate Little Fobbing and are desperately trying to get away from it – why did you decide to set the story here? How do you think the story might have changed if it was set in, say, London?
It’s that small town thing, which I think makes everything feel more intense, and where you feel like every move you make is seen and judged. I grew up in a small town, so that’s why I set the book there. London, like any major city, is a place (generally) where you can be who you want and no one really cares. I didn’t feel that the level of anonymity London gives you would work for this story – I wanted Noah to fell the pressure, the weight of judgement from other people.
There’s an obvious love of mystery throughout ‘Noah Can’t Even’ in the references to Poirot, Agatha Christie and Jessica Fletcher and in the structure of the story – where does this come from?
I LOVE mystery stories, always have done. I really enjoy the way you structure them, and I love setting up red herrings, but my favourite thing is putting a load of seemingly loose ends out there and then tying them up pleasingly in the final chapter. It’s not a proper mystery unless you do that, in my opinion! A lot of TV shows drive me mad because they’ll stuff a load of plot points in there to muddy the waters, that turn out to have no bearing at all on the final outcome. That’s cheating. And it’s lazy writing.
Where do you write? What does a typical day look like when you’re writing?
I have a small office at the back of the house. A typical day for me is to get up around 7:30am and be at my desk for around 8:45. I’ll quickly check any urgent emails, but then write until lunchtime. In the afternoon, it will depend. If things are going well, I’ll continue writing until 6 or so, if not, I’ll catch up on social media and publicity stuff, and maybe, just maybe, pop to the gym. I do keep things flexible though – if it’s not happening, it’s not happening, and I’ll go for a walk, or do something else instead. There’s no point in forcing yourself to write.
As a teacher who, obviously, tries to teach children how to write, I’m always interested in the writing and editing process for an author. What does the writing process look like for you? Do you write a whole chapter and then edit it? What advice would you give to young writers?
I work from an overall synopsis that I plan first. Planning is important for me, because I tend to write complex plots, and I can’t really improvise too much of that – I need to work out where the set-ups are and when the pay-offs happen. I spend a long time with bits of paper everywhere, scrawling down ideas, links, connections, character ideas etc. But I am more flexible with the emotional stuff, and I whilst I have a plan for the overall emotional arc of the story, I don’t pre-empt how the characters get there. For me, some of the best stuff happens when I’m just writing, and too much planning stifles the creativity, so it’s a balance. Eventually I then start to write a chapter. I try to get a first draft done before going back over anything and editing. This first draft is always terrible and no one sees it – no one. But I’ll rework it, and shape it, until it’s ready for my editor to take a look… and then there’s always a heap of notes and new ideas to take on board.
My advice for young writers… write the sort of book you would want to read, and the story you want to tell. Enjoying the process is the most important thing, not just because it’s a long journey, but because if you enjoy it, that will shine through every word.
I read recently that both of your books have been optioned for TV – firstly is this true? And secondly, who, in your ideal world, would play Noah?
Yes – Urban Myth Films bought the TV rights a few months ago. They’re the same team who have been responsible for shows like Sugar Rush, Merlin, Misfits, Crazyhead and Atlantis, so I feel like Noah’s in very good hands with them. It’s a long journey in terms of developing the project and pitching it, so fingers crossed. My personal preference with casting Noah and Harry would be to find unknowns, and use ‘names’ for the other characters, but it’s usually the broadcaster who has the final say in matters like this, so it would be up to them.
I can certainly see Noah and his family making a fantastic TV show or film. How do you think your experience as a screenwriter and director has impacted upon your work as an author?
It’s both a positive and negative thing. On the plus side, I never struggle to write dialogue, and I think screenwriting has taught be to be quite efficient with the storytelling. But it also means I tend to leave out a lot of narrative exposition and description, which is usually one of the major notes I get from my editor. On screen, so much is added by the actors interpreting the lines and the director deciding what to show visually in order to help tell the story. But in a novel, you obviously have to get all that stuff down on the page.
Do you have any plans to write a third novel in the series? What do you envisage might happen?
Hard to say at this point. Book two finishes in a nice place, but I certainly have more Noah stories I could write, and it would be lovely to see how he develops through the end of Year 11 and into the sixth form. So, I think that’s a ‘wait and see’ situation really – it’s ultimately up to my publisher, Scholastic.
When can we expect ‘Noah Could Never’ to hit the shops?
June 7th 2018!
Finally, can you describe your new novel ‘Noah Could Never’ in three words?
Riotous. Funny. Warm.
You can find more out about Simon and his books here: http://www.simonjamesgreen.com/