“You’ve co-written a YA novel about transitioning gender! But I thought you only wrote nice children’s picture books like ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’?”
I’m seen as a mainstream, Australian children’s author, especially as I’m now a grandmother. I have been typecast as a children’s picture book writer, and my regular readers are surprised when I write on other topics.
Why isn’t it acceptable for an author to write about other topics? Surely authors provide insight into different ways of thinking for any aged reader. And in any genre!
Yes, I did write the There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake series of picture books, which have become a nationally screened film.
But I’ve also co-written about transitioning gender. The novel itself is fiction, but my co-author, Ryan Kennedy, has transitioned from female to male (ftm), which makes this YA novel an international “first” by a transgender, ftm co-author.
I have challenged typecasting before. I’ve co-written adult non-fiction about “Difficult Personalities,” including sociopaths; I’ve been an Antarctic expeditioner and written about science from a non-scientific perspective; and I’ve written YA fiction about stalking, religious prejudice, and China (not all in one book though!).
So why is the subject of transitioning gender so different? Is it because readers fear the unknown? The subject might be sensationalised in recent sports media, but sympathetic handling in fiction enables distancing and discussion for book groups. f2m: the boy within is a “coming of age” story with punk music. Skye, our 18-year-old main character, has a family and friends with a realistic range of reactions.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of having very different books out in the same period. Media outlets, 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. Fair enough, but I think it needs to be understood that both stories are about imaginative problem solving, but for different age groups. f2m: the boy within is where Skye transitions into a male called Finn. This is a medically correct, but formerly taboo subject. However, it is equally valid to write about, and requires the same skills as creating a fantastic, imaginary friend who eats cake on a roof.
You may wonder why I consider f2m: the boy within the most important of my 200 published titles. Neither Ryan nor I could have written it alone. Completing the manuscript took us a year and forty drafts, working online because Ryan lives in New Zealand and I am in Melbourne, which is a two-hour time difference. I knew Ryan as a family friend when he was eleven years old and presenting as a girl. I now know him as a happily married man of 34 and as a great co-author with whom to work. I have no trouble using the appropriate pronoun when talking about him.
Years ago, I co-wrote Difficult Personalities with psychologist Dr. Helen McGrath, 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 that there could have been a mismatch, and it’s nobody’s fault?
At a recent festival, a neatly uniformed Catholic secondary student shyly approached me and told me that “Our teacher threw that book of yours into the bin. She said it was disgusting. Why?” Tactfully, I explained that books are a vicarious way of seeing from the perspective of another’s life, for the length of the book, so there is more tolerance for differences in people. Unintentionally, that fearful teacher provoked much greater interest in reading by the class.
In addition, that anecdote provoked a couple of film-maker/psychologists to make a documentary on reactions to f2m: the boy within and the international impact of social media on it. YA (Young Adult) bloggers reviewed , tweeted and recommended our book internationally much faster than conventional print reviews. Getting listed in the White Ravens top YA 250 novels that year meant our book gained international interest very quickly. Also our NZ book launch with me present on web cam from Australia attracted media interest, as did the YouTube clip of Ryan’s speech at the NZ book launch.
What’s the common thread to my writing? Problem-solving. Whether the solver is a fantastic hippo on a rooftop, a creator trying to juggle a business, or an author trying to share ideas, problem-solving is the core theme of my books.
Hazel Edwards believes writers are in the business of creativity and that their intellectual property should be valued. She offers e-books and hints for aspiring writers.
Category: Australian Women Writers, Being a Writer, Contemporary Women Writers, Multicultural Writers, On Writing, US American Women Writers, Women Writers, Women Writers Across Cultures, Women Writing Fiction