Challenging Typecasting as an Author

July 11, 2012 | By | 11 Replies More

Australian Author, Hazel Edwards has a series of Hippopotamus Books

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.

Authors of f2m: Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

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.

The cover of f2m: the boywithin

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.

Difficult Personalities by Hazel Edwards and Dr. Helen McGrath

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.

Authorpreneurship: The Business of Creativity, another non-fiction book by Hazel Edwards

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.

Most recently The Australian Society of Authors’ Keesing Press has published my book, Authorpreneurship: The Business of Creativity.

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.

Visit Hazel’s website or follow her on Twitter @muirmoir. See the f2m: the boy within video.

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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

Comments (11)

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  1. “Go Hazel!” is definitely the right phrase to use here. I think it’s wonderful that you not only transitioned from one genre of books to another, (and why not? some authors write both at once!) but also that you are tackling such a difficult subject. Nothing can stop you if you don’t let it. Keep charging forward and you will succeed in everything you do 🙂


    Patricia Carrigan
    Author, Antiserum

  2. Paul Collins says:

    Congratulations Hazel on yet another great book! You and Ryan must be chuffed at all the great reviews, not to mention the White Raven mention!

  3. this is fascinating! i have yet to write a book, but because i am interested in a variety of subjects and topics it’s never really occurred to be that A. i would be pigeon-holed, and/or “typecast” as a particular kind of author and/or relegated to one particular genre, and B. that i would have to address “audience-confusion” about how i express my craft.

    that said, from a marketing perspective, i do understand why one would need to be cognizant of the implications of being a sort of “catch-all” commentator, given how the current media climate works. and certainly as you said, being aware of the backlash/outrage while dealing with so-called backlash and sensitive materials.

    i suppose if one weren’t savvy about how to successfully cross-boundaries that it could be potentially “damaging” to one’s career if one’s agents, managers and publisher didn’t handle the PR too well.

    what i do like, is the fact that you have been able to express the breadth of your creativity while remaining true to your voice as a artist. i’ve always felt that there is no right or wrong way to promote or receive creative, artistic expression.

  4. sarahedodds says:

    Have just finished reading f2m. Thank-you for opening my eyes to what is too easily feared and misunderstood. I will never forget this story and although I may loan this book to others I will certainly demand it back!

  5. Many thanks for all your comments.Valuable that we can have an international exchange on a subject such as typecasting. Have linked to this under Interviews on my website.

  6. Phil Kettle says:

    Hazel Edwards has as an Author achieved so much. She is a leader in the world of writing, who thinks out of the square. I salute you Hazel, not only have you in your f2m touched on a subject that most people try to steer away, you have written in a totally honest,brave and entertaining way. Again Hazel you have showen why you are an Australian icon. Feel privileged to be able to call you a friend.

  7. Tanya Suffolk says:

    f2m informally educates, challenges assumptions and creates conversation about a topic that people generally avoid discussing. I’m sure that this education and conversation will help build understanding and empathy. Thank you Ryan for sharing a part of yourself through this book. Others will find light through your courage.

    Congratulations Hazel for demonstrating what a talented, eclectic author you are. I am glad you continue to challenge and surprise us.

  8. Pauline says:

    I believe that any contribution an author can make to promote the notion that all people should be judged on their worth as a person, regardless of race, religion or sex, deserves to be applauded.
    The fact that f2m was listed in the prestigious White Ravens catalogue which each year selects books from over 42 countries that promote tolerance and understanding shows that Hazel is such an author.

  9. Jeni Mawter says:

    Hazel Edwards is an Aussie Icon who has shared her joy of stories and storytelling with generations. Hazel writing is honest and brave and highly entertaining.

    Congratulations to a real authorpreneur!

  10. Good on you Hazel for showing how much you have acheived over the years. I have thoroughly enjoyed being one of your co-authors. If anyone is interested in viewing what we have done together, that info is available on both our websites.

  11. Lucie Stevens says:

    Great to see authors challenging genre-based typecasting. Go Hazel!

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