WELCOME TO GIRLFRIEND FICTION
Was born in the UK, but has lived and worked in Darwin for several years. He used to be a teacher and is now a writer of books including The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull.
Embarassing high school moment?
'I can’t remember one particular embarrassing incident, but here’s an anecdote that highlights the way schools have changed. The school I went to in the UK had been founded in something like 1454, around a hundred years before Shakespeare was born! I suspect that when I attended, some of the original teachers were still there. It was an all boys school. The teachers [all male] were ancient and wore academic gowns and mortar boards in class. The place swarmed with geriatric Batman look-alikes. I used to get involved in the school plays. Being an all-boys school, the smaller kids played the female roles. We were keeping up the traditions of the Elizabethan stage nearly 400 years after the old girl had kicked the bucket. One year, a progressive teacher [how did he get a job there?] invited the girls school to join us in a joint production. Older staff members had heart attacks and resigned.
'I remember quite vividly the day the girls turned up for rehearsals. Some boys passed out with excitement. We had heard of girls, naturally. Some of us had sisters. But girls in our school? Never! You could cut the testosterone-laden air. The girls themselves were very relaxed. Back then, as now, girls were much more emotionally mature. So they didn’t appear to take much notice of a bunch of spotty youths with jaws touching the floors and eyes on stalks. It took four rehearsals before any of us talked to a girl, which is quite difficult in a school production. Eventually, one of the girls asked me out! My first girlfriend. She dumped me after one date, I suspect on the grounds that an apparently gormless, awkward adolescent wasn’t just a surface feature. Who could blame her?'
Life at school
'I did enjoy school. English was my best subject, so I did senior studies in Science at which I was crap. Maybe I just like to make life difficult for myself.'
Are the characters in Cassie based on real people?
'I used to be a teacher, and the character of Cassie is based on a former student of mine called Cece, who has cerebral palsy. The school I taught at in Darwin had several students with severe learning problems. Cece stood out because she was full of humour and good will, and clearly enjoyed life to the full. She was confined to a wheelchair as she was quadriplegic, and she couldn't communicate in any of the ways we might consider 'normal'. She had very little control over her body, was at the mercy of seizures, and couldn't do much for herself.
Many c.p. sufferers have diminished intellectual capacity, because of attendant problems with the condition. But Cece was a normal, perhaps even gifted, student. What would it be like being a bright, intelligent 15 year old girl stuck in a body that doesn't work? I don't know how it would be possible to smile, but Cece did, and I wanted to imagine how that could be so. Of course, sometimes she would get really down when things weren't going her way, and she could be sulky. But for all that, the other students loved her – she was one of the most popular students in the school. I didn't want to write a book that was gloomy or depressing. I wanted it to be uplifting and positive – like Cece.'
What does Cece think of the book?
Cece wrote to me and said: 'Thank you for writing the book and basing a character on me. It's the first book I've read where one of the main characters has a disability.
'I enjoyed the last part of the book, where Cass is befriended by Holly and Amy. I haven't experienced that sort of friendship in real life and I've always wanted to have a friend my own age to share frustrations, music, crushes and girl gossip.
'I hope the book will encourage others to see the person before they see the disability. Better still, to see the person before the difference.'
What did you like reading as a teenager?
'That was such a long time ago, I have difficulty remembering… Of course, there was no such thing as Young Adult literature back then [well, there was, but it wasn’t packaged as such], so I just dipped into the sea of reading at random. Basically, I read everything I could get my hands on. I still do.'