As a big fan of Dawn O’Porter (can you be any other type of fan other than a ‘big fan’?) I was rather excited when I learnt she was writing a book. However, I can’t have been the only one who felt a bit ‘meh’ when it was revealed it was a novel for teenagers. Come on, don’t teenagers get enough? Sure, they’ve got all that angst, but could they let the adults have the cool literature?
However, I needn’t have worried. Waterstones aren’t lying when they class it as a ‘Not just for kids’ read – like the equally enjoyable Haribo sweets, Paper Aeroplanes is for the grown-ups too. I was lucky enough to catch up with Dawn at the Liverpool signing of her debut novel to chat about how the story came about and all things Paper Aeroplanes.
This is your first ever fiction book – was writing a novel always an ambition or was it something you just stumbled into?
“It was the thing I wanted to do at 16 but I just fell into TV and found myself writing non fiction and journalism. To write a novel, I always just presumed I’d sit and do it when I retired. But then I got a book deal!! I had a deadline and had to get it done. If I hadn’t got that deal and not seen the novel as an actual job, I’d have probably been writing my book for years and years and years and whether I actually wrote it or not, who knows? I needed that kick up the bum.”
Based loosely on Dawn’s own childhood experiences, Paper Aeroplanes is a gorgeous coming of age tale of two girls, Renee and Flo, who really shouldn’t be friends. Set in 90′s Guernsey, the nostalgic novel tackles all the classic teenage traumas; periods, family woes, boys, friendship and underage drinking. The subject of death also features and knowing that Dawn lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of 6, it makes for at times emotional reading. Dawn manages to balance out sensitive chapters with bursts of humour, which means you’ll be chuckling through the tears if you’re a crier.
The book is based loosely on your childhood – which character do you relate to more, Renee or Flo?
“Renee is obviously more me because her family structure is like mine – I lived with my grandparents until I was ten, she’s living with them at 16 – that’s me projecting what that may have been like. It’s really inspired by my family structure and she’s the same kind of person I am – the kind of person who’d very easily make a mistake and be really, really sorry. It was the friendship I always wished I’d had at 15. So the story didn’t happen and the people aren’t real but it’s inspired about how I felt as a teenager and what I would have liked to have happened I guess.”
Paper Aeroplanes is primarily aimed at teenagers – what was your favourite book growing up?
“‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ By Jeanette Winterson. It’s about a young girl who has a very strict catholic mother and the relationship between them is awful; her mother is very unloving and very unsporting. I didn’t have a mum growing up; I loved the story of a young girl who couldn’t rely on her mum as that’s kind of how I felt. Renee’s mum had died so to kill Flo’s off would have been traumatic so just followed the relationship I’d seen in ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ (for Flo & her mother) and they’re both in the same situation really.”
Any plans for any literature just for the grown ups?
“I was writing about two women in their 30’s and then I got a call from a Young Adult publisher asking if I’d like to write for them. I’d never considered writing for kids before, I’m not very child friendly. The story I was writing worked the same if they were 15 or 30 so I just changed the ages!
I didn’t write it any different to how it would have been for adults, I didn’t think about teenagers when writing it – I thought about female friendship. I don’t have a young audience yet, so most of the readers have been 25 plus and the response has been amazing.
These two books are young adult but I’d like to keep writing about these two girls all their life. I’ve already kind of mapped out the 3rd book which is them in their 20’s and the 4th which is them in their 30’s. They’ll obviously be aimed at adults because the characters will have grown up. The idea is to keep the audience growing with the book that would be ideal.”
It’s impossible to read Paper Aeroplanes as a tale of intense female friendship and not think back to your teenage years and reminisce. Caroline Flack sums it up perfectly, with her quote on the back of the book; “Anyone who has ever been a teenage girl will love this book.” I could not agree more.
You might also enjoy: Interview: Dawn O’Porter