this can never not be real
content information and faqs
SPOILER FREE FAQS
First things first. If you or someone you love have been affected by terrorism, you can find information and support links here.
Are there content warnings for this book?
There are, however due to the nature of these I’ve had to put them in the spoiler section. A simplified, non-spoilery version would be: this book is set during a terrorist attack and does not shy away from describing the reality of that experience. Violence is rarely described in detail, but the aftermath of violence is, with all that that may entail. Other non-spoilery warnings for internalised fatphobia, some discussion of racist micro aggressions, some discussion of Islamophobia.
Are the terrorists in this book Islamic extremists?
They are not. Very little is said about the terrorists, but that much is made clear, and isn't a spoiler. Islamophobia as linked to reports of terrorism is something that’s acknowledged but not dwelt on in this story. I want Muslim readers to be able to feel as safe as possible when they read this book.
How did you go about writing non own-voices characters?
The term ‘own voices’ is used to describe an author writing about a character with whom they have a shared experience – for example, an author who is a wheelchair user writing a book where the main character also uses a wheelchair.
This Can Never Not Be Real is told from the point of view of five different characters, and while I share something in common with each of them, I can’t share all their experiences. I don’t share an ethnicity with Violet or March, and I don’t have experience of hearing loss, as Ellie does, although I do have personal experience of living with disability and major surgery. In writing characters whose experiences I don’t share, I start with research, and then seek feedback both from professional sensitivity/inclusivity readers and from friends who do share these experiences. It’s never going to be possible for one character to be representative of an entire community, but it’s very important to me that the way I write my characters shouldn't be harmful.
At the same time, writing a book where all five narrative characters were just like me would also feel inappropriate. My characters will always be diverse, because my world is.
Where did you get the idea for This Can Never Not Be Real?
The idea of telling the story of a terrorist attack solely from the survivors perspective is something that has been with me for a very long time. Like most of us, I find the media coverage of terrorism very hard to deal with sometimes, and as an anxious person it can be easy to overdose on news, which is usually focused on the terrorists themselves: their history, their motives, their hatred.
I started to find that the best way for me to process these events was to look for the survivors' stories. In the heart of tragedy, this was where you’d find true humanity in tales of unbelievable strength, hope and courage. I wanted to write about ordinary people living through the extraordinary, because the reality is that terror attacks don’t stop with the terrorists. They don’t stop with those who lose their lives, but are carried with the vast majority of people who live through them and have their lives changed because of them. That’s what I hoped to explore.
Is this based on a specific event?
No, and it was written before the attack at Manchester Arena (books take a long time to get published). As mentioned above, I’ve always read an extensive amount of reporting about attacks like these, and particularly survivor’s stories, but I didn’t re-read or reference anything while writing this. I specifically avoided doing so, as I don’t want to recreate anyone’s personal trauma. All events, locations and people in the book are fictional and any resemblances entirely coincidental.
How long did it take you to write the book?
One month, initially. I have to stress that I don’t usually write quite this quickly! After having the idea floating around in my head for a few years, I woke up one night with the whole story mapped out in my head. I sat up, wrote out a couple of pages of plot, and then wrote almost non-stop until it was done. This book really, really felt like it wanted to be written. Of course, once the first draft was done, the editing took much longer.
You support fat positivity, but there’s a very self-conscious character in this book. How come?
I absolutely support fat positivity. I’m plus sized myself, and get very tired of reading books and watching shows with lazy stereotypes of fat people in them. Fat isn’t a moral quality and it certainly doesn’t make anyone lazy, stupid, greedy, unloveable or evil, as a shocking number of books casually imply.
I’ve written two books under the pen name Birdie Milano which feature a bold, beautiful, incredibly fat positive character: Kayla Flores. I’d love more people to check them out, and if you’d like to you can find them here.
However, from my own experience, I’m very aware that it’s not always the case that people living in fat bodies are going to feel great about themselves every day. Society often isn't very nice to fat people, and it’s all too easy to take on those negative views yourself. This is often called internalised fatphobia - where a fat person feels bad about themselves because society expects them to.
As I mentioned above, it’s not possible for one character to represent an entire community. Kayla represented me at my most fat positive, and Peaches reflects some of the more negative feelings that it’s an ongoing quest to work through. I think it’s important for fat people to see positive representations, but I also think it matters that the harder side of existing while fat is represented too. And for people to see that bright, brilliant, beautiful people like Peaches can end up very damaged by how they’re treated. I believe that ultimately Peaches is a fat positive character, but a work in progress. I will always include positive representations of fat people in my books.
But is it realistic to be self conscious about your body in a life-or-death situation?
From direct personal experience, I can sadly say yes. Internalised fatphobia can do a real number on you, folks. if you’re dealing with it, can I suggest you check out some fabulous, fat positive instagrammers? Personal faves include: @jessontheplussize @poppyadams @laurennicole @stephanieyehboa @chloeincurve_ and never let anyone, including yourself, make you think you’re not good enough because you take up a few more inches in a room. You're a good person and those are great inches.
Is there LGBTQ+ rep in this book?
There is! Again, you might want to check out my previous books for younger readers for some very soft, very queer characters. At least two characters in this book are part of the LGBTQ+ community, although this isn’t a book specifically about the experience of being queer. One character is a lesbian, and the other hasn’t defined themselves yet.
I’m also part of the LGBTQ+ community. I wrote a little about queer representation in books here.
What does the title mean?
This Can Never Not Be Real is a line from the book, and it refers to the fact that when we only see terrible things on TV they can feel impossibly distant, as if they could never really happen to us. We all have a strange sense of our own immortality. When you’ve lived through an experience like this, it can never 'not be real' for you again.
Fascinating fact! My original title for this book was The Lucky Ones. Titles often change during the publishing process.
Is there a playlist for this book?
I don't listen to music while I write, but some songs I listened to a lot in the spaces between writing were:
Wait for it - Hamilton OBC
Cold War - Janelle Monae
The Greatest - Sia
The Lucky Ones - Bif Naked
Stronger Than a Lion - Delta Rae
Never Let Me Go - Florence and the Machine
I of the Storm - Of Monsters and Men
Is this book just really bleak?
Gosh I hope not! This Can Never Not Be Real doesn’t shy away from describing what can happen in the worst possible scenario. But to me this is a book about strength and hope, all that we’re capable of overcoming, and the deathlessness of love.
Okay, so where are those spoilery content warnings?
Content warnings for:
Character death, Suicide, Parental death, Blood, Guns, Explosives, Graphic injuries, Medical description, Internalised fatphobia, Racist microaggressions (briefly discussed), Islamophobia (briefly discussed). If you find something you think I should have warned for, please get in touch.
Has your mum died?
Yes. This question might look a little bit startling just sitting out here like this, but dead parents are huge (big, huge, really bigly big) in YA fiction in particular, and after my mum died I wanted to know two things when I picked up a book: 1. If a characters' parent died, so I could avoid reading it when I was feeling fragile, and 2. if the author had experienced the same loss, or if they were just talking about what they imagined it might be like. So, full disclosure:
This Can Never Not Be Real is the last book I wrote while my mum was still alive. After she died, I revisited and rewrote sections of the book dealing with this subject.