To celebrate Pride month here in the UK, I’m absolutely thrilled to introduce you to the brilliant author Simon James Green. Penned by none other than Love, Simon author Becky Albertalli as “…one of the most hilarious, heart-flippingly romantic, charmingly observant writers in the game right now.”, Simon first came onto to the writing scene back in 2017 with his hilarious and heartwarming first tale – Noah Can’t Even. He has since continued to entertain readers from tiny tots to young adults with his books of inclusiveness, awkwardness and hilarity. With his latest book You’re the One that I Want arriving in bookshops this month, now is the perfect time to delve into the wonderful world of escapist rom-com in book form!
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Simon on several book events and each time has been an absolute pleasure, as has witnessing the love that readers have for his books. When I started out as a bookseller there weren’t many mainstream LGBT+ books out there for children and teens but I’m very pleased to say that things are changing thanks to Simon and other LGBT+ authors out there. Not only are his books hilarious, entertaining and relatable for any reader who’s ever felt a little different or awkward whilst navigating the confusing maze of growing-up, but his endearing tales are most importantly a huge hug to readers who are part of the LGBT+ community and who are maybe in need of a friend to help them work things out, to identify with and to help feel heard and less alone. He deals with some important topics but with the perfect balance of care and humour which makes his signature style of books just the type that the world needs of more of! So without further ado, please meet the author himself…
How did you become an author and was it always something that you wanted to do?
I always loved writing, even from a very young age. I started my career in theatre, as a director, but during that time I was still always writing. The books came about after several rejected manuscripts, lots of hard work, and after taking things a bit more seriously by getting editorial feedback and attending writing workshops.
You’ve written a whole cast of awesome characters from Noah to Riley to Freddie and even the fabulous Frankie! Have you got a particular favourite character or one that’s been most fun to write?
Haha! That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! They’re all my favourites for different reasons. I’ll always love Noah because he was the first, and I love Riley because he’s a sort of younger version of Noah! Alex is sweet, Jack is great fun, Nate is someone I just want to hug and reassure it’ll all be OK, and who couldn’t love a dancing llama or camp flamingo? Honestly, it’s a pleasure spending time with all of them!
I personally love Noah Can’t Even, it was the first of your books that I read and it made me laugh, think and kept me entertained all the way to the end. It’s full of awkward yet hilarious teenage moments which I think we can all definitely identify with whatever our background, but it also has important topics weaved amongst the humour such as sexuality, family life and the social pressures that teenagers face. Having a book that teens can identify with in this way is so important. Did you have a book that did this for you when you were growing up?
Sadly, when I was at school section 28 was in force – a piece of legislation championed by the Conservative government that made it illegal to ‘promote’ homosexuality in schools – which basically meant no LGBT books in the school library. There’s a whole generation of people who never had access to books which would have made them feel less alone; it’s desperately sad and the legacy of that horrible legislation still echoes down the years. It’s also the reason why we’re still playing catch-up in the UK, compared to all the LGBT books that our US friends have put out – for years, there was no point in writing LGBT YA here, because you would never be able to get them stocked in school (or local) libraries, which is an important part of the market in terms of making the books commercials viable.
Talking of Noah, do you have any more misadventures planned for him?
That boy is often on my mind, and whilst I don’t have any immediate plans, I’m hopeful you’ll be hearing more from him soon!
Having real and diverse representation in books is such an important element for readers of every age. It not only (and most importantly) enables people to feel heard and to identify with, but it also creates awareness and understanding throughout society. It’s been amazing to see over the last few years an upturn in diverse books for children and adults alike. Have you got any good recommendations for LGBT+ books for different ages?
Picture Book: My Daddies! by Gareth Peter, illustarted by Garry Parsons (who also illustrates my Llama Glamarama and Fabulous Frankie books) is fantastic and loads of fun!
Middle Grade: I love the Better Nate Than Ever series by Tim Federle. It’s very funny and very sweet, so right up my street!
YA: Anything by William Hussey – Hideous Beauty and The Outrage are both brilliant.
Adult: The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain – such a charming, warm-hearted story, featuring an older gay man.
Non-fiction: Pride: The Story of the LGBT Equality Movement by Matthew Todd – knowledge of LGBT history can be woefully lacking, and this book is a must read for understanding just what the struggle has been, and the bravery and sacrifice of many older members of the LGBT community.
In your latest book You’re the One that I Want your shy protagonist Freddie finds himself in the world of theatre production after finding the confidence to embrace the philosophy of saying ‘yes’ to life. What inspired Freddie’s story and what can we expect from his coming-of-age tale of awkwardness, romance and adventures in the life of theatre?
The idea for this book came from (what I think) is a fairly universal feeling: that everyone else has their lives together, knows what they’re doing, and is doing a better job of life than you are. So while this is absolutely a book about embracing life, it’s also a celebration of being ordinary, and of learning to enjoy the smaller moments as much as the bigger ones. You can expect a very camp, drama-filled production of Grease, a lot of cute boys, plenty of swoony romance, and a lot of my experiences working in theatre and on teen TV shows for the BBC and C4!
You were part of the awesome Juno Dawson’s book Proud – a collection of short stories written by some of todays best YA authors in celebration of the LGBT+ community. Your story Penguins which is illustrated by Alice Osman of Heartstopper fame is one of many stories that makes up this pure celebration of a book! What was it like to be part of such a great project?
Proud was a fantastic project, and so great to have such a treasure trove of different stories in there, from every colour the rainbow. It was an honour to be asked to contribute and it’s so lovely to see the book now in so many school libraries.
Over the last year of lockdowns the nation turned to reading as a way of a much needed escape. Did you have any particular favourite lockdown reads?
I do – Eat, Gay, Love by Calum McSwiggan. It’s a travel memoir which follows Calum on a round-the-world trip – perfect when I couldn’t actually go anywhere myself! It’s a beautiful book, which has a lot to say about the LGBT community and the struggles they face, but also about how much love and support is out there.
Due to the pandemic unfortunately bookshops had to close their doors for most of the year. But now with some of the restrictions lifted, the smell of books and sights of fully stacked bookshelves has been reopened to bookworms all around the country once more! Have you got any independent bookshops that you’d recommend a visit to now that things are open again?
I’m a huge fan of Gay’s the Word – that’s definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in London.
Not many people can say that they’ve written books for young adults (Noah Can’t Even series, Alex in Wonderland, Heartbreak Boys & You’re the One that I Want), primary school children (The Life of Riley) as well as for little ones too (Fabulous Frankie & Llama Glamarama)! Which age group have you most enjoyed writing for?
They’re all enjoyable in different ways, but I do love writing middle-grade as I feel able to be a bit sillier and OTT with the humour, in a way that I just wouldn’t get away with in YA.
As an author what advice would you give to budding writers?
Find your voice. Find what it is about you that’s special and has something to say – and then say it.
What has been your most surreal moment of being an author?
Most recently, it was probably seeing Life of Riley on Blue Peter, when it was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award. Actually seeing your book on TV is quite a thing!
As a children’s bookseller I always love asking people, especially authors, what their favourite childhood books were. What was your most influential book(s) that sparked your love of reading?
Easy – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Its the book I loved as a teenager, and it’s the book that inspired me to write Noah Can’t Even.
If you could recommend the world just three books what would they be?
I’m going to pick 3 children’s books for this, otherwise it’s just too hard!
- A Dog’s Tale: Life Lessons for a Pup by Michael Rosen; illustrated by Tony Ross – such a beautiful, sweet, story about tackling life in a kind, open-hearted way – honestly, gives me a lump in my throat every time I read it.
- Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties by Humza Arshad & Henry White – a genuinely funny middle-grade, and I mean actually funny. So many books get promoted as ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ and in my experience, they rarely are. But this is. It’s brilliant.
- The Yearbook by Holly Bourne – I lapped up Holly’s brilliant latest novel – it’s a must for anyone who ever endured bullies and ‘popular kids’ at school – a very enjoyable take-down of that whole clique thing, with a heroine you’ll just adore.
And finally, if you could spend a day with any of your characters, who would it be and how would you most like to spend it?
Oh, it would have to be Noah. I’d take him for afternoon tea at The Savoy. I think he’d really like that. 🙂
I hope you’ve enjoyed this special Pride celebration blog today – a huge thanks to Simon for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you’re all well and that if you are celebrating Pride this month that you have the best and safest time in these covid times. And don’t forget You’re the One that I Want is out June 3rd, so keep a look out for it in your local bookshop! Stay safe and as ever, happy reading 🙂
If you would like to find out more about Simon and his books you can visit his website www.simonjamesgreen.com or find him over on Instagram and Twitter.
[Below I’ve included some LGBT+ charities that are a great source of support and information should you or a loved one need them]
– Stonewall – Mermaids – Albert Kennedy Trust – Gendered Intelligence – LGBT Foundation – Mind Out – The Proud Trust –
If you’d like to keep up to date with all my bookishness, you can find me over on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop
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