Q & A 'Me and Mr J'
A version of this first appeared on the brilliant With Love for Books blog.
Your book Me and Mr J contains upsetting bullying scenes. Why did you write about bullying?
Bullying never goes away, does it? I’m sure even cave-kids were at it. And I think with the advent of cyber bullying, it comes home too. Reading about teenagers who’d committed suicide after being targeted online horrified me and made me realise it’s an even bigger problem than when I was young. I did cyber awareness training through work and was completely shocked how trolling and predatory behavior has become embedded in teenagers’ lives in such a comparatively short space of time. As Lara says in the book, it’s like having your bully’s beady eyes mounted on the wall of your bedroom.
Some of the scenes made me cry, did you feel like that when you wrote about Lara?
Yes, definitely. I think she needed to be having a terrible time generally in order for the plot to develop. If her mum hadn’t worked for Molly’s parents; if her cousin hadn’t moved away; if her dad wasn’t having financial problems… then she probably wouldn’t have got involved in a doomed relationship with her teacher. It had to be a kind of “perfect storm” of circumstances that led her to throw rationality out of the window. Poor girl, she had a terrible time. I think that’s why it was important to keep her sense of humour. I wanted to show she wasn’t being ground down.
What kind of advice do you/would you give girls like Lara?
a) If you have to keep a relationship hidden, then you almost certainly shouldn’t be in it.
b) TELL SOMEONE. You really shouldn’t keep things to yourself. Bullies are never as powerful as you think.
Me and Mr J makes the reader have conflicting emotions, was this intentional?
Yes, definitely. I didn’t want to write anything too predictable and I think the thing that’s shocked me most is reader reactions to the ending. I was prepared for people to find it a difficult topic. I was very prepared for the knee jerky “you can’t write about this!” outrage. BUT what I wasn’t prepared for was the number of people who wanted there to be a happy ever after. I guess in every book, there’s a head ending and a heart ending and when they’re in conflict, that makes for an interesting-if unsettling-read.
I think your book shows young girls who are desperate for a little bit of love and care what could happen to them and what the consequences are, but it also shows parents that they should pay attention to their children. The story never becomes moralistic, it's actually the complete opposite which for me is one of the reasons that the book is so good. Was it hard to write it like this?
Yes. I knew writing the whole book from Lara’s perspective would be controversial. But I didn’t want to patronise the readers or be the morality police. Everyone knows it’s wrong, it’s illegal for a start! So going into it with that as a given, I wanted to show how it might happen. We all know it shouldn’t but the newspaper stories show us that it does and that’s what I wanted to explore: why a girl would get involved in a situation that could only have an unhappy ending.