1. Although all the locations have fictional names, the book is unofficially set in Nottingham (where I was born and grew up). The Cloverdale estate where Leo lives in based very loosely on the estate where my dad grew up, and David’s neighbourhood, Eden Park, is inspired by one of Nottingham’s posher areas. Tripton-on-Sea, the seaside town David and Leo visit, is mash-up of Southend-on-Sea in Essex and Margate in Kent.
2. In the karaoke scene, Leo originally sings ‘We Are Young’ by Fun (featuring Janelle Monae). However we really struggled to contact Fun’s record label to ask permission to reprint the lyrics. Instead my publishers and I decided it would be most straightforward if I just wrote my own lyrics, which was actually really, really hard!
3. The book was without a title for AGES. Then one day I realized there were lots of reference to being ‘normal’ and what this means, so I started to riff on that. I thought about ‘Ways to be Normal’, ‘How to be Normal’, ‘Being Normal’ etc., before coming up with the final title.
4. I love old black and white films and in an earlier draft, David was obsessed with silent films and in particular, a silent film star called Louise Brooks, upon who he modelled his female persona. In the end, the plot line was getting in the way of the main story, so I reluctantly ditched it. I still love the idea of a silent film obsessed teenager though, so I may recycle the idea in another book.
5. In early drafts of the book, the reader is aware of the mysterious circumstances of Leo’s appearance at Eden Park School from the very beginning. It was my editor (the incredible Bella Pearson) who suggested keeping the reader (and not just David) in the dark until later in the novel. This turned out to be a very smart move!
6. Like David, I’m rubbish at Maths!
7. David’s chosen girls name is Kate. Someone recently asked whether I chose it to reference Titanic (as in Kate and Leo). I didn’t at all (it was a happy accident) and hadn’t even noticed until they pointed it out. In general I don’t agonize over the naming of my characters. Names tend to pop into my head the moment I start writing and stick. I didn’t twig that David shares his name with one of my very best friends, until said friend asked me about it.
8. The chapter I most enjoyed writing was the one that takes place at Becky’s party. I didn’t get invited to parties like that when I was a teenager so I’m clearly just living vicariously through my characters, which I guess is part of the fun of being a YA author. My next book opens with a party too. I’m all about the fictional shindigs.
9. Because I’m an actor as well as a writer, lots of people ask me what character I’d ideally like to play if the book gets turned into a film. I usually say Jenny, Leo’s therapist, but it actually might be more fun to play someone a bit more colourful, like Becky’s Mum. She’s only in the book briefly, but people tend to remember her for some reason, maybe because we all know someone who has a mum a bit like her.
10. When I finished the book, I was pretty sure it was a stand-alone and I’d never write a sequel but recently, I’ve found myself wondering about David and Leo and what they might be up to. I have no immediate plans to put pen to paper, but wouldn’t rule out catching up with them again in a few years, maybe when they’re at university!
Summary from Goodreads
Two boys. Two secrets.
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.
When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…