Welcome back to another author interview! I can’t continue with this post until I remind everyone how important all our efforts our right now and how they should be directed to the Black Lives Matter movement first and foremost! Please keep educating yourself, signing petitions, sharing links, donating if you can and doing anything at all to help the cause! It’s so important to make noise right now, especially for Black trans lives that have been shockingly ignored by the media. Here is a link to a list of petitions that have not yet reached their goals and need your help!
Today we have the wonderful William Hussey for an interview, author of the recently released Hideous Beauty—which you can order from Book Depository here!
William Hussey is an award-winning author of books for children and Young Adults. As a gay man and a visiting author, he has spoken to hundreds of LGBTQ+ students worldwide. Hearing their stories of modern intolerance, prejudice and the tragic consequences this has can lead to inspired him to write Hideous Beauty.
Hi William! Congrats on the publication of Hideous Beauty last month. Now this isn’t your first novel – but what makes it different to everything else you’ve written?
Thank you so much for having me!
Well, Hideous Beauty is my first LGBTQ love story/mystery. All my previous books have been very plot-driven YA/Middle Grade supernatural adventures with little of the story devoted to the main character’s sexuality or gender identity. I had always wanted to write a book like this but, when I first started in the industry a decade ago, very few such books were being published.
It was while I was taking a hiatus from writing to care for my late Mum that an avalanche of wonderful queer teen books started to hit the shelves. Authors like Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, John Green and others showed me that publishing was now welcoming the kind of intimate book I wanted to write.
In Hideous Beauty we have what I hope is a very heart-warming, swoony love story wrapped up in a proper twisty, turny mystery. So it is plot-driven in a sense, but the issues I wanted to address – identity, secrets, grief, insincere acceptance of LGBTQ people, and the redeeming power of first love – are at the centre of the narrative.
I’m currently reading it and loving it! Grief plays a big part in this novel. Were there any scenes in particular you were writing that you really felt for your characters? Any scenes you found difficult to write?
I cried a LOT while writing this book. I still cry when reading certain sections of it. I wrote Hideous Beauty in the immediate months after losing my Mum to lung cancer and sepsis. I had cared for her during her last illness and the grief was terrible. It was still raw when I was creating Dylan and his reaction to the death of the person he loved most in the world. In fact, the book really was part of the grieving process for me. It helped me understand the trauma I was going through. In the end, I came to the conclusion Dylan does towards the epilogue of the book – that all we can do is move on, carrying our loved ones with us as best we can, honouring them by living the way they believed we could.
One moment in the book absolutely comes from real life. I went to see my Mum in the funeral home and I touched her hand while she lay in her coffin. In the book there is a scene just like this. Dylan describes the coldness of that touch as like nothing on earth. It’s the coldness not of earth or stone or wind but of all the moments that could have been and now can’t ever be. I wept and wept writing that scene. I think it’s the most truthful thing I’ve ever written.
But as painful as these moments are in real life – as painful as they are to write – they inform us who we are. They scar us, leave us hurting, but hopefully they also make us gentler and more empathetic people. What I experienced losing my Mum? I don’t know. I poured it into Hideous Beauty and I’m happy to say it does seem to connect with people.
That is such a lovely way to think. LGBTQ representation is so important, especially in YA fiction. As a queer author yourself, do you feel like it’s your responsibility to tell queer stories?
Absolutely. Representation is crucial in children’s literature. I only wish there had been such books when I was a very confused and unhappy teenager. It might have saved me years of needless heartache and self-loathing. I grew up in a rural part of the UK and under the shadow of Section 28: teachers couldn’t tell me that being gay was OK even if they wanted to. The only gay people I saw were stereotypes in sitcoms, caricatures to be ridiculed. Everything I experienced in my life told me it was at best undesirable to be gay, probably even dangerous.
And yes, things have moved on, but not everywhere. I think some people in big cities have the idea that pretty much all our battles have been won and that therefore LGBTQ people should shut up about our rights. But let me tell you, queer teens in rural Britain face just the same prejudice and threats they have always faced. Most of the UK isn’t like London and Manchester and Brighton. Most of it is still actively hostile to gay people. It’s horrible to say, but there it is.
And so representation in books and films and art generally is just as crucial as it’s always been, especially for kids who live in isolated, homophobic environments. Seeing ourselves reflected in literature can still, in fact, save lives.
Absolutely! Wise words! Speaking of LGBTQ rep, what are some of your favourite queer characters in any books or TV/films?
Oh goodness, this could be a very long list, so I’ll try to contain myself to a couple of examples. Firstly, in terms of TV, I love how Drag Race has become such a huge hit with queer and straight audiences alike. Can you even imagine such a thing a decade ago?!
From a British perspective, I also have to give massive respect to Russell T Davies. Those wonderful characters in QUEER AS FOLK hit at just the right time for me – they opened my eyes to a world I wanted to be a part of and did it in a way with humour and compassion. He was also doggedly determined in introducing queer characters during his tenure as showrunner on DOCTOR WHO. I think we’ll look back in a few decades and realise just how important that representation was for a whole generation.
More recently, I love how Simon Spier has very quietly become an icon for kids. I hate the word ‘normalise’, I’m sure there’s a better way to phrase it, but writers like Becky Albertalli have created literary spaces where people can widen their horizons with characters like Simon. Similarly, Simon James Green has done the same thing with his Noah Grimes books and with Alex in ALEX IN WONDERLAND.
When I was a confused teenager, I was also given a battered copy of Armistead Maupin’s TALES OF THE CITY. Just like with QUEER AS FOLK, those magical characters of Anna Madrigal and Mouse and all the others at 28 Barbary Lane spoke very deeply to me. In fact, I hate to think what might have become of me if I hadn’t encountered characters and books like these.
Yes!! Russell T Davies is incredible. If you had to do something different as a child or a teenager to make you into a better writer today, what would it be?
Read more. I mean, I was a pretty voracious reader anyway, but the more you read, the better writer you become. I’m sure I could have stolen a few more moments here and there to squeeze in just one more book!
How long does it take you to write a novel usually? What’s your process like?
It usually takes about 6-9 months to fully complete a manuscript. The process starts with a ‘What if…’ idea or a character that pops into my head and demands to be written about. Then, once I’ve done enough research, I sit down and hammer out the first draft as quickly as I can. Honestly, family and friends don’t see much of me for about six weeks. I write it fast and furious! I think if you can get that energy and pace in the first draft, it will always stay there, no matter how many edits come later. I don’t revise at all as I go, I just set the story down, rough and ready.
Then I put it in a drawer for about a month and get on with some other writing. When I go back, I can see clearly all the things wrong with it and I start redrafting. I probably redraft six or seven times, then polish, then send it to my fab editor Stephanie King at Usborne. Then I wait nervously for Steph’s verdict! This usually comes in a very detailed letter, which I cut up into sections and stick to the wall so I can get an overview. I usually get a little grumpy before finally admitting after about an hour that Steph is 100% right about everything and that she’s a genius. I then start redrafting again… and again… and again!
Do you find music helps you write or is it more of a distraction?
I love listening to music when I’m thinking about the book. Certain scenes can be brought to life in my head by the right music. But once I start writing, I need silence. I even wear earplugs so I don’t get distracted. You see, I try to be as absorbed as much as possible in the world of the story, which has its own sights and sounds and textures, and so anything outside that bubble is really unwelcome.
How did publishing your first novel change your process as a writer?
You’re always learning as a writer. About yourself, about your skill set, and about the industry. In terms of my writing itself, I guess I became more efficient. I learned not to spend days drafting and redrafting that opening line or worrying about that tricky plot point in the middle and just push on through to the end. No one needs to see – or SHOULD see – your sloppy first draft, so don’t worry about such things as you go. Once you’re finished, you will have a much better perspective on what works and what doesn’t rather than trying to tinker with things partway through.
I’m sure there are many aspiring authors reading this – what’s your best piece of advice you can give them?
Read read read read read read READ! Anything and everything. I can’t count the number of times someone has said to me: I could write a book! Then you ask them who their favourite author is and they look at you blankly and say: Oh, I’m not much of a reader! Well, sorry, but you can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader. It’s impossible. Writing isn’t some mysterious arcane craft – anyone can do it. All the skills you’ll ever need are there, waiting between the covers of books. But there is no shortcut – to learn your craft you must study it.
I would also advise new writers to grow a thick skin and to be open to constructive criticism. I know it hurts when someone rips your work to shreds, but very often the critic – especially if they’re an editor or agent – knows what they’re talking about.
That’s great advice! And finally, what do you have planned next? Are you working on anything for the future?
I’ve just finished my next LGBTQ YA love story/thriller for Usborne. It’s out next summer and I can’t really tell you much about it, unfortunately. There is a teaser at the end of Hideous Beauty, however, so that I can share:
‘Imagine a world where it is illegal to be gay’
Thank you so much for being part of #LGBTQMonth, William! We were delighted to have you!