Why We Need Stories About Queer Friendship

LGBT+ romance is, thankfully, becoming more mainstream in fiction. But when it comes to stories about besties having adventures together, queer people are frequently side-lined. We’re often shoehorned into the role of the straight protagonist’s “gay best friend” rather than having our friendships with other queer people explored and celebrated.

Why exactly does this matter? I can think of three reasons immediately, but I’ve no doubt there’s a million more. Add them in the comments if you think of any!

We need more than one type of Happily Ever After

Historically speaking, LGBT+ characters in mainstream fiction have not been a happy breed. These characters were likely to wrestle with angst about their identity, face a lot of ugly prejudice, and possibly die an early, tragic death.

Queer romance provides an uplifting, light-hearted antidote to all this. But if the only happy stories about LGBT+ people are romances, this implies that the only way to be happy as a queer person is through romantic partnership.

Plenty of LGBT+ people prefer to remain single, and those of us who aren’t interested in traditional monogamy deserve HEAs too! Love that comes from acceptance and belonging is just as important as love that comes from attraction, and should be celebrated just as much.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate queer culture

If you’ve ever been to Pride, watched a drag show, or spent any time in queer spaces online, you’ll already know that LGBT+ culture is vibrant, diverse, and generally awesome. But when queer characters are shoved into the “gay best friend” role, this culture is often presented in a cartoonish way, or completely ignored.

Queer culture comes from groups of LGBT+ friends hanging out, having fun, and getting creative together. Stories about queer friendship are an ideal way to embrace and celebrate this culture in all its colourful glory.  

It’s a way of combatting myths and prejudice

Because queer friendship is under-explored in the mainstream media, it tends to be poorly understood. This leads to a bunch of myths and misconceptions. Some are old and tiresome, like the idea that gay men can’t love each other platonically. Others are new and dangerous, like the idea that trans teenagers are peer-pressuring their friends into transitioning.

Friendships among LGBT+ people can be as complicated and full of drama as any straight friendship. But most queer people – particularly those without supportive families – view their friendships as a crucial source of love, understanding and happiness. By recognising this in fiction, we can help challenge bigoted narratives.

If you’re keen to dive in to books that centre queer friendships, here’s a list to get started with. And if you have any recommendations of your own, please leave them in the comments. Happy reading and happy Pride month!

Hyping Every Indie Book I’ve Read This Year

This year I’ve made an effort to read more indie-published and self-published books, and there have been some absolute gems. If you’re book shopping for Christmas, do consider adding one (or more) of these to your basket.

This entire list is very queer, particularly in terms of asexual and aromantic representation, but also other LGBT+ identities. If that’s your cup of tea, read on!

Common Bonds by Various authors

I’m being cheeky by including this, as one of the stories in this anthology (Spacegirl and the Martian) is mine. This Kickstarter-funded anthology is full of SFF stories focusing on aromantic protagonists and platonic relationships.

There are honestly some real treasures in here, with my personal favourite being Cinder – a witty, empowering fairytale re-telling that captures the joy and excitement of new friendship. There’s also an astronaut bonding with her dad in space, and two werewolf stories because aro people evidently love werewolves!

Create My Own Perfection by E.H. Timms

This short story is a re-telling of the Medusa myth, set at a university full of mythological beings. It uses the ancient tale to explore the ever-current issue of sexual harassment, and also shows the sharper edges of female friendship. Emma isn’t just kind and supportive to her friends – she’s also willing to do whatever it takes to defend them.

The Murder Next Door by Sarah Bell

Want to read about a sapphic couple solving a murder mystery in 1912? Of course you do! Sarah Bell’s debut is full of rich historical detail, and the central pairing of Ada and Louisa are brought vividly to life.

Despite the period setting, don’t expect a traditional “whodunnit”. The emphasis is less on who did the deed, and more on the meaty, nuanced issue of whether or not they deserve to be punished for it.

The Mesmerist’s Daughter by Heidi James

Good lord, the writing in this one is extraordinary! An unreliable, but highly observant narrator tells the story of a child whose mother is a wolf. Not literally. But maybe literally? Full of magic, but the kind of magic you get in horror movies rather than fairytales.

Streetlamps and Shepherd Moons by Katherine Highland

Streetlamps and Shepherd Moons is a slice-of-life novel that focuses on Diane – an autistic woman – and her attempts to navigate a confusing and sometimes hostile world. It’s an authentic, unfiltered take on autistic life that’s both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

This certainly isn’t a comfort read. Diane has an awful lot to deal with (often neurotypicals being clueless) but her difficulties and dramas are counterbalanced by the warmth of everyday comforts and human connection. The book is ultimately a celebration of creating the life you want and finding the people who matter.

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

Now this one is a comfort read. It’s a short and sweet story of a knight, a dragon, and a baker’s wife teaming up to search for the missing baker, and finding adventure and friendship along the way. It’s like those books about dragons you used to read as a kid, but with added LGBTQIA rep!

Any of these sparking your interest? And have you read any awesome indie books this year? Feel free to rave about them in the comments!

How to Write Bad LGBT+ Representation

There are plenty of articles about how to include good LGBT+ representation in your stories. Authors are drowning in lists of do’s and don’ts, and yet we still seem to be getting it wrong. After all, read the reviews for any book with queer characters or themes, and it’s only a matter of time before you come across the phrase “bad rep”.

I’m not denying there are problems with how LGBT+ people are portrayed in fiction. But the constant nit-picking can be disheartening to queer authors, especially when you never hear accusations of “bad heterosexual representation” or “bad cisgender representation”.

So here are my top tips for writing bad LGBT+ representation, based entirely on negative reviews and people whining on Twitter. (Please note this is intended as a light-hearted article. I’m a queer author who wants to see more queer characters in fiction!)

Tips for writing bad LGBT+ rep

  1. Write a queer character who doesn’t represent the reader’s personal experiences.
  2. Write a flawed queer character.
  3. Write sweet, heart-warming stories with happily-ever-afters for everyone. That’s unrealistic!
  4. Write dark, gritty stories where problems aren’t easily resolved. That’s depressing!
  5. Write a story about a friendship group where everyone is LGBT+ (straight people think this is statistically unlikely).
  6. Write a romance without sex scenes. You’re sanitizing queer relationships!
  7. Write a romance with sex scenes. You’re over-sexualising queer relationships!
  8. Be a straight woman writing m/m romance. This is an easy way to get accused of fetishizing queer relationships.
  9. Write a butch lesbian, a flirty or promiscuous bisexual, or a gay guy who loves musical theatre. Stereotypes are bad, which means all these characters are bad!
  10. Write a character who confuses people. It’s really not difficult. Try an asexual character who gets horny sometimes, or a trans character who doesn’t want surgery.
  11. Write a bisexual female character who ends up with a man.
  12. Write a bisexual male character who ends up with a woman.
  13. Write LGBT+ characters, but don’t write about them making out with each other. This way you can write openly queer characters and still get accused of queerbaiting, woop woop!

In all seriousness – if you want to write stories with LGBT+ representation, just go for it. Write the books you want to read. Write the books you needed when you were growing up. If you’re not LGBT+ yourself, find LGBT+ beta readers and listen carefully to their feedback. Put your passion on the page and try not to worry too much.

If you fancy reading a YA contemporary with #ownvoices asexual/aromantic rep that undoubtedly ticks some of the above boxes, try my debut novel Other People’s Butterflies.

And if you’re feeling brave, post your recommendations for books with “bad” LGBT+ rep in the comments. Gimme stories that are too sad, too sexy, not sexy enough, too confusing, or that break any of the bullshit rules that queer authors are expected to follow.

Gwen vs Goblin Girl – Part 2

I strain my ears, trying to hear whatever it is that Vrenega can hear. At first, I can’t detect anything but the rustling of leaves in the trees. But then there’s a sudden shout, and two warriors are charging towards us – a big dude and an equally big girl, with broad blue stripes across their faces and broadswords held aloft. I panic, leap off the bench and throw my “Uzi” at them. It sails harmlessly between them.

Luckily, Vrenega is less useless. She swings her battle axe like a pro, fighting the female warrior while I stand there and dither. The male warrior approaches me with a friendly grin on his blue-painted face. He points his sword at me and, very gently, boops me in the belly with it.

“Am I dead?” I ask, aghast.

Presumably he takes pity on me, because he says “Nah, just injured. That means you’re out for fifteen minutes.”

“Oh. OK.”

I glance over at Vrenega and the other warrior, who have stopped fighting and are now doing rock-paper-scissors to decide who won. Apparently Vrenega won (scissors beats paper) and the warriors retreat. Vrenega turns back to me, all covered in glory, and I do my best to look defiant.

“I’m injured,” I say. “I can’t play for fifteen minutes, so I guess you just carry on without me, right?”

Vrenega purses her lips, looking like she’s weighing up the pros and cons of ditching me. Wanting to know exactly how shitty Ethan’s new girlfriend is, I decide to make things easy for her.

“I know the way back, so don’t feel like you have to stick around. And I found your fucking spell scroll too.” I take it out of my bag and literally throw it at her. “Go enchant the dragon, get the jewel, find Ethan and have a laugh at how rubbish I am at LARPing. Seriously, have fun.”

Weirdly, I do feel like I’ve been injured. I think of Ethan and Vrenega, cozied up together and laughing at me, and there’s an actual pain in my chest. 

She doesn’t leave. Instead, she rummages in her pack and pulls out a roll of bandages.

“Where are you wounded?” she asks, brisk as a boarding school matron.

“In the gut.”

“OK. I’m guessing you don’t want to mess your dress up, so we’ll say it’s your arm instead. Roll your sleeve up.”

I’m reluctant to do as she says because I have firmly decided that I hate her. I’d also quite like to be alone so I can have a quick cry. But she’s not going anywhere, so I figure I may as well play along and just wait for this to be over. I sit down on the nearest bench and bunch up the floaty material of my left sleeve.

It turns out that Vrenega is some kind of healer. She doesn’t just bandage the imaginary wound – she cleans it with a soft cloth and something from a black bottle, which I strongly suspect is water. Then she takes cotton wool from a paper bag labelled “moon moss” and places a wad of it in the crook of my elbow (“to soak up the blood” she says), before bandaging it in place. The whole time, she has a look of intense concentration on her face, like I might actually bleed out if she doesn’t do this properly. By the time she’s almost finished with the bandages, I’m starting to suspect that something’s up. She keeps sniffing, and her eyes have gone all glossy. I could ignore it, I guess, but I’m bad at ignoring things.

“What’s the matter with you? I’m the one who’s injured here.”

“When you said Ethan likes any girl who’s nice to him, did you mean it?”

“Yeah. So what? That’s just the way he is.”

I watch, mildly horrified, as a tear spills from Vrenega’s eye and rolls down her cheek, leaving a trail in her green face paint.

“Fan-bloody-tastic,” she says. “The only guy I’ve ever been with, the only guy I’ve ever wanted to be with, and to him I’m just … I could’ve been anyone! Anyone who smiled and said hi.”

The only guy she ever wanted to be with … huh. I get the sense of something clicking into place.

“It was you, wasn’t it? Your friend who thought she was asexual but then met the right guy and realised she wasn’t.”

Vrenega nods. Despite the crying, she’s still tending my imaginary wound – fastening the bandage in place with a safety pin. I’m a little concerned she’s going to get distracted and stick me with it.

“I’m sorry I said all that stuff. I know ace people and aro people exist. And for all I know, you’re one of them-”

“I am.”

“And I’m being a total cliché, telling you it’s a phase. And being a scary, jealous girlfriend as well.”

“You are scary. Especially with the axe.”

“Ugh. I swear, I’m not usually like this with boys. I knew Ethan for like a year before I even thought about him that way.”

Hm. Something else clicks into place.

“You know, if you don’t get sexually attracted to people without, like, an emotional connection … err, some people call that demisexual.”

“Yeah, I heard of that. But people on the internet say it’s just a bunch of straight girls trying to be special snowflakes.”

“People on the internet also say Bill Gates puts microchips in Covid vaccines.” This startles a watery laugh out of her. “I mean, obviously you don’t have to use the label if you don’t want to, but why would you care what some judgemental randoms think of it? You’re a fucking goblin warrior queen.”

“Some warrior queen. Sat here boo-hooing over … I don’t even know what.”

She swipes a tear off her cheek and pulls a compact mirror out of her pack to check her make-up.

“We can talk about this stuff, if you want,” I offer. I may be still a teenager and pretty clueless and surely not her favourite person, but who else has she got? A boyfriend who’s built differently, and an internet full of trolls.

“Yeah, that’d be cool.” She stands up and swings her axe over her shoulder. “Not right now though. We’ve got a dragon to deal with.”

***

The dragon is a twelve-year-old boy. He is dressed all in green, with a pretty impressive tail and wings, but he is still a twelve-year-old boy. He sits at the base of an oak tree, with treasure spread out in front of him. Most of the treasure looks like scrunched up tin foil, but somewhere in that shiny hoard is the sacred jewel of Snakeshire.

“Where are his parents?” I whisper to Vrenega, as we hide behind a thick tree trunk.

“Slaughtered,” Vrenega whispers back. “He’s the last dragon left, or so the legend says.”

I’m starting to like how seriously she takes this. Ethan says it’s one of the things he loves about her – that she throws her whole heart into everything she does. I hope he tells her stuff like that. He might have started liking her because she was girl-shaped and nice to him, but if he loves her (and I’m pretty sure he does) it’s because of everything she is.

“Do you have the spell scroll?”

Vrenega pulls it out of her pack and hands it to me. “Here, you can do it.”

“You sure? What if I mess it up?”

“You won’t.”

The steel in her voice cuts off any argument I might have made. At the same moment, we both step out from behind the tree and stride towards the dragon. I hastily unfurl the scroll and read aloud,

“Dragon leave your treasure

To the waking world

And fall into a slumber

With your great wings furled”

Lowering the scroll, I see the kid on his feet, claws raised. But then he yawns hugely, sinks down to the forest floor, and curls up like a big green cat. I put a hand to my heart and gesture frantically at Vrenega, wanting her to appreciate how adorable this dragon is. But she’s all business, already on her knees and sifting through the huge puddle of treasure. I join her.

There’s plenty of other stuff amongst the tin foil. Big, plastic jewels the size of my palm. A cardboard crown. But no sign of the sacred jewel of Snakeshire, which – according to legend – looks like a small, purple egg.

The dragon stirs. Shit, I didn’t know sleeping spells wore off so quickly. I dig frantically through the treasure, scattering tin foil everywhere. But it’s no good. The dragon rises with a roar. And though the dragon’s voice hasn’t broken yet and it’s quite a high-pitched roar, it’s still clear that Vrenega and I are in serious trouble.

“Err … Dragonleaveyourtreasure” I begin, but Vrenega cuts me off.

“I’ve got the jewel! Run!”

I scramble to my feet, turn and run, with Vrenega beside me and the dragon behind me, roaring for all he’s worth.

“We’re close to camp,” Vrenega pants. “Don’t stop running!”

I don’t. I didn’t come this far to be eaten by such a tiny dragon. I can’t even slow down, because he’s right behind us the whole time. Why doesn’t his tail slow him down?

The footpath veers off to the left and suddenly our team’s camp (a small, blue gazebo) is in view. Our bard is standing beside it, having a vape. Under the gazebo, Ethan – aka Alazar Birch – is sitting, looking sorry for himself. His head is bandaged, and the bandages are generously decorated with fake blood. Good to know I’m not the only one who got injured.    

Behind us, the dragon gives another roar. He’s getting hoarse now, and sounds a tiny bit scary. I shriek, because he’s earned it, and grab Vrenega by the arm. We hurtle towards camp and basically crash into Alazar, knocking him onto his back and falling together in a tangle. The dragon finally stops roaring.

The three of us disentangle ourselves. “We’ve returned, my love,” says Vrenega, when there’s enough breath in her lungs for speaking.

“I noticed,” says Alazar, with a grin. “And you brought me a pet dragon too. How thoughtful.”

“But where’s the jewel?” I say, noticing that Vrenega is only holding the cardboard crown.

Her little bud of a mouth blooms into a wide smile as she plucks a small, purple, egg-shaped jewel from the crown. With one hand, she tosses the jewel to Alazar. With the other, she puts the crown on my head. Damn, she’s actually kind of cool.

The bard congratulates us but gets distracted by the dragon, who is demanding a snack. I think the dragon is the bard’s son.

Maybe a victorious quest resets things, or maybe it’s the sight of a dragon eating a cereal bar that does it. But our other identities seem to fall away for a moment, and we are Gwen and Ethan and Fliss. It’s something new, but screw it – I can handle new. So can Ethan. So can Fliss.

***

Thanks for reading my lovelies! I hope you enjoyed catching up with Gwen and her (mis)adventures. Happy Ace Week and Happy Halloween for tomorrow!

Other People’s Butterflies: Taking Stock (and Showing Off a Bit)

I just got my first royalties, woop woop! And while they haven’t exactly made me rich, they are making me feel like a Proper Writer. If you are one of the people who bought Other People’s Butterflies, read it, reviewed it, tweeted about it or added it to your TBR – thank you so, so much.

OPB has been out for over three months now, so I’m taking stock. Firstly, and most importantly, people are actually reading the damn thing. And judging by reviews, the majority of readers are enjoying it. For example…

“The dialogue is witty and sassy; events funny and poignant” – Ultraviolet, Amazon

“Gwen Foster is a force of nature and seeing the world through her eyes is a pleasure” – Kierstin Shea, GoodReads

“A fresh take on high-school drama!” – Andre Boone, GoodReads

Secondly, readers are responding to the themes of asexuality and aromanticism, which is awesome. It’s so heart-warming to hear people of all orientations say that they learnt something, or that it made them think about the importance of platonic relationships; but best of all is when ace-spec or aro-spec readers say it made them feel seen.

I barely read any YA when I was an actual Young Adult because I couldn’t relate to the protagonists. Like, you’ve just found out vampires exist – why is your first instinct to date one of them?!* So if I can make a small contribution to ace and aro representation in YA books, I’m a happy bunny.

Finally, this book has affected my life in ways I never anticipated. I’ve made friends because of it. I’ve had conversations with family members that I never expected to have. I feel more confident and comfortable in my identity. Seriously, if you’re sitting on the fence about writing an #ownvoices book, just go for it! The work is hard but the rewards are amazing.

*I should point out that this was the noughties. YA these days is much more diverse, both in terms of storylines and LGBTQIA representation. There’s still a way to go, but that’s a whole other blog post.

A Taster of “Other People’s Butterflies”

I decided to post a taster of my novel Other People’s Butterflies today. It’s a YA contemporary with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, and the plot is a little bit Harriet the Spy and a little bit Gossip Girl. If you like this snippet, the whole book is available here in paperback and eBook form.

In this chapter, Gwen (the protagonist) is hanging out with her childhood friend Ethan, who wants to be “more than friends”. Which is kind of a stressful situation when you’re an aro-ace teenager who doesn’t know she’s aro-ace yet…

***

With Mum and Dad gone, me and Ethan settle down on the sofa to watch the second Captain America movie. We sit close together, but not touching, and pass the bag of Doritos back and forth, getting orange dust all over our fingers. I wonder, for the third or fourth time, why I don’t feel the slightest fluttering of desire for Chris Evans. The guy is all muscles and eyelashes, which must be a killer combination because Martine and Angie both fancy the pants off him and they usually have different types.

“If you could have any superpower, what would you pick?” says Ethan.

I chew this over. A few weeks ago, I would have picked invisibility in a heartbeat – all the better for spying. Now, I think I’d still choose it, but for slightly different reasons. It’d be good for avoiding trouble.

“I’d probably pick invisibility.”

“And sneak into the boys’ changing rooms?”

“Why would I waste a superpower on that? It’s not exactly difficult to see naked people, they’re all over the internet.”

“Yes, I’m aware.” Ethan’s voice is dry and a corner of his mouth quirks into a knowing smile. Time to get the subject back on track.

“So, what would you pick?” I ask.

“Shape-shifting.”

“Really? I thought you’d pick flying.”

“I could shape-shift into a bird.”

“What about invisibility?”

“I could shape-shift into a table and no-one would know I was there.”

“Super-strength?”

“Boring.”

“Mind control?”

“Only manipulators pick mind control.”

I’m giggling now, feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I love the way his brain works, and I think about telling him this but decide not to, in case it sounds creepy. Too intimate, complimenting someone on their thought processes. Safer to stick with external stuff like clothes and hair.

To compensate for not being able to say the stupid shit I want to say, I cuddle up to him and rest my head on his shoulder. He’s warm, and surprisingly comfortable, and all the drama of the past few weeks fades away into insignificance. All is right with the world, until-

“Gwen, you’re kind of giving me some mixed signals here.”

“Hm?” He turns his head to look down at me but I can’t see him properly; our faces are too close together. I pull away from him. “What do you mean?”

“The last conversation we had, you basically said that you didn’t want to go out. Then you invite me over to watch a film and you’re kind of … coming on to me.”

“What the hell? How am I coming on to you?” My voices rises in irritation, but then I remember Mum and Dad upstairs and hush myself up quickly.

“By being all cuddly!”

“I haven’t done anything to you that I wouldn’t do to a female friend or my bloody parents!”

“You know it’s different when you’re with a bloke. I just wish you’d be more clear with me, like, can’t you just tell me what you want?”

Well, fuck. What do I want, exactly? “Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

A pause. Ethan doesn’t answer the big questions flippantly, but neither does he leave them unanswered. “I want more.”

“Like, more of this? To spend more time with me? Watch more movies together and have more conversations that seem really childish but are actually kind of thought-provoking?”

“Well, yes, all of that.”

“I want that too.” My eyes are stinging, because I wish more than anything that we could leave the conversation there. “But I don’t think you really want more. I think you want different.”

Ethan says nothing for a long moment. I turn back to the TV, where there is a big fight scene going on. Slick and choreographed and brutal. My stomach aches.

“When you said the friend zone is the only zone you have,” says Ethan, “was that just an excuse so I wouldn’t feel bad, or did you mean it?”

“I meant it.”

“I don’t get it. Do your parents not want you having boyfriends yet?”

“No, that’s not it.”

“Do you maybe … do you maybe like girls? Because you know that’s totally okay, right, you know I’d understand.”

“No, I don’t like girls. And you know what, I’m starting to not like you either. Why can’t you just leave it alone?”

Oh crap. Puffer-fish mode. I’ve gone all spiky so he can’t get to me.

“Maybe I should go.”

“Yeah, maybe you should.”

“Fine, then.”

He stands up slowly, then walks towards the door of the living room slowly, like he’s expecting me to stop him. I could stop him, but what then? He wants one of two things from me:

1) A girlfriend-boyfriend relationship, or

2) An explanation as to why he can’t have that.

I can’t give him either of those things, so I say nothing and let him leave.

What to Expect When Writing an “Own Voices” Story

There’s so much debate, hand-wringing, and general fuss about the phrase “own voices” that it’s easy to forget how simple and vital the central concept is. The phrase was coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis to refer to an author from a marginalised or underrepresented group, writing about their own experiences or from their own perspective.

This is a very natural thing for writers to do. We’re constantly being told to “write what you know”, and writers from a marginalised or underrepresented group have added motivation. We’re often virtually invisible in fiction. And if we’re not invisible, we’re stereotyped and misrepresented by authors who don’t share or understand our identities.

So why not tell our stories? Well, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. My YA novel Other People’s Butterflies is own voices, because the main character is aromantic-asexual, and so am I. The process of writing and publishing it has been strange, emotional, awkward, and liberating.

I’d like to share my experience of writing an own voices story, and help other writers know what to expect if they decide to do the same. I’m aware that experiences can vary wildly, so if you’ve written own voices work and had a completely different experience, please feel free to share in the comments.

Step 1: Feeling very, very naked

Writing about your own experiences puts you in a vulnerable position. You can fictionalise all you like, but it’s still your own thoughts, feelings, and perhaps life events going onto the page. This can leave you feeling very exposed.

Here’s the part where someone tells me to stop being a pussy. Because this is what writers are supposed to do, right? We use our own experiences to create stories. But when writing own voices, you’re writing about experiences that most readers won’t have had. You’re risking judgement, mockery, or the reader saying “Eh, this isn’t relatable to me, so I’ll just read something else.”

You may also be writing about parts of yourself you’ve struggled to come to terms with (a common experience for queer writers) or experiences that made you feel shitty about yourself. It can be emotionally draining.

My advice to anyone struggling with this is to remember the following things:

  • You are in control, and can share as much or as little of yourself as feels right. You owe your reader a good story and nothing else.
  • You don’t have to write in a linear fashion. If you’re struggling with a particularly dark or difficult scene, write something for a happier part of the book and go back to the difficult scene later.
  • Engage with your community. Remember that your experiences aren’t abnormal, and you aren’t alone.

Step 2: Under pressure

Writing an own voices story can be a high-pressure experience. Are you supposed to provide representation for everyone in your community? What if your representation is too simplistic? Or inadvertently promotes stereotypes? Or is just plain crappy?

My advice here is simple (some would say too simple): Reject that pressure. You can’t possibly represent everyone in a diverse community. Everyone wants a different type of representation – some want it to be wholesome and optimistic, others want it to be complex and challenging – and you can’t please them all.

Write your own story in your own style, and ignore the people who tell you it ought to be a different story in a different style. Personally, I’ve written about an aro-ace girl who makes mistakes, does bad things, and still ends up okay. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I also know that some people are looking for exactly that.

Step 3: Am I “own voices” enough?

Writers have a lot to worry about while crafting a story. Is it engaging enough? Believable enough? Funny enough? But if you’re writing own voices, you may also find yourself worrying if it’s authentic enough.

Other People’s Butterflies is a novel, not a memoir. My protagonist shares my sexual/romantic orientation, but our experiences differ in multiple ways. This is the case for most own voices authors, and it can cause anxiety when there’s so much pressure to write “lived experience”.

Also, identity can be really f*cking complicated. Just ask anyone who is mixed race, has an “invisible” disability, or is in the + part of LGBT+. This can cause confusion and worry about claiming your own identity.

My advice is to be honest with yourself. Do feel you can write authentically about this topic? If there are gaps in your knowledge or experience, can you find out what you need to know in a way that supports others and doesn’t exploit them?

Step 4: Potential bullshit from publishers, agents, etc.

Lots of publishers and agents are looking for own voices work. Some (including my publisher, Art Over Chaos) go about this in a responsible way, by advertising their desire for own voices stories and striving to create an inclusive environment. Others engage in identity policing.

Rather than trusting that a story is own voices if the author says it is, they will ask intrusive questions, pressure queer authors into outing themselves, and generally demand proof of identity.

I understand why publishers do this. There are, unfortunately, some shameless con artists out there, who will do things like pretend to be a different race in an attempt to get their writing published.

Nobody wants to be taken advantage of by unethical people, but identity policing disadvantages writers in difficult or dangerous situations who are unable to be completely open about their identity. You know who it doesn’t disadvantage? Con artists. They will always find a way around it.

If you’re not comfortable with identity policing, just try to avoid publishers who engage in it. Don’t answer questions that violate your privacy or dignity. Trust your instincts and prioritise your own safety, security and wellbeing.

Step 5: Celebrate!

Despite all the difficulties of creating an own voices work, rest assured that you are doing something worthwhile. You are creating something that will make people feel seen and understood. Be proud.

Thanks for reading this longer-than-usual post. If you have any experience of writing own voices stories (even if it’s something you’re just beginning to consider) I’d love to hear about it. And if you’re a reader, please share your favourite own voices books!

“Other People’s Butterflies” Release Day!!!

Today’s the day. My YA novel Other People’s Butterflies is now out in the world. It’s available to buy in paperback and eBook forms, and if you have Kindle Unlimited it won’t cost you a penny. Here’s the UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1735937525 and here’s the US one: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735937525

Looks pretty. But what’s it all about?

How do I know it’s any good?

Well, the signs are promising! It has a couple of reviews on Goodreads and they are both five star, hellz yes! Here’s one of the reviews:

“This book has everything: gossip, mystery, an espionage sub plot, and some lovable backyard hens. Gwen Foster is a force of nature and seeing the world through her eyes is a pleasure. OPB showcases a point of view that is seldom talked about and brings it front and center. I imagine this book will be the “right book” for many readers to come.”

Thank you Kierstin Shea! If you’re wondering what she means by “a point of view that is seldom talked about”, I imagine she’s referring to the fact that the protagonist is asexual and aromantic. If you’re still looking for Pride month reads…

Trigger warnings

So, I’m frankly a bit clueless about trigger warnings, and when/where they’re helpful. I got the Amazon description for the book all sorted out, and then realised that the Amazon description is probably the best place to include trigger warnings – whoops. In the meantime, I’ll post them here for anyone who needs them:

TW – sexual assault

TW – animal death

Getting a bit emotional!

I started this blog three years ago, having tried and failed to publish my first novel. But persistence wins the day, and all I can say to struggling writers is don’t give up! There are many roads to publication, and it’s often just a matter of finding the right one.

Speaking of which, I can thoroughly recommend Art Over Chaos publishing, who have been so supportive throughout the publication process. They publish novels, novellas and poetry, and are particularly interested in #OwnVoices writing and diverse books. If this sounds like a good fit for you, keep them on your radar.

If you decide to read Other People’s Butterflies, don’t be shy about sharing what you thought. Feedback is fab, and reviews are particularly useful as they can increase sales and act as a kind of “matchmaking” service, showing readers whether or not a book is right for them.

I’m also more than happy to chat about my experiences of indie publishing with any writers who are interested. Much love to the writing and reading community on WordPress, you are all fabulous!

Readers and Reviewers Wanted!

My debut novel Other People’s Butterflies is being published next month *hyperventilates* and I’m looking for book lovers to read and review! If you would like to receive an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) in exchange for an honest review of the book on your blog or other social media platform, please fill out this short form.

What is Other People’s Butterflies like?

My novel is a contemporary YA with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, so the most obvious comparison that springs to mind is Alice Oseman’s Loveless. However, I think the plot is more Harriet the Spy meets Gossip Girl. You may be interested in it if:

  • You enjoy contemporary YA.
  • You enjoy contemporary YA with some 1940s spy stuff smuggled inside it.
  • You are interested in books with LGBTQIA characters and themes.
  • You like books about friendship, self-discovery, and the messiness of growing up.

Why are reviews so important?

For a debut author – especially an indie author like me – reviews are priceless. They can build credibility and increase sales, and also provide valuable insight into what readers want. Since this is my first published novel (hopefully the first of many) it’s important to know what readers are enjoying and what I need to work on.

So, if you fancy helping out a debut author and think that Other People’s Butterflies might be your sort of book, please fill out this form to enjoy a sneaky peek before everyone else!

Other People’s Butterflies – Introducing the Characters

(I’m updating this because I forgot to include a rather crucial character!)

It’s now less than two months until the planned release date of my YA novel Other People’s Butterflies. I’m more or less done with editing and you know what? I still don’t hate this book! Usually, editing has me shaking my head and muttering “Who wrote this shit? Oh, right.” But despite my insecurities, I’m really excited to get this novel out into the world.

This is partly thanks to my excellent editor, who was kind enough to point out things he likes as well as things that need fixing. But it’s partly because I just love these characters. Maybe it’s big-headed to say that, because I created them, but I can’t help it. I have a lot of affection for them and I want readers to meet them.

So I’m doing a quick post to introduce my main characters, and I also want to hear about yours. Who are the star players in your WIP? What makes them loveable, hateable, or love-to-hateable? Introduce them in the comments!

Gwen (the protagonist)

  • Easily bored
  • Wants to understand everything
  • Understands very little
  • Makes questionable decisions
  • Aro-ace as hell, but doesn’t know aro-ace is a thing

Martine (Gwen’s bestie)

  • Shy
  • Always smiling (it’s a defence mechanism)
  • Will read every historical romance ever written
  • A dreamer
  • Overprotected

Angie (also Gwen’s bestie)

  • A tomboy
  • Boy-crazy
  • Won’t wear clothes without pockets
  • Pockets are always full of sweets and/or condoms
  • Good at sports

Ethan (a childhood friend who reappears and complicates everything)

  • Total nerd. Owns it.
  • Seventeen, and owns more toys and games than most seven-year-olds
  • Speaks slowly, which makes some people think he is stupid
  • Definitely not stupid
  • Wants to be “more than friends”

Lana Barrington (Gwen’s girl-crush)

  • Fictional (I know they’re all fictional, but she is extra fictional)
  • Badass spy
  • Very glam
  • Good people skills
  • Doesn’t like people