Dyan Sheldon is the talented author of many young adult books, including Confessions of A Teenage Drama Queen (something you might remember was adapted into a live-action Disney movie back in 2004). Her most recent book, More Than One Way To Be A Girl, explores feminism, friendship and what it means to be a girl.
After being given the chance to read the fantastic book (full review can be found here), I was also given the fantastic opportunity to speak with Dyan Sheldon and find out more about her newest release.
Why do you think it was important to have these two character archetypes in this story about what it means to be a girl?
“It was never my intention to provide answers in this novel. I wanted to get the questions out there. With a subject like this I felt that the best way to do that was the dialectic method – which is a discussion between people with different points of view to try and get at the truth through reasoned arguments. ZiZi and Loretta became the dialectic method in heels and work boots.”
What made you want to write this story in the first place?
“It’s been an uphill struggle, hasn’t it, the one for women’s equality? In most of the world, we haven’t even had universal suffrage for a hundred years. So, despite all the changes that have occurred in the last century or so, we still have a way to go. We have our waves of feminism, and women running governments and driving buses or whatever, but the images of women that you see in magazines, films and on television are largely the same old ones – women as accessories, women as sexual objects, women as the girlfriend, wife or love interest of the man. Old gender stereotypes and attitudes die hard, and often get reborn when you’re least expecting it.
“I believe that you can’t simply accept the world at face value. You have to question and think about everything. Just because things are a certain way, doesn’t mean that they should be.”
Where did the idea [for More Than One Way To Be A Girl] come from?
“In a way, the idea has always been there, and I’ve touched on it (sometimes more gently than others) in more than one of my books. I reckon I just thought it was time to go at it head first, as it were. Originally, it was called BEAUTIFUL ME and had a different storyline, but over the scores of drafts it evolved into something else.”
Was there something you found difficult to write when you sat down to begin More Than One Way To Be A Girl?
“This book fought me every inch of the way. I’ve never had such a hard time. I’ve had difficult novels before – I never find writing what I’d call ‘easy’ — but not this difficult. I spent months beginning it, getting to page 24, and then starting it all over again. I changed the characters, I changed the plot, I did everything I could think of.
And I’d get to page 24 and have to start again. I was about to give up on the idea completely when a friend (also a writer) said I couldn’t give up now, and that I should write it in two voices, not just one. And once I did that I steamed past page 24.”
Stephen King says to ‘kill you darlings’ – was there any part of More Than One Way To Be A Girl that you removed for whatever reason and wished you have kept in the final draft?
“It happens. I don’t think it happened in this book. Maybe a funny line or two that only I thought was funny got axed, but nothing major. I always save the bits I’ve had to take out, with the thought that someday I’ll use it in something else. But what normally happens is that I forget about them. Years later I may stumble upon it and think, Wow, that was really good. Or, alternatively, Whatever was I thinking? Thank God I took that out.”
Which part did you find most fun to write?
“No offense to Loretta, of whom I am deeply fond (we do have a lot in common), but I think I’d have to say ZiZi’s narrative. She’s the least like me, but I really enjoyed her. And I did have a lot of fun with the end.”
What is the best writing advice you’ve received that you think every writer should know?
“The best advice I’ve ever had was this: The advantage of being a writer (and not, for instance, a conductor or some other sort of performer) is that you get to sit in your little room or in your garden shed and you don’t have to show anybody what you’ve done until you think it’s ready. And even then, you have plenty of chances to make it better. It’s not stand up on the stage and hope you don’t forget your lines.”
Summarise More Than One Way To Be A Girl in three words!
“What a stinker! The closest I can come is to condense it to two: Be yourself. (The trick of course, is working out what’s really you, and what’s all the stuff you’ve learned and/or absorbed from the world around you.)”
Thank you, Dyan Sheldon, for this interview and thank you to Kirsten Corzen at Walker Books for making it possible.
More Than One Way To Be A Girl was released in the UK on 6th July 2017.