What I Thought Of AND BY THE WAY… by Denise Deegan

6 Apr

This time last year I visited Dalkey in Co. Dublin for the first time, with my brother The Super U2 Fan in tow. First stop: Bono’s house, which is technically in neighboring Killiney, high on the hill above Dalkey village and on a perch that offers stunning views of the bay below. Thanks to U2′s 360 tour schedule we knew Sir Bono was unlikely to be home, but that didn’t stop my brother loitering conspicuously outside his mansion’s electronic gates; while he was there, one of Bono’s famous friends came walking casually out through them. Further down the road was Enya’s castle, and in the other direction was the home of Mr and Mrs Edge. Between the multi-million dollar homes and the Rivera-esque views, it didn’t even feel like Ireland.

What would it be like to live here? I wondered. What is it like for the people who live with these celebrities, like their children? Does the view make up for the fact that your dad probably spends more time on stage than he does at home? Irish author Denise Deegan addresses some of these very questions in her new novel for teens, And By The Way…, which I devoured in one sitting last week.

“At Strandbrook College, we are Kids Of. Kids of diplomats, media stars, musicians, artists, actors, oh, and wealthy people who aspire to all of that. I’m the kid of a rock star. Means nothing to me. When Mum died, six months ago, I didn’t just lose her, I lost my dad – to work. The only thing he does now is annoy me. He hires people like ‘The Stylist’ who wears bullets in her belt and makes him look like a hobo. Seriously. But ‘The Rockstar’ isn’t the only person who drives me mad. There’s David McFadden, a guy in my class who could have helped but didn’t. Now, it’s too late. I don’t want his help. Because I’m not going to trust anyone, love anyone, rely on anyone. That way I’ll never be hurt again. If only I could solve the problem of Rachel, my best friend, who won’t let me pull back just like that. Even David McFadden won’t stay out of my face. But I’m not going to fall for his blue eyes, his windswept hair or the plaited leather on his wrist. And when he says he wants to help, I’m sure as hell not going to listen….”

And By The Way… deals with some heavy subjects: Alex lost her mother only six months ago and ever since, The Rockstar (she refuses to call him “Dad”) has been even more distant than usual. Add this to the standard adolescent angst caused by friends, relationships, fitting in, etc. and you have a girl with a considerable weight on her young shoulders, struggling to stay afloat in a situation that’s trying to pull her down. And yet, this isn’t a sad book; I finished it feeling uplifted. If anything, its weighty theme gives it an element of realism missing from a lot of its competition: teenagers, while not having enough life experience or wisdom to behave like adults, are often pushed into situations where they have no choice but to act like them. Most importantly, you find yourself rooting for Alex from page 1; she’s a great character, and one you want to see succeed.

As for authenticity, And By the Way… has it in bucket-loads, and not just in terms of the proliferation of iPhones, MSN chat and spray tans. There is the awkwardness of the first love, the struggle for independence (and subsequent abuse of it) and that one annoying friend who takes her own insecurities out on you every chance she gets. Speaking of the annoying friend, she is to be the subject of the second book in the series (The Butterfly Novels, so called because of how the three friends, Alex, Sarah and Rachel, sign off their text messages: }|{) and I’m really looking forward to seeing things from her perspective.

And by the Way is a great read that will bring you right back to your awkward teenage years – whether or not you want to go there! My only complaint about it is that I felt it ended a bit suddenly, but then there is plenty more to come.

Denise was lovely enough to answer a few questions about me. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Denise!

This is your first book for teenagers; until now, you’ve written for adults. How is the process different? Which do you prefer?

For me, there isn’t a huge difference in the process. When I’m writing, the books tend to ‘come’ to me as dialogue. That’s how I ended up writing for teens. A voice came into my head. It was the voice of Alex Newman, a very angry, sarcastic yet vulnerable sixteen-year-old, who was letting her dad have it. It blew me away – especially Alex’s vulnerability in the face of the fury. I hadn’t planned to write for teens but I couldn’t ignore the voice. So I wrote it down to see where it would take me. It kept coming. I kept writing. And here I am…with a series of teen novels, The Butterfly Novels.

There are certain similarities between my adult and YA books eg the writing is pared down, fast paced and dialogue-driven. The books are reality-based and issues-led with a blend of honesty and subtle humour. That’s not a plan. Just the way it usually works out.

You ask if I prefer writing for adults or teens. In a way, I feel I’m writing for both. Many adults have read And By The Way and loved it because it made them feel sixteen again. I do actually prefer writing stories about teenagers though. I think life is at its most intense during that period in our lives. Everything seems so important – friendships, love, the environment, the future. Life is just more passionate.

One reason I love writing YA books is Young Adults themselves. I have NEVER before received the reaction I’m getting from teenagers to this, my first YA book. It is incredible. I’m getting texts, emails, Facebook notices, tweets. I spoke to some students from Sion Hill school, the other day and was blown away by their enthusiasm. I love young people. In all my adults books, key roles have gone to children and teenagers. People used to say to me that I should write for teenagers. Because, as writers, we are so sensitive to comment – at least I am – I used to think – ‘what are they trying to tell me?’ Turns out they were predicting the future.

You clearly know a lot about modern teenage life – there wasn’t one false note in the whole book! Have you spies reporting back to you or are you secretly a 16-year-old?

It’s funny but when I was with the girls from Sion Hill, I read from an article I’d written for the Irish Daily Mail about my own (sad!) teenage life. In addition to my somber warning – along the lines of, ‘let that be a lesson to you against shyness’ – I told the girls that writing about teenagers is like my second chance to do it right. When I sit down at my computer, I am sixteen again. And that, let me tell you, is a good feeling. Ever since I became a mum I’ve tried to see things from my children’s point of view, to just understand where they’re coming from. It has become a habit. They are now teenagers and I really hope I understand their world.

Did you have anyone in mind when you created the character of “The Rockstar”? Because I couldn’t help but think about Bono wearing wedge-heeled shoes and dark shades all the time….

I’m smiling because I wanted to originally call the book ‘My Dad Wears Wedges.’

I had finished the first draft of And By The Way and was editing it at an artists’ retreat. One evening we were all reading from our work. I read from an early chapter. Afterwards, an argument broke out as to who the rock star was – Bono or Bob Geldof. I think it’s natural for people to compare him to existing Irish rockstars and we really don’t have that many of that vintage. To me, The Rockstar, is his own man – a down-to-earth, regular, guy struggling to be a good dad in the face of major loss. He’s no way near as perfect and together as Bono!!

Thanks Denise!

Find out more about The Butterfly Novels here, start following Denise on Twitter here or click here to buy And By The Way… from Amazon.co.uk.

Thanks to Hachette Ireland for my copy.

One Response to “What I Thought Of AND BY THE WAY… by Denise Deegan”

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  1. Catherine Howard - April 6, 2011

    [...] You can read her review on her website. [...]

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