Because of Her – a guest post by Ke Payne

18 Mar

BSB_Because_of_HerKe Payne is a best-selling author of entertaining YA lesfic that appeals across the ages. She writes the kind of romantic girl-meets-girl stories she wished were around when she was growing up. Here she talks about her latest novel Because of Her and what it’s meant to early readers to be reassured that it’s OK to be gay.

I did a Q&A on another author’s blog a while ago, and one of the questions I was asked was what message did I hope readers took away from my books? My answer was short and sweet: I wanted readers to know that it’s okay to be gay, and, just like you can’t help which food you love, or which clothes you love, you can’t help who you love either. This assertion was at the forefront of my mind when I started to write my latest novel, Because of Her. I didn’t want it to just be a let’s run around and tell everyone how fab it is to be queer, I just wanted people to read it and realise that, hey, the world isn’t going to stop turning just because you happen to be gay.

Because of Her packs a lot into its 264 pages. My heroine Tabby is uprooted from her small town in the northeast of England and enrolled in an exclusive girls’ school in London when her father’s new job forces the family to move. Taken away from her girlfriend Amy, Tabby hates her new life in London and rails against everything and everyone in the hope that she’ll get sent back to the northeast. That is, until she spots the lovely Eden across a busy classroom…

Whilst battling her feelings for her classmate Eden and feeling guilty about Amy at the same time, Tabby also has to run the gauntlet of prejudice from Eden’s two ghastly friends Gabby and Beth. Thankfully Tabby has support from her new best friends Libby and Greg, and while of course good triumphs over evil in the end, writing the book really made me think about every school kid that’s ever had to fight against homophobia.

Shortly after Because of Her was published, I read an incredibly poignant review from a gay teenager who had just finished the book and wanted to express how much reading it had helped her personally. She said she could identify with Tabby, because she too was at school and having to face the sorts of ignorant comments Tabby faces because she was, as she said, “different from the other girls”. Although this reader wrote that she wasn’t out at school (Tabby is), her words, “I liked how I lost myself in this book and saw how Tabby faces her enemies. I really drew confidence from how Tabby reacted against the bullies” absolutely hit home.

Then, soon after that review, I received an email which was just as touching. It was from a reader in her late forties who told me she’d read Because of Her because she’d so enjoyed my last novel The Road to Her as it had shown her that “YA books weren’t just for kids”. She too told me Because of Her was personal to her and said that she wished there had been books like it around when she’d been a teenager because she felt it would have helped her come to terms with being gay a lot earlier and, as she put it, “stopped her from living a lie for too many years”.

Both the review and the email struck a chord with me as I could genuinely identify with each one. To this confused teen growing up in the 1980s, lesbianism seemed stuck in the Victorian era; if we didn’t talk about it, then it didn’t exist. I longed to read books that might give me answers to my many questions: was I the only one feeling like this? Was it wrong to like girls? Was I going to hell in a handcart because I fancied Wonder Woman? Like reader number two, when I was a teen, all I wanted was to read books where I could identify with the heroine and for her to reassure me that what I was feeling wasn’t immoral. I didn’t want to read about boy meets girl, or about girl chasing boy because she fancies him but he doesn’t fancy her back (yawn). Just like the teenager that wrote the review of Because of Her, I wanted to read books about what I was going through. I needed to read about characters that didn’t give a flying fuck what people thought about them, and I wanted to absorb all those books that told me I wasn’t weird for being Team Bionic Woman rather than Team Bionic Man (I said it was the eighties, didn’t I?).

Most of all, though, through reading those types of books, I simply wanted to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone, because it sure as hell felt like it at the time.

It was only later when I was still trying to figure out what I was, and when lesbian fiction was starting to become much more available, that I was able to devour the books I’d craved as a teenager. I loved them all, and drew comfort from them. I wished I could be the girl in the story; I wanted to be that confident lesbian who gave a middle finger to all those who didn’t understand. Those type of books are wonderful because they take you out of the real world, if only for a while, and place you somewhere where you’re comfortable with who you are, and where you’re also accepted by others for who you are.

That was what I wanted to achieve when I first started writing YA novels: books that send out an important message to all ages, while still being the sweet, romantic girl-meets-girl stories I so wanted to read for myself way back then. In Because of Her, I wanted to show that with the support of others, you can overcome prejudice. If you believe in yourself, you can rise above the bullies and the haters and those that plain just don’t understand, and show that you are a better person than they are. My heroine, Tabby, does just that. She ignores the comments and snide remarks that she has to deal with every day at school and proves to herself and those around her that she’s a better person than they are. She’s honest to herself, doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and with the help of her friends, rises above the hateful whispers that follow her down the school corridors.

KePayneBecause of Her, I hope, tells those reading it that they should never fall to the haters’ level, and that it’s the haters and the ignoramuses that end up looking stupid. If you can have confidence in who you are, and if you can continue to walk with your head held high despite everything, then the only losers will be those that choose to refuse to understand.

So if I can write just one book that a reader can identify with–whether you’re fourteen or forty– and take comfort from, then read again when they need the message reinforced that being gay is nothing to be ashamed about, then my job is done and the message is loud and clear: it’s most definitely okay to be gay.

5 Responses to “Because of Her – a guest post by Ke Payne”

  1. Cindy Rizzo at 11:29 am #

    Nice post KE. I’m about 25% of the way through the book and am really enjoying it. Like the adult reader in your post, I decided to pick up Because of Her because I really enjoyed The Road to Her. Well done!

    • KE Payne at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks, Cindy 🙂 glad you’ve enjoyed your 25% so far! x

  2. Widdershins at 2:37 am #

    Abso-bloody-lutely! 😀

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