Hello again – Ben Davis here for my second post at Girls Heart Books.
I thought that as my first post (which you can find here) was an overview of how I became a published author, my second should be about how my personal experiences have influenced my writing.
Now, when I first had the idea to write a YA story, I had to think back to what I was like as a teenager.
One of my most vivid childhood memories was the culture shock of moving from Primary to Secondary. Primary school seemed like a carefree time. We’d spend our break times playing Tig and Kiss Chase.
Then we’d go home and watch Saved by the Bell and listen to our Spice Girls albums.
When I moved up to high school everything changed. For one thing, there was no Tig at break. Everyone just kind of stood in groups, talking. This seemed boring to me and my attempt at getting a game going by whacking the biggest kid in the yard and yelling ‘YOU’RE ON!’ didn’t exactly have the desired effect.
So this was the new regime – no more playing. It was difficult to adjust to, but I could get my head around it.
Then I heard The Rule.
Most rules have a reason to exist. They keep you from harming yourself or others. The Rule didn’t. The Rule was as random as a stoat riding a dolphin. It was:
Thou shalt NEVER wear thine backpack with two straps.
That’s right. You know those bags that come with two straps? Well, you were only allowed to use one of them. And if you were seen using both, you might as well wear a tutu and change your name to Farty McPoopants, because your social standing would be destroyed forever.
I asked around to try and find out why this was but no-one knew. It was literally as if Moses had come down from the mountain with it.
Now, I didn’t want to rock the boat so I went along with it. I treated that second strap like it didn’t even exist for two long years. Then one day, some time in Year Nine, I came into school and everyone was wearing their bags on two straps.
I was like, ‘What happened? Did you all have a meeting while I was in the loo? Is there some kind of committee I don’t know about?’ Again, no-one knew. All that was clear was that The Rule had changed. This time, I was defiant. I had got used to one strap and I wasn’t about to change just to fit in.
Of course, I might as well have worn a tutu and changed my name to Farty McPoopants, because my social standing was destroyed forever.
Another thing that was a big shock was the name-calling. See, the thing about me is that I have a big head.
I’m from a family of big heads. You should see our dinner table on Christmas day – torn paper crowns everywhere. Terrible scenes.
I was blissfully unaware of this for the first eleven years of my life. I don’t think anyone at my Primary school even noticed. But the very second I set foot in Secondary school someone looked at me and said, ‘Ha! Big head.’ Then later on someone else did, then someone else.
It took me completely by surprise. I remember getting home from school and taking a tape measure into the bathroom to measure my head. It led to a pretty awkward conversation when my Mum knocked the door.
‘I’m measuring my head, Mum . . . Yes, my head.’
And from then on, that was the thing I was most insecure about. And there is literally nothing you can do about a big head. Well, besides planing bits of your skull off, but according to my dad, that’s ‘dangerous’ and will ‘dull my blade’.
I remember watching a nature documentary that year. I was probably shouting at David Attenborough for not intervening in the untimely demise of a gazelle, when something clicked.
School is like a jungle.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The popular kids were the predators because they had the ability to navigate all the complex rules of the jungle and the instinct to find the weakest part of their prey and exploit it. I was more like an antelope. A three-legged antelope. With asthma.
So when I came to write my first book, the Private Blog of Joe Cowley, I had a plotline ready to go – an antelope who wants to become a lion. I even had the jungle foodchain in the book.
I should point out that I didn’t draw that. All the illustrations in the Joe Cowley books are by Mike Lowery. If I illustrated them, it would have looked more like this.
Now, if you’re a young person and reading this has freaked you out, I apologise. But really, it’s not all that bad. I found a group of like-minded antelopes and we got through it together. Plus, I was able to use my experiences to write books and, by extension, this blogpost, so that’s something right. RIGHT?
By the way, in case you were looking at my photo and trying to figure out where you’d seen it before, here we are:
If you have any jungle experiences to share, I’d love to hear them! You can comment below, or get me on the Twitterz @bendavis_86, Facebook or at my website. I also now have a YouTube series called Vlogging a Dead Horse, which you can watch the first episode of here.