Dawn O’Porter is a print and broadcast journalist, and author of erotic memoir Diaries of an Internet Lover. This year, Hot Key Books will be publishing her fiction début, a YA novel about teenage girls and friendship.
It follows the story of Renée and Flo, two fifteen-year-olds who are burdened by unhappy home lives and eventually find solace in each other, despite the obstacles.
I find myself getting upset when people talk about things like periods being controversial. We need more brazen attitudes to these subjects.For a first novel, and with an established reputation on the line, Paper Aeroplanes covers some fairly taboo topics including periods, virginity and maternal neglect. But O’Porter responds with admirable fervor when I ask whether it ever felt risky to write about it.
“Not at all. I think as a society we consider too many everyday issues to be controversial. To me these issues/subjects are just a part of life,” she replies.
“I find myself getting upset when people talk about things like periods being controversial. We need more brazen attitudes to these subjects. That comes naturally to me, I couldn’t write any other way.”
One of the strongest aspects of this novel is the fact that bad characters do not always find redemption, while good characters face struggles they probably don’t deserve. I ask O’Porter how she decided who got their comeuppance, and which stories would be left without conclusion?
“Again, this was about honesty,” she says. “People do awful things to each other and then feel really sorry… I wanted to test the value of being sorry, whoever works harder for forgiveness wins, but no one gets it without deserving it.”
She explains that she felt it was really important to write about characters who were not perfect. “Friendships are about push and pull, over the course of a lifetime you are bound to mess up and let someone down. Humans get tempted and make mistakes, that is normal, it doesn’t mean they are evil…” she adds.
The cover of the novel reads “Paper Aeroplanes: a story of friendship” and this tale is surely one that would ring true for anyone who has experienced the fierce bond between two teenage girls.
“The original idea came from my own friendships. How my relationships with my girlfriends have always been as powerful as with my boyfriends,” explains O’Porter. “I wanted to write a story that paid credit to the power of that female bond, it’s a relationship that your life can depend on.”
On her literary influences, O’Porter cites Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson as the book that made her want to be a writer. She also expresses a love of Penguin Classics.
“Relatively short stories with such depth of character that you can finish them in one sitting but feel like you got swept away completely. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, and [The Great] Gatsby remain my favorite books of all time,” she says.
In addition to friendship, bereavement and how young people deal with the death of a parent are also prominent themes in Paper Aeroplanes. O’Porter has written several articles about what it was like to lose her mother as a child, and I ask whether she found the writing process cathartic in any way?
“Really cathartic,” she replies. “Renée lost her mum at seven, like I did. I have played out my feelings through her and it was a privilege to be able to do that. It reminded me about what I went through, about how losing your mum at 7 years old feels like the end of the world. I loved writing about that.”
She goes on to explain that the bits she found most difficult to write where the scenes between Renée and her sister, Nell.
“I find something deeply upsetting about the idea of two little girls being left stranded and scared. Maybe it’s because I know how that feels. I cried every time I wrote about those two…” she says.
In the acknowledgement pages of the book, O’Porter makes clear that she was extremely nervous about writing fiction. I am keen to find out why she was so apprehensive despite the support she received from the industry.
“Honestly? Because writing fiction is my life long dream and the fear of getting it wrong and not having the chance to do it again filled me with terror,” she replies.
O’Porter refers to Paper Aeroplanes as “more satisfying and exciting than anything else I have ever done,” and admits that while she never considered not doing it, she did lose a lot of sleep worrying about messing it up.
O’Porter has written for a variety of women’s magazines as well as her ‘saucy memoir’ Diaries of an Internet Lover, but explains that she finds the process of writing fiction “completely different.”
“My first book was a blast to write, but very personal,” she says. “I always felt a bit uncomfortable with it but enjoyed being so honest. With fiction, I can hide myself in what I write.
I am a sharer by nature but the older I get the more selective I have become about what i am willing to let people know about me, with fiction I can weave myself and my fantasy together. It’s the perfect balance.”
I ask if the literary world has differed from O’Porter’s expectations, and it is clear she feels entirely at home when she has her writing hat on.
“On a personal level I love the solitude of writing. Being home alone with my cat, dog and my computer is fun for me, I love it,” she explains. “It’s nice to meet people who spend a lot of time alone and never stop thinking about work, some people think that is boring or unhealthy, for me it is me at my best.”
O’Porter is currently writing the second book of the series, entitled Goose, which features Renée and Flo one year later.
“They are now at a school with boys and they don’t have to wear school uniforms. A lot has changed but they still have each other, but that doesn’t mean life is any easier,” she says.
After Goose, O’Porter reveals that she plans to write a film, adding, “I feel I have to give that a go at least once in my life.”
Then she intends to return to novel writing, for the foreseeable future. She says, “It doesn’t feel the same to be recognised as it does to be emailed by someone saying they love something you’ve written. I want to be a writer forever, so I’ll just keep plugging away until someone tries to stop me.”