Hi everyone, welcome back for our July 2020 author interview with Kay Kerr for her awesome book PLEASE DON’T HUG ME .
What gave you the idea to set “Please Don’t Hug Me” in the last months of High School?
I think I’d always looked back at the end of Year 12 as one of the hardest periods of my life, and writing this book was a way for me to examine why. In writing ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’, and receiving my autism diagnosis during that process, I figured out that a lot of that came down to struggling to deal with change, or to know how to adequately prepare for change. Erin’s story is different to my own, but she goes through those same milestones I did, like exams, formal, her driving test, graduation and all the hype around Schoolies.
Writing her through those times was really cathartic in a way, and very emotionally tolling as well, because I think I hadn’t entirely forgiven myself for all the ways I ‘got things wrong’ at that age. I can now see that is how I processed my challenges being undiagnosed autistic, and I’ve let go of the shame of not always knowing how I was supposed to act or what I was supposed to do. The last three months of high school are rich in terms of material, with high emotions and funny stories and absurd moments, which is what I love most about YA, and LoveOzYA in particular.
Your book has an awesome title. But what might it have been called, if it wasn’t called what it is now?
Thank you! I do very much love the title, and when it popped into my head I knew that was definitely going to be it. It’s in relation to a certain event in the book, and Erin’s very strong opinions around the politics of hugging. But I didn’t come up with the title until maybe the third or fourth draft, when I was writing a particular scene. Before that, it was called ‘Book One’ for a long time, and ‘Deadlands’ for a short time, which is the not-so-affectionate nickname we used to call The Redlands, where I grew up. I think when I came up with that title I was still very much in the headspace of feeling negatively about my teenage experience, so I probably wanted to blame that a little bit on the place I lived. Once I worked through that and figured it all out, I didn’t want to name-call my hometown because it wasn’t actually the place’s fault at all.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you aren’t writing?
I like to spend a lot of time in nature when I’m not writing, either in the rainforest or at the beach, both of which are close to where I live now on the Sunshine Coast. It’s like a sensory reset for me, and a really good time to both step away from the work, but also to process ideas or work through plot problems too. My family and I spend as much time outdoors as possible. I can’t imagine going back to living in a city now. I don’t think I slept properly until I moved here. When it’s quiet at night, it’s actually quiet. I’m also an avid reader, but that’s probably a given for a writer.
If you could dream cast the movie of your book who would you cast in the lead roles?
Ahh I love this question but I’m not sure that I can adequately answer it! If I ever sold the film rights to ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ it would be really important to stipulate that the role of Erin be played by an autistic actor. There aren’t enough opportunities for disabled actors, and I always cringe when I see a non-disabled actor in those roles. So that would probably be an open-casting situation. But I do love Chloe Hayden, who is an autistic Youtuber and actor I follow on Instagram. She would be a great Erin. But I don’t know a lot of Australian teen actors, so maybe people could help me dream-cast it! I feel like this is a job for Jenna Guillaume.
What are the key themes (or maybe just the key feels!) that you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope readers connect with the themes of self-love and authenticity, because, amongst other things, ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ is about how much better life gets when you can start living it as yourself. I also hope neurotypical people come away with a better understanding of autism (the disclaimer being that I am only one person writing from the lived experience of one life) and hopefully some autistic people feel a little more seen and represented.
Thank you so much Kay for talking with us this month!
Please keep your eye out for our discussion post for PLEASE DON’T HUG ME on the #LoveOZYAbookclub Facebook page