Author James Dawson talks about the pressures on young people and being a role model

PUBLISHED: 11:00 04 July 2015

Young adult author James Dawson with Isaac Newton Academy pupils

Young adult author James Dawson with Isaac Newton Academy pupils


Six years ago, James Dawson was a teacher in a busy Brighton school, the role of writing in his working life confined to lesson plans and reports.

Young adult author James DawsonYoung adult author James Dawson

But today he meets young people as an author of six books, the incumbent Queen of Teen and even a role model.

And with an upcoming book launch in America and more titles on the way, his hectic career shows no signs of abating.

The 33-year-old stopped by at Isaac Newton School, in Cricklefield Place, Ilford, to host an assembly and workshops with Year 9 students.

He discussed his latest thriller Under My Skin as well as This Book is Gay, which explores what it is like growing up as an LGBT person.

Young adult author James Dawson with Isaac Newton Academy pupilsYoung adult author James Dawson with Isaac Newton Academy pupils

James said: “They were a bit shy to begin with, but really warmed to it. When you are writing as a child, it is really important to connect with young people.”

The author, who has also worked as a journalist, specialised in PCHSE – personal, social, health and citizenship education – when he was a teacher.

He was already dabbling in creative writing, such as Doctor Who fan fiction, but decided to pursue a new path.

James, who lives in Battersea, London, said: “I found I was reading a lot of teen fiction and realised if I was going to write, it probably would be for teenagers.

“I had tried to write an adult novel but didn’t enjoy it; it didn’t stick. I then started to do Hollow Pike.”

After finishing the title, about a village with a legend of witchcraft, he contacted literary agents and was thrilled when he was taken on.

“I will never forget the day I got my agent,” he said.

“I was in the classroom while the kids were off at break when I got the email through. I then ran down to the other year group.”

James’s most recent book, Under My Skin, published by Hot Key Books, tells the tale of Sally Feathers, who gets more than she bargains for when a girl called Molly Sue is tattooed onto her back.

He said: “There’s something so interesting about puberty. When you are 13, you don’t know what you are going to be when you are 18 – it’s a transformation.

“The pressures young people are under is phenomenal.”

While discussing This Book is Gay at schools, James, who grew up in West Yorkshire, talks about his own experience of coming out.

“I realised I was gay when I was about 15,” he said. “It was a very slow process realising the difference between the friendships I had with female friends and what I was feeling.

“I came out to some friends, went off to university and then came out to my family unremarkably.”

Since the book was published last year, he has received countless letters and emails from young people who have used it to come out.

“I didn’t think it would be as successful as it has been. I had felt I wasn’t in a position to speak for anyone, but I then realised it would have really helped me when I was 15.

“It feels like I have a responsibility to try and represent LGBT people, but I can’t speak for the whole community.”

James’s next non-fiction title is called Mind Your Head – about mental health.

With teen romance All of the Above out in September, and another novel following in 2016, his rollercoaster career is set to continue.

“The more successful you get as an author, the less writing you do,” he said. “Gone are the days when writers sat typing in a dark room – now you put on a show.”

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