Every year, I spend the last two weeks of June and the first of July in Scotland. I spend some much-needed quality time with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews; I enjoy a short break from the stresses of London life and collect inspiration for my next piece of writing; I work at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, something I look forward to without fail every summer.
This year I came up early. I’ve been here a month already and I’ve still got another two weeks before returning to England. I’ve filled my schedule with meetings with content writing clients, coffee dates with friends and adventures throughout the city. I also discovered that if I got onto the #36 bus, I could be at Black & White Publishing within 20 minutes. Not that I’ve been, but I have had my book post from them redirected to my Edinburgh address.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to join a book tour for their new YA imprint, Ink Road. The publisher I knew. Back in April, they published Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman – a book I was desperate to read but couldn’t find in any bookshop I walked into (sold out… everywhere!) so I jumped at the chance to join their list of book bloggers. I accepted without hesitation but I had no idea what I was stepping into. But this author was someone I hadn’t heard of before, and the book was a follow on from a trilogy I wasn’t familiar with.
Estelle Maskame, I soon discovered, was a teen author from Scotland. She started writing aged thirteen and published the last book of her first series, the DIMLY trilogy, just three years later. She won the Young Scot Arts Award in 2016, was shortlisted for the Young Adult award at the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards and her stand-alone novel, Dare To Fall, has been deemed ‘highly addictive’. The author impressed me; the lovely inscription she left me in the copy of the book Ink Road sent me enticed me; and that opening chapter had me hook, line and sinker.
A twelve-year-old boy examining new cuts and bruises covering his body after a bath. A twelve-year-old boy terrified to pass the living room where his parents were watching television. A twelve-year-old boy terrified of the fact that his father’s come in to check on him as he sleeps.
With the chapters alternating between two timelines, Just Don’t Mention It tells the story of Tyler Bruce, the love-interest of the protagonist, Eden, in Maskame’s DIMLY trilogy. The past shows us a twelve-year-old Tyler, suffering physical abuse at the hands of his father, while the present shows us his perspective on the events in the first book of the trilogy – Did I Mention I Love You? – as a seventeen-year-old struggling to deal with the aftermath.
Although I haven’t read the original trilogy, I found it easy to fall into Just Don’t Mention It. For someone so young, Maskame’s writing is incredible. Her characters are complex with interesting arcs and relatable qualities; her style is easy to read which helps pull you into the narrative quickly; and within seconds of opening the first pages, she pulls on your emotions so hard that you find yourself wishing you could hurl yourself into the string of letters like a warrior Mary Poppins to protect Tyler yourself.
It’s definitely a book I recommend to any and all YA lovers. So, leaving you in the capable hands of Estelle Maskame herself, I’m off to begin my search for the DIMLY series in the many wonderful bookshops of Edinburgh!
First off, a huge thank you for the signed copy of Just Don’t Mention It. I didn’t notice it when I first received the book and flicked through it so when I sat down to actually read it, it was a lovely surprise.
I hadn’t heard of the DIMLY series before joining the book tour, but I’m curious why you chose to include the plot for Did I Mention I Love You? from Tyler’s perspective instead of simply writing a prequel story. Why not just write a novel about him aged twelve?
I think the present timeline (AKA DIMILY/book 1 retold) was really important to include in Just Don’t Mention It because we learn so much more about Tyler as a seventeen year old that we didn’t know before. I especially wanted to highlight and show more of his relationship with his mom, but also his relationship with his girlfriend, Tiffani. Because we’re only seeing what Eden is seeing in DIMILY, we never really find out what was going on behind closed doors. We learn so much more about Tyler’s mental health, the extent of his involvement with drugs, his toxic relationship with Tiffani and so much more.
The characters are so interesting, right from the get go. I was especially intrigued by Tyler, his Dad, Eden and Tiffany. Where did the inspiration for them come from?
I tried to create engaging, interesting, complicated but also realistic characters. My characters all have their flaws which I felt was really important in order to give them their humanity, and of course, they all make mistakes. I like that with Tyler especially, he has so many different layers that we slowly uncover, and as the books progress, we continue to learn more about each character.
How about the novel itself? What inspired your storylines?
I got the idea for the DIMILY series when I was thirteen, and at the time a lot of the books I was reading were about two teenagers who couldn’t be together but often for really minor, silly reasons (for example, because the guy was popular at school and the other girl wasn’t). I started thinking of more serious, genuine reasons why two people, teenagers especially, couldn’t be together. That’s when I got the idea for step-siblings. Although there’s no blood relation, society can still frown down upon step-sibling relationships, and I wanted to explore that a bit more because it seemed really interesting to me (and would allow for loooots of drama which I love to write about!)
You’re Scottish but have set your novel in America. I really want to know why you didn’t set it in Scotland, but more than that, I want to know what difficulties you had in writing for an American. Their dialect, their colloquialisms, their tradition – it’s all so different from the Brits.
When I write, I like to escape from my own reality and learn about new people and new places. Writing a book set in Scotland wouldn’t be interesting to me because I’ve lived here my entire life, so I wouldn’t be exploring anything new. I love the US, so I enjoy writing about the country in my books. I grew up watching American movies and reading other books set in the US, so writing in American English and using the correct slang and writing about the correct social norms wasn’t too difficult for me – in fact, I think I prefer it!
What was your writing process like for this novel? How did it differ from writing DIMLY?
Honestly, I had an absolute blast writing Just Don’t Mention It! I’d been writing about the DIMILY world for six years, so I really did know the story and the characters like the back of my hand and it felt so natural writing this book. Everything just seemed to flow, and even though it’s the longest book I’ve written to date, it was also the quickest! Writing can be stressful sometimes, but I had so much fun writing this book and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Are you writing a second part to JDMI?
No, this was the final instalment to the DIMILY series, unfortunately!
You started out so young! Do you wish you’d done anything differently?
Not at all. Everything I did when I was younger has lead me to where exactly I am now, and if I had done anything differently, then maybe I wouldn’t be in this position. I can only thank my younger self, because everything has worked out perfectly!
What was your publishing journey like?
I started the DIMILY series when I was thirteen and began posting it online on a couple different writing platforms while using social media to promote my writing. Over the course of a few years, I’d built up a fanbase for the DIMILY series and the books had grown in popularity online which led to me being noticed by local media and then my publisher! I signed my first book deal when I was seventeen and have been writing full-time since.
What advice would you give to other writers attempting to publish their first novel?
Try and get your work out there as best you can! There’s so many different online writing platforms out there that you can use as a stepping stone to getting feedback/building a fanbase/potentially getting your work discovered by an agent or publisher and it’s definitely worth looking into.
And now onto some ‘getting to know you’ questions.
What was it that first inspired you to become a writer? How did you get started?
I always just loved books. I adored reading and writing was my hobby, and so I dreamed of seeing a story of mine on bookshelves one day. I was introduced to writing back in primary school and totally feel in love with it. I was forever writing stories in my bedroom and by the time I was a teenager, I was working on novels. Being an author was my dream job, but I never really believed that it would ever happen – I’m really glad I proved myself wrong, because now I wish I’d believed in myself more when I was younger.
Have you got any pre-writing rituals?
Music!! I can’t write without it, and often I’ll spend a good half hour or so finding the right playlist to listen to before I can even type a single word. It really motivates and inspires me.
Writers always have the best procrastination techniques. What are yours?
Oh, so many… Telling myself only one more episode of The Vampire Diaries, reading other books, food breaks, nap time…
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I either wanted to go into the travel industry or the police force – so two totally different lines of work from writing!
What book do you wish you had written?
“All The Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven, for sure.
If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Most likely John Green, because he’s one of my favourite YA authors around right now and I adore his books.
What’s your favourite book to film adaptation?
Not a film adaptation, but I love the Netflix series adaptation of “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher.
What books are you currently reading?
I’m not currently reading anything at the moment, but my most recent read was “Starfish” by Akemi Dawn Bowman which was INCREDIBLE. I highly recommend it.