As part of Laura Jarratt’s blog tour for her new book, By Any Other Name, Laura answers the question ‘Who Am I?’
That question is a big part of Holly’s journey in By Any Other Name. I think most YA fiction has a some vested interest in looking at identity because your teen years are when you’re experimenting with identity and discovering who you are and who you will be. I find it one of the most interesting concepts to explore because there is so much a writer can do with the topic and so many takes on it that it can never get stale or tired.
I remember when I was Holly’s age, who I was being such a big deal. Me and my friends went through a phase of looking at horoscopes, not just the daily forecast kind of thing, but the predictions of how your personality would be based on your star sign. I’m a Pisces (not that I believe in any of that now) and I recall totally relating to one description of Pisceans: a girl going out on a date asks her mother who she should be that night; her mother tells her to be herself; the girl replies ‘Yeah, but which me shall I be?’ It was supposed to illustrate the mutability of Pisceans; actually I think it perfectly describes how a lot of teens feel in adolescence when they’re still working out the answers to the big questions of life.
Holly has the most obvious mental road-trip on the identity journey in By Any Other Name, but I think that’s also echoed in other characters. Matt makes his journey later in the book, and in a much smaller way so do Fraser and Gemma, though they don’t find their conclusion. They’re all facing the same questions about who they are, who they want to be and how they get there. For Holly in particular, a big part of her journey is learning who she is once everything around her is stripped away and she hasn’t got her old social crutches to rely on. And she has to figure out for herself how much of who she was comes from within and how much is down to other people’s projections of what they think she is. There’s a lot of people still struggling with that idea at thirty, let alone sixteen!
Holly was actually really difficult to write for most of the book, precisely because she doesn’t know who she is. I had to get to know her as she got to know herself which was a weird experience for me as I usually spend the first couple of chapters learning who my characters are and then it all flows from there. But Holly kept as much concealed from me as she does from the reader for most of the book so this is probably the most re-drafted book structurally and in terms of her voice that I’ve written.
By contrast, and this wasn’t a conscious design but how they evolved as I wrote the book, Joe’s the secure one. He knows who he is and he’s happy with that. That doesn’t mean he’s got everything sorted – he’s certainly not quite sure how to deal with Holly at times and he accepts he might have to make sacrifices for his family that he doesn’t want to make, but he’s grounded and comfortable in his own skin.
Thank you Laura for a fantastic post.
By Any Other Name is published by Electric Monkey on the 1st of April.
To find out more about Laura Jarratt: