Jessica Scott-Whyte on The Asparagus Bunch and books for tweens and early teens
What inspired you to write The Asparagus Bunch?
A few years ago, my eldest child was diagnosed with an ASD (autism spectrum disorder). I was keen to channel my own lived experiences of this and write a book that, in part, looks at that very unique relationship. It was also very important for the story to be a comedy and to portray in the truest sense, the highs and lows of that relationship using humour; an often undervalued and misunderstood resource for addressing serious topics, I think.
Are any of the characters or elements of the story based on real people or events?
Oh, many...Caroline, Leon's mum, was inspired by a friend of a mother of an ex-boyfriend of mine. She was extremely bohemian and creative, with tumbling messy red hair and was a true optimist. Another character that comes to mind is Tanya, who is very similar in personality to my brother. He was diagnosed at a young age with dyslexia. Growing up together, I got a very close insight into his day-to-day living with dyslexia, both the good and bad parts. Thanks to my very supportive parents and early intervention, he came to see his dyslexia as a true gift and to unlock all its potentials, it was a matter of embracing and doing things differently. Today he is approaching 30 and has an incredible job in London (flying it, as we say at home!) He is also one of the most emotionally mature people and creative thinkers I know. He inspires me daily.
What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?
A few things. Firstly, that tolerance in life is crucial. Tolerance towards different ideas, different ways of doing things, different opinions, different people. Being tolerant of something or someone doesn’t mean that we have to share the same beliefs or points of view, but we must accept that they are allowed to exist. The Asparagus Bunch is a book that definitely doesn’t do things by the book. The use of humour is as much an exercise in tolerance itself as is the main character Leon's warts-and-all portrayal. Secondly, it is so important to do things differently, now more than ever. We need people who view and experience the world differently. We desperately need creative thinkers; people who will come up with an idea that nobody else has thought off. Being a creative thinker can't be taught in textbooks. Reading for pleasure is, I think, the key to raising a creative thinker, especially when they are allowed to read whatever they want. Thirdly, hobbies are so important! It is vital to be interested in something – ANYTHING. Whenever I hear a young person say they aren't interested in anything, that sets off an alarm bell for me. Video games, comics, fishing, history, baking, robots, astrology, tiddlywinks – be interested in something. That goes for adults too!
What would your Mastermind subject be?
Cluedo! I am totally obsessed with the boardgame Cluedo and have been since the youngest age. I had numerous editions of the game, I had the collection of murder mystery books based on the game, I had the PC game version, I've watched the film a million times...you get the idea...
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Leon and his friends?
Am I allowed to…?? Well, here goes nothing... the sequel to The Asparagus Bunch is called From Blackpool With Love, which, if you read between the lines should give you an idea of the main theme. Things pick up a year on from where they left off. Leon is a year older, but absolutely none the wiser, by his own admission. I can't say a great deal more except that there will be EVEN MORE SWEETS, including an all but forgotten bonbon from Scotland that Leon is particularly intrigued by.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I think the tween age group is arguably the least prioritized age group in literature and yet, by far the most crucial, as most young people start to drop their reading habits when they start secondary school. It is also that all too important transition phase into the beginning of adolescence, so there is a lot to explore there too from a writer's perspective.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
It is very manic in our flat, so I've actually become used to writing in the midst of total chaos. Whenever I find myself in those rare moments in the flat all alone, in total silence, I get no writing done!
Which other books for this age group with relatable characters would you recommend our subscribers read next?Well, I am obliged to say Adrian Mole to start with. I still see it as a rite of passage for tween readers. More recently, I have really enjoyed Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth, (12+) and Ellie Pillai is Brown by Christine Pillainayagam (again 12+) – both are extremely funny with main characters that suck you in from the very first page. Both of these writers are on top of their game.
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