We are thrilled to be sharing The Bones of Me by Kel Duckhouse with our Macaw subscribers this month. Unlike anything we've sent them before, it's a gritty urban family drama set in and around an East London boxing club. It's also lyrically and beautifully told, switching between verse and prose throughout. And it stars a brave, loyal and ambitious lead character who we were rooting for from the very start. Molly is gutsy with a strong sense of justice and represents everything that is good about her generation. This is a thrilling book, desperate in places, but ultimately hopeful and highly original. Here Kel tells us what, and who, inspired the story and which other novels for young teens should be next on your reading list.
What inspired you to write The Bones of Me?
The Bones of Me was born in a workshop on my Masters degree: Writing for Young People. My tutor asked us to write a dinnertime scene where there was a conflict. I wanted to write about a pie and mash shop and because I loved boxing, a boxing theme. I was writing high concept stuff at the time and so a piece of gritty, realism wasn't my style. However, when I brought it to workshop, everyone loved it and my tutor told me I had found my voice. The characters are inspired in part by some students I used to teach, especially Molly, and the setting is inspired by where I grew up.
We love the setting! Can you tell us a bit more about what (and where) influenced it?
I'm a Londoner born and bred and grew up in a high rise on a council estate in East London. I have fond memories of my childhood home and so I took a lot from memory. I did go back to my old estate to take notes and I also took photos of the streets surrounding Repton Boxing Club (the club that inspired Dukes, which I also visited) in Bethnal Green. I love the buzz of the city; it gives me so much energy and I tried to put this same love for the city into Molly. There is something beautiful about council estates that makes me feel at home. I really enjoyed my research and hope to use a similar setting for my next book.
Are any of the characters based on real people or events?
Molly and Kwaku are loosely based on students I taught. Kwaku's never ending smiling comes from a kid I taught and Molly's moodiness from another. There was a student I taught who really hated lessons and was hard to reach. But one day a boxing coach came in and this student, who never engaged in anything, came alive once she put the boxing gloves on. This has always stayed with me and I wondered, what would happen if she went on to take boxing seriously. So, I started writing a character that did and Molly was born.
What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?
I did a lot of walking around East London and taking pictures for the setting. I read a lot of boxing books. I watched a lot of boxing and tried to familiarise myself with the world and terms that were used. But the best bit of research I did was to attend a boxing class. It was a lot of fun, but very exhausting. The next day muscles I didn't know I had hurt. But when I came out of that class, I was pumped and my mind was so clear. It was like I'd boxed all my troubles and worries away. That was a surprise to me and I used it throughout the book.
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Molly?
What a good question! I think Molly will go on to box in the Olympics and represent her country. After this I hope she turns professional and is at the top of her game, with her brother and dad training her. I see her teaching Hayden how to box one day too. I think she will be a fantastic aunty and of course she will be eating lots of pie and mash!
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I was told that this was a difficult age to write for because the age category doesn't really exist. You have middle grade and YA. Even though the book is classed as YA, a lot of YA is for older kids and The Bones of Me is in the lower end of that category. It's hard to sell. But I'm fascinated with this age. It's like an in between coming of age. The bit where you're still a kid and entrenched in family life, but you are starting to branch out and find yourself. Also, as a teacher and parent, I found it hard to find good books in this age group. You often find that kids stop reading around this age and then pick up a few years later and I wonder if this is because there just aren't many books available. It was certainly a risk writing for what I call 'tweens' but I thought it was important, so I did it anyway and I hope it pays off.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I write everywhere. I love quirky little cafes and pubs. But I also write at my desk. On lazy days, I'll just pull my duvet over me and write tucked up in bed. I always write with music on and usually have a song that goes with each chapter.
Which other novels in verse for young teens would you recommend our subscribers read next?
I would recommend anything by Sarah Crossan, especially the verse novels, Moonrise and Toffee. I'd also highly recommend the collaboration between Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan, We Come Apart. It's probably my favourite book.
Copies of our The Bones of Me pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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