Author: Kel Duckhouse
The Branford Boase Award judges admired the structure, voice and setting of The Bones of Me. Where did the idea for the book come from and what was your starting point?
The idea for The Bones of Me, came from a writing workshop during my Masters degree in Writing for Young People. My Tutor, Steve Voake, asked us to write a dinner time scene where there was a conflict. Before this I had been writing modern fantasy, but I wanted to write about a pie and mash shop and boxing, because they are two of my favourite things. I brought my piece to be critiqued the following week and it was met with enthusiasm. My tutor told me I had found my voice and encouraged me to write more. So, the starting point was one of the first scenes in the book, where Denny tells Dad that he doesn’t want him to be his coach anymore and he agrees to train Molly. The voice was inspired by a student I once taught, when I was an English Teacher, who enjoyed a boxing class we once had. I wanted to create a working-class character, because as a child I didn’t read many stories where I could see myself and found it hard as a teacher, to find books like this, where my students could also see themselves. The setting is based on my childhood home and a boxing gym called Repton Boxing Club, that I discovered during my setting research for the book. I think writing characters, based loosely on people you know and settings that are ingrained in you, makes for a more authentic and raw read and I tried at all points during to writing of The Bones of Me, to make it as authentic as possible.
The book combines verse and prose. Why did you choose to do this and what does the inclusion of verse bring to your book?
I initially planned to write the book in prose and did so until Molly’s first fight scene. I was finding it hard to set the pace, or make it feel like a real experience. It felt a bit flat. I started my writing life as a poet and had recently discovered verse novels. So, I thought I’d try writing the fight in verse, to see if it would make a difference. It did. I found the rhythm of the poetry made the page come alive and added great pace and provided the reader with more of an experience. I decided then that I would keep the fight scenes in verse and the rest of the novel in prose. However, I found myself writing the pacier, more emotive scenes in verse and I was having so much fun, I kept at it. I think combining verse with prose gives the reader a unique experience. I hope that the verse and page play make for a pacey and exciting read and that reluctant readers of prose might find it easier to read too. I also think that The Bones of Me offers teachers and parents a good way to introduce poetry to young people, without it feeling overwhelming, and to show that modern poetry can be fun and accessible. It also makes the book edgy and where the poetry includes page play, gives readers an all-encompassing experience, where they feel like they aren’t just reading the action, but that they are part of it too.
Describe your working relationship with your editor, Harriet Birkinshaw. What did you enjoy most about working together on your book?
Working with Harriet was a true blessing. It being my first book, I was unsure how the process would work, but Harriet guided me through the process expertly and always with an empathetic touch. Harriet has a real eye for plot, which I really needed. I was worried that I’d have to make changes that I didn’t agree with, but Harriet was always sure to remind me, that it was my book and everything was my decision. Having said that, there was very little that I chose not to go with. Harriet knew how to push me when I needed to be pushed, always with a delicate hand and she made sure to give praise where she found it. The nicest thing was the belief that Harriet had in me and the book and that she saw potential to strengthen the story, where I might have missed it. She wasn’t afraid to challenge me and I really enjoyed seeing where these challenges would take me. There is no way in the world that The Bones of Me would be the book it is without Harriet’s passion, talent and dedication and I am forever thankful for how much she taught me about my capability and my craft. She’s proof that a good editor is worth their weight in gold.
What is your favourite scene in your book and why?
My favourite scene in the book is the Chapter named ‘Say Something.’ This is the scene when Molly finds Denny. When I was writing the book, I was so excited to get to this scene. I was dying to reunite Molly and Denny. I ended up writing it on a National Express coach on the way to meeting my agent Julia, for the very first time, and it was my birthday. So, this was a fab day, all round. The reason I love it is because Molly finally finds Denny. I love the poetry and page play in this chapter. The ‘Bang, bang, bang,’ as she knocks the door the ‘sniff, sniff, sniff,’ as she lets herself cry for the very first time and we see her vulnerability that she tries to hide so well. But the best part is at the end of the chapter when they tell each other that they love each other in their special way, ‘ tee-oh-oh.’ It is a real moment of tenderness that will always stay with me.
What advice would you give to debut writers?
Oh, where to start! I guess my biggest piece of advice is to be brave and authentic with your writing. Don’t shy away from telling your story in new and interesting ways. People might try to dissuade you and tell you it’s better to play safe. But writing for young people means the sky is the limit. Young people are the most receptive of readers and love fresh and challenging reads. My next piece of advice is, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Your gut is always right. Yes, sometimes this means a huge edit, but it is always worth it, to make your work-in-progress the very best it can be. Trust your editor. Always be receptive to advice given, even if it feels hard or impossible. Your editor knows your potential, adapt and grow together and enjoy the process, because it is exciting and fun. Oh and don’t let impostor syndrome get in the way, you are meant to be a writer, it’s in your blood, ignore the voices in your head telling you can’t. Remember, ‘Impossible is nothing.’
Editor: Harriet Birkinshaw
What was it about Kel’s writing that most excited you about her book?
Upon reading Kel’s manuscript, I was immediately captivated by her writing style, her unique tone and expression. I was particularly impressed by the way she seamlessly intertwined moments of free verse throughout her work. Additionally, Kel’s portrayal of an East London community, along with her skilfully crafted characters, felt raw and genuine, encouraging me to read on.
The book’s central theme of community and the idea that actions, rather than your background, define you, was also deeply moving. As an editor, I’ve read many manuscripts, but it’s rare to feel such a strong connection with a work. However, with Kel’s book, I knew right away that it had tremendous potential, and I could clearly envision the necessary improvements to take it to the next level. I’m delighted to say that our team unanimously agreed, and it was an easy decision to move forward with publishing Kel’s book.
What were the main things you worked on with her as her editor?
Kel’s skill as a spoken word poet was evident in the parts of her original manuscript that were written in verse. However, these moments were scarce, so I encouraged her to incorporate them more frequently throughout the text. This writing style complemented the book’s fight scenes and poignant emotional moments, which contributed to its dynamic energy to captivate the reader.
As we dove deeper into the manuscript, we discussed ways to propel the story forwards and keep the reader engaged. We found that transitioning between past and present lent a sense of urgency to the narrative, making each moment feel more precious and driving the story towards its thrilling climax. Kel’s willingness to make bold changes and take risks made the editing process feel like a true collaboration, and I knew that together, we could bring Molly’s journey to life in the most vibrant way possible.
Together, we streamlined the plot – as there were at times too many competing plot lines – and elevated the stakes, ensuring that Molly’s story remained at the heart of the manuscript. I asked for some big edits to the narrative and Kel was always receptive to my feedback. Although there were moments of change that I’m sure must have been painful to make, she always listened and took my ideas on board – often elevating them above and beyond.
The Branford Boase Award judges describe The Bones of Me as ‘a brave book’. What do you think is brave about it?
The Bones of Me is a truly courageous book that dares to confront the harsh realities faced by many young people. Through the story of Molly, we witness a young woman grappling with a situation that seems to be beyond her control. Despite the overwhelming odds against her, Molly refuses to give up and instead finds her own strength and agency through her love for her brother and her passion for boxing.
Molly’s journey is a testament to the power of self-belief, even in the hardest of times. Molly begins the story with very little confidence, but through her relationships with the people around her and her own determination, she is able to rise above her difficult circumstances to forge her own path. She must listen to her intuition and fight, both literally and metaphorically, to uncover the truth about her brother’s disappearance.
In a world where vulnerability is often seen as weakness, The Bones of Me shows us the bravery it takes to face the truth and find our own way forward. This book is a poignant reminder that we all have the strength within us to overcome adversity and create a better future for ourselves.
What do you find most satisfying about being an editor?
For me, there is nothing more fulfilling than being a part of the process of crafting a story and working alongside a writer to bring their vision to life. It is a joy to spend my days reading and nurturing stories that will captivate and move readers.
Each writer is unique, and I find great satisfaction in discovering the best way to support and guide them through their writing journey. It is a collaborative process that requires trust and respect, and I am honoured to be a part of it. Writing is a deeply personal and often challenging undertaking, and I take great pride in being a sounding board and cheerleader for the writers and illustrators I work with.
As we work together to shape and refine a manuscript, I am constantly amazed by the creativity and talent of the writers and illustrators I collaborate with. It is a thrill to witness their stories evolve and to play a part in helping them to reach their full potential. And perhaps most importantly, I cherish the relationships that develop between creators and editors. The trust and rapport we build is truly invaluable and makes the entire process that much more rewarding.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to write for a YA readership?
When it comes to writing for a YA readership, one of the most important things is to write authentically and from the heart. Young adult readers are discerning and can quickly detect inauthenticity, so it’s crucial to write with honesty and empathy. It’s also important to keep in mind the unique challenges and experiences faced by young people today, and to approach those themes and issues with sensitivity and nuance.
Don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment with form and structure. Young adult readers are often drawn to books that challenge and push boundaries, so try something new or unconventional. At the end of the day, writing for a YA audience is about capturing the complex and often messy experience of growing up, and doing so in a way that feels honest, engaging, and emotionally resonant.
The Bones of Me is published by Flying Eye Books, 978-1914343032, £8.99 pbk.
Thank you to Kel Duckhouse and to Harriet Birkinshaw for answering our questions.