Danielle Jawando | 'I wanted to write the book that I desperately needed at 15'

Danielle Jawando | 'I wanted to write the book that I desperately needed at 15'

Danielle Jawando answers our questions about her debut YA novel And The Stars Were Burning Brightly (Simon & Schuster), which is shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2021

1. Can you sum up your book in one sentence?

When 15-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart; a story of loss, love, understanding and the importance of speaking out when all you want to do is shut down. (Sorry, I think I cheated a bit with the semicolon!)

2. What inspired the book?

Stars was inspired by my own experience of being badly bullied at school and not wanting to be here, anymore. I did a lot of research before starting the novel and came across so many teenagers who had similar stories to myself and Al. I wanted to write the book that I desperately needed at 15. Not only that though, I wanted to write something that would hopefully help teenagers, now. Who might be struggling with toxic friendship groups, or their mental health, or how to go about taking that first, vital, step and asking for help.

3. Which character in the book is your favourite, and why?

This is a really tough one! Nathan will always be one of my favourite characters because he reminds me of so many of the teenagers I taught, when I worked in a college. I think that most of us have all been in a situation where we know that we need help or are struggling with something in our lives, yet are too afraid to reach out, or maybe, we don’t know how to. Nathan was the first character who popped into my head, even before I knew what the story was about, so he’ll always be special to me. But Al is also a joint favourite, because he was so artistic and creative and had such a unique way of looking at the world (and finding the beauty in everything around him). I don’t think I could choose between them!

4. What does being on this year’s YA Book Prize shortlist mean to you?

I honestly can’t put into words how much it means to me. Being on the YA Book Prize shortlist is something I’d only ever dreamed of. I feel so incredibly lucky and grateful to be on this shortlist, it’s even more special to me, because I’m on there with so many authors who I love and admire.

5. What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

The best thing about writing for young adults, is when a teen reader reaches out to you and tells you how much they loved your book, or how for the first time ever, they felt seen, in your story. It’s such an honour and a privilege to be able to write for teenagers, so it means the world to me, to know that tenets have read and connected with the book. Doing school visits and talking to young people is also one of the best things about being a YA author and I can’t wait for things to get back to normal, so I can do this!

6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (it’s still one of my favourite books, now). Malorie had such a huge impact on me growing up, I not only devoured everything that she wrote, but for the time ever, I saw myself represented in the pages of books. That was really life-changing for me. I didn’t even think it was possible for me to be an author, until I picked up a Malorie Blackman novel.

7. What is your top writing tip?

Keep going! Writing can be really tough sometimes and I’ve realised that the self-doubt doesn’t go away (and it probably never will), but you just have to keep at it. Keep wiring and keep telling the stories that matter to you. It’s also really important to have some great writer friends who will be there to support you during the highs and the lows. I don’t know where I’d be without my wonderful author, friends.

8. What songs would be on a playlist for your book?

"Counting Stars" by OneRepublic

"Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2" by Stormzy

"Own it" by Stormzy (featuring Ed Sheeran & Burna Boy)

"Boo’d Up" by Ella Mai

"Sunflower" by Post Malone

"In2" by Wstrn

"Dance on My Own" by M.O

"Crazy In Love" by Beyonce

9. Who would you cast in a film version of your book?

I’d have Tachia Newall (who played Bolton Smiley in "Waterloo Road"), for Saul. Then for Nathan I would have Reece Douglas (who was also in "Waterloo Road"), and "Coronation Street"’s Lucy Fallon for Megan.

10. Which book, film or TV show would you recommend to someone who enjoyed your book?

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence, I think that Marlon and Nathan have a lot in common. They both make mistakes and bad decisions but we can understand why they make the choices that they do. There’s also a vulnerability to both of these characters, that we don’t normally see represented. 

You can find out more about And The Stars Were Burning Brightly and Danielle Jawando, and read the first chapter of the book for free, on the YA Book Prize website.​