Anne Miller speaks to author Non Pratt about teenagers, her new novel and books for those who find it difficult to read.
Non Pratt is the author of Trouble, Remix and the forthcoming Truth or Dare. Her latest book, Unboxed is a novella published by Barrington Stoke, which publishes “super-readable” books designed to appeal to reluctant readers or those who find books difficult. They have thicker paper, pale yellow pages to make the text easier to read and the typeface is a special font that is dyslexia-friendly.
Pratt’s (excellent) previous novels came in at 65,000 and 80,000 words. With Unboxed there are just 18,000 but she manages to cram a huge amount of story and emotions into them.
Barrington Stoke is keen for the writers it publishes to tell the story as they naturally would, then there is a special language edit before the books hit the shops. Trouble and Remix are both told in dual narrative, whereas Unboxed is narrated by just one teenager, 18-year-old Alix. In her, Pratt created a character who “wouldn’t randomly come up with long words to describe lots of things; she wasn’t overly chatty.”
“I feel like I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be 14. I don’t think that *cough* 30-something Non is so different from 14-something Non, I’ve just updated.”
Unboxed takes place over one evening as Alix waits for her old gang of friends from school (who affectionately nicknamed themselves the ‘Freaksome Five’) to open a time capsule they’d hidden five years earlier. Five friends made the capsule but only four are around to open it as the fifth friend, Millie, has died of stomach cancer.
Pratt deftly covers a huge range of emotions, from grief at losing a friend to growing apart from a group you were previously close to and wondering how much of your current self you can share with them now.
In the very first paragraph we meet Alix “standing by the gates of my old school waiting for a bunch of strangers I used to call friends.” Throughout the book we learn about how the gang drifted apart and see their blurry relationships coming back into focus.
Pratt based the story on a real time capsule she made with her friends when they were 14. That capsule is yet to be opened but she remembers it containing a cassette recording of them all singing along to Green Day’s Basket Case as well as letters they had written to their future selves. Pratt’s Freaksome Five gang also wrote letters and you may find you have something in your eye as they reread their 13-year-old selves’ hopes and dreams.
Pratt writes about teenagers with such conviction that I am instantly transported back to being 15 on a bus, listening to Good Charlotte on a portable CD player. I wonder how she manages to put herself in the mindset of a teenager?
“I feel like I am a teenager. I feel like I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be 14; I am every incarnation that I’ve ever been. I don’t think that *cough* 30-something Non is so different from 14-something Non, I’ve just updated.”
Today’s teenagers have access to technology – iPhones, SnapChat and YouTube – that teenagers from just 10 years ago could barely have imagined. But Pratt thinks there will always be “an eternal teenageness” as “the problems of being a teenager will always be the problems of being a teenager – and that is no longer being a child and yet not being allowed to enter an adult world fully. And you’ve still got school or your parents dictating to you what you should be doing.”
Pratt has also written a story for I’ll be Home for Christmas – an anthology published by Stripes – which also features stories by Holly Bourne, Sarah Crossan and Juno Dawson. A pound from each copy goes to homeless charity Crisis and Stripes has pledged to donate at least £10,000.
Unboxed, published by Barrington Stoke, is available now.
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Anne is a QI Elf. She has two Blue Peter badges, reached the semi-finals of Only Connect and really likes puffins. @miller_anne