Monday, February 29, 2016


Nora & Kettle
Lauren Nicolle Taylor
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: February 29th 2016
Genres: Historical, Young Adult

What if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?

Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.

Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to na├»ve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.

For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.

In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.

Set in 1953, NORA AND KETTLE explores the collision of two teenagers facing extraordinary hardship. Their meeting is inevitable, devastating, and ultimately healing. Their stories, a collection of events, are each on their own harmless. But together, one after the other, they change the world.

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I snort, push my sleeves up, and lean back on my forearms. She watches me, her eyes on my bare skin, and I wonder what she’s thinking. “Dances. Really? What’s to miss?” My experience with dances was one forced event in the camps where we watched the grownups awkwardly shift in lines to scratchy music. It didn’t look very enjoyable.

She releases the button she’s been playing with and smirks. “Says someone who’s clearly never been to one.”

“How do you know that?” I say, raising an eyebrow and touching my chest, mock offended.

She laughs. It’s starlight in a jar. I blink slowly. “Oh, I can tell just by looking at you, the way you move. You,” she says, pointing at me accusingly. “Can’t dance.”

The candlelight twinkles like it’s chuckling at me. “I can dance,” I say, not sure why I’m lying to defend myself. I’ve never danced in my life.
She stands up and beckons me with her finger, and I think there’s something wrong with my heart. It’s hurting… but the pain feels good.
She looks like a pirate’s cabin boy, shirt billowing around her small waist, ill-fitting pants rolled over at her hips to stop them from falling down. She points her bare foot at me. “Prove it!”


I cough and stand nervously. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I put them behind my back. She giggles. Touches me. Runs her fingers lightly down my arms until she finds my hands. She grasps my wrists and I gulp as she places one on the small dip between her hips and her ribs, extending the other out like the bow of a boat. Her hand in mine.

I follow her small steps and we wind in circles, avoiding the clumps of debris, painting patterns in the dust.

I stare at my socks and her narrow bare feet, listening to the swish of them across the dirt. “You know, this is pretty weird without music,” I mutter, looking up for a moment and suddenly losing my balance.

She exhales and brings us back to equilibrium. She starts humming softly. It’s a song I’ve heard before, but I pretend it’s the first time. Her voice is sweet, cracked and croaky, but in tune as she gazes at the ground and leads us up and down the back of the tunnel.

This moment is killing me. I don’t want it, but I do. Because I know it won’t be enough and it’s all I’ll get.

The end of the song is coming. It rises and rises and then softly peters out. We look at each other, understanding that something is changing between us, and we have to decide whether to let it. Please, let it.

She sings the last few bars. “And if you sing this melody, you’ll be pretending just like me. The world is mine. It can be yours, my friend. So why don’t you pretend?”

Her voice is like the dust of a comet’s tail. Full of a thousand things I don’t understand but want to.

She stops and starts to step away. She’s so fragile. Not on the outside. On the outside, her body is strong, tougher than it should have to be. It’s inside that’s very breakable. I’m scared to touch her, but I don’t want to avoid touching her because of what she’s been through. That seems worse.

So I do it, because I want to and I don’t think she doesn’t want me to. Her breath catches as I pull her closer. I just want to press my cheek to hers, feel her skin against mine. There is no music, just the rhythm of two barely functioning hearts trying to reach each other through miles of scar tissue.

She presses her ear to my chest and listens, then she pulls back to meet my eyes, her expression a mixture of confusion and comfort. She breathes out, her lips not wanting to close but not wanting to speak. She settles on a nervous smile and puts her arms around my neck. I inhale and look up at the ceiling, counting the stars I know are up there somewhere, and then rest my cheek in her hair.

I don’t know how she is here. I don’t know when she’ll disappear.

We sway back and forth, and it feels like we might break. That we will break if we step apart from each other.

I can’t let her go.

I think I love dancing.

Author Bio:

Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology.
She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing.

She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Being a hero doesn’t always mean kicking ass

Being a hero doesn’t always mean kicking ass

I love the ass-kicking heroine, the girl who shoots arrows and gets the bad guys. Usually done by shooting one arrow through ten of them at once and then round-housing the remaining twenty. It has become an impressive trend in young adult literature. Women need to have more action roles, so I’m all for it. But I’m also for diversity. Not just in character race or sexuality but for different types of heroes. There are many types of heroes. Many types of courage. They don’t just kick ass. Sometimes their brand of heroism is quieter, subtler.
The quiet heroine is on the softer, dreamier side of the coin. It doesn’t mean she’s not strong and a fighter in her own way. In fact in situations of abuse, the far more realistic version is the silent sufferer. She is strong in her power to endure her mistreatment. Often she is protecting someone she loves, which is brave beyond words. Her feelings toward her abuser are often confused. Put down for years, she struggles with her own self-worth. Her abuser is often clever, manipulative and knows exactly what to do and say to keep her from speaking out or leaving.
Yet some criticize her. When they read her story they think, Why doesn’t she say something? Why doesn’t she fight back? It’s a common attitude attached to victim blaming. That somehow it is the victim’s fault for not getting herself out of the situation. But for these victims, ‘getting out’ is the equivalent to climbing out of a fifty-foot deep well.
I have come across this attitude it in the publishing world: A weird simplification of abuse where it is as simple as the girl punching her abuser in the face and running away. It is never as simple as that. It is never simple.
In terms of Nora and Kettle, think about the support system in the 1950s. Where would Nora go? She is barely eighteen, she has no money, no job. She hasn’t finished high school. She also has her sister, Frankie, to think of. She is desperate to leave but she can’t and her father knows it.
Now think about the support system now. Where would a girl being beaten by her only parent go? She is barely eighteen. She has no money, no job. She hasn’t finished high school. She has family she doesn’t want to leave behind. If she reports her parent does she have to prove her abuse? How? Where will she live? If they take her sister away from that parent, would they go into the foster system and be separated? If not, would she be able to support them both?
These questions are a giant, piled-up weight on the heroine’s back and are not easily displaced.
I think sometimes we can tend to want a great escape. We want the dramatic climax where the bad guy gets his and the heroine rises triumphant, having taught him a long overdue lesson, usually with her fists. And these types of stories definitely have their place. But they are, for the most part, a fantasy. Most of the time, real life is a mix of these things. Enduring, fighting, timing, escape.
The quiet heroine doesn’t have to karate kick someone in the guts to be a hero. Her brand of heroism is more about survival and also about keeping up hope in what can feel like a hopeless situation.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Writing about a hearing impaired child in Nora & Kettle and my own experiences as a mother of a child with hearing difficulties.

Writing about a hearing impaired child in Nora & Kettle and my own experiences as a mother of a child with hearing difficulties.

Nora’s younger sister Frankie is hearing impaired. This was a particularly important part of the story for me as my daughter is also hearing impaired. It gave me that personal inspiration to create a realistic character with a disability. It alsoafforded me the opportunity to showcase how awesome my daughter is. Like Frankie, she never lets her hearing problems slow her down.
My daughter is pretty lucky though compared to Frankie. Being hearing impaired in the fifties is very different to now. Aside from the stigma attached to having a disability, the equipment was very basic and could often make things worse rather than better.
It was thoroughly educational researching hearing aids in the 1950s. If you were lucky enough to be able to afford one, you were kitted out with so many wires and bulky battery packs that you looked like an extra in a bad sci-fi movie. My daughter has recently become more self-conscious about wearing her aid and it’s a tiny little rubber shell that fits neatly into her ear. Imagine the attention one would get walking down the street in the fifties with all this hardware attached to you.
Coming from a high society family, Frankie also has to deal with the social exclusion of being deaf. I am so glad this seems to be a rare issue for my daughter. But back then acceptance was harder to win, with people thinking there was something “wrong” with you and your family for having an ‘abnormal’ child.
Social situations were also a problem. In an environment where children were expected to be seen and not heard, children who yelled and asked people to repeat themselves regularly would have been seen as shameful.
Frankie’s speech is also affected. My daughter has some issues with speaking and I used her speech patterns as the basis for how Frankie talks: Smooshing some words together and getting certain sounds confused.
In my world everyone loves the way my daughter talks, though it can be frustrating for her, knowing what she wants to say and not being quite able to say it. It’s one of the most difficult things about her hearing problems. It can single her out and make her appear as if she doesn’t understand things. When the truth is, she understands things just fine.
In Frankie’s world, talking as she does would bring unwanted attention. It also causes frustration resulting in hyperactive behavior. Not a great combination when your father has an extremely short fuse.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching my daughter deal with each challenge in her life with great courage and determination. Thankfully she doesn’t see her hearing impairment as anything to worry about. It is just part of her. It’s her reality.
In writing Frankie I hope that people will think about how it must feel to be in her shoes. To understand the hurdles someone like her needs to overcome everyday and rather than staring, shaking their heads in pity or worse still, averting their eyes, simply smiles and thinks to themselves, what an awesome little kid.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Slow-burning Romance versus Insta-love

Slow-burning Romance versus Insta-love

In the last few years I’ve noticed there has been much discussion and criticism of the concept of love at first sight or insta-love. I understand why people criticize it but I also think maybe people are forgetting what it’s like to be a teenager. The author may not name it as such, but insta-love is usually more like insta-attraction followed by like and then love as the story progresses.
I remember hanging with my girlfriends at the shops and one of them pointing out the boy that worked at the fruit and veg store, proclaiming her undying love for him despite never meeting him. It is pretty easy to fall hard at sixteen. It’s also easy to mistake strong attraction with love.
So while I don’t really believe in love at first sight, I think teenagers can definitely be struck down by lust at first sight. At least that was my experience.
In my first series, the Woodlands, my characters are thrown into a very intense circumstance and develop feelings for each other pretty quickly. They spend everyday of three weeks together and love develops. I’m not sure this qualifies as insta-love, but it is fast.
Nora & Kettle is not really a romance. But for qualifying purposes it would fit in more with the slow-burning classification. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, it is set in 1953. This alone means the pace of a romance between two young people has to be fairly slow. Both characters are also severely traumatized meaning the idea of opening themselves up is a difficult one. Also, Nora comes from a privileged, white American background, whereas Kettle is a half-white, half-Japanese, homeless kid with few prospects. That alone is enough to put the brakes on.
So in Nora & Kettle a slow-burning romance makes sense. It is essential that they build trust and friendship first before any ideas of love can even enter their minds.
I’m not sure I have a preference in terms of how a relationship builds. I think sometimes it makes sense for it to be fast and intense and other times slow and steady. I think either can be realistic if written well. My interest is in the twists and turns that get them there and the challenges they face to keep their love strong.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Reason for the Peter Pan theme in Nora & Kettle

The reason for the Peter Pan theme in Nora & Kettle

The idea for the Peter Pan theme came about accidentally. This often happens when I’m writing. I type away, almost mindlessly, starting with one idea and then the story reaches out like tree roots desperate for water, turning in directions I never see coming.
As I delved into the murky terrain of domestic violence and racial prejudice I think my brain needed relief. And I started to think the reader might need some relief too. These subjects are certainly serious and deserve weight but when reading about it, I thought there needed to be some light, some hope shining out from behind the dark shadows.
Nora’s character was always very Wendy-ish, dreamy and escapist with this resistance to being a ‘real grown-up’. It was interesting to twist the original story to make her into a character who needed that escape, not just because she didn’t want to ‘grow-up’ and leave the nursery but because she needed something to cling to stop herself from falling apart. So Nora was inspired by the idea of a teenage Wendy with a much darker back-story.
Once I had settled on the Peter Pan motif, Kettle’s character became clearer. He would be the leader. He would be the ever hopeful, crowing, homeless kid with a more responsible edge to him than the mischievous Peter Pan. Again, his tendency toward fantasizing, his want to help other kids struggling like him, is part of a coping mechanism to deal with his past.
When describing the setting and the events I kept the language very lyrical and song-like to maintain that pixie dust and magic feel. It was quite a challenge, given the subject matter, to make some of the more violent and distressing scenes feel devastating and yet sound kind of pretty.
Other characters to look out for who are inspired by Peter Pan are Princess Tiger Lily, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook.
I didn’t want the Peter Pan theme to dominate though. Rather, I wanted it to alleviate. I intended it to be subtle and I wouldn’t call Nora & Kettle a Peter Pan retelling. When you read the story with the Peter Pan twist in mind, hopefully you will pick out tiny details that are inspired by the fairytale, changed to fit into 1950s New York.

My aim was to give the book a fanciful feel. It also reminds the reader that these two characters are children dealing with extraordinary situations. They rise to the challenges but they need their imagination, and maybe a little magic to cope.