When I was growing up, Claire Hennessy was one of my favourite Irish authors. I grew up reading titles of hers like Being Her Sister (which inspired me to write my own [not very good] short stories), Dear Diary and Good Girls Don’t. When I heard there was a new book from Claire coming this year, there was no way in hell I wasn’t getting myself one.
Before the launch of Nothing Tastes as Good in Dublin this week, I caught up with Claire to ask about her return to the YA world.
This is your first publication with Hot Key Books, how was the transition to working with a new publisher?
It was strange getting to used to a new publisher but I can’t put words on how much I love Hot Key – I read and adore random YA titles and then realise we share a publisher and it’s brilliant. I’m so delighted to be working with Hot Key – they do such cool stuff.
Everyone has the moment inspiration hits – when was yours for Nothing Tastes as Good?
It was multiple moments, really. I think for best novels it’s this combination of a bunch of things you care about. So Annabel and her narration – dead but snarky and aware – was one element, and teen girls not quite helped by the world was another.
How would you describe the novel in five words?
Snarky anorexic ghost recovers, kinda.
How did you go about the research for this novel?
A lot of it I’d already done. I have this weird fascination with YA ED narratives so when I came to specifically researching this book it was a case of reading the books I hadn’t read before, especially memoirs. I also wandered into the lovely/terrifying world of pro-ana sites and ‘thinspo’, and listened to songs about anorexia, especially the ones that romanticise it. If I hadn’t had a fair bit of knowledge already I don’t think I’d have written the novel – I find researching specifically for a project really tricky, as opposed to shoring up knowledge you already have.
Do you feel it was more challenging to write this than any of your previous books?
Kinda. I’ve written YA about eating disorders before, and troubled teenage girls before, but Annabel’s perspective offered up a very different take on things. I hadn’t ever written anything novel-length with a supernatural element and those bits – defining exactly what powers she had, what the ‘rules’ were – did not come naturally to me.
Do you think YA fiction has taken a step to tackling heavy issues such as consent, transgender issues, now body image?
YA has been doing really cool stuff for AGES! I think the big change in the last few years is that we’re much more aware of the cool stuff that’s happening. Like, Francesca Lia Block had very sensitive portrayal of trans characters well before (awesome!) writers like Lisa Williamson. Courtney Summers and Louise O’Neill and Amber Smith have written really important and moving books about sexual assault recently but Laurie Halse Anderson and June Oldham were exploring these issues fifteen years ago, and they were building on the first ‘golden age’ of YA fiction that gave us writers like Robert Cormier and Paul Zindel and Judy Blume and SE Hinton. And eating disorder stories have been with us for many, many years too. But it’s so much easier to see these things now because YA gets more space, and is more clearly ‘for teens’ as opposed to ‘for very young teens before they jump over to the adult section’, in bookshops.
What advice do you have for someone affected by issues in the book?
Talk to someone, and talk to a professional if you can! I feel like we emphasise ‘talk to a friend’ and ‘go for a nice walk!’ re: mental health issues more than we should, to compensate for a lack of professional resources, and as useful as it can be to talk to a pal, they’re not necessarily equipped to be your therapist or your doctor.