Dawn O’Porter interview: ‘Oddities should be celebrated’
Dawn O’Porter appeared at Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss her debut novel, Paper Aeroplanes. She chatted to Nicola Love about her fictitious debut, a return to TV and her upcoming book about boobs.
This year’s book festival sees the likes of yourself, Caitlin Moran and Kate Mosse take to the stage. Female authors are pretty widely accepted in fiction – do you think the world is starting to accept the wave of strong, outspoken female writers?
Absolutely. As a female writer, I have come across no battles at all. I know that might make me lucky but – compared to other areas of media, like TV and film – I think the literary world is very supportive of women.
I also think that it’s a vital vehicle for more women to pursue. In our books we can say what we want and no one can interfere. I find this is so liberating compared to TV, I see writing as the best way to get honest voices heard.
You’re based in London usually, will you be sticking around to catch any of the remaining Edinburgh festivals? If not, is there anything you like to see?
Unfortunately I have to shoot off as it’s my wedding anniversary! I wanted to see Bryony Kimmings though, I hear she is phenomenal.
Paper Aeroplanes has been nominated for a First Book award. Did you expect the book to be received so well?
No, I didn’t. Writing my first novel was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. It means more to me than anything, I was just so grateful my publisher (Hot Key Books) took a chance on me. I am blown away by its success, but I wasn’t expecting it at all. I still feel like I have a lot to prove in my writing career.
In Paper Aeroplanes, was it difficult to strike a balance between your own experiences as an adolescent and that of your characters? Did you want to put much of yourself in the book?
For a minute it was hard, but that was because I was making it autobiographical. I kept tripping over things, thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that’. I had to abandon that very quickly. Although there are huge influences from my own life and a few lifted scenes, it’s entirely fictional. The story never happened and the characters are made up.
I heard you mentioning a follow-up to the series: how’s that going? Do you go through phases of wanting to write fiction and non-fiction?
I just wrote the sequel, Goose! It’s the same girls two years later. I’ve also signed up for the next two in the series. I want to write about Renee and Flo until they are grannies! Since my confidence has built up in fiction, I’m not so taken by non-fiction anymore.
Saying that, I’m doing a book about vintage fashion to accompany my new series on C4, ‘This Old Thing’. But, unless a subject really draws me in, I will stick with fiction from now on.
… I was just about to ask if you have any plans to return the bold, documentary-style pieces you did in the past?
Maybe, although I do feel like I’ve moved on a bit. If the right thing came up, I would jump at it. I’m most interested in people, so I’m always looking for fascinating social groups to go and investigate. We’ll see.
Breast cancer awareness is a cause that’s close to your heart (Dawn lost her mother to breast cancer when she was a young girl). Can you tell me a bit about ‘The Booby Trap and Other Bits and Boobs’ and how the project came about?
Hot Key Books suggested it and I loved the idea, so I went and shamelessly asked everyone I knew in the unlicensed eye to write for me. It’s a collection of poems, stories and anecdotes about boobs; it’s funny and heart warming. We have everyone from young adult authors to a Spice Girl!
A certain Mr O’Dowd’s name crops up in the list of contributors, did he enjoy writing about boobs?
It’s his favourite subject, he jumped at the chance.
You’ve sang the praises of Lena Dunham and Girls in the Stylist. Is there anything you’re reading or watching at the moment that you’d recommend to your audience?
The boring answer is that all I am reading at the moment are books about vintage clothes. That means a lot of biographies of old Hollywood Starlets, too. For example, today I read about Ava Gardner.
I love how people used to see emotionally-tortured creative people as fascinating and oddly wonderful, rather than the paparazzi making them seem like terrible people. I like the way oddities used to be celebrated.
That doesn’t mean everyone should be an alcoholic, of course, but being highly creative can mean often makes a person slightly dislodged. I love that.
Finally, what does the rest of 2013 have in store for Mrs O’Porter?
It involves a move to LA, two more books and a show about dresses. Possibly a new business too, but I can’t tell you about that yet.
Dawn O’Porter’s ‘Paper Aeroplanes’ is nominated for a First Book Award.
‘The Booby Trap and Other Bits and Boobs’ is released by Hot Key Books on October 3rd to raise money for breast cancer charities. Contributors include Caitlin Moran, Sarah Millican, Sara Cox and Chris O’Dowd.