Thursday, July 21, 2022

Dean Atta Interview - Only on the Weekends

Photo Credit: Thomas Sammut

Dean Atta is a British author from London. He is a Malika's Poetry Kitchen member, National Poetry Day ambassador and LGBT+ History Month patron. Dean’s poems have been highly commended by the Forward Prizes for Poetry and shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. His books have been praised by the likes of Bernardine Evaristo, Benjamin Zephaniah and Malorie Blackman.

Dean’s debut poetry collection was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize and his novel in verse, The Black Flamingo (Hodder Children’s Books, 2019), won the Stonewall Book Award and was shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, Jhalak Prize, Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Waterstones Children’s Book Award. His second novel, Only on the Weekends (Hodder Children’s Books), came out in spring 2022.


What’s the greatest thing you learned in school?
The greatest thing I learned in school was that you can’t let yourself be defined by your time there. I was the only out gay boy in a school of over 1,500 students. This made me feel like an outsider, an oddity and like there was something wrong with me. When I finished school and went to university I met lots of other gay guys and no longer felt like an outsider or an oddity and I realised there was nothing wrong with me. And when I visit schools today I’m so glad to see so many LGBTQ+ young people are confident and comfortable to come out and teachers are able to support and affirm them. Straight and cisgender people are increasingly accepting of and knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ people today, even if some legislation would suggest otherwise.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The most rewarding experience since being published is definitely when trans young people ask me to write their chosen name in a copy of one of my books at a book signing. I’m often the first person outside of their immediate friend group that they’re trusting with this name. I know it’s a big step for them to ask a stranger to write their chosen name in permanent marker. It makes me think perhaps I’m not a stranger to them because they see something of themselves in my writing and my visibility as an out queer person.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I began writing poetry in my teens as a way of exploring and expressing aspects of my identity I didn’t know how to talk about with friends or family. Being mixed race, being gay and being raised in a single parent household, I felt like I was different in many ways and I used my poetry to explore these themes. The defining moment was when I was sixteen or seventeen and went to my first open mic poetry night and read my poems to an audience. It was in the basement of a small cafe and it was full of people of all ages and races and they applauded after my poems and several people came and spoke to me after. They told me they could relate to what I’d said. I felt like I’d made a connection. I enjoyed that feeling. I kept writing for that feeling of connection and, eventually, being a writer just became part of my identity and how I operate in the world.

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
I don’t think writers should worry too much about trying to be ‘unique’. I think writers should make sure to read widely enough that they’re copying so many different people that the mashup/remix of their many influences comes to be seen as their ‘style’. But we all have a voice (including non-writers). Our voice is shaped by our upbringing, our cultural and spiritual influences, the media we consume, what we watch and listen to, our favourite sport or whatever we pay particular attention to. So, my best advice would be to lean into your non-literary influences as well. Write characters that talk like your family, your friends or your neighbours. Listen. And when you hear something you like, write it down.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m super excited about my second young adult novel in verse, ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS, that was just published two months ago. It’s had some excellent reviews and I’m starting to get some great feedback from teen readers as well. I also have two children’s picture books in the works, as well as a stop-motion animation short film in production for my poem “Two Black Boys in Paradise”.

Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS?
ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS is a queer teen love triangle between three British boys — Mack, Karim and Finlay. Karim is Mack’s first love but just as things are beginning to blossom between them, Mack suddenly has to move to a new city (from London to Glasgow) where he meets Finlay and falls in love at first sight. Mack has to make the almost-impossible choice between first love and love at first sight.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope all the characters feel real and complex. I think some of their actions and, at times, inaction might frustrate some readers. I’d like readers to feel invested in the relationships and try and see things from the perspectives of each of the three boys at the heart of this story.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
I absolutely adored everything about all of the characters. They feel so real to me and I felt totally invested in all of their journeys as I was writing the book. I loved writing the Scottish characters in particular. I moved to Glasgow from London in 2019 and that’s what inspired me to write about this amazing city and it’s friendly and big-hearted people. I felt quite nervous writing about a place to which I was a newcomer but when inspiration calls, I answer.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS?
My unforgettable moment while writing ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS was definitely when I came up with the section when they’re all on the ferry going from mainland Scotland to the Isle of Arran, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Devising a scenario when all of the main cast of the book would be stuck on a boat together just felt like the perfect plot device and I loved the high drama of it. I’m particularly proud of that section but I can’t tell you much more about it without spoilers.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love to introduce Finlay from ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS to a character called Shuggie from Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning novel SHUGGIE BAIN, which is set in Glasgow in the 1980s. As Finlay and Shuggie are both queer boys from Glasgow but in different decades, I’d love to see how they would interact with one another and what they might think of each other’s lives and what has and hasn’t changed for queer people in the past 40 years. I guess we would need some sort of magic portal so they can travel through it to each other’s times. Just thinking about it makes me want to reach out to Douglas Stuart and ask if he would want to collaborate on this idea for real!

From the Stonewall Award-winning author of The Black Flamingo comes a romantic coming-of-age novel in verse about the beautiful--and sometimes painful--fallout of pursuing the love we deserve. The ideal next read for fans of Kacen Callender, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Becky Albertalli.

Fifteen-year-old Mack is a hopeless romantic--likely a hazard of growing up on film sets thanks to his father's job. Mack has had a crush on Karim for as long as he can remember and he can't believe it when gorgeous, popular Karim seems into him too.

But when Mack's father takes on a new directing project in Scotland, Mack has to move away, and soon discovers how painful long-distance relationships can be. It's awful to be so far away from Karim, and it's made worse by the fact that Karim can be so hard to read.

Then Mack meets actor Finlay on set, and the world turns upside down again. Fin seems fearless--and his confidence could just be infectious.

Award-winning author Dean Atta crafts a beautifully nuanced and revelatory story in verse about the exquisite highs and lows of first love and self-discovery.

You can purchase Only on the Weekends at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you DEAN ATTA for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Only on the Weekends by Dean Atta.