A Q&A with Rebecca Westcott, author of Like a Girl

We spoke to author Rebecca Westcott who answered questions about her latest teen novel, Like a Girl.

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Can you introduce Like a Girl?

Like A Girl tells the story of 14-year-old Eden McCoy. Eden has worked out a strategy for surviving secondary school, which mostly consists of keeping herself under the radar and hiding in the shadows. And it’s a good tactic, until she unwittingly gets noticed by the Glossies and their queen, Bea. Before she knows it, the spotlight of attention has swung onto Eden and she has to make a difficult choice – lower herself to the level of the Glossies and inflict pain on other Year 9 kids, or have that pain and humiliation inflicted upon her.

What made you want to write this story?

I’m a Deputy Headteacher as well as having 3 children of my own. I’ve always been very aware of how different teenage life is for kids today, compared to what it was like for me growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. If I had a tough day at school then home could be a sanctuary where nobody could get at me, but that’s not necessarily true anymore, not when hassle and stress and bullying and harassment can follow you wherever you go via the phone in your pocket. It must feel like there is no escape.

Equally, it is all too easy for adults to ignore all the great things about social media, and I wanted to write a book which showed that most things have positive and negative aspects – it just depends on the person who is using them.

Like a Girl was informed by a survey you undertook with real teenagers. Can you tell us a bit about that process and what you found out?

Yes – this was one of the very best parts of writing this book! I sent out the Say It Like It Is survey and had responses from just over 1000 children and teenagers. Their comments were honest and raw and real – and I learnt a lot of things about what young people think about the role of social media in their lives and the impact that it has on their mental health. I asked questions about the amount of time that they spend online and what sort of experiences they were having. I asked about whether they thought the adults in their lives understood social media and how they were using it, and if they would put any additional rules in place if they were in charge.

What I discovered is that while most young people are very aware of the issues around communicating with others online, and lots of them have had negative and upsetting interactions or seen content that is inappropriate, the overwhelming majority still feel that the presence of social media in their lives is a positive one. And they aren’t using it mindlessly. They are creating and watching and learning. They are being entertained and developing skills. They are relaxing, finding others with shared interests, communicating with friends and family.

Eden finds an outlet in running in Like a Girl. Do you think exercise can have a positive impact on people’s mental health, and why?

There is so much research on the many ways that exercise affects people’s mental health. Personally, as someone who spends far too much time inside my own head, I think that doing anything outdoors is beneficial – breathing in deep lungfuls of fresh air, moving your body and reminding yourself that there is a big, wonderful world out there and we are a tiny part of it can be very invigorating and calming at the same time.

For me, the other reason that exercise is so good is because I am not a natural athlete – so if I’m engaged in any kind of physical activity it pretty much demands my whole attention, which means that I am unable to worry about anything else!

What or who inspired the character of Eden?

I always like writing characters who are misunderstood and who feel like everyone else has got this life thing nailed while they are floundering around, trying to figure themselves out. I was definitely inspired by my own daughter when it came to writing about Eden’s refusal to take the easy path, even though it would have made her school life better in the short term.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

If I’m not writing or at school then I’m either spending time with my family or reading a book! My life is really busy so I don’t have a lot of free time, but I love it like this – there is always something to be doing and it means that I really value any hours when I can curl up with our ridiculous cockapoo, Piper, and get lost in whatever book I have on the go.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Read books in the genre that you are interested in writing and then branch out into related genres, just in case you find something that is a better fit for you. Once you know what kind of book you want to write, keep a notebook with ideas – and don’t allow yourself to write the words ‘Chapter One’ until you are bursting at the seams with excitement to start committing your thoughts to the page.

What would you like readers to take away from Like a Girl?

I hope that Eden’s story shares a few things with my readers. The first is that being like a girl is something to proud of; something to shout about (even if that’s just inside your own head). The second is that whether you are a person who loves being centre-stage or you’d prefer to be backstage out of the spotlight, you are worthy of being treated with kindness and respect – nobody has the right to look down on you or try to make you feel ‘lesser’, and it’s so important to remember this. The third thing that I’d love for readers to take away is that true communication with others is key to feeling happy – and as long as that communication is honest, safe and well-balanced then it doesn’t really matter if it’s face-to-face, over the phone, through a letter, email, text or DM or via an online chat. It just needs to be real.

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Like a Girl
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Like a Girl

Fourteen-year-old Eden McCoy doesn’t fit in. All she’s good at is running, and she doesn’t even dare join the track team. Her priority is to stay in the shadows and avoid the Glossies – a ruthless clique of girls who use social media to punish and humiliate their targets, led by their queen Bea and her sidekick Mikki.

But one day, Eden breaks her vow to stay unnoticed: she beats track star Mikki in a race. This bold move captures the attention of Bea, who decides Eden needs to either prove her loyalty and become one of the Glossies – or suffer the consequences. And so The Testing begins…

As Eden is challenged to play a cruel prank on another kid or have that same act inflicted on her, her will is pushed to the limit. The only thing keeping her afloat is an unexpected connection with a boy called Riley, a fellow runner who messages her online. But how deep does The Testing run? And how long until Eden breaks?

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