If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that Emma and I cohosted a feature called Let’s Talk YA. We decided to revamp this during this world-wide pandemic to become a weekly series where we highlight books that are being published during this time that may not get the release they deserve. We will often feature a review or some other exciting bookish content. This was started last month with some awesome recent releases and you can check out the page at the top of my blog to see the other posts.
We strongly encourage other people to join in the conversation and promote upcoming books they’re excited about.
Today I have the incredible privilege of being able to conduct a Q & A with William Hussey on the publication date of his phenomenal book Hideous Beauty. Thank you so much to him and the amazing team at Usborne for allowing me to do this, particularly Katarina Jovanovic.
When Dylan and Ellis’s secret relationship is exposed on social media, Dylan is forced to come out. To Dylan’s surprise they are met with support and congratulations, and an amazing reception at their highschool dance. Perhaps people aren’t as narrow-minded as he thought?
But Dylan’s happiness is short-lived. Ellis suddenly becomes angry, withdrawn, and as they drive home from the dance, he loses control of the car, sending it plunging into Hunter’s Lake. Barely conscious, Dylan is pulled free of the wreck, while Ellis is left to drown.
Grief-stricken, Dylan vows to discover what happened to Ellis that night and piece together the last months of his boyfriend’s life – and realises just how little he knew about the boy he loved.
Q & A with William Hussey
Emily: Hi William, thank you so much for joining me on my blog today to celebrate Hideous Beauty. Could you possibly start by telling me a little bit about yourself?
William: Thank you so much for having me!
So yes, I’m William and I’ve been writing Middle Grade and YA fiction for about ten years, starting with supernatural thrillers and now venturing into LGBTQ romance/mystery with Hideous Beauty. What else can I tell you? Well, I was born the son of a travelling showman and spent the early part of my life growing up on fairgrounds. It’s true, I swear! I actually think I developed my ability to tell stories from listening to the old timers on the fairs spin stories to each other. Showpeople are fabulous oral storytellers.
How would you describe Hideous Beauty in five words?
A gay whodunnit love story!
Alternatively, my agent pitched it to Usborne as: ‘Love Simon meets 13 Reasons’
What was your main inspiration behind Hideous Beauty?
As a YA author, I visit a lot of schools and sometimes hold talks with student LGBTQ groups. Inspired by writers like Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, I’d been mulling over the idea of writing an LGBTQ YA for some time, so decided to speak to some of these kids about their experiences of modern intolerance and prejudice. What they told me formed to basis of Hideous Beauty.
The pattern of their stories started to become horribly familiar. Let me give you a typical example: a boy comes out to his father as gay. His father grudgingly ‘accepts’ this… until his son decides to attend his first Pride event. Super-excited, the kid dresses ‘too flamboyantly’ for the father’s liking and is screamed at and verbally abused and told to leave the house. The kid ends up living with his grandparents or, in some cases, is out on the street.
This was the case over and over again. ‘Tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ that are so weak they aren’t worth anything at all. And although these kids didn’t necessarily meet with violence from loved ones, the family’s rejection still placed them in just as vulnerable a position as the more outright homophobia I’d encountered as a kid 20 years ago. So this became the message of the book – for ‘acceptance’ to be worth anything it must be absolute and on the terms of the LGBTQ person asking for it, not the person offering it.
LGBT+ representation is something that is sorely needed in YA and Hideous Beauty includes such brilliant representation. Could you describe what this representation means to you?
Thank you so much. Representation is so crucial in children’s literature. I only wish such books had existed when I was a very confused and unhappy teenager. It might have shown me that there were other people like me out there and saved many years of needless heartache. I might have understood that being me was just fine, and there was nothing wrong with these things I was feeling.
I often speak to LGBTQ friends who live in big cities and some of them have the idea that pretty much all our battles have been won. But I live in rural Lincolnshire, and let me tell you, queer teens here face just the same prejudice and threats they have always faced. Most of the UK isn’t like London and Manchester. Most of it is still actively hostile to gay people. It’s horrible to say, but there it is. And so representation in books and films an art generally is just as crucial as it’s always been, especially for kids who live in isolated, homophobic environments. Seeing ourselves reflected in literature can still, in fact, save lives.
YA mysteries seem to be booming right now, what drew you to this particular genre?
I have always loved mystery stories! When I was about five years old, my Dad played the audiobook of The Hound of the Baskervilles on a long car journey. I was immediately hooked! I even got a deerstalker and a fake curly Sherlock Holmes pipe for Christmas one year. Total mystery geek!
So yes, I devoured mystery stories growing up. Agatha Christie especially. In fact, Christie is a huge influence on Hideous Beauty. She has this amazing ability to place a fabulously important clue in a seemingly unimportant bit of dialogue. It’s like a conjuring trick. You’re so focussed on what you think is the important thread of the story you miss the sleight of hand. I do the same early on in Hideous – so keep your eye out!
There’s also a line in one of her Miss Marple books that I think chimes with one of the themes of Hideous Beauty: ‘It’s a mystery. But then we all are, aren’t we? Even to ourselves. Especially to ourselves.’ I love that line. It speaks to the secrets Ellis and Dylan and all the residents of Ferrivale keep.
How do you approach your writing process?
Once I have my idea and my central characters and I’ve done enough research, I sit down and hammer out the first draft as quickly as I can. Honestly, my family probably don’t see me for about six weeks. I write it fast and furious! I think if you can get that energy and pace in the first draft, it will always stay there, no matter how many edits come later. I don’t revise at all as I go, I just set the story down, rough and ready.
Then I put it in a drawer for about a month and get on with some other writing. When I go back, I can see clearly all the things wrong with it and I start redrafting. I probably redraft six or seven times, then polish, then send it to my fab editor Stephanie King at Usborne. Then I wait nervously for Steph’s verdict! This usually comes in a very detailed letter, which I cut up into sections and stick to the wall so I can get an overview. I usually get a little grumpy before finally admitting after about an hour that Steph is 100% right about everything and that she’s a genius. I then start redrafting again… and again… and again!
What was your biggest struggle in writing Hideous Beauty and what was your favourite part?
I think getting the teen voices as authentic as I could make them. That’s why I kept going back to my conversations with the school LGBTQ clubs and listening to how they expressed their worries and joys and concerns. I wanted to replicate that wonderful vitality and bravery and vulnerability as carefully as I could.
The other challenge was juggling all the mysteries – there’s the big one at the heart of the book but also about half a dozen smaller mysteries circling it. Making sure they all fitted together was like devising a crossword puzzle. Anyway, I don’t think anyone has guessed them all yet!
My favourite part of the book is probably the epilogue, which we can’t discuss in detail because of spoilers. But I think, after all the darkness that has gone before, it ends the story on a very sweet note.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to give to any aspiring authors reading this, particularly those who feel underrepresented in the industry?
It is so difficult. I think all I can say is, the industry is much more open to own voices narratives than it was even a couple of years ago. In fact, publishers are actively looking for you! There are some wonderful initiatives out there run by both publishing companies and agencies. But the reality is, getting published is still down to luck in many cases. The right manuscript landing on the right desk at the right time. That’s why you shouldn’t get too downhearted about rejection. I got about 16 rejections before my first book was published. Keep at it!
Who would be your ideal cast for a film or TV adaptation of Hideous Beauty?
Oh goodness, I’m so rubbish at questions like these, so I asked others who’ve read the book for a bit of help. More than one suggested Asa Butterfield for Dylan. I can definitely see that – the klutzy vulnerability and everything. I also think Milo Parker from THE DURRELLS is brilliant but he might be a year or two too young. For Ellis, Keiyan Lonsdale was put forward. Or maybe Chance Perdomo from CHILLING ADVETURES OF SABRINA? And best friend Mike? My friend (and fab writer) Joshua Winning suggested RIVERDALE’s Jordan Connor, which I can definitely see too.
But I think my fabulous editor Steph has come up with the best cast: Colin Ford (DAYBREAK and SUPERNATURAL) for Dylan; Langston Uibel (UNORTHODOX) for Ellis; and Paul Mescal (NORMAL PEOPLE) for Mike. They all have exactly the right look for those characters, especially Mescal.
Which books inspire you as a writer?
As I say, I love mystery novels, so anything from the Golden Age of detective stories for the plot/puzzle element of my books. And obviously I LOVE the current bounty of LGBTQ novels from people like Juno Dawson, Bill Konigsberg, John Green, Adam Silvera and others. So many great new queer writers coming through too, like George Lester and C.G. Moore (I’ve just read advance copies of their upcoming books, Boy Queen and Fall Out, and they’re both fab!). My current absolute favourite queer teen writer is Simon James Green. He is such a funny, insightful, tender, hardworking writer.
Finally, what are you currently working on and can you tell us anything about it?
I’ve just finished my second LGBTQ love story for Usborne. It comes out summer 2021 and is another heart-breaker, I’m afraid! I can’t tell you much about it at the moment. All I can really say is, it’s a sort of chase thriller with a couple of really special queer relationships at the heart of it. And you will cry.
Oh yes, and one thing I can share because there’s this teaser for the book at the end of Hideous Beauty:
‘Imagine a world where it’s illegal to be gay’
Safe to say, I am massively intrigued and I hope you are too. Hideous Beauty is out today and I would strongly recommend you pick it up!
Thank you again to Usborne, Katarina and William for letting me conduct this Q & A, which I absolutely loved doing.
Let’s talk! Have you read Hideous Beauty? What are some of your most anticipated upcoming releases in the next few months?
Also don’t forget to check out Emma’s Let’s Talk Books post.