On Tuesday, Juno Dawson visited Swindon Central Library. When this event was announced, I was beyond excited. Juno’s not only a brilliant YA author, she’s also a transgender activist and an utterly inspirational human. As well as multiple readings from her new release, ‘The Gender Games’, Juno also answered audience questions and shared some stories about what went into the making of the book.
These are the five key things that I learnt from Juno Dawson during the night.
1) Swindon isn’t near Woking
One of the first things Juno told us was that she’d wrongly thought Swindon was near Woking. It meant she didn’t have much time to hang around at the end of the night: she needed to get a bus home just over half an hour after her talk finished, or she was going to be stranded!
2) The Spice Girls are LIFE
Based off of the readings that Juno chose, it’s safe to assume that ‘The Gender Games’ features A LOT of Spice Girl action. Stating that she didn’t think people should be able to write memoirs unless they were a member of the Spice Girls, or had had a huge impact on the world (like the Spice Girls), the laughs started early and continued constantly throughout the hour of the event.
Sharing she first discovered the Spice Girls “exactly 21 years ago this week”, she jokingly whispered, “but I’m only 23, shh!”. She also gave one piece of advice for potential memoir writers: “If you’re going to write a memoir, just make it all about the Spice Girls”.
It’s safe to say that the Spice Girls have been a HUGE part of her life.
3) Changing your name isn’t easy
Telling the story of when she came out as transgender to her publisher, Juno said there was cheering and celebrating. Things weren’t always smooth sailing, though: a couple of days after their lunch, she got a phone call asking what her new name was going to be. With a book publishing in January, she’d assumed that she’d have a few months to think about it.
But that book was going to print in September. Panic!
There was the question of what to do with the books published as James Dawson. When her publisher suggested the possibility of recalling the stock and pulping it, Juno didn’t think that was right. She shared that she thought there was something “drastic” about pulping, as she was “the same human [she] was as James, just living more honestly”. Instead, they decided to change her name when the previous run sold out and the books had to be reprinted. Sadly, that means Juno’s now hyper aware of her book sales. “Poor, unloved ‘Under My Skin'” is currently still a James Dawson title.
The last obstacle to overcome was that of royalties. Because James Dawson technically didn’t exist anymore, they needed to go somewhere! She said that it worked a little bit like a pen name, before joking she “caused lots of paperwork” because there were “lots of practical considerations” that she hadn’t contemplated.
4) ‘The Gender Games’ is her last word on her transition
Juno admitted that she thinks it’s “time to stop talking about [her] transition”. She simply stated, “It’s not what I’m good at, and it’s not what I’m good for”.
She’s very passionate about not speaking for all transgender folks, reminding the audience at multiple times throughout the night of the different intersections that transgender people can face. “Your experience is so… Yours,” she said, saying that she’d never try to speak for transgender people of colour or those identifying as non-binary. Admitting that she was in a good position when she transitioned, she acknowledged that having an “outward facing job […] lent me privileges”.
If you’re ill-informed on what transgender means, I’d suggest picking up a copy of ‘The Gender Games’. Based off of the excerpts that she read during the event, it’s obvious that she’s trying to educate people in the best kind of way, and who doesn’t want to learn?
5) Juno’s next YA novel, ‘Clean’, is arriving in April
Sharing information about her next book, ‘Clean’, Juno made it impossible for me to wait until April. Telling the story of Lexi, a hotel heiress and a heroine addict, Juno admitted that ‘Clean’ is her favourite novel since ‘Say Her Name’. Lexi “came to [her] fully formed like Margot [from ‘Margot and Me’]”, but Juno can admit that “she’s foul”. Of course, she spends the first 50 pages going through withdrawal, so that’s totally acceptable! But Juno’s excited that she’s written “six books with warm and endearing” protagonists, and Lexi’s not endearing at all.
On paper, it’s also looking like it’s going to be her most successful novel so far. She shared that ‘Clean’ had “sold across Europe” before she got a British deal!
Juno’s non-fiction book ‘The Gender Games’ was released at the beginning of June. I decided to read it after the event so that I could go in without preconceptions: now I can’t wait to pick it up! Thank you, Juno, for visiting Swindon, and for making my Tuesday night extremely entertaining.