Given the subject matter at hand, a 10am Saturday session with Juno Dawson could easily have been a dark and morose affair – addictions, mental illness, gender and sexuality are all key themes in Dawson’s body of work, though it was ultimately a light and enlightened session, which has encouraged me to look deeper into her work.
Dawson has published work in both Young Adult and Non-Fiction. Conversation for a time moved around the way that Young Adult, as a category, is often very liberating for writers in terms of genre, with romance, horror, fantasy or drama all ultimately ending up in the same place in the bookstore. This has allowed her writing to shift between styles in a way that Adult Fiction’s more rigid genre divisions wouldn’t allow. Dawson’s background is in education, though she deliberately doesn’t use her fiction as a means to try and educate young people, there is a wonderful sense here of the ability to create worlds where the hard discussions and intensely personal feelings of youth around identity and substance (ab)use and sex can be raised and thought about and considered in a safer way by locating them in fiction.
Of note also was discussion on Doctor Who (Dawson has been commissioned to write the first novelisation of the Dr) and of the transformative power of the Spice Girls, for those who were of the right age in the 90s. I can only look back hazily on the world before those 5 iconoclasts entered, but it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to consider their important part in making the world a safer place to be queer or questioning as a teenager than it was before.
Reviewed by Brett Johansen