cover illustration by Harry Woodgate

I adored L.D. Lapinski’s debut (trilogy) about the STRANGEWORLDS TRAVEL AGENCEY, and when their next title was announced I was surprised by how different it was as I’d already pigeonholed them as a fantasy/adventure author (sorry…though I am enjoying their return to fantasy in ARTEZANS: THE FORGOTTEN MAGIC, publishing soon!). Last year JAMIE was published and I adored it equally but differently. To celebrate JAMIE being one year old, and to kick of LGBT+ History Month in the UK, I have a wonderful personal guest post from L.D. which explains how JAMIE came to be:

How old were you when you first saw a character in a book who reminded you of yourself? Or are you still waiting to find them?

I was at university, aged nineteen, when I first picked up a book with an LGBTQ+ cast, as part of an eye-opening English Literature module that would go on to change my creative and personal life in ways I’m sure the tutors didn’t anticipate. It was as though a curtain had been pulled back, and suddenly all the hidden workings of my life were accessible, in a university library.

I grew up under a law known commonly as Section 28 – a legislation brought into effect in 1988 (the year after I was born), and not retracted until 2003 (the year I left Year Eleven). This meant that I grew up in an educational universe where LGBTQ+ people were not spoken about. Literally, teachers and librarians could have lost their jobs for doing so. Being queer was something to be bullied about, a stain on your personality, and bullies would not even be told what they were doing was wrong. LGBTQ+ characters in fiction were like unicorns – probably not real and certainly no one seemed to have ever seen one.

By the time I started writing children’s books, the disappointment I felt over the lack of representation in my own past had turned into creative fuel. I wanted to make up for the fact that I’d never seen a queer kid at magic school, or solving crimes, or having an adventure. Whilst there were now some LGBTQ+ books for young people on the shelves, they were often romances, or angst-ridden tales with tragic endings… I didn’t want to write those stories (though I often read them – other people are better at those!). I wanted to write the magical adventures and school-based dramas I’d loved as a kid, but starring young people like me.

I needed to be brave. My first series, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is queer in a blink-and-you-miss-it way. Both of the lead characters are queer, but the story is driven by magic and mystery, and the characters just happen to be LGBTQ+. I was, and still am, extremely pleased with it – I got queer kids to go to magic school, and the world was still standing! By the time the last book came out in 2023, there was a wealth of LGBTQ+ literature for kids and young people. We were making up for lost time, and we were putting ourselves into the stories we had never had.

But despite these victories, it’s no secret that in the past few years, right-wing driven opinion pieces and social media rage-for-clicks have fuelled an increase in transphobia in the UK. As a non-binary person, I have felt increasingly unsafe, fearful for my friends, and outraged on behalf of the young people being let down by our government. I had been asked by my wonderful publisher to write another fantasy trilogy. I sat down to write it.

And JAMIE came out of my keyboard, instead.

JAMIE is a joyful story, about a non-binary kid being asked to choose between a secondary school for boys, and another for girls. It’s a story of friends coming together to raise awareness, of found family supporting one another, and of non-binary happiness. JAMIE is not a true story – I went to a mixed secondary, but as a kid who had never heard the term non-binary and just thought I was performing my gender wrong for decades. But JAMIE is still intensely personal. I wrote it as proof that trans happy endings exist. That there are adults out there who will listen and take young people seriously. That changes can be made, even if it’s one small step at a time.

Some of the events in JAMIE are entirely fictionalised. Some artistic liberties have been
taken with paperwork – and others are no longer accurate due to governmental changes since it
was written. But the support and joy are real. The story can be real, and it will be real. I am
writing it into existence. I have to make it exist. I owe it to myself as an eleven year old, who
never saw themselves in a story. I have written them a happy ending.

And I believe it will come true.

L.D. Lapinski

About Caroline Fielding

Chartered School Librarian, CILIP YLG London Chair, Bea-keeper

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