Laura Jarratt: Why I wrote Skin Deep

In the first instance I wanted to write a book that teenage readers would want to read and re-read. A page-turner that would stay with them. And the inspiration for that was a book I read when I was thirteen: The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. I adored that book and its characters. Before I wrote Skin Deep I saw some reviews of The Changeover on Amazon from people who’d read it years ago like me and still remembered it and loved it. I knew I wanted to write a book like that, where you could be a crazy little bit in love with the male mc and also totally rooting for the female mc.

So I sat down to think about how I could write this page-turner that readers would remember and then promptly forgot all about that as I met Jenna and Ryan. They took over and I wanted to let them tell their stories in their own way. So writing the book became much less calculating than it initially sounds. There they were with their respective problems: when I put them together on the page, Skin Deep is what happened. I didn’t set out to write a book that preached a message. Any message a reader gets from Skin Deep is one they discover as a result of spending time with Jenna and Ryan and walking in their shoes. Neither of them is perfect; they have their flaws as do all the characters in the book.

There is one factor that crucially influenced the direction of the book. Jenna’s accident didn’t initially open the book until a friend sent me a link to a clip of The X-Factor. It was Susan Boyle’s first performance and my friend thought it was inspirational. I didn’t. I was disgusted by how the judges and audience reacted to Susan when she first came on stage. After that, we had a vigorous discussion (read slight argument) about how people are judged on appearances. It was then I decided to bring in Jenna’s disfigurement at the very start rather than it being something that happened in the past so the reader could better see how it had changed her.

Whenever I write a book I really have two desires: one is to entertain and the other is to make the reader walk a mile in the moccasins of my characters. I don’t see those as two separate desires but as two twinned essentials which must exist in the book for me to feel satisfied with it. If my characters don’t have something of value to say, then I’m not happy with my book. It’s not about preaching but about opening up someone else’s world for the reader to visit.

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