Today I am so pleased to welcome the gorgeous Gab Williams to The Unfinished Bookshelf to talk about her wonderful new novel My Life as a Hashtag.
My Life as a Hashtag explores what happens when something unexpectedly goes viral. It’s not hard to see where you got the inspiration – it happens so frequently online. But why did you feel it was important to explore this in a young adult novel?
Social media is a great way to feel connected, but of course, some aspects of it can be brutal, especially when everyone makes the ‘group think’ decision to hop online and condemn a person for their behavior. I wanted to explore how it feels to be the person being slammed, with the weight of the world coming down on you.
Along with all the usual teenage friendship and relationship drama, MC is also trying to cope with her parents’ divorce. Why was it important for you to include this element in the novel?
Sometimes when I talk at schools, I mention the fact that my parents divorced when I was a teenager, and how badly they handled it. This one time – at a school down in Geelong – a girl came up to me after my session and told me that her parents had divorced too and her mum was being especially vindictive towards her dad, and how difficult this girl found it. She was only twelve and I felt so sad for her – she shouldn’t be having to negotiate her mum’s prickly emotions as well as having to deal with all the other stuff teenagers go through. And then she said to me, ‘I wish you’d write a book about it,’ and that’s when I decided that I would.
Did you ever worry My Life as a Hashtag would date quickly given how current it is in terms of the characters’ social media use?
My editor, publisher and I had quite a lengthy discussion about how specific we wanted to be with regard to social media, knowing that it was likely to date the book. But in the end, we decided that we liked the idea of the book almost being a snapshot of this moment in time.
This generation of teenagers are growing up totally tech savvy, although as MC proves they don’t always make the right decisions online. How would you teen years have differed if you’d had access to today’s social media?
Omigod. It would have been horrendous. There is nothing documented about any of us from any parties, nights out, mistakes we made, nothing. Our teenage years are a clean slate, from that point of view, which I think is brilliant.
What do you hope readers take away from My Life as a Hashtag?
I hope they think first before they do the whole ‘stacks on’ thing that sometimes happens with social media. People make mistakes, and we don’t all need to get on board and have a go. I hope maybe, they make a conscious decision to be kinder (and I don’t mean ‘number of likes’).
Sometimes I like to pick a song to match a book. What would you pair with My Life as a Hashtag?
Hm. That’s a hard one. Maybe ‘Tusk’ by Fleetwood Mac. I feel sure it would have been playing at the party that night at Jed’s house. The drum beat, the lyrics, perfectly capture for me the physicality and emotion of being a teenager. Also, because Fleetwood Mac had such complicated relationships while they were recording Rumours. I think they’d relate to the social politics of ‘My Life as a Hashtag’.
That is a brilliant choice and one of my favourite Fleetwood songs!
What’s one app or site you couldn’t live without?
None of them. I’m not particularly into social media, so if they were all taken away tomorrow, I’d cope fine.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a soul swap/time slip book set in Kyoto in 1980 and Melbourne in 2020. It’s called ‘Brother Orange’ and it’s my most ambitious novel yet. I’m trying to write a chapter a day (#chapteradaychallenge on twitter) and so far, succeeding. Mind you, a lot of the chapters are truly terrible and will never be seen by anyone, except my poor husband who’s having to read a chapter a night. Poor guy.
Thanks to the lovely folks at Allen & Unwin, I have a copy of My Life as a Hashtag to giveaway, just pop over here to enter.