Bethany Rutter writes ...
Before summer 2016, I had not written a word of fiction since I was at school. But when I was approached by Rachel, my editor at Macmillan, who asked if I wrote fiction, or if I didn’t, would I be interested in doing so, I leapt at the chance. And the question I asked myself in putting together No Big Deal was ‘if I only ever tell one story, what's the story that I want to tell?’ The story, for me, is always about the relationship between people and their bodies, and how that ripples outwards to their relationships with friends, family, lovers, crushes, strangers.
When I was growing up, I didn’t feel well-represented in fiction, whether that was books, film, TV, theatre. I was fat, definitely bigger than my peers, and struggled with the clash between my inherent self-esteem and the fatphobic world I was living in. I found no reinforcement in fiction. No backup. So over time, I became my own backup, and with the advent of social media, found my people in the form of fat-positive and body-positive social media accounts and fellow bloggers. It was when I found people with bodies like mine, heard their stories, found a place to discuss our wins and failures, the complicated feelings and experiences that come from having a body that doesn’t fit with a conventional standard of beauty, that I felt at home in the world.
It’s been such a huge honour to be able to take the platform that I developed through social media and blogging, and turn it into fiction for young people. To know the conversations we have as plus size women, to recall the comments I've received, to be sure of the experiences that shaped me, and make that into something as lasting and permanent as a book. I want, more than anything, for young people to feel seen, and heard, and maybe most importantly of all, taken seriously. 'The fat character' is so often used for comedic effect, grotesque and only semi-human, certainly not desirable, popular, intelligent or cool. That's why it's felt so incredible to be able to create fat characters that have agency, who can express all the complicated and difficult parts of being a teenage girl in a way that feels truthful to the experience that I had, at least. To be able to translate some of the solidarity and support I’ve found through the fat positive community into fiction will, I hope, make someone, somewhere feel a little less alone.
It’s a level of responsibility I take seriously, because I know how powerful it would have been for me to read something like Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy as a teenager rather than a woman in my twenties. I can't ever take for granted the amazing gift of writing for young people, whether the message that ‘you deserve to be happy in the body you have’ only lasts the length of the book or is a thought that stays with them beyond the final page.
Article writer by Bethany Rutter, arranged by Armadillo's Bridget Carrington
Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter is published by Macmillan Children’s Books.