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- author Jackie French

Saturday 27 February 2016

Guest Post: Kirsty Eagar - writing about sex and intimacy in Summer Skin

Photo credit: Carol Gibbons
Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Australian author Kirsty Eagar to discuss her latest YA novel, Summer Skin (published by Allen & Unwin). Summer Skin is a contemporary YA novel dealing with the topic of older teen relationships, sex, feminism and identity.

Summer Skin is the book that I would have liked to read in my late teens or early twenties, but it’s written with this generation of young adults in mind, the digital natives. That wasn’t how it began, though. In the beginning, I wanted to go back to college. Literally, as it turned out—the first draft was set in the nineties.

But then my agent commented that it read very much like a contemporary story, and, instead of feeling disheartened, I actually felt like I’d been handed a permission slip. For some time, I’d been thinking about what impacts social media and having access to so much sexual content online might be having on relationships, and a college story suddenly seemed the perfect setting to explore just that.

What didn’t change, though, was the intention to write a book about sex. Not someone’s first time, but the territory that comes afterwards—the period when someone starts to be sexually active. Mainly because it can be really confusing! It doesn’t feel like you can go backwards, but sometimes you’re not sure you want to progress either. To my mind, what you’re really trying to figure out are the terms: what you will and won’t do.

While my characters are definitely struggling with that, they’re not exactly beaten down or submissive. Because more than anything else, as confronting as it sometimes was, my time at college was FUN. I went to a co-ed college for four years, and I think one of the blessings of the experience was that as young men and women we got past the divisiveness of gender and started to see each other as fellow human beings.

What never changed with this story is the tone. I wanted to write something that made me laugh, that somehow captured the freedom of that time in your life. You’re in an environment that is much more permissive than high school, you’re not yet constrained by the demands of a career, but you also have to step up and be responsible in other areas.

What I didn’t expect was that in writing about sex I’d actually be writing about intimacy. And in writing about desire, I’d also be writing about trust. In a sense, the main characters, Mitch and Jess, get to experience a relationship in reverse. Things start off sexy, but as they get to know each other, the real pleasure and risk comes from the more intimate moments: talking, kissing, holding hands. I wanted it to feel honest.

In the face of so much screen sex, stories are a place where you can show a more ‘real’ alternative. So while things between Mitch and Jess are definitely steamy sometimes, they are just as often awkward, and sometimes outright cringe worthy. If there’s a message, I guess it’s that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to make you feel good.

Kirsty Eagar is an award-winning Australian author. Her previous books include her debut novel Raw Blue, which won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction, and Night Beach. Her latest novel, Summer Skin, is available now. Visit Kirsty's website and Facebook page for more information about her books and updates on her writing and author events.