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Big Bones

Laura Dockrill



Bluebelle, or BB, doesn't want to write a diary about how she feels about food, or her body, but once she begins it turns into a love story - to food, to herself, and to her family. Then a near-tragedy at home forces her to learn about love, and courage, all over again. BB is a funny, brave and perceptive character who will leave you smiling!

We asked author LAURA DOCKRILL to tell us more about BIG BONES:

Q: Was Big Bones a difficult book to write?

A: It was a joy to write because it was GREAT eating and thinking about the joys of food in so many ways that outlive it's purpose as as energy or resource but as a social engagement, a platform for sharing, for understanding people and history, memories; food is a language, a way to communicate.

I throw myself into all of my characters and found BB so empowering to write. She was a part of me that I'd ignored for so many years so getting to know her was so much fun. She made me fall in love with bodies of every kind and be patient and kind to myself.

Q: Why did you want to focus on body image in this book?

A: After visiting so many schools with the middle grade books it's terrifying at such a young age how already children are objectifying and judging their physicalities and self-sabotaging themselves by hating their own skin - it's an age old epidemic and I'm not saying I'm doing anything new here, but I personally felt like I owed it to myself and my younger readers to offer them a chance to defend themselves from the vicious toxic world of instagram filters, dieting, thigh gaps etc and celebrate themselves.

It's been really sad seeing too many children feel like they have to play down their greatness, it's seen to be very crass, vain even, to seem confident. And it's a shame. It's wonderful to 'think you look nice in that dress', dealt with a situation well, achieved something good - we have to recognise our accomplishments rather than just moan about our downfalls. The book is about that; outwardly loving yourself! Being proud! Especially in young people.

It is drawn from personal experience in that I spent far too many years worrying that my muffin top hips were swelling over my leggings or that a podge of flesh hung over my bra strap- now I've learnt to love the way fabric presses into skin - leaving red crimped marks, that elastic pressing into soft flesh is actually beautiful and human. That scars are stories.

Q: What are your main criticisms about how we we approach body image as a society?

A: I am excited because we are reaching a new wave of body positivity in the media. I am watching so many wonderful women actively and outwardly celebrating themselves and their bodies. Here in the UK we have such a problem with nakedness, it feels like as soon as a girl is pictured in a bikini or underwear that she is trying to be 'sexy' or seductive but actually it's sad because it's removing us from our own flesh to shy away from it.

I realised when writing this book that it had been a VERY long time since I'd actually stood naked in front of the mirror and actually looked at myself rather than jumping blindly out of the shower, reaching for a towel having barely even glanced at my own skin - than wrapping myself up to face the UK weather in thousands of layers - you can go for days without seeing or admiring your own body. I never give my body enough acknowledgement - let alone a boost.

That is where the exercise theme comes into the book. There is a misconception that exercise/ fitness are linked to skinniness. They are separate things altogether, we are all made differently. That's what I've been enjoying seeing online, a positive understanding of that. If you want to get to the gym to lose weight because you're unhappy with your body - that's good and exercise is a positive way to change that and there's no shame in that but it's also totally fine - and BRILLIANT - if you want to go to the gym and get fit and strong because you ARE HAPPY with your body. That you love it and want to acknowledge it - it's amazing to feel your heart beating and your blood getting warm.

The first time I wore a belly top was a dare for the writing of Big Bones, I dared myself to go to spin class in just a crop top that barely covered my boobies, I sat on a bike, spun my bum off and sweated like a pig. For 45 minutes I saw my rolls of fat jubbling away in the mirror bouncing back and projected to a packed room of people. my face was cherry tomato red. NOBODY CARED. I realised then that the only thing ever stopping me from wearing anything was me. it was my most empowering move/ act of self love I've probably ever done. And I felt good all day after it.

Q: How damaging is our focus on appearances for today's young people?

A: It's at its most damaging when others' opinions are reflected onto others and that explodes into a bacteria that gives young people a complex. That's the saddest. When social commentary becomes bullying. The most damaging thing a person can do is compare themselves to others. Because it's impossible. You will never be satisfied. If you want to change something about yourself then do it for yourself, not for somebody else.

Q: Is it important for young readers to be able to read about young female characters - like BB - who are happy with their bodies?

A: I think so. More and more I've seen how books are friends. They are little mini dialogues between readers and characters, many times I've found a live long friendship with a character in a book. So yes, I think it's important that we have characters that can reach out of the pages and give us a hug or shake us by the shoulders and shout 'STOP CRYING LOOK HOW GREAT YOU ARE BABES!'

Q: Why have you written Big Bones in a diary format and what is the most important thing BB learns through writing the diary?

A: It was important that the book read like a diary because I don't think BB's character would have otherwise written these things down. When I was younger I used to think diaries were omens. Just a blank page to complain. That as soon as I started a new one I'd only have bad things to write in it - like how much I loved someone that didn't love me back, how much I hated my body, how my parents were breaking up, how I hated school. Or just negatively about my friends and family - offloading for offloading sake when actually, as cathartic as they are, they can always breed further negativity.

I thought it would be much more impactful and truthful if BB wrote as positively as she does about herself in a book that she believed nobody was actually ever going to read. Because then she wasn't lying. It was actually genuine. She loves how she looks. And there's a power and freedom in that.

Q: In the book, BB gives her younger self some advise towards the end of the story - what would be your key advice to someone who is being bullied?

A: To combat with self love. I try to apply this to all of my bad days. If somebody is nasty or mean to me in life, naturally it makes you want to hide away or do something destructive, to fire back to that person and say something defensive or cruel or even take out that anger onto somebody else entirely - but I find a massive sense of relief and reward if I instead flip my day around - there is always time - I pick up the phone and call my nanna and tell her how amazing I think she is, send a nice unexpected text to a somebody I haven't spoken to in ages, compliment a stranger, treat a friend to dinner, buy myself a present - even if small, do something productive - because then I know that I'm the one in control. I am in charge of my mood - not that person and their own insecurities. And then the day doesn't have to be a write off because of somebody's ugliness. There is a victory in that.

Q: Big Bones is also a 'love story' to food - have you drawn on your own love of food for BB's story?

A: YES! The book is basically a collection of love letters to food. So much of my bonds with my friends and family is connected by food. It's just a welcoming, comforting, grounding, natural bliss to have in common with somebody.

My favourite bits are probably the food moments with Dove built around the home and simplicity - cheese, beans, fishfingers - simple things that turn a family home round. Mini moments of interaction that I miss not living with my sister when spent standing by the electronic buzz of the microwave talking about the day or stirring tomato soup in a pan.

When you turn your key in the door and Mum's making that thing you love and your senses are filled with security. Sharing, stealing bits of food off plates, snatching and commenting on the other's grossness.

Q: BB has a close relationship with her younger sister, Dove. Why did you want to make this relationship such a central part of the story and indeed make the book so female-focused?

A: The other drive of the book is the empowerment of sisterhood. It's easy to blame our insecurities of ourselves on boys / men / the opposite sex - even if boys are not the gender you're looking for attention of, when young the opposite sex are almost our first instinctive response to our looks, is most cases it's how we gauge our own and our friends' beauty on the untrained wonky dialled compass of a boy's attention, that we grossly tally up to see who lands as the 'pretty one' - basically by how many boys fancy us. Then it naturally becomes a downward spiral of a hideous pegging order. I can't stand that.

I was a very VERY late bloomer as a teenager, my interest in boys was very sluggish too. I was completely frigid! I've always fancied the look of a crispy skinned fluffy on the inside drenched in beans and cheese jacket potato over any boy. And jacket potatoes never told me if they thought I was pretty or not. I hate the idea of giving anybody that much power over how I perceive myself.

My relationship with my sister is my strongest and proudest achievement. It's 28 years of hard work. Compassion, mutual understanding, silent conversation, love and hysteria. It's taken us years to find our balance. Fighting for muscle space. Of calling her every name under the sun and one second later asking her to pop a spot on my back, trust that she will be there for me at 3am to meet me in a storm or simply tell me I'm being a dick.

I base all my other relationships on the foundation I have with my sister, that's how I know how love works - because she taught me how. I love myself more through loving her. THAT is a real compass. One I'm willing to live by.

Q: Instead of ignoring her parents, as many YA books do, why do you choose to give BB's parents such a strong presence?

A: My parents shaped so much of my teenage years. They are the first adults to instruct you how relationships function. They massively impact BB as they do all teens. My parents split when I was around BB's age and it's still the most difficult relationship web that I've ever been involved in and they never sheltered us from it. We all dealt with it together.

I would sit with my dad in pubs and he would talk to me candidly about everything, I valued his honesty and saw how much he was doing for us. I saw my Mum have to be strong and balance motherhood with work. Every tear they make, you tear with them, they pull you apart at the seams and that changes you. It's an important underlying message in the book for BB because her exposure to her parents breakdown grows her as a person.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from Big Bones?

A: To be a bit kinder to themselves.

Q: Where is your favourite place to write and do you have any strong writing routines?

A: I just love writing at home. Where there is always a plug socket, the kettle is always there, I can wear my p.j's and do as many wees as I want.

Q: What are you writing now?

A: I am writing a couple of plays which is really fun.

Q: What is your favourite escape from writing?


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