I had the great opportunity to ask the author, Lucy Cuthew, a couple of questions about her work and her YA debut novel, Blood Moon, a great novel in verse about periods, sex and online shaming.
This was one of the most innovative and compelling YA novels I have read in a long time and I cannot stop raving about this book. When you read this interview and my book review, I hope you will pick up a copy and find this novel just as amazing as I did:
What made you decide to write this novel in verse?
I love poetry, and I love verse novels. Around the time I wrote this, I’d been experimenting with writing longer narrative poetry, and the first part of this story I thought of, was in verse. I heard the character’s voice, and I took it from there. Poetry is an intimate and intense form – condensed and nuanced – and those attributes felt so fitting for a story about something so intimate.
Menstruation is such a taboo subject, unfortunately today. What gave you the courage to talk about this important subject?
I have endometriosis, which causes heavy, painful periods, and so I think I was already used to talking about periods. I’ve had to talk to many doctors, my parents, my in-laws, my family, friends and even colleagues about them, so I had both overcome my own shame around them, and also experienced other people’s discomfort – and willingness – to talk about them. But I was also angry about periods being taboo. I went for fifteen years without having my endometriosis diagnosed, in part because we do not talk openly about periods, so I really care about this subject and I wanted to challenge it.
Did you have to any research when writing this book?
Yes, I did quite a lot of research – learning is part of my motivation to write. I read loads of verse novels to see how other authors had approached style, layout and form. I read about online shamings – how they play out, what happens afterwards. I looked into menstrual shame, the movement around breaking down the taboo, including what work period poverty charities are doing, and I talked to school students about their experiences of periods and education. I also read widely on shame itself as an emotion – how it serves to silence us, how debilitating it is, how to recover from it. The resolution in Blood Moon comes directly from a Brené Brown quote she says, “Shame cannot survive being spoken… It cannot survive empathy.”
This is an important book for young girls to read, however, it is also important for young boys to read it as well. How would you encourage them to read it?
I just hope that school librarians, teachers, parents, guardians and youth workers will press this into the hands of children of all genders. Periods are not just an issue for women and girls. For a start non-binary people also menstruate, as do many trans boys and men. And of course if you’re a straight man you are likely to encounter the periods of partners and or children you might have. I think knowing more about periods benefits everyone. They are an issue for all people. Part of breaking down the taboo is acknowledging that it’s there. You can’t deconstruct something until you know what it is you’re taking apart.
What made you decide to write this story in the YA genre instead of the Adult genre?
I’m really interested in YA – I worked as a YA editor for many years, I’ve studied the genre and I read widely in YA. I think one of the things that makes YA so interesting is the way that, as a genre, it reflects the intensity, urgency and novelty of adolescence. I knew from the moment I heard this character’s voice that it was for YA – she is sixteen, on her way to school, she’s got a crush on a boy and she’s about to get her period. I knew it was a coming-of-age story.
Your book was released during lockdown/COVID crisis. Did you have to come with new and different ways to promote your novel?
The publicity teams at my publisher have been absolutely amazing at organizing ways to promote Blood Moon during the pandemic. In a way it’s been fascinating – I’ve recorded podcasts from my attic room, where I work, done online-panels with librarians, a Period-themed Quiz book launch with the Vagina Museum in London over Zoom, and done Instagram lives with some really interesting people. I have really enjoyed all of these, though of course it’s been a shame not to meet lots of these people in person. But it has meant that many people who wouldn’t have been able to travel to conferences have been able to attend and hear about my book, and other books, so that’s a wonderful outcome.
Speaking of lockdown, I can’t help but ask, what has been your favorite lockdown read?
I’m currently reading Me and White Supremacy, by Leila F. Saad. I know it’s been widely recommended online this year, but I really do recommend it. You read it and keep a journal as you go, so that you can reflect on your own actions, words and thoughts. I have also devoured Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex, which isa phenomenal piece of research and writing documenting conversations with 80 or so college students about their experiences of sex, dating, hook ups and more. It is full of anecdotes and stories, very readable, drawing patterns, observations and insights about the ways that gender, pop-culture, fashion, frat-culture, film, TV and porn play into the sex lives of young women. I highly recommend it as well as the follow-up Boys and Sex. And relatedly Dr Karen Gurney’s Mind the Gap is an amazing book. Gurney is a sex therapist and her book looks at societal scripts, myths and expectations that we have about sex. It challenges them and suggests ways to release yourself from them. The title refers to the ‘orgasm gap’ from a 2016 study which found that 95% of heterosexual men reported they usually or always orgasmed during sex, compared to just 65% of straight women. This is research for my next YA book, which is about the impact of porn (amongst other things) on young relationships.
About Lucy Cuthew
|Lucy Cuthew has published more than thirty children’s books, including picture books, educational titles, and nonfiction, and she regularly speaks on the subject of children’s books for the BBC. She was a children’s editor for more than ten years and recently graduated with a master’s in writing for young people from Bath Spa University. Lucy Cuthew lives in Cardiff, Wales, with her husband and young twins.|