Rhiannon Wilde, author of Henry Hamlet’s Heart, spoke to Reading Time reviewer, Gaby Meares about her newly released book, published by University of Queensland Press.
How difficult was it to write from a male perspective?
Henry’s voice is one of the first aspects of the book that came to me; he showed up pretty much fully formed (and quite insistent!). A lot of my friends both in high school and my adult life have always been male, which I definitely think helped me to be able to get into the mindset of a teenaged boy.
That being said, one of the themes I sought to tackle in the book is toxic masculinity, and I don’t necessarily believe in really rigid gender constructs. There are times when the female characters display stereotypically ‘male’ attributes, and times when the male characters are quote ‘feminine’ – e.g., Henry’s Dad, Reuben, is the very emotional family caregiver. I wanted Henry to have role-models who (like real people) didn’t completely conform to those binaries.
Voice-wise, I also read a lot of texts by queer men, and annoyed those in my life quite frequently to check exactly how they might think or process particular experiences Henry goes through.
Why did you set the novel in 2008?
A few reasons! Like many people, I’m a little bit fascinated by the recent past – the cusp right before social media and the digital age really took off. I was in high school in 2008, and it was such a defined cultural ‘moment’ (hello emo mullets) that I immediately felt like it was the place for this story to have some strong setting-related fodder to play against. On another level, my experience of growing up, and queerness, is in the context of the early 2000s. While it was not all good experiences, I feel that sometimes depicting how things were can positively inform how they will be.
I thought you handled the sex scenes really well – just the right amount of information, but leaving the details to the imagination! Did you find these scenes challenging to write?
As a teen, I learned a lot of cough ‘formative’ stuff through books and often looked to fictional characters to compare/validate what I was going through. I think it’s an important experience to explore in YA, and one I’m an advocate for. So, the short answer is no, not challenging at all!
In terms of the actual writing process of those scenes in ‘Henry Hamlet’s Heart‘, I researched and read, interviewed my queer friends and ran drafts by them, crafted longer versions of each moment, then refined, refined, refined. My focus was always on trying to be as sensitive as possible, true to the characters; and I wanted the reader to be able to decide, to an extent, what exactly happens – based on their own personal ideas of what sex or a love scene means to them.
What books and tv/films (if any) influenced your writing of Henry Hamlet’s Heart?
A whole messy bunch of stuff. TV shows from the time like ‘The OC’ and (bear with me) ‘The Vampire Diaries’ were great inspiration for capturing that real yearning that just pulls you in. Songs by ‘My Chemical Romance’ and ‘Panic! at the Disco’. Shakespeare. ‘Normal People’. Taylor Swift’s last two albums. All the amazing LGBTQIA+ books on the market in recent years. Heavily character-driven books like Daniel Handler’s ‘Why We Broke Up’ and ‘It Sounded Better in My Head’ by Nina Kenwood. ‘The Great Gatsby’.
Alternative writing techniques really get me excited, too. There’s a black page near the end of Henry that was inspired by one in ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’, which I read in a creative writing class when I was sixteen. I can’t say I had any great literary criticisms of it to offer back then, but the black page stuck in my mind; much the same way I suspect Henry always will.
Thanks Rhiannon and good luck with your book!
See Gaby’s review here.