Writer, speaker and campaigner Natasha Devon explores unlikely friendships, social media obsession, poor mental health and more in her latest YA book, Toxic. Karla Brading grabbed some words with the tireless wordsmith.
When you find a friend in life that you can really vibe with, you want nothing more than to share the world with them. But what if those vibes actually become tainted; what if, over time, you notice that the cocktail of ingredients making up your friendship is actually laced with bitter toxicity?
Should you walk away?
Toxic’s protagonist Llewella, or Loo, is an intelligent teenage girl with an abundance of passions, though a little low in self-esteem when it comes to her physical appearance. With an unlikely online sideline, blogging about public toilets – that’s right: Loo reviews loos – she knows she’s on the right track to pursuing a career in writing. She’s even managed to accumulate a nice pocket of money from her hard work and a leading role in the school play! But when beautiful, unpredictable, all-singing Aretha bursts into Loo’s life, the panic attacks return. The anxiety levels skyrocket. And the safe world Loo has established starts to unravel…
With her background in delivering classes and conducting research with teenagers, teachers and parents on mental health, body image and social equality, Natasha Devon, author of Toxic, is one inspiring woman. So, how does writing for magazines and newspapers compare to assembling a novel, in regard to creativity and enjoyment?
“It’s good to hone the discipline of writing for different audiences, and to practice, the art of explaining things you thought were really obvious to a readership for whom it is not,” Devon explains. “Novel writing is totally different. You’ve created a whole reality in your head and you’re in charge of the parameters. That’s both exciting and a little scary!”
Toxic features troubled female characters – one outwardly dislikeable, the other the type you really want to hug and assure them that it’s going to be OK. Which of these characters was the most fun for Devon to develop?
“I loved writing both, but I think Aretha – the character you describe as dislikeable – was the most challenging,” she admits. “Aretha does behave badly and she can be super annoying, but there are good reasons why she is the way she is. She has a right to be angry – just not to take it out on Llewella.”
What are some of the challenges Devon faced whilst writing this novel?’ “The story is told from Llewella’s perspective and the reader is inside her head,” she says. “So, whilst I, as the author, know what is motivating the other characters, Loo often isn’t aware in the same way. It was a challenge not to include anything Loo couldn’t or wouldn’t know.”
So, with a novel that will undoubtedly be important in the lives of readers (teenagers in particular), does Devon have any advice for those who suspect they may be in a one-sided friendship, bearing signs of unkind manipulation and aren’t sure how to escape?
“Think about what you would like to happen. What’s the best outcome scenario, for you? How achievable is that? Do you think it’s likely the other person or people involved’s behaviour will change? If not, is there a way of extracting yourself that feels safe? Who do you trust to help you with this?
“Asking these sorts of questions in advance and, ideally, when you’re away from whoever is causing you distress and in a relatively calm headspace, can be really helpful. Also, try not to let considerations like whose ‘side’ other people will be on sway your decision. I know that’s easier said than done, but the truth always finds a way out eventually, in my experience, and the best thing you can do is take care of yourself in the meantime.”
Toxic is published on Thurs 7 July via UCLan. Price: £8.99. Info: here
words KARLA BRADING