Friday 19 February 2021

New Kids on the Block by Joan Haig


My WIP is inspired by an island in the South West Pacific where my family lived for a while. I was turning twelve and my sister was thirteen when we first moved there. We’d grown up away from mainstream influences, but we were catching up: it was 1991 and I had found Kylie Minogue. Shortly after arriving on the island and discovering its buoyant market in pirated cassette tapes, I spent my savings on Kylie's eponymous album. Ever the edgier one, my sister spent hers on ‘Hangin' Tough’ by The New Kids on the Block.

There had been a spate of petty crime in our new neighbourhood. The suspects were a gang of teenagers bunking off school. When out one afternoon, our house was broken into and our belongings picked over. My sister and I had grown up accustomed to varying degrees of theft, from pocket-grabs to armed robberies. This gang clearly wasn’t the hardest we’d encountered, nor the most discerning – the only thing they lifted was my sister’s tape.

The local police tracked them down and made them responsibly return our pirated music. For the next few years, the gang carried on their antics and it became a point of pride to us that from thereon in they were known on the island as The New Kids on the Block.


The original pirated sleeve of Hangin' Tough

 After a year, my sister and I were sent to boarding school in Scotland. I was the ‘new girl’ for a long time. I learned the hard way that being the first to break IN to the pantry after Lights Out meant being the last one to sneak OUT – the one most likely to be caught scurrying back to the dorm, still cramming Cook’s stodgy brownies into my mouth. There was always something I didn’t know, some hilarious old prank I hadn’t been party to; there were school rules I was teased for following and unwritten codes I was shunned for breaking. And yet, after a while, being the new girl provided an odd sense of security.

So it was utterly unsettling when a new new girl arrived, displacing me. My new position was different, less familiar, and it didn’t even come with a label: I was no longer new, but not yet established.


Kylie, 1988. Je ne sais pas pourquoi.

I feel a little of that insecurity now. I have loved being a new kid in the world of children’s writers. It’s been a strange year to bring out a debut novel. Perhaps in part because of the pandemic, the writing community has been especially caring of new arrivals.

Tiger Skin Rug took a modest pounce into the kids’ books market, followed by several slow strides when bookshops all closed. It’s now trotting along at its own healthy pace (it’s a tiger, not a cheetah, after all) and I’m proud of the nominations, festivals and reviews it’s gathering as it goes. I’ve been enjoying it so much that I am reluctant (read terrified) to move on and away from my debut status.

I know it’s time to brave that second novel, the one inspired by the island. Other authors who debuted alongside me are already at the proofs stage. So why do these next steps feel so scary? Why the return of those boarding-house butterflies?


Joan Lennon said...

I'm so busy feeling heartbroken for boarding school Joan I can barely pay attention to second book Joan! Second books are notoriously hard, but I think it's a good idea to remember that it's going to be a badger, or perhaps a cockatoo, so thinking in terms of how it compares to a tiger will slow you down. It's a new book. Clean slate. Oh, and get writing!

Joan Haig said...

I do like a cockatoo. Thanks, JL.

Barbara said...

Great blog post, and one we'll all relate to.
Can't wait for your next book, Joan!The Clan always loves a new arrival :)

Joan Haig said...

Thank you, B! xx

Penny Dolan said...

Good wishes, Joan, from someone who knows this petrifying terror all too well.