Before gender confusion became really confusing, there was Boy2Girl
05 October 2017
It was written at a time of change in my life, 15 years ago. I was living in a small caravan while, in the next field, builders were converting an old goose hatchery into what, all being well, would be the house where my partner Angela and I would live.
I was managing the project as well as earning a living as writer, and so my days had a definite routine. At eight, I would talk to Vic Beales, the brilliant builder whose team was working on the house. Then I would drive for ten minutes to the home of my friends the Buckleys where, in a small industrial unit next to their house, I wrote a story of gender confusion, originally called Girlie but, after objections from a class in Northern Ireland which I visited, revised to Boy2Girl.
In the afternoon, I became White Van Man, driving to reclamation yards and suppliers, looking at flooring, buying doors, chasing up deliveries.
It was a perfect balance of the creative and the practical. For half the day, I wrote about a boy who has to dress up as a girl – I saw it as a teen story along the lines Some Like It Hot. Then I would go out into the real world, striding about in my heavy fireman’s boots, looking at stuff, negotiating, kicking ass. For a few months, I was a real man.
Some of the jeopardy and excitement of those days rubbed off in the writing of Boy2Girl, I think. Once I had decided to tell the story in the words of everyone involved, except the boy/girl protagonist Sam Lopez, it became technically tricky but a joy to write.
It was published, and received good reviews, in spite of a misguided publicity campaign by the publisher which involved sending each of the rather serious-minded children’s book reviewers a pair of baggy y-fronts with their review copy (because they would wet themselves laughing, geddit?). This joke was not widely appreciated.
It won a little prize and there have been many foreign editions, followed by YouTube dramatisations and ads that range from the energetic to the slightly bizarre. It has been adapted into a play in Sweden and Germany. There was a film option. As options go, it was all rather exciting (the director had directed several episodes of Veep, Jarvis Cocker was working on a soundtrack etc etc) but then, as options go, it went.
One problem, according to the film people, was that the whole gender thing has moved on, and become more serious and anguished. One would-be backer argued that my story had become out of date because (spoiler alert) Sam eventually reverts to being a boy. It was thought – seriously thought by people claiming to be grown-ups – that this conclusion revealed a suspect bias in favour of maleness. What was wrong with Sam being a girl,? they asked. Why couldn’t he stay as Samantha?
I’m aware, looking at new boy2girl YouTube videos that have nothing to do with my book, that this is an area that is less, shall we say, straightforward than it seemed when I was writing my story. Yet Boy2Girl goes on finding readers. A new Spanish edition of De Chico a Chica , with pictures, was published last month by Grupo SM. I dream of a musical based on the story.
Best of all, it’s back in British bookshops.