Northamptonshire Author Tamsin Winter on her debut novel for young teens…
I grew up in the small Northamptonshire village of Creaton. Our primary school was tiny, and one of the highlights for me was the little mobile library bus which used to visit every so often. I’ve always loved reading. Books held a special sort of magic for me and I dreamed that one day I would write my own, never really believing it would happen.
I went to Guilsborough School and I was blessed with two brilliant English teachers. They brought the stories we studied to life and, more importantly, they believed in me. It’s probably the reason I later became an English teacher myself. Your teenage years can sometimes be the toughest of your life. And books really can help.
I came up with the idea for writing Being Miss Nobody while I was daydreaming in my classroom a couple of years ago. I’d wanted to write a book for young people for a long time, but not really had an idea that inspired me. Then it came to me. I imagined a girl being ignored by everyone around her, with all these words inside her head, but unable to say any of them. I started writing Being Miss Nobody that night.
The girl in my daydream became my main character – eleven-year-old Rosalind Banks. She has with a severe anxiety disorder called selective mutism which makes it impossible for her to speak in front of anyone apart from her immediate family, and her slightly batty next-door neighbour, Mrs Quinney. Rosalind is smart, funny, kind, and full of things to say, but when she starts at a new school all anyone sees is a weird girl who can’t speak. Rosalind becomes the perfect target for bullies – someone who can’t fight back. And, like many victims of bullying, she keeps quiet.
At home, her little brother Seb is seriously ill, so Rosalind feels unable to burden her parents with the truth about what’s happening to her. As she says,
When your little brother’s really sick, and your mum keeps saying she needs something from her bedroom but you can tell she’s about to cry, and Dad’s doing a massive clean every night when he gets back from work, and they are both being weirdly quiet, there never seems to be a good time to bring up the fact that actually, things at school are Definitely The Exact Opposite Of Okay, and that your words are more trapped than ever. And that Dr Peak Not Peek’s Brilliant Plan of me talking normally at Manor High had sort of Massively Backfired. Because if there was one thing Massively Obvious to everybody at Manor High (including me) it’s that I was a Total Nobody.
Rosalind starts an anonymous blog – Miss Nobody. A place where she speaks out about what’s happening to her at school. But, as the blog starts trending, things spiral out of control and people start getting hurt. Rosalind knows she must tell the truth about being Miss Nobody – but how can you do that when you can’t actually speak?
I wrote Being Miss Nobody to show the difficulties of living with an anxiety disorder. Selective mutism is, like many mental health conditions, widely misunderstood. It can be an enormous barrier to making friends and asking for help. It can leave you vulnerable to – and powerless against – bullying.
The instinct to hide bullying from parents and teachers, the very people who would be able to help, is also a key theme in the book. I hope it inspires young people experiencing or witnessing bullying to tell someone they trust.
Being Miss Nobody also explores the double-edged power of social media. How it can be a wonderful place to connect with people, but it can also be used to shame, humiliate and cyberbully. Rosalind learns what it’s like to have popularity and influence online, but she also learns that once your words are published and shared, you can’t take them back. No matter how much you might want to.
I’m editing my second book at the moment, which will be published by Usborne next year. It tells the story of Jemima Small, a girl who I hope young readers will love as much as Rosalind. She’s big, bright, funny and she’s looking for her mum, who disappeared from her life before Jemima can even remember her being in it.
I want to write about the enormous struggles we face growing up, but also how mighty, brave and awesome young people can be. Having people tell me Being Miss Nobody is an inspiring, funny and heart-warming read is just about the best feeling in the world.
I began writing stories on my grandfather’s old typewriter in the little village of Creaton, and now my book is being sold all over the world. That’s the thing I love most about stories – you never know exactly where they are going to take you.
Tamsin Winter grew up in Northamptonshire. Her debut novel Being Miss Nobody, published by Usborne Publishing, is available to buy in bookshops and online, and is available to download. It tackles themes of anxiety, friendship, bullying and social media in a fresh, funny and moving voice. It is aimed at readers aged 10+. You can find out more about Tamsin and her books on her website www.tamsinwinter.com . Tamsin also visits schools to talk about her work and provides creative writing workshops for young people.