Author of middle grade book, Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One, Maggie Horne chatted to us about the inspiration behind her debut novel and what’s coming next! Read on below to discover more about Maggie …
Could you tell us a bit about Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One?
Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One is about 12-year-old Hazel, who begins the book completely focused on one goal: to win her school’s annual speech competition after a humiliating defeat last year at the hands of her nemesis, popular girl Ella Quinn. But when she learns that Ella’s being sexually harassed online by a boy in their class, the two girls team up to try and take him down, and Hazel has to choose between winning and doing what she knows is right.
Hazel is such a brilliant character. Where did the inspiration for her come from?
Thank you! Hazel was largely inspired by my own experience growing up and dealing with sexual harassment at school from a young age. I have a lot of memories from around that time (good and bad!) and tried to really tap into them to make Hazel as authentic as possible.
Do you have any tips for writing memorable characters?
I think that in middle grade especially people can be tempted to over-explain things or to make sure that each character is specifically teaching the reader a lesson, but I think that creating characters that way can be condescending to the reader. Writing 12 year olds who are fully fleshed out people in the own right is what makes them memorable!
Friendship is a strong theme throughout the book. Was this always something you wanted to write about?
Definitely! I always think we should have more friendship stories out in the world, and being able to explore the theme through Hazel, who begins the book almost afraid to even try to have friends and ends it in an entirely different place, was really fun.
You also include themes and issues that aren’t always talked about in middle grade fiction, but you do it in such a sensitive and engaging way for the reader. Do you think there are more themes and issues that could be featured in fiction for young people?
Thank you! Definitely. I think that the middle grade years are often when the differences between you and the people around you start to become something that gets talked about a lot more (for better and for worse), so writing about those differences, first of all, is hugely important. I’d love to see more queer middle grade, and especially middle grade with queer BIPOC protagonists. Beyond that, I think that there was a period of time where writing about things like sexual harassment for young people was seen as more taboo because the topics weren’t seen as “appropriate” for them. But, like Hazel mentions in the book, of course it’s not appropriate! That’s why it needs to be recognised and stopped, and writing about it is a first step to that.
What books/ stories/ authors have been an inspiration to you, and your writing?
My absolute favourite book when I was Hazel’s age was Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. I’ve always loved how thoughtful and precise his language is, and I try to emulate that where I can.
When I re-discovered middle grade in adulthood, I was so excited to see how many authors were bringing diversity to the category! Authors like Claribel Ortega, Ashley Herring Blake, and Mark Oshiro (to name a few!) are doing so much for middle grade.
We’d love to know what’s up next for you. Are you writing anything new, or any other exciting news?
I’m VERY excited about my next middle grade book, Noah Frye Gets Crushed, which will be out in 2024. It’s about 12-year-old Noah, who, after noticing that her best friends seem to be suddenly boy-obsessed, decides she can teach herself how to have a crush on a boy to fit in. Noah’s story is almost the opposite of Hazel’s – where Hazel’s lack of close friends has forced her to have a very strong, independent sense of self, Noah’s grown up with an extremely tight-knit circle of friends, and she doesn’t quite know who she is without them.
I’ll also be debuting a YA book in 2024, Stay Here With Me! It tells the story of two best friends who’ve just broken up, because one of them was outed as a lesbian, finding themselves developing feelings for the same girl.
Maggie Horne is a writer and editor who grew up near Toronto, Canada. She studied at Oxford Brookes University, where she obtained both a BA in Publishing Media and a wife, which was a pretty good deal. She now lives outside of Ottawa with her family. Her first novel, Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One, was an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2022 Selection, an Indie Next pick, and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.
Her second middle grade novel, Noah Frye Gets Crushed, will be released winter 2024, and her young adult debut, Stay Here With Me, is out autumn 2024 with Feiwel + Friends.
Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One is out now. You can find out more about Maggie by visiting her official website, or by following her on Twitter and Instagram.
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