‘I wanted to make it about individual characters rather than a point about anyone’s identity. It isn’t just about what they represent, it’s about who they are and how they interact with each other.’
Only on the Weekends
By Dean Atta
Published by Hachette Children’s Group
Nearly three years since the success of his debut novel, The Black Flamingo, Dean Atta’s second Young Adult (YA) story, Only on the Weekends has arrived.
15-year-old Mack is a boy who, on paper, has it all – a film director dad, a huge house, all the games consoles and cinema rooms a boy could want. But he’s grieving his mother, feels neglected by his father, must move to Scotland and is torn between Karim, his first boyfriend back in London, and Finlay, the star of his father’s latest movie.
First of all, congratulations. It’s a beautiful book. The rhythm feels so natural, it’s as if the book has a pulse. How are you feeling about its release?
I’m excited. We’ve had a lot of people read it – sensitivity readers and friends. It’s had plenty of good responses, so it’s promising. Now it’s about the teen readers. I’m excited to see what they think about it when it starts getting to them.
YA is such a special genre, isn’t it? Not only for a lot of teenagers is it the first time they see themselves and what they’re thinking and talking about in books, but plenty of people in their 20s and 30s can read it and enjoy it too.
Someone in their 30s in the UK would have had Section 28 when they were at school, so they wouldn’t have had LGBT books in school. Representation is lagging behind. We’re having to play catch up. Even those who are in their 30s or older, we’re lapping up anything we can get our hands on, we’re watching all the shows and reading all the books because we have to make up for lost time and nourish and nurture our inner child that missed out.
Only on the Weekends feels like such a celebration of queerness. You have Finlay, who’s trans, Mack and Karim are gay, there’s Cleo and Ross who are bisexual. Did you feel any pressure while writing those characters?
I know from friends and readers that bisexual people feel very unrepresented in LGBTQ+ media and literature. If a bisexual relationship is in a relationship perceived to be heterosexual, then they can pass in straight culture. I wanted to tackle that in the book. But I wanted to make it about individual characters rather than a point about anyone’s identity. It isn’t just about what they represent, it’s about who they are and how they interact with each other.
What was it like writing this book after the success of The Black Flamingo?
OOTW is more romantic than The Black Flamingo, which was a coming-of-age story. This is a romance. I felt like I was stepping into a new genre even though it’s still within YA because I had to learn what makes a romance book work. I’m dealing with a tighter timeline here. Mack is only 15 and 16 whereas The Black Flamingo followed Michael through childhood up to being a young adult. I wanted to get across the tension of the love triangle and the pull Mack’s feeling between London and Glasgow.
As someone who lives in Glasgow, it was nice to see the city mentioned so often and to read the names of familiar places like Category Is Books and Pollok Country Park. Like Mack, I know you moved from London to Glasgow too.
Yeah, it’s been three years for me. I’ve cycled my bike around town, I’ve gone to all the places I’ve described. I wanted to celebrate the city and country. I’ve visited islands, I love the ferry to Arran – the setting for a big scene in the book – and I’ve climbed so many Munros! As Mack learns, reaching the top of a mountain is always hellish on the way up. Mack hadn’t had a chance to experience that natural world in London, or even things like riding a bike, so I wanted to give him that. He’s even named after Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
It’s great too reading references to known Scottish artists like Hannah Lavery and Beldina Odenyo Onassis.
I’m glad I had the chance to talk to Beldina about being mentioned in the book and that she was happy with the characters going to an Heir of the Cursed gig. I’d seen her live many times and I wanted to get across the transformative experience it was listening to her music. She really encapsulated what people experience if they have multiple backgrounds.
Only on the Weekends does feel like it pays tribute to her. It’s a tribute to Scotland, to all these different cultures, to queerness, to love. It does have moments of grief and there is tension, characters argue and are hurt, but there’s also a lot of joy and excitement.
Things are extraordinary in life. It’s just about noticing those extraordinary moments. Even if characters come off as insensitive or a bit mean at times, that’s because they’re children and they’re still figuring out their emotions. We expect young people to be little adults but they’re still developing and working things out. That’s the power of a book – young people can live in a way vicariously through these characters, see them make their mistakes and learn from them.
Mack is definitely a character that makes mistakes, he’s not a perfect and morally pure protagonist. I was exasperated with him at points as a reader!
He is a really privileged boy who gets material things that he wants but there’s a lot that he’s lacking in terms of support. He does some things that are frustrating and he is quite self-involved at times, but don’t we all and aren’t we all? Yes, the relationship with Dad is not perfect but his dad is trying.
It’s refreshing that the story of Mack and his dad isn’t one where the child is rejected for queerness, as we often see in LGBTQ YA.
I wanted to explore the father-son relationship because that doesn’t exist in The Black Flamingo, and also in my life. It was really important for me to delve into that. I think the biggest question of the book, more than anything else, is what is the role of a father? Not everything is going to come naturally to you as a parent. You can’t parent someone if you don’t know them. The characters have got to get to know one another as well. Taiwo doesn’t quite get it – he refers to Mack as his LBGTQ son. Parents struggle sometimes because it’s all new to them, but there’s so much out there for them to learn from. The children shouldn’t have to be the teachers. Mack’s dad is trying really hard. Sometimes that’s the best parents can do.
Only on the Weekends by Dean Atta is published by Hachette Children’s Group, priced £8.99.