How a terrified teenager broke out of rural isolation and wrote a book
Filmmaker and Youtuber Lucy Sutcliffe, 24, wowed us last year with the release of her memoir, Girl Hearts Girl, an uplifting and inspiring insight into her life as a gay teen in a small town in Oxfordshire. We caught up with Lucy one year on to find out how the book is changing lives – including hers.
DIVA: We’re thrilled to have you taking part in the inaugural DIVA Literary Festival in November. Why do you think events like this are important?
LUCY SUTCLIFFE: I’m thrilled to have been invited, so thank you! This is the perfect platform to give our community the respect and recognition we deserve. So often are we overlooked. We are such a deeply diverse and incredibly talented group of people, and I’m so proud to be a part of this.
For those who haven’t read your memoir, can you tell us what it’s about, and how you came to write it?
It’s about my life growing up as a terrified, closeted lesbian in a small, very rural, Oxfordshire town. I was deeply afraid and incredibly lonely, and my book documents my journey from timid little gay teen to out-andproud adult. Where I grew up, there was no “LGBT community”. There were just sheep. So many sheep. I was so scared that there was no- one else like me, and I like to think that if I’d had a book like Girl Hearts Girl back then, I wouldn’t have struggled so much. All the sadness, anger, and shame… I carried it with me for years. It affected me so deeply. That’s why I wrote this book. I don’t want young people to have to go through what I did. I wasn’t alone, but I didn’t know that at the time. I hope Girl Hearts Girl opens the door to people who feel like they have nowhere to turn.
You are dealing with some very personal subjects in the book, which must have been difficult. Was it a challenge to lay yourself on the page like that? Did you self-censor at times?
It was definitely challenging. Partly, actually, because it forced me to re-live bits of my life that I had previously locked away in a little box in my brain, never to be looked at again. It was
sometimes quite painful to revisit all those feelings again. I was definitely conscious of what I wanted to keep private and [make] public, too, but I wouldn’t call it censorship, necessarily. Even when I was writing about my most vulnerable moments, I made sure to be as honest, open and genuine as possible. I want my readers to connect with how I felt, and that wouldn’t be possible if I just glazed over the more difficult memories and pretended like things were easier than they were. There’s a real beauty to honesty, I think. When you’re willing to be vulnerable, you encourage others to be, too. And what’s more authentic than that?
You talk a lot about your ex-girlfriend Kaelyn in the book. Is it hard to read back those parts now that you are no longer together?
No, it’s not hard. That was then, and this is now. The book is almost a time capsule: it’s about growing up and it’s about me as much as it is about Kaelyn. I feel proud to have built myself a fantastic independent life, here in beautiful Arizona, with a wide circle of friends and a job where I get to make films all day (and sometimes all night!). Right now, at 24, I’m exactly where I want to be and can truthfully say I’m having the time of my life.
What kind of response have you had from young LGBT people since your book was published?
The response has been incredible. When I wrote Girl Hearts Girl, I told myself that if it changed just one person’s life for the better, then I’d have done my job. The fact that it’s changing more than one person’s life for the better blows my mind every single day. I’m so grateful and humbled by the support. I get pictures tweeted to me every single day from people finding it in their local libraries and bookshops, getting it for Christmases and birthdays, reading it on the beach on their holidays… it feels like I’ve created a little family, really, and that everyone who reads the book gets to be part of that family.
What has the response from your friends and family been like?
It’s been amazing! Everyone has been so supportive. My Granny went out and bought a copy, read it, then mailed it to her friend, with a note proudly saying, “My granddaughter wrote this book!” It’s the best feeling in the world. I like how far it’s reached locally, too. People I only know by name in my local town, or people I went to school with but haven’t spoken to in years, keep messaging me on Facebook saying they picked it up. It feels like I’m uniting people, in a sense. It’s so cool.
Talk us through the writing process – how long did it take? What was the most difficult aspect? What was the best bit?
I was very methodical about my writing process. I had to be – I know myself well enough to know that if I wasn’t organised about my process, things would get messy and complicated very quickly! One morning, in the beginning stages of writing the book, I went out and bought three of those cheap, 50 cent notebooks from Walmart, and a bunch of sticky notes. I sectioned the notebooks off into chapters, then literally word-vomitted into them for a week! I wrote down every single memory I possibly could think of that might be relevant to the book, using the chapter markers to guide me onto a sort of timeline, as I knew I wanted the memoir to be chronological. Then it was simply a matter of sifting through it all, and making it into a story. That was the hardest part, I think, but there was something very satisfying about being able to lay my life out onto a page like that, too. The best part, of course, was finishing. I remember sitting back in my chair on my balcony, having finished the last sentence, and breathing out the biggest sigh of relief. It was such an adrenaline rush!
Knowing what you know now as a published writer, is there any advice you would give yourself at the start of the process, or anything you would have done differently?
Organisation is key, in terms of both physical space, and in your own brain! I personally find it very hard to write good content when there’s a million things on my mind, and I’m in a messy writing space. So I would say that keeping things tidy is a must. And no, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Writing a memoir, for me at least, felt like a very organic process – mostly likely because I was writing about myself. I followed my instincts, was as honest and genuine as I could be, and I think that’s the best way to do it. If I’d tried to be anything I’m not, people would have seen through it immediately.
Why do you think it’s so important to have books by and for LGBT people, with LGBT themes and characters?
We are so under-represented as a community, even in 2017. We need LGBT themes and characters so that young people have something to identify with and understand. Our world is so richly diverse, and it’s absurd that so many marginalised groups are still being overlooked in the media. We are here, we exist, and we deserve to have a voice! Anything less is an insult to our history as a community.
Who are some of your writers?
It’s cliche, I know, but JK Rowling is always going to be my favourite. I know, I know! Other authors I’m loving right now are Non Pratt, Lisa Williamson and Juno Dawson. They’re all working hard to write diverse, touching stories that feature LGBT characters in really beautiful, creative ways. I couldn’t recommend their work enough!
Have you got any more books up your sleeve?
That’s a secret for now…! (Subtlety has never been my strong point.)
What advice would you give someone looking to write a memoir?
Don’t get disheartened, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and above all else, don’t give up! Motivation can be hard to find, but you cannot let passivity win. If you find yourself struggling for inspiration or ideas, get up, make yourself a cup of tea, clear your head. Listen to some music, go for a walk, call a friend. Then sit down and write your heart out. Write anything that comes into your mind. You can make it perfect later. Also, thesaurus. com is your best friend!
“As a gay teen in a rural town, I was deeply afraid and terribly lonely”