‘It means the world to me’: Interview with Juno Dawson

We sat down with Juno Dawson, who recently won the 2022 Educational Writers’ Award for her book What’s the T?, a no-nonsense guide to all things trans and non-binary. Juno tells us about fulfilling a childhood dream to write for Doctor Who, how she got into writing and what it means to win the award.

How did you first get into writing?

I’ve always written, and I’ve always been obsessed with books. My head has always been full of stories, but I found it hard to commit them to the page. As a teenager, I wrote what we’d now call fan fiction – mostly Doctor Who or Buffy. I wrote for the student newspaper and some sketch comedy at university, but I didn’t set out to write a novel until my late 20s when I was reading a lot of young adult fiction during my teaching years.

You worked in education at the beginning of your career, how do you think that experience shaped your writing?

It helped that I was working with young adults. They’re hilarious a lot of the time. I like to think it added an authenticity to my work. Moreover I had an inkling of what readers might enjoy – I was borrowing a lot of books from the kids in my class.

You grew up being a big fan of Doctor Who, what was it like to go on to write a Doctor Who novel and spin-off audiobook?

Writing for Doctor Who is surreal, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really processed what it would have meant to me as a child. Watching Jodie Whittaker read lines that I have written is one of about four times I’ve ever cried in my career.

You’re a very prolific writer and have written audiobooks as well as fiction and non-fiction and journalism– do you have a preference?

I am definitely happiest when working on a novel, but having time off to work on other projects always serves as a good palate cleanser between novels.

How do you approach the writing process?

I prefer to write from an office space I have. I like a distance between work and home. On an ideal day, I’d just be writing, but realistically, there’s always other demands on my time. The podcast; TV development; meetings; promotion; and this sort of stuff! I’m getting better at setting boundaries and saying “I need to save this time for writing”.

Was it a challenge collaborating with the illustrator of the book, Soofiya, during the pandemic?

Well it meant I didn’t meet them until this year! That’s often the way with illustrators though – the odds of living close to them are slim. I actually found that 2020 was a great year for writing because I had fewer distractions and didn’t have to schlep to London!

What did it mean to you to have What’s the T? win the Educational Writers’ Award?

Because it was a lockdown release it means the world to me. With my non-fiction I know it really helps young queer people but it’s no good if they can’t find it in a library. Winning an award like this hopefully means it’ll find its way to the readers who need it the most.

What projects are you working on right now?

I have a bunch of TV stuff in development, which is exciting but also frustrating. That’s just TV. I’m tentatively getting going on the third and final part of the Her Majesty’s Royal Coven trilogy too.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers starting out?

Just write a book that you would want to read. It sounds obvious, but there’s been times when I’ve tried to second guess what readers, or judges, or publishers would want, and it never turns out well.

You can find Juno’s published works here.