The premise behind the debut Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre is current and controversial, with a pupil/teacher relationship at its core. Our reviewer Andrea Reece said of the book 'An impressive YA debut, this is a book to make you think, with characters that will stay with you after the final page' so we were excited and pleased when the author agreed to give us some exclusive background information about how her own work as a teacher has influenced the book.
Thoughts from the author
When I began “Me and Mr J”, I was fortunate enough to be teaching in a fantastic sixth form college and my inspiration came from a news story dominating the headlines. A girl running away with a teacher? My students were so fascinated and their opinions so varied and passionate, I knew I just had to write about it.
The trigger for Lara’s narrative was a student fervently arguing “but it’s romantic”. As an adult and a teacher, I was horrified but it started me thinking….how would a 15/16 year old feel? It’s easy with years of adult experience to recognise an abuse of power, but would an desperately unhappy and naïve teenager think the same way? Maybe not. That’s how the character of Lara was born.
From her point of view, Mr J is the “knight in shining armour” who rescues her from the grim reality of her life, providing a refuge from the bullies and a shoulder to cry on when there’s no-one else around.
To a young girl, a forbidden relationship might appear “romantic”, but the central message of the novel is it is always WRONG. Lara fully believes Mr J is simply a boyfriend with added complications and using her naïve perspective enabled me to present how and why a relationship like this could develop. Lara grows up during the course of the novel and ends a wiser – and much happier- girl, able to stand up for herself. Most importantly, she has learnt to recognise that just because something feels right, doesn’t mean it is right. Teachers should never enter in to relationships with pupils. Full stop.
The world through the eyes of a vulnerable and unhappy sixteen year old can be a confusing place and trying to pin that down in writing is a daunting task. In “Me and Mr J”, Lara surrounded by conflict and uses her diary to explore and record her feelings. Creating Lara’s distinctive voice was key to the novel as I wanted to add an underlying vulnerability and naivety to her sarcastic and lively response to the world around her.
I watched a lot of teen- targeted TV and read a lot of Heat magazine to try to create authenticity. And obviously, I spent my working days surrounded by people the same age and from the same town as Lara, so her voice grew from the way my students talked; their humour and sarcastic take on life permeates the book. They were without a doubt my biggest influence.
I guess I really wanted to write for them, too, particularly the ones who didn’t usually read. As I was writing the book, I definitely had them in mind as my target audience. Many of the students I taught loved reading for pleasure, but many didn’t. Not because they weren’t technically accomplished readers, but because TV, film, internet and other distractions meant maybe they only had time for a magazine or a misery memoir on holiday. What did they like? I took their interest in soap opera romance, family life, comedy, traumatic events, the teen female lead who triumphs over difficulties; combined them with the hook of a scandal and wove it all in to “Me and Mr J”.