This week, I chatted with Jarlath Gregory, author of the wonderful new Young Adult novel, What Love Looks Like.
Could you describe What Love Looks Like in five words?
Romantic comedy with a heart.
There are so many characters in this book that I loved — who was your favourite character to write?
Soda was the most fun to write, because he gets all the best lines. Writing him was like an excuse to drag up and let my inner diva out.
Leading on from that, who was your least favourite character to write?
I enjoyed writing all the characters, because they all play an important part in the story. Whether a character is nice or nasty doesn’t matter — if you’re writing a character and not enjoying them, you should switch up the character until you’re happy with them.
Are any of the characters in the book based on people in real life, except Panti of course!
No, they’re all completely imaginary. They all came out fully formed, except for Aaron, who changed a lot from the original first draft. Some of the characters are recognisable as types, like Peter, for example. I think a lot of readers would recognise someone like Peter, who’s had less support than Ben and perhaps that’s why he acts the way he does.
What is the main message you’d like readers to take from this story? If your book could pass on a piece of advice to someone what would it be?
I don’t think books need to have a message, but if they do, it’s up to each reader to decide for themselves what their own message is. In fact, when my mum read it, her big takeaway was “It wasn’t too preachy” — high praise, I think! As a reader, I’d probably enjoy seeing how sometimes personal problems work out without any messy drama, as long as people learn to be accepting.
Ben’s family and friends are wonderful, reading about them is like being hugged. Loving people for who they are is at the heart of this book. How important was it to you to have this positive representation of family at the core of Ben’s story?
That was very important for me. There’s a tendency in some queer writing to focus on family rejection or suffering, which are real issues that deserve to be explored, but it’s not the full story anymore. I wanted to write the sort of book that would’ve seemed impossible 20 years ago, and a big part of that is celebrating the fact that parents and peer groups are very accepting of queer identity from a younger age now.
The setting of What Love Looks Like is very vividly portrayed, did you see Dublin almost as a character in this book?
Yes, I did. I love writing about the city, scribbling down little scenes and anecdotes that describe how Dublin is now, and using them in fiction.
What was your favourite part about writing What Love Looks Like?
I feel very happy with the ending.
What did you think of the cover when you first saw it?
There were three different cover options, and I knew immediately which one I wanted. Luckily, everyone agreed, and the cover is cute.
What book would you recommend to people who enjoyed reading What Love Looks Like?
The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar is Irish-Bangladeshi and queer with a female protagonist, so why not give that one a go?
What do you miss most during lockdown?
Oh, travelling, hands down. I love weekend getaways, big holidays, festivals — it’s the one thing I’m most excited about post-lockdown.
If you could travel to any time in history, when and where would you go?
Europe, 100 years in the future, to see if we’ve messed things up.
Jarlath Gregory, May 2021
What Love Looks Like is available to order from your local bookshop or here.