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Five minutes with author Kay Kerr

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Social Queue is a funny and heart-warming autistic story about deciphering the confusing signals of attraction and navigating a path to love, following journalism intern Zoe Kelly’s dating life.

We took five minutes to sit down with author Kay Kerr to talk dating, activism, and the power of rom-coms.

How did the world of dating occur to you as a way of exploring Zoe’s world and some heavy issues?

The idea of an autistic young woman realising she had missed the signs that people from her past had been romantically interested in her landed in my head ready to go. And then I set it in a media landscape because that is my background, as a former journalist.

I knew I wanted to write a romance, as my first YA novel Please Don’t Hug Me was quite anti-romance, so I wanted to try something new. I also wanted to lean into comfort and escape, because I started writing this book during the 2019/2020 Summer bushfires, and wrote into the start of the pandemic. Dreaming up awkward dates and cute moments was a lovely reprieve.

It was immediately exciting, and the other themes that came through in the book fell out on to the page sort of accidentally, as I imagined what this experience would actually be like for Zoe.

It also made me reflect back on some of the not-so-nice moments in my dating history, and how my being autistic could have played a part in those (I wasn’t diagnosed until my 20s so I didn’t have that framework of understanding at the time).

Are you a fan of rom-coms?

I am a huge fan of romantic comedies and romance novels, so it was a joyous experience to craft a story like this with an autistic girl at the heart of it. I got to play with all the elements of rom-coms I love, take a stab at the ones I don’t like so much (enemies-to-lovers, I am looking at you), and write an uplifting story during hard times.

I am so happy we are entering the holiday season, because I am ready for ALL the Christmas-themed romance movies.

Zoe walks the line of being really brave and speaking up for herself, and at the same time full of anxiety and self doubt—how did you walk the line in creating this in your character?

That duality is definitely something that exists inside me and was something I wanted to explore. But I am not sure I would call it bravery. At various times in my life it has been called rudeness, bluntness, snobbery, brutal honesty, trouble-making, attention-seeking, sensitivity, ‘telling it like it is’ and self-destruction.

Now I see that my brain is just wired differently and there is one label to replace all of those I have just listed. I am autistic. It was quite healing and affirming to write a character so well-versed at self-advocacy, and someone who is putting in the work to build a life that works for her. In many ways, Zoe is aspirational for me.

So yes, she does have a strong need to advocate for social justice, and for her own support needs, and she is also anxious and vulnerable. That is all part of it, and is something I think a lot of people can probably relate to, autistic or not.

The role Zoe takes on educating journalist Maia is noble but exhausting… is this something you have experience with?

This is something I see a lot in the wider disability community—the onus being placed on disabled people to educate those around them, rather than people seeking out their own learning and doing that work for themselves. I see a hint of the toll it takes, particularly on people who do a lot of advocacy and activism work. I have so much respect for people like Carly Findlay, Chloe Hayden, Jordan Steele-John, El Gibbs, and countless others who do this work.

Because it isn’t just educating, it is dealing with a lot of ableism and push-back and aggression and ignorance. I get one abusive DM or have one offensive interaction about autism with someone and I want to go and hide in a cave for a month. I wish things weren’t this way. So, the storyline with Maia was a way to explore the toll that kind of role can take. I don’t have any answers really, it is just something I am thinking about and questioning a lot.

The pandemic has really highlighted how little some people care about the lives of disabled people, and that is so upsetting. All of the emphasis on ‘pre-existing conditions’, this little phrase that people use as a way of saying ‘but us healthy people will be fine’, has been difficult to reckon with.

For anyone interested in Social Queue, what other reads could you recommend?

For YA, I would recommend Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley, The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews and Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. For adult readers, I would also recommend The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang, Late Bloomer by Clem Bastow and A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan.

What’s on your TBR pile? 

So many books! I just picked up My Body Keeps Your Secrets by Lucia Osborne-Crowley and Sad Mum Lady by Ashe Davenport from my local library because I am in a nonfiction kind of mood. I still have The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett out on loan, and plan to read that next. I love the deadline that comes with a library loan; it is incentivising.

I recently purchased The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood for some creative inspiration. I also have a copy of Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down to read when I am emotionally ready for it.

Next on my YA pile is Hometown Haunts, which is a horror anthology edited by Poppy Nwosu. That’s just off the top of my head. My overflowing bookshelves and nooks and desk and bedside tables can attest to the fact that while I am quite a fast reader, my appetite will always surpass my abilities.

Feature image: Jess Kearney

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