Please help me welcome Dougie K Powell to the blog today!
Q: Please share a little bit about your debut novel, My Best Rival.
My Best Rival is a young adult, queer romance story, set in Western Europe. It surrounds frenemies Ru and Ocean who, after an intense fight and private detention, realise they have feelings for each other. Without giving away too much of the plot, it’s about a group of young people learning about each other and themselves.
It’s something I’m very proud of, partially as it’s my first full length novel after ten years of working as a writer, but also because I was able to explore so many areas of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. It’s one of the reasons why I set the book in a remote international boarding school in Europe- these are characters from very different backgrounds but all having their own issues regarding relationships and understanding of their own sexuality. Another reason for the location is that setting the story in a fictional area meant I didn’t have to worry about accuracy. I could enjoy exploring the environment and adding whatever I fancied. Most spots, such as the lake, are inspired by real places. They’re just now all smushed happily together in my book!
Q: What are the inspirations that pushed you to write a novel?
Honestly, I was initially motivated by reading one too many books with trans characters that were poorly written. I will say that most were attempting to be sympathetic, but had so many silly errors it felt like they’d never even spoken to an openly trans person in their life, let alone consulted them on their books. So, I decided to write one myself and, hopefully, my book will help someone feel less alone.
A lot of My Best Rival is inspired by personal experience, and I did consult trans women, trans men and non-binary people whilst writing. That doesn’t mean it’s a blanket experience of what it is like to be trans or gender non-conforming, of course, just that I hope the feelings and language used will relate to trans and gender non-conforming people, rather than just portraying a trans person in a way cis people can understand and how cis people see them.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with writing a character from a group you don’t belong to, so long as you approach things with a openness for feedback. For example, I decided to make the main character Ru Japanese after reading an article by a Japanese American journalist that encouraged white writers to include people from different backgrounds in their work. While writing, I sent a few chapters, including the conversation between Ru and his father to a Japanese translator I’d hired, to make sure the conversation would flow and make sense were it in Japanese and to make sure I hadn’t made any dumb mistakes. There probably are still things I’ve gotten wrong, and I look forward to learning about them so I can do better next time.
I also wanted to write a positive trans experience. Not one where the character is miserable and has to fight for recognition. There is conflict and discrimination certainly, since these are unavoidable for most trans people and it didn’t make sense to pretend there wouldn’t be, but there is support, friendship and positive places to turn to. The teachers in My Best Rival are the ones I wish I’d had growing up.
Q: You are an established comedian, performing at a number of well-established venues. How much of your comedy makes it onto the pages of My Best Rival?
Honestly, it was a bit of a relief to write something where I didn’t have to constantly worry about being funny! There are a few moments that made people laugh, which I’m very proud of! Still, I wouldn’t describe it as a comedy.
Many comedians get into comedy to deal with their personal issues and I’m no different! There is that mentality of ‘if I’m ‘funny’ then people won’t think I’m something worse.’ I have combined comedy and personal trauma in my solo show Gothic Ray of Sunshine, which actually did really well. In that way, there is a lot of my comedy in My Best Rival. When I was writing GROS, my director, Juuso Kekkonen, kept encouraging me to go deeper and bring up darker and darker subjects, such as my being homeless as a young person. I kept that in mind when writing My Best Rival. If I can make dark subjects funny, I can make dark moments wholesome in my book.
Real life, particularly for those of us who grow up queer, isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. As a queer comedian, I’m open about a lot of the dark things that have happened to me. I guess by playing them for laughs, I have the power! There are dark moments in My Best Rival, but they weren’t included just for shock value, but because I went through dark moments. There are also a lot of positive experiences- like with my life!
Q: You are an established non-fiction writer, as well. Can you share with us some of your favorite topics?
Most of my non-fiction work has been about gaming- honestly my favourite hobby! There is something so zen about leaning back with a controller and zoning into an open-world adventure. (Then getting freaked out when you realise how much time has passed and that your friends have declared you ‘missing!’)
It was great fun getting to review games! One of my favourite games ever is a survival management game called Dead in Vinland. I was asked to review it by my editor- a few years later and I’ve clocked up over two hundred hours! Still haven’t beaten it on hard mode though…
Honestly, my favourite article was one where I explored the sexism in games marketing. Statistics show that women play video games just as much as men do, but games are still mainly marketed towards men or boys. This is because, after the video game crash of 83, Nintendo rebranded video games as ‘toys’ rather than ‘electronics.’ Because of our segregated gendered society, they had to choose between marketing to boys or girls. It’s a great example of how gender roles and stereotypes affect all of us, trans or cis, conforming or non-conforming.
Q: My Best Rival is a standalone. Would you consider writing more stories set in this world?
It was intended to be a standalone, but I honestly feel so connected to these characters now that I would totally be up for writing a sequel. The book has only been out for a little while, but people have already asked me if I’m going to write about what is next for Ru and Ocean. Which honestly would be an interesting thing to explore. What happens after the happy ever after? (Or ‘happy for now.’) They’re still young so it’s very unlikely that everything is going to go swimmingly just because my book ended…
Some of the best feedback I’ve received has been asking me to include a trans man in the story and have the characters explore their sexuality a little more, which I agree could be good. Self-discovery doesn’t just happen when we’re in our teens.
Q: What genres do you enjoy reading? What are some of your favorite books from 2023?
I am a sucker for some good, queer romance, normally, but in 2023 I’ve been branching out a lot. I recently had the joy of reading The Strange Story of Stanley Suspect, written by fellow Spectrum Books author JC Compton. I haven’t read a lot of vampire thrillers, but I really enjoyed the humour and emotional journey of the character. It’s another great thing about being a published author- by talking to other writers who work for the same publisher, I’m reading so many new books that I would never have read before!
My favourite book of 2023 has been Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of.) It’s a graphic novel inspired by the characters from Little Women, with a modern setting. I read Little Women growing up and got so annoyed when Jo marries in the end- and I know I’m not the only one! This book explores the queer-coding of Jo’s character and has that sweet, wholesome feeling that the original text has. (To clarify, the book came out in 2020, but I read it this year.)
Q: What’s up next for Dougie K. Powell?
I’m definitely going to start working on another book, probably another young adult romance and maybe with the same characters. Alongside that, I’ll continue doing stand-up comedy in Helsinki and possibly one or two shows in the UK.
I’m also very much looking forward to taking some time off over December. I won’t lie, it was a lot of work to find a publisher! I got a lot of positive replies when submitting My Best Rival, some even told me they enjoyed it and gave me some helpful feedback, but it was usually accompanied by an explanation as to why it wasn’t ‘a great fit,’ for them. (So, to anyone who is struggling to get their book published, keep working hard on your novel and don’t give up!) Now that it’s out, I want to take some time to myself to be proud of my book, play some video games and read.
Thanks for stopping by, Dougie! Now let’s learn more about My Best Rival:
My Best Rival
Author: Dougie K Powell
Publisher: Spectrum Books
Publication date: October 21, 2023
Series: Standalone (but a sequel is in the works.)
Genre: Romance, Young Adult
Ru and Ocean have always taken every chance to rile each other up. Their friends have never taken it too seriously, until their senior year when their jibes turn violent.
After the pair are sentenced to detention, emotions boil out of control leading to a confusing, romantic entanglement. Unable to deny their feelings, they agree to explore a relationship in secret.
But Ru can tell Ocean is holding back. When things appear to be going well, Ocean suddenly disappears, leaving Ru distressed.
When Ocean returns everything changes. Can Ru and Ocean overcome the new obstacles in their relationship? Or will Ocean’s truth be too much for their young love?
Dougie K Powell is an author, journalist and stand-up comedian. They write LGBTQIA+ romance stories, mainly for a young adult audience. Their goal is to create stories that are both empowering and relatable to their audience.
“I want to write the books that I wanted as a teenager and a young adult. We live in a diverse world and it’s important to reflect that in our work, particularly as queer authors.”
They have also dabbled in the world of non-fiction, having published articles for several gaming websites, focusing on promoting positive LGBTQIA+ representation in gaming.
Dougie was born in Britain and currently lives in Helsinki, Finland with their husband, their dog Vernon and their terrorising bunny Iku-Turso.