Rebecca Sullivan centers lesbian desires in her romance novel

Author Rebecca Sullivan was inspired to write a coming of age, lesbian summer camp romance novel called Night Owls and Summer Skies as a marginalized voice in order to express her marginalized desires with consent being at the forefront of this romance.

Rebecca Sullivan is a twenty-two-year-old student at the National University of Ireland, studying English Literature and Geography. She is obsessed with fluffy socks and anything to do with owls, particularly in the form of candles and other odd trinkets. Even when sleeping there’s no escape from writing for Rebecca as she plans story arcs by inducing a lucid dreaming state.

First of all, how do you identify?

I’m not really into labelling myself personally.

What is the idea behind the book and what is the message you would like to spread?

I wanted to write a book that shows what’s it like for a person they get help with their mental health issues. Then show a character who still has these issues to deal with while having the tools to deal with their mental health. The camp is a place where Emma has to face her phobia, which is all things to do with camping, so it takes her a while to fall back on the tools she was taught to deal with her anxiety. But it could be done. That was a key message. It was also a summer of firsts, with new experience in making friends and having a first relationship, while not focusing on her sexuality while she was there.

Is it the book based on true facts of your life? Where did you get your inspiration from?

The book, while it isn’t based on my experiences exactly, are inspired over a couple of years over my life. When I was fifteen, I was in this year in my school called Transition Year. It’s basically a year of growth. It involves doing things like work experience, musicals and concerts and all hands-on things. The year wasn’t really based on academics. We went to this outdoor adventure place called Delphi for a few days and we did things like rock climbing, kayaking, building rafts out in the lake and a lot of activities. Those were the experiences were reflected in Night Owls and Summer Skies. But one activity in the book was an archery session and I did one of those when I was probably ten. I ended up with a very bad bruise on my upper arm! And then what actually inspired the book was I was sitting in an exam, two years after going on that trip to Delphi, and it was really hot outside and I just wanted to go to a summer camp to relive that experience at the adventure resort. Having discovered who I was sexuality wise and having tackling some mental health issues, I thought it would be interesting seeing a character having already dealt and was managing those issues in a summer camp setting. I only wrote the book after improving my own mental health, two years later. And that’s what inspired Night Owls and Summer Skies.

What does this book mean for you?

It means the world that people that read the book resonate with the characters and their journeys. Whether it be the encouraging or discouraging parent, finding joy in a character and the camp that embraces sexualities without a second thought, or seeing themselves in any way. That’s all I wanted to do. To share some experiences that a lot of LGBTQ+ youth face, but all the while not being too heavy and having a cute summer romance and friendships.

How difficult was to write this book?

It was one of the easiest flowing books that I’ve written. Initially, the first draft was completed in 30 days. I sped through it. Then rewriting and the editing process was a great collaboration over a few months. Were there many hours spent working into the night? Absolutely. But it was the kind of book that was easy to get lost in the work for a few hours.

Who do you admire in your life?

It wouldn’t be fair to pick only one!

How are you comping these days with the global pandemic and the lockdown?

It is hard, especially when you have vulnerable family members with health issues and have had family or friends die or are struggling. I think everyone’s in a position where they’re trying to make the best out of a bad situation. But it makes you realise how great people can be and how supportive they can be when you’re in a rough spot. 

What is your biggest life achievement?

Oh, that’s a hard question. I think finding joy in the things you do is achievement enough. Because for a long time it was hard for me to feel that sense passion in some aspects of my life. I think just living in the moment is a great achievement for me, for example, Night Owls and Summer Skies being published was great and college accomplishments, and sports accomplishments. Focusing on here and now and thoroughly enjoying life. That’s something I hope to continue.

Do you think that women are underrepresented in your field?

For women who write queer YA fiction, specifically f/f fiction, most people would say yes. But just because it’s not mainstream doesn’t mean there isn’t loads of LGBTQ+ authors and books with these characters. Small presses and self-publishers are doing the work and are providing stories that the gatekeepers of the larger publishers dismiss. Most of the books I love are either self-published or from small presses. There are so many of these books. The writers and representation are there, the problem is the marketing of these stories. They’re out there, but hard to find if you don’t know where to look. But I think these stories are only now being published by big, mainstream publishers. They are behind. They’re playing catch up. Hopefully ten years down the road we see MASSIVE change.

Have you received any racism or discrimination in your career?

Not that I’m aware of. Not in my career. Outside of my career? Yes.

Do you think we are progressing as a society towards equal rights for everyone

I like to think that. But when you look outside your own country or your environment and see what people are facing it makes you stop and think. For example, the BlackLivesMatter movement in America, it can seem like it’s  equal right is not possible in my lifetime. And seeing visible hardship in the media makes you reflect on your own environment and you can see that work still needs to be done and shouldn’t be forgotten about just because it’s not on your social media feed. We shouldn’t need reminders like that to pull our weight. I think we are progressing, but the journey is a lot longer than most people think.

What advice would you give to those who feel discriminated and disappointed?

I think especially for coping with your mental health, having a support system is great. If you can, talk to one person, openly and honestly about your feelings and the situation or situations you are facing. I think holding it all in can be really heavy. It’s amazing really how one person validating you and listening to you can be more powerful than a bunch of people that are holding you down for something you can’t control.

What are your future plans?

Right now, I’m focusing on family. Hopefully the master’s program I was accepted into finds a way to deliver the course material through a mixture of in person/online work when the semester starts. I’m not sure how the pandemic will affect that. But I’m looking forward to it all the same. I’m always writing something too, of course, we’ll see how that goes! I’m happy to be posting some rough drafts on Wattpad and spending my free time strengthening the books offline.

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