Acclaimed children’s author Hazel Edwards is best known for her popular classic There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, but for her 200th novel she chose to embark on quite a different project.

The Melbourne-based writer collaborated with New Zealand-based Ryan Kennedy for the milestone. Kennedy lived as female until his transition to male at 27. Now 34, Kennedy has known Edwards since he was an 11-year-old girl, and together they produced F2M: The Boy Within.

“I’ve reached a point in my career where I can choose what I want to work on and I thought it was important to bring this subject matter into the mainstream,” Edwards said.

An international first for young adult fiction, the story of female-to-male gender transition follows school leaver Skye, who finds it easier to make her name in the punk music scene than to transition from Skye to Finn.

F2M attempts to show that transgender identity is less about surgery and more about overall acceptance.

“It was linguisically a challenge for me in terms of learning both a new language in gender and punk music. We wanted to make a credible character and a good story, not just propaganda,” Edwards said.

While not autobiographical, Kennedy used his gender reassignment experiences as inspiration for the novel. Even though it was his first book, Edwards stressed that even after 200 published works, she couldn’t have attempted such a project without the collaborative arrangement.

“This wasn’t a mentoring relationship with Ryan, we were equal partners. This was a whole new vocabulary for me and Ryan was my interpreter,” Edwards said.

Adding to the uniqueness of this outing for Edwards was that she and Kennedy collaborated online and via webcam in order to complete the work.

Edwards said she expected some controversy, given the young audience they were attempting to appeal to with the difficult subject matter.

“I knew going in that it’s often perceived as a taboo subject and I’m a mainstream children’s author,” she said.

“My main concern was that Ryan didn’t get hurt in the process. People are fearful of a subject they don’t understand. which is why we made this fiction. We wanted to distance it from Ryan’s own experience.”

It’s hoped the novel will appeal to teen readers of all genders through its candid and funny ‘coming of age’ style, and introduce them to accessible facts about a little-understood medical situation.

info: Order F2M: The Boy Within through the Australian Online Bookshop at www.bookworm.com.au

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