Calum McSwiggan chats the inspiration behind the title, Straight Expectations

Today we have the honour of chatting with Calum McSwiggan about his debut YA novel, Straight Expectation


Seventeen-year-old Max might be out and proud but he’s usually too busy checking his nail polish to check his privilege. So when he says he wishes he could have the ‘easy’ life straight kids enjoy, Max gets more than he bargained for. He wakes up to find his wish has come true – not only have his feelings for boys vanished, so has his lifelong best friend Dean… Today we have the honour of chatting with Calum McSwiggan about his debut YA novel, Straight Expectations: 

First, let’s do some light and easy questions: just like Max got asked during Queer Club, tell us an LGBT+ person you look up to.

Juno Dawson. An incredible LGBT+ author who’s written some of my all time favourite books. I can only aspire to one day write something as good as Her Majesty’s Royal Coven.

Max’s friends, Dean and Alicia, are both involved in theatre while Max feels a little left out. What role would you have in the school’s theatre production?

I’m obsessed with musical theatre, but like Max, acting is definitely not one of my skills. I play the piano, though, so maybe I could accompany them in a performance of Little Shop of Horrors? ‘Suddenly Seymour’ is one of my all time favourite songs and such a joy to play.

And which fictional characters do you think Max, Dean, Alicia, and Max’s crush Oliver in Straight Expectations are most similar to?

Max is like a modern day Maxxie from Skins (he’s not named after him – I’m only just drawing that comparison now) On the surface, he’s confident, sassy, and proud of his sexuality, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find there’s someone who’s actually a little insecure and unsure of himself. He’s a little misguided at times but he’s also super likable – definitely the kind of relatable role model I’d have liked to have had as a teenager.

Alicia has big Rita Louise Watson energy. That’s the character Lauryn Hill played in Sister Act. She’s passionate, stylish, unbelievably talented, and a little bit of a rebel. She doesn’t take shit from anyone, but she’s always there for her friends.

Layton Williams played the first ever Black lead in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and Dean was definitely very much inspired by that character. He’s camp, he’s outrageous, and as Dean himself puts it ‘nobody is more fabulous on stage.’ He’s also really sensitive and has this great big giant heart. He’s the best friend I wish I had growing up.

Oliver, however, was very much born of a frustration with the lack of queer East Asian representation. I struggle to think of another teenage queer Asian heart throb, and that’s precisely the problem. A friend recently told me that he didn’t feel desirable within the gay world because of his ethnicity, and that’s a big part of the reason I wanted to make Oliver the heart of the story. Max thinks he’s the most beautiful person in the world – and I want all of my readers to see him that way too.

Max, being LGBT+, does not have an easy life at school, but his friends still reminded him to check his privilege. Should we all check our privilege every now and then?

Absolutely, although Max is a minority in his queer identity, he’s still privileged in being a cis white male, and perhaps doesn’t always appreciate the differences in his life experiences compared to those of his friends. Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own problems so much that we forget to take a step back and look around us.

And obviously, this conversation is not easy to have. How should young readers approach such conversations with their friends?

More often than not, people just want to be heard. Remember to listen to your friends experiences, and to never dismiss them just because they’re different to your own.

Max mentioned he didn’t want to be gay and he realised he got more than he bargained for when everything changed. When you were flipping the universe upside down in Straight Expectations, was it easy to draw the line on what gets flipped and what doesn’t?

The last thing I wanted to do was to play into gay stereotypes, so although a lot changes along with Max’s sexuality, there’s a lot that remains completely unchanged too. He’s always had this idea of what it means to be straight but the reality doesn’t exactly meet his expectations. That’s where the book gets its title. That, and ripping off Charles Dickens.

And what was the weirdest thing to write about from Straight Max’s perspective?

As a gay man, Max’s newfound attraction to girls was actually really difficult to write. It wasn’t quite as simple as just flipping the gender – there’s more nuance to it than that. I actually watched a whole bunch of YA boy-meets-girl movies to try to better understand what Max would be feeling.

You have created YouTube videos on LGBT+ issues for years. It’s obviously very different from writing a novel, but any surprising similarities?

The vast majority of my YouTube audience were LGBT+ teens so I knew that in writing this book I would be speaking to exactly the same demographic. I don’t claim to know or understand exactly what it feels like to be a queer teen in 2023, but I receive comments and messages from those people every single day, and that has definitely impacted the way I wrote this book.

And for readers who are unfamiliar with your other work, where should they find more content?

I post everything on Instagram, whether I’m writing my next book or starting on my next creative project, that’s where you’ll find me.

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