Wibke Brueggemann on why Cupid’s Revenge is sex positive

She also gives advice to LGBTQ+ teens who feel left out in the love department.


Tilly’s best friend, Teddy, ropes her into a plan to woo his dream girl, and it involves auditioning for a local play — a complete horror for Tilly who grew up in an artsy family but doesn’t have a creative bone in her body. What’s worse is that Tilly might be falling for the same girl as well. We had the honour of chatting with Wibke Brueggemann on her sex positive novel, Cupid’s Revenge, which is perfect for Pride Month.

Cupid’s Revenge does not shy away from teenagers’ frank discussion of sexuality. Why did you choose to highlight the horny side of teenagers?

It wasn’t so much that I wanted to highlight it. I wanted to write truthful characters, and discussing sexuality is very much part of teenage life. I think some adults can be slightly (when I say slightly, I mean completely) misinformed about the attitude towards, and the conversations young people have about, sexuality. I’ve seen this happening to friends of mine who are parents of teenagers. So often they’d say, ‘Oh, no, my child isn’t in to all that yet’. But the truth is, if your child is a teenager, they’re probably most definitely into it. You just wish they weren’t, because they’re your babies. And of course, they’re not talking to you about it; you’re their parent. I think it’s important to have honest conversations in safe spaces about sexuality, and that’s why I encourage the characters in my books to speak up. And to be honest, being horny at sixteen is completely normal, that’s the hormones.

And were you ever worried that Cupid’s Revenge would be considered too mature for teenagers?

Not at all. The themes around sexuality I write about, and the sex I put on the page, are safe and sex positive. If you read some YA fantasy, the sex can make your eyes water. You’d never get away with that in contemporary fiction. And that’s not always a terrible thing. I also believe that if something’s too mature for a reader, for example, if they don’t really understand what something means, chances are, they’re not going to worry about it and just keep reading. And if they decide to ask about it, great. Interestingly in Germany my books are recommended for young people from the age of twelve, not fourteen, like in the English-speaking territories. I think it tells us a lot about how sex and sexuality are treated very differently in different cultures. But teenagers are teenagers everywhere.

Relationship is not the only area where Tilly feels left out – her family are all musicians. Do you think this is just an unfortunate thing, or could her parents have dealt with this better?

That’s such an interesting question. I wrote Tilly as my exact opposite in this regard. I grew up in possibly the least artistic household ever. I was some sort of genetic joke- I was musically gifted, I took ballet, I sang, I did theatre, I read, I wrote, and my parents had no clue about any of it. They mostly thought I was insane and/or being difficult. Like Tilly, I felt so misunderstood. In fact, I was one hundred percent sure I was adopted. I also felt hurt by my family’s disinterest and the way they dismissed all the things that mattered most to me. Only decades later did I fully understand that their reactions never happened out of malice- they just had no idea about people like me. They’d never met anyone who was like me. And that’s the same with Tilly. Her parents just don’t understand what she’s all about. Could they have been more empathetic, of course, but, disappointingly for all of us, parents are just people, too, and they often have their own things going on, and they get things wrong.

What advice would you give to teens who feel like they are in their parents’ shadows?

I think it’s important to find your own way. I know that’s easier said than done, but you must be true to yourself, else you’ll never be able to feel free and happy. There’s only one of you in the world, in fact, there’s only one of you in the history of the entire universe. I think that’s so special, and you should be proud to be you, and when you are, you’ll find that you’re not walking in anyone’s shadow. Go out and make positive connections with people who are good for your soul. Nothing else is going to matter at the end of the day.

Tilly’s emotion towards her grandfather’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is so well written. Why did you decide to include this subplot in Cupid’s Revenge?

I read a study on dementia, and I found the numbers just shocking. Out of the people born in the UK in 2015, one in three will develop dementia in their lifetime. I know more and more people who now have family members who are suffering from dementia, and this is putting enormous stress on their families. Also, families generally don’t live under the same roof anymore, so there’ll come the question of how to best care for a grandfather or a mum, or a sister, or whoever, who will soon need twenty-four seven care. What do we do? Do we put this person into a home? Can we even afford to put them into a home? Or do we look after them in our home, which of course means a complete lifestyle change for everyone. With more and more people suffering from dementia each year, what does this mean for our society as a whole? I wanted to ask those questions. And I very much hope that I can be as wonderful as Tilly if I should find myself in her position.

You illustrated how LGBT+ teenagers like Tilly often have less experience than other teenagers when it comes to relationships. What advice do you have for teenagers who feel like they are too slow in this department?

I’d say do not even stress about it. Just be really honest with yourself about what it is you want. If you think you want to be in a relationship, make sure you find your tribe (and you will), make sure you find your person (and you will), and start exploring together. Or maybe you’ve got other things on your mind, so just because everyone else is kissing and making out and starting relationships, this doesn’t mean you have to want that, too. And if you’re worried that you haven’t met the love of your life by the time you’re fifteen, please stop worrying immediately, because the world is big and wonderful and full of beautiful surprises and beautiful people. You’ll see.

Cupid’s Revenge is out June 8, 2023. (Macmillan Children’s Books)

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