Savannah Brown discusses her debut novel, The Truth About Keeping Secrets and why she writes YA

"I don’t think you need to be young to read YA, nor do young people have to write YA"

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Having started her YouTube channel in 2010, Ohio born Savannah Brown rose to fame after the viral success of her video titled “What Guys Look For in Girls”, a slam poem exploring self-love. Since then, Brown has grown a YouTube following of 456k, where she’s known for her discussions on mental health and feminism, fashion, music and poetry. In 2017, she self-published her poetry collection, Graffiti and today, at the age of 22, has published her debut novel, ‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’.


How would you sum up ‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ to potential readers?

‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ is about a girl named Sydney who loses her dad, a psychiatrist, in a car accident – and she’s not convinced it was an accident. So there’s a mystery at the heart of it, but it’s also about grief and loss and healing as Sydney learns to navigate the new, uncertain world she’s found herself in.

How has your experience of publishing ‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ differed from that of self-publishing your 2017 poetry collection, Graffiti?

It’s differed hugely! The biggest difference, I guess, being the presence of Penguin, who are such an incredible force in so many different ways – namely, getting the book into people’s hands. With ‘Graffiti’, I sort of had to learn to be everything: publisher, typesetter, marketer. With TTAKS it’s been a joy to work with an editor who deeply understood the story from the beginning, and to focus completely on the writing – thankfully, I’ve now got a brilliant team looking after me to handle the rest!

Being a young adult of 22 yourself, did this play a part in your decision to write YA fiction?

Will preface this by saying that I don’t think you need to be young to write YA, nor do young people have to write YA – but for me, it’s always been a kind of fiction that’s resonated. The intensity and tumultuousness of the teenage experience makes it really fascinating to write.

‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ is not only a gripping thriller but a wonderful exploration of grief. Is this something you wanted to explore within the novel from the beginning?

Yes! Actually, of the two, the exploration of grief came first; only in later elements did the thriller elements really come through. I started writing TTAKS at a time where I was dealing with extreme anxiety surrounding death, so in a way, the manuscript became a safe place for me to explore the dark thoughts I was having and learn how to cope.

Being a published author at just 22 years old is incredibly impressive! When did you start writing ‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ and has is changed at all since then?

Thank you! I first had the idea that would eventually become TTAKS back in 2016. My original brainstorming documents are actually almost unrecognizable to me now; a lot has changed, including characters and significant plot points. Actually, the first draft didn’t actually have an ending because I hadn’t decided what I wanted it to be! And since I’m still young and learning more about my craft every day, while drafting I could literally see where I was improving as a writer – so all the changes, of course, were for the better.



What advice would you give to aspiring young authors about becoming published that you wish you’d known prior to starting the process?

Writing is hard. Not that I didn’t know that before, but it is, and writing on a deadline is even harder. I think being creative on command is one of the most useful skills any young person pursuing a career in a creative industry can have – learning what environment is most conducive to your creativity, what kind stories you want to tell, and what you’re even doing this for will be useful to you. When it gets tough – and it will – return to the big why. Why do you write? Knowing will make the dry times surmountable.

‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ stars an f/f romance and follows Sydney navigating the grey area of whether or not her feelings for her new friend are reciprocated, what drew you to write about this stage in a relationship in particular?

June serves as a foil to Sydney in that when Sydney meets June, she assumes homecoming queen June has got it all figured out – which is in stark contrast to Sydney, who’s floundering after her dad’s death. I wanted to write about the shattering of those preconceived notions, which happens as Sydney gets to know June – but also, I thought it’d be interesting to write about the sort of ‘new relationship’ infatuation alongside something much darker, which, in this case, is Sydney’s grief, and see how those very at-odds feelings interacted with each other.

What inspired you to write a thriller above other genres?

Even though TTAKS didn’t begin as a thriller, I fell in love with the genre for its ability to reach into quite intense experiences and emotions and situations. Especially in YA, thrillers and heavy stories allow readers to visit shadowy parts of themselves that maybe they hadn’t before and explore those potentially dark feelings in a safe environment.

What was the process of writing ‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’ like for you?

I think writing is one of the most vulnerable things someone can do and making sure I maintained that honesty from start to finish was really important to me, if quite emotionally draining – Sydney feels deeply and experiences what feels like blow after blow, so putting myself into that headspace for long periods of time was actually quite difficult. But ultimately, I think it was worth it, and if I had to describe the process in one word I’d say fulfilling.

Savannah Brown’s YA thriller, ‘The Truth About Keeping Secrets’, is available to buy here.

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