From eating disorders (Marshmallow Dream) to family issues (Sweet Honey), best-selling author Cathy Cassidy knows the importance of covering social issues in young teen books.
Having written over 25 books which totaled more than 2.7 million sales worldwide and being a Sunday Times Bestseller, Cassidy is the queen of children’s fiction that tackles hard-hitting issues. Her work doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, despite having a young readership.
Summer’s Dream, a book in the Chocolate Box Girls series, follows the main character Summer who deals with an eating disorder as she becomes obsessed with getting into ballet school.
Cassidy said: “I was very nervous about tackling this topic, but I knew it was something some of my readers struggled with.
"I'd had many direct requests from readers to write about an eating disorder, and when writing the series I knew that Summer was exactly the kind of high-achieving, perfectionist character who might be drawn to seek control in her life via food.
“Her dream of succeeding in the world of ballet, where body shape and weight have sadly been integral to career progression, was a part of that.
"My daughter studied ballet until her early teens, and the anxiety about this was part of her decision to stop, so I was very aware of this. It's probably a book I researched more than almost any other as I was determined to be honest and to not romanticise the illness in any way.”
Having spent 10 years as an agony aunt for Shout magazine, Cassidy explained she is very aware of the huge pressure on girls to look a certain way.
“I tried hard as an agony aunt to diffuse this pressure and promote healthy and relaxed eating but was aware that there might be better ways to get the message across. Later, as an author, I ran regular writing competitions and was struck by how often readers created poems and stories around their experiences with eating disorders."
She explained that throughout her life her weight has fluctuated and like many women, there are times when she has been slim and at others, overweight. "I have experienced the kind of disordered eating associated with both extremes, but thankfully never fell fully into anorexia or bulimia.
"I felt the subject was one many people would relate to, and hoped that the story might help people to step back from the impulse to control food.”
Writing books about topics such as anorexia requires a lot of research. Cassidy had been in regular contact with charities, read about eating disorders as much as possible, and also communicated with teens who were going through the illness and their families.
“I updated my research to find out the latest advice and treatment. I spoke to a number of recovered anorexics, some still going through the illness, and also the parents of girls with anorexia.
"It was mentioned a number of times that the siblings of anorexic girls struggled too when someone in the family was ill, and that was something I tried to take into account.
"I have always felt it is important to write about difficult subjects for young teens, providing it is done with sensitivity and a sense of hope. We have plenty of fantasy and escapist stories, but stories rooted in realism are still very much needed.”
The Chocolate Box Girls, Cassidy’s most famous work, is made up of five books, one about each of the Tanberry sisters who all face a different challenge. In Marshmallow Skye, Skye deals with feeling like she’s losing her twin sister, and in Cherry Crush, Cherry has to face getting a new family when her father remarries.
Cathy Cassidy never thought she would be a children's author - she had always assumed that she would write for adults and her first few ideas were along those lines.
“Slowly it became clear that my voice and ideas were actually more suited to the 9-14 age group. It's not something I chose. Perhaps the voice chose me?” she laughed.
“I loved dreaming up the Chocolate Box Girls. Readers had been asking for a series for ages, and my publishers had finally agreed. I wanted to write about a family of sisters, as my own family was a small one. I had just one brother, five years younger than me, and envied friends who had big sisters they looked up to and younger sisters who looked up to them. I also wanted to write about twins and wanted to add in a step-sister to ensure kids from blended families understood that family is above love rather than blood.
“I'd never written a series before, so had no real idea of making a 'story arc'. I did however have a clear idea of each character and their personality, and what their stories might be.
Inspirations came from all over. For Cherry, I was inspired by a cousin's daughters, who were half Irish and half Japanese. For Coco, I was inspired by my childhood self. For Skye, again, there's a lot of me in that character - a daydreamer who loves history and vintage.’
“Working out how to link the stories together gave me the shape of the series, and my editor suggested adding an extra story, which is how the character of Cookie came about - a last-minute addition”
Though she no longer has what she describes as a ‘frantic writing schedule’ Cassidy still loves to read and write. Her last book, Forever Phoenix, was released in 2020.
“I love reading, walking my lurchers, drinking coffee with friends, swimming, and making textiles. Over the last year or so I've also loved spending time with my new baby granddaughters.
"Since the pandemic, I have scaled back with writing, and in the space created, I make bespoke rag dolls as a side hustle. I'm always busy doing something.”
Cassidy knew she wanted to be an author from very early on in life: “When I discovered libraries, I realised that someone was writing all those books I loved to read. I already loved writing my own stories by then, so the idea of writing stories was in my head from childhood. "
As a teen, she "bombarded" her favourite teen mag with endless short stories. "They all came back with a very polite but encouraging refusal, and ended with 'but if you have any other stories, we would like to see them.' I'd run to the old-fashioned typewriter my dad used to type out invoices for his car repair business and start another story.
"Years later, when I was the Fiction Editor of Jackie I realised that those letters were actually just the standard reply sent out for an unwanted story, but I saw them as badges of honour in my path to becoming a 'real' writer. I went to art college with the idea of being an illustrator, something else I loved, but the passion for words won in the end!”
Cassidy’s genuine love for writing and for young people has been prominent throughout her career. When BLOT asked her what the best thing about being an author is, she struggled to pick just one thing: “Having an impact on the younger generation is absolutely the best thing about being an author.
"I've taken a break from writing over the last year, but every day I get emails from readers explaining how one or other of the books impacted them. This means more than I can even start to put into words and it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
If you liked this post then read From Girl in Pieces to author at the top or A new side to the story: why feminist re-tellings are on the rise next.
Cathy Cassidy is an English author of young adult fiction born in Coventry, Warwickshire. She has written 30 books and also been the agony aunt for Shout, a magazine for teenage girls. She presently has a series of four books about Daizy Star for younger readers and a series of books for older readers called the Chocolate Box Girls.
Cassidy now lives on The Wirral, with her husband, Liam. She has two children Calum and Caitlin. She has been a vegetarian for over 35 years and was a vegan for 8 years.
Maddy is a journalism student who enjoys writing about culture, entertainment and the arts. If she’s not reading a book, you’ll find her listening to Taylor Swift. She’s passionate about books that reflect what’s going on in society and lead us to ask important questions about the world around us.
Favourite genres: Contemporary Fiction and Romance.