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Tasha Harrison on the inspiration behind her YA rom-com The Thing About Lemons

Tasha Harrison on the inspiration behind her YA rom-com The Thing About Lemons

As a teenager of the 80s, my parents took me and my younger brother on a few road trips around France, taking the ferry over the channel, visiting my dad’s French relatives, staying in campsites and – if my dad got his way, travelling as far south as he possibly could before it was time to turn around and head home again.

Things I remember from these trips include having to abandon our tent in the middle of the night due to torrential rain when we once made it as far as northern Italy; nearly treading on a snake in Brittany; driving along listening to my parents laughing at silly words they’d invented; driving along listening to my parents arguing; driving along drowning out my parents (now divorced) by listening to my Walkman and praying we might pitch our tent next to a cute boy of my age. (Which never happened.)

Back then I would never have imagined that as a grown-up with kids of my own, I’d want to bring back the road trip holidays of my youth! But me, my husband and our two teenage daughters all get very excited about going on a road trip – and I still have one last French rellie, my dad’s cousin, who we always drop in to see.

It’s my dad’s French cousin, now in her eighties, still working as an artist, still providing a home for umpteen stray cats and dogs, and still as sharp as a tack, who provided the first spark of inspiration for my YA romcom The Thing About Lemons. After paying her a visit back in 2019, I imagined her joining us for the rest of our road trip. Just the image of her sitting in our car, putting the world to rights, was so strong that I knew I had to somehow incorporate it into a teen romcom.

The good thing about road trips is that you have plenty of time to daydream while you’re on the road, and so I was able to start imagining who my other characters would be, where they’d go and why. Cue 16-year-old protagonist Ori (Aurelie) who, after making the instantly-alienating mistake of kissing her best friend’s boyfriend, ends up going on a road trip with her estranged grandad who lives in rural France, and picking up her equally estranged great aunt along the way. Ori’s journey takes her from Brighton via Dieppe to Mont-Saint-Michel (a world heritage site), Amboise and Chenonçeau (wonderful locations for anyone who loves castles – which Ori doesn’t) past Sarlat-la-Canéda (a town with a stunning medieval old quarter), to the fictional village of Frenac near the Dordogne River, where Ori spends the remainder of her “holiday”, helping finish the renovations to her grandad’s new music studio in preparation for its grand opening party. A holiday romance is clearly not on the horizon – or so Ori thinks…

In the early stages of writing The Thing About Lemons, I really wasn’t sure if I could turn this mash-up of my childhood experiences, love of road trips, and combination of cross-generational characters into a workable teen romcom. But while the road trip element provided a lot of comedic moments, it was Ori’s journey of learning and self-discovery that gave the story the emotional depth it needed.

Tasha Harrison’s The Thing About Lemons is published by UCLan on 1 June 2023

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