by Amara Bennington-Mannings
Almond Brown has been an influencer for the entire sixteen years she’s been alive, all thanks to her D-List celebrity mum, Eve Fairchild. Somehow, Eve’s managed to shove a filter and a Facetune over Almond’s unhappiness to land them the ultimate brand deal with wellness, beauty brand, VeGlow – turning the pressure dial all the way up for Almond.
You can’t filter real life though, something Almond knows all too well, as she tries to balance the world of #ads and pleasing her 3.5mil followers with her parents’ looming divorce and a best friend who’s fed up with living in @almondhazelbrown’s shadow.
In an attempt to understand her nose-diving mental health and the severe skin-picking disorder she’s developed, Almond is enrolled in the Teen Tranquillity support group to work through her issues. Here she meets actually relatable (and not just #relatable) friends in Joss and Heather, who help her to accept the skin she’s in. But when obsessive troll, AnRKey_Incel47’s messages take a sinister turn, whoever’s hiding behind the keyboard threatens to shatter the screen between Almond’s online and offline life forever.
About the Author
Amara was born and bred in Bristol, where she currently lives with her fiancé, Barney, and their two dog-sons, Albert and Desmond. True to the Bristolian stereotype, she’s an avid yogi, a zealous vegan, and practices sustainable living to the point of panic. Amara is also a slightly neglectful (but no less loving) plant mum, and when she’s not writing, can be found working in a historic tearoom, being that over-attentive, annoying waitress that never remembers the ketchup you asked for an hour ago. She earned a distinction for her MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, where she wrote the first drafts of Being Liked, her first novel.
Being Liked by Amara Bennington, introduced by Ryan Lynch
When I first workshopped Being Liked it instantly passed the bookshop test. You know the one – you read the first page of a book in a bookshop and it’s already sold itself to you. Amara’s uniquely original voice felt like a drug of which I needed the next dose each week. While it’s unashamedly contemporary in its content, Being Liked tackles issues such as teenage mental health, online trolling and public shaming in a brave and honest way. It’s a testament to Amara’s ability as a writer that she doesn’t shy away from the gritty, unfiltered reality of the modern day ‘Generation Z’ teen. She throws her reader straight into the mindset of her protagonist, Almond, who is struggling with self-harm.
With every topic she tackles, Amara is careful to skilfully give each the attention it needs, without creating an ‘issue-led’ story. In particular, Amara’s treatment of multiracial identity in Being Liked is faultless. Young multiracial readers will be able to read this outstanding novel and see themselves represented in a way that doesn’t attach them to issues they already know they are up against.
I’ll forever be disappointed that Almond Brown is fictional, and not in fact, my best friend.
What was your inspiration for this story?
Having been a consumer of online entertainment since I was a young teenager (from the evolution of blogs to vlogs and then the horrific mutation of influencers), I’ve grown up watching lots of young girls trying to navigate the pressures of having an online following, from presenting unrealistic beauty standards to being cancelled for decade-old racist tweets. A lot of these girls are now grown women with children of their own, and still creating content around motherhood and their children. I wanted to explore what it would be like to be one of these children, to literally be born into the influencer world.
What was your most memorable moment on the MA?
My most memorable moment happened when two people were unable to attend our small group of six, making it a particularly quiet workshopping day in Forms, Ages and Stages. Because of this, I got to hear Steve Voake read out the entirety of my piece. I heard myself for the first time as a writer and it’s changed the way in which I view my work; it gave me the confidence to finally start believing that I can be an author.
What is the most important thing you learned on the MA?
That EVERY writer goes through stages of, ‘Oh my god, I’m not cut out for this, everything I write is trash’ – it made me feel less alone in my insecurities, thereby shrinking them! Everyone gets imposter syndrome, everyone questions their abilities, but most importantly everyone gets through it.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
For me it’s the re-reading and editing process. Getting to implement changes that your earliest readers have suggested in workshopping weaves your manuscript into a stronger, wider story that has been moulded by new perspectives and different points of view.
What do you like doing when you’re not writing?
Though I find it hard to regularly read while writing, I love reading anything from contemporary YA, crime thrillers, free verse, to graphic novels. Other than reading, I’d (finally) consider myself an intermediate yogi with all the tropes – I’m passionate about vegan living and sustainability, love trawling through charity shops, and even have a little side hustle of selling vintage and second-hand clothes online.
What is your top piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Always remember that nothing is off the table. In my eyes, there’s no subject too taboo, no swearword too obscene, and no age group out of bounds. I read somewhere online recently that trauma knows no age limit and it really resonated with me.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I was a Jacqueline Wilson superfan as a child and tween, so I’d probably say Diamond Girls as it was the first book I read to feature half-siblings like mine, or Girls in Love!
What place in fiction do you most want to visit?
It’s a golden oldie, but I’d definitely have to say Narnia.