The Year I Didn’t Eat author Samuel Pollen has written an honest portrayal—sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching—of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder. Based on his own experiences with anorexia, Pollen tells the story of twelve-year-old Max, a boy who finds himself struggling not just with eating habits but with changes in his home life, brought on by the breakup of his parents’ marriage. It’s a difficult book to read, but one that’s been infused with so much of heart that it can’t help but be infectiously uplifting. If you’re interested in learning more about Samuel’s process in writing The Year I Didn’t Eat, read on below for his answers to some of our questions!
1. When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
I’d love to say it was a childhood dream, but I was definitely a science kid. Not that you can’t be both, but I was way more excited about fractions than fiction. Go figure. I only thought about writing seriously in my 20’s, when a few twists and turns in my career led to a job as a copywriter. I liked the work, and people told me I was good at it. So I started wondering about writing a book…
2. How did you come up with the idea for The Year I Didn’t Eat?
Max, the main character in The Year I Didn’t Eat, has anorexia, which is something I went through myself when I was a similar age. Boys’ experiences of eating disorders can be quite different to girls’, and they tend to go through them at a younger age. I wanted to help people understand what it’s like. I also wanted to write a book about friendship, and how the people around us can help us with our problems, even if they don’t fully understand them. A lot of the plot revolves around geocaching – a sport a bit like orienteering, where you search for ‘caches’ that people hide in public spaces. Max hides a cache in a forest near his house, and soon starts getting messages from a stranger. Lots of recent books focus on social media, and how the connections we make online can change our lives. Geocaching gave me a way to explore this idea of connections from a different angle.
3. Which part of The Year I Didn’t Eat was your favorite to write? Why?
So, I love animals. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of my spare time reading Dorling Kindersley books, which are a series of nonfiction reference books that every kid in the UK knows and loves (or hates). I would sit and read about frogs or spiders or whales for whole mornings, and desperately wanted to be a zookeeper when I grew up. Max feels the same way. He’s a keen birdwatcher, and one of the most important scenes in the book happens in a zoo. Specifically, in a pitch-black bat cave. This was definitely my favorite bit to write!
4. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like to run – I did a marathon last year –and I do crafts (mainly crochet). I also have an English cocker spaniel puppy who keeps me very busy by stealing my socks 24/7.
5. What was your favorite book to read as child?
Besides the Dorling Kindersley books, I loved Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, which are fantasy books about the adventures of a range of anthropomorphic woodland animals. And when I was very little, my favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I guess there’s a bit of an animal theme…