Author Interview: Anna Whateley on Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal
Author: Anna Whateley
Release Date: April 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
RRP: $19.99 (PB)


Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?


Anna Whateley lives in Brisbane with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two rescue guinea pigs. She has always worked in literature and education and holds a PhD in young adult fiction. Now, Anna is an ‘own voices’ author, proudly autistic, with ADHD and sensory processing disorder.


1. Are there elements of Peta’s experiences of ‘rating normal’ that are influenced by your experiences as a teenager? Were there any challenges in translating this to fiction?

Definitely. I remember suddenly realising I was missing certain ways of performing my gender, like not knowing I was expected to shave my legs. I remember receiving praise once I did, and how that seemed just as odd as removing my leg hair. Going to other peoples’ homes was always tricky, but became easier eventually. I’m not sure I ever came to grips with offering everyone your food though! Peta is more aware than I was at sixteen; I didn’t have a diagnosis or therapy, so I was less conscious of both the depth of my difference and the reasons for my miscommunications. I never felt abnormal in my sexuality though, and I gave Peta that same sense of confidence.

2. You mentioned that you grew up in the bayside area – did you draw from any particular places when writing the book?

I did! We lived in Capalaba, and I also worked in Cleveland and Victoria Point. The places are very meaningful to me, and I imagined Peta lived in a similar street to where I did, and Jeb in Alexandra Hills, near the college. Wellington Point was a place we hung out so I sent Peta and Jeb there too. The built up areas change over time, but the water stays the same. There’s something special about the Bayside area, and I wanted to capture that down to every sensory detail. I remember laying on the grass at college and looking up at the big gum tree, the smell of the air and the dryness of the ground. For me, the place is bound to those details.

Signed bookplate copies of Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal are available to purchase in-store.

3. Can you explain a bit about the Own Voices movement and why it’s important to have that representation in stories?

The own voices movement began with Corinne Duyves using a hashtag to differentiate texts that were written by a marginalised author who shared that marginalisation with the main protagonist. As Corinne says, it centers the voices that matter most. It’s also shown publishers that there’s an audience and interest in own voices texts, encouraging them to increase the small space we’re given in the publishing landscape. For me, own voices stories allow us to speak back to the stereotypes written by neurotypical people. We are all male, straight, white (though I am white), or middle class, despite the predominance of this representation.

4. It was refreshing to see Peta and Jeb attending a TAFE college rather than a traditional high school. Why did you decide to set it there?

I went to Bayside Community College for years 11 and 12, so it seemed natural to send Peta there too. I hadn’t seen any characters in YA going to TAFE without it being something to do with being a ‘failure’. Most novels are set in private schools, perhaps a couple in state schools. I also didn’t want a sense that they wanted to ‘escape’ or ‘rise up’ out of their situation. We never felt that way. We loved where we lived and the opportunities we had, with no sense of shame – whether we were studying hairdressing, mechanics, physics or drama. After writing Peta Lyre I made contact with my English teacher, and it was just lovely. She fact checked some elements for me, as the college has changed since I was there, of course. Now students can take TAFE courses within a state high school, so there are fewer students going full time to the college. I’m half glad, half unsure if something vital is lost because of this. We were different, and needed a different environment in which to flourish. Mainstreaming the course content into the traditional school model is perhaps losing the sense of belonging and community that we gained from a fully rounded/funded TAFE attendance.

5. What was it like having your book released during COVID-19?

The pandemic is a serious situation, but so far as my book release was concerned? I loved it. While I was prepared for the travel and publicity, I think it’s been good to slow the whole thing down and let me adjust more slowly. I started my YouTube/Twitter series called #AusChat and it was such fun to meet bookish people one at a time and have a little chat. I love technology, and could tap into those old Film and TV skills I had from back in my college days. Right now, as we are coming out of lockdown, it’s actually more confusing because no one is sure what’s expected or what we are allowed to do!

6. Are there any other projects you’re working on – writing or otherwise – right now?

I have a couple of manuscripts in for review, and another one on the go! There’s always a story bouncing around in there, or a new character or mood I want to capture. I have an essay called Noisy Silence in Growing Up Disabled in Australia, released in February with Black Inc Books, and it focuses on growing up neurodivergent and without a diagnosis. I’m hoping to use it in talks alongside Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal to address how we construct people through language in both helpful and harmful ways.

Signed copies & bookmarks of Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal are available to purchase in-store or through our website.

You can find out more about Anna, including her future works and her Youtube channel through her website here.

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