WHEN Teesside author, Non Pratt, came up with a storyline about a character called Claire who shaved off her hair to raise money for charity, she didn’t expect to find herself in the real-life role a few months later.

After visiting the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in London and meeting patients as research for her book, Truth or Dare, Non wanted to give something back and has pledged to shave her head to raise funding.

Specialising in fiction for young adults, Non is the author behind the highly-acclaimed novels Trouble, Remix and Unboxed. She lives in London with her husband and six-year-old daughter, but grew up in Kirklevington near Yarm. And it is Teesside which provides inspiration for her books and she comes back regularly to see her family. “My mum lives in the same house she has always lived in and my gran lives around the corner,” she says.

Non had her first book published at 14. She describes herself as ‘a bit socially awkward as a kid’ and started writing because she couldn’t find the books she wanted to read. “I wanted to read about teenagers who were doing the fun stuff I wanted to be doing,” she says. “I read Sweet Valley High and thought this doesn’t sound anything like my school.” She went to Teesside High. “I was on the cusp of not quite being cool enough to hang out with everybody, so I write about what I wanted to be doing, what I thought everybody else was doing.”

Although the towns in her books are fictional, they are all loosely based on places she spent her teenage years. Her latest, Truth or Dare, opens with a scene where a headmaster is telling the school about a student who has woken up from a coma he suffered as a result of falling off a viaduct into a river. “That was inspired by those headlines I used to see every summer when people got warned about tombstoning off Yarm viaduct into the Tees,” says Non. “The viaduct in the book is a touchstone for a lot of different plot points so it plays a pretty big role in the story.”

Did Non ever tombstone off the viaduct? “Goodness, no!” she says. “The most daring thing I ever jumped off was the top board at the Dolphin Centre in Darlington.”

Rather than looking for inspiration, she says it’ll just appear. “I go places that make me feel happy inside,” she says. “It could be something as simple as walking up and down Yarm High Street, the Tees Barrage or taking my daughter to Billingham Ice Rink… it’s going back to all the places I went to as a teenager and thinking about how much they have changed. I used to go to Billingham Forum every Sunday and hang out with all my friends.”

Seaton Carew was the inspiration for the hometown of some characters in her second novel, Remix, although the only clue is a fleeting reference to a clock tower.

After working for a decade as an editor in children’s publishing, in 2014 Non became a full-time author. Her debut novel, Trouble, was short listed for the YA Book Prize, the Branford Boase, and was long-listed for the Carnegie. She chose young adult fiction because it is the area she enjoys writing about and reading the most.

Non says writing for the age group is about being ‘honest and responsible’.

“I think you have a responsibility not to be gratuitous or self indulgent or boring or irrelevant,” she says. “You have to be aware of your audience and write for a younger version of yourself – you have to remember what it was like to be 14.”

“The thing about Young Adult writing is you’re competing with all these other things that teenagers could be doing - on their phone, watching YouTube or hanging out with friends. You have got to be interesting. There’s no time for self-indulgent waffle because teenagers will just put the book down.”

Writing about subjects such as sex, bullying, feminism, life online and disability, Non believes books can still play an important role in educating young people.

“The thing about books is they’re private. You can open a book and no one has to know what you’re reading on the page,” she says. “There is nowhere more private than your imagination and you can explore all these different things that you wouldn’t necessarily want to explore in real life. You can read a book and feel as though you’ve been on an adventure when all you’ve done is sit in your room. It gives us permission to feel different things. It also gives us a way of escaping a world that isn’t always that kind to us.”

As well as appearing at literary festivals around the country from Edinburgh to the Young Adult Lit Con (YALC), Non also runs professional workshops for new authors trying to break into children’s publishing.

Besides having strong views on issues affecting young people, Non also believes teenagers get an unfair rap in the media.

“There is a lot of condescension coming to teenagers and I don’t approve of that at all,” she says. “The internet and the part it plays in teenagers lives now is unimaginable for an adult who didn’t grow up with that, so maybe stop attacking people for doing something you don’t understand. Just because it’s not exercising your vocabulary in the way that maybe reading Thomas Hardy would, doesn’t mean you’re not bringing anything of value from watching Zoella or reading a book that uses a pacier plot and more pared-down prose. You are still gaining - you’re gaining empathy and an experience you don’t really understand.”

Empathy is something Non will definitely have with the character, Claire, when she gears up to shave her head in a few weeks.

“It’s a really good cause,” she says. “The hospital helped me so much with my research I’d just like to give something back.” In the book Claire, does it for £500, whereas Non is hoping to raise £2,000. “I’m being optimistic,” she laughs. “I won’t be recording it and posting it on You Tube like they do in the book, but I will be doing it in front of a live audience.”

The Northern Echo: Non Pratt

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt (Walker Books, £7.99). Non will be signing copies at Waterstones on Yarm High Street on Saturday. To sponsor Non, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/TruthorDare