Why I write YA
Welcome to my blog. For my first blog post (ever!) I thought I’d share a bit about why I write YA.
Truth is, I hadn’t intended to become a YA writer. Like I suppose a lot of people do at some point in their lives, I had this idea in my mid-twenties to write a novel. I hadn’t been a big reader as a kid, but I’d done a lot of journalism-type writing. So I decided I’d give a novel a go.
I came up with this story about two sets of brothers reunited by the death of a mutual friend. At the start of the book they were all in their thirties, and the story was about how these four men who had been so close growing up managed to drift apart to the extent that they barely spoke anymore.
But I really struggled with it, mostly because I quickly realised I had no idea what I was doing! I couldn’t find what I now know as my ‘voice’. So I gave up.
Over the next couple of years I started reading a lot of crime fiction, so when I decided that I should try again, that’s where I started.
I wrote three adult crime fiction manuscripts, none of which I could find publishers for. The first was no doubt unpublishable, the second was better and the third attracted some interest, but by then I’d been bitten by the YA bug, so I let the adult crime fiction go.
I’d had an idea for a story about a boy coming out of a long stint in juvenile detention. There had been some reports in the news about two teenage boys in the UK who were about to be set free after spending all their formative years locked away. They had committed a horrific crime – the abduction and murder of a two-year-old boy when they were about ten, but were due to be released on their eighteenth birthdays. Because their names were so well known, they were each given new identities on their release.
This got me thinking about how they’d ended up there in the first place. What were their home lives like? Where were their parents in all this? What were they like now? Can that kind of evil ever be erased? Is it possible to rehabilitate a person who murders at such a young age? So I came up with the character of Dean – an eighteen-year-old guy who’s spent his teenage years in juvenile detention. Having a teenage protagonist, the book automatically became YA. And I became a YA author.
A change in direction
I suppose Dean could have entered an adult world when he left juvie, but I chose to have him go to school for his final year. A school setting? Classic YA!
So then I wrote another YA and then another. I found I really liked exploring the inner world of teenagers. I’d always been into teen culture – films like 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, The Way Way Back and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and TV series like Degrassi Junior High, My So-Called Life and, later, Stranger Things. I also have two teenage kids, so this made tapping into the teenage brain of today a bit easier than it might be for other YA authors. (High-school teachers have the best vantage point, don’t you think?)
Writing for teens
Unlike most YA authors, I imagine, I don’t see myself writing for teens but about teens. When I’m writing, I don’t picture my target reader as a fifteen-year-old girl or imagine myself speaking to teenagers through my books. I am writing the kinds of books I would like to read. I am writing about the emotional rollercoaster ride of teenage life. I am not writing how-to books for teens or telling anyone how to live. I like immersing myself in a teenage world and I am fully aware that YA has a wide readership well beyond high-school kids.
I’m also aware, however, that teenagers will (hopefully!) read my books and that does give me a sense of responsibility. I wouldn’t say I censor myself, but I’m conscious that many teenagers read to find out answers to questions that they don’t want to have to ask. I want those answers to be considered and balanced. I want them to spark a bit of thought, maybe some debate. As a general rule, I like to show that bad behaviour has some kind of negative consequence, although this is not always the case (an example is one of the subplots in Nothingville). I don’t believe that endings have to be ‘happy’ in the Hollywood sense, but, for me writing YA, they certainly have to be hopeful.
I can’t say that I will never write a book aimed more squarely at the adult market, but for now, I am loving what I’m doing and YA is growing in leaps and bounds in Australia. It’s a great time to be an Aussie YA author!