Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Quick Word... On Young Adult Fiction and Returning To The Scene of the Crime

Today has been a great day for thinking about writing. My 'Writing Tasmania' course started at Uni this week, and I've spent every other moment obsessed with words and the art of the craft. This has perhaps been my favourite find today - a Joss Whedon song about plucking out the heart of a writer's mystery - something we demand these days from almost everything we consume - an answer to that age old terrifying question: 'Where do you get your ideas from?'

Joss is a genius and his response to the problem is a good one. I suppose it reveals that writing is a magic trick. The process is always reductive - a hand slips behind the back here, and slides the all important card there - but does it ever make the magic more enjoyable to know its tiresome construction? There is a lot that we can learn from writers about the way they work when they are interviewed... I certainly wouldn't want to stop every author ever speaking about their work. I guess what I'm saying is that it's the writer's right to choose how much they reveal about their creations, and perhaps it's not always a good thing for us as readers, watchers, and listeners to demand all-inclusive access to our favourite celebrities brains. It doesn't make you stupid to not know everything - it just helps the magic trick keep working.


Another great find from today was Kathy Charles' blog 'Where Are All The Weirdos In Young Adult Fiction?'

Kathy says:

Being a teenager is a supremely weird time. The only weirdness in young adult fiction these days is the kind that turns teens into werewolves and causes misogynistic male suitors to sprout fangs and glow in the dark. This all has its place metaphorically speaking (who hasn’t as a teen experienced hair growing in all the wrong places?) but even with all this paranormal strangeness going on, the YA world seems conventional, antiseptic, and most disappointingly, boringly predictable these days...

...All these ethereal looking girls on YA covers are making me feel like a freak.

She's dead right too. It's even worse in a Post-Twilight world where both television and literature often lead us into the escapism and fantasy of a simple and rather than comforting us to be the unique creatures we are. Even Harry Potter had his own odd physical quirks - his dorky hair, skinny frame and necessity for glasses. These days most YA characters don't have as much as a discretely embarassing birthmark. There are authors dealing with some unique and original characters out there, but there are sure as hell a lot of blank and generic placeholders too. I remember that scene in Alan Bennett's History Boys where Hector says that 'the best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.'

I hope Y.A Readers still feel like this, but I often wonder if that's the effect that the authors are striving for, or if they're instead gunning for entertainment. What were your most defining teenage novels? Did you get that feeling from them? And have I treated books like Twilight too harshly? Can they give you that feeling too?


I have also had a new review go up on Angela Meyer's LiteraryMinded. I think I neglected to mention it before, so here it is! I reviewed the spectacularly interesting and very unique Five Wounds by Jonathan Walker and Dan Hallett. It's up at LiteraryMinded here.


  1. Nice to see a fellow Bennett enthusiast!

  2. He's excellent really. Just plain excellent.

  3. When I was a teen, the novels that had the most impact on me were rarely YA. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis - they all had moments in their writing that touched me. Some of my favorite memories though are from YA novels - Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, especially, was a character whose difficulties I found comforting. It was nice to know that I wasn't alone in feeling stupid and awkward and ugly.