Earlier this week I visited Erskine Writers group to deliver a creative writing workshop about Young Adult fiction. I spent the first hour talking about YA fiction: what is it, who reads it, why do I enjoy writing it?
Then I got the group to try a story-building exercise – focusing on characters and their motivations, creating a setting and other aspects, that could fit well with a YA story. The group came up with fantastic ideas and it was great to link all of them together and see a captivating story, set in an abandoned theme park, start to form. The group are going to be writing the first 1,000 words of a YA novel for a competition, that I get to adjudicate. I’m really looking forward to reading the entries! Thankfully the ‘Beast from the East’ waited for me to return home before attacking.
It meant a lot to me returning to Erskine Writers as I joined this group when I was 17. A lot of the writers here supported me and built my confidence when I was just starting out. At the evening group we often had authors along as guest speakers and I used to hang on to their every word, hoping that one day I could be telling my story too.
When I was preparing for this workshop I asked myself the question, ‘Why do I enjoy writing Young Adult fiction?’ For me, I enjoy the scope of emotion. Teenagers live in their own world to an extent. They are on the brink of adulthood but don’t quite have the freedom or authority to fully enter the adult world. And yet they can be presented with very adult situations, (breakdown of their family unit, bereavement, exploitation, just to name a few). They have passionate opinions yet can feel ignored or don’t know where to find their audience. Everything is heightened. There is a lot of potential for deep emotion, tension, of ‘finding oneself’ and going on a bit of a personal journey. I think there is more scope for your teen protagonist to be led by their heart and potentially find themselves in difficult situations as a result.
I like to give my characters a sense of feeling empowered, by taking control. In Follow Me and my new book (as yet untitled), my protagonists find themselves at the centre of a mystery, searching for truth. The adults in my books are in some ways the villains by their inability to see beyond the obvious or by not taking the time to seek out the truth, or by their absence in the teens’ lives.
When I think of my ‘teen’ audience I think of them only in terms of wanting to give them a voice (ie. I don’t try to second-guess what they think is cool, or what is on trend. Ultimately I am writing stories I want to read myself.). Often as my characters develop in the story I am conscious of wanting teenagers to see that it’s okay to feel a bit lost and feel a bit on the outskirts of life, and hopefully offer some reassurance by exploring some sensitive issues.
When I write my characters I’m ultimately tapping in to my inner teenager. (And I don’t mean the teenage version of me either when I say this, as my characters are much cooler than I ever was when I was 17 – which was a long time ago). I really try to put myself in their shoes, as we always do as writers, and think back to when I was 17 and how I might react if certain situations occurred.
The brilliant thing about Young Adult fiction is that I think these books very much have a universal audience in terms of who might pick up and read your work. From personal experience I know I’ve had 12 year olds enjoy ‘Follow Me’ just as much as their parents, (sometimes grandparents too!). And that’s ultimately what every writer wants really – for your work to be read widely!
As well as preparing workshops, and working hard at my day job the past couple of months, my big focus has been on EDITS, EDITS, EDITS for book 2. The ‘real world’ slowed down due to the heavy snow, and my ‘writing world’ sped up allowing me to hanker down in the evenings, for hours on end to work on my changes. I’ve now sent these through to my publisher and await more feedback. Hopefully there will be more exciting news on that front later in the year.
Bye for now. Keep warm!