30/04/2012 by Patricia Kennon · No Comments
‘So, when do you think you’ll write for grown ups?’
It’s a question that most authors for children and young adults are asked at some point. I’ve seen it crop up on Twitter and Facebook and have discussed it in person with other authors I’ve met. Occasionally, it’s accompanied by the phrase ‘proper book’, though those words aren’t necessary to understand that what’s being implied is that writing for young people is a practice run until you are good enough to write for adults.
I’ve never tried to write an adult novel, but that’s not to say I never will. I know that if I were to, certain boundaries such as violence and language would vanish and I’d have the option of pushing those things as far as I wanted to. However, having those restrictions doesn’t make things any easier. It’s a challenge to look for new ways in which to make stories exciting, convincing, and accessible to their target audience. It cultivates different skills, a notion explained perfectly in a recent tweet by author Jean Ure: ‘Writing for children may limit the vocabulary, but definitely sharpens the ability to find the right word.’
I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is that compels me to write for and about young people and I think a large part of it is to do with discovery. It’s the age when we start to make decisions, make changes, take chances, take risks. Before we’ve had time to become set in our ways or allowed (or even encouraged) ourselves to grow hardened and cynical; when we’re most open to trying anything – or almost anything – at least once. When we begin to learn that with every action comes a consequence.
What happens to us as a result of these choices and subsequent discoveries starts to shape the person we become and how we see others. Everything we feel, we usually feel it most intensely when it’s for the first time. Everyone remembers their first love, first kiss, the first time their heart was broken.
We’re still getting to know ourselves, bit by bit. In a way, we’re like a first draft of a manuscript. Most of the ingredients are there and each chapter unfolds to a new revelation. Some parts we’ll want to change or erase, and others we’ll want to add to or improve on, but there’s no denying that the first draft has a freshness about it. It’s raw and open to possibilities.
I wouldn’t want to relive my own teenage years. For every part that was wonderful there was a horrible part, too. The same can, of course, be said of every age in life, but things are often easier to deal with if you’ve dealt with them before. It’s when you haven’t already experienced something that’s it’s often the most amazing, or painful, or vivid. It’s what draws me to write about this time in life for the people who are actually living it. Most people readily accept that growing up isn’t easy. In my opinion, neither is writing about it.
Michelle Harrison is the author of the 13 Treasures trilogy. Her new novel for teenagers, the ghost story Unrest, was published last week in the UK.