Oh, to be a teen! -15 January 2020

Ah, the first week back after the Christmas festivities (ok, ok, I know it’s now been weeks 2 and 3 after the Christmas festivities but let’s pretend that never happened, ok?). The majority of us full-bellied, hungover, at least a stone heavier yet lighter in bank balance (despite our best efforts to budget throughout the year following last years failed resolution)… But! There we were, back at the Mercure ready to start a fresh new year! Diets still to be broken, January to be both dry and vegan (loosely translated that means washing down a kebab with a wine by the 3rd), and all of us eager to begin work on our hard-thought-out resolutions for 2020 to be “our year”. Much like my annual: get on with tasks as soon as you get them and don’t procrastinate.

Giving that this is now over two weeks late, I guess you all know how that’s going…

Now, alongside of many people in this modern world, my life is currently controlled and organised by The Mobile Phone. Yes. If it wasn’t for updates on anti-social media, I wouldn’t so much as remember my own birthday – thankfully I get annual well-wishes from countless near-complete strangers to remind me. Unsurprisingly, then, I am also completely dependent on my device to keep me in check for appointments, shifts, gigs, remembering to feed myself… the list goes on. So, when approached with a breezy, “would you consider writing this week’s blog? If you have the time?”, my response? “Hold on a sec,” I said, “I’ll just check my diary.” Out comes the phone and a quick glance at the next few days of my life confirms that, Yes! I can do that! Sure, I might have to give my night-of-meditation-in-order-to-stick-to-my-new-year-resolution-of-becoming-a-better-me a miss, but hey! It’s all in the name of writing! Resolution number 2! Let’s go for it!

So, after two weeks of procrastinating (we’ll call it “work”), I am FINALLY sat at my desk, armed with a pack of sweeties (failed resolution number 3), and a steaming mug of hot chocolate and Baileys (failed resolutions number 4 and 5), and feeling ready to deliver a blog on my favourite topic of all things writing-ey: Young Adult Fiction! Or, as the talented Kirsty Hammond – host of the evening – pointed out: MG, Teen, YA, New Adult… call it what you like, we were about to get down to the nitty gritty of the teenage psyche.

Yikes!

Frankly, I’ve spent the last 17 years desperately trying to forget how to ‘teen’, yet here I am now aged 21 (*cough*) digging around in my own turbulent hormone-and-rage-filled memories in a rapidly failing effort to craft an appealing novel to these young folk. It’s safe to say I was ready for Kirsty’s help on this one!

Given the cool air surrounding Kirsty; the calm confidence, excellent presentation and delivery – you’d be forgiven for thinking the girl was a dab hand at this stuff. Probably been hosting workshops on the topic for years, I guessed! But no. this was Kirsty’s debut performance! And what a superb job she did, I’m sure we can all agree.

Our first task? Describe teenagers. Easy peasy! We thought, before singing a chorus of “easily influenced” “stroppy” “selfish” “self-harm”, followed by the odd sympathetic plea of “hopeful” “curious”. And then, as though dropping a silencing bomb into the room, Kirsty hit the nail on the head: Teenagers Are People.

Oh yeah.

Forgot about that part.

They’re people just trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in this already complicated existence. Throw in raging hormones and let’s face it, we’d be stroppy and selfish too, and as well most likely were at one stage.

So, what did we learn? What do these emotionally charged humans look for in a novel? What’s going to tear their eyes away from their social media for long enough to eat up a budding YA writer’s well-drafted words?

Themselves! Young Adult fiction is about young adults. Seeing a sense of themselves in black and white. Confirmation (perhaps) that they are not alone, and their most turbulent years are experiences shared by others who are Just Like Them. And it doesn’t stop there! Kirsty revealed that books for this market frequently include bad language, sex, violence, sexual assault, death, drug abuse… the list goes on. We’re looking at a generation of people who want an Encyclopedia on just about anything teenaged, and the darker you’re daring to go, probably the better, quite frankly.

Kirsty then showed us some fabulous examples of existing works and topics covered including: romance, crime, poetry, history, non-fiction, racism, lgbtqt (lmnop), sci-fi, fantasy; the list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s plain to see that teens are information hungry and happy to indulge in almost any topic a writer can think of! Bonus points to the teens! This is just what we want to hear as writers in practice! An excuse to dust off the imagination cobwebs and just let the words flow with almost no limits! Hurrah!

A couple of small tasks and discussions later and we’ve heard snippets and anecdotes from our own talented bunch about bi-polar mountain girls, nuns, an invisible drag queen, the riot girl movement, one person’s desire to speak without a stutter and someone else’s for a pair of jeans… it’s evident to see that when it comes to writing for the YA generation, Diversity Is The Key. And if you can survive the research process and immersing yourself into a Young Adult world then you’re on to a winner!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a writing project that is due for my next two weeks of procrastination… some things will simply never change.

Sigh.

Carey McCabe

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