I never intended to write for a teenage audience. It just happened by itself. Now I question why I was drawn to this genre? As an adult who does not usually read young adult fiction, it was not the natural choice for my pen. The market is small and unprofitable (obviously making exceptions… Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Fault In Our Stars ). But then, what joy would there be in writing only for money? Writing for teenagers is not as easy as it sounds. For one, teenagers are harder to please than adults. Teenagers are stereotypically prone to mood changes, hunger for information, hunger for love, anger at everything that they thought they knew but then realised they didn’t. Perhaps I thought I could make a difference.. Perhaps I romanticise the thought of helping a teenager through the challenges that adolescence brings. Or perhaps there is no reason and I just wrote what came into my head.
The first thing I noticed in myself as the writer was being hyper aware of morality; what a challenge. Teenagers don’t want to get a lecture in a novel. They don’t want to be made feel guilty for their thoughts or behaviour, especially when the thoughts confuse them. They want to identify, they want answers. They don’t want to be patronised. I can’t imagine Louisa May Alcott having these issues as she wrote “Little Women”, which is basically a morality code for young ladies. But if that classic was written in this day and age I wonder would she have the same good response. Because morality has changed and I can’t keep up. And because I can’t keep up I cannot focus on it in a novel and I certainly can’t preach it. I did have a smug initial thought of writing a modern day “Little Women” and quickly realised it was a hopeless idea. Teenagers simply would never agree nowadays on what is right and what is wrong, Whether it’s right to have sex at fifteen or not, whether to take drugs or get drunk, whether you should get on with your parents or hate them. Behaviour has become individualised and therefore there is no handbook to refer to.
The second hardest thing to deal with was how to tackle life changing issues like death. How far do you go, how much do you tell? To get an idea of how far to go I began to read other Young Adult fiction and was frankly shocked. Both by the way the stories got under my skin and by how much the authors made the reader completely immerse themselves in the issue and experience it for themselves (The books I read and recommend were The Fault in Our Stars, Infinite Sky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower). It made me realise that in fact a novel is a perfect way for a teenager to discover the hardships of life… heartache, death, abuse, family problems etc. Because they can feel the emotion for the first time, hopefully, and then put down the book and walk away. But in the process they have learnt to empathise and become a tiny bit more prepared to deal with these issues should they ever experience them.
The common theme in Y.A novels is romantic love. It appeared in every novel I read to varying degrees (I am still searching for a Y.A novel that does not look at this issue at all. I am open to suggestion). It became clear to me that to write a Y.A novel without some concept of love and lust would be a pointless battle. Thinking back to my teenage days, I was obsessed with love. If I was not in love I was dreaming of being love. Everything else came second in my mind list of priorities of life. This raised more questions for me because everyone experiences love differently and everyone has different beliefs about what love should be. One girl will love the idea of a guy who opens doors for them, makes the first move, tells the heroine how beautiful she is a hundred times a day. Another girl would hate that and want the relationship to based on complete equality, the girl asking him out as much as he asks her.
All these questions and challenges made me realise something vital. A writer can never please every reader. And a young adult writer can never please every parent. The book is not for the parents approval. And it is not for every teenager. I can only write what I feel and what I know. The reader chooses what to take on board and what to leave behind. When I started to believe that, it made it easier. In fact, it made it wonderful.