Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member
Julia Eccleshare – Guardian
Nick Lake – author “In Darkness”
Celia Rees – author “This Is Not Forgiveness”
Julia – “Witchchild” influenced covers for YA for some time. Worked ‘cos both boys and girls wanted to read the book.
Celia describing This Is Not Forgiveness:
Book is contemporary thriller, departure from more recent books which have all been historical, though started with contemporary thrillers for YA. Very interested in writing for teenagers. Watched “Jules et Jim” and idea for updating came to her, story is set in WW1 but is timeless so lent itself well to a contemporary setting. Began with two young men as friends but that didn’t work so changed it to brothers. One is your every-teen, reflects experiences of most ordinary teen boys. Other is very different, 23, left school at 16, anti school, joined army and is serving soldier (tours of Iraq and Afghanistan) and is now home, injured out of army. Girl, wanted to make her different, gave her an interest in radical politics, people questioned whether this was realistic but then student marches etc showed that it was.
Nick describing In Darkness:
In Darkness is first person narration by Shorty, from slums of Haiti. Finds himself trapped in rubble of hospital after earthquake. Inspired by news after the earthquake, already interested in Haiti following MA in linguistics including study of Creoles. Interested by stories from those being rescued, the experience of not being able to distinguish between own voice and voice of mind. Found a way to bring in story of Toussaint l’Ouverture, a kind of black Spartacus character.
Julia: You’ve both written books with young people in difficult circumstances, they deal with death, about protagonists who are victims of circumstance, and about what choices they can then make. Is this what adolescence is really about? Were you aware of that?
Celia: Think one difference between childhood and adulthood is that this transition is very fertile, much literature has focussed on this (Jane Austen’s characters, Tess is 17). Children can also be victims but are helpless whereas teens do have choices and can influence world around themselves, it’s about them finding themselves and their world.
Julia: You both use more than one voice to tell the story, one perspective.
Nick: Feels young people are not as aware of the significance of their actions and the consequences. Interested in people who don’t have a voice. Lack of awareness of how important these choices are, and also how limited they can be.
Celia: Influenced to have multiple voices by Patrick Ness (was teaching alongside him). By having multiple voices you don’t have to mediate, they sort it out for themselves! Each character is strong and different and needed to represent themselves. Voices are important ‘cos it allows the reader into the head of each character.
Julia: Shorty is violent and has access to arms, Rob has legitimised access to violence. Is the presence of violence acceptable in YA ‘cos it’s now so prevalent in society?
Nick: Toussaint offers a moral perspective, encourages non-violent action against former slave owners but then he has less access compared to Shorty. Was interested by way Rob fetishises gun. Thinks it’s important to realise that if you have a gun it’s difficult not to fire it, the purpose of having it is to shoot it.
Julia: Celia’s description of sniper training is a legitimising of this action.
Celia: The difference between a civilian killing and a sniper killing is in that training, you go into the army to get broken down and rebuilt, most young recruits don’t actually want to kill anyone, have to be trained to do this. They have to be able to do it and to do it with no reaction, and to be able to see and care for the results of this extreme violence. We never witness this, we don’t know anything about this world that they inhabit. Understandable therefore that for Rob it’s so hard having to move back into this world of ours not his.
Julia: The concept of gang warfare is not new (Romeo and Juliet), is it much harder for teens now?
Nick: Feels it’s much easier now, world has got better, easier to be gay, non-White, not hit by teacher. There are still problems but situation is far better. Though our ease is caused by shunting difficulties elsewhere e.g. hard to be teen in Afghanistan.
Julia: Are decisions easier too?
Celia: Much easier now but there are difficulties now that even 20 years ago never existed e.g. cyberbullying, wide amount of pornography on the internet. Young peoples’ lives are far more complicated than they’ve ever been, they may make smaller choices but are making more choices.
Nick: Facebook etc makes an issue now of how you present yourself, everything you say and do is open to scrutiny. However is almost more concerned by how adult world is shifting, more and more pressure for adults to be like teenagers.
Julia: You’ve both written about violence and both written about death. Celia, written about two brothers trying to woo same girl.
Celia: Wanted to take the chance to nail some colours to mast and say that she believes older teens should have their own fiction, didn’t want book to be for 12 year olds, wanted it to be for 16-18. Wanted it to reflect real teen life, people swear, have sex, use drugs recreationally at weekends, get drunk and stagger home. Wasn’t thinking about shocking anyone, just wanted to make relationship sharp and true. Wanted to sharp focus on emotions, making them brothers allowed this.
Nick: Interesting that in This Is Not Forgiveness the real betrayal is not sexual, is philosophical.
Julia: Whereas Nick’s book has a different family bond very close and broken.
Nick: There’s no sex in book, very violent but no sex!
Julia: Feels they’ve considered a lot of territory, lots of what goes into a book for YA. Feels we’re respecting teen readers far more by providing such a good thing for them.
Q and A.
Q – As a school librarian, 11-18, has to be careful about what they buy, wonders about the market being awash with teenage themes presented in paranormal setting rather than contemporary?
Celia: Has written vampires, doesn’t like werewolves (doesn’t like the issue of nakedness post transformation back to human) also has written ghosts, hopes that fiction for teens should be broad with lots of different strands, so have fantasy and paranormal and contemporary so that people have choice. Does worry a little that may have one kind of book swamping the market. Dislikes weak, victim girls. Much fantasy casts lead as hero which is great escapism but not realistic.
Nick: There’s room for all kinds of books, good spread of genres. Getting a bit bored however of post apocalyptic books where some characters live in the dome some live out of dome, become trilogies.
Q – Reads YA to be familiar with pop culture, how can we harness the buzz from hugely successful books to take people across to read more
Nick: Admits responsibility for the Twilightification of Wuthering Heights etc, feels this was doing precisely that but this was the thing that got him the greatest criticism.
Julia: There is a potential difficulty of these books driving better books underground
Celia: Anything that will attract teenagers, or children, to reading is important. The book is under pressure and we need to keep it as being such an important part of our society. The important thing is that you want them to be able to move on to further books, either different genres or different authors within the same genre. This is the value of librarian guiding – if you like this then try this, librarians will know when children are ready to move on.
Nick: Agrees, there’s a lot to be said for children reading for pleasure.
Q – Wonders if the difference between the ages is that teenagers don’t have power but adults do (Candy Gourlay)
Celia: The parallel between two stories in Nick’s book was so exact, interesting that it could relate out far more broadly, impressed by the contrast between the two stories particularly in Toussaint’s approach. Feels that as well as being a matter of age it’s also a matter of character / personality.
Nick: Feels that youth literature looks out and adult literature with young protagonist looks in. Interested in the way giving a little power to a powerless individual can give big reactions. Writes about violence ‘cos he doesn’t like violence, wanted to show that the choice of violence leads to really terrible consequences with repercussions that last for a very long time. Not a fan of violence or death without consequences.
Celia: Books where there are large numbers of deaths or no consequences to deaths allows reader a get out, allows them to not look and see what happens when these things occur. This is okay but there need to be books where you’re forced to look and to consider the consequences.
Q – Feels both plotlines could be transported into adult literary novels (cites The Art of Fielding), what are the tropes that make these two books YA fiction rather than adult?
Julia: Lack of hindsight
Celia: Often where publisher places novel, considers self to be a writer rather than a writer for children, YA deserve their own fiction that can be literary, popular, genre based, but is just for them.
Nick: Not sure who it was written for, thinks the whole looking out versus looking in is important, points out that The Art of Fielding has an adult slant, focuses on adult character