Saturday was a busy day at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival. It marked the first YA Day that they’ve had, and there were lots of fantastic authors there to kick it off.
Tough Stuff! brought together three great authors, Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now, Beck), Kevin Brooks (Bunker Diary, Born Scared) and Clare Furniss (The Year of the Rat, How Not to Disappear), to discuss how far YA books can go, what’s off limits, and what’s not.
The tough stuff
Beck – A story written by Mal Peet and finished by Meg Rosoff. It covers the life of Beck, a young black man during the Depression, as he suffers through abuse and hardship.
Born Scared – Kevin Brooks’ latest novel is about a 13-year-old boy who is scared of everything. He has to make his own quest against his anxiety, to get to his mother.
How Not To Disappear – Clare Furniss’ novel explores the relationship and struggles between Hattie and her great aunt, as they deal with dementia and the future of an unexpected pregnancy.
Tackling the tough stuff
Choosing to write about hard hitting issues can, in itself, cause issues. Editors and publishers can be cautious when some topics are broached in fiction. Bunker Diary was written ten years ago but refused by lots of people because there was no hope in the book. Things don’t always end happily ever after, so why should a book be any different?
Nothing should be off limits in writing, as long as you do it sensitively and for the right reasons. While your idea might not sound like a “safe” topic, when written well the end result will be very different from the original pitch.
There’s an expectation that you’re a teacher for young adults. You shouldn’t put your own agenda across, that’s not what a book is for. It’s not a message. You experience it and it becomes what you want it to be. – Kevin Brooks
If you’re writing specifically for agendas, where do you stop?
You’re exploring something. You’re not going to make a good book if you’re preaching your “answer” to everyone. – Clare Furniss
YA is a fascinating time to write about, it changes your world view, and you begin to realise that everyone lives their lives in a very different way to you. Writing about the tough stuff for the teen/YA audience helps to broaden the reader’s awareness, and further diversity.
Everybody makes categories for age groups. The best books go in a horizontal band. It doesn’t matter who you write them for, if they’re really good, they’re really good. – Meg Rosoff