Saturday, 14 May 2011

We all do it! by Miriam Halahmy

Let's face it, everyone falls into the trap - judging others by appearances. If you wore the wrong length white socks when I was a teenager at school, ( we weren't allowed to wear tights!) then you had to run the gauntlet of the pretty popular girls, all down the corridor.
Not even wearing a mask could save you.
But if we only judge by appearances, then we never really get to know other people.

Being open minded, rather than judgemental, getting to know the Other, whether they are someone from another  religion, sexual orientation or just another town, is a rich field to mine in  teen fiction. Edgy fiction is about taking on a challenge and making extra demands on the reader. You might even change attitudes.
 "I didn't know we had immigrants in the UK," commented one teen reader of my novel, HIDDEN, about immigration and human rights. "But I learnt a lot from your book."

Daniel Finkelstein recently wrote in The Times, that immigration is "won or lost in the socialising with their British peers, immigrant children soon become British." Socialising is the key word here. We can't get to know someone if we put the barriers up - just because they listen to the wrong music.Or come from another country.

Fiction can tackle controversial and sensitive issues such as immigration more effectively than a lesson just before lunch. By  writing books with  strong, convincing characters and  plots, the edgy issues become part of the landscape of the novel as naturally as the streets or the beach.
 I believe that young people are very interested in the world around them and they like to take on a challenge. After all, growing up is all about taking risks.
Hmm - maybe its time I practised my Free Running moves for the next chapter!

Miriam Halahmy's new novel, HIDDEN, was published in March 2011 and is about two teenagers who rescue an illegal immigrant from the sea and hide him to save him from being deported.


  1. I sometimes like to use stereotypes and subvert them. As readers we are so used to judging a book by its cover and as writers it makes for easy writing - have a gorgeous guy with soulful brown eyes? He must be the hero, right? No more description is really needed. Have an ugly scarred guy - villain? Tall attractive teenaged girl with expensive clothes and make-up - must be the highschool 'mean girl'?
    It makes for easy writing because you just need to put in a few key details and the reader is so used to the stereotype they just fill in the rest for themselves.
    In the book I'm currently writing, it's the scarred, ugly guy who is the love interest and the good looking guy becomes the rat.

  2. Yes, an excellent way to challenge stereotypes, I like to put the unexpected into predictable characters too, Bryony. Thanks for your comment.

  3. You're so right about everyone being guilty of stereotyping, Miriam. I think it's essentially part of human nature - people like to put 'the other' in a box as it makes it easier for them to know how to deal with them. But as society today becomes more multi-everything, the boxes are collapsing - and I hope they continue to do so. It would be a far better world if we all took just a bit longer to understand 'the other', and where better to highlight this than in kid/teen and YA fiction.

  4. Great blog, Miriam.

    I agree, fiction is a great medium for delving beyond the superficial - where else can you get to know a character purely from their personality without ever seeing their face? You could read a book without ever knowing what the protagonist looked like - and would it really matter?

    Stories are surely the best, most involving, subtlest, and entertaining way to learn about life - precisely because we don't realise we're being taught.

    And learning about the 'Other' must be one of the most important themes in teen fiction - to break down stereotypes and change someone's perception of the world can change the world itself.

    After all, haven't we all at some point in our lives felt like the 'Other'?

  5. The best books are always the ones that make you think. Stories that stay with you long after you have finished them, because they have changed the way you view the world. Of course there has to be a cracking good story too. A challenge, indeed!