Friday, 29 April 2011

Happy Endings

Edge Author Katie Dale considers whether teen fiction should end "happily ever after"...                                             .             There’s no denying that the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton is straight out of a fairytale. The story of a normal girl marrying her handsome prince has captivated the world with its magic and romance, as millions gathered round their televisions, camped out on the streets of London, and organized street parties and communal celebrations – a show of national spirit and goodwill seen all-too-rarely these days – to watch and celebrate as the happy couple took their vows before sailing off in their horse-drawn coach (and later a convertible Aston Martin) to their happily ever after. 
A fairytale come true.

As children, all our stories had similarly blissful fairytale endings – the heroine always married a prince and the bad guys were always punished. We needed a happy ending to our bedtime stories in order to drift off to pleasant, peaceful dreams. But what about as we grow up, enter our teens, become young adults? Do we still need our stories to end happily?
Should reading continue to be a form of escapism? A chance to get away from the humdrum problems of our own lives for a few hours and enter a world where everything is happily resolved, leaving us feeling good?

Or, as the settings of our books leave fairyland and enter the real world, is it actually more realistic if they don’t end quite so neatly? Indeed, even the original versions of many of our most beloved fairytales have much grizzlier ends – the Little Mermaid ends up committing suicide when her prince marries another, and Sleeping Beauty finally wakes to find herself raped, and the mother of twins – so as we grow up is it time to stop sugar-coating our stories, and leave the cocoon of happily-ever-afters and false expectations behind, and instead read fiction which better prepares us for the complexities and rollercoasters of real life?

After all, current teen and YA fiction deals honestly and unflinchingly with real, gritty, issues – knife crime, murder, rape, abuse and abortion to name but a few – so shouldn’t the endings be equally realistic and honest? We know that the justice system isn’t infallible, that bad guys are not always adequately punished (if at all), that good people are not always rewarded, that actually people are seldom either all good or all bad, and that even a fairytale wedding does not guarantee a happily ever after. So shouldn’t fiction reflect the real world we live in?

I don’t mean that books should leave you feeling utterly depressed and despairing at the state of the world, but can an ending be satisfying without being “happy”? Indeed, is it sometimes more fulfilling to read a story that doesn’t end quite so neatly and predictably – perhaps the hero doesn’t get the girl, a bad guy gets away, or the heroine dies – but instead leaves us with food for thought and a new perspective on our own, real, lives?

Certainly, some of the most memorable and impactful modern teen novels have endings which are not conventionally “happy”: Before I Die, Before I Fall, Noughts and Crosses, The Lovely Bones, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and after all, the greatest love story of all time is about two teenagers who end up dead.

Would Romeo and Juliet be as romantic if they’d both survived? What about if Titanic hadn’t sunk, or if John Coffey had got a stay of execution in The Green Mile? Would those stories have had the same impact? What about Casablanca, Love Story, Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, The Crucible or Gone with the Wind?

Are happy endings in fact stories that just haven’t ended yet? Have you ever wondered what happens to the characters after their happily ever after? Do they live blissfully forever more? How realistic is that? And actually, how boring? Even if the heroine ends up with her dream guy in a teen romance, how many of us end up marrying our first love?

And in hindsight, how many of us are actually glad we didn’t…?

What do you think? Do you prefer more realistic conclusions to the books you read? Or do you like your endings happily ever after?

After all, as today proves, every once in a while some of us do end up marrying our handsome prince…

Friday, 22 April 2011

Where do your ideas come from?

Edge author Dave Cousins considers why he is drawn to write edgy fiction. 

Where do your ideas come from? is probably the most common question asked of writers, and one that many will struggle to answer. Not me. I know exactly where my stories originate: a metal box on my desk called the Word Tin. It contains all the words I need, stamped into small strips of metal, like dog-tags. To build a story, I simply delve into the box, pull out a handful of words and put them in the right order – easy. 

The Word Tin: Where the words come from
I’m joking, of course – though the tin is real, and I have once or twice tried the technique. (It produced some interesting if not exactly publishable results.) But where do ideas for stories come from? How do we choose which stories to tell? Does choice even come into it? I certainly don’t sit down and think. ‘Right! Now I’m going to write some edgy fiction.’ Why don’t I tell stories about boy wizards or teenage spies – vampires even? I’m a big fan of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series and will happily spend an evening reading about Neutrino-toting fairies, but when I sit down to write, that’s not what appears on the page.

The late great (and edgy) Robert Cormier
For me, Robert Cormier summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘to work for me, an idea must be attached to an emotion, something that upsets, dazzles or angers me and sends me to the typewriter’. The spark that sent me to my notebook to scribble the start of the story that became 15 Days without a Head, came from something I witnessed in a pub one afternoon. A very drunk woman arguing with a stranger at the next table – much to the embarrassment of her sons. It made me wonder what life was like for those two boys, what would happen when they got home. 

It takes time to write and revise a novel, and I find that if the characters and their story don’t mean anything to me, they won’t sustain my interest through the months of writing. If you care, it also brings with it a sense of responsibility, a desire to do justice to the characters and their story, which can be a great motivation – especially in those dark hours encountered with every novel, where the story won’t come and you find yourself reaching for the Word Tin! 

Last week, Bryony talked about edgy fiction dealing with unsettling, uncomfortable ideas. Look at all the Edge story synopses and you’ll find a wide range of tales that have one thing in common: they all deal with realities that are hard to face, things we would rather not think about: knife crime, child abduction, prejudice and torture, abandonment, deception and coercion. 

But these are the subjects that excite and unsettle me, that gnaw away at my subconscious, disturb my daydreams and keep me awake at night – the things that drive me to the typewriter. 

15 Days without a Head by Dave Cousins, is out in January 2012, published by Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

What the heck is Edgy Fiction?

In our inaugural blog post, it made sense to take a closer look at what we’ve called ourselves … The Edge

We called ourselves The Edge because, as a group, we write edgy fiction. 

But what is edgy fiction?  Well, for one thing, it is, now I come to think about it, hard to define.

Line up our books and you’d probably struggle to find many points of similarity.  Some are aimed at the ten plus age range, some at fifteen plus and all the points between (and above – why not?).  Some have male protagonists, some female.  Some have love stories, some don’t.  Some are set in contemporary England, some else-where or else-when …

Our books don’t naturally cluster into a clearly defined genre.  This isn’t a blog about ‘paranormal romance’, ‘psychological chiller’, or ‘dystopian fiction’ although some of us fall into these categories (and some don’t).
So what is similar about our work?  Why on earth would we think we do fall into a natural group?

What does edgy mean?

Well, you can have ‘an edgy look’ which is modern, contemporary or fashionable

Our books look good, if I do say so myself; we have scored some really great cover art.  But that can’t be all there is to edgy fiction. 

Is edgy fiction modern?  Well, yes, in a way.  But then everyone writing now is technically ‘modern’ and I would categorise plenty of less contemporary writing as ‘edgy fiction’, look at Wuthering Heights for instance.  That’s not modern, but I’d be able to debate that it was quite edgy.

I would argue that edgy fiction has to have a fresh feel to it.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be completely new, but it should have a unique voice, or original tone or approach. 

Then there’s the other side of edgy which is also key to writing edgy fiction.  Edgy can be feeling uncomfortable, tense, unsettled, unsure … the ‘on the edge of your seat’ sort of edginess. 

Then what is unsettling?  It can be horror in the classic sense of the word – why not?  But it should really be something that makes the reader stop and think and carry on thinking for days afterwards.  Perhaps even read on with the light on.  Maybe it makes the reader put the book down for a little while, because the ideas dealt with in edgy fiction are uncomfortable but never boring.    

Edgy fiction encapsulates both of these definitions.  Edgy fiction is fresh, but unsettling.

And that’s what we write at The Edge.  We’d like to think we’re unique voices dealing with issues; everything from hope and redemption to the nature of good and evil, to things with a more specific focus such as immigration or child abandonment.

Our books are fresh and unsettling, gripping and thought-provoking. 

We’re edgy.

Do you dare to read us?

(Bryony Pearce, author of Angel's Fury)

A few related questions for the authors of The Edge:

Q1. Have you always written edgy fiction or do you have other work (perhaps in the back of a drawer) that might fall into a different category?

Q2. What do you think makes your work ‘unsettling’?  What are the key issues that are touched upon in your book or books? 

Q3. What made you decide to deal with these issues and were you nervous about choosing to use these issues in your fiction? 

Q4. Can you give us a quote from your most recent book?  Something that perhaps highlights some of the issue you deal with?

Q5. When is your book available for readers to buy?