I’ve been writing young adult fiction for over twenty years. My first book was about a violent murder and it involved teen pregnancy/sex/pornography/love. It was called Big Girls’ Shoes (a line that was triggered by an Elvis Costello song, Big Sister’s Clothes). It didn’t sell many copies but it did lay down a kind of template for the books I was going to write.
Since then I’ve written about thirty young adult fiction novels. I’m best known for Looking For JJ, a story about a ten year old girl who killed her friend and was sent to a secure unit. She is released when she is seventeen and the story is about how her life is shaped by what she did when she was ten. This book has violence/pornography/love and lots of other things.
The question of how far you can go is, for me, a matter of taste rather than censorship. My books deal with dark things, adult things and I make no apology for writing them for a teenage audience. When I was a teenager I was desperate to get my hands on adult novels (the more risqué the better) to find out what was really going on in the adult world. I hated the way I was excluded from things in that world. I was expected to be grown up and sensible at school but when it came to knowing what was going on, about life as it was lived, then I was kept in the dark because of my age.
So I would cover just about any dark subject for a young adult audience. The way in which I would cover it would reflect the kind of books I like to read. For example I’ve read a range of serial killer/torture chamber/gore books and frankly I find them laughable. So if I’m writing about a murderer who kills young girls I will have a lot of the violence off camera so to speak. Not because I’m worried that librarians won’t buy my books but because I think it’s better to leave some stuff to the imagination. How scary the film Alien was for NOT seeing the creature. Also The Blair Witch Project. It’s the old saying LESS IS MORE and this works so perfectly for young adult fiction.
The same goes for sex. I like to have sex in my books. My memories of being a teen involved thinking about sex an awful lot (although not doing very much). So any account of teenage life has to have sex in it. However I don’t want readers cringing at sex scenes so I leave a lot of it unstated. I hint, I imply. The unclasping of a belt or the unbuttoning of a shirt might be enough. I think we all know what will happen next.
The main reason that I try to be honest in my storytelling is because I thinks young adults demand it in a way that no other group do. If you try to peddle some made up version of what teen life is like (or what some people wish it was like) you’ll get found out by your readers. They’re a sharp lot. It takes them a long time to pick up a book to read but only a second to put it down again.
Anne Cassidy’s new series THE MURDER NOTEBOOKS begins with Dead Time, which has been nominated for the 2013 Carnegie Medal.
The second of the series Killing Rachel will be out in March 2013.
To find out more about Anne and her books visit www.annecassidy.com.
Finally, thanks to Anne for being this week's guest author at The Edge.