Thursday, 28 June 2012


Some critics claim that teen fiction is too dark and depressing. Here’s what EDGE authors Paula Rawsthorne and Sara Grant have to say about the darkside of writing for teens.

Sara: The teen years are when we begin to explore the meaning of life and come to terms with our own mortality. I remember writing some incredibly angst-ridden and frankly depressing poetry when I was a teen. It’s not surprising to me that teens gravitate to books with a darker slant.

Paula: Feelings and responses to even minor events are so magnified when you’re a teen. I could certainly make a drama out of anything!  But whilst it’s definitely a time to indulge your angst ridden side, aren’t the YA shelves in danger of showing teenage years as a time of doom and gloom?  What about all the fun and excitement to be had?  Often it’s a period when you find out what makes you really laugh. Alternatively, if you are having a tough time, you may be in need of a funny read.  That’s why the publishers need to redress the balance and have more comedy and comedy drama books on the YA shelves.

Sara: I don’t think there’s an imbalance in what publishers are publishing but there may be a disparity in what sells. Teen noir is very popular. But even edgy fiction isn’t all dark and depressing.

Paula: I have a compulsion to lace everything I write with humour, no matter how dark.   So even though my thriller, The Truth About Celia Frost, is tense and deals with serious matters there are characters and situations which, I hope, will bring a smile to the reader’s face.

Sara: Yes, edgy fiction doesn’t need to be depressing. I write dystopian novels and books like the Hunger Games have been very popular recently, but most of these books with dark topics have hopeful endings.

Paula: The HOPE factor is essential for me. Protagonists that are put through terrible ordeals need, at least, a glimmer of hope at the conclusion. As a writer and reader, when I go on a journey with the protagonist, I want to see them in a better place at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.

Sara: I’m also not sure that teens are alone in focusing on the macabre. Glance through the Sky Planner or the bestselling shelves of bookstores and you’ll see a significant portion of murder, death and mayhem!

Paula: You’re telling me and it’s not just fiction. In particular, book sections in supermarkets seem to be heaving with lurid ‘real life’ crime books or misery lit about abusive childhoods. There’s obviously a big market for adults who want to read nonfiction accounts of traumatic, violent stories. I suspect many teenagers find it easier to read about gritty and difficult subjects from the safe distance that a fictitious story affords.

Sara: I think fiction can be wonderful conversation starters. These dark books can offer teens and adults the opportunity to discuss important issues. Dark Parties touches on issues of diversity and human rights while The Truth About Celia Frost considers medical ethics.

Paula: It can be helpful and stimulating to readers when dark YA stories take on serious issues, as long as it’s not done in a preachy manner. However, I feel that it’s also important to have stories with great teenage comic creations. These are characters you can laugh at and laugh with; they can show you that you’re not the only one who does all those cringy, embarrassing things but the world won’t, in fact, end for you because you’ve made a prat of yourself. Don’t under estimate how comforting that knowledge is when you’re navigating your way through teenage years.

Sara: And before we get too lofty – these dark books are page turners and offer an escape from reality. I think maybe we need less judgment of teen’s reading choices and more acceptance for the diversity that’s available and also celebration for the fact that teens are reading!

Paula: I can’t disagree with that!

What do you think? Is teen fiction too dark and depressing?

  • Paula Rawsthorne’s thriller THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA FROST has won The Leeds Book Award 2012 (11-14 category) and was named one of the best teen books of 2011 by The Independent.
  • Sara Grant’s debut novel DARK PARTIES -- a dystopian thriller for young adults – is published on the Orion’s Indigo imprint. Find out more about Sara and her book at

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Reading Agency MyVoice Libronauts Welcome The Edge Authors to Padgate Library, Warrington

On Friday a contingent of Edge authors arrived in Warrington to meet up with The Libronauts at Padgate Library. Part of The Reading Agency MyVoice initiative, The Libronauts are made up of pupils from Lysander High School in Padgate and meet every Tuesday in their Reading Hub, appropriately dubbed The Launch Pad! 
We were delighted when they contacted the Edge and asked if we would be interested in taking part in two panel discussions involving students from Lysander and other local schools.
The Libronauts were involved in the planning and running of the events and were great hosts. We had a brilliant day. Here are a few of the highlights …

The Libronauts and the Edge (l-r)
Tasha, Arwel, Andrew, Paula, Tom, Sara, Chloe, Jade,
The Silver Skull of Truth, Alex, Dan, Dave, Bryony, Jake.
(Thanks to James for taking the photo)

Edge authors Sara Grant, Bryony Pearce, Paula Rawsthorne and Dave Cousins
contemplating The Silver Skull of Truth

The infamous Edge Graffiti Wall

Bryony in Jazz Hands pose!

"My Voice has changed my life in lots of ways. It's definitely something I've enjoyed. It's been an inspiration for me." Tom

Paula and The Skull holding court.

Dave acting out a scene from his book.

Happiness is a signed copy of Angel's Fury!

Can't ask for better feedback than that.

The Libronauts even designed us a new Edge logo

"My Voice has given us opportunities we never would have had." James, Young Library Champion

Edge books on display on The Launch Pad bookshelf

The arrival of new book beanbags caused much excitement. 
Jade and Tasha try them out.

The Libronauts and Mission Controllers, Chris and Claire.

Bidding a fond farewell to The Libronauts we headed across town to Waterstones in Warrington for a book signing. Thanks to all the staff for making us so welcome and to everybody who stopped to have a chat and enter our competition.
Congratulations to the winner: Ash Shaw. 
Your prize should be on its way to you soon, Ash.

In Warrington Waterstones with Hugo the Bear.

For more information on The Reading Agency MyVoice project visit their website or Facebook page. Follow The Reading Agency on Twitter at @readingagency.

Follow The Libronauts on Twitter @LaunchPadWeb1

Follow Waterstones Warrington on Twitter @WaterstonesWire

Friday, 22 June 2012

Writing Badly by Guest Author Conrad Mason

Hello Edge readers, and thank you to the Edge for having me! I thought I'd write about one of the most important steps I took towards becoming a published author: writing badly.

It's well known that many authors get through several 'drawer novels' before they finish one that's fit to be published. I have drawer novels too, except that none of mine are longer than a few paragraphs. I've started hundreds of stories, but for years I never got further than the first page.

The trouble was that I was so determined to write beautiful prose that I never got anywhere. If you spend a quarter of an hour crafting each sentence, how can you ever finish a 300-page book? I had no idea how the professionals did it. Presumably they had some special skill that I lacked. 

Then I read a book called How To Write A Novel by John Braine. It's got some startling pieces of advice in it, some of which I've chosen to ignore ('try not to get married or permanently entangled before your novel is finished'). But overall it's the most inspiring book about writing that I have ever read (and I include On Writing by Stephen King in that – although that's also wonderful).

Here's the epiphany bit: 'With the first draft all that matters is writing the maximum number of words.'

It felt dangerously illicit – was I really allowed to obsess over word count and throw quality out of the window? I had to find out. I set myself a goal of at least 300 words a day, every day, and I kept writing. No checking back. No obsessing over details. No stopping, no matter what. There were times I lost my way, but I just carried on, writing bad sentences and even bad scenes in the knowledge that I'd go back and fix them later. The editor part of my brain was screaming at me all the way, but I ignored it. John Braine had set me free!

Of course, what I got at the end was a mess. Half-formed characters, awful prose, plotlines going nowhere... But that didn't matter because it was 50,000 words of mess. Something that I could edit, and hone, and turn into a novel.

I think the problem before was that I had been trying to write and edit at the same time – and for me, separating those two processes made all the difference. In the first draft I allowed my ideas to come tumbling out as fast as possible, no matter how incoherent they were; then in the second draft I picked them apart and put them back together again.

So to this day, if I'm ever struggling to write well, I just write badly instead. I'd rather do that than write nothing at all.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Age Restrictions on Books...?

Edge Authors Bryony Pearce and Katie Dale debate whether, like movies, YA books should have age restrictions
Katie - I think that with the YA market expanding so rapidly and so diversely it would be helpful to have age-guidance on books. Kids from 10 to 18 are reading from the YA section and there is currently no really clear way to determine which books are suitable for which age.
Bryony - But do you really think that age guidance is the best way? It doesn't take the huge variety of children's reading abilities into account. On one of my early school visits I did a year six class (mostly 11 year olds). Some were reading Meyer's Twilight and Michael Grant's Gone, others were reading Warrior Cats, still others were reading Rainbow Magic. How can an age restriction cover that?
Katie - I think it should be not so much applied to reading ability, so much as content. In the same way that films are given certificates to prevent under-12s going unaccompanied to watch potentially violent/sexual/disturbing movies I think it would be helpful to apply age-appropriate guidance to book covers. Some YA books are very high-end, with authors like Melvin Burgess covering topics like drug abuse and teen sexual activity but at the moment this is shelved alongside books by Jacqueline Wilson and Sweet Valley, which I think can be misleading both for kids/teens and parents.
Bryony - Unfortunately sex and drugs are issues that can affect younger readers and some of those who would benefit from the sorts of ideas and discussions raised by these books may be prevented from reading them by age restrictions. I know age restrictions are not enforced by armed librarians or bookshop owners, but I can imagine a parent refusing to allow a book because they've seen that it is in the 'wrong section' ...
Katie - I agree that unfortunately these issues can affect younger readers, but then I think that to cover those issues responsibly in a way that is appropriate for 10-11 year-olds would be quite different to how an author might cover the same issues in a book for 16/17 year-olds. Jacqueline Wilson, for example, covers tough topics in a way that is suitable for younger readers, but my own book, for example, covers issues such as teen preganancy, abortion, and sexual activity - issues which may, sadly, affect younger readers, but I wouldn't be happy giving my book to a 10/11 year old to read, because I don't feel it's age-appropriate.
Bryony - Yet I'm sure we've all met 10/11 year old readers of our own books - I know I have and Miriam Halahmy (Hidden and Illegal) has mentioned this in her own debate. In fact I know that my book has gone through families - from the ten year olds to the grannies. If I know someone is buying my book for a preteen however, I will always suggest that the adult reads it first to make sure they're happy to pass it on.
Then there's also the question of understanding. For example I remember watching Grease as a child - I didn't understand half of what was going on (what was a dingleberry? I didn't know until recently actually. Why was my mother so bothered about me singing 'summer lovin'? What was going on with Rizzo?) but that didn't stop me enjoying it. I'd suggest that if kids aren't ready for a topic, if they don't understand it, most will just skim over it and reread it when they've developed a full comprehension later on.
Katie - I agree that some younger readers are mature enough for older books, but that, as you did, it's important to make sure that parents are aware of the material their child is reading, if the content is aimed at older kids/teens. Consequently, instead of many rigid age restrictions on books, perhaps the way to go would be to have 'Parental Guidance' stickers for books aimed at 12-14 year olds (with the aim of preventing preteens inadvertently picking them up, then a 14+ guidance for older books? By age 14 I think most teenagers are capable of choosing their own reading material without parental guidance, and are mature enough to handle most content in the YA section.
I remember having nightmares half-way through reading a Point Horror book and I had to physically throw the book away! I wasn't ready for the scary content of someone being locked in a coffin, and it haunted me for several weeks after!
Bryony - OMG I think I read that Point Horror book - it scared the pants off me too.
However, my younger sister (two and a half years younger) would devour Point Horror. She also watched Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman with no qualms whatsoever, while I was absolutely terrified at Jaws (and still can't watch Shark films). Which perhaps supports my point about the variety of interests / abilities / capabilities?
Katie - Yes, but precisely because of that range of maturity/interests/capabilities I think a parental guidance sticker may be useful, if only to alert parents and younger readers that the content may be disturbing to some readers of that age.
Bryony - Your idea about PG does deal with content and I agree that it would be useful in that respect, but it still doesn't take into account different reading abilities. Having an age restriction on a book, even if it's just 14+ is likely to put readers over the age of 14 off reading books that are not designated 14+ and vice versa. Kids who 'read up' may find it difficult to get books that are categorised as 'too old' for them while kids that 'read down' may be too embarrassed to be seen reading books with a PG sticker. Age restrictions can stop kids exploring other categories (I'm too old for Malory Towers) and make them feel bad (why am I still reading 8+ while my friends are on 14+?)
Katie - That's an interesting point. I agree that it's possible that 14 year-olds may be put off reading the PG books (particularly in front of their peers), unless it trends - both kids and teens and adults read Harry Potter, even though it was classed as a 'children's book'. Also there are publishing lines now that are deliberately producing older content in a easier-to-read format, aimed at older readers with a younger reading age.
Bryony - That's interesting. I do think though, that in a world where reading must now compete with television, youtube, movies, texting, social networking and of course xbox, nintendo, playstation etc. that publishers should be doing everything possible to get kids reading, not putting them off.
You do raise some very valid points though, and I feel that some way of letting parents and teen readers know what they're getting themselves into with a book is useful. I've noticed that some publishers like Chicken House are now doing 'try it' on the back of the book - i.e. suggesting a page for readers to try out.
I think that perhaps one step further would be useful. I would like to see something like they have on films e.g. this book contains two instances of sexually explicit swearing, one scene of semi-nudity and some fantasy violence. I believe this would be much more helpful in telling readers about the content than a simple age restriction. It would help them decide what they're ready for. Simply reading a page as suggested by the 'try it' would tell them if it's suitable for their reading ability.
What do you think?

Katie - I agree it's important to keep kids reading, but not at any cost, and not at the cost of selling them material which is inappropriate - reading a scary book can be just as disturbing as watching a scary film, for example, and I do think book covers need to take more responsibility for ensuring they're reaching the appropriate readers.
I like the idea of a 'Try it' page - but think it would be awfully hard to choose one page! - do they choose the most risky page as a warning as to some of the content, or would this potentially put readers off what might otherwise be a beautifully crafted and well-told story? A lot has to do with context and how sensitively the author handles the content.
I also like your idea of putting more explicit content warnings on too - some readers may be more sensitive to scary content, whilst others react to violence/swearing so by pinpointing the type of content which may be disturbing would definitely be helpful, I think.
Certainly, I think we're in agreement that some sort of guidance as to content would be helpful on YA covers?

Bryony - I believe the 'try it' page is done as a way of selling the book rather than as a warning - I'm sure the publisher picks a particularly exciting page for the reader to try. Still, there's no reason it can't be used as a 'reading ability gauge' as well.
We definitely agree that some sort of guidance is useful, and I'm a wholehearted advocate of film style content indicators, but I'll never be a supporter of age restrictions on books ... thanks Katie, that was really interesting and fun!

Katie - Thanks Bryony - lots to think about!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Notes on the Edge – by Guest Author Jane McLoughlin.

This week we are delighted to welcome Jane McLoughlin as our guest author at the Edge. 

Jane's debut YA novel At Yellow Lake hit the shelves yesterday. We recommend you hurry to your nearest bookshop and grab a copy!

Now over to Jane …

Most YA writers have a notion of “edge”. It’s where our characters live, whether or not we think of ourselves or our work as “edgy”.

If I were to come up with a definition of “edge”, I couldn’t come up with anything better than these lines from the song Common People by Pulp:

" You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go."

This certainly sums up the world of YA as I see it. Young people, in real life as well as in fiction, often have no control. They have no (legal) way to make money, they can’t vote, school is a requirement, not an option, they are bound to their parent’s lifestyle choices. In “edgy” YA fiction these parental choices usually veer from inept to misguided to downright dangerous . So, just as in the song, characters in YA fiction often have “nowhere left to go.”

To me, this is one of the great challenges (and joys) of writing YA. How do we create a believable world where powerless characters can take control? How do we find realistic ways for the voiceless to express themselves and for the defenceless to fight back?

But it’s the first line from that stanza that challenges me the most: “You will never understand how it feels...”

As a middle-aged, middle class woman, this hurts, because the truth is that I don’t understand. I look at the problems faced by the characters I’m writing about and, for the most part, I have never had their experiences, have never been even half as vulnerable or exposed.

Jane McLoughlin
OK, bad and scary things have happened to me in my life (and, like an actor, I use my emotional memory of these situations very often) but I’ve never been abandoned or let-down by my family, I’ve never been without the support of stable and loving people. YA characters, including ones that I have created, are often left to fend completely for themselves, and this something I can only, as yet, imagine.

So, as a writer, there is a limit to my “edge” and I have to acknowledge that.

Another great line from Common People is “everybody hates a tourist” and I worry about that sometimes, too. (All right, so I worry about a lot of foolish things). But isn’t that what all writers are to an extent? Just day trippers? Whatever we write about, whatever dangers we create for our characters, aren’t we able to turn off the laptop, make a cup of tea, tweet about the day’s word count?

The answer to this is yes, of course we are. For YA writers this is particularly problematic—the edgy world of the teenager is often far from the more rounded, secure worlds that adult writers generally inhabit. But, as writers, we still have to go to the edge—even while acknowledging that it is only our edge, not the edge. We have to be unafraid to visit some dark places, to take some creative risks, to follow our characters into the turbulent water of our own painful memories. And even if we can’t, as the the song says, understand what it’s like to be powerless, at least we must to try to remember. And if we can’t remember?

Then we’ll have to do what writers do best—imagine the edge, and head towards it.

At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin is out now in paperback, published by Frances Lincoln. Visit your local bookshop or click here to buy a copy.

Keep up to date with Jane's latest news via her blog.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Hungry Caterpillar and Dickens..... by Miriam Halahmy and Keren David

Are the lines between children’s and adult books drawn up too tightly in the UK today? Miriam and Keren recently discussed this thorny issue on Facebook.

Bali Rai said at a recent SCBWI panel that there shouldn’t be children’s books or adult books. Just books. What do you think? Should The Hungry Caterpillar sit next to Dickens?

No. I think that primary school children need to be protected from ‘adult’ content and language, to give them the space for growing up. From 12+ they are ready to be exposed to most books.
But I have ten year olds reading my books which I am told are only suitable for Y9 onwards. Whose job is it to provide this protection? The librarians? The parents?
Well, all school can do is decide what does and doesn’t go in their school library. I think it’s up to parents to read alongside their kids and discuss the books with them. What do you think?
I don’t think there is anything in your books which isn’t suitable for an intelligent 10 year old thought – do you?
I do think that parents should be involved in their children’s reading but unfortunately there will always be children who are left to their own devices. The question is how far to me go to control content and ‘protect’ children?
In relation to Illegal school tell me they would only pitch it to Y8 or Y9 even. Should this be a problem for Y.A. writers when they are choosing content for their books?
I think if you’re writing Y.A. it’s by definition for older teens and they’ll get more out of it. But I’m interested in what aspects aren’t suitable for what ages. Like some parents don’t want their kids reading about knife crime at all ... what’s that about?
In the case of Illegal they might object to the drugs element or self-harm. But I find it very difficult to tell what parents or librarians are going to object to.
The definition of what is Y.A. is also tricky when there are ten year olds reading our books. I feel my books are suitable for independent readers from 10+  and therefore what does Y.A. really mean?
In When I Was Joe there’s also a self-harm element and that’s the aspect I don’t think is suitable for younger kids. But I also think kids will self-censor – if something is too shocking for them they just stop reading. Funnily enough it’s the swearing aspect which bothers me most for younger kids – they have to learn from somewhere that swearing isn’t always appropriate, difficult if the chacracters in the books they read are cursing like sailors.
I think Young Adult implies that the book is for readers of at least 12 years old, those who have made the leap to secondary school. But my kids went to a primary school which is attached to a High School, and they went on the school bus with the teenagers. They learned a lot about drugs and all sorts from listening to the older pupils’ conversations and that wasn’t a bad thing.
I’m very aware of all the other media around. Young kids watch Skins, the Inbetweeners, Eastenders. What’s to shock them in my books?
Yes, kids watch all these programmes which have much more explicit elements than many of the Y.A. books.
Sometimes people object to the wrong things. They get all upset about knife crime when they should be more worried about passive girls and abusive paranormal boyfriends.
I don’t want to feel guilty about kids hearing my talks and reading my books. But with all the talk in the media about what is acceptable, sometimes I feel unsure about who I’m supposed to pitch my books to.
I pitch to 14 year olds. I worked in the media and I know how much of the talk there is so much hot air.
I go where I’m invited, which is Y6 upwards. But I’m happy with all the groups I’ve spoken to since my books came out. Their ability to discuss controversial themes is quite amazing. we shouldn’t underestimate our young people.
The most difficult school visit I ever did was to a primary school. Y6! I had nothing to say and didn’t want them to read my book!
Have you ever had a reader tell you they’ve been upset or distressed by anything in your books – or have been helped?
Kids tell me they’ve learnt things they nothing about. Some of them say they usually read paranormal romance but my books make them think a lot. Interesting!
One ten year old boy said reading Illegal was like reading the story of his own life.
The most difficult school visit I did was one where the kids sat in silence and I just couldn’t warm them up or get them to engage.
What sort of feedback from kids makes you realise you’ve really hit the spot with them?
One boy wrote to me about friends who’d been stabbed and how my book made him think about what happened to them. But the best feedback I had was from a librarian in a Young Offenders Institution who said my book was the most stolen in the library. I must be doing something right.
I find it very moving when 14 year old boys tell me that I’ve created a boy of their age that they believe is real.
Feedback from the kids is very inspiring for us, I think and shows us that we are writing the kinds of books they want to read.
Great discussion Keren.

Over to you now – Do you think the lines between children’s and adult books are too rigid in the UK today?