I have to thank Miriam Halahmy for introducing me to The Edge and asking me if I’d like to contribute to a site devoted to ‘Sharp fiction for young adults and teens’. I have always believed that there is a place for just this kind of fiction, positioned between children’s books and fully adult writing, offering a staging post, a stepping stone between the two. It is a vitally important, necessary fiction, but a tricky area. The Edge can be an uncomfortable place. Get it WRONG and you will be accused of preaching, patronizing, being out of touch in an embarrassing ‘Dad Dancing’ way. Get it RIGHT and you might delight the readers but dismay the gatekeepers and risk not being published at all.
Tricky lot, older teens.
I began writing as a response to just this difficult group. I was an English teacher and my 14 – 16 year old students seemed to have turned themselves off reading because, they said, there was nothing for them, nothing that reflected life as they experienced it. They were almost adults, but the fiction on offer did not treat them that way. There wasn’t much to intrigue, engage, engross them on a grown up level. This didn’t mean that they read nothing.
There were authors they consumed with great appetite. American authors like Robert Cormier, Lois Duncan, Patricia Windsor and Ursula Le Guin but their output was relatively small and when these readers wanted to, they could read fast. It seemed to me that what these writers had in common was an ability to write exciting, genre fiction with teenage characters at the centre of the action but with added value. These books were uncompromising, not just in subject matter but also in the complexity of the story telling, the way they were written. I liked that. I enjoyed reading these books myself and that is still my test. If I enjoy the book as an adult reader, it is YA. If I don’t. it’s not. A rough rule of thumb, biased I know, but there it is.
My first novel, Every Step You Take, was based on a true story about a group of students from another comprehensive school in the city who got mixed up in a murder hunt. I wrote it like a thriller because I knew that was a popular genre (and I like thrillers) but it had ‘added value’: strong themes - a continuum of male violence from date abuse and rape to murder and powerful female characters (these were the days of early Val McDermid and V.I. Warshawski).
My latest novel, This Is Not Forgiveness, is also a contemporary thriller, taking in events happening now, soldiers returning from Afghanistan, post traumatic stress disorder, other kinds of social disorder, all mixed into the complexities and stresses of 21st Century teenage life. I’ve written in a lot of other genre, notably historical fiction and horror, but I’ve always kept those first principles in mind: strong stories, added extras, keep it real, be honest, don’t patronize. Even with all that, you still might not get it right…
The Edge can be a difficult place and uncomfortable, but then how comfortable should it be?
For more information please visit Celia's website, her official Facebook Fan Page, or follow her on Twitter @CeliaRees.
Huge thanks to Celia for being this week's guest author at The Edge.