How I Became a Writer of Teen Novels, by Jim Eldridge
Why do I write for teens? How do I write for teens? These are two questions I’m often asked.
The answer to the first one is that I don’t only write for teens, I write for all ages, from pre-school children to adults (young adults to exceedingly mature adults). The plain fact is that I love writing, and I love the fact that people (of any age) want to read what I write, and get pleasure from it.
As this is my first blog post for Writing Teen Novels, it might make sense to introduce myself a bit, and give you some stats about myself as a writer, before I enlarge on the answer to that first question; and give a proper answer to the second.
I was born in London in the UK. After leaving school at 16 I did a variety of jobs, but I always wanted to write. My professional writing life began in 1965, when I sold a poem to a newspaper called Tribune. Over the next few years (while studying as a mature student for a Teaching Diploma) I became a performance poet, culminating in an appearance on BBC Radio 1’s John Peel Show in 1969. I had already nurtured ambitions to write a novel, but this radio appearance made me want to explore the medium of radio as a form of writing. Cutting to the chase and jumping a couple of years, in 1971 I got a commission (through an agent) to write a thriller novel; and also sold a sitcom pilot idea to BBC radio. The thriller novel was called “Down Payment on Death”. The radio sitcom was called “Parsley Sidings”, and the BBC cast Arthur Lowe, Kenneth Connor, Ian Lavender & Liz Fraser in it. (As I write, “Parsley Sidings” has just been issued as a double CD by the BBC on their Comedy Classics label – 40 years on!)
The novel did OK, but the radio sitcom did better – going on to 21 episodes over 2 series; and so I put my energy into scriptwriting.
Over the next 14 years I became a comedy scriptwriter on both radio & TV – sitcoms & sketch shows – writing for people like Frankie Howerd, Ronnie Barker, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, etc.
Then, in the early 1980s, I was approached by a children’s publisher and asked if I’d like to write a comedy book for children. My answer was, of course, “Yes”, and I co-opted my son, Duncan (then aged 13) to help me write the book. It was called “How To Handle Grown-Ups”, and was a kind of sketch comedy-book of excuses. It sold very well, and we went on to write a further 2 in the same series. At this point BBCTV became interested and asked if we would like to turn the books into a sitcom for children. We did, and that became my first work for children’s TV: “Bad Boyes”, still co-written with Duncan (by now aged 16). The series did well, winning a Royal Television Society Award for Best Children’s Drama Series. The books also did well, the combined “How To Handle Grown-Ups/ Bad Boyes” series of books selling three quarters of a million copies.
This success meant that doors opened to me to write more for children: both books and for TV.
For his part, Duncan told me (after we’d picked up the RSTV Award) that – at the age of 17 – he was retiring from writing. He felt it was too unstable a profession. Instead, he was going to study Graphic Design. (He did, and is now – at the age of 41 – a very successful graphic designer).
And so I began to write for children and young teens, and then older teens, and then Young Adults (as publishers term them).
At this stage I’ve just done a word count, and realised I’m at 630 words .. and Writing Teen Novels had asked me to write 500! Drat! I’ve run out of space, just when I was planning on telling you how I developed my NEW series of mystery action-adventure novels for teens and young adults, “The Malichea Quest”, of which the first book, THE INVISIBLE ASSASSIN, comes out in April from Bloomsbury Books. So instead I’ll have to leave that for my second blog post! Which brings me to my first lesson about writing for teens … leave a cliff-hanger ending at the end of every chapter.
For details of my books (and TV and radio scripts) go to: www.jimeldridge.com.