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Why I Write Novels For Teens, by Emma Pass

When I was a teenager, ‘teen’ as a distinct literary genre didn’t exist on the scale it does now. At my local library, you could find series like Sweet Valley High and the Point Horror books, along with the occasional ‘issue’ novel, but when you got tired of the children’s section (where these books were also shelved) you moved on to adult books without a backward glance. By the time I realized I wanted to be an author, aged 13, I was existing on a steady diet of Stephen King, Michael Crichton and various other thriller and SF writers, and the stories I wrote were full of grown up characters doing grown up things.

As I got older, I started experimenting with different types of writing. Maybe I should be a crime writer. What about poetry? How about writing literary fiction? I even, very briefly, toyed with an idea for a picture book. Nothing worked. I was trapped on one side of a thick glass wall, with the writer I wanted to be on the other side. I could see her, but I had no idea how to get there.

Then I went on a weekend course run by a well-known children’s and teen author. I’d never come across her before, so, not wanting to appear ignorant, I read some of her books before the course started. It wasn’t so long since I’d been a teenager myself, and as soon as I started to read, I was hooked. Here was a writer expressing the rollercoaster emotions of those years exactly. After the course – which was fun and inspiring – I visited the teenage section in my local library and bookshop and discovered that, in the years I’d been struggling to become a writer for adults, teen literature had quietly grown into a genre in its own right.

It was around that time that it occurred to me that perhaps I should try rewriting the literary novel I’d been struggling with – which, coincidentally, featured a teenager as the main character – as a teen novel.

The novel wasn’t any good. In fact, it was terrible. But it was the first project I’d had fun with in as long as I could remember. The first characters I really connected with. The first ‘proper’ novel I ever finished, redrafted (seven times!) and queried. By the time it was done, I knew I had found ‘my’ genre, and I knew I had, at last, broken through the glass wall.

So what do I enjoy most about writing teen novels? Firstly, it’s the characters. I remember being a teenager so clearly – what a strange time it is, when the adults around you often treat you like a child, yet you’re expected to assume adult responsibilities and deal with problems that often feel far too big for you to cope with. It’s a unique space to be in, where everything is new and challenging and intense, and for me that makes writing for and about teens utterly fascinating.

Then there’s the sheer scope. A quick glance at the teen fiction section in any bookshop or library will show you that you can write about anything. You can write about teenagers in space or teenagers on the run from sinister police forces or teenagers fighting zombies or teenagers just going about their ordinary lives, and all the challenges that brings. There are no limits. Someone once asked me, “When are you going to start writing for grownups?” My answer? Not yet. Possibly never. I’m having far too much fun!

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Emma Pass’s author website: www.emmapass.blogspot.com

Emma Pass bio page

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Why I Write Teen Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

Teen fiction connects.  Passionate intensity often leads kids to do foolish things, take incredible risks, to explode with hatred one minute and love the next; to be heroic as well as act without compassion.  Teenager are still raw, often angry at what life has dealt and the choices on offer.

Adults are constrained by convention, rules, experience, and explain away their failings with words such as fate or God’s will.  Teens still think that they can make a difference and that there are endless possibilities.

When I write for teens I am thinking of all these things, putting myself in their shoes.  It’s not always rational.  I couldn’t begin to explain all the stupid things I did as a teen or the risks I took.  How I’m even still alive given the situations I got myself into, I have no idea.  I still remember my heart being broken – not just once either. It scarred me.  So I write for the kids yet to be scarred by life or the ones who already know that it’s less than fair out there, but to also say that this too can be survived and that they are not helpless.

Sometimes my fiction will be historical.  Kids want to know about the past and it is essential to connect it to the present so they can relate.  When you read Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go you are immediately plunged into a seventeenth century world, filled with strange Amish-like men and one boy and his dog living primitive lives. They are farming everything by hand.  You quickly become aware that there is madness in the air and all the characters can hear each other’s thoughts.  This alone is enough to make you intrigued. To then discover that this is the future and a story set in some far off planet is a huge surprise.  The second major feat that Ness accomplishes is to establish a great love between Todd and Viola in book one, then in book two tear them apart and pit them against each other, each manipulated by the evil Mayor Prentiss.  Extraordinary.

In The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester, a girl is born who floats. The parents are ashamed of their freak daughter and home-school her, but you can’t keep a good girl down for long. One day she jumps off the roof and flies the whole way around the town attracting unwanted attention.  Written with a dry southern wit this is a story that makes you laugh at first, then takes a rather nasty turn as the government begins to round up all the freaks and bury them in some underground lab.  I love the concept. I would have preferred it to stay funny rather than sinister but the adventures of Piper McCloud live within my affections. As her Papa said, “Seems like our child ain’t normal is all I’m saying.”

I suppose why I write teen fiction in the end is because I want to write stories that strike you in the heart, that stay with you forever, that affect you in the way that books and films shaped my life growing up.  Dune by Frank Herbert perhaps is one such book – the retelling of the coming of the Messiah scope of this novel is incredible.  The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick is another – about America losing WW2 and divided between Japan and Germany.  Neither of these were teen fiction but both had a huge impact on the teen me because they dealt with what ifs… and what ifs are what keep us awake at night…

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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