|Does your age determine what you like to read?|
I’ve been away from this blog for a few weeks, time spent musing but not in a way I could quite articulate. Forced to explain myself to a friend yesterday, I managed to spit out at least a version of what has been getting my creative spirits down since last I wrote.
My previous post described a first encounter with a creative writing mentor, supplied to me by Adventures in Fiction after the first page of a novel I wrote won their competition. They have a clear remit: to work to get your manuscript into as publishable a state as possible. There is no doubt that the advice my mentor gave me was designed to do exactly this, based on a set of assumptions: that we had to turn this novel into something that was recognisably ‘young adult,’ aimed at a definite age range as determined by book shop shelves, and subscribing to a genre that already exists.
I’m not completely ignorant of this ‘young adult’ category. I have spent many an awkward hour hovering in the new teenage section of the local library, trying to reach past languishing youths on computers to grab the actual books. But of course, I have read ‘young adult’ books that appeal to my tastes, those that are both literary as well as emotional, that exploit either normal or semi-magical settings as opposed to gang-ridden violent thrillers that deploy the word ‘angry’ three times in one paragraph. The books I found there that I loved, and which influenced my own novel with a teenage protagonist, were ones by David Almond, Meg Rosoff, Siobhan Dowd. Often these writers do not play by the rules (but of course, if you are David Almond, you can get away with it).
The more I’ve thought about what I would have to do to my novel to make it conform to publishers’ expectations about ‘young adult’ books in specific age ranges and genres, the more I have been forced towards the conclusion that I would have to effectively write a completely new novel using some elements from the original. And I haven’t the heart to do it. It is not that I feel at all precious about my story, or my words. I agree that what I have written not only fails to be commercially viable, but also needs quite a lot of honing to make it fully satisfying even for me.
Where my heart gives out is at the point of commercial pandering. I have tried this before, and failed; the novel I began after The Tarney Scalp was consciously designed to contain ‘young adult’ appeal, and that is precisely the reason why I could never bring myself to finish it. For whatever reasons (and I think I know what they are) I am just not designed to write the kind of novel that fits this very precise ‘young adult’ category. I can’t do genres. I am programmed to prefer mild surface content with the real drama seething beneath (too much Thomas Hardy), and depictions of behaviour that leave almost all the work to the reader in discovering motivations (a dollop of Kazuo Ishiguro). If this kind of thing is not marketable as ‘young adult’ fiction, then I’m happy to write without that label. If, on the other hand, a fourteen year old happens upon a story of mine and enjoys it, then I would be very happy.