I write books for young people. Sure, the odd older (but young at heart) person might read and enjoy them (and to you, I say a HUGE thank you) but I don’t write my books for adults. I write my books for teenagers because when I was a teenager it was books that got me through. They got me through bullying, unrequited crushes, illness and personal crises. If it wasn’t for writers like Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Thomas Hardy, Brigid Lowry, Maureen McCarthy, Sonya Hartnett, Libby Hathorn, James Moloney, Nick Earls, Anne Rice and, of course, Judy Blume, I really don’t know how I would have survived those years. Because being a teenager is tough. I don’t know if it’s tougher now than ten years ago, or if it’s a different kind of tough but there’s not denying that for many teenagers every day is a struggle.
I’m not one of those adults who says that they should just cheer up because they will look back on these as the best days of their lives. Because I don’t.
I’m not one of those adults who says it’s just “hormones” or “immaturity” or “selfishness” that makes life hard for teenagers. Because I know in my case it wasn’t.
I may be ten years on from being a teenager but I remember so vividly the intensity of every emotion I felt back then. The highs and lows were epic. And that’s part of the reason I love writing for teenagers: because writing for this age group gives you so much more scope to write the amazing and tragic parts of life. Because when you’re that age your joys are immense and your miseries even more so. Because teenagers believe in love at first sight and impossible dreams (and fairies and vampires). Because they LOVE things with a passion that adults seem to have lost, much of the time. It isn’t cool, as a nearly-thirty-year-old, to be obsessed about a particular book; to rave about a movie; to be in love with your favourite pop star. When you’re sixteen, all of that is acceptable. I want to write about grand emotions. That’s part of the reason I write for kids
Another reason (that I’m constantly reminded of by everybody I know) is that, when it comes down to it, I am still a kid. Mortgages? Couldn’t give a toss. Superannuation? Are you kidding me? Posh wine and cheese? Seriously? I’d prefer a lemonade and a packet of salt and vinegar chips. I’m still very much sixteen in my head. Maybe that’s why every attempt I’ve made at writing grown up books has been a spectacular failure. I just don’t “get” adults.
The last reason ties in with my first point. I write books for teenagers because it was books that helped me get through my teens and I want to give that back to teens today. If I can help even one of them through a tough time, or just provide them with entertainment and escapism, then my life’s work is done.
I do get asked often when I’m going to write an “adult” book. I choose not to see this as a slight – just as ignorance. And a question asked by those who have lost the young person inside them and for that reason think that books for young people are somehow less important than books for adults. I think they are so much more important. When you’re a teenager a book can literally change your life. When I worked in a book shop I lost count of the number of young people who’d come into the shop just gushing over the latest book by their favourite author or begging for me to magically get in the next instalment of their favourite series before the author had even written it. I never had an adult do that. Teenagers are passionate about their books in a very open, unencumbered, unselfconscious way. They don’t care about the review Jennifer Byrne gave a book on the First Tuesday Book Club, or whether a book has won the Vogel or the Orange Prize or the Booker (or even the CBCA Award). They just love it because they feel like it’s theirs. Because they feel like the author is speaking directly to them.
I write books for those kids who live for reading and who don’t know yet that they even like reading. I write for that kid at a high school I spoke at who rang her dad straight after the session and begged him to go out and buy my book. The one who the teacher told me afterwards had been close to expulsion the year before and whom she’d never seen be that excited about anything, let alone a book. I also read for the shy little kids with the big glasses who you just know spend their lunch times in the library, reading because books are their only friends.
I write for young people because, for young people, reading is not something they do to seem clever or witty or to impress their friends. They read because they can’t not. They read because it gets them through the dark times and because it lets them escape and because it lets them feel like they’re not alone.
I write for young people because it’s a privilege, and one I am grateful for every day.
Fellow YA and children’s writers, why do you write for young people?