I’ve spent the last few years writing fiction for younger people. I’m quite happy with what I’ve put out so far, because there’s a market for weird books for the weirdo teens. I was one myself, and I always wanted to write books that I would have read at that age. But being an author primarily of books for teens comes with some problems:
Schools in the UK close for months every year. These holidays mean that all my gigs (a source of my income) immediately dry up. Argh! How will I make enough money to keep myself in the lifestyle I’ve become accustomed to?
Libraries at schools around the country are under attack. School librarians are being made redundant, or sent away to work in public libraries. But schools need libraries and libraries need Librarians. A library without a librarian is a large room with books. Does anyone honestly believe Buffy The Vampire Slayer could have saved the world without the help of a school librarian? Yes, sometimes we authors find ourselves in staff rooms where teachers glare at us for intruding on their patch. But not school librarians! They’re always ready with a cup, a boiled kettle, and a packet of McVitie’s Ginger Nuts. Or do they just do that for me?
Two incidents made me question what I was doing with my career. Yes, I’m using the word ‘career’ because you’ve got to take what you do seriously, treat it as a career. The first incident was a ninth-month long harassment campaign by a stalker. I won’t go into that right now, but it was a terrifying experience. Why would anyone want to stalk and harass me? Not even the culprit could answer that when they were caught. Life is full of these random injustices and odd occurrences. The second incident is something far more mild and somewhat ridiculous. Are you ready for it? Do you want to know what made me reassess writing stories for younger readers?
I’m warning you, it’s really silly…
One day whilst shopping for a faux fur coat in Glasgow, I decided to pop into the Sauchiehall Street branch of Waterstones to top up on my points and buy a few books. Any published author will be the first to admit that they go to the shelf and look at their own book(s). I’m no different. So I headed to the YA section and found…
Yes, some of my books werethere. But the YA section had been hijacked by tonnes of books from vloggers. I thought, “Do I really belong on a shelf with Zoella?” This one little incident sparked a philosophical crisis in me. I’m punk, I’ve always felt a kinship with the outsider. I have nothing against vloggers; they work bloody hard for their views. But what they’re putting out exists in another dimension from what I do. Love stories about geeky girls in love with hot jocks at school (!) is a trope I might play with, but I wouldn’t write a book about it. Why do girls need boyfriends in these books anyway?
So there I was, stuck in the centre of Waterstones, experiencing an existential crisis that most people would laugh off. Shouldn’t I be grateful to be anywhere near these phenomenons? Why was I taking it so personally? I even wondered if YA fiction was too middle-class for me. My goodness, I must have had too much caffeine that day.
I wrote more stuff for teenagers afterwards. Glowglass is out and available to buy. But that day, after my silent psychic meltdown in Glasgow, I headed home and did the one thing that might make me happy: I started work on a book for adults, my first ever attempt at writing a book not set in a school.
It’s finished. I’ve sent it off. It’s a quirky crime novel. Now I wait and see what happens. I’ve started work on a second novel for adults, the sort that I want to read. My favourite authors are people like Banana Yoshimoto, Jarett Kobek, Kurt Vonnegut, Michelle Tea, Kathy Acker, Ryu Murakami, Agatha Christie and Jason Starr. I like cult fiction. It’s my thing. I grew up watching trashy cult TV, watching horror movies and Divine movies. Did I really just want to be one thing, one genre, one category next to Zoella and her smiley happy friends? ANYWAY, I beat my existential crisis into submission and learned to stop being so ridiculous about stupid, silly shit. Being punk doesn’t mean battling everything around me – it means having a different perspective. Individualism doesn’t have to be so paralysing. I can be more than one thing, I can write more than one type of book. I can write for adults and teenagers. I can still be punk and share shelf space with reality TV stars. I can do it all.