Slowly coming down from the excitement of my first author talk – I was way too nervous to take photos, and I’m really glad Klare Lansen and Lisa D’Onofrio had the presence of mind to take a few happy snaps!
A lovely evening was had by all at Castlemaine Word Mine (aka the Castlemaine Anglican Church Hall), and the audience was small but welcoming. Once I got over the knee-knocking terror I always feel before speaking in public – and reading out an excerpt from Every Breath that has never been heard by mortal ears before – I had a really good time. Simmone Howell offered me blackberry cider and encouragement, and Kirsten Krauth admitted she was as nervous as I was (it’s always good to share the pain!). We all read bits from our respective novels, then opened the floor for questions, and some really interesting ideas came out.
What is YA? I guess was a big theme, followed closely by Why does YA exist?
It’s hard in retrospect to figure out whether you’ve answered the questions properly, but I’m hoping that our combined responses provided the right answer. What was interesting to me was how people’s questions and Kirsten and Simmone’s responses gave me a bit of a contemplative moment about my own ideas on the subject. Some people in the audience pointed out that before YA existed, kids just used to read adult books, and does YA literature really add anything new to the mix?
But I suppose my feeling is that before YA, kids were always reading about life as viewed through the eyes of an adult. It’s different, that feeling of reading through the lens of someone who isn’t at your own stage of life. I remember reading The Outsiders by Susie Hinton, and having a ‘wow’ moment – I was so amazed that someone finally got it, that feeling I had, of being a teenager, and had managed to encapsulate that in Ponyboy’s story.
Someone asked what Simmone and Kirsten and I had read as teenagers, and we realised that I was reading Stephen King, Simmone was reading Jackie Collins, and Kirsten was reading Virginia Andrews. But I have to confess that I didn’t always get everything that happened in those adult books. All the emotional turmoil behind the sex scenes in Peter Benchley’s Jaws went completely over my head (probably because I was, y’know, twelve).
So I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to find your own experience in the literature you read*. I think of how teenagers, for a long time, were supposed to just accept that their stage of life was merely a prelude to something else – the bigger adventure of adulthood – without having the chance to enjoy where they were at. And until YA became an accepted publishing market, teenagers were expected to gain all their insights about life purely from an adult perspective, without the feeling like they themselves had some insights to offer.
Teenagers have a lot to offer – as a high school teacher, I appreciate that all the time. Their view on the world is unique, sometimes muddled but always interesting. It’s why I like to put myself back in the mind-set of being a teenager and write what I see and feel.
Here’s a quote, sent to me by my amazing local librarian Robyn Annear, from Adam Phillips’ book ‘Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life’ -
‘ “Perhaps it is only in childhood,” Graham Greene writes in his essay “The Lost Child”, “that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already
‘ “But in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much.”
‘The desire in childhood reading, Greene tells us, is for experiences we haven’t had yet; as children we are not just lacking these experiences, we are not yet ready for them; because they are what we want, they are what we want to know about. What the child divines in the book is what he (sic) may be capable of; childhood is the developing of an appetite for future possibility.’
I think YA books really capture that sense of future possibility, and do so through the perspective of someone who is directly experiencing it. That’s why I love to read YA, and love to write it.
* I was thinking about this recently when I came across this fantastic article on how LGBT experience is really becoming foregounded in new YA fiction. It must be good to finally be able to read about your side of the story.