Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Narrative point of view and voice

I'm nearing the 20,000 word mark of my redraft but I'm beset by this feeling that 'something's not quite right' about it. Having shown it to friends, I'm starting to be convinced that it's something to do with the choice of narrative point of view and getting the voice right.

The first draft of the novel was written in the first-person, in the voices of the two protagonists - Lorna and Tag. I decided to start the re-draft in the third person because I was finding the first person point of view limiting, particularly in the case of Tag. It's a key feature of Tag's character that he is essentially illiterate and so maintaining the consistency of his voice in the first person was difficult. I really wanted to make sure that I'm conveying the real horror of his life as a homeless young person and I didn't want to be restricted to his vocabulary to do it. Besides which, I feel too far removed from his background to be sure that I can inhabit his voice and be authentic enough.

I'm now trying to write in the third person which feels better to me but sometimes I feel like I'm falling into the trap of slipping between narrative voices when I don't mean to. I'm also still plagued by the idea that the book might work better in the present tense after all but I'm concerned that it might be harder to find a publisher for something in the present tense, particularly when it's targeted at young people.

Anyway, I'm off tomorrow for a NAWE retreat in Wales and I'm hoping that some sea air will do the trick and that suddenly it will all fall into place. That's assuming I don't fall apart from the stress of being separated from my little girl for five days.

Friday, 14 May 2010

What is inappropriate for teenage readers?

"I'm not sure it's appropriate for teenagers," said a writing (and teacher) friend, having read the first 5,000 words of my novel. The reason? It features some gritty issues including drug use, prostitution and sexual exploitation, all of which affect teenagers. Ok, not all teenagers will be groomed on the internet or tempted into a life of heroin addiction but isn't it important that all teenagers know how it can happen?

It's a debate I've had time and time again with writers, librarians, teachers and literature promoters and I refuse to change my stance. I've worked personally with hundreds of young people who have been affected by these issues and I believe that it's important that their stories are heard. The book I'm writing certainly doesn't glorify the use of heroin, prostitution or the life of a homeless teenager. I hope it's a sensitive look at how young people can become the victims of circumstance. It's also just a love story, about two people from different backgrounds who find common ground.

I've been re-reading Pieces of Me ( )
a recent Sheffield publication written by young women about their experiences of sexual exploitation. I've also been looking at a linked website talks about girls as young as twelve being lured into prostitution by pimps posing as boyfriends. The issue of 'internal trafficking' (where young girls are essentially kidnapped and sold into the sex trade) has been a hidden issue, misunderstood by many . Isn't it better that we speak about it so that we can do our best to prevent it?

In my recent post as national HeadSpace Project Manager for The Reading Agency I was horrified (though not surprised) to discover that we were finding it difficult to find library groups who would host eminent author, William Nicholson, to talk about his recent book Rich and Mad - a beautifully written book about first love which includes a realistic account of a first sexual relationship, as well as giving some coverage to the subjects of pornography and sexual violence. In essence, to me, it is a feminist book, dealing with the issue of respect in relationships. According to the author ( surveys suggest that by the age of eighteen 93% of boys and 62% of girls have watched internet porn, and sexual violence is commonplace in films and on TV. If nobody is allowed to write sensitively about the subject, isn't there a risk of young people have a slightly skewed perspective on what love and sex are all about?

In libraries, I've known books be taken off shelves because one parent complained. Carol Ann Duffy's poem Education for Leisure was removed from the exam syllabus because two schools were worried that it might incite young people to knife crime, and yet, I've never heard anyone debate these issues with young people themselves.

Of course, my friend may be right and I'm aware that I might find it harder to publish this book because of the issues it deals with. Maybe I should have written some frothy pink book all about buying nice frocks and acquiring a boyfriend but aren't those books potentially just as dangerous? Many authors do publish books for young adults on controversial subjects. Melvyn Burgess is famous for it. Other authors such as Malorie Blackman, Bali Rai and Anthony McGowan all do it brilliantly. And yet, we're still having this discussion about whether it's appropriate. I'd love to hear from teenagers who have an opinion about what they think should be allowed to read.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Opportunities for young writers

I haven't had time to blog recently. I've been too busy actually writing the novel - 8,000 words of the new draft now which doesn't feel too bad. I'm waiting for some feedback from my novel writers' group before I write too much more as I'm still not sure I've got the structure right.

I thought today, I'd just say a word about the importance of writing groups and networking with other writers. Other writers provide essential feedback on material and, I also find writing groups great for giving me inspiration for new work. I'm a member of two writing groups. The old one I've been part of for about ten years and it's become more of a tea, cake and chat group, which is lovely but not always challenging. The other group, I set up recently with fellow novelist Bryony Doran. We're all in the final stages of writing novels and we're all graduates of Sheffield Hallam's MA in Writing. We take it in turns to lead writing exercises and to present a chunk of our work for critical feedback. This can be nerve-wracking and sometimes soul-destroying but it's always constructive and it's so important to know if something is working or not, before submitting it to agents and publishers.

Which leads me on to groups for young writers. I set up the Sheffield Young Writers Workshop about five years ago because I felt young people ought to have the opportunity to be part of writers' communities too. From a small seed, big things have grown and we now have groups in Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. Other groups I know of are Leeds Young Authors and The Writing Squad, which recruits talented young writers from across Yorkshire. Buxton library are also doing some writing work with young people and I believe New Writing North promote opportunities for young people up in the North-East.

If you're Yorkshire-based, why not have a look at one of these groups or come along to the Young Writers Festival being held in Sheffield on June 19th? You can also find information about a young writers' competition and an anthology of new writing which is being put together. If you don't live in Yorkshire, think about whether you can set up a new writing group in your school or library? Talk to staff there and see what they think. And let me know of any other interesting writing opportunities that you hear about so that we can share them with other people.

In the meantime, join the community of readers and writers on or send me your writing to look at and I'll see if I can help you to hook up with other young writers, as well as giving you some constructive feedback.