Thursday 21 February 2013

Sex in Young Adult Fiction - Move along people nothing new to see here!

A bit of sex, drugs and rock and roll
Last week in the Telegraph there was a considered article by Alice Vincent entitled 'Sex in Young Adult Fiction - a rising trend?' For me it was a particularly interesting read as my PhD was all about the representation of sex in young adult fiction so I thought I would add my penny's worth. In particular, Vincent is talking about the rise of New Adult fiction - apparently young adult fiction with extra bits. In this case a bit of raunch or so called 'steamies.' The focus of the article does appear to be on books from the US. Perhaps this idea of New Adult Fiction is a way of getting contentious subjects through the strict regulations of some parts of the US - the home of Banned Book Week after all! It is worth noting that later in the article it is highlighted how several of these books were self published first, therefore, avoiding the publishing/editorial gatekeepers. Publishers are only picking them up once they see they are successful and it is fairly difficult for them to change to the content at that stage. I think there is probably a whole blog post just in those two sentences which I will leave for another day.

Sex is, as Dr Lucy Pearson, stated nothing new. She notes that there was a change following the publication of Judy Blume's Forever in 1975. Once again that is a US book. Sex has been portrayed in books for young adults for many years in the UK (you could potentially go back to Penelope Aubin and her books in the Eighteenth Century where her main characters are often young teenagers and sexually active). Another example is Aidan Chambers' book Breaktime (1978) where he split the page in two when he explored his main characters' first experience. On one side the sex was described from the perspective of Dr Spock's A Young Person's Guide to Life and Love while on the other it was how they actually felt. It was an honest and considered approached that pulled the reader in. In my own research, which focused on British young adult fiction from 1996, I noticed a distinct change in representation. It came out from under the metaphorical covers (literally in Melvin Burgess's Junk, where the sex is implied and happens in a sleeping bag) to being pretty full on in books like Burgess's Doing It, Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry, Noel Clarke's Kidulthood, Judy Waite's Game Girls,  William Nicholson's Rich & Mad, Rachel Ward's Numbers and Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden. This is just a brief sample and they provide a wide range of sexual experiences from the gentle and exploratory in Rich & Mad  to the offer of oral sex in exchange for drugs to sell so they can buy new dresses in Kidulthood.  This is just the tip of the iceberg. I explore it far more in my thesis. An important point that I noted in my research was that the more graphic sex did not represent an increase in sex among teenagers necessarily, instead it seemed to reflect a reaction by author's to the availability of information and influences of youth culture.

In my opinion, sex in young adult fiction does have its place if it fits in with the story. I have said this many times before, it is all about being in context. I have quoted both Pullman and Burgess ad nauseum about this so won't do it again. But it is all about the vicarious experience. (See this TED talk by Dan Gilbert which talks about this too)  Giving teenagers somewhere safe to go to and explore. However, I do have concerns when the publishers state they want to capture 'Fifty Shades of Grey effect for teenagers'. Do we really want girls (or boys even) to think that it is perfectly acceptable to be treated like this? Or maybe I am just an old fashioned feminist who is not overly keen on being in an abusive relationship.

And here is Jake Bugg with his song 'Two Fingers'

Sunday 10 February 2013

Who'd have believed it....

I can't pretend can I?
I have hit a milestone today. My son said I need to raise my bat to the pavilion to acknowledge that I am 50.My children are taking great delight in the fact as you can see by the sign they put up at the entrance to my village!

I am aiming to be fabulous and flamboyant in my fifties. A good friend pointed out that the forties are for marking time whilst the fifties are for living to the full and this is my plan! There is going to be champagne and colour and laughter and art and poetry and...and...and... Watch this space.

I must admit there have been some reflections as the last fifty years have not always been the easiest. I have loved and lost men, friends and businesses. I have found new passions and surrounded myself by wonderful friends from all over the world. I am also lucky enough to have three of the best children possible who fill my life with laughter and fun plus some glorious new people including particularly wonderful grandson and step grandchildren. I have the best family possible though we may be spread all over the country. But I am going to stop there or it could gushy!

I have traveled a bit but not as much as I would like. Maybe one day I will be well enough to get back to the States and to get over to Australia. In the meantime, Europe will be my focus with all its glories. Who knows what will happen in the future. But whatever it is I am looking forward to it.

When I was young I used to want to be a doctor and a writer when I grew up. I am now a doctor but not one of medicine as I had anticipated. And I am a writer. Who' have thought it! I have written three novels (one rewritten a couple of times can I count that as more?). I have had articles and chapters published. I have a proposal in for an academic book and am working closely with an editor on one of the novels, who has also turned into one of my greatest friends. I am a lecturer at the University of Winchester and work with The Golden Egg Academy. None of which I could have anticipated. If you had asked me when I was twenty what I would be doing when I was fifty, it wouldn't be any of these things. As I said above I cannot deny there have been hiccups in my life. Just as you are trundling along life would throw a curve ball at you. At the time they may have felt like disasters but in the long run they were always doors opening for me and taking me in a different direction. I wouldn't change any of it.

Excuse this self indulgent post but there is a serious message behind it. Don't ever give up on your dreams, you will achieve them just not necessarily in the way you fully anticipate. Enjoy life and be happy - that's what I am going to continue to do.

Below are two pieces of music that just seem appropriate. There is Robbie Williams 'No Regrets' and Bob Dylan and Bruce Springstein singing 'Forever Young'

Saturday 2 February 2013

Children's books are brave and bold

I was reminded this week of the resilience of children. My step grandson had a massive operation. We were all terrified by it, he was pragmatic. It was something that needed to be done as far as he was concerned. This wasn't a case of ignorance on his part. He knew exactly what was going to be done to him and could explain to you in graphic detail if you were willing to listen. He was brave beyond belief.

His attitude made me think of the post written by the DGA agent, Kirsty McLachlan, on the Golden Egg website. If you have any involvement in writing for children you should read this post. It is inspired. OK, maybe I am biased, her approach to children's literature is the same as mine. Children's books can be challenging. They can take children to places where as adults we might fear they should go. As Kirsty says 'Children's books are brave and bold. They are fearless.' Just like children and so they should be. As I have said before Philip Pullman in his Carnegie Award Medal acceptance speech spoke about how there are some ideas just too big for adult stories but children's fiction is exactly where they should be dealt with. While Melvin Burgess also suggested that children (I am including young adults in all this too) can cope with anything if it is put in context. This has all been mentioned fairly recently anyway with the whole 'sick-lit' argument, which you all know my thoughts on.

The important thing to remember when writing for children is that they have this insatiable thirst for knowledge. And books are a great place for them to ask questions of the text but also of themselves. Books can help them work out who they are and to make the connections in their own lives. As Kirsty also said 'Children always defy our expectations,' and so should their books. Somebody said to me the other day 'Oh I think I am going to write a children's book because it must be easy.' You can imagine my reaction. But more importantly, and regardless of the fact that writing a children''s book is not easy, is the fact that we should not demean children's books like that. Are they not entitled to the best written stories ever? More so, I think, than adults. I was convinced to do my MA in Writing for Children because I was told if you can write for children you can write for anyone because it is so hard.

There have also been some interesting articles flitting through the ether talking about how the gap between girls and boys reading is closing. It is believed as a direct result of the ebook. In other articles it was suggested that children still want 'proper' books as well as ebooks. They are embracing the technology and moving with it. We must make sure we move with it as writers. Thinking how our stories can be multi-platform, being open and flexible to all opportunities.

I am going to end on a quote from Kirsty again, which I think just sums up the importance of good books: 'A child that reads is not alone; they are with a best friend.'

And here is a beautiful piece of music composed and played by Shin Suzuma, brother of my friend Tabitha Suzuma. A gentle something for a Saturday full of marking and work....remind me again, what is a weekend for? ;-)