Sixteen in my head, or Why I write YA?
Today Ruth Frances Long answers the question for us
Some years ago (not so many that I can excuse it all as a hazy memory, alas) my then-new boss asked my age. Obviously he shouldn’t have but the long pause that followed wasn’t from my shock at being asked this question. It was due to my actually having to stop, think and work out what age I was. Unfortunately for me, he realised what I was doing. “Don’t you know what age you are?” he asked in surprise. The answer to which, I blurted out without pause. “I’m sixteen in my head!” Because I am. I have been since I was sixteen in reality too.
I think everyone has an age they “are” in their head. Most of my friends give an answer somewhere in the mid to late twenties, some in their thirties. One friend finds this idea seriously entertaining and has researched it thoroughly at this stage by asking just about everyone she meets what age they are in their head. She says she’s never met a man who will admit to being over twenty five (in his head). Draw your own conclusions on that! But me, I’m sixteen. The eternal teenager.
On the outside I’m a (sometime) responsible adult, with a job and a family, a mortgage, a car etc. Inside however...
I think this is why I love to write for young adults. There’s something so interesting about that time of life. You’re always learning (even though you outwardly know everything already). You’re always looking forward to things. You’re the eternal optimist. Everything is about hope and growth.
When writing for adults there’s a certain expectation of seriousness, reality, of the grim consequences of time, its effect on life. Teens in adult books are often engaged in coming of age stories, the loss of innocence, the casting aside of childish things. Every theme connected with them seems to be about loss. If not, they are a flippant, annoying caricature, designed to display inexperience and silliness.
In YA fiction, it’s the opposite. Themes cover the discovery of self, of autonomy, becoming your own person, responsible for your own actions, making your own choices. Teens acquire knowledge and experience. They learn and grown in a way that often their adult counterparts don’t. It’s a vital part of their makeup. A teen character is a changeable, evolving wonder, especially for the writer who is learning along with them.
As adults we desire to protect and nurture our children. But the teenager is all about breaking free of such constraints. They are “young adults” for a reason, the second word being the key one. They aren’t children anymore and it’s time for their independence to begin. Much is written about dark themes in teen books, about drink and drugs and sex, about death, illness and suicide, and whether books should deal with these things. Often writers are accused of glorifying or exploiting such themes.
But where better for the young teen to learn about them than safely between the pages of a book? Where better to have those adventures, to enter those conflicts, to feel that maelstrom of emotions, than a place where simply by putting it down and walking away, it can all stop in an instant. They might only do that for a moment, they might never pick that book up again—but, and this is key, it’s their decision. It is often a lot more difficult to have such control over events in the real world.
Writing for the young adult audience and reading books for the YA market is a rollercoaster. It’s an adventure. And it’s a joyous discovery.
Ruth Frances Long writes young adult fantasy such as The Treachery of Beautiful Things (Dial, 2012) and the forthcoming A Crack in Everything (O'Brien Press, September 2014), the first in a trilogy set in the world of demons, angels and fairies that exists alongside our own in modern day Dublin. As R. F. Long she writes fantasy & paranormal romance such as The Scroll Thief (Samhain, 2009) and The Mirror of her Power (Taliesin, 2014). She lives in Ireland and works in a library of rare, unusual & occasionally crazy books.
A Crack in Everything by Ruth Frances LongShe was a mistake. A crack in the order of the world …
When Izzy Gregory takes a wrong turn down a Dublin alley she stumbles into a shadowy, frightening world where magical beings, angels and demons hold sway. In this place where everything is strange, Izzy finds herself surrounded by danger, chased and threatened. Her only chance of survival lies with Jinx, who’s been sent to capture her. Jinx has known nothing but duty and cruelty from his own kind; Izzy is something altogether new to him – and to his world …
Falling in love was never in the plan, but it might be the one thing that can save them.
Thank you, Ruth. A child, or at least a young adult, at heart like the rest of us.
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