I went to a writer’s workshop on Friday. The workshop was focused on writing for young adults and teens, though most participants seemed to have more interest in writing for younger children. We had some very interesting debates about young adult fiction, some of which I would like to briefly share here. If you are indifferent to the ins and outs of YA publishing then feel free to skip ahead to the story I wrote whilst at the workshop, which is below the image. The image was given to us as a reference for a 10 minute freewriting exercise. We were told to write the back-story of one of the characters in the picture. I wonder if you can guess which character I chose.
As for the YA publishing debate we had: the writer who lead the workshop has written a YA/ teen novel that was rejected by publishers because it contained sex scenes. There is a lot of heat in the literary world about how many young readers stop recreational reading during their mid teen years. This comes as no surprise to me if publishers are refusing to publish stories for them that they actually want to read. Teenagers want to read about sex, violence, drugs. They want the characters to use the same language as them. The sort of teenagers who don’t get along with literature do not want to read about little angels who never say a single little shit or fuck. They want characters who they can relate to doing stuff that they can relate to. When you climb up the age ladder and reach the 16,17,18,19 group you will find that these kids are into Skins, the Inbetweeners, they watch films full of fucks, shits, blood and gore. Yet when it comes to books they have a choice: twee or adult. Adult books can often leave the weaker teenage reader feeling lost, often unable to relate to it at all. No wonder they chose not to read. They have little to read about.
Anyway, here the freewritten story I wrote at the workshop. I wrote another which I might post up shortly. Keep your specs on.
I come here to watch them sometimes. I never go further than this. The man who lives there has a gun that he uses to shoot deer. It wouldn’t be so different for him to train his sights on me instead of antlers. I am just as wild. Fair game. I own nothing. No fancy house. I don’t go to church and I hunt my food rather than grow it.
There is a girl who is paid to feed the chickens. She was one of ours once, but her mother decided to get out. Her mother wanted her to know a proper life; one with a house and money and hierarchy.
I head away, back towards the woods. My back turns cold to the house and I make tracks in the opposite direction, trying to push it all away. Keep my mind on the job. There are rabbits to hunt and berries to gather.
My long legs make big strides. Before not too long I hear rustling in the undergrowth. My muscles harden and my breath turns soft and still. But my mind is heavy with images of that house and the girl who keeps the chickens. Her name is Sylvie. I taught her to draw a bow. I taught her how to skin a rabbit, how to cook it and eat it. She knows how to really get along in this world. No need for a house or a church or pots of gold. Despite this she stays down in that valley in the shadow of that house and she scatters feed for someone else’s chickens, picks apples from someone else’s trees, tends their swine and seed. All for cash to take home to her mother. My breath comes too harsh. The rabbit hears and bolts. No dinner for me tonight.
I sit in a sulk and pick at the grass. Why does she never look up when I go to watch the house? Has she seen me? I’ve watched from up there too many times for her not to have seen. I guess that means that she doesn’t want to know. That all I taught her meant nothing. That I mean nothing. I stay sitting here until the sun sits low on the hill. She will be putting those chickens to bed right now. I should put myself to bed. I don’t think I’ll go back to that hill again. It puts my head out of line.