I’m really pleased to be part of the blog tour for Remhurst Manor by Tamasine Loves and happy to share her guest post on A guide to YA for “grown-ups”. For a chance to win a copy of the book please share your views on this topic in the comments below and I’ll randomly pick a winner on Sunday 7th May.
A guide to YA for “grown-ups”
Despite having written a young-adult book, I am apparently no longer considered a ‘young adult’. At the seasoned old age of 24, I no longer qualify as a member of the YA demographic. I therefore feel perfectly placed to provide a rough guide to YA fiction for those of you who class yourselves as “grown-ups”.
As grown-ups we are reminded to “Think of the children!”. Regrettably, it’s not reciprocated. Young Adults are too busy thinking about some life-changing personal issue, discussing themes and issues related to YA and the world of YA overall. They are too engrossed in the worlds that YA authors have built and the themes within those. They aren’t bothered whether you care if they saw a curse word on page 76, or if the almost-raunchy kissing scene in chapter 5 might’ve turned them on a little bit. YA readers don’t get enough credit. YA readers and their concerns are not ‘concerning’ in the way self-labelled grown-ups think.
YA so serious?
How many times have you noticed that ‘serious’ literature often does not provoke serious thought? Often, it leaves the reader stumped – they simply don’t get it, or they only get it to a point. Let’s face it; an issue is more memorable if it’s presented atop a fire-breathing dragon in the middle of a snow-storm as opposed to a beige-walled apartment in a small-town. YA has the power to really bring issues to life.
The ‘serious’ and ‘literary literature’ of today is thought-provoking but it is also alienating – in the sense that you don’t want to associate yourself with the characters in it that reflect you/are representative of you. Whereas you want to see yourself in the persistant champion of the People who just brought home the head of the undead Sherriff and placed it in the middle of the clock tower to symbolise it was time to end the archaic ideas and ways the community was ran – they are cool.
YA readers don’t care if you care if they read YA. The shame and embarrassment you might feel when talking about which books you’re reading are your own projection, of your own making. That kind of thing wouldn’t exist in a forum where YA readers contribute. Because YA isn’t about that life.
Let’s take the cyclical ho-humming in the press about the ‘too much violence’ or ‘lack of wholesome stories’ or (and I’m gagging here) ‘lack of morally complicated stories’ back to where they belong – a brief high-horse rant at your fortnightly book club’s meeting, wherein the other members respectfully let you get out a few sentences since you’ve had some wine and they’re open-minded people, but the one with the shortest temper cuts you off because your point is invalid, irrelevant, and nobody cares … they want to go back to discussing the actual book. You don’t have to wonder why they were all reading it.
Commentators who put emphasis on the juvenility of ‘YA fiction’, unnecessarily complicate things. They stew over questions that have quite straightforward answers. The grown-up obsession with the overall wholesomeness of YA as a ‘genre’ muddies the waters of discussion surrounding YA. There seems to be a vast, seemingly bottomless, pool of discussion for commentators to dip their toes into. “Diversity in YA literature”, “the effects of frequent reading on the young brain”, “exposure to abstract thinking” and “exposure to bad ideas and concepts” and a whole range of other topics.
The thing is that in no other community of fiction readers is there such an open and active forum for discussion and a strong call for the deconstruction, and in some cases all-out demolition, of these tropes. “Grown-ups” may not even be aware of Tumblr’s ‘booklr’ and ‘yalit’ tags, yet these are just the surface of the surge of YA readers contributing their two-cents on the state of YA. To the casual visitor, from the outside, YA is a dauntingly dark-and-deep pool, with only their preconceived ideas to contribute to an imagining of what lays underneath – but in actual fact, YA is a rapid river, overflowing, unpredictable, responsive to its climate, and just asking for you to sit on one of its smooth rocky outcrops and let the rapids rush past your body, surrounding your skin.
We “grown-ups” are, as usual, talking about the wrong topic. Barking up the wrong tree. YA is not a spectator sport. Or a genre. It is more like an unrequited love; except that, unlike that old trope, YA will love you back, if only you let it. YA is for one and for all. But it’s not for everybody. The writing style, the typical characteristics and common themes might not appeal to all readers. But, that’s why there is a suggested age range – to ward off those not open to reading books containing characteristics and themes that would appeal to that target audience. Any connotations attached to the ‘YA’ label, besides the age range and that the author of the book imagines their target reader as being between the ages of 12 and 17, are the responsibility of the person thinking them and are not representative of the reality of YA books as a whole.
Anyone who smirks when you pull out your copy of Red Queen on the train simply does not know. That smirk says, “I hate YA. So trivial, simple, such a bore”. What’s that? Have you read much YA? “No, I don’t read that nonsense, but I saw the trailer for Hunger Games”. In other words, you are not an authority. Those who are authorities on the matter of books and words and what they mean have only respect for the books targeted at the YA demographic.
YA is not a phenomenon, or a boom, or a trend. YA isn’t new-fangled at all. Yet, I have started to notice a strange phenomenon; any comment with even the briefest mention of ‘YA’ fiction is inevitably coupled with the grumbles of a ‘grown-up’ reader somewhere nearby; ‘Them youths today demand their own genre, in my day we didn’t need YA fiction, we read Ulysses barefoot, in the snow, miles from home, in the pitch black, with just the buttons on our coats for snacks!’
What’s stranger yet, is these ‘grown-up’ readers aren’t who you’d expect to hear disavowing a whole category of books; they’re book-reviewers, or columnists, journalists, or even, on occasion, fiction writers. Additionally, they invariably profess to love books and reading. Why do they repeatedly adopt the sort of stance on an issue you’d expect from the kind of man who spends weekday afternoons sat in a rocking chair on his porch ominously rocking back-and-forth while he polishes his shotgun? I haven’t worked it out yet!
What I’ve discovered over the course of a year pursuing the truth is that pretty much none of those who are against YA claimed to have read more than a handful of YA books, and the books they’d read were invariably the ‘big hitters’ like Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight.
What fascinated me most was that they actually had read quite a lot of YA, they’d just not considered it to be ‘YA’ in the rigid terms that they’d learned. They were looking for a book to be inside the parameters of that classification from the past decade or so; YA, to them, was made up of disposable, quick-reads with character casts comprised completely of tropes, by-the-numbers love-stories and, invariably, plots occurring in fantasy settings. Or they thought that the book would be an “overnight-coming-of-age” story, wherein psychological repercussions associated with the ‘hard-hitting’ issues their characters’ typically faced (terminal illness, trauma, domestic instability, bullying, mental ill-health) were ignored, and the ‘hard-hitting’ issues themselves were put forward (and invariably cheapened) as plot devices.
There is a reason that walking into a book shop doesn’t cause the same bodily and mental responses as walking into a hall of mirrors. Bookshops are full of worlds. They are inviting, and the possibilities of those bound pages are boundless. Meanwhile, sure a house of mirrors gives you different perspectives – sometimes they’re funny, like the one where you look like your head is huge and your feet are teensy, and sometimes they catch you by surprise – but you walk out having only seen yourself, just in a few different ways.
Meanwhile, books are open doors. The other side of the door looks different to each reader. When you return back to the real world and close the door behind you, put the book back on the shelf, you’ve brought something back with you that is different to what other readers’ found and returned home with.
You see readers on Tumblr, Reddit, Goodreads, wherever, discussing their favourite fandoms, critiquing their latest read, anticipating upcoming titles … the thought that goes into their comments is clearly motivated by adoration for reading and a want to get as much as they can.
There is substantiated, scientific evidence that proves the benefits of reading on the young brain.
Three-dimensional thinking, creativity, independent thought, analytical skills, and interpersonal skills are all qualities that are sought and coveted in corporate environments, employment settings/career settings. Not to mention, they’re handy skills that enrich everyday life and help to build more meaningful relationships. Ward of depression, and if mental illness does present itself – to the individual, or to someone around them – the average YA reader would be far better equipped to respond to its appearance than someone who’s not read any YA.
YA is a good thing. Young people are reading as much as they ever have done, and this should be encouraged. We need as many readers in our real-world as we can get. And, for those of us who aren’t particularly taken by the idea of readers – we’re blessed that in our day and age we have other mediums to share stories on and engage in fictional narratives through.
As the world has become more global, it is easier than ever to get information about any small niche that takes your fancy. We must encourage people to read YA. It is one of the keys to understanding the world around us.
Tamasine Loves is an Australian author whose debut young-adult novel, ‘Remhurst Manor’, was first written for her high school friends and was delivered as printed serialisations and passed on in between classes. The serialisations were compiled, and there was a printed first draft of what would later become ‘Remhurst Manor’ just in time for her fifteenth birthday.
Years later, as a twenty-three-year-old uni student, Tamasine Loves turned from ‘writer’ into ‘author’ during an internship at MadeGlobal Publishing. She was introduced to the MadeGlobal team as an intern, and was then reintroduced several months later as the author of ‘Remhurst Manor’.
Tamasine has recently moved from Melbourne, Australia to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Tamasine is a sub-editor for two peer-reviewed journals. She has published short stories and poetry, but telling long tales is where her true love lies. Tamasine lists her favourite things as literature, lattes, live music, alliteration, and her cat called Morrissey (who, she insists, is indeed ‘a charming man’).
Thanks so much Tasamine for such a great post. As an ‘adult’ I love YA Books and totally agree they are well placed to help us explore the serious topics whilst still having fun.
Now onto Tamasine’s book.
There is a mystery that lies in the grounds of Remhurst Manor; a mystery concerning the unsolved 19th century murders of four teenagers.
Laine Brimble is slipping between two lives. Her life at home in present-day Australia, and the life of a nobleman’s daughter living in 19th century England’s Remhurst Manor.
Until now, Laine was able to keep her two lives separate and secret. But, Laine is about to find out that though centuries past and oceans over, Remhurst’s mysterious history is about to get a lot closer to her than she expected; a dark presence has arrived in her hometown, seeking to settle a centuries-old vendetta.
Between home and school and the 19th-century, not to mention a blossoming relationship with new-boy-in-town, Laine struggles to keep past and present on parallel paths … but it seems as if they are on a collision course where the inevitable outcome is death.
Will Laine unearth the mysteries lying in the grounds of Remhurst Manor? Can she be the one to finally put Remhurst’s past behind it? Will she do it before a deadly history repeats itself?
Get your copy of Remhurst Manor here or to be in with a chance of winning a copy share your thoughts on her guest post in the comments below (Open Internationally).
From Andie in Pretty in Pink to Tai in Clueless, the makeover trope has long been one of my favourites. It’s that wish fulfilment fantasy of being able to make ourselves into someone completely different – an escape from our own boring identity. We like to believe it’s possible.
When I was in sixth form, I used to dye my hair a different colour every week – bleached blonde, jet black, purple, pink, pillar-box red and (just the once) a terrible sludge green. Every time, I hoped it might change my life. Every time…it didn’t.
My best friend and I would walk around Camden Market, watching the cool people go by and trying to decide who we wanted to be like the most. We were indie kids who wanted to try out being goths, punks, 60s beatniks, 70s hippies… Anything that would give us the identity we craved.
We ignored Actual Fashion and trawled charity shops, made our own clothes and got new piercings whenever we were bored on a Saturday afternoon. There was a flirtation with stick-on Bindis. The phase of blue lipstick, which prompted my stepdad to say ‘you look nice, have you recently drowned?’.
I had a total style crush on the girl who worked in Rockit on Camden High Street. I had my hair cut just like hers (short bob with unfortunate tufty fringe that didn’t suit me), had a lip piercing just like hers (I took it out after a month because it went gross). I imagined her life was so cool and glamorous; as I got the train home to my own suburban small-town home, I dreamed that a little bit of it would rub off on me. It wasn’t just a haircut, it was a magic spell. It never, ever worked.
In Becoming Betty, Lizzie is so uncomfortable in her own skin, she will do anything to change it. Whether that’s with a new name, a new look, new friends. Like all of us, it takes her a while to realise that’s not how it works…
Top five movie makeovers
1. Andie in Pretty in Pink: when she cuts up that pink prom dress, it’s the coolest thing ever. I mean, it still looks like a hideous 80s nightmare by the time she’s finished with it, but that’s not the point.
2. Tai in Clueless, courtesy of Cher: OK, Tai looked better before as a skater grrl, rather than a generic California babe, but Cher means well and they are both the cutest.
3. Sandy in Grease: It’s really not cool to change your look for a guy, but you have to admit she looks super-fierce.
4. Mrs Doubtfire: Yeah OK, it may not be capital-F ‘Fashion’… but you’ve got to admit it’s impressive.
5. Gracie Hart AKA Gracie Lou Freebush in Miss Congeniality: because I will never not love Sandra Bullock.
Thanks Eleanor. Gracie Hart is my fave of those five. I adore that film. I’d also add in She’s All That and The Princess Diaries for fun makeovers too. I also coincidentally watched the documentary Embrace by Taryn Brymfitt on Monday and I highly recommend seeing it if you can. Will make you think twice about transformations, which I’m guessing this book will do too.
Becoming Betty is out on 20th April.
Lizzie Brown’s life is one big to-do list:
1. Start college
2. Become cool
3. Decide wtf to do with her life
So when she meets Viv, the crazy, beautiful lead singer in a band, she thinks she’s on her way to achieving number two on her list. And when Viv asks her to be the bass player in the band, there’s only one problem – Lizzie can’t play a single note. And that she’s nowhere near cool enough (ok, two problems). And that she has a huge crush on the guitarist (ok, three), who happens to be Viv’s boyfriend (ok, this is a terrible idea).
But Viv won’t take no for an answer, and decides that a makeover is the answer to everything. Boring Lizzie Brown is going to become Betty Brown the Bass Player and there’s nothing Lizzie can do about it…
I also spoke to Eleanor about her previous novel Gemini Rising a couple of years back and am look forward to catching up with her new release.
Firstly huge thanks go to Jim Dean at YAYeahYeah for organising this Countdown to 5th June blog tour and for allowing me to be a part of it. You can find links to all of the previous posts and the posts to come on the Countdown Blog.
Next I’d like to thank Matt Whyman for taking the time to answer my questions about War Girls (UK Amazon Link). I’ve added a couple of comments in red – mainly as a private joke with Matt – I promise none of them are “Must Try Harder” though ;o)
War Girls is a collection of short stories told from the perspective of women during the period surrounding WW1 and Matt is one of the contributing authors. His story Ghost Story was particularly powerful.
At the end of June this year it will have been 100 years since the start of WW1. Why do you think it was important to consider the experience of women in the war and why now in particular?
It’s very easy to think of Tommy in the trenches when it comes to WW1, but the fact is women played a vital role in so many different ways. This centenary has certainly embraced wider aspects of the conflict, in terms of coverage in the media, and the anthology seemed like a fitting means of exploration.
We’ve also reached a point where most people with first-hand experience of the war have now passed. Without a direct link to that generation, handing down their stories, it falls to writers to bring the past into the present – and there is some responsibility that comes with that. (There certainly is, and one which I think this set of writers handles very well).
How did the collection come about and how did you get involved?
I’d like to tell you that my incisive knowledge of WW1 made me an obvious candidate to contribute, but that would be, well… lies. (Lies, like the dog ate my homework – tut). I’ve watched a lot of action movies, but I don’t think that counts. In fact, having just published a memoir about life with a sausage dog (riiiiiggghhhht?!) when the author approaches went out, I still think there might have been a mix up somewhere. On the upside, I’m always drawn to a writing challenge. The research was intense and enlightening. It involved reading history books, papers and journals, uncovering news cuttings and talking to historians in a bid to get a clear picture of the event I planned to write about. In the end I found myself doing the same amount of groundwork as I would for a novel. (Well then you definitely deserve an A for effort as well as execution).
Your story in particular considers an experience I don’t think I’ve come across before. What did you learn from writing this piece?
The story is set during the Gallipoli campaign – a disastrous attempt by the Allies to open a new front against the Ottoman Empire. Getting my head around the history took some time, but what compelled me to write about it was an account by a shell-shocked British soldier of an attack from a sniper he claimed to be female. It’s a convincing case, but also called into question by historians who doubt Turkish women took arms.
It left me with a dilemma. The last thing I wanted to do was make claims for the existence of a markswoman who was essentially the product of mistaken identity or a traumatised imagination. At the same time, the defence of the soldier’s account has a great deal of merit. As we’ll never know, given where we are in history, I decided to write the story from the point of view of a grieving mother and widow who picks up a gun by circumstance only to question her purpose. So, she’s there, looking down the sights of a sniper as our soldier claimed. It’s just things aren’t as they might appear. Ultimately, I know what it’s about in my mind, but never like to tell a reader what I’m trying to convey. That’s the role of the story and the pleasure that comes from reading. In other words, I’m terrible at summarising. (No, I think you’re right, it is good to allow readers to form their own views too).
Which other story in the collection do you think brings a new insight?
This is a powerful anthology. Every contributor has sought to shine light on aspects of the war effort that are often side lined. What strikes me above all is that nobody falls into portraying their characters based on our moral outlook today. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but the only way to truly get under the skin of individuals who served their country one hundred years ago.
You start your story with a short factual piece, do you think this freed you up to then enter into the narrative without the need for explanation during the story itself?
The story was finished before I wrote the introduction. I just wanted to be transparent about the contention surrounding the origin of the story. You could say I was keen to show my workings. As you’re a teacher, I’m hoping this answer will earn me a big tick in the margin. √
In your story was it important that the woman remained nameless?
Yes. She has no name and no life ahead of her. Everything she loves has been taken away. She’s a lost soul, waiting to join her loved ones, and effectively dead from the moment we join the story.
At the end of the book are some adverts for other short story collections. How do you relate to short stories in comparison to novels, both as a reader and a writer?
As a writer, short stories are hard work. Every word feels like the compression of a sentence. What you leave out says more than what you keep in. You’re working with less but aiming to say more. I find it to be one of the more rewarding nightmares of the writing process. As a reader, I devoured short stories in my twenties by authors such as Angela Carter and Raymond Carver. I’ve written a lot over the years, but not by choice. I’ve always been approached, never learned to say no, and remain very glad of that whenever I see the finished anthology or collection.
And finally the question I always ask – Why do you write?
For the same reason that I was drawn to put pen to paper in the first place – because there’s nothing to hold back the imagination – no costs or crew to consider, or practical stuff to arrange. With some time and self-discipline, you can sit in a crappy bedsit creating a story that might cost millions to film, but won’t cost a penny. It inspired me as an impoverished 21 year old and I’m still mindful of that today.
Huge thanks to Matt for his excellent Grade A ‘Homework’. Matt has been working hard because he is also over at Winged Reviews talking about a solo project on Sunday 25th May.
Tomorrow’s stop on the tour is Nigel McDowell over at A Daydreamer’s Thoughts with Faye.
Faye is also the organiser of Kim Curran’s Glaze blog tour which I will be taking part in next Saturday, the 17th, with a character interview from Glaze.