Thursday, 10 May 2012

Boundaries in YA fiction...with Bryony Pearce

For the fourth week of our Boundaries in YA fiction series, we're happy to welcome Bryony Pearce, author of Angel's Fury, to the blog.  Bryony chats about her own writing and fiction....for the inbetweeners!

M: On the difference between YA and Adult fiction you’ve saidthat YA tends to have a teenage protagonist, less swearing, less sex (if any) and more action. It tends to get straight to the point.” How would you say your books stack up against your own criteria?

B: I still believe that the vast majority of YA literature does fit those criteria, my own work included.

There is a pervasive opinion throughout publishing that while an adult will struggle through a turgid tome for at least a few chapters, if not till the end (‘I’ve started so I must finish’ syndrome), teens, if they find a book boring, will put it down. 

Bryony Pearce (pic courtesy of Strange Chemistry website)
I really enjoy teen literature (I’ve just finished reading Cinder and Legend) and one of the reasons for this is that the books are so fast paced they fit in with my lifestyle.  I’m a busy mum (and writer) and if I’m reading a book I need it to be something I want to devour.  If I have to put it down to deal with the kids, I need to really want to pick it back up again.  Perhaps I’ve become more ‘teen-aged’ in my ‘old-age’ because if I put a book down and don’t feel that desperate to find out what happens next, I no longer ‘make myself’ pick it back up again.  I do go and find something else.

As for the sex and swearing, not only do gatekeepers object to it (in my opinion, rightly), I’m not sure I could write a proper sex scene if it was actually called for.  I happily read them, but my single attempt at writing a sex scene was a cringe-worthy mess.

Readers have told me that Angel’s Fury is unputdownable.  So yes, I feel that my books stack up against my own criteria – no sex, very little swearing, teen hero/ines and lots of action.   
M: Did you set out to write for a teen audience?

B: I’ll admit that when I started out writing my first novel I didn’t know that I was writing for teens.  It was only after I’d written Windrunner’s Daughter (the book that made me a winner of Undiscovered Voices 2008) that I realised I had written a teen novel.  It was an action packed adventure with a young heroine, no swearing and no sex.  Of course it was teen.  I guess I just write what I want to read. Or perhaps my inner author is a teenager. 

M: What is it about your novels that make them ‘edgy’? And are your edges bloody sharp or kindly blunt?

B: I think there are two key things that make Angel’s Fury‘edgy’.  There are some of the issues I deal with (self-awareness, good vs. evil, how man can do terrible things to his fellow man), and there is the method I choose to deal with them. 

After I had written Angel’s Fury my editor warned me that my book could be quite controversial, mainly because I had chosen to use the holocaust as a ‘tool’.  She said that my book was unique in doing that; that all other books that dealt with the holocaust were about the holocaust.  It is such an emotionally loaded period, so serious and horrifying that no other author has dared to use it as a tool or motif because this risks taking it lightly.

The past lives of at least three of my characters are set during the second world war, but the book is not about the second world war, it is about the character’s modern day conflict (internal and external). 

I hope that I convey some of the horror of that period without being gratuitous and I hope that by using it ‘as a tool’ I can reacquaint teens with the history (which to most now seems very far in the past) without shoving it down their throats like a history lesson. 

M: From Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew straight to Stephen King and a whole lot of mucky stuff. That’s a similar reading history to mine! Do we really need a bridge between Children’s and Adult fiction? Or are we just being censorial?

B: Teens should definitely read adult books, to only read YA would be to miss out on a hugely important literary history.  I’d be the last person in the world to prevent a teen reading Jane Eyre because it doesn’t have the literary equivalent of a ‘13’ certificate.

Yet the popularity of YA literature speaks for itself.  If it wasn’t needed, or wanted, it wouldn’t be such a huge growth market.  So many things are aimed at teens –clothes, music, even food – why shouldn’t they have their own literature that fulfils their specific needs and deals with issues that are close to their hearts?

Perhaps as we get older we do become more censorial because I’d be uncomfortable with my little girl reading what I did at 13 and while my 13 year old self sits in my head waving her well thumbed copy of The Stand at me in horrified approbation, my mummy self is worried that it would give my daughter nightmares! 

As adults I think perhaps we no longer remember how much our teen selves understood and enjoyed adult books.  At the same time I do remember encountering some erotic fiction (which was written in the guise of heroic fantasy) and really not being ready for it.  In fact scenes from that book are still indelibly printed on my frontal lobe (and not in a good way!).

YA is there for kids who have been brought up to want action and adventure (from Nancy Drew to Beast Quest – it’s what we have always craved), who want romance without pornography.  Who want books that are fast-paced and that deal with the issues that consume them; whether that’s global warming, or first love.  YA is written for the inbetweeners.
And the inbetweeners do exist, they are the people who are waiting to cross that bridge between childhood and adulthood and if that is the case, then surely bridges should be built to help carry them there. And who says I’m not still an inbetweener myself? 

Thank you Bryony, a lot of food for thought. And hurrah for the inbetweeners. Visit Bryony Pearce's website to find out more.

We'll also be posting Bryony's personal book recommendations for the inbetweeners this Saturday. Next Thursday, we'll be chatting with author, Miriam Halahmy.

To catch up on the previous discussions, have a look at Week 1 (intro by M), Week 2 (Sita Brahmachari) and Week 3 (Savita Kalhan).

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