Thursday, 17 May 2012

Boundaries in YA fiction....with Miriam Halahmy

We're delighted to welcome edgy author, Miriam Halahmy to the fifth week of our discussion series on Boundaries in YA Fiction. We're chatting about writing for a teen audience, edgy and age appropriate book content. Welcome and thank you, Miriam!

To catch up on the series, take a look at Week 1 (M's intro , Week 2 (Sita Brahmachari) , Week 3 (Savita Kalhan) and Week 4 (Bryony Pearce).


Miriam Halahmy on Hayling Island
M: Did you set out to write for a teen audience in your Hayling Cycle of novels?

MH: No, the cycle grew organically and when I started Hidden I thought I was writing for 8-12 year olds. But friends said this is a book for teens. I then started to read and read into the Y.A. market which was really beginning to take off in the UK. It was then I realised how exciting and broad this field was and so Hidden became a Y.A. novel.
M: Do you think Y.A. novels have essential ingredients?
MH: There are two elements that come to mind:
a)   The main characters need to be teens and steer the action through the book. Adults remain very much in the background.
b)   Y.A. fiction tends to be less reflective than adult literature, moving at a faster pace and keeping the reader turning the page. Action, dialogue, pace. Not pages of long descriptions and meandering thought. This is why I think that Y.A. fiction is so popular with adults.

M: Do you see Y.A. as a bridge between children’s literature (up to 12) and adult fiction?
MH: I don’t think I have ever considered Y.A. as a bridge, although it is an interesting idea. Certainly Y.A. deals with young people in their teenage years, with their own particular concerns, interests and journeys which separate them from both childhood and adulthood. And yet many of the things which I deal with as a Y.A. writer are things that are of huge interest to children of 10 years and adults in their 80s. Ultimately I write books. Publishers and booksellers like to pigeon-hole literature and so the Y.A. brand provides a useful marker. But my novels appeal to all ages and provoke a wide range of comment and reaction.

Carneig nominated Hidden by Miriam Halahmy
M: Do books need male lead characters to attract boys as readers?
MH: I don’t see this as my problem as a writer. My problem is to write the best book I can. My three Hayling books evolved organically and instinctively with girls in the lead and boys in the supporting role. However boys certainly read my books and there are comments from both boys and girls on my website responding to the novels. In my opinion both boys and girls will read books which are well written and appeal to their particular interests. Boys read Jacqueline Wilson and she always has female leads.

M: What is it about your books that makes them edgy?
MH: I have always been interested in social and political issues, right from childhood. I had a strong sense of fairness and justice and became involved as a teenager in work with homeless people. As a teacher for 25 years in London I worked with many young people from difficult backgrounds, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking teenagers, like Samir in my book, Hidden. I have continued to work with asylum seekers as a writer, working with the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture and English PEN, helping asylum seekers and refugees to record their stories.
In my personal reading, I have always been drawn to fiction and non-fiction which deals with challenging themes, from the great nineteenth century writers of social conditions such as Emil Zola and Dickens, to the political writers of the twentieth century such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. It is therefore inevitable I think that I would be interested in writing books which reflect some of the most challenging and controversial issues of our time, such as human rights, immigration and the problems of drug-taking. My books are very edgy therefore.
 But it is my characters which sweep the reader along, not the issues. The characters have to be convincing three dimensional characters which stand up and stand out on the page and carry the story along, otherwise the reader can feel as though they are wading through mud. Humour helps a lot as well when dealing with edgy issues.

M: Are your novels suitable for Year 7 upwards and why?
MH: I would say that my novels are not suitable for children under ten, i.e. below Year 6, which is a big watershed in child development in itself. Otherwise my books are suitable for children, teens and adults. As my books deal with quite gritty subjects such as torture and drugs, I would steer the under tens away. However, we know that ultimately kids will read whatever they choose and if they pick up my books then that is their choice.
 Although there are huge differences between young people aged 10 and young people aged 16, the similarity is that they are all beginning to move away from the narrow world of childhood and consider their place in the world. They develop their growing awareness of the world outside themselves at different rates. But fiction can help them to make the journey into adulthood, just as fiction can help adults to cope with challenges in their lives. I hope that my books will open up the world ahead for all my readers and give them food for thought.
Thank you, Miriam.  Find out more about Miriam Halahmy's books here.
We'll also be posting Miriam's personal book recommendations for readers aged 11 -14 on Saturday.


  1. Definitely not for the younger readers. I don't think even my 12 year old would be able to totally understand the events that occur in Miriam's books. Miriam is a very realisty and gritty writer, she doesn't white wash things at all. Brilliant questions and answers. I would definitely recommend Miriam's Hayling Island cycle.

    1. Thanks Viv, you've written some very complimentrary reviews for Miriam's books. I agree with you that I think children should be able to understand the material they're reading - especially when waiting a year or two will improve their reception of a book.

  2. I appreciate both your comments and yet I have ten year olds reading both of my books and responding very positively - and not ten year olds I have met either, which is why I now feel that Y6 upwards can cope with my books. Have a look at a recent comment from a 10 year old boy on my website. But parents, librarians, teachers, will of course all decide for themselves and I have absolutely no problem with that.

    1. Yes, Miriam, I've seen some of those comments and your books certainly attract and are enjoyed by a wide audience.


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