After producing five books for adults, award-winning novelistnow writes teenage fiction. Here he explains why he made the switch to a different readership.
When a family holiday ends in tragedy, the grieving parents’ marriage is left in ruins and, Shiv, their 15-year-old daughter, is tormented by what happened … and her part in it. Off the rails and unable to live with her guilt, Shiv is sent away to an exclusive clinic that claims to “cure” people like her.
But this is no ordinary psychiatric institution and Shiv discovers that her release – from her demons, and from the clinic itself – will come, if it comes at all, at a bizarre and terrible price.
I have a former editor to thank for my first novel for teenagers – I wrote it because he advised me not to. After more than 12 years writing fiction for adults I had an idea for a story more suited to a younger audience.
When I mentioned it over a pizza one day, the editor shook his head.
“You don’t want to write one of those.”
‘Why not?’ I asked.
He didn’t really give a reason, just shook his head again. With the teen market so buoyant, perhaps he thought I was jumping on the bandwagon, or that I wouldn’t be able to write well for that readership. Maybe he foresaw a “re-branding” problem.
Whatever, I came away from that lunch feeling cross. Like any author, I resented being told what to write – or what not to write (he hadn’t even asked what the story was about!) I decided to go ahead with my teen novel and to hell with him, even if he had just paid for my pizza.
And so I started work on Flip. It tells the story of Alex, a 14-year-old who wakes up one morning to find that his soul (consciousness, spirit, psyche, or whatever you care to call it) has switched to another boy’s body and he faces a life-and-death quest to return to his own skin or be trapped for ever in the wrong existence.
As soon as I had the idea, I knew it was a book for teenagers – not just due to the age of the hero but because of the story’s themes of identity, self-awareness and self-image. As a teenager, I didn’t much like myself. I often wondered what it would be like to be someone else. Someone better looking, more popular, more athletic, more successful with girls. Someone who didn’t have asthma. Real life never made that possible so I created Alex and let it happen to him.
Having decided this was to be a teen novel, the odd thing was that – as I tapped away at my laptop – I never really felt like I was writing ‘for’ teenagers. I wrote in much the same way as I’d always done: I had a tale to tell and characters to bring alive. The only teenager I was writing ‘for’ was the teenager I once was. I just hoped it would strike a chord with today’s teens.
The same is true of my latest novel, Never Ending, about a girl torn apart by grief and guilt after the death of her brother on a family holiday. If I lay down on a psychiatrist’s couch, she might ask if I was really using the book to work through my ‘issues’ of having grown up as an only child.
Who knows? All I can say is, I’ve enjoyed writing these books so much I have no plans to return to adult fiction.
With both teen novels, I have received helpful feedback on various drafts from teenage readers – my older daughter, a niece, a friend’s son and daughter – and from my wife, who was until recently a high-school librarian. But perhaps the biggest thanks are owed to the editor at that pizza restaurant, whose advice is the best I’ve ever ignored.
Post by Martyn Bedford
Martyn Bedford’s first novel for teens, Flip (Walker Books 2011), won four regional prizes and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards. His second, Never Ending (Walker), is published on February 6th. He is currently working on a third.
Never Ending is published today by Walker Books. For more information visit the Never Ending Goodreads page (here).