A couple of days ago, I talked about how as a reader, contemporary books are important I thought it would be pretty cool to get an author's view of this, and the wonderful Keris Stainton rose to the challenge:
My issue with issues.
When Cait asked me to write about how contemporary fiction is a great way to talk about issues affecting teens, I said, "Yep. I can totally write about that." Then I went away and started to fret a bit. Because I always think about 'issue' books as 'On this very special episode of…', i.e. stepping out of the story to educate the reader about something. The idea of it makes the back of my neck prickle with embarrassment.
On the other hand, when I see reviews of my books - and often they're otherwise lovely reviews - that call them "light" or "fluffy" it makes me wince a bit. Because what I try to do is address issues affecting teens with a lightness of touch… but that doesn't mean they're not there. And the thing is, the inclusion of "issues affecting teens" is kind of what makes a book a teen book, rather than an adult book, so they're always going to be there, surely?
Actually, I did have a particular "issue" in mind when I started writing Della Says: OMG! I'd read that few YA novels feature female masturbation and so was determined to "feature" it in my book. But I didn't crowbar it in, it did actually fit the plot: Della's diary is stolen and someone starts circulating the most embarrassing bits and, as a teenager, I couldn't have imagined anything more embarrassing than people knowing I masturbated.
My next two books - Jessie Hearts NYC and Emma Hearts LA - were more about the adjustments teenagers have to make, often to things beyond their control. They both feature parental separation: Jessie has a difficult relationship with her mother and Emma has lost trust in her father (I didn't plan to address mothers in one book and fathers in another, that just happened).
Jessie's parents split up after her dad accepts that he's actually gay - this has happened before the start of the book so once we meet Jessie, her dad is in a happy relationship with a man. This, I suppose, could be considered to be an "issue", but I didn't want it to be any more of an issue than if he was in a relationship with a woman (who wasn't Jessie's mum). In the first draft of the book, Jessie talked about adjusting to their relationship, etc., but it bugged me and I took it out. I actually expected my editor to ask me to address it, but, to her credit, she never did. A few reviews have commented that it's a bit odd that it's treated as if it's perfectly normal, i.e. Jessie's not all angsty about it, but since that's exactly the point I was hoping to make (er, the normal part, not the odd part), I'm happy with that.
Talking of the point I was hoping to make, um… oh yes. I really don't want to write about issues, I want to write about people and people naturally have issues. Those issues may be things like self-harm, anorexia or bullying, or they may be about identity or change, sexuality or disability, but in my opinion, the issue shouldn't be the focal point of the book. Characters come first. Particularly in Della Says: OMG! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Thanks so much Keris!! And if you're intrigued by Keris' books...well, you're in luck! Thanks to the wonderful people at Hachette I have a complete set of Keris Stainton books (Della Says: OMG! , Jessie Hearts NYC and Emma Hearts LA) PLUS a copy of the fantastic Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.
Giveaway is UK only, simply fill in the form below.