When I made the move from women’s fiction to contemporary YA novels, it felt a bit like starting my writing career from scratch all over again. Although I was the published author of 17 novels, no one outside of romance readers had heard of me, so I had no reputation preceding me as I ventured into the YA world. Scary stuff.
Competitions proved to be a good way in. For the organisers to fulfil their side of the agreement, your submission has to be read, or at least skimmed, so your work does get seen.
If YA presents challenges, it also offers freedoms. No more formula writing. I can be as elliptical or edgy as a story requires. Happy endings aren’t obligatory, although I do try for upbeat together with open-ended. Again, no subject is taboo – it’s your treatment of it that is crucial.
One of the main challenges is the language used in dialogue. Young adults are constantly reinventing themselves and their language. Words or phrases currently in use will be laughably passé by the time your book is published and being read, yet your characters need to sound real. One thing that doesn’t change much is the way in which young people use humour – for camouflage, for courage, for a whole variety of reasons. I do a lot of listening to the way teens talk, not so much for the actual language as for what it reveals about their attitudes and thinking.
Another big change was switching from third person to first person narrative. Many YA writers choose first person, and suggest that it reflects a certain self-centredness or self-involvement typical of the young – they are at the centre of everything, everything is about them. I’ve never looked at it in those terms. For me, writing YA, first person has been instinctive; it brings me right into my protagonists’ hearts and heads.
Setting has been another radical departure. My romance publishers liked exotic, glamorous, sophisticated (read affluent) or simply beautiful settings. With my YA novels, I’ve so far chosen to write about young South Africans living very much in the here and now, their stories firmly rooted in reality, as they face the same daily challenges as real teenagers. Many of their issues are universal – peer pressure, poverty, love, sex, class, race, xenophobia, substance abuse, crime, exploitation – but the legacy of South Africa’s past does somtimes have a certain impact on all these things.
It has also been refreshing to be able to write from a male point of view if a story seems to call for it.
The role of adults in my novels varies. Some may be exploitive or abusive, others are a source of inspiration or even help, once a protagonist learns that seeking help in an intolerable situation is not weakness but an affirmation of his value as a unique human being. Young readers clearly like characters who overcome such challenges as oppression or persecution to take control of their own lives, in however small a way, and this involves changing and growing, but all this can only arise from the foundation of a good, gripping story that will draw the reader in. Everything else is just a bonus.
About Jayne Bauling
Jayne Bauling’s first three YA novels, E Eights, Stepping Solo and Dreaming of Light have been awarded the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, the Maskew Miller Longman Literature Award and the Sanlam Gold Prize for Youth Literature respectively. She is also the author of 17 romance novels published by Harlequin Mills & Boon. Her short stories, for both adults and young people, have been included in a number of anthologies. She has been a regular contributor of short stories and poems to the Breaking the Silence anthology brought out annually in South Africa by the NGO People Opposing Women Abuse, and in 2013 served as a mentor for POWA’s women’s writing project workshops. She lives in Mpumalanga. E Eights and Dreaming of Light (including the ebook) are both available from Amazon (UK). See link below for more about Stepping Solo.
Follow Jayne Bauling on Twitter @JayneBauling,
visit her Facebook page Jayne Bauling Writer https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jayne-Bauling-Writer/165514616870712,
or see her Goodreads author blog http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/247156.Jayne_Bauling/blog
Stepping Solo http://www.mml.co.za/book/9780636118249
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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