Jy blaai in die argief vir 2011 Augustus.

#78 Young Adult Fiction: Character, character, character (but think again if you’d like to get published) – Naomi Meyer

Augustus 17, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

  Maya Fowler, SA Partridge and Izak de Vries all recently supplied this forum with a wealth of thoughts regarding Young Adult Fiction. Fowler and Partridge respectively wrote about the aspects of pop culture in this genre and De Vries questioned the need for the existence of a distinction between young adult fiction and adult fiction. All three contributions are stimulating material for any reader, regardless of their interest in young adult fiction per se.

With regard to De Vries’s question about the need for young adult fiction and his view that a good story weighs more than writing for a specific genre (to paraphrase): from a personal point of view I agree. Of course a good story is important. But in my opinion (and implicitly De Vries’s opinion too) memorable characters form the backbone of a book. The book One Day by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009) was a sleeper hit and I read it myself only recently. I immediately understood its charm: both characters, the man and the woman, are completely human. I couldn’t put the book down. And neither, evidently, could millions of other readers, judging by the bookselling charts in the Sunday Times (UK) and Sunday Times (Ireland).

From a publisher’s point of view, though, I need to ask De Vries, a publisher himself: Is the need for young adult fiction not inevitable? In this credit-poor time we are living in, would publishers not be looking at publishing a book which fits a specific genre, rather than simply publishing a book which is not really targeting a market, even if it has a good story? Again, I agree with De Vries. The Writers Bureau in Manchester teach their students deliberately to aim their material towards a specific genre. Young adult fiction is a clear market. There is a bookshelf in a bookshop set aside for young adult / teenage fiction (usually decorated with vampires, gothic characters and anything else which would attract 9- to 12-year-olds but maybe not, openly, somebody older than 14). Young Adult Fiction, as a genre, does exist, even if only in the minds of bookshop owners.

Conversely, there now also exists a genre of adult fiction in which the main characters are youthful. Books which immediately spring to mind are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon, 2004), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne, 2008) and Room (Emma Donoghue, 2010). All three of these books are appreciated by grown-ups and I would nearly want to go as far as to say would not be appreciated at all by the readers the real age of any of their characters. All these books are social commentary, in a way, but their characters convince because they really feel like children to the reader. Which brings me back to agreeing with De Vries once again: if the characters weren’t likeable, the genre wouldn’t have mattered.

To divert a little: there are plenty of movies made nowadays which seem to be made for children but are actually more aimed at their parents: Shrek; The Incredibles; Wall-E; Toy Story 3. Many of these movies work really well for young children, but some of the jokes are more appreciated by the parents than the children themselves. Which demonstrates again: character probably is more important than genre – if you like a character, regardless of whether you’re a child or a grown-up, it is not going to matter so much which specific genre of movie you are watching.

I agree with De Vries, although I would emphasise the importance of a book’s characters more than the story. But from a publisher’s point of view, I have to ask: What if any specific genre were to fall away? Would some really great stories and some really memorable characters not be swept away in the big ocean of unpublished manuscripts?

#77 Young Adult Fiction: What Makes YA Fiction YA? – Lauri Kubuitsile

Augustus 11, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

As a writer of books for children and young adults I’ve read with interest the recent discussions in the South African book world about young adult fiction. Maya Fowler and Sally Partridge both ask if timely, trendy references are needed to make young adult fiction pertinent to that generation. Both of them come to the conclusion that no, they are not, and I agree.

It reminded me of a session I attended at the Cape Town Book Fair, where British YA writer Kevin Brooks was asked about getting the lingo right in his books, asked if he did extensive research, since he was clearly no longer a teenager. He said no, because he saw no interest in getting the lingo right. As Partridge has stated and Kevin Brooks has concurred, what is in and what is out moves at lightning speed. The rate of the publishing world is more snail-paced, so logistics alone say you’ll get it wrong. And as Kevin Brooks said that day in Cape Town, when you try to be hip and you get it wrong, it’s not nice. Really not nice.

I was recently shortlisted for the Caine Prize and our shortlist had the unhappy honour of garnering the attention of Nigerian journalist Ikhide Ikheloa. He had many things to say, but one thing I found outstandingly ridiculous was his assertion that the stories on this year’s shortlist were not modern because they contained neither cell phones nor computers. This is a bit how I feel about the reference in YA fiction to certain computer games or pop figures. Just as a cell phone or a computer does not make an African story modern, mentioning Justin Bieber does not make a story a good one for teenagers.

As Izak de Vries mentions in his discussion about Fowler’s and Partridge’s articles, good writing is good writing. If you shove Captain America: Super Soldier, a couple of Taylor Swifts and a Beyonce or two into a pile of bad writing it does not automatically become a YA book.

I see drops of pop culture and teenage or children’s references as spice. Much like the way I use Setswana in my English books. They both need to be used in such a manner that even if the reader has no reference to that pop-culture titbit or the Setswana, it doesn’t affect the reader’s enjoyment of the story. And, as others have mentioned, it doesn’t make the book a one-shot cultural dinosaur before it even hits the shelves.

Also, adding detail for detail’s sake is just bad writing. I recently attended the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop in Lagos, and one of our teachers, Chimamanda Adichie, pointed out the power of significant detail, how choosing particular things in the setting or about the characters can bring truth to your writing. On the other hand, piling in detail of everything just adds clutter. In some cases, I feel pop-culture loading in YA fiction is just clutter.

One question that has not been fully interrogated in this discussion is Izak de Vries’s when he asks why we must make a distinction between YA fiction and any other type of fiction. He states, and rightly so, that a YA book can be enjoyed by adults just as easily as it can be enjoyed by teens. But this point can be applied to all fiction, actually. Chic lit, sci-fi, detective, romance – these are categories designed by marketers, primarily, in order to sell books to people they feel are most likely going to enjoy them. These categories are not written in cosmic stone in The Big Book of Publishing in the sky; they’re fluid.  

But as Partridge points out, and I agree, some themes draw young adults to them, no matter when the books were written. Teens are in that no man’s land where they are trying to establish their identity while trying to work out how the world operates. When I was a teen I searched out books that helped me find my way through the minefield, and my teenage children do the same. So I differ with De Vries: I do think there are differences between what young adults and others like and this helps to define the genre, even as fluid and overlapping as it may be.  

I also think this is a wonderful, healthy debate; I’m happy it is taking place and I look forward to hearing what others have to say.

#76 Young Adult Fiction: “Youth novels” are unlikely to ensure a comfortable retirement home for their creators – Derick van der Walt

Augustus 11, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

Pondering the concept youth novel during the past few years I have been amazed to discover that nobody really knows exactly what the concept entails. People really don’t. Not the publishers, and certainly not the teachers who are responsible for cultivating the dying art of reading books among the people who will, in future, make watershed decisions about global warming, the classical concept of democracy and how to feed the poor. (And, of course, how much they would be willing to spend on the upkeep of their parents in the retirement home around the corner.)

Do we really need this concept, and does it contribute anything meaningful to the world of books or literature? I really don’t know. But what I do know from experience is that people who read (and age is not the issue here) do not judge a book by the way it is categorised. Rather, if it makes you angry, makes you cry, or makes you laugh, you will consider including it on your list of things that mattered.
My concern is that when a book is classified as a “youth novel” it becomes something that has to be treated and experienced in a specific way. If I were a teenager (I actually was, some decades ago) I would have been seriously “gatvol” if someone told me the following: “This is a youth novel. It was written especially for you and you friends between the ages of 13¾ and 15½. We as informed adults (having googled everything from illegal substances to how iPods could fly) have your interests at heart. Because we care about you, this was written especially for you, because we know you so well. We understand the hormones and the stuff that goes with it. Been there ourselves.” As a teenager I would actually contemplate killing the cat or not brushing my teeth for the next decade.

Most younger readers (those who really read – and there are actually still a whole bunch of them) would probably have moved on to serious adult literature long ago –  perhaps even before starting to shave. (I encountered Hold my hand I’m dying and Lady Chatterley’s lover when I was 14 – “borrowed” them from my mother’s collection.)
Of course, publishers utilise the label to market books. This may help them to focus their marketing efforts on a specific audience, such as the teaching fraternity. No problem here, but it is such a grey area.

Why are books such as The book thief, Spud, Roepman and Swartskaap not being regarded as youth novels? Or are they? If a novel has young people as its main protagonists or antagonists, does this make it exclusively a “youth novel”?
Some amazing books about young people have been published in South Africa over the past few years. Fanie Viljoen’s disturbing but wonderful Breinbliksem; Francois Bloemhof’s Nie vir kinders nie,which, among other things, explores male prostitution;Anoeshka von Meck’s story about a girl who desperately tries to survive in an orphanage (Vaselientjie); and Anzil Kulsen’s Zita, who tries to explain the difficulty of being a girl from a different cultural background trying to fit into “white” South Africa, are but a few that come to mind.

Bottom line: These are good books. And not only because they are good “youth” novels, but because they are books that can be appreciated by people between the ages of 12 and 112.

This may be the secret. A good book is a good book is a good book. If it is a good book only because the teachers think it will be a fairly comfortable and easy read for the bored people in their classes it will, in all likelihood, not stand the test of time.

And the creators of the “youth novel” believe that the term decreases the book’s selling prospects. If you have written a youth novel, people will look you straight in the eye, even rejoice about its success – but they will never ever read it. You have written a “children’s” book, after all.

#75 Young Adult Fiction: Write for the reader, not the age – Carina Diedericks-Hugo

Augustus 11, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

 It is with much delight that I have been following the discussions on books for young people. The genre seldom enjoys lively debate on the intricacies of writing for a market that is harder to pinpoint than Malema’s finances.

I have been in the business for ten years and have laboured through 16 of my own YA books. As a publisher I have published more than 300 books for children and YAs. In fact, I have the honour of being able to claim the title as Sally Partridge’s first publisher!

In all these years I have learnt that it is utterly presumptuous to claim to know what your readers want – never mind the volatile under 18 market. The genre is vast – both thematically and in terms of the target age. Why force a system of grouping YA books under the boring and lifeless category of “fiction”? Surely “adult fiction” is divided into science fiction, crime, romance, literature, classics, etc. If you chat to booksellers they will tell you that to categorise YA books in terms of age is a nightmare. Where do you draw the line (also if you want to label all books as “fiction”)? You might have a book which is aimed at a skilled reader of 13 but a less capable reader of 16. With my [email protected] series we have found that it is used in grade 5 Afrikaans classes and is prescribed for grade 10 English learners. This is a challenge which “adult” writers seldom have to face.

What irks me is the arrogance of some who claim to know what children want to read or not. Have they spoken to all of the five million young people in South Africa? How much time do they spend at schools, chatting to kids, getting to know them and their world? Just because you were young once or have a child or two, that does not automatically make you an expert on the subject. And do they make the same claim when it comes to other genres? I hope not!

There are many points of discussion relevant to this topic and especially with regard to the Afrikaans market, which is seriously lacking in books for young people, cross-over fiction and popular fiction (other than outdated and rehashed love stories). I have, however, quite a few questions for authors, publishers and other interested parties:

  • Have children and young adults been approached to take part in this discussion?
  • Why do the prize committees and other influential bodies consist of literati who are by no means experts on the genre?
  • How do you define popular culture? Willemien Jansen, publisher at Burnett Media (Two Dogs/Mercury), correctly remarked that life as we experience it daily becomes pop culture almost immediately. A VW Polo today will be retro in 10 or 20 years. Do you remove it from a story? No. Steri Stumpie removes a particular flavour from the market. In a month’s time there are Facebook groups with a few thousand followers lamenting the demise of their favourite milk drink and sightings of it is called “retro”. The examples are endless.
  • To say that popular culture should not feature in books is impractical and sounds like a bland solution to a challenge which all writers face. So, do we disregard books of, for example, the New Journalists because of the pop culture references in Tom Wolfe or Hunter S Thompson?

I can really just reiterate what Madeleine L’Engle said: “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.” I would like to add: “… without underestimating the market and without a smothering, dogmatic approach to your readers’ issues and preferences.”

#74 Young Adult Fiction: Give us a good story! – Izak de Vries

Augustus 10, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

This forum has recently published two thought-provoking articles on writing for young adults by two authors of that genre. The first was by Maya Fowler (“Some thoughts on writing youth novels”) and the more recent one by SA Partridge (“Pop culture and context in young adult fiction”).

Both asked, and addressed, the question of pop art in young adult fiction. A summary of their views will not do justice to them, so I urge the reader to read their respective pieces.

My question to them, and for that matter to anyone interested in literature, would be: Is the writing of Young Adult Fiction that different from that of writing Fiction? In other words, when does one have to distinguish between a good book and a good book for young adults?

Maya Fowler’s The Elephant in the room was not marketed as Young Adult Fiction, but I often begged teachers to urge their charges, especially the girls, to read the book. We see the young Lily Fields growing into young adulthood and wilting, rather than blossoming, under the eyes of her peers. Her first sex is so sad, so devoid of anything you would ever want a young person to experience. And why was it? Because Lily did not believe herself to be good enough to have a good time while losing her virginity.

Fowler created a wonderfully atmospheric novel brimming with young adult issues. It was marketed as Fiction, though; and maybe just as well, for it meant that she was able to get on to the short list of the Herman Charles Bosman Prize, something that would not have happened had her publishers slapped the label “Young Adult” on to the text before the word “Fiction”.

And thus my question: Why make a distinction?

Yes, one could indicate on a book that it contains scenes of sex and nudity, and therefore suggest a minimum age. One could even add a sticker saying “Not fit for under 18s” if it really is quite rough (which would have all the 16-year olds reading it), but who really benefits from splitting the market?

I do understand that teachers would need guidance in terms of relevance to their charges, especially for the younger ones, but I find the present system too restrictive. The Elephant in the room was sadly not adopted by many teachers, because it was not written as “youth fiction”.

Roepman, the wonderful (adult?) novel by Jan van Tonder, was (correctly) deemed fit for the classroom and it got prescribed, only to have mommies and daddies throwing their toys because of a single scene containing a blow job. The violence did not bother them, but heaven forbid that their poor grade 11 children became aware of such a thing as sucking the male member.

Jonkvrouw, that rollicking good read about the 14-year old Marguerite van Male, heir to the Duke of Flanders, is all about growing up, falling in love and being a headstrong teenager. Yet the novel by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Beirs is not marketed as Young Adult Fiction, even in South Africa, where the Afrikaans translation (Jonkvrou by Daniel Hugo) is now selling well. Fortunately the editors of Klasgids saw the value of the text and recommended it for the high school.

Or think of the hugely successful Thomas series by Carina Diedericks-Hugo (published by Lapa). I am one of many adults who enjoy reading them (although I may be the only who is willing to say so in writing). They are clearly aimed at the pre-teen and young-teenage market. The themes are spot on and so is the language level. The books even contain some of the techno problems Fowler and Partridge address in the articles, yet they work. Why? They tell a good story well, that is why.

Carina’s undoing came when she attempted a “cross-over” in Die verdrinking van Joshua van Eeden. Interestingly enough, the book contains one of the most beautiful scenes of a young man losing his virginity, but the rest of the book sounded like a grown-up Thomas book. In some ways Die Verdrinking Van Joshua van Eeden is true young adult fiction, as the book is just too innocent and the characters too infantile to be liked by any reader, yet it has lost its wide-eyed innocence that charmed readers of Thomas. Is that not what many teenagers experience? Yes, it is. But who likes reading about it?

The first three Harry Potter books were written for younger children. Look at the number of pages and the types of adventures the kids got into. Number four saw a gear change. No one could deny that numbers four to seven are literature for adults (and intelligent teenagers). Why? The problems faced by the characters in the last four books were universal, and their fights against evil reminded one of Tolkien, Terlouw and Cervantes, to name but a few people who wrote books that are loved by adults and teenagers alike.

Give us a good story (the way Fowler and Partridge do), and we’ll read it – all of us, irrespective of age.

#73 Young Adult Fiction: Pop culture and context in young adult fiction – SA Partridge

Augustus 10, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

I came across fellow youth writer Maya Fowler’s piece on writing for youth (#25 Some thoughts on writing youth novels) and she made some very interesting points about pop culture:

I’m not keen to populate my fiction with Hannah Montana-type characters or references to Jay-Z and the gang. But one can’t help feeling you should, just to get through … By adding that much of pop culture, mightn’t one overpopulate the work with detail in the same way Higginson describes that too much historical detail weighs down the work? I think the same holds here, namely that the writer is “undermin[ing] the richness of collective memory [or collective cultural knowledge] the reader brings to the book”.

I recently read the young adult (YA) novel Deadlands by Lily Herne, which has been marketed as South Africa’s first zombie novel. The book is set in a future Cape Town after a zombie apocalypse forces everyone into enclaves to protect themselves from having their brains eaten. The book has many pop-cultural references in it, including films, music and books from the 20th century. The use of these pop culture references clearly targets the book to the “now” generation. In this instance it works well and adds an element of fun to the off-beat tale, but I can’t help wondering how well future readers will relate to the content. Are pop culture references necessarily a good thing or can they date a novel?

It could be argued that the use of pop-cultural references makes it easier for teen readers to relate to YA novels, as the content reflects the period in which they find themselves growing up.

Cory Doctorow’s youth novel Big Brother reads like a personal account of the 2008 internet generation in America.

Harajuku Fun Madness is the best game ever made. I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. It’s an ARG, an Alternate Reality Game, and the story goes that a gang of Japanese fashion-teens discovered a miraculous healing gem at the temple in Harajuku, which is basically where cool Japanese teenagers invented every major subculture for the past ten years. They’re being hunted by evil monks, the Yakuza (AKA the Japanese mafia), aliens, tax-inspectors, parents, and a rogue artificial intelligence ….

… And it’s a competition, with the winning team of four taking a grand prize of ten days in Tokyo, chilling on Harajuku bridge, geeking out in Akihabara, and taking home all the Astro Boy merchandise you can eat. Except that he’s called “Atom Boy” in Japan.

I wasn’t always into ARGing. I have a dark secret: I used to be a LARPer. LARPing is Live Action Role Playing, and it’s just about what it sounds like: running around in costume, talking in a funny accent, pretending to be a super-spy or a vampire or a medieval knight.

For someone not necessarily familiar with internet lingo all the references in Big Brother can become quite exhausting. More importantly, young South African readers might not be able to relate to the content at all. (I know I didn’t at first).

Do we as South African writers have a responsibility to the unique demographic in our country, and if we do, should we fill our books with unique pop-cultural references that only South African readers would understand? Culture is important, especially in a country such as ours that is as diverse as it is unique, but good realistic teen fiction can function without it.

In my latest novel, Dark Poppy’s Demise, I decided to keep the pop-cultural references to a minimum so that the book could appeal to as wide an audience as possible. This presented a marked difficulty, since the plot was framed around a 16-year-old girl who meets a boy on Facebook. Instead of relying on typical Gen-Y speak and internet lingo I focused more on the themes of identity, sexuality, familial struggles, and abuse to connect with my readers. Most teens will have had similar experiences in their lives, whether it’s bullying, first love, that first big fight with a best friend – and through these shared experiences identify with the book.

Teenagers are an ever-evolving species, but their underlying needs of acceptance and self-identity are aspects that don’t change.

Michael Cart said it best in his white paper:

YALSA [Young Adult Library Services Association] also acknowledges that whether one defines young adult literature narrowly or broadly, much of its value cannot be quantified but is to be found in how it addresses the needs of its readers. Often described as “developmental”, these needs recognize that young adults are beings in evolution, in search of self and identity; beings who are constantly growing and changing, morphing from the condition of childhood to that of adulthood. That period of passage called “young adulthood” is a unique part of life, distinguished by unique needs that are – at minimum – physical, intellectual, emotional, and societal in nature. By addressing these needs, young adult literature is made valuable not only by its artistry but also by its relevance to the lives of its readers.

By focusing on what unites young adult readers novels can achieve a timeless relevance.  For this reason teens can pick up SE Hinton’s The Outsiders or  JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and still be able to identify with the characters and the themes, even if they don’t understand the cultural references.

Young adult fiction should mirror real life and should be an impartial (albeit enjoyable) tool for teenagers to identify and cope with the problems in their lives.  Young adult fiction can capture the essence of the Y generation, but whether it’s through pop-cultural references or through relevant issues, the most important aspect of YA is that it should tell a story, and tell it well.