Even if you’re not a tween, Young Adult (YA) fiction, film and TV programmes are impossible to avoid. From the early days of Buffy The Vampire Slayer to The Hunger Games, we now have an embarrassment of riches. Twilight, Torchwood, Skins, and Harry Potter are all well known series. They are not ‘children’s books’ and they are not ‘adult books’: they cross boundaries and genres, which is what makes them so interesting.
I talked to two British men who are up and coming authors of YA fiction. James Dawson(30) and Tim Gardner (36) told me a bit about their work and their experiences growing up.
What are you working on at the moment?
Tim: I’m writing a YA trilogy—spookily plausible conspiracy theory fiction based in the hidden depths of London and, in later installments, the world. Is it fiction if it’s made up but happens to be true?
James: I’m currently promoting my first novel, Hollow Pike—a Young Adult supernatural mystery and writing another novel for young people. I’m also working on a different, top secret writing project too.
Can you tell me a bit about what being a teenager was like for you?
Tim: I was a very late developer socially, always struggling to know how to behave. Fortunately I was extremely gifted academically and was also an ever-present in our school football team. This meant that I could always stay the right side of teachers while keeping on nodding terms with the rougher elements of the football team. It was a time of keeping my head down while trying to learn ways to pick up girls —an endeavour that met with abject failure. School, football girls—that was pretty much all until sixth form. That was when school introduced new, intriguing people (girls), and alcohol. Amazing how that stuff removes the inhibitions that have been holding you back!
James: It was a difficult time, although I didn’t realise then. I didn’t complain, but people at school made my life very hard. When you are a little bit different, and I was, you can’t hide it. I spent most of my teen years TRYING to hide it. It didn’t work! Outside of school I was happy though. I’m one of life’s optimists. School was shitty, but I was never down about it.
What was the best thing and the worst thing about teen life?
Tim: The best was the complete lack of anything onerous to do. Oodles of free time. The worst was my complete ignorance about the spectrum of activities an intelligent boy could take up with such an excess of free time.
James: There is no better time to figure out who you are. Those years are a spectacular metamorphosis. But you’re always skint for one thing. School for a second. Cages, feeding times and mating. If there is a difference between a school and a zoo, I’m yet to see it.
Do you think boys and girls have different problems/pressures growing up? If so what kind of differences?
Tim: Well, both centre on acceptance and discovery—working out “who they are” without getting beaten up for it. Boys are relatively shallow, dealing with what affect them and little else, so girls tend to have more complicated problems and feel a greater variety of pressure. Boys think girls over-complicate things and girls think boys over-simplify things. Neither gender really grows out of that.
James: I think the pressures are the same, but the way boys and girls are expected to deal with the maelstrom of puberty is different. The problem is the rapid change to the body. Both sexes are suddenly under pressure to be sexually attractive. Boys have to be sexually available, girls have to be sexually attractive WITHOUT being sexually available. God it’s a nightmare. I think boys are unique though, in that they aren’t allowed to talk about it. You just have to take it.
What are your ambitions in life?
Tim: I never really had any firm ambitions and no-one acted as a role model for choosing them. More recently my ambitions have been to learn new skills, make myself more of a rounded personality, challenge myself in areas I’ve traditionally found difficult or scary. My goal of becoming a writer has grown from a feeling of “maybe I’d like to write a book someday” to something that will happen. Overall I will always want to stretch myself and hope to enjoy this vicariously through my boys (as long as they are enjoying the challenges!).
James: I want to carry on writing full-time. To write more books that speak to young people. To not have to worry about money. To find the type of love you see in rom-coms.
What achievement are you most proud of so far?
Tim: I love mad endurance challenges and have been proud of finishing the London marathon, a 3 Peaks walking event and a Lands End to John O’Groats cycle ride. But all these seem frivolous in comparison to the feeling of being father to my two young sons, Kai and Zac. Being the main carer for them makes me feel very fortunate and blessed—not to mention perpetually sleep-deprived and exhausted!
James: Having my first attempt at a novel published. I overlook this all the time, but shouldn’t.
What advice would you give to teenage boys/young men reading this?
Tim: Life is about learning new things, challenging yourself. There is always a job or task within your comfort zone but it’s ultimately much more rewarding to choose one outside it that really push you and extend your boundaries of humanity. In this way, you can’t help feel more empathy towards other people’s plights and become more tolerant—surely that can only be a good thing and much needed across the world?
James: Being a boy is hard because you can’t show weakness. Wrong. That’s where we make it hard for ourselves. The best men are the ones who set the trends, not follow them blindly. Finally, the best advice I was ever given is, ‘stop looking for the differences between people and look for the similarities’. Men, women, gay, straight. We’re all the same.
Is there anything else you want to mention to the Good Men Project readers? How can they find your books?
Tim: I am writing a young adult trilogy that I’ll be sending to agents / publishers this year—for the latest news and first chapter, follow me on Twitter: @itliesbeneath or my writing blog http://timgardnerthewriter.wordpress.com/ My JDI Dad blog has had to take a back-seat to the trilogy but can be found at http://jdidaddy.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/stay-at-home-dad-wont-you-be-bored.html
James: Buy Hollow Pike if you like that sort of thing. http://www.jamesdawsonbooks.com/hollow-pike/ Follow me on Twitter @_jamesdawson
—Photo credit: SodanieChea/Flickr