Tag Archives: YA

Sydney Writers’ Festival – Writing for YA Books and Film

My third event for the Sydney Writers’ Festival was Writing for YA Books and Film. I was so overcome with the opportunity to see Patrick Ness, I was willing to ignore warnings about the distance between Carriageworks and Parramatta, and leave the previous event early to try to make it in time.

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This event was part of the #AllDayYA segment of the Sydney Writers’ Festival that was taking place at the Riverside Theatres. After a walking, train and Uber combo I finally made it to the event only a little after it has started. YA authors Patrick Ness and Jesse Andrews were being interviewed by Will Kostakis and when I snuck into the front, it looked like the interview was already in full swing.

Ness and Andrews had fantastic rapport from the very beginning. Andrews was talking about plots and how he thinks they’re overrated, and Ness quipped “The only ones who complain about plots are the ones who can’t do it.” Acknowledging that it was maybe a bit mean, Andrew later on asked Ness whether he wanted him to be mean back. Ness vehemently said no, and that “I am way to sensitive for that”. He said, “I tease with affection, but if someone teases me, all I hear is ‘I have always hated you’.”

A big part of the talk was about adapting books for film. Kostakis asked Ness how writing screenplays affects his writing. Ness said that he always encourages writers to try different mediums. He said that there is a big difference between small budget films and big budget films because so many people’s jobs depend on its success. However he did note that his book “Release” was basically unfilmable. Based on “Mrs Dallaway”, it takes place over the course of one day, from sunrise to sunset, and the story is mostly internal.

Ness talked about the difficulties he had with a particular screenplay where he was writing someone else’s story. The film had been in production for 10 years, the story was terrible, but he managed to rewrite it, keep some elements and turn it into a happy family comedy. The author was apparently so mad, he refused to renew the option unless Patrick Ness was fired. Ness leaned back in his chair and said that the film still hasn’t been made, so who is the real winner?

Kostakis asked how the authors felt about collaboration and not knowing how much of the film was theirs. Ness pointed out how much of a high class problem to have, like “not enough foie gras with your brioche“. Essentially though, he recommended that authors whose books have been adapted simply “take the money, buy a new kitchen and forget the rest”. Even when the film has been made, the book still remains.

Now, I cannot continue writing at this point without saying something about Jesse Andrews. Even though he was not the author I had come to see, he was incredibly funny and had a particular brand of visual humour that I’m now very curious to see how it translates into books. At one point he was flailing around in his chair (I can’t quite recall why), and he said “Please don’t take videos of this, it doesn’t translate well!” He actually reminded me quite a bit of seeing¬†Jasper Fforde. I think comedy in books is quite an underrated skill and I think I will have to find myself a copy of “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” to read now. Kostakis was laughing so much at Jesse through the entire event that he didn’t really get the opportunity to say much at all.

At this point, Ness and Andrews took questions from the audience. One lady, who said she was a teacher, stood up and asked about the M-rating that Ness’ film “A Monster Calls” and talked about the difficulties she had experienced trying to show it to her students. Ness was visibly shocked at this question, and couldn’t believe that the film had an M-rating. He said, “it’s not like there were willies showing”.

Another young woman from the audience asked Ness how he felt about killing off main characters in stories. Ness said he felt great. The young woman said that she had played around with almost killing off main characters to which Ness replied “Almost doesn’t mean shit, honey.” He advised the audience to write what you would want to read yourself. If you’re having the best time murdering people left, right and centre, as long as it’s on the page, go for it.

It was hard not to notice that everyone had been asking Ness the majority of the questions, so Andrews jumped in to answer one as a joke. He asked, “Can I pitch Moby Dick in space?” to which Ness replied that his next book is actually going to be narrated by a whale.

The conversation then turned to whether authors can write about anyone. Ness recollected a time he had pitched an idea where every secondary character was a woman – shopkeepers, police officers – and wondered whether anyone would notice. He recommended not asking permission when it came to increasing diversity in your books. Andrews then interjected by singing, “White guys, we’re a bunch of white guys, talking about…”¬†Andrews did go on to make some interesting points however about the make up of bestselling authors generally, and how that leads to certain kinds of characters being overrepresented and questions about who has access to storytelling.

He came back to the question of whether anyone can write about anyone. He said that there is no recipe for when it’s right. You can’t legislate because there is no clear answer except that you need fewer dudes, fewer white guys and fewer hetero people writing stories. Andrews concluded that one of the problems is that the financial backers are so risk adverse. Clearly black superheroes and women superheroes are successful, but there needs to be more diverse executives to invest.

This was really a brilliant event and I’m so, so glad I made the effort to trek across Sydney to see it. The icing on the cake was getting my book signed. The line was absolutely enormous, and I have to say I was amazed that some people had stacks of up to six books to get signed. When I finally made it to the front of the line, Ness was so delighted to sign a book for someone called Angharad. He asked me whether I had read his trilogy yet (which I haven’t), and he told me that he has a character called Angharad who is – wait for it – a talking horse. Now, I get a lot of books signed with the vague hopes that someone will name a character after me, but I have never had an author tell me that they already had written a book with my name in it.

I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, but I did quickly take the opportunity to let Ness know that I wished someone had been writing books like his when I was a teenager. He leaned in and said he did too – that’s why he writes them.

 

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13 Reasons Why

Content warning: suicide, bullying, sexual violence.

Unusually, I watched the TV adaptation of this book before I read it. It had caused quite a stir for Netflix, who was criticised quite soundly both for the portrayal of suicide and the failure to provide adequate warnings or support information. This in itself has raised a lot of questions about the responsibility streaming services have to their viewers, and more broadly about the regulation of streaming services as a whole. However, I digress. This is a blog about books, and it actually wasn’t until I had started watching the TV series that I realised that it was based on a book. I managed to wangle a copy, and it was the second book I read on my five weeks of American literature. I cracked it out and finished it before I even landed in California. Considering yesterday was R U OK Day, I think this is a really good book to review. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photograph of it before I eventually gave it away to the San Clemente Friends of the Library bookstore. You’ll just have to make do with the photo I did take instead.

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“13 Reasons Why”, or “Thirteen Reasons Why” as it was originally published, by Jay Asher is a young adult novel about a girl called Hannah who has committed suicide. Shortly afterwards, Clay, who was one of her classmates finds a parcel addressed to him containing 13 cassette tapes. As soon as he begins to listen to them, he realises that the tapes were made by Hannah shortly before she died and that each tape represents a ‘reason’ why she decided to commit suicide. As the book progresses, more is revealed about Hannah, her relationships and the way she was treated by her classmates in school.

Reading this book after watching the TV series was like looking at a sketch after seeing the finished artwork. Asher has the bones of this story down and it has a lot of important messages about mental health, bullying, consent and the responsibility teens have to one another. I think he captured the nuance, fragility and complexity of teenage relationships well and really contrasted the power teens already have to deeply impact each other’s lives against their inability yet to fully deal with the consequences. It’s a sparsely but powerfully written book, with a lot of focus on Hannah’s narration through her tapes and conversations that had happened in the past.

Without wanting to compare it too much to the TV adaptation, I do think all the layers added to the story by the Netflix series really gave it a lot of extra depth. Things that weren’t connected became connected. Clay’s own mental state got much more of a spotlight. The impact of Hannah’s suicide on her classmates became more pronounced. However, not all of the changes were necessarily positive ones. The Netflix series is very flashy, and a lot of the choices felt like they added to the drama or the cinematography rather than the underlying messasge. This includes the method by which Hannah commits suicide. Where in the book it’s mentioned offhand that she used pills, in the TV series the audience is confronted with a far more graphic (and, some argue, harmful) depiction of her cutting her wrists.

I think the strength of the book is that the focus in not on the suicide itself, but on the bullying, sexual harassment and ineptitude around Hannah that led to her deteriorating mental state and the inability of those around her to recognise the signs and offer meaningful help. While it may not be the most lyrical book you’ll read, if you want to read the simpler story that led to acclaimed TV series, it is nevertheless an important book that helped to kickstart a growing awareness of suicide.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call or chat online to someone at Lifeline on 13 11 14 or at www.lifeline.org.au.

If you want to learn what to say to someone who is struggling with their mental health, how to pick up the signs and where to refer them, I highly, highly recommend ASIST suicide intervention training and mental health first aid training.

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Young Adult

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

This book had caught my eye for a long while before I actually bought it. I’d seen it in two different editions: one with electric blue page edges, and one with sunflower yellow page edges. I’d ummed and aahed over buying it (I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction) but when I saw a copy with the blue edges on display one day at Beyond Q, I hesitated no longer.

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“The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness is a somewhat satirical take on the young adult fiction genre. The story is told from the perspective of Mikey, a teenager in his final year of high school who is looking forward to going to prom and graduating with his friends Jarred and Henna, as well as his sister Mel. They’re all trying to live normal lives on the periphery of the “indie kids”; the protagonists in the constant battles against Immortals, or vampires, or zombies, or soul-eating ghosts. While indie kids are dying, mysterious blue lights are appearing and fissures into other dimensions are opening, Mikey’s just trying to sort out some of his own issues as the great expanse of adult life looms closer and closer.

This book was really refreshing. After having read many dystopian YA books in series like “the Hunger Games” and the “Divergent” series which are violent and serious and necessarily far removed from reality, it’s a nice change to read a book that pokes a bit of fun at the genre. I also really liked the way the author handles a variety of mental health issues and deals with sexuality in a modern, fluid and non-judgmental way. I also quite enjoyed the brief summary of the indie kids’ story at the beginning of every chapter which was then juxtaposed against Mikey’s much more mundane, everyday problems. Because let’s face it: coping with mental health issues, dealing with change and figuring out who you are – they are ALL everyday problems.

I think this would be a great book for teens aged 15 or 16 and over – especially those looking for a bit of a break from books that take themselves too seriously.

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I took a second photo without the dust jacket because it’s just such a pretty book!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Pretty Books, Uncategorized, Young Adult