Saturday, 25 February 2012

Swearing in YA fiction

Does strong language have an impact on the commercial success of a book?
There is a big difference between dialogue and transcribed speech. When people talk, in the right environment, every other word can be expletive and no one cares. Usually, this is because the swearing in speech is often used as a wild-card adjective to save having to think of anything more suitable. With teens, there is the added whammy that bad language can define independence. It becomes such a prominent part of their language that some kids can speak in nothing other than swear words and still get their point across.
In a book, that would be awkward to read and ultimately dull. Some writers of adult fiction suffer from this; their novels are so peppered with profanity that you end up having to skim through repetitive crap to get to the story. That bugs the hell out of me and usually puts me off.
So when is it appropriate?
A carefully placed f-bomb can have real impact in certain situations. Rather than just anger, attitude or strength, they can define a specific turning point for a character, their failure, or sudden confidence. There are only a few instances in Clash, and I battled with each one, deciding whether they were justified. If not, they went.
The alternative use of bad language is to show realism - because in the real world, villains tend to swear. The problem with this is that if you have villains in several scenes, you need to be consistent in their language. The single f-bomb no longer works, because that first instance wasn't a revelation; it wasn't a surprise. So if your baddy swears in chapter two, you need to follow through wherever else they appear. If you do that, the f-count rockets up and you end up wondering if this is going to cause a problem. Book sellers can refuse to stock it if they don't consider it suitable for teens, as can libraries and schools, parents...
But can you have a strong, violent thriller without bad language?
Two writers come immediately to mind. Suzanne Collins and Lee Child.
Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games, a book that’s chock-a-block with childhood violence and murder, but has no bad language. Is that because it’s a children’s novel? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop it selling to adults. The three books in the trilogy top the ebook charts as well as paperback sales. Does a lack of bad language hamper the story? Well... in places I can’t help thinking Katniss would react a bit more strongly.
But Lee Child is something else. Lee Child writes commercial thrillers for adults. His books are violent, include murder, imprisonment, brutality, violence, rape and paedophilia with a main character who is strong, moody, and at times explosive. But no bad language. Nothing. I actually reached the end of the first novel (actually, I read #11 first) before realising. So in that case, it worked perfectly well.
But why? Do these authors feel like I do, that too much bad language is repetitive and boring, or that too little makes it obvious that it has been toned down? Or is it a commercial strategy? It might not make a difference with adult thrillers, but I can't help wondering if the Hunger Games was splattered with swear words, would it still be the massive success it is?
I don’t know. All I do know is that Arabesque goes to proof in a couple of weeks... and I need to decide if the strong language I've got so far is essential to plot, or a bullet in the foot.
What do you think? Should YA novels have strong language, or can you maintain the illusion without?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

BOOOOOM!!!

I feel like my head's exploded. I've just completed a mega turbo ninja edit of ARABESQUE.

I posted a blog at the start of this edit when I first went over the document. It can be difficult for a writer to see all those red lines and comments, but ultimately, it's the sign of a good editor. Of course, the other sign is the editor who insists that all those marks are suggestions, and not orders.

In the case of Arabesque, I think I agreed with about 95%. Copy edits are a doddle - you just decide whether the gramatical changes suit. The suggested changes are the tough ones, but the most satisfying - that's the fun stuff.

So there you go. Writing a novel takes a bit more work than just churning out the words. And just because you've been through the process once, doesn't make your writing flawless the next time round. You'll still need an editor, but the process of editing become easier. It's also good to look back on old attempts and see how far you've come. You realise that what you once thought was brilliant, is actually crap. But more importantly, you'll realise why!

Right... off to find something else to do.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Kyle's Drawing from CLASH

Okay, Kyle is fictional, so no, this isn't really his drawing, but it is the image that inspired a certain scene.



In Clash, Kyle is at a loss what to do when his mother is in the maternity ward and her baby (Kyle's brother) is in an incubator in Special Care. He ends up doing a drawing so his mother can have an image of her baby by her bed - all because the other mothers in the ward have their actual babies in cots by their beds.

This scene was taken from real life.

When my wife had our first boy, he was in an incubator in the Special Care Baby Unit, and she was up in a ward where other mothers had their babies in cots - a bit cruel, but there you go. A decent ward might have put her in a side room.

For some reason I thought you weren't allowed to use cameras in the special care unit (there were some very premature babies in there under special lighting). So I nipped home, grabbed a drawing pad, pencils and set to work. I went back up to the ward and pinned the picture to the wall.

However, there is a spooky side to this story. When we lived in Washington, loads of strange things happened when Matthew came home. His mobile would spin on its own, the cat would go nuts for no reason... there were other weird things too, but the strangest was the morning when this drawing (in its frame) fell off the wall for no reason. This happened at 6am while we were still in bed. The bang woke us up, and I came downstairs to find the frame behind the TV. Rather than refix it there and then, I put in on the bookcase and went back to bed...

...That evening, we had a flood and every picture that was still hanging in our front room was ruined as water streamed down the walls.

Whoooooooooooo.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Rock Music, Stage Diving and a Fire Crew - It's the Clash Launch Party

Thursday 3rd March was one of the craziest nights of my life. Rather than launch the book in a shop or library, I booked a theatre and got local teen rock band, Hell's Marauders, to play.

There were a few surprises during the night. The first was the cake Paula had made, with the full clash cover printed on the icing. The second was the fire engine in the car park.The third was being dragged up on stage to sing Anarchy in the UK with the band.

I think I might be the first author to do a stage dive at a launch party.

The fire crew were there thanks to Nev. Nev gave me some help on a few technical details in the novel. He was on call on Thursday night but wanted to come along, so he turned up in a fire engine with the whole crew.

Catnip editor Non Pratt got up to do a truly wonderful introduction, then I jumped up, grabbed the mike and screamed out, "HELLO FATFIELD!" - proper rockstar style!

I calmed down enough to do a short talk about YA fiction and a reading of chapter one. The band played punk and metal tracks while I signed books. When the books sold out, the band (Cai, Lewis, Mich & Simon) came over to tell me their suprise idea of getting me up to sing a Sex Pistols track with them - a childhood dream come true!


Many thanks to everyone who turned up: workmates, friends and family - some I haven't seen for years. All in all, the launch night of legend.

CLASH

has landed!


Saturday, 25 September 2010

Review: Revolver

Revolverby Marcus Sedgewick

The year is 1910. Fifteen-year-old Sig Andersson sits in a cabin in the Arctic Circle. Next to him lies the frozen corpse of his father. His sister and step-mother have gone for help, leaving Sig alone… until there’s a knock at the door.

The visitor calls himself Wolff. He’s big, imposing, terrifying, and by his side is the butt of a revolver. He claims he has unfinished business, and bit by bit we get a picture of what his relationship with Sig’s father was, and how he really died.

But Wolff isn’t the only one with a gun. Sig knows that in the storeroom, in a box on a shelf, there is another. As Wolff’s demands for justice intensify, Sig can’t think of anything else but his father’s gun and whether or not he can get it in time.

Revolver is an intensely gripping, claustrophobic thriller. It’s a short, uncluttered novel, making the pages fly by, but the story is deep enough to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

One thing I hate in novels is the feeling that I’m being spoon-fed internet research, that the writer is just regurgitating stuff he’s read elsewhere. This doesn’t happen in Revolver. The setting of the novel, the crushing cold of the world outside and isolation are given with minimal, but perfect details, making the world completely believable. I was very interested to read the author’s notes, that he actually went to Northern Sweden to feel the cold for himself as well as learning how to handle and fire a Colt revolver. These real life experiences pepper the novel with a genuine authority that really brings the scenes, the mood and the terror to life.

All in all, one of the best YA novels I’ve read.



The year is 1910. Fifteen-year-old Sig Andersson sits in a cabin in the Arctic Circle. Next to him lies the frozen corpse of his father. His sister and step-mother have gone for help, leaving Sig alone… until there’s a knock at the door.


The visitor calls himself Wolff. He’s big and cold and terrifying, and by his side is the butt of a revolver. He claims he has unfinished business, and bit by bit we get a picture of what his relationship with Sig’s father was, and how he really died. But Wolff isn’t the only one with a gun. Sig knows that in the storeroom, in a box on a shelf, there is another. As Wolff’s demands for justice intensify, Sig can’t think of anything else but his father’s gun

and whether or not he can get it in time.


Revolver is an intensely gripping, claustrophobic thriller. It’s a short, uncluttered novel, making the pages fly by, but the story is deep enough to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.


One thing I hate in novels is the feeling that I’m being spoon-fed internet research, that the writer is just regurgitating stuff he’s read elsewhere. This doesn’t happen in Revolver. The setting of the novel, the crushing cold of the world outside and isolation are given with minimal, but perfect details, making the world completely believable. I was very interested to read the author’s notes, that he actually went to Northern Sweden to feel the cold for himself as well as learning how to handle and fire a Colt revolver. These real life experiences pepper the novel with a genuine authority that really bring the scenes, the mood and the terror to life.


All in all, one of the best YA novels I’ve read.


Saturday, 26 June 2010

Getting Soaked at Alnwick Gardens

Wake up, make sarnies, grab crisps, pop, kids and go...

It was fantastic weather up at Alnwick Gardens today. This time, we had the forethought to take a change of clothes for the kids and a towel. This is because there is a fabulous water feature there. It's a huge column that gradually fills with water. When the water reaches the top, a valve opens and water jets shoot up around it.

So yeah, the kids were okay - they had a change of clothes. But Matthew got so excited that we couldn't leave him out - and that meant someone would have to stand in there with him. Me.





But Matthew loved it, so I didn't mind walking around for the next three hours with a damp arse. The gardens are so fantastic that it wouldn't have mattered anyway. I must have been taken with it because I've agree to go to a garden centre tomorrow. Fancy doing something creative. Maybe a bamboo maze like this...


Maybe I'll just buy a pot-plant.

Colin Mulhern

Friday, 28 May 2010

Review: The Knife That Killed Me

The Knife That Killed Meby Anthony McGowan

It was clear in Chapter Two where this novel was going, but I think that was intentional. It’s a bit like a crime novel where you’re presented with a corpse, so you know someone was murdered, but you climb aboard to find out why; you know the outcome, but you want to know the how and why. This is like that. You buy into the ride.
And it’s a pretty damn good ride.

Unfortunately, like the best rides, it’s over just a little too quick, but it leaves you wanting more. There is an incredibly fresh feeling to the writing that makes the voice of Paul come across as genuine, and a similar underbelly of black humour to Henry Tumour.

The other characters are great and Anthony McGowan has pushed the boundaries in order to make his baddy, Roth, something more than a cardboard bully. How he does this... well, that’s for the reader to find out. It certainly made me sit up and think, ‘Oh, he’s never going to go that far!’ Brilliant.

As for Shane – the mysterious, cool, confident leader of the nerdy goth/freaks (his words, not mine!). I felt a bit short changed. I wanted to read more, especially when hit with a scene of Shane self harming. That was enough to crack the too-good-to-be-true image that Paul had built up, giving him a shadow that I really wanted to explore. But, maybe a sprinkling of pepper is better than a coat.

Overall, good, strong teen fiction. A little too short, but still worth 5 stars.



Colin Mulhern