Saturday, 25 June 2011

Self-respect by Keren David

Anne Hathaway as Emma Morley in One Day. Not quite as I imagined her
David Nicholls' best-selling romance One Day is an enjoyable read -  the story of  Dexter and Emma who meet at university, revisited on the same day every year as their lives unfold. Nicholls is great at the period details that make us 40-somethings wince - the books that Emma reads in the 1980s, the clothes that Dexter wears in the 1990s , the recall is (almost) pitch perfect. I'm looking forward to the movie, despite the weird casting of Anne Hathaway as down-to-earth Northern Emma.
But there was one section of the book that brought a tear to my eye -  and it's not the bit you might imagine.. Emma Morley, my favourite character (much too good for feckless Dexter), becomes a successful writer for teenage girls. Yay! She makes an unlikely amount of money really, really quickly from these books. Good for Emma (suspend disbelief)!
But is she proud of her work? Emma is not. 'It's just a silly kid's book,' she tells Dexter (not too sure that her punctuation is spot on there, but I'm quoting verbatim from the Kindle edition). It's entirely in character for Emma to play down her achievements when she's talking to Dexter, but she even does it in her own thoughts. 'The city of Sartre and De Beauvoir, Beckett and Proust  and here she was too, writing teenage fiction albeit with considerable commercial success.'  Hear that internal sneer.
Later on she tells Dexter: 'I love it. But I'd like to write a grown-up book one day. That's what I always wanted to write, this great, angry, state-of-the-nation novel, something wild and timeless that reveals the human soul, not a lot of silly stuff about snogging French boys at discos.'
Hmm. I almost threw my Kindle at the wall.  It's all very well for well-meaning strangers to ask whether you'll write a proper book one day (although actually they're a lot more likely to chortle on about how you'll probably be the next J K Rowling). But it's something else completely when one of our own starts doing it. Emma lost all my sympathy right there and then. As I was 78 per cent through the book (one of the joys of a Kindle is knowing exactly what percent of the book has been read before it starts annoying or boring the reader), I finished it, but the magic had gone. When Emma - no, I won't spoil it if you haven't read it - but I didn't care much. She'd let the side down.
Now in real life I haven't come across any Emmas. The YA writers I know  love their work, wouldn't want to do anything else, they respect their readers and their peers and they strive to create the best book possible, whether it's gritty crime, sparkling romance or wild fantasy. They don't diss their own work, because they know it would be rude to readers and fellow writers alike, not to mention the publishers who risk money on their books.
And then I read this article. Two YA writers, Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix who are writing YA books and think it's just fine to sneer at the genre. They obviously don't read it -  they seem to think that Twilight includes explicit sex scenes (as if!). They describe themselves as literary predators, they produce shoddy work, they assume their readers won't notice or care as: 'Readers in Y.A. don't care about rumination. They don't want you to pore over your sentences trying to find the perfect turn of phrase that evokes the exact color of the shag carpeting in your living room when your dad walked out on your mom one autumn afternoon in 1973. They want you to tell a story. In YA you write two or three drafts of a chapter, not eight. When kids like one book, they want the next one. Now. You need to deliver.'
They're comparing their churn- it-out world of YA  with literary fiction...'And literary fiction readers are tough,' they say. Teens, one infers, are not tough critics, but will happily lap up any old rubbish.
Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix, I hope the comments under your article will make you pause for thought. If you think so little of YA fiction, go and do something else. Read the last 20 per cent of One Day, see what happens to Emma Morley and reflect. And then get on your bike...

11 comments:

Leila said...

Wow... :-0
I started reading One Day, free sample on my Kindle, but I have to say I thought it very trite and didn't buy the book.
I just read the piece and TBH I think they were probably going for the ironic, witty angle, but it clearly backfired massively. One thing that is true is that in children's and YA lit you do not get two years to write the book, unless you want to be out of a contract. 6 months is definitely more like it.

Debs Riccio said...

Good post, well said, hear hear! A part of my brain (the Benefit of the Doubt part) is still giving poor Emma a BotD for having been the manifestation of a male creator - since when did a bloke REALLY know how a woman TRULY feels let alone THINKS! And Anne Hathaway? Anna Friel would've been better.

Lucy Coats said...

Goodness that made me cross! I also think they may have been trying to be cool and ironic--if so they have reaped the whirlwind. I've got One Day on my Kindle to read on holiday. I can see there will be some loud sounds of annoyance under the Italian sun. Grrh!

Rebecca Brown said...

Wow, just wow. This kind of comment always annoys me, not least as someone who is DESPERATE to be a YA writer. I think anyone who actually cares about the teens they're supposedly writing for knows that they're an incredibly demanding readership who aren't afraid to call you on it if your work isn't up to scratch.

midlifesinglemum said...

Well said Keren. Any writer who dismisses their own writing as trivial is insulting their readers. Something an author cannot afford to do I would think. Can you imagine a primary school eacher saying: It's money for old rope, the kids are too shallow for me to have to make any effort. One day I'd like to teach real students...?

Keren David said...

I should also have added that writing quickly to tight deadlines does not neccessarily make your work shoddy. Every day journalists have a matter of hours to turn out high quality work (not every journalist,obvs, but many of them) and they turn out some wonderful stuff.

Book Angel Emma said...

It makes me a little sad - what must they think of their readers to belittle their own genre :(

Anne Cassidy said...

Ah! don't be put off of ONE DAY. I thought it was a terrific book. Herein lies the problem. When a writer describes a profession that is not his or her own. The key is to do it with authenticity so that the general reader is convinced. But you will never convince the reader who happens to be in that profession. I was a teacher for years and whenever I read about a teacher i always cringed (more when I watched things on TV). My father was a steel erector and whenever a steel erector was shown in a movie or on TV he rolled his eyes. I think this happens for all professions. i write crime for teens and I hope a policeman /woman never reads it.

Stroppy Author said...

At least this is a made-up writer. I was more disappointed to see Julia Donaldson say in The Times last Monday that one day she would like to write a book for adults but didn't know if she would be able to. That's really NOT what we need from the Children's Laureate, reinforces old and stupid stereotypes of the 'when will you write a proper book?' type. Just as well for her the Times is now subscription only so her tactless stupidity can't go viral.

madwippitt said...

It's the same sort of irritating attitude as that of 'He who can does, he who can't teaches' isn't it?

Nick Green said...

To be fair, Emma Morley would have been down on herself even if she'd written Anna Karenina.

But Anne Hathaway is way too waiflike! Emma has solidity.