But a surprising number slipped through the cracks and had nothing, and with these, in the short time we had available, I would do whatever seemed most likely to engage them. With one sixteen year-old boy, we wrote a letter to his soon-to-be-born child, writing about his life and expressing his hopes for the future. With several, I got them to write poetry - they needed a framework and help with the actual writing, but the words and thoughts were their own, and their shy pleasure at having created something complete was a joy to see. With another, we created fliers for a small business he hoped one day to set up. With that same boy, I read a story about bullying and we talked about it.
|The cover of my new book, which is for 'reluctant' readers.|
Since becoming a writer, I've always hoped to have the opportunity to write for readers like this. I think 'reluctant' is actually a bit of a misnomer; they're only reluctant because they find reading so hard - and so then they pretend to scorn it, because that's what you do, isn't it? If there's a club you can't join, you shrug your shoulders and say that you never wanted to belong to it anyway. I wrote about a boy like this - Ash - in The Willow Man: I think he's still one of my favourite characters. But although the book was in part about a boy who found reading difficult, it wasn't for a boy such as him: you would need to be a confident reader to access it.
So there's a lot of conflict, a lot of tension. When I put in the proposal, the editor wondered if this was going to be too much to get into 5000 words. Well - it was certainly a challenge. It meant getting rid of any excess baggage: paring the story and the characters down to their essence. I loved it. And if just a few - even one - teenager reads it and enjoys it and then thinks: Well, that was fun - maybe I'll try another! - then I'll really feel as if I've achieved something.
Liz Kessler, who usually posts on the 24th, will be back in 2017.