Dan Tunstall’s book BIG AND CLEVER and Claire Tulloch’s DROWNED were launched alongside a new edition of David Belbin’s hit novel LOVE LESSONS. The three books were recent additions to the list of Nottingham-based publisher Five Leaves.
I have a lot of time for Five Leaves, and not just because they published my novella THE MENTALIST. They are a fine example of the growing band of independent regional publishers who are giving a voice to authors who might not be picked up by the London-based giants.
Why would the big boys/girls avoid books other than because they were poorly written? They might be deemed un-commercial for a start. They might be hard to classify. They might be risky. They might be out-and-out dangerous.
Young adult fiction is not a market for the squeamish. Adults think a 15 year old should be reading Harry Potter. Safe fiction. But a 15 year old is going through the full range of adult emotions – and with an intensity that it is hard for me (on the wrong side of 40) to even remember. They need fiction that challenges them and helps them to make the huge transitions of life that they are enduring. If they don’t want ‘safe’, perhaps they should look at the growing young adult list from Five Leaves.
Claire Tulloch’s DROWNED follows a teenage boy coming to terms with the death of a close friend in rural Ireland 30 years ago. Was it an accident or was it murder? The protagonist sets out to discover the truth. Dan Tunstall’s BIG AND CLEVER addresses teenage identity and football violence. Whilst David Belbin’s LOVE LESSONS goes for the ultimate taboo – a relationship between a 15 year old girl and her teacher.
Acording to Belbin, the young adult genre has shifted over the years to accept ever more controversial subjects. It took a long time to get LOVE LESSONS accepted by a publisher. But it turned out to be a huge hit with its target audience. There is clearly a gap between what the industry is comfortable with and what young adults are hungry for.
What about the moral implications of writing about these subjects for this audience? The question was asked by a member of the 60-strong audience, and must surely have been on the minds of many. A difficult question to answer. The authors agreed that young adult audiences should be credited with some understanding and moral judgement. They are capable of interpreting a moral ambiguity.
I was listening to this, thinking how glad I am that it is not me having to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. There is a huge gulf between the ghastly preachiness of overtly moralistic stories and the ethical quagmire of stories that are detached from all moral compass. Somewhere between the two must be a balance.
Not a happy balance though. It is never going to be that.