A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Teen me – do your own teenage years influence your writing and how/why? by Emma Haughton


I had to really think about this one. Not only because my teenage years were *cough* a while ago, but because I like to think I’ve changed a bit since then. And no, I don’t just mean the wrinkles. My teen years were fairly tumultuous. I was a girl in flight from an unhappy childhood, unaware of the fact that it was about to catch up with me big time. So I’ll admit those years have some uncomfortable memories.

But the subject for this blog post really got me thinking. How did that time affect my writing? In several ways, I’ve decided. One is that I find it fairly easy to get into the head of a typical teenager, particularly when it comes to the angst and introspection that often characterises early adulthood. I can relate to that kind of painful self-consciousness that comes with finding your feet in the world, and I’m at home with that anxious internal rumination that goes with a very first-person view of the world. As a teen it’s all too easy to feel you are under the spotlight all the time. It takes a while to grasp the idea that other people are, on the whole, too busy thinking about themselves and their own lives to worry much about you. I’ve grown out of that in many respects, but it’s still a place that feels familiar.

I think my teen years have also influenced my desire to write for young adults at all. There’s a lot of truth in the idea that I’m reliving those years in many ways, trying to make sense of them. In a sense I’m also reparenting myself, giving myself the kind of mother and father I wish I’d had, while at the same teaching my characters that being an adult is difficult, and sometimes the people around you screw up because, you know, life is challenging. So Hannah in Now You See Me gets imperfect parents, but nevertheless loving ones, who do their best under almost impossible circumstances. And it’s much the same for Sarah, the protagonist of my next novel, Better Left Buried. Her parents are basically kind and attentive, just struggling with overwhelming grief.

In a strong sense you could also say my books are also my older self – me now – talking to my younger self – me then. Telling her what? That you can rely on your own instincts, her own judgement. That courage and tenacity can get you through. While showing that leaving childhood behind may mean accepting certain unpalatable truths – about your own flaws and limits, and those of the people around you.

And the more I think about it, my books – besides being thrillers in the more conventional sense – are also about learning to navigate that transition between childhood and adult. They’re both coming-of-age novels, as many YA books are. Both Hannah and Sarah are forced by circumstance to grow up very suddenly, and grapple with difficult moral dilemmas. While things are pretty black-and-white in the world of the child, part of the difficulty of being a teen is starting to recognise that in the adult world things are much greyer, far more nuanced. It can be very hard to know what to do, how to be in the world. Indeed, for most of us, that’s the journey of a lifetime.

Untitled Emma Haughton
Emma Haughton worked as a journalist working for national newspapers and magazines before settling down to write young adult fiction. Her first book, YA thriller NOW YOU SEE ME, was published by Usborne in May 2014. Her second, BETTER LEFT BURIED, comes out next year.


This entry was posted on June 23, 2014 by and tagged , , , .

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