A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Censorship’s a tricky subject, especially when it comes to kids’ or YA literature. Not just in terms of language, but in sex, violence, or general content, and I’ve struggled with the question of whether or not to include something quite a few times myself.
When researching A Dream of Lights (set in North Korea) I found out many shocking things about how people are treated, but the one thing that stopped me in my tracks and was reading about what happens to any babies born in the prison camps. If they survive the pregnancy and birth (no medical assistance is available) then they are placed near the mother and left to die. The mothers aren’t allowed to touch or feed them, they have to lay there and listen to the cries of their newborns until they eventually stop.
My first reaction to this, was that it was far too much, for any novel, especially one aimed at teens, and I left it. This haunted me for days and weeks, and I shared the knowledge with a few friends, talked about how unbelievable it is that any country could allow this to happen to its people. And I started to think about including it.
In writing about real places and situations, I feel there’s a responsibility to get it right and be true to the people living it; in writing for teens, I feel you should never ‘dumb-down’ (they spot it a mile off).
From a narrative – I’m not writing a non-fiction book after all – point of view, (I’m trying not to give away spoilers!) I needed to push my character to the absolute limit so that she would act (risking everything) and try to escape. What better motivation than the life of her baby?
And I decided that the ‘shock factor’ depends on how you do it. If I’d written it actually happening to my character from a firsthand point of view it may have been too much for the story and too much gloom for the reader. So instead I wrote it as a warning – she gives birth in secret, is warned by her ‘neighbour’ what will happen when the guards discover the baby in the morning, and is forced to act. It became a pivotal part of the story.
So I suppose in retrospect I did censor a little – I chose to tell it in a way that would lessen the impact, but it was shocking enough by being told simply, another way may have been too gratuitous.
I suppose that’s the difference then – whether or not it’s gratuitous. From my point of view, whether it be language or violence or sexual content, it shouldn’t be there for the sake of it or for shock value. It should serve a purpose to your story or to your character.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a very understanding editor, who seems to be on the same wavelength as me, and as yet, I haven’t been asked to censor anything – hopefully that means I got it right the first time!
Like so many authors, for as long as I can remember, I’ve made stories up in my head. However, it never seemed an attainable career for ‘normal’ people, so it wasn’t until about the year 2000 when my youngest child was about to start school and the prospect of returning to full-time work loomed that I thought it’s now or never and started taking it seriously. Twelve years, a lot of hard work and loads of rejections later I had an agent (Carolyn Whitaker, London Independent Books) and my first novel – A Brighter Fear – was published.
In those twelve years, as well as many rejections, I was also a finalist in a BBC script-writing competition, and achieved a first class honours degree in Professional Writing.
A Brighter Fear was shortlisted for the Leeds Book Awards and my second novel, A Dream of Lights was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and awarded ‘Highly Commended’ at the North East Teenage Book Awards.