A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
This is a blogpost about the only time I have ever been censored. It was not by my agent, nor by my editors – any of them. My UK and US editors haven’t so much as batted an eyelid at an F-bomb and in Germany they’re dropping one on the cover for all to see.
Nope. The only time my writing has ever been censored was at school, when I submitted the creative writing part of my GCSE coursework. Being a light-sucking ray of black matter, I’d written a story about a girl who worshipped the devil. As you do. The climax of the story comes when the anti-heroine, Nisha Harris must kill her first victim as part of her coming-of-age sacrifice (aged 14, weirdly – since when did 14 become a landmark age for anything?). But I wanted the reader to sympathise with her, get them rooting for bloodshed. So I had her kill an utter douchebag of a human, a boy called Tim who was out to get her after she publicly spurned his sexual advances. (Seriously, all kinds of cheery.)
Just prior to his (rather graphic) slaughter I wrote this line:
When my teacher handed back my first draft she told me the whole thing was too long (I’ve always erred on the wordy side), wiggly underlined this sentence and told me I couldn’t write that and refused to give me a mark.
My second draft was shorter and I changed the line so that despicable Tim takes out a knife instead of his penis.
I was given an unheard of 29/30 and the story was passed round the class as an example of A* writing (apparently sentence structure wasn’t important).
So… that was when I learned that it is entirely acceptable to describe a boy pulling a knife on a girl to cut her face (I went into detail), but it is not OK to for him to unzip his flies.
Times they are a-changing. Back then, YA did not exist in the way it does now and today more people are writing more honestly about every aspect of teen life, from knife crime to rape to more positive and cheery representations of rounded relationships and using knives for more healthy purposes, like channelling your inner Jamie Oliver.
However. As part of the I’m Too Sexy For This Book panel at YALC with Beth Reekles, Cat Clarke and James Dawson we were asked why it remains more acceptable for books to portray graphic violence than a sex scene. Because it’s still true. We might have come a long way since I edited Satanic Outcast: The life story of Nisha Harris, but the truth remains that even now, people are still more worried about sex than they are about violence. (Which is odd, because I’m pretty sure more people die from violence than from sex…)
I always say I include sex because that is what I wanted to read when I was fourteen, but I also include it because I am not frightened of it. Neither are my publishers, nor, seemingly the booksellers on whose shelves I’ve spotted the sperm, nor are the teens who’ve read it, nor the schools (bar one) who’ve had me come visit and sell books – or, indeed the many parents who’ve bought it for their teens to read. Sex – like anything in this world – is only scary if you won’t talk about it.
I think it’s best we all keep talking. About everything.
After playing with glitter, stickers and short sentences in the non-fiction side of Usborne Publishing (where they insisted on using her real name ‘Leonie’) Non Pratt moved to fiction as Commissioning Editor at Catnip Publishing, still playing with sentences, but not so much with the glitter and stickers.
She’s written a book called TROUBLE published by Walker Books in the UK, and later in the year by Simon and Schuster in the US. Non is currently enjoying having someone else tell her what to do with her sentences.
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