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

Writing Contemporary Teen Fiction by Honor and Perdita Cargill

I’m not at all sure that if I were writing on my own I would be writing contemporary funny teen books but collaborating with Honor (who’s seventeen), it made sense both for our story and for our writing voice. Waiting for Callback is about a fifteen-year old drama girl, Elektra, who stumbles into professional acting (via a standout turn as a performing root vegetable), dreams of Oscar glory but instead lurches from one hopefully funny mishap to the next. Stories of drama dreams could be set in any era (if Hon were writing historical she’d probably settle on Ancient Greece or Rome, I’d always go for Regency) but we wanted our book also to be about the stresses and humour of everyday life now for teenagers.


So we made a list of the best and the hardest things about writing in this genre:


*          I’m just going to risk the cliché here and admit that writing contemporary teen gave me lots of scope to indulge my inner teenager and at the more serious risk of sounding cheesy it was even more fun because it was alongside my teenage daughter. Look, we watched Gossip Girl and Made in Chelsea together as ‘research’. Best job in the world.


*          Hon’s favourite bit of writing is dialogue. Writing credible teenager dialogue means writing what she hears around her every day. We’d be troubled if that wasn’t working. There are lots of writers who aren’t teenagers who do it brilliantly (Holly Smale, Holly Bourne, Sophia Bennett, Non Pratt, Jenny McLachlan, Katy Birchall, Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen to name just a very few) but we’re pretty sure that they all spend hours shamelessly eavesdropping.


*          But with the dialogue comes the question of slang. No question teenagers use it but even with a teenager collaborating we steered clear of using too much. It dates very fast (I can’t count the number of times Hon would strike through something I’d written as being out of date or just cringe) and you can get the same feel with speech patterns and just flavor of voice.


*          Swearing is another tricky one. Elektra is fifteen, in real life there would be the ‘occasional’ swear word in her and her friends’ conversations. But in the end we decided against (with editorial advice but not coercion). A bit because we and our characters didn’t really need them and a bit because there will be readers who are a lot younger than fifteen. That was the right decision for our book – it obviously wouldn’t be the right decision for every contemporary teen novel. I think it’s a case-by-case call.


*          We have references to facebook, snapchat etc. in our book. This is tricky because these media platforms go in and (mostly) out of fashion. There are pop culture references too, not least in the quotes from actors that head up each chapter. But we thought about it and we decided that it just wasn’t credible to have Elektra and her friends not using social media and not talking about the culture that they swim in. Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) wrote a good piece on this on her blog.  It was a risk that we decided was one that we wanted to run.


For us it’s been great fun and we’re currently working together on the sequel. The Regency romcom and the Classical saga will have to wait.


perdita_bmPerdita & Honor Cargill

Perdita: I used to be the least numerate tax barrister ever to practise at the English bar but now I’m writing at last and it’s the best ‘job’ in the world – not least because I’m writing funny teen books with my daughter.

Honor: I’m 17, I’m in my last year at school doing A levels and yes, weirdly, I’m co-writing funny teen books with my mum and having so much fun with it. I used to do a bit of acting (mostly school but a tiny bit professional) and although Elektra, our main character, is nothing like me, I suppose that’s where the germ of the idea for Waiting for Callback came from.


One comment on “Writing Contemporary Teen Fiction by Honor and Perdita Cargill

  1. kawaiiusagi04
    January 29, 2016

    Awesome post ladies! I just wanted to let you that it was a guest post that Becky did for Live Love Read. She uses Tumblr to blog, so we’re not her official blog. =)

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