I suspect most YA authors, if they’re honest, will admit to having thought about writing an adult novel. The motivation isn’t mysterious. Okay, you think to yourself, I’ve written stories for teenagers, but how would I go with a real novel? The implicit assumption is that adult novels are in some sense more difficult and more worthy, and to prove oneself as a writer one needs to step up to this greater task. The reasoning is, of course, entirely bogus. Writing bad adult fiction is tremendously easy, and writing truly great YA fiction almost impossible, so not only is there plenty of room left to prove oneself within the YA genre, the simple act of writing an adult novel proves nothing at all. Nevertheless I was seduced: partly by ego, and partly by curiosity.
The most interesting thing for me was considering how I would change my approach, knowing as I did that the most likely reader would be older and literate. Although some people say they don’t think about audience when they’re writing, for me this isn’t the case. I was acutely aware of a daunting grown up looking over my shoulder, one who would tire quickly of my adolescent sense of humour, and would interrogate my claims and observations with knowing disdain. Worse, they would compare my prose to the other writers they read, the writers I read, writers I couldn’t possibly hope to match. I felt like a child walking into a room of adults, and being asked my opinion on the economy or global warming.
And this is how, I like to think, I came to take my eye off the plot. I became so concerned with the mode of expression, for fear that my lowly YA origins were showing, that I lost track of what it was I was trying to express.There’s an irony here. If there’s one thing a YA author should be able to bring across the literary divide it’s a sense of narrative. YA fiction stands or falls on the quality of its stories. And yet, Acid Song is the least compelling narrative I’ve ever put together. It was almost as if I had convinced myself that narrative was childish, that serious novels simply circulated through the room, observing carefully, occasionally sharing their insight. While that’s true of some novels, it’s not generally true of the novels I most enjoy, and it certainly didn’t have to be true of Acid Song. The set up, a genetic researcher covering up a finding he doesn’t believe society is ready for, cries out for narrative development. But, in hindsight, this central tension was kept carefully locked away, and therefore impotent, a mistake I would never have made had I conceived of this as a story for adolescents.
Not that it’s all negative. Reading over it now, I can see that the expression is fine, and I needn’t have worried so much. I like the characters, there are loads of moments that feel complete and satisfying in themselves, and with a little more confidence they could have been arranged into a very strong novel. Maybe next time.