Thursday 27 September 2018

Are teenagers - and their brains - different?

by Teri Terry

For a long time it was thought that most brain development takes place in the early years; that a teen essentially has an adult brain. 
But then why do they think and act so differently? 
For example, why do they - comparatively speaking - have poorer impulse control, take more risks in the presence of their peers, and generally find their parents excruciatingly embarrassing to be around? Why won't they just grow up?
Is it a societal thing - is it our fault - is it theirs?

Brainstorm is a play created by Islington Community Theatre (now called Company 3) and cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore:

You say to me...
Your brain is broken. It's like an adult's brain that doesn't work properly.

Whether you are a teen, write for teens, live with a few or work with them by the dozen, watch this excerpt: it is powerful.

Brainstorm from Mattia Pagura on Vimeo.

When I started writing for teens years ago, it wasn't long after the time that YA fiction was becoming a thing

Around the same time I remember coming across this argument, one I've heard many times since:
No matter what you call them - teenagers, young adults or adolescents - the whole youth culture is a recent creation of an affluent west. YA fiction grew out of this: it is a market artificially created by publishing companies to make money.

So, are they real or did we make them up? 
Whatever label you want to use, are teenagers distinctly different from children and adults, or are they actually a recent invention? 
And why does it seem so socially acceptable to mock teens and the ways they are different, their likes and dislikes? 

I'm all too familiar with how dismissive people often are of books written for teens and those who write them, and the view that readers should go from children's stories straight to adult classics with no stops between; that giving them access to teen fiction they enjoy allows them to be lazy and unchallenged.

I went to a talk by award-winning cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at New Scientist Live last weekend: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain.

She knows what she's talking about. This is her bio, from the New Scientist Live website: 
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University
College London, Deputy Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and a member of the Royal Society Public Engagement Committee. She has won multiple major awards for her research, including the British Psychological Society Spearman Medal 2006, the Turin Young Mind & Brain Prize 2013, the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award 2013 and the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize 2015. She was one of only four scientists on the Sunday Times 100 Makers of the 21st Century in 2014.

I took LOADS of notes to do this blog, and then I found this: a TED talk! 
Well, Sarah-Jayne says it much better than I can, so here you go: 

So, there you have it. 

Teenagers ARE different; their brains are undergoing important work at making them who they are. This is the case across cultures; across centuries; even species. 

So, cut them some slack. 

And I'll keep writing, and know this: 
If I write a book that a teen connects with, one that makes them understand themselves or other people better, one that makes them feel that if a character their age can do something amazing, maybe they can, too - or even if it is just pure escapism from a difficult day - I know I've done something important.

Friday 14 September 2018

Hello! I'm talking to you! Who's your reader?

by Addy Farmer

Let me tell you straight off that I opened this new post with NO IDEA what to write about. My fellow bloggers have done it all, really they have and done it brilliantly. So ... why bother? Why should I write anything at all? Am I just filling space? Honouring a committment? Fulfilling a self-aggrandising ambition which included seeing my name in as many places as possible? Um, maybe. And probably all three but it's also about a need to talk to someone out there about what the flip I'm doing being a children's author. It's about talking to people who understand that it's not all about launches and cake. Or wine and cake. Or cake.

Lemon drizzle - my favourite

Is anyone listening? Have I got your attention with CAKE? Well, if that's so then I must be talking to the vast majority of children's writers, because in my experience, rather alot of us like cake. I hope I know my audience. Why do we write with an audience in mind? For me, it's all about HEART.  The nine year old protagonist in my WIP is based on and written for a nine year old from a primary school I worked in. I want him to identify with my protagonist and feel that this book is for HIM alone (and the millions of other readers who will also buy it). And maybe, just maybe it can make a difference to someone.
Image result for kids audience
So not only do you excellent readers want to see cake in my blog but you also want a cracking personal story of ambition, struggle and eventual success. Give me a moment on that one.

Image result for mountain climb black and white
I've no idea what's going on her but it looks like a struggle to me
And call me a custard cream if I'm not correct in assuming that you also want a few TOP TIPS on how to make your writing shine by knowing your readership?

Well, here are some tips for you based on my writing for junior children with a school element involved...
  • find out what your chosen readership enjoys reading! Simples. Try seeing if a school will let you in - schools generally love volunteers. My WIP is 'funny and magic' - so many children love funny stuff - but if it doesn't suit you then DO NOT FORCE IT. Find another way - magic/football/pets/therearemore. Have combos e.g. funny magic; magical pets; footballing dogs.  
  • note quirks and habits which will make your characters stand out e.g. I noted so many children played with the wretched plastic trays placed directly under the tables or fiddled about with pencil sharpeners or took hours to wash up the paint stuff or gave out letters with a great deal of fussing ... it goes on
  • understand the way a school works - it's changed since you were young! School is such a massive part of a child's life that it's important to know roughly how stuff is taught and timetables
  • Know more about the culture in primary schools today or at least in the school you research! Schools have staff who specialise in nurturing pupils/teaching English as  foreign language/SENCO support/booster classes. So much! 
  • You don't have to include everything of course but any research will shine through and will help bring a story and characters to life and into the hands of your chosen reader

Identify books which are similar to yours
Once you recognize who your competition is, it may be easier for you to pinpoint your potential readers because chances are, you share the same target audience.

Having trouble identifying your target audience?
Ask other authors or industry professionals for help! There's a certain SCBWI conference coming up in November in Winchester ... it's a great place to find out about publishers' target audiences and lap up their knowledge. Also children's authors love to help fellow authors at these dos. 

Kids seem a bit happier in schools nowadays

Some stories that speak to their readers

Harry in his cupboard - alone and friendless except for 1 000 000 000 readers who felt his pain and his thirst for something more than this

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Dogger by Shirley Hughes is about the terrible anxiety of losing a beloved toy, the unsentimental love of your hero big sister and the immense happiness of finding it again. It is the world of the four year old completely.

Then there are the teen/YA reads - the Guardian has a great list of books where readers have so identified with the story or the protagonist that they have saved lives. Can't say fairer than that.

Friday 7 September 2018

My First Year as a Twittering Author - brilliant!

by Em Lynas

First, I need to say  I did not want to join Twitter because I didn't 'get it'.

What was the point of twitter?
Who was tweeting who and why.
What was the point of me tweeting?
Would it be time consuming?
Would there would be NASTY TROLLS!
Would it ALWAYS be confrontational so I wouldn't say what I really thought in case I was rounded upon by the aforementioned NASTY TROLLS!
And - the clincher - Donald Trump is on twitter.

But when I was lucky enough to get a three book deal with Nosy Crow!

I was advised to tweet if I was comfortable doing it.

So I had a go but I was thinking this:

What the heck do I say?
Buy my book? No.
Who should I follow? (Not Donald Trump)
Should I just like lots of tweets? Is that stalking?
Should I retweet EVERTHING by EVERYONE to make friends?
Shouldn't I be writing? 

But then I thought:
Oooo look! I can quote a retweet with a comment EXCITING!
Oooo look! I can see who other people are following and follow them!
Oooo look! People are following me! (Not Donald Trump)
Oooo look! Someone has retweeted me! With a comment!
Oooo look I've been #FF'd  (Follow Fridays)

And then I thought:
This is fun.
This is time consuming.
But is it useful?

YES! It's all three because this is what I have DISCOVERED on Twitter in just one year of twittering:

Fantastic book bloggers like
Jo Clarke @bookloverJo
Catherine Friess @storysnug
LibraryGirlAndBookBoy @BookSuperhero2

Teachers who LOVE BOOKS

Authors who are SO SUPPORTIVE

Initiatives to encourage reading for pleasure
North Somerset CBG and the NorthSomersetTeachersBookAwards #NSTBA

Organisations like:

And these twitter interactions led to invites:

To join in with the Great North Author Tour organised by Richard and Mel of Drake's Bookshop

To pop in for book signings in
Waterstones in Harrogate, Yarm and Middlesbrough
Indie Bookshops such as - Seven Stories where I got to write and draw in the Visitor Book!

To teachers getting in touch to book school visits which is fantastic because I LOVE being with the kids especially the ones who know my books better than I do.

Picture by Richard Drake - Hats by me.

This is just a flavour of why I am now a twitter fan. I've only just touched on the fabulous community of author, illustrators, librarians, bloggers and teachers who all have one thing in common - they love books for children.

I have a feeling I'll be updating this post as I remember the people I've missed out! 


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