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From Peer to post by Steph Bowe

May 17, 2010

Steph Bowe (of Hey! Teenager of the Year) recently wrote an article for The Age. I loved it, so I’m reposting it below. You can find the original here. She touches on the wonders of blogging, the lovely YA genre, and how important it is to respect YA (which we know I’m ardent about. You can read my guest post, “Dear Writers: Respect YA”, here).

From Peer to post

When I tell people that I write for teenagers, I get all sorts of interesting responses. There are the people who think that I’m doing a great service to society, and enriching the lives and imaginations of our youth. There are the people who think that books for teenagers aren’t really books at all, because apparently writing for kids is easy. Then there are the people who just ask me if I’ve read Twilight.

I don’t write young adult (YA) novels because I’m a good samaritan or because I can’t write for adults or because Twilight inspired me. I write for young people because it’s something I’ve been drawn to, and because the teenage experience is something I’m so familiar with. It comes easily to me because I’m going through it right now. I’m not in a position to patronise teenage readers, because I am a teenager, and, for me, my audience is also my peers.

As a writer, blogs are brilliant for connecting with your audience. While plenty of adults are computer literate, the internet is really the realm of the young person. We’re constantly told of the horrors of the internet, the kids revealing too much about themselves — but there’s an upside to it as well. The intelligent kids eager to learn, the ones who live for books, are able to contact their favourite authors in moments — something unheard of a couple of decades ago. This is fantastic for me, and for other authors, because we can connect with our audience instantaneously. I can write a blog post and within seconds have a response from someone on the other side of the world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from blogging and being able to communicate with teens online, it’s that irrespective of where in the world they live, and their circumstances, there’s a common theme to their experiences, and the way they feel about themselves and the world around them is pretty much the same. I may never meet any of these kids, but I know their hunger for new experiences. I know their fear about the future.

Universally these teenagers rely on books. They make sense of their world through novels written for them. They can learn about things they haven’t experienced and lives they’ll never live. Books help them escape from their reality. Books move them and amaze them and inspire them and maybe help them become better people. Books for teenagers are real books because teenagers are real people. Writing for them is great, because everything is so new and big and scary — your teenage years are full of risks and first experiences and everything seems so profound.

I love writing YA. Blogging is a fantastic forum for bringing issues to light that couldn’t comfortably be brought up within normal conversations. There’s a veil of anonymity that allows people to be more honest online than they would be with people they knew well in the physical world. I’ve received so many wonderful responses to posts about difficult issues that youth need to talk about, but don’t get the opportunity to. When you want to connect with people online, you have to be honest, respectful and non-judgmental. You have to reveal some of yourself.

I know what it’s like to be a teenager today. I know what aggravates us, the things we worry about and angst over. I know that so many young people in so many different situations feel the exact same feelings I do about things. And because I’m a teenager — because I’m experiencing this all right now, because I don’t know anything apart from this uncertainty, this great unknown thing in front of me that’s going to be my life — I have compassion and respect for the youth I write for. And if you don’t respect your audience, there’s really no use writing at all.

Steph Bowe is a 16-year-old Young Adult author. Her debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, will be published by Text Publishing in September. Her blog for teenagers is called Hey! Teenager of the Year. As part of the Emerging Writers Festival, Bowe is part of a forum, A Short Note on Process, where four writers talk about their creative processes, 10am, May 30, at the Melbourne Town Hall. Bookings and information: emergingwritersfestival.org.au


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