Friday, 8 June 2012

Notes on the Edge – by Guest Author Jane McLoughlin.

This week we are delighted to welcome Jane McLoughlin as our guest author at the Edge. 

Jane's debut YA novel At Yellow Lake hit the shelves yesterday. We recommend you hurry to your nearest bookshop and grab a copy!

Now over to Jane …

Most YA writers have a notion of “edge”. It’s where our characters live, whether or not we think of ourselves or our work as “edgy”.

If I were to come up with a definition of “edge”, I couldn’t come up with anything better than these lines from the song Common People by Pulp:

" You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go."

This certainly sums up the world of YA as I see it. Young people, in real life as well as in fiction, often have no control. They have no (legal) way to make money, they can’t vote, school is a requirement, not an option, they are bound to their parent’s lifestyle choices. In “edgy” YA fiction these parental choices usually veer from inept to misguided to downright dangerous . So, just as in the song, characters in YA fiction often have “nowhere left to go.”

To me, this is one of the great challenges (and joys) of writing YA. How do we create a believable world where powerless characters can take control? How do we find realistic ways for the voiceless to express themselves and for the defenceless to fight back?

But it’s the first line from that stanza that challenges me the most: “You will never understand how it feels...”

As a middle-aged, middle class woman, this hurts, because the truth is that I don’t understand. I look at the problems faced by the characters I’m writing about and, for the most part, I have never had their experiences, have never been even half as vulnerable or exposed.

Jane McLoughlin
OK, bad and scary things have happened to me in my life (and, like an actor, I use my emotional memory of these situations very often) but I’ve never been abandoned or let-down by my family, I’ve never been without the support of stable and loving people. YA characters, including ones that I have created, are often left to fend completely for themselves, and this something I can only, as yet, imagine.

So, as a writer, there is a limit to my “edge” and I have to acknowledge that.

Another great line from Common People is “everybody hates a tourist” and I worry about that sometimes, too. (All right, so I worry about a lot of foolish things). But isn’t that what all writers are to an extent? Just day trippers? Whatever we write about, whatever dangers we create for our characters, aren’t we able to turn off the laptop, make a cup of tea, tweet about the day’s word count?

The answer to this is yes, of course we are. For YA writers this is particularly problematic—the edgy world of the teenager is often far from the more rounded, secure worlds that adult writers generally inhabit. But, as writers, we still have to go to the edge—even while acknowledging that it is only our edge, not the edge. We have to be unafraid to visit some dark places, to take some creative risks, to follow our characters into the turbulent water of our own painful memories. And even if we can’t, as the the song says, understand what it’s like to be powerless, at least we must to try to remember. And if we can’t remember?

Then we’ll have to do what writers do best—imagine the edge, and head towards it.

At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin is out now in paperback, published by Frances Lincoln. Visit your local bookshop or click here to buy a copy.

Keep up to date with Jane's latest news via her blog.


  1. Great post, Jane. And yes, we do have to go to those darker, edgier places in our minds if not in reality!
    I've just ordered At Yellow Lake and I'm very excited about reading it!

  2. The book looks fab - oh dear, was straight over to Amazon and I'd promised myself not to buy anything this week!

  3. I'm looking forward to reading At Yellow Lake!

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