How writing YA helped me make sense of my childhood
In my debut novel, More of Me, I really wanted to find a way to capture the way we change in our teenage years.
In More of Me it was a small step to imagine that the different stages of a developing character could actually be different people.
Our personalities are not static. We continually grow and change, informed by our life experience. At no time is this more acute than in our teens. Those baffling days when our bodies are changing and our friends are changing. When we’re expected to do our best at school, to excel in our hobbies, to fall in love for the first time and, heartbreakingly, out of it. And while all this is going on we have to plan for the future when we have no clue what we want to do or how to do it. Who are we, who do we want to be and how do we become that person? It was these kinds of struggles which drove me to think about the best way of capturing the way a person changes in their teenage years.
In More of Me it was a small step to imagine that the different stages of a developing character could actually be different people. My main character Teva lives with twelve different versions of herself at different ages. Because once a year, Teva splits into two, leaving a younger version of herself stuck at the same age, forced to watch the new Teva taking over her life. Teva is sixteen at the beginning of the story, and she knows there is soon going to be a new Teva who will once again take over her life and her hopes for the future. Teva’s problems are as obvious as they are enormous, but they sit alongside her best friend Maddy’s daily dramas about boys and college and friendships and exams. The metaphor of Teva’s extraordinary condition is reflected in Maddy’s everyday life. In every teen’s everyday life.
I think a lot of adults read young adult fiction because they’ve maintained that sense of wonder, that sense of openness.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my children’s teenage friends as they have grown up. It’s remarkable to me, how they cope with the pressures of life and still remain open to new ideas – actually, more than that, how they seek out new ideas. They don’t expect books to fit a genre, they like to be surprised, they want to be entertained but they’re also looking for meaning in things all the time. In fact, I think a lot of adults read young adult fiction because they’ve maintained that sense of wonder, that sense of openness. When I was a teenager, I devoured every book I could get my hands on, but there was very little actually written for our age group. It’s a real joy to me, how much that’s changed. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Francis Hardinge’s The Lie Tree won the Costa prize! There are so many amazing books for young adults now, and I suppose, in a way, I’m writing for the teen I was.
I drew on a lot of memories from my childhood. My mother died when I was very young, and though my father remarried and he and my new mum rebuilt our family, the pain of losing someone so close smashed a giant hole in my life. I was, by turns, a sad-eyed six-year-old and a nine-year-old who wanted to be Errol Flynn. I was a twelve-year-old who couldn’t kiss and a fourteen-year-old who couldn’t cope. I was a fifteen-year-old who was angry and confused about her future, and a studious seventeen-year-old who was furious with her sixteen-year-old self for messing up her exams by hanging out on the beach all day with an unsuitable boy.
When writing about the Tevas, I could draw on those times. In fact, I think the best writing always draws on your personal experience and that can be very hard, very painful. If you want a book to have depth, I think you have to dig deep to get there. In creating Six, the youngest Teva, I had to allow myself to physically remember what it was like to be that age, how I felt when I woke in the morning and remembered my mother had died. That’s a really hard thing to do - even now just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes - but I think it’s transferred to the book. That honesty, that depth of feeling is there in Six’s scenes. I didn’t go through what she went through but by drawing on my own emotional memory, I can imagine how she felt.
More of Me is a weird book, but it’s about a uniquely familiar journey. What parts of ourselves should we take forward and what should we leave behind? How do we draw the best aspects of ourselves together while not abandoning the important lessons of the past? Ultimately, More of Me is a book full of hope. I think that’s the greatest gift we can give young people – the powerful message that whatever happens, whatever challenges you face, more often than not you’ll be OK. Even from the darkest pit, you can pick yourself up, put yourself back together and move on.
With or without your Errol Flynn ambitions.
Kathryn Evans’ widely praised debut novel More of Me is out now!
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