Tag Archives: Steve Augarde

Dare I recommend a book?

Well. Do I?

Some discussion broke out the other day after my review of Losing It. I was halfway to sending an email to a young reader of my acquaintance, suggesting he/she read Losing It, when I came to my senses and thought I might have to ask permission from the parents first. And my next thought was that they’d think ‘there goes that tiresome woman again’. So I didn’t.

Steve Augarde left comments saying he thought recommendations were fine, but even he felt he’d prefer it to come to him rather than directly at any child of his. I brought the subject up with some visitors to our house yesterday. They also felt recommendations were OK, but they too would like any ‘sexy’ recommendation to come via them.

So we’re back to my old complaint about school libraries where they are afraid of parents turning to the press if any child comes home with a dubious book.

I could position myself in a bookshop near the shelf that hopefully houses Losing It and point it out to prospective readers. How long until they kick me out? I know it can work a treat with ‘ordinary topic’ novels, but probably not with sex. And as I said the other day, there is really very little of it in Losing It.

When I read Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden a few weeks ago, I was struck by how sensitively, but graphically, she wrote about the taboo lovemaking. It made me compare it with William Nicholson’s Rich and Mad, which the press have written about a lot more. Presumably because that lovemaking is OK, where incest isn’t.

I’m doing a lot of remembering all of a sudden, wondering why old people believe that young readers will copy any behaviour they read about in a book. Someone I knew had a son aged fourteen at the time Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was published, and she felt that if her son was allowed to read HILN, he would automatically assume that sex between young cousins is perfectly all right, and go ahead and do it. Why would he? Reading such a marvellous novel won’t instantly change your intelligent child into someone with no sense at all.

Let’s face it. Do young readers even want old people to recommend books with a potentially sexy content? We’re embarrassing.

And did Son clear reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess with me? He felt a strong need to vet it. You can’t let a mother read just anything, can you?

Lost exile

Can you hallucinate a book? I thought I did a couple of weeks ago, while we were all in the throes of the gay book argument. It started with that Guardian review of Steve Augarde’s latest book, X Isle.

I knew I had a copy. I knew. I did have it. Until Christmas it had been sitting in a very prime position in the row of my most prime books to read next. Then I felt obliged to tidy those books into new formations, in order to allow some Christmas decorations to adorn the room. It’s not as if my aunt’s bureau is a bookcase, anyway.

The Resident IT Consultant crept up and asked if we had a copy of that much debated book, since the blog storm had made him interested in reading it. I said I had had the same thought and had intended to look for it. So I looked. I didn’t find it anywhere.

I looked in the same places again. I looked in different places. It wasn’t there.

Doubt crept in. Maybe I had imagined receiving it?

Then I found the press release, and thought that it was most unlikely I would have that and no book. I still couldn’t find it, so felt it was better to give up. Vaguely wondered if I could email Random and admit to having mislaid it and ask for another.

A couple of days ago I suddenly remembered that it had been one of those early proofs consisting of sheets of paper held together with a white plastic thing. (I’m sure it has a name.) With that new knowledge, I cast my eye around the room, and saw it immediately. It was sitting almost a foot away from me in my armchair. I was in the armchair, not the book. The book was on the shelf under the plant stand.X Isle

The relief I felt on discovering I’m as sane as you are was, well, a relief. So, back to square one.

What about gay books?

‘Thank goodness we’re all heterosexuals here,’ sighs Patrick Ness in his Guardian review of Steve Augarde’s book X Isle. (Spoiler warning, in case someone reads Patrick’s review and wants to read Steve’s book later.) And he goes on to say:

‘Gay teens read books, too, having a bit more reason than most to seek a safe and private world, and how miraculous it would be for them, just once, to read a mass-market adventure story where their absence isn’t greeted with relief. —  How refreshing it would be for gay teens – and, incidentally, straight teens, too – to read a twist that reverses expectations in new ways, rather than the usual Shakespearean ones. It’s time, perhaps, for certain old plot devices to be buried with a fond, but firm, farewell.’

I have to agree. I probably wouldn’t have minded Steve’s plot device (similar to Meg Rosoff’s in What I Was), but I can see where Patrick is coming from. But then, maybe it’s not so much what Steve or anyone else might have done with their plots which matters, as the simple fact that there are not a lot of gay YA books around.

In fact, I’m struggling to come up with any at all, other than Jacqueline Wilson’s Kiss. When I read I don’t compartmentalise story lines in my mind according to sexuality or skin colour. I’m not absolutely certain how I categorise books, now that I think about it. More like I do people, I expect. Nice people, awful people, bores, etc. Things that don’t depend on them being black or white or wealthy or badly educated or anything else like that.

So, I think ‘good book’, ‘couldn’t-wait-to-put-it-down book’, ‘book of the century’ or ‘OK, I suppose’. That kind of thing. If it’s got interesting relationships or sex or whatever I’ll mentally file it away as such.

Patrick is right, though. As long as being gay is seen as a problem or as a minority thing, there will be a captive audience waiting to read about themselves. And it wouldn’t hurt for others to read about it as well. But my own experience from blogging about Aspie books in the belief that it would be useful for ‘the others’, only to find that it was the Aspie readers who were desperate to find reading suggestions, shows that you can’t necessarily predict what anyone needs. Most of us would like to find someone we can identify with in fiction, whether it’s sexuality, disability, race or just simple stuff like being fat, clever, shy or something else, which for the ‘sufferer’ takes on disproportionate dimensions.

We don’t need more books about the hardships of being rich, beautiful, popular or terrific at sports. Vampires have recently had plenty of publicity for their special handicap, so maybe it’s time to cast a wider net?

To get back to gay books; who best to write them? It’s tempting to say those who are gay, but I have no idea if that’s right, and I don’t know how many gay authors there are. And of course, if you are gay, it’s a bit boring to feel that you therefore have to sit and compose one gay book after another. But it’s the ‘write about what you know’ thing, isn’t it? On the other hand, lots of authors write excellent portraits of someone the opposite sex from themselves, and writing about something new or different is supposedly the skill of a professional writer.

The other question is; can the market cope with gay novels for young readers? I suspect the publishers would find it hard, as might the buyer from the large chain. What about the grandparents? Or the school librarian, who should know better, but who worries about upsetting the parents. But the thing is, we have a generation of quite young children who have watched Doctor Who, and perhaps even Torchwood, who know all about Captain Jack, as well as John Barrowman, and who find it totally natural.

Not all authors want to ‘come out’, and I can see that there may be special issues perceived both by authors of young fiction and their publishers, if the author makes their sexual orientation known. So, maybe not ‘write about what you know’, for fear of upsetting customers?

But then, how do we ever go forward?

(I’d like more fiction about boring, short, fat girls. Preferably with really good looking boyfriends. Or girlfriends, to be non-sexist.)