Guest blog: On The Cusp, by Jo Zebedee
In this guest post the tireless Jo Zebedee, esteemed author of Abendau’s Heir, talks about her new self-published novel Inish Carraig, which is soon to be available (link below).
On the cusp – on characters, and why they don’t stay in their box.
I write stories which are hard to neatly categorize. Stories that have teenagers in them, and adults. I often write about characters on the fine line that divides childhood and adulthood, about the connections that reach across ages, about what adults can learn from the young and the young from the old.
Cat Stevens made a fortune doing that. I find myself in publishing limbo for the same.
Firstly, I can’t define why I write stories with so many characters in their late teens. I can’t tell you why I often bring an older point of view to that story. I know, hand on heart, I know, it does not make my stories an easy sell. Agents want a book that they can sell as YA or adult. Publishers want a book that goes on a shelf in the bookstore where it fits and everyone knows just what’s so.
What I can say is that the inter-relationships between my characters are part of what makes my writing tick. It doesn’t seem to be putting readers off (publishers, take note) – the first reviews on Inish Carraig have been tremendous.
So, why does it work for me? Well, firstly, we live in a society. I talk to teenagers – and children – all the time. They’re part of my life, and not just because I have kids but because we don’t – yet, anyhow – have little glass houses for us all to sit in our groups in. To not show that interplay between generations makes a story one-dimensional to me. It lacks the pathos of life, where we get taken from our comfort zone and forced to confront concepts and people we don’t know.
At the centre of Inish Carraig is a relationship between a teenager and a policeman. There are other relationships, adult to adult, teen to teen, child to teen. It’s the mish-mash of interactions that happens in life. But at the very, very centre, this is John and Henry’s story.
When I subbed the book to agents, a clear message came back. Many loved it. Nearly all liked the setting. But not one could sell it as it was – I had to go either YA or adult with it.
I went YA. John is the main protagonist. It’s his story. And I thought it was right, and that Henry could go. Having revisited it, I can see how wrong I was. Cutting one out, sidelining their point of view – I write big, meandering point of views with thoughts and feelings – lost the power of the story. Sure, the plot stood up, and the characters were still there, but the part of the story that was human, that translated the horror to the personal level, was gone.
At one point, I wondered if I had plumped for the other option and made Henry the focus, if that would work. Perhaps I had chosen the wrong point of view?
I hadn’t. Neither character stands alone. And so, when I got my sticky mitts back on my story after subs had run through, I put both of them back in. John, in all his feisty, pissed off at life, teenage glory (and he’s right to be pissed off, life’s dealt him a bad set of cards). Henry with all his guilt-laden, conflicted thoughts. Together, they work. They strengthen each other. They understand each other, in an odd way. They drive the pace and the story forwards, keep the momentum up, and support each other’s story when it flags.
So, um…. Lesson learned, yes? I write one or the other, but not combined, right?
Well, no. My work continues to be invaded by these mixed up ages. Abendau has the teenage Kare, and then the adult. In the sequels teen povs are as important as the adults – and add depth to the world portrayed. In my next book, a fantasy in the Antrim glens, Amy is 18, on the cusp of adulthood but it’s her mother’s actions that drive the plot and add the depth and danger. Even the book I’ve just embarked on, a supposedly YA story is becoming a little older, creeping to the top end of teen. I see an adult in it who might become more important. I see the tendrils of connectivity growing as I write, the importance of people around us, not just our tiny adult or teen world.
So, I’m resigned to it. I can’t help myself writing stories that cross definitions nor do I want to. What that means for me as a writer, whether I will find a niche that accepts what I write, I’ll wait and see. All the indications to date are that I will. Either way, I’ll write it. I’m not sure anyone intent on an agent and publisher should.
Unless, of course, they can’t help themselves.
The novel is here on amazon.