Sharjah Children's Reading Festival guest author C J Daugherty on how to get teenagers hooked on reading
Inspiration can strike when least expected.
For the Texas-born, UK-based novelist C?J Daugherty, it came during one of the long, daily commutes to her London office from her Surrey home.
A civil servant editing government websites at the time, the former journalist used her time on the train to plough through fast-paced novels.
“It was a dull journey and I was going to a dull job,” she recalls. “I would read about two or three books a week just to pass the time.”
As well as reading thrillers for adults, Daugherty also began sampling young-adult fiction novels, particularly the blockbuster Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.
“I really wanted to know what all the fuss was about,” she says. “I thought they were quite inspiring and thrilling, and a lot of things happened in them. I started wondering why there wasn’t a British equivalent and so I started playing around with the idea, and that was the beginning.”
This was back in 2010, and Daugherty’s initial story notes grew to become the popular Night School series.
Debuting in January last year, the opening novel – also titled Night School – follows the adventures of Allie Sheridan. Arriving at the new boarding school Cimmeria Academy, the problem child encounters the Night School, a secret society that conducts its activities behind locked doors.
Daugherty says the idea came straight from newspaper headlines. “I read about this secret group at Oxford University called The Bullingdon Club and the prime minister [David Cameron] and the mayor of London [Boris Johnson] were all part of it,” she says.
“I spoke to my friends about this and they told me all private schools in England have that and that it was not a new thing. Now I didn’t go to a boarding school so this wasn’t my world, but I thought it would be fantastic to write a story about a secret society in a boarding school that goes out of control.”
Young readers shared in the excitement of the idea and Night School became a runaway success. The novel was translated in 20 languages and set the anticipation for the remaining four books planned for the series.
With the follow-up, Legacy, which came out earlier this year, Daugherty is on her way to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festiva – which begins today – to discuss the series. It began as a conscious effort to write in a style suitable for teenagers and Daugherty describes how the genre was the best way for her to explore her natural writing voice.
“I have always experimented with the idea of writing for adults but whenever I do, it becomes autobiographical and I am not very good at that,” she explains. “I found that writing young-adult fiction was really a liberating experience. I felt free in terms of creating the characters and writing the situations.”
The genre’s focus on pace and the use of crisp, clear sentences also suited the former -journalist.
“I used to have an editor who called complex words ‘25 cent words’, that it was a form of showing off and that I wasn’t writing for my reader,” Daugherty says.
“But, at the same time, I was in my readers’ age group when I first encountered complex words. So I would try to throw in only a few of them and hope my readers would go to Google and learn more.”
This engrossing yet subtle form of education is what the young-adult fiction genre offers, says Daugherty. It also acts as an accessible pathway to books for those bitten by the reading bug in their teenage years.
“People were expected to begin reading books for adults by the time they hit 13 or 14. There was no ‘in-between’ kind of book and this is what the genre does,” she says.
“I get so many letters or posts on Facebook where people say: ‘Yours is the first book I ever read the whole way through.’ My novels are quite thick, but because they are page turners they teach that books can be enjoyable to read and are not intimidating.”
Daugherty attributes some of the false perceptions of reading to parents who often force their children to read texts that are deemed good for them. She advises parents coming to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival to pick titles based on their child’s interests. “If you have boys who are interested in playing police and robbers, find them books about crime. If they are easily bored, buy them young-adult thrillers. If it’s a girl who is intimidated by books and she is more of the ‘princess’ type, look for young-adult romances,” she says.
“The point is to show your children that there is already a world of books out there by people who like the same things they do.”
Ÿ The Sharjah Children's Reading Festival begins April 23 at the Expo Centre and continues until May 4. For more details, visit www.sharjahbookfair.com
No kids for me, thanks
CJ Daugherty expresses no interest in having children. She may write for them but that doesn't mean she wants to have them - a trend apparent among many authors of bestselling young-adult fiction.
"Cassandra Claire doesn't have children. Neither does Maureen Johnson, nor do I," she says. "Maybe it's a generational thing - we are Generation X. But I do adore teenagers. If I could give birth to a teenager, I would."
* Saeed Saeed
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