November 17, 2017

Subscribe to SLJ

Wanted: YA Author In Search of Reluctant Readers | Opinion

brian-conaghan

Photo courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Maybe I am mistaken, but I don’t think most authors write specifically for a particular readership. Conversely I don’t think they write for themselves either. My understanding is that writers tend to have a selection of stories, anecdotes, tales, issues, or characters churning away that they quite simply need to get down on paper. Or Word.

But then again, maybe I am mistaken.

At book events I am often asked the questions:

Who do you write for?

Who should read your books?

My response never wavers:

I don’t write for anyone in particular.

I just try to tell an interesting story in an entertaining way.

It’s my stock answer.

But it’s wrong.

I’m wrong.

I know exactly who I write for: me.

Let me explain.

In every classroom in every school in every town in every city…you get the idea…there are students who feel disgruntled and disenfranchised with the educational process; learning and the learning environment just aren’t their bag. Such students are sometimes deemed troublesome and/or disruptive. A severe hindrance to the classroom culture.

Thing is, I’ve witnessed it from both ends of the spectrum. As a teacher for many years, I grappled with students of this ilk, and as a teenager many moons ago, I, too, was that classroom hindrance, that imposition, that pain in the…. Yes, it gives me no pride to say that I was the back-of-the-class oaf, hell-bent on bringing chaos to the order. You see, I know this guy so well: his fears and frustrations, his educational deficiencies, his vulnerability. I suppose when you have a reading age much lower (mortifyingly lower) than your peers, as I had, then your only release— your get-out-of-jail card— is to mask it by morphing into a complete and utter numbskull. That was me.

the-bombs-that-brought-us-togetherSo when it comes to writing for a specific readership, I suppose you could say that I write for the teenage nuisance that was myself. He’s the one who needs to feel included, the one who needs to feel the unity and solidarity that his peers do—that he’s just as good and capable as any one of them.

I aim to make my 14-year-old self empowered by the books that his 40-something self has written, if you follow. How? Well, in my books, I’m hopeful that he’ll comprehend the language, be captivated by the story; I’m confident he’ll recognize the nuances and subtleties within the dialogue, that he’ll identify little nuggets of himself in certain characters and he’ll find minimal challenges in navigating the short, sharp chapters with a sense of achievement. My desire is that he’ll feel less disassociated by the pedagogic process.

Whilst reading the books that my teen self will go on to write, he should cease crass antics and irritations, he’ll elevate himself to the heady heights of becoming a stakeholder in an education system that has hitherto overlooked him. Above all, he’ll improve his literacy levels and, thus, his reading age. He’ll become a reader. And, as research has informed us, reading aids communication skills, improves our self-esteem, generates creativity, and allows us to participate effectively in today’s world.

In every classroom in every school in every town in every city…I sincerely want my books When Mr. Dog Bites and The Bombs That Brought Us Together to find their way to the back rows. I want the back rows to discuss, debate and dispute what they’ve read with confidence and assurance. The front rows will succeed regardless; it’s the back rows who need a helping hand. These students require compassion, understanding, and, dare I say it, good books. Good books that won’t overlook their needs.

No mean feat, right?

Wishful thinking, right?

Achievable?

Who knows.

But only a dispassionate fool would give up trying.

 

Brian Conaghan lives and works as a teacher in Dublin and has a degree in creative writing from the University of Glasgow. Throughout the years, Brian has made a living as a painter and decorator, bartender, teacher, and now writer. When Mr. Dog Bites was his debut American novel. His second novel, The Bombs That Brought Us Together, was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books on September 13, 2016. Find him on Twitter at @BrianConaghan.

Save

Save

Save

SLJTeen header

This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.

Share

Comments

  1. Valerie Loper says:

    I love it! An author trying to reach out to those kids who say “I dunno” or “Nothing” when I ask, what are you interested in? when trying to match a book to a student. My only qualm, however, is very often those kids in the back row are never going to pick up a 300+ page book, no matter how good it might be.