I will now hand you over to Emma.
Honesty in Writing
|Emma C Williams|
Rebecca’s recent blog post probably struck a chord with most of us. Like every piece of writing worth reading, it gave me reason to think: about myself, my writing and the choices I have made.
As a contemporary author, I worry that the topic I have chosen to write about is too raw and too personal, and I worry that people will think this is the only story I have to tell. The truth is that I have a thousand tales to tell, I simply thought it foolish – arrogant even – not to start with what I know to be real. Maybe I should have written about vampires and unicorns, as finding YA reviewers that will dip a toe outside of the fantasy world has been a challenge.
Talking about the issues that the book raises is sometimes difficult for me. I don’t particularly like feeling different, and I don’t particularly like having to discuss what might be different about me with others. I find it threatening and invasive that everyone wants to know how much of “Anna’s story” is “my story,” and I know other writers who feel the same, especially those that have written about the very darkest of issues. At the other extreme I have had one angry message from a stranger who assumed that I know nothing about the condition Anna suffers from, and questioning my right to tell her story. (He hadn’t bothered to read it, by the way).
I am a teacher, and if you have any sense in that job you are wary of public exposure. Some teachers lock down their Facebook profile so tightly that MI6 would struggle to find them; I know many that avoid networking sites altogether due to their fears that students will “stalk” them. Personally I like to give young people a little more credit. Maybe other teachers have far more interesting lives than I do, but I honestly can’t imagine a 15-year-old being that interested in my gardening tips, visits to the Red Lion and occasional rants about social injustice (the latter of which I tend to bore them with in the classroom, anyway!) While I avoid (like any sane individual) making “friends” with students on Facebook, many of the young people that I teach follow me on Twitter, have “Liked” my Facebook page, and are thrilled at the idea that I might be the next JK Rowling. Bless them.
A teacher’s desire for relative anonymity online was part of the reason that I decided to blog in character as Anna, the lead character in my novel. While it’s a decision I don’t regret, it can be hard work trying to write with the voice of a 15-year-old all the time, and I worry that I have not achieved it in every post. It is frustrating not to be able to blog about whatever comes into my head, as the things that come into my head do not tend to coincide with the everyday worries of a 15-year-old (something I am very grateful for!) So I have to rake through the lingering memories of my former self, and look to the young people that I teach for inspiration. It’s a bit of a slog, to be honest.
As writers we are constantly exploring the line between truth and narrative, and I know that every story I want to write will have its roots in my own life or the lives of others. I cannot imagine writing in any other way. My mother taught me that people are inherently fascinating, and I have always been someone to whom people tell their stories. I have quite an archive. The only question is, which one to take off the shelf next.
Anna Jones is an intelligent and spirited girl of 15, whose everyday experiences of growing up are overshadowed by a rare condition called Goldenhar syndrome. While Anna approaches her life with humour and determination, she is haunted by the inescapable fact that she looks a little different from other girls. Despite the support of her friends and family, she remains convinced she will never be loved - especially not by the gorgeous and intelligent Michael.
Anna's life and schooling is regularly interrupted by a variety of hospital visits, each one of which seems designed to make her feel even more different from the other girls. As she counts down the days until the major surgery that will change the course of her life forever, Anna becomes increasingly doubtful as to whether she will ever be truly normal.
World Enough and Time is an often funny, sometimes painful but ultimately uplifting novel about growing up and finding your feet in the world. It has been inspired by Judy Blume and offers a harrowing but inspirational insight into a condition that is mostly unheard of.
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Emma C Williams is a teacher and the author of World Enough and Time, a contemporary YA novel for girls. She lives in Surrey with her husband and two very irritating cats.
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