Tuesday 26 November 2013

Interview: Bridget Tyler, Author of 'Drummer Girl'

You may remember my review of Drummer Girl from a weeks back - this addictive tale of a group of London school girls winging their way to LA to take part in a reality show is a great page turner with the snappiest of snappy dialogue. Today I welcome author and screenwriter Bridget Tyler to my blog to chat about pop culture, friendship and happy endings in YA...

What first drew you to writing for young adults and what were your favourite reads at this age? 

-         I love writing for Young Adults because I think great stories about growing up have more impact on us over the course of our lives as readers than any other kind of book. I still remember the books I loved when I was a teenager vividly – The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, the Nancy Drew series, The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, anything by Anne McCaffrey, Harry Potter… the list goes on. Those characters, and their journeys, helped me understand and survive my teenage years and I will never forget them. If I can tell just one story that makes someone else feel that way, then I will consider myself a success.

        Pop culture and current trends are a major part of Drummer Girl – what do you think are the pros and cons of writing about music in YA? 

-         Obviously, anything related to pop culture is dangerous in a book because it is bound to be out of date in a heartbeat. That’s why, as much as Drummer Girl takes place during a reality competition, I worked hard to avoid too many references to contemporary pop culture. You’ll notice as you read that most of the specific references made to bands are either to icons like Madonna and the Beatles, or to fake bands that only exist in the world of Drummer Girl. I even tried to stick to fairly classic styles when mentioning clothes, hair and make up while still being on trend. I used the framework of reality television and the music business, but I really wanted to be sure Drummer Girl was also about these five girls and their friendship not about the world they find themselves in.

Drummer Girl        You’ve clearly got a knack for both authentic US and UK dialogue – how does writing dialogue for novels differ from screenwriting?

 -       Not much, actually. Whether I’m writing a book or a screenplay, I read the piece out loud to myself many, many times before it’s finished. It’s really the only way to tell if dialogue is going to ring true or not, at least for me. The biggest difference with the dialogue in a novel is that you don’t have to make the characters say as many things out loud. In a script, I might need a character to say, “Wait. Mum can’t possibly know we cut school last week. She spoke to Mrs. James this morning and neither of us is grounded. What are you up to?” because otherwise the audience has no way of knowing what’s happening in the character’s head.  In a novel, I might do this instead:

Molly stopped short, starring at her sister as she dug through her dresser drawers. No matter what Jane said, Mum couldn’t possibly know that they’d cut school. She’d spoken to Mrs. James this morning and everything. They’d be beyond grounded if either had a clue. So what was Jane up to?

See the difference? Finding organic and natural ways for characters to say what they’re thinking out loud is actually one of the most challenging aspects of screenwriting.

Friendship is a strong theme in Drummer Girl – do you think this is something we should be seeing more of in YA and what other themes do you think deserve more attention? 

-         Yes, I think friendship, particularly female friendship, is highly under utilized in YA and in storytelling in general. Friends are such an important part of the growing up experience – good friends make everything so much better and bad ones can be downright dangerous, in the wrong situation. Romance is fun, and there’s a lot of that in Drummer Girl too, but it isn’t the only kind of relationship out there to explore. As for other topics that could use more attention, this isn’t exactly a theme but I have to say I think it’s important for YA writers to create more characters who are into science, female characters in particular. Too often math and science gets ignored, or even vilified, in teen literature. Those fields are both truly fascinating and very important for the future – we should be telling stories that encourage people to be interested in them.

        Drummer Girl has an incredibly fast-paced plot – how do you ensure that this is balanced out with strong characters? 

-         Well this is another trick that comes from screenwriting – plotting that doesn’t develop the characters is going to end up being boring and character development that doesn’t advance the plot has a good chance of ending up on the cutting room floor. The goal is to make every new twist and turn of the plot service the characters so that you don’t need to slow down and take a detour in order to develop them. 

      And finally, how important do you think ‘happy endings’ are in YA?

-        I think every story deserves the ending that best fits it. Some stories end well, some don’t. There are happy endings in Drummer Girl and very, very sad ones. And a few that are in between. That’s the way life is. The one thing I do think all stories should have is hope. I think there is a place in the world for bleak stories that lack hope for the future, but they aren’t the kind of stories I chose to tell, nor are they the kind of stories I like to read. 


I'd like to thank Bridget for taking the time out to answer my questions and in particular, those very handing tips on writing dialogue. So thank you Bridget - I'm certainly looking forward to your future YA titles! And it's always nice to find a fellow Nancy Drew fan...

Friday 15 November 2013

I Need to Get Out More #5 - Wood Green Literary Festival

I don't normally manage to get out to literary or author events too often, so I was especially pleased to make it to a couple of events taking place as part of the Wood Green Literary Festival a few weeks back. I'm usually pretty clueless when it comes to doing write-ups (I suppose it's a good thing that I don't get the chance to do too many then), so I thought I'd take a different approach with this one as look at a few of the points raised and see how I can relate them to my own writing...

16120429The first talk was about Uncovering Ancient London and featured Lydia Syson and Catherine Johnson. Now, if you follow my blog, you'll know that I'm a big fan of Lydia's writing and you can find out her thoughts on political YA in this interview from a little while back. As you can imagine, it was very interesting to get a writer's perspective on how London history has made them tick. Catherine Johnson talked animatedly about how a trip to the Huntarian Museum inspired her to write Sawbones, a book that sounds delightfully gruesome and rich in the historical detail of the backstreets of this city. Lydia Syson talked about how she is a fifth generation Londoner, something that is quite rare this days, and how she has grown up to appreciate the rich history London has to offer, in particular, surprising facts about her family history.

That Burning SummerThis got me thinking about stories that my own family have told me. I've lived in west London on and off for the last ten years, but I was brought up in a commuter town after my parents moved away from their original west London haunt. My dad used to tell me stories about when he used to place Underground Hide and Seek on the tube with his friends as a teenager. You might be able to guess what it involved...basically, jump on a train, jump off at different stations and try to remain illusive to the person tasked to find you. I had completely forgotten about this story up until that moment, and now it's taking pride of place in my notes for something I'm planning about London set in the 1960s. It's nice to be reminded that I couldn't live anywhere better in the world when it comes to writing about the past, so thank you lovely authors!

When I Was JoeThe second talk I attended featured Keren David and Hilary Freeman discussing Edgy YA Fiction. This is of particular interest to me right as I'm currently working on a contemporary YA, although I don't know if I'd describe it as particularly 'edgy', but I suppose that was the whole point of the discussion - what does constitute edgy YA and how do you get the balance right? One of the issues that has been at the forefront of my mind recently (especially now I am at the editing stage) is swearing in YA. A while back, I read this interesting article by James Dawson which got me thinking about whether established authors are in a better position to have swearing feature in their books rather than debut novelists. However, both authors didn't think this was really the case and that all authors need to compromise to a certain extent on this depending on the market.

Lifted. Hilary FreemanWhen I first started working my MS, I was given some advice that I've always found useful - when it comes to swearing, don't censor yourself in the early stages - it's more important to get the first draft done and you can always compromise on this at the editing stage. Needless to say, my first draft was as potty-mouthed as it gets and I remember reading it back and blushing. As I'm going through my chapters now, I can appreciate that a little goes a long way in this respect. I think it's important to get my dialogue as authentic as possible (and this includes using swear words), but perhaps using too many can have the same effect as using none - it might only succeed in distracting from the story.

All in all, this was a great, informative afternoon, and I've very much looking to venturing north again next year. My only criticism would be that the talks were too short! I could have listened to them all for hours...

Monday 4 November 2013

YA REVIEW - 'Drummer Girl', Bridget Tyler (Templar Publishing 2013)

It was supposed to be the summer of her life. Instead, 17-year-old Lucy finds her best friend Harper shot dead in an LA swimming pool. How did it come to this? Lucy Gosling is the drummer in Crush, a rock band formed by five London schoolgirls that has just won the UK semi-final of an international talent contest. But when the band lands in Hollywood for the big final, things are not quite as they seem. The band's lead singer, Harper, has just one thing on her mind - using sex, drugs and rock and roll, not to mention Crush itself, to win back her bad-news ex-boyfriend. Lucy must decide whether she's playing to Harper's tune, or setting the rhythm for the rest of the band (Synopsis from Goodreads)

When I read a YA that features a heavy dose of pop culture, I sometimes have mixed feelings - not because it's a a terrible subject to explore, not at all, in fact. More that I worry about the future. Mostly because I am a worrier in general, but also because I get all concerned about how relevant this is going to be in a few years time. But then, just as I started writing this review and waffling on about this, it dawned on me that reality telly isn't exactly a new phenomemon - how many years has The X Factor been with us? - so does that mean it's here to stay and that I am worrying about nothing? (probably). Anyway, my point in relation to Drummer Girl is that I shouldn't really be worrying at all. Because even though this book is full to the brim with pop culture and TV shenanigans, it embraces it and is all the better for that.

Drummer GirlSaying the plot is fast-paced does not do it justice - within the space of a few chapters, friendships have been shattered and reformed, a band has been pulled together, we moved from London to LA and we haven't even begun to touch on the tales of romance, addiction, underdogs, and glamour. But what I loved about Drummer Girl the most was the girl that held it all together - friendship. Even though action was most definitely the key factor, this is a book about friends and I don't think there's enough YA books where this is the driving force behind the story. Romances are very much on the periphery and it was all the more refreshing because of that.

The one thing I wasn't too sure about was the inclusion of a certain scene right at the start of the book. I wasn't going to mention it but now I've just realised that it features in the synopsis so I'm not really spoiling anything. I still can't make up my mind whether my knowledge of Harper's fate was necessary - on the one hand, I was desperate to find out how it came about, but on the other, would I have preferred to see more a twist at the end? I'm still undecided. Anyway, the book doesn't necessarily suffer from it and it's an interesting way to structure the story. And another thing worth mentioning is the dialogue. Occasionally, when UK characters feature in US novels, they either talk like they've just stepped off the set of Mary Poppins or they sound like they're trying to channel their inner Jason Statham, but the exchanges between the girls here ring true.

This book is gloriously addictive. I was halfway through it when we were struck by a power cut and I had to turn our flat upside down looking for an industrial-sized torch because I couldn't see any of the pages by candlelight.

And I really wanted to see those pages.

This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.