Today I have a guest post from the wonderful Mark Illis with a fab guest post!
The Impossible, illustrated by Bimpe Alliu, was released on the 27th July published by Quercus and is “a comic-book inspired adventure with a graphic novel twist” that is not to be missed!
Today Mark chats about writing for teenagers and writing his first teenage novel, The Impossible in this fab guest post….
When Hector Coleman and his mates genetically mutate overnight, his life changes in impossible ways.
A comic-book inspired adventure with a graphic novel twist for fans of Joe Cowley, Joe Sugg and Charlie Higson.
Hector Coleman. Just your average angst-ridden teenager, living a normal rubbish life in a normal rubbish town with, let’s face it, a rubbish name. Until his mates start genetically mutating … and everything changes. Apart from his name. And his girl trouble. And his embarrassingly low number of Twitter followers. All those things, unfortunately, stay the same. For now …
Why does a 54 year old man want to write for teenagers? Because his inner teenager is alive and well, slouching on a bean-bag behind a closed door, smelling of stale sweat, in a bad mood about something, with his head in a book. He used to read The Famous Five, then The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Lord of the Rings, then he moved on to The Wizard of Earthsea, Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mocking Bird and The Catcher in the Rye. That’s a pretty good reading list and I’d recommend it to anyone. It nourished my imagination, played a big part in turning me into whoever (whatever) I am today, but everything’s changed since then. The range of YA fiction has exploded over the last ten years or so, at roughly the rate of a zombie apocalypse.
One of my children is on her way out of teenager-dom, the other is on his way in, so I’ve read a lot of it in recent years, and I’ve discovered a fantastic new world, one which gives me a thrill of excitement and also a sharp slap of recognition. Somewhere along the way, my inner teenager stirred, lifted his head out of his book, blinked and said ‘Wait, what?’ (Because that’s what teenagers say these days.)
So of course, YA and teen fiction was a pool I wanted to dive into. I wanted to write for my children, I wanted to write for my slouchy, smelly teenage self, and I wanted to explore the preoccupations that have never left me. As an adult I read graphic novels, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel movies, and read novels like Station 11 and The Underground Railroad, both of which play interesting games with reality. All those influences feed into my writing for teenagers.
Since I crawled out of that bean-bag about 35 years ago, I’ve written four novels and a book of connected short stories, all broadly in the genre of literary fiction. That means that I had most of the tools I needed to write YA, because writing for teenagers requires exactly the same attention to character and language as writing for adults, but I also felt liberated, felt able to introduce a fantasy, science-fiction element. Mutations, aliens!
Writing my first teenage novel, The Impossible, was similar to writing a novel for adults, because it was a precarious journey into invented lives, an attempt to find the unique texture of those lives, to summon up something authentic, to imagine an experience that was never actually experienced. But writing The Impossible also surprised me in two ways.
First, I discovered that I like my teenage characters more than most of my adult ones. I like the challenge of trying to find teenage voices without seeming cringey or weird. I like their enthusiasm and their ennui, their humour and their seriousness (often at the same time), that unguarded, jagged quality which makes them vulnerable. The life buzzing and flickering like electricity in their dialogue.
And secondly, I discovered that writing for teenagers feels at least as personal as writing an adult, literary novel. The Impossible is about teenagers coping with change colliding with their lives. To return to that first question – why am I, a 54 year old bloke, writing about that? Because change collided with my life when I was a teenager. The sort of change that you have to integrate into your life and find a way to use, because the only alternative is to be crushed by it. That’s what I wanted to explore, extrapolate from and – kind of – celebrate.
The garish, weird monsters are metaphors. It’s what makes them effective and familiar and even, in a sense, plausible.
You can buy a copy of The Impossible here or from your local bookshop
About Mark Illis
Mark was born in London in 1963. He bought comics, watched Star Trek, went to see The Clash and loved reading and writing. He had some short stories published at university, and went on to do an MA in Creative Writing at UEA, where Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter were his tutors. That was a good year.
In his twenties Mark had three novels published by Bloomsbury, A CHINESE SUMMER, THE ALCHEMIST and THE FEATHER REPORT. He was also teaching English GCSE part-time, doing research for a charity called Shape, and then working as a Literature Development Worker, ‘raising the profile of literature in Berkshire.’ Exciting times. In 1992 Mark moved to West Yorkshire to be a Centre Director for the Arvon Foundation, after which he started writing for TV and radio. He has written three radio plays and has written for EastEnders, The Bill and Peak Practice. He wrote for Emmerdale for over a decade. He also wrote the award-winning screenplay for Before Dawn, a relationship drama with zombies.
Mark has taught writing in schools, libraries, universities, Reading Prison and Broadmoor Secure Hospital, and has run workshops in Hong Kong and Norway. He has taught more than 30 Arvon courses, has given readings at festivals from Brighton to Edinburgh, Cheltenham to King’s Lynn, and has reviewed for The Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator and Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope. He has recently been working for the charity First Story and for the Royal Literary Fund. He’s married with two children and a kitten and is still living in West Yorkshire.
His fourth book, TENDER, was published in 2009, and his fifth, THE LAST WORD, (shortlisted for The Portico Prize) in 2011, both by Salt.
In July 2017, his first Young Adult novel, THE IMPOSSIBLE, winner of a Northern Writers’ Award in 2015, will be published by Quercus. When teenagers in Gilpin start suffering from strange mutations, someone needs to find out what’s going on. Enter Hector, who’s suffering maybe the strangest mutation of all.
You can find out more about Mark on his website – www.markillis.co.uk
Or why not follow Mark on twitter – @markillis1
A huge big thank you to Emily at Quercus for asking me to host this fab piece and to Mark for writing it.
Have you read The Impossible? Did you enjoy? What did you love about it? I would love to hear from you! Why not leave a comment using the reply button at the top of the post or tweet me on twitter using @ChelleyToy !