I wrote a book in my teens. Why is everyone so surprised?
I know, I know. Writing a book isn’t quite the activity of which the average teen partakes. Believe me – in seven years of being at secondary school, I learnt that.
Before secondary school, I still wrote (nothing very good, but I did write short stories), and everyone accepted that. “Oh, that’s just Katherine, she writes. Mr [Teacher] reads out her work sometimes. It’s just what she does.” But come secondary school, everything changed. Suddenly I was the ‘weirdo’, ‘little Katherine Blakeman’ (said with a sneer), amongst other things. Just because I didn’t play sports, and I preferred sitting down and writing or reading instead of making an idiot of myself on the netball pitch.
Did that stop me?
Of course not!
When I was thirteen, I started writing what would eventually become The Silent Chapter. I didn’t know it then. I’d written several other ‘novellas’ before – none publishable, not by my standards – and I just thought that this ‘evacuee story’ would be another one consigned to the scrapheap. I started it, then went into hospital for invasive back surgery (that’ll be discussed in a blog post in the next couple of weeks), and picked it up just after I turned fourteen a few months later. Within a couple of months, the ‘evacuee story’ was finished, but I found I’d loved writing it, so much more than any of my other works. So I did what any other writer would do (surely?) and made a full-on, 120,000-word novel out of it.
Meanwhile, I was starting my GCSE courses. (For those who don’t live in the UK, GCSEs are the exams taken by fifteen- or sixteen-year-olds at the end of their secondary education.) Not only that, I had all the other pressures associated with being a teenager: my social life; what the outside world thought of me; where the hell I was going with my life. (Spoiler alert: I still haven't figured out the latter.) And there was always a little something inside me that never dared tell anyone about The Silent Chapter. I knew that, with my 'inferior' social status, admitting that I still wrote (a historical fiction novel tackling some pretty major topics, nonetheless) would have been the end of me. It was enough that I had written in the past – people even asked me about that, right up until I left school altogether.
I only told people about The Silent Chapter after I finished it and was querying agents. Even then, it was a select few people that I trusted. They didn’t seem that surprised (or indeed that interested) so I thought, oh, maybe navigating the writing community as a teenage author might not be such a trial after all.
I started tentatively building my presence as an author… then before I knew it, things ran away with me, and people started assuming I was much older than I actually was. I ran a Twitter poll in January, asking my 700 followers how old they thought I was. The most votes went to 30-45 years old. I ran one exactly the same a few days ago (this time to nearly 1,700 followers) and got the same result (closely followed by 18-30, which is much nearer the mark!). I’m not sure why. I’m eighteen now. Perhaps it's the name? Perhaps it’s the fact that my published book is historical fiction? Who knows?
At first, I was worried about contradicting them, and tell them how young I am. I was worried they’d think “Dear God, she’s just a child. Why should I listen to a child? Why should I buy anything that was written by a child?” Now, however, I feel a lot more secure. It’s a cliché, but it’s a case of Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a teenage author – not in the least because I can’t change it. I can’t magically make myself older.
I’m not saying I’m magically cured of my insecurities. Most of the people around me in real life don’t know that I’m published. It’s the whole reason why I write under a pseudonym: I still don’t want them to know. I’ll probably go into this deeper in a future blog post (subscribe to be notified when this happens). But I’m no longer ashamed of being a teenage author. It’s actually more common than I thought! Kayleigh Richardson (author of the upcoming novel Remember Me) and Olivia Bratherton-Wilson (author of The Lives We Left Behind and its upcoming sequel) are a couple of other teenage authors, and they’re both fabulous.
But I’m still met with a considerable degree of surprise whenever I tell people that I’m a teenager. (An older one, yes, but still a teenager.) When I did a radio interview a couple of months ago, the presenter seemed almost speechless by the fact that I wrote The Silent Chapter when I was thirteen. She thought it was commendable, but she couldn’t get over the fact that I was a teenager. As if teenagers are incapable of writing books?!
I’ve decided I’m not going to hide it any more. I’m going to make the best of it. So this is me shouting out across the rooftops: I AM A TEENAGE AUTHOR! AND I AM NOT ASHAMED OF IT! TAKE THAT, SCHOOL BULLIES!
And you never know… it might make a unique selling point! (With that in mind, if you fancy reading the ramblings of a thirteen/fourteen/fifteen/sixteen/seventeen year old*… you can buy The Silent Chapter here!)
*Yeah, it took me five years to get it finished. But we’ll gloss over that – it takes as long as it takes. There’s no one correct timeline for writing a book…