A few weeks ago I was pleased to receive comments on my almost final draft of RIDING THE HIGH ROAD from the 25 year old daughter of a good friend of mine. As no-one under 50 had read the novel so far, I was keen to run it past a younger reader, particularly as the novel alternates the points of view of 18 year old Gethin; 23 year old Jez; and Pat, Gethin’s 50-something mother. My young reader’s feedback was gratifyingly positive: she said she’d meant to make loads of notes, but got too carried away with the story; she could totally relate to the characters, and found it refreshing to read a tale that features a LGBT family she could identify with.
I read a criticism a while back of a story proposal told from two generations’ points of view, which said it would be difficult to know who it was aimed at. Indeed, I thought, there aren’t many novels that do this. Oh, apart from Anne Donovan’s Buddha Da, Kate Long’s The Bad Mother’s Handbook and Roma Tearne’s The Swimmer: three examples that quickly sprang to mind from my limited list of recently read contemporary fiction. Still, I fully expect my largest readership may be from my generation of post-war idealists who are the parents of young adults today. Some will perhaps identify with the hard-to-admit disappointment of producing young people who don’t appear to give a toss about anything much. But maybe it’s easy to conveniently forget not just what we were like at their age, but also how much harder it is these days for young people to take the time and space they need to find their way in this world. OK, there are things that are possibly easier for them: being in any way different from the dominant ‘norm’ is in many ways not so problematic. But while we might have raised our voices against the undoubted injustices of those times, many of us fucked about doing nothing very meaningful with the luxury of being able to fall back on student grants, easily available casual work, or signing on, no questions asked. We can be in danger of forgetting to listen to our young people, of writing them off as spoilt brat hedonists just because they have the internet, better drugs and cheaper booze. And so I attempt to get under the skin of the generation I’ve helped bring into this world: to see things through the eyes of the 18 year old son of a lesbian single mother seeking his sperm donor father; to look at how his experience contrasts with that of his parents. And I hope that some of my readers will be from his generation.
And then I have Jez, my sassy motor-cycle adventurer, adopted as a child by a foster carer. Everyone who has read my drafts likes Jez: she’s the star who wins best supporting actor. She is nothing to do with Gethin and Pat’s world of self-righteous choices and I enjoy allowing her to blow it apart, and in doing so I hope to broaden the niche of my readership. That is the point of Gethin’s journey: he sets out to find meaning by tracing his father and encounters people who live much closer to the edge and who don’t pay too much heed to his preoccupations. And in the end he is able to bring his widened perspective back to Pat.
Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success in inspiring and galvanising our disaffected young people shows that it is possible for people even older than me to reach across the generational divide. And at nearly 60 with a 20 year old son, and 23 year old stepdaughter, I am an older parent than most. I ask myself, am I really capable of writing the stories of these young people? As a writer I believe it should be possible to write from any point of view, as long as I am open to hearing the voices of those outside of my experience and have the imagination to put myself in their shoes. I don’t know for sure if I’ve managed that with this novel, but my young friend’s feedback gives me some hope that I may be on the right track (even though, as she pointed out, at 25 she already feels a different generation to 18).
Meanwhile I plod on with my final edit, having worked up the first few chapters for a couple of competitions. I’ve been distracted as usual by work and life, most of it good. I feel this stage is like driving down the M1. If it’s Sheffield to London I’m somewhere near Derby but making steady progress. Road works ahead! Hoping it won’t be too long now.