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Ten reasons why it is okay to read YA

I haven’t blogged for a while. Well, not blog blogged. I’ve tweeted – micro-blogged – but not gone deep. I’ve been busy writing a screenplay and a memoir about depression (get me). But I’ve just read something and got annoyed. And annoyance, it turns out, is a lead trigger for blogging. According to leading researchers at the University of Make-believe, 88 per cent of the internet […]

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World Book Night 2014

The Humans was chosen as one of the 20 World Book Night 2014 books. Thousands of copies of the book were given out for free on April 23rd 2014. Thanks to all of the World Book Night givers and do get in touch if you received a free copy.  Share

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How To Be A Writer

Here’s a video I made. It’s a slightly tragic insight into the life of a self-absorbed writer.  Share

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Echo Boy

My first YA book, Echo Boy, is out now by Bodley Head. Lots of people have been saying very nice things about it: ‘highly original page turner’ Independent on Sunday ‘a cracking plot with profound philosophical questions about what it is to be human. Fearless and beautifully written, it confirms Haig as one of our best new writers of speculative fiction.’ New Statesman Echo Boy is an exciting SF […]

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Ten reasons why it is okay to read YA

I haven’t blogged for a while. Well, not blog blogged. I’ve tweeted – micro-blogged – but not gone deep. I’ve been busy writing a screenplay and a memoir about depression (get me).

But I’ve just read something and got annoyed. And annoyance, it turns out, is a lead trigger for blogging. According to leading researchers at the University of Make-believe, 88 per cent of the internet is made of annoyance.

The thing that annoyed me is an article in Slate called ‘Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books’. The writer’s main gripe is that an increasing amount of people – grown-up people – are reading John Green and Stephen Chbosky and Gayle Forman, and not feeling ashamed.

It made me angry. It made me think of all the ways it is unhealthy. It made me think of all the reasons it is wrong. Here are just the first ten that came to mind:

1. There should be no shame in reading anything. There is too much shame in the world. Shame is the enemy of truth and the friend of pretentiousness, especially when it comes to books. People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading.

2. Many of the greatest writers have been children’s writers. And not just YA. Yes, John Updike and Alice Munro are brilliant, but so are Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie and Philip Pullman and CS Lewis and SE Hinton and Maurice Sendak. Brilliance comes in many forms.

3. Teenagers shouldn’t be patronised. This whole article seems to imply that an adult sharing the same taste as a teenager is fundamentally embarrassing. Why? Teenagers are the most passionate consumers of culture there are. Think of music. Who made the Beatles popular? Or the Stones? Or Bowie? Or Nirvana? Old people? Or teenagers? Teenagers not only have as many brain cells as us (more actually, as our brains lose 100,000 neurons a day), but are more accepting of new things and phenomena. They are the literal cutting edge. They could not have written that Slate article.

4. Writing YA is as difficult as writing for adults. I have written one YA book, three children’s books, and five adult (OA?) books. The hardest of all these to write was the YA.

5. Accesible writing  should not be frowned on. Graham Greene was an accessible writer. John Steinbeck was too. Also George Orwell, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, JD Salinger, Jane Austen etc etc. Yet book snobbery is leading us to believe that accessibility and intelligence are incompatible. I would wager that the popularity of YA is symptomatic less of a dumbing down of tastes but a reaction against dumbing down. Let me explain. The adult book market has long been polarised between ‘easy’ commercial books and ‘difficult’ literary books. YA doesn’t play this game. It manages to be easy and intelligent all at the same time.

6. Teenagers are philosophers. Think of the popular YA books. They often deal with subjects of life and death, gender issues, race, sexuality. The big stuff. Can you remember being a teenager? It wasn’t a period of under-thinking. Quite the opposite. You are living at fast-forward. Your body and mind is changing by the day. You are continually asking the questions about who you are, and where you fit in. You are at the centre of the cyclone that is life. There is nothing marginal about being a teen.

7. Dissing one of the few genre success stories in the book world, and trying to stigmatise it in the name of reading and literature, is a bit like shooting a dolphin in the name of marine biology.

8. The greatest stories appeal to our deepest selves, the parts of us snobbery can’t reach, the parts that connect the child to the adult and the brain to the heart and reality to dreams. Stories, at their essence, are enemies of snobbery. This is why YA succeeds.

9. Alexander Pope was twelve when he wrote ‘Ode to Solitude’. Mary Shelley was nineteen when she first came up with Frankenstein. More recently, Helen Oyeyemi wrote her widely acclaimed novel The Icarus Girl when she was studying her A-levels. Age really is just a number.

10. It’s not what you read, but how you read it. Never judge what someone else reads or why they read it. You don’t own the rights to culture. Often the things that may look simple, are rich and multi-layered. There are as many versions of a book as there are readers. No two reading experiences are the same. Books are great because they open minds and transcend borders. They should never have fences around them.

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Be A Writer

Here’s a video I made. It’s a slightly tragic insight into the life of a self-absorbed writer. 

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REASONS TO STAY ALIVE

When I was 24 I very nearly killed myself. I was living in Ibiza at the time, in a very nice villa, on the quiet east coast of the island. The villa was right next to a cliff. In the midst of depression I walked out to the edge of the cliff and looked at the sea, and at the rugged limestone coastline, dotted with deserted beaches. It was the most beautiful view I had ever known, but I didn’t care. I was too busy trying to summon the courage needed to throw myself over the edge. I didn’t. Instead, I walked back inside and threw up from the stress of it.

Three more years of depression followed. Panic, despair, a daily battle to walk to the corner shop without collapsing to the ground.

But I survived. I am days away from being 38. Back then, I almost knew I wasn’t going to make it to 30. Death or total madness seemed more realistic.

But I’m here. Surrounded by people I love. And I am doing a job I never thought I’d be doing. And I spend my days writing stories, that are really guide books, the way all books are guide books.

I am so glad I didn’t kill myself, but I continue to wonder if there is anything to say to people at those darkest times.

Here’s an attempt. Here are things I wish someone had told me at the time:

1. You are on another planet. No-one understands what you are going through. But actually, they do. You don’t think they do because the only reference point is yourself. You have never felt this way before, and the shock of the descent is traumatising you, but others have been here. You are in a dark, dark land with a population of millions.

2. Things aren’t going to get worse. You want to kill yourself. That is as low as it gets. There is only upwards from here.

3. You hate yourself. That is because you are sensitive. Pretty much every human could find a reason to hate themselves if they thought about it as much as you did. We’re all total bastards, us humans, but also totally wonderful.

4. So what, you have a label? ‘Depressive’. Everyone would have a label if they asked the right professional.

5. That feeling you have, that everything is going to get worse, that is just a symptom.

6. Minds have their own weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on.

7. Ignore stigma. Every illness had stigma once. Stigma is what happens when ignorance meets realities that need an open mind.

8. Nothing lasts forever. This pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it.

9. Or, to plagiarise myself: ”Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.” (The Humans)

10. You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at your baby daughter’s face as she lies contentedly asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view like this one and feel the beauty, there are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.

World Book Night

World Book Night 2014


The Humans was chosen as one of the 20 World Book Night 2014 books. Thousands of copies of the book were given out for free on April 23rd 2014. Thanks to all of the World Book Night givers and do get in touch if you received a free copy. 

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Echo Boy

My first YA book, Echo Boy, is out now by Bodley Head. Lots of people have been saying very nice things about it:

‘highly original page turner’ Independent on Sunday

‘a cracking plot with profound philosophical questions about what it is to be human. Fearless and beautifully written, it confirms Haig as one of our best new writers of speculative fiction.’ New Statesman

Echo Boy is an exciting SF thriller, but also a rich and deeply felt exploration of the line that separates humans – creatures of love, passion, fear and hate – from mere organic simulations. The Guardian

‘It’s a treat to read such a satisfying, complex work…’ FT

‘The thrilling plot is one of betrayal, power and greed, but the theme is what makes us human — and at what cost we ignore it. I predict a sequel . . .’ Daily Mail

‘Poignant and thought-provoking.’ The Bookseller

‘A page-turning mega thriller you won’t be able to put down.’ 5/5 Flipside magazine

‘A brilliant story you’ll want to read in one setting.’ The Sun

Here’s an interview I did about Echo Boy in The Independent.

Here’s the cover: