Reality and Video Games Collide In Fiction

WELL, COME ON OVER HERE MATT, because in YA it is speculative fiction, which includes science-fiction, fantasy, dystopia, paranormal and dark romance and horror, that gets the BIG DEALS and HOLLYWOOD and ALL OF THE STUFF of my title. 

video games and reality

So where does that leave YA contemporary and my writing? Well, I’d like to propose, as Matt does, that boundaries are artificial and that the BEST fiction lives in the wild borderlands between reality and fantasy. First of all, back to school…


Definition of REALISM (Merriam-Webster)


concern for fact or reality and rejection of the impractical and visionary


a theory that objects of sense perception or cognition exist independently of the mind


the theory or practice of fidelity in art and literature to nature or to real life and to accurate representation without idealization


Definition of METAPHYSICAL (Merriam-Webster)


of or relating to metaphysics of or relating to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses supernatural


Time-travelling back to my young teenage self I am reading EVERYTHING in West Harrow library, from Sweet Valley High to S.E. Hinton. My favourite books, though, are by Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula le Guin and Madeline L’Engle, all writers of speculative fiction.


I now read vast amounts of children’s and YA writing (MA student in Children’s Lit-YAY!) and the books I love are often similar (Pratchett, Pulllman, China Mieville and Ysabeau Wilce) but sometimes in the grittier genre of YA contemporary or YA realism (Siobhan Dowd, John Green, Joanne Horniman, Cath Crowley and Kevin Brooks to name a few.)


Are they actually so different?


The term literary realism comes from the 19th century novel and in YA refers to novels set in a present-day world, often with an adolescent dealing with family breakdown, drug and alcohol use, love, sexuality and other ‘stuff’ that happens when you are growing up. The YA realism novels I adore have a metaphysical element and not only because of their lyrical, reflective prose, or because literature, art and music feature as a means for the protagonist to escape reality.


I think what I love in these books is a sense of something unresolved and unexplained. In Looking for Alaska the protagonist is haunted by the violent death and sad life of the girl he loved. Kevin Brooks’ Lucas is a mystic loner, with almost supernatural powers. Lucy in Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley wanders the city looking for a mysterious graffiti artist, alias ‘Shadow.’ Absent or dead parents, siblings or love interests haunt the protagonist’s everyday reality.


Adolescence is a fantastical time, a time of changes in body and mind. We are not surprised when Shell, in A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd loses touch with reality after a traumatic event, or when Kate in Secret Scribbled Notebooks, by Joanne Horniman, constructs false memories around her absent parents.


Stories, ‘realistic’ or ‘unrealistic’ help us to make sense of our lives. Story worlds are imagined ones; whether they contain pitbulls or dragons, pop stars or princesses. All depends on the degree of imagining. For example, reality shows such as X-Factor or Pop Idol recur as a trope in YA or MG narratives–surely these are just another form of fairy godmother? Or to take it the opposite way, is Twilight at heart the story of an ordinary girl loved by the heir to a wealthy, hostile family, much like Pride and Prejudice?


Contemporary Video Games & Estates

Guest Post 1: Keren David on Choosing a New Narrator for Another Life

So. Since INFINITE SKY is a contemporary, I will just talk about two of the Lucky 13s contemporary novels that I’m especially excited about, whilst also recommending you check out our website to get an idea of just how many great books we have between us. Learn more about me here. 

Emily Murdoch’s IF YOU FIND ME is the story of fifteen year old Carey, and how she and her little sister survive in the woods after their mentally ill mother abandons them. (Read more about it on Good Reads.) I love how atmospheric it sounds, and I love stories about sisters (I’ve always wanted one myself), and so I just think I’m going to adore this, it’s already getting some nice attention.

Rachele Alpine’s CANARY tells Kate Franklin’s story of how her life changes when her dad gets a job coaching a big shot basketball team. (Read more on Good Reads.) It sounds like it’s about loyalty and truth and corruption, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. People are already saying great things about this book too.

Other more established writers whose new books I’m looking forward to are Ed Hogan and Annabel Pitcher. Ed wrote the wonderful DAYLIGHT SAVING, which is a sort of contemporary ghost story, that I just loved. Funny, moving and sad, I really fell for his characters Daniel and Lexie, and found the way the novel resolved itself to be thrilling and poignant at the same time. I’m not sure what he is working on next, but I want to read whatever it is that he writes.

And Annabel’s hugely successful debut, MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTLEPIECE, was so gorgeous that I can’t wait to read KETCHUP CLOUDS, which people are saying is just as good, if not better, than her first, which is an exciting prospect indeed. Her writing is funny and moving and quirky, and there’s a lovely freshness to it as well.

The Evil That Men And Women Do Theme Week Post 5: Margie Gelbwasser

Welcome to the last post in my Evil in YA Contemporary Theme Week! Check out previous guest posts this week by Louisa Reid, Annabelle from Read Write And Read Some More, and Savita Kalhan,

For today, I’m really pleased to welcome Margie Gelbwasser to the blog. (Warning: slight spoilers for Margie’s novel Pieces of Us below.)

When I was first asked if I would want to write a post about evil in YA, the usual villainous culprits came to my mind. Voldemort (of course) topped the list, but there were obvious others: the Volturi from Twilight, the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz, the Big Bad Wolf in The Three Little Pigs, the evil stepmother in Cinderella, and the evil queen in Snow White. And, I can keep going. However, these are the known villains. For those of us who write contemp, villains are not always so visible. They are disguised not by masks or magic but by names: mother, father, sister, brother, friend, teacher. Maybe that makes them scarier because the characters do not know who to fear.

In my second novel, Pieces of Us, there are a slew of characters who could pass as villains. To start, are Katie’s (one of the MCs) boyfriend and his best friend. How they act and what they do has no reason. They simply behave like monsters for their own amusement and as a means of wielding power. At least Voldemort had a plan: to take over the world. Conquering Katie does not bring the teen boys closer to any big plan. They just do what they do because they can. Then, there is Katie and Julie’s mother. While reading numerous reviews, I saw one word pop up a lot to describe her: evil. When I wrote her, I did not think her a good person, but I did not think her evil. Perhaps, it was because I knew her inside and out and knew what she would do and I could view with safe detachment. Yet, reading her as others do, I can see how that adjective works. Unlike the teen boys mentioned above, she does not behave as she does (favoring one daughter over the other, placing all value on beauty, rejecting each daughter when her actions do not meet the mother’s needs) for amusement. It is just who she is. She has her priorities wrong. She places herself above her children, her husband, and everything else. In twisted ways, every action somehow reflects on her. But, unlike Snow White’s stepmother, she doesn’t need to be the fairest. She knows her time has passed so she will live vicariously through her daughters. Her behavior sickens me, especially since I am a mother myself. I sleep, eat, and breathe my kid. He comes first always. I almost rather Katie and Julie’s mom WAS evil like the queen because her behavior may be explained more (it was sorcery). Unfortunately, there are parents like this, and that is more terrifying than any character.


I had plenty of source materials in creating Archie and his friends, particularly Julie Myerson’s books The Lost Child and Living with Teenagers. Archie’s friend Oscar and his family are pretty much based on the Myersons. I also read the reports of the death of a teenage girl at a party in West London. The party was hosted by another girl whose parents had gone out for the night to allow them to party in peace. A few teens searched the host’s father’s cupboard, looking for drugs; they found and took some ecstasy. One girl took two tabs and died, the father whose drugs they were was so consumed with guilt that a few days later tried to commit suicide.

Archie isn’t the only narrator of Another Life, Ty has his own chapters. I decided not to mark the chapters in any way, so you have to work out from the voice and content who is speaking. Sometimes it’s immediately obvious, sometimes less so. The point is that underneath all their differences, Ty and Archie are both daft but essentially normal teenagers, going through the painful process of growing up.

2013 Preview Theme Week Post 1: CJ Flood on 2013 Releases She’s Looking Forward Tobooks

Welcome to my 2013 preview theme week! I’m really excited about the number of great contemporary releases planned for 2013 – I’ve already read one which is excellent (details of that later this week!) and there are a bunch of books coming out in the next 12 months which look great, so this week is all about giving people an idea of some of the brilliant stuff coming out.

One of the books which looks really interesting is Infinite Sky, by debut author CJ Flood – so when she was kind enough to agree to write a post for the week, I was thrilled! Without further ado, here it is.

My debut novel comes out on Valentines Day 2013. Set in the Midlands of England, it is the story of thirteen-year-old Iris Dancy, and the summer that Irish Traveller’s set up camp on her family’s farm. It is the same summer that her mum leaves the family to go travelling,her older brother goes off the rails, and her dad struggles to hold it all together: a summer that changes everything. It is about love and freedom and loyalty. Read early reviews here.

One of the loveliest things about debuting in 2013 is that I got to be part of The Lucky 13s which is a group of childrens and YA writers who all have their first book coming out next year. We blog about the ups and downs of publishing, and our writing processes, but more importantly, behind the scenes, we support each other, share our experiences, and generally help each other navigate the exciting (and often nerve-wracking) world of publishing.

Without all of these excellent, talented, rational people, I know my journey towards publication would have been much more confusing, and I am really grateful to them all for their generosity and openess. Needless to say, as a result of working with all these people, I am looking forward to A LOT of YA and children’s debuts in 2013 (and I have already read some amazing books as we are in the middle of a Lucky 13 ARC tour). In fact, I am looking forward to waaay more than there is room for here.