Why do gritty, realistic books matter?
When I wrote Seven Days, I was immediately proud of my creation. It felt like a very honest and true representation of what I had witnessed in the school I worked for. I hoped it was something that teens would pick up and relate to. I also hoped that by showing both sides of bullying – the reasons why someone might bully – that I was introducing an interesting perspective.
However, when sending the book out to agents, the response I received was unanimous. Most of the messages were positive, but all said similar things; ‘great book, but too gritty, too dark – it just wouldn’t sell’.
This made me sad for two reasons:
- I desperately wanted to get published and was convinced this would be the book to do it
- Maybe real-life, contemporary books weren’t as popular as I’d hoped.
As a teenager, I devoured books and they helped me through some tough times. I tended to veer towards books that were reflective of my thoughts and feelings – it made me feel less isolated, less scared of some of the issues I was facing – like early novels by Jacqueline Wilson, Judy Blume and Robert Swindells. There was one book that I checked out of the library again and again. It was a book about bullying. I wish I could remember the title, but what I do remember was how much the gritty, hard message hit home. At the time, I was being bullied. This one book – this hard-hitting – ‘tell-it-as-it-is’ book, made me feel less alone. I read it so many times, wondering just how the author had managed to tap into my own mind. In many ways it helped me feel less of a victim.
Books like these mattered so much to me when I was younger and mattered so much to my friends.
Therefore I felt overjoyed when Curtis Brown contacted me to say that they loved my book. When I discussed the text with Stephanie Thwaites, I knew she completely understood what I was trying to deliver. Then having a publisher, such as Scholastic, decide to publish it has been amazing.
But what is even more amazing is receiving feedback from readers. I’ve been told that it is a ‘powerful read’ that it reflected personal experiences, that it had impact.
And that was all I wanted to do.
Gritty, real-life books matter because they resonate with the reader. They reflect the world that the readers exist in and prevent it from being a lonely, sad place. Books encourage discussion, thought and understanding. They help us to appreciate exactly what another individual is going through.
And surely that can only ever be a good thing?