Via The Guardian: Teen novelists: the perils and positives of publishing early. Excerpt:
Helena Coggan’s debut, The Catalyst, is an accomplished first novel: a fantasy-dystopia featuring strong characterisation and sophisticated world-building. The plot might be somewhat event-saturated, especially towards the end, but to me, the book has the assurance of a writer in mid-stride, rather than the occasional fumbles and missteps of a first attempt.
This would be unusual in most debut novels; in a 15-year-old’s, it’s nearly unparalleled.
This is not to say that teenagers can’t or shouldn’t write. Young writers can be both prolific and self-critical – and story-sharing sites such as Wattpad and Movellas make it easy to invite outside scrutiny. Many teenagers start out wearing fan-fiction water-wings, before plunging into the creation of characters and settings from scratch. But few of even the most popular teen authors are ready to make the leap into the exposed format of the traditionally published book.
I admire young writer Beth Reekles tremendously, not least for combining a degree in physics with her early-burgeoning career as a writer. But her first book, The Kissing Booth, now published by Random House after huge success on Wattpad, shows signs of immaturity in the unnerving relationship that it presents as romantic and alluring – the main love interest, Noah, is handy with his fists and swift to tell the 17-year-old protagonist that she’s showing too much skin, and that all the boys would hit on her if he weren’t there to ward them off. He’s presented throughout as the hottest of hot stuff; but 10 years on, a writer might be more inclined to portray him as a dangerous abuser-in-training than as the perfect romantic fit for the heroine.
There is nothing more important in writing YA fiction, though, than creating authentic young-adult voices to tell the story. It’s a hard balance to strike – an adult writer too far removed from the ever-changing emotions, technology and idioms that inform teenagers’ existence may make rookie errors that jolt the reader; a teenage writer may not yet have the skill to distil their recent experience and knowledge into book form.
This, to me, is part of what makes Coggan’s book so special: a main character who’s neither a barely animated cardboard cut-out nor an aggressively perfected version of the author. Instead, Rosalyn Elmsworth is a sometimes dislikable, believably exceptional 15-year-old – who happens to be keeping a deadly secret.
Having the ability to turn one’s own life into compelling fiction is rare for a teenage writer, but not impossible; SE Hinton’s The Outsiders, considered by many to be the first true YA novel, was mainly written when she was 16. It’s still remarkable for the close, truthful feel of the characterisation and the humane treatment of the Greasers, the gang from the wrong side of the tracks; the wry, witty, put-upon narrator, Ponyboy, is a particular triumph. (“I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.”)