Ordinary people in ordinary places

I read stacks and stacks of books as a child and teenager. I only began to read adult fiction because I had reluctantly read the entire 8-12 and young adult section in my small town library. Much of what I read was horse-orientated, like The Saddle Club series which kept me going for years (I'm freaked out they look so young in this TV series - they used to seem so grown up to me!), and practically all of it was American. As it was ordinary people in ordinary places I wanted to read about, it was bildungsroman and so-called 'issues books' that I was drawn to.

My favourite was Judy Blume - I still have my hardback copy of Just As Long As We're Together which I bought from the library as it was too old and battered to be lent out any more - but I also lapped up The Babysitters Club and even a bit of Point Romance (though it all became a bit sappy for my liking). Then I discovered Melvin Burgess and suddenly it clicked: I could read about real teenagers doing real things - falling out with their friends, breaking up with boyfriends, taking drugs - and they could be British, too. And the best thing about Melvin Burgess? He took it further, he was edgy. Kids in his books seemed wildly different to The Babysitters Club's Claudia Kishi and her 'almond shaped eyes': they had guts and unpleasant situations to deal with, situations that could easily befall anyone. There was no talk of homeroom and cheerleading, and I was entranced. (Later, at university, our creative writing society invited Melvin, then a Manchester resident, in for a question and answer session which, as you can imagine, was wildly fascinating)

It was around the time of my Melvin Burgess discovery that I also became interested in subcultures. I had begun listening to music that few of my friends cared for, and I became politically aware. I wore my vegetarianism as a badge. I began to understand that you could live in a van, if you wanted to; that you didn't have to get an office job if you chose; that the clothes on the high street weren't the only option; that Radio 1 wasn't necessarily the place to find all your music choices. I was fascinated, but I couldn't find any novels to indulge my interest further - well, not stocked in the local library or bookshop, anyway. That was when Annie Asher first appeared in my mind, and I wrote the first draft of Kindred Spirit. Well, first draft is a misnomer: I strung 30,000 words together in longhand.

I imagine that many young emos, goths, punks, metallers, hippies, etc, are also speculative fiction fans. This is a massive presumption, I realise, and I'm only going on the slim evidence of the kinds of kids I used to serve back  in my days of bookselling at Ottakars and Waterstone's: sci-fi, fantasy; dark covers with exotic-named authors and shelves heaving with their sheer number; boys with jet black hair, lip piercings and hoodies; girls with purple lipstick, eyes engulfed in thick eyeliner, knee-high boots.

But there are also going to be a large proportion of these kids who aren't fantasy nuts, but for whom novels set in the mainstream - female characters burdened by their shopping habits, footballing boys in shades and fancy trainers - aren't going to cut it. They wouldn't dream of turning on X Factor, and their reading material should match.

I hope it is these readers who will be captivated by Annie Asher and her chance encounter with Chantrea. Annie's quite a driven character, motivated by her principles, her outlook, so I'm really enjoying writing my current novel where the central character is despondent, disillusioned and confused. I've also got two other subculture novels coming together in my head, one of which is particularly topical given the announcement that Greater Manchester police will now record attacks and assaults on people from subcultures in the same way that they do for race, religion, gender, etc. I'm hoping that this will give me the excuse to go and chat to the kids who hang out at Cathedral Gardens on a Saturday afternoon - though I know that as soon as I open my mouth, I'm just going to sound so old.