Today, I am pleased to welcome Miriam Halahmy onto the blog to discuss the romance in new YA novel, Stuffed.
I really enjoy the romance element of writing Y.A. fiction even though romance is not usually my starting point. My most recent novel, STUFFED, Albury Books, 2014, is the third book in a cycle of novels set on Hayling Island and this time romance is very much at the heart of the book. But this cycle of novels deal with some of the most contentious issues of our time, including immigration, asylum seekers, human rights, drug dealing and the credit crunch.
Romance for me has to have an edge and so in HIDDEN it is quietly in the background, in ILLEGAL it emerges in extreme circumstances and in STUFFED, although the relationship is at the heart of the book, it is threatened on all sides by terrible dilemmas.
But it is still love. I enjoy writing romance because I believe that young people can fall in love, deeply, madly, truly...even if it ultimately doesn’t last. Of course sometimes it does and they go on to spend the rest of their lives together. But the emergence of those true feelings of love in the teenage years is endlessly interesting and as my characters are always put in challenging situations, romance for me has never prevented me writing about other aspects of life.
STUFFED is about two teens, Jess who is almost sixteen and Ryan who is seventeen. They start going out and quite soon they realise they are falling in love. But each has a terrible secret they are keeping from the other. Will their love survive the dilemma each is faced with? This is the heart and engine of the novel.
Jess is recovering from a serious illness and then discovers her father is almost bankrupt. He swears her to secrecy while he promises he will sort things out. Buckling under the pressure of keeping the secret from her mother, sister and Ryan, Jess confides in her diary – the only safe place to be.
Sat Nov 15th ...Scot kept giving Ryan funny looks, just cos he’s not in our crowd. But that’s what I like about Ryan, he doesn’t know anyone, he works in the hospital and he’s going off on a road trip to Africa. I can be a completely different person with Ryan if I want. He doesn’t know about my family or any of my friends. Not even Sar: Yet. Maybe I should go with him to Africa, run away, leave this whole mess behind...
As Jess struggles to cope with her problematic father, a sudden blast from the past comes back to rock Ryan’s world. I won’t say what happens as it would be a bit of spoiler but his reaction is similar to Jess’s.
“OK!” I yell back. My voice breaks with the strain and I croak. “Give me a chance. What do you expect me to say? I don’t have the handbook on this. Christ, just give me a sec.”
I want to run, fire up the van and drive straight to Africa. That’s all I can think about. I want to drive there now. Not stop for supplies, nothing, just go, go, go.
As the story progresses, each realises the other is keeping quiet about some kind of terrible secret and they are faced with a make or break moment. No spoilers, but just to say everything comes to a head when I send Jess and Ryan and their friends on a very dramatic rock climbing trip!
How our teenagers handle this crisis and whether or not their relationship could survive was a dilemma which I very much relished taking on.
My interest in writing comes from the drama and tensions of everyday life, against the backdrop of large crises in society – in this case the credit crunch and how it ruined many lives. But if I just took an issue and slammed it in my readers’ faces, I don’t think my books would survive. It is the way in which the reader can step into the shoes of my characters and follow their journey through the pitfalls of life, which keeps my readers committed to the story.
I run creative writing workshops and one of the things I often say is, You can’t have a plot on an empty stage. I like to people my books with fascinating characters, I love putting them into situations where romance/ love/ relationships may or may not emerge and develop, but I don’t make life easy for them.
We all have to face many challenges in life. I believe that books can help us to map the route forward. They can be a ‘try out’ for the real thing – if something similar should cross your path.
Falling in love is something that pretty well all humans are likely to do.
Writing about love is a universal theme and one which I love to tackle in my books.
Stuffed by Miriam Halahmy is published by Albury Books.
'I didn't know that my life was going to fall through the floor for the second time before my sixteenth birthday' Jess is fifteen, Ryan is seventeen and they are falling in love...but each is keeping a terrible secret from the other, threatening to destroy their bond. On a weekend away rock climbing they move closer than ever, until a terrifying incident drives a new wedge between them. Can Jess save her family from Dad's mistakes, and will Ryan resolve his own mess from the past? If not, their love is doomed to failure.
To find out more about Miriam and her books.