Thursday, 1 November 2007

Boys Will Be Boys

People often ask me how come I became a teenage writer. Why not write for adults? That’s so much more glamorous. There’s the Booker prize, the Hay Festival, all those programmes on the BBC. 'You’re good at talking, Brian,’ they say. ‘You could become a celebrity.’

When I look unconvinced, they try another tack. What about books for little children? The kind that concerned parents read to their kids at bedtime. That’s nice to think about. After all, little kids look so cute in their pyjamas. Not like teenagers – always chewing gum, worrying about their spots and wearing weird clothes.

With a sigh I tell them about a friend of mine called Laura, who is one of the nicest and politest people I know. Recently, she had to go to the doctor’s surgery with her two teenage sons. Like their father, they are big with long legs and as they sprawled uncomfortably in the waiting room for ages on end, they grew restless and started making up stories to amuse themselves. The stories were about people with ridiculous illnesses and they laughed as they tried to outdo each other with absurd caricatures.

Unfortunately, their sheer physicality made some of the more uptight people in the waiting room uncomfortable. They decided that the boys were really making jokes about them, mocking them for their medical problems. Indignantly, they complained to the receptionist and Laura and her two sons were thrown out of the surgery.

Of course Laura tried to point out that her sons were only playing a kind of game, that their comments weren’t aimed at the people in the waiting room at all, but the receptionist wasn’t prepared to listen. Afterwards, Laura tried phoning the Practice Manager, only to be cut off twice in mid sentence. They weren’t having young people bullying the other patients in the surgery and that was that.

Why is everyone so terrified of teenagers? You’d think they were terrorists. A few years back, before my daughters reached adulthood, I can remember colleagues at publishing parties asking me how old they were. When I replied that they were in their teens, I’d get a sympathetic smile. ‘You’re going through the difficult years, then?’ my colleagues would say.

When I tried to explain that I liked teenagers, they would nod encouragingly as you might do to someone who was putting on a brave face. You’ve got to admire this fellow’s spirit, their expressions seemed to say, he’s going through hell but he’s determined not to let it show.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not na├»ve or sentimental. I realise there are horrible teenagers who mug people, or stab them, or worse. But don’t tell me there are no adults who do such things. And at least teenagers don’t spend all their time talking about how much the value of their house has risen in the last six months.

It’s the attitude teenagers possess, isn’t it? That’s what people object to, whether they realise it or not. They look into the teenager’s eyes and they immediately see hostility. But so often it’s just awkwardness they’re witnessing – the awkwardness of young people who are trying to work out who they are and how they should behave in different situations. Can’t you remember that? I certainly can. In fact, I’ll let you into a secret: I still feel like that a lot of the time.

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