Nowadays most of my books seem to have male protagonists but for a number of years I wrote books with teenage girls as the central characters. This used to puzzle people greatly. Whenever I was asked to speak at conferences, female librarians would frown and ask me, ‘How is it, Mr Keaney, that you are able to get inside the mind of a teenage girl so successfully?’ Quite often on these occasions there would be a female author on the same platform who might have written any number of books with teenage boys as the central characters but it never occurred to anyone to ask her how she managed this remarkable feat.
I would always reply that I found it easy to write from the point of view of an adolescent girl because I had two teenage daughters but this wasn’t the whole story. What I should really have said was, ‘It’s called using your imagination. It’s not so difficult because the fact is that we’re all human beings. Male or female, we all suffer pain, we all experience joy and we all long for love.
My daughter Kathleen, was our second child. That meant she was born with a playmate ready and waiting in the form of her older sister, Emily. And for years they spent hours of almost every day constructing elaborate dramas that involved Barbie and Cindy, teddy bears and other soft toys, Flower Fairies, Sylvanian Families and so on.
But, of course, it also meant that there came a point when Emily reached a certain age and put aside childish pleasures and Kathleen found herself without a companion. Unlike her sister, who had begun life as an only child, Kathleen was unprepared for playing by herself. And so she gazed up at me with sorrowful eyes as she told me that she had no-one to play with.
What could I do? I got down on the carpet with her and began to familiarise myself with the cast and the plot-lines of her ongoing narratives. And they were much more complex and multi-layered than I had imagined. I learned, for example, that there were boy Flower Fairies as well as girls, and that some of them were vain while others were shy. l discovered that Cindy was not as cool as Barbie, that some soft toys were bossy and that others had apparently been living together as married couples for years. It was a strange and often puzzling world but eventually I became very familiar with it. So that the when the time finally came for Kathleen to put aside childish things, I was the one left feeling utterly bereft.
But the memory of those days will never leave me. It inhabits everything I write and it has permanently stamped the person I have become. Whenever people ask me what were the best days of my life I do not hesitate. It was when I was a little girl, I tell them.