Even to my own ears, the elevator pitch for the first book I ever wrote sounds a bit grim:
‘My So-Called Afterlife is about a fifteen year old girl, who gets murdered in a London toilet and comes back as a ghost to catch her killer.’
The second book in the series, My So-Called Haunting, isn’t much lighter:
‘Hackney teenager Dontay dies in a gang shoot out and it’s up to psychic Skye to stop his brother from going the same way.’
I’m sure you’re getting the picture. It’s probably best not to ask about My So-Called Phantom Lovelife. My mother-in-law still hasn’t forgiven me for what I did to one of the characters.
So, from the descriptions above, you’d be forgiven for thinking I write crime novels , albeit with a supernatural twist. And on some level, you’d be right. When I was first thinking about writing a book for teens, it felt like scarcely a day went by without some report of knife crime in London. For me, the victims were all the more tragic when they were teenagers so it was natural that this should influence my writing.
But there’s a lot more to the Afterlife series than tragedy. I write for the lower end of the YA age range, so my books might cover death and suicide but I never forget who my audience is. Whether my main character is dead or alive, they’re typical teens. Lucy, from My So-Called Afterlife, is queen of the sarcastic one-liner, and she uses humour to get through her death. Skye is softer but still likes a joke and I ensure there’s plenty of comedy salted through the story to detract from the harsh realities of an inner city gun crime plot. It’s this humour which I hope lift the books out of being pigeon-holed as one particular genre and make them something unique.
The lightness of touch also means I can tackle some pretty full-on topics without depressing the reader – how many books have you read where a character was so horrendously bullied that she took her own life and yet there’s still the possibility of a happy ending? Or where a murder victim takes control of their own destiny and decides whether their killer is brought to justice or not?
I’m currently working on the fourth Afterlife book, which will be the usual genre-defying blend. And then I’m thinking about concentrating on a pure-blood YA crime novel, about a serial killer in London. One thing you can be sure of, though; there’ll be a joke or two in there somewhere. Humour has always helped us through our darkest days - long may it stay that way.