When Counterfeit Love, my latest book for young adults, came out this year, I have to admit to suffering a little fatigue. I’d had eleven books published in four years, and was feeling like I’d just finished an ultra marathon. But when I look around at my fellow children’s authors, I realise I’m just ambling along.
Today I welcome an author who has more than 120 titles to her name. Dianne Bates has a flair for humour, but has delved into some very disturbing topics in her young adult fiction. Bates has drawn from personal experience in her work, including her latest book – The Girl in the Basement – which tells the story of a girl abducted and held in a basement, awaiting her fate.
Here, she answers some questions about her work.
You’ve written more than a hundred books, across lots of topics, but your YA books seem to focus on very dark themes – abandonment, self-harm and kidnap. Why is that?
Most of my fiction books for younger readers are humorous! I guess the darker issues are something that I feel suit teens who are transitioning into the adult world and so often suffer much angst. During my adolescent years I knew abandonment and the feeling of being trapped, also I self-harmed. It’s said that one should write about what one knows, so I often draw on my life experiences when I write social-realism (which is most of the time).
Can you explain the inspiration for your latest book – The Girl in the Basement?
As a child I lived in a household of domestic violence and was constantly in fear of what might happen next, so I could well relate to the experiences of a teenage girl who is trapped physically and psychologically. I also had first-hand experience of an unpredictable man in my life so you could say I didn’t need to do much research but could draw on my childhood memories.
I read a lot of crime fiction and real-life crime books which I found helpful in creating the life and mind of a criminal (the book is told from two points of view). In researching specifically for The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), I read about the experiences of young, abducted women who managed to flee their abusers. In particular, Sabine Dardenne’s whose book, I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped. Interestingly, the same week that the women were released from years of captivity in the house in Cleveland Ohio was the same week that The Girl in the Basement was released by Morris Publishing Australia.
What is the appeal of writing for young adults?
Many books for young adults published more recently have been fantasy and/or sci-fi, and are about dark themes such as vampires, dystopian societies and so on. As a reader I am more interested in the world as it is now so I don’t bother with these genres. I think there are many young adults who want to read about how fictional characters negotiate the kinds of problems they are faced with in their lives. Reading social-realism is not just living vicariously, it’s also about seeing solutions and seeing that there can be hope when life seems grim and nobody is listening. My other YA novels are The Last Refuge (Hodder Headline) about domestic violence victims and Crossing the Line (Ford Street Publishing) about a girl who is in care and who becomes obsessed with her psychiatrist. I suffer from bipolar so have experience of being in psych wards (nowadays I’m sane because I’m medicated).
How do you avoid covering old ground when you have written so many books?
I rarely cover old ground! I have been writing and getting published for over 30 years and I’ve never run out of ideas. I don’t just write novels for younger children and teenagers: I also write non-fiction (including a few textbooks), joke books, poetry and verse anthologies, plays, articles, short stories, even an (unpublished) adult novel. My husband (YA award-winning author Bill Condon) and I make a living from full-time writing and have done so for years. Both of us write a 40-hour week each. Over the course of a year I submit upwards of 100 manuscripts to publishers (with a success rate of 15 to 20%).
What are you working on right now?
Lately I have been writing novels for young readers aged 8 to 10 years. The latest is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press) about a foster child and I’ve just sold two other junior books, one to a small publisher, another to a major publisher. Currently I have a few projects. I’ve just had a junior novel To the Moon and Back assessed by a professional freelancer who has suggested many ways to improve the text, so that’s my writing project.
I am also in the process of proof-reading A Beginner’s Guide to Better English (Five Senses Education) to be published later this year. This week I have resumed editorship of Buzz Words (All the Buzz About Children’s Books) which I founded in 2006; it’s a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book industry. At the moment I am doing a lot of admin work with the generous help of Vicki Stanton who has done a sterling job at the editing helm for a few years while I took a break. There are hundreds of subscribers, so I am wrangling my computer skills to try to implement everything. I am also finding new content for the first issue I put out on 15 October. If anyone wants a free sample, they can contact me at Buzz Words.
Thanks to Dianne Bates for giving us an insight into her work.
Visit again soon for more interviews, book news and reviews. Happy reading until then.