I will genuinely have a crack at anything when it comes to writing. I’ve tackled sci-fi, magical realism, poetry and occasionally dabbled in lesbian erotica.
But I’ve never had a go at YA. I should really because as genres go,it’s got to be one of the most popular (have not-so-young adults stopped reading books or something?). A friend of mine dropped the challenge a few months ago, and so I dug out an old piece I’d been fiddling with for a while and decided to finish it off… well, the first part anyway. I might serialise it for something, a bit like a soap opera that you have to read.
Anyway, what did I learn? Well I learned that YA isn’t as easy as it looks, especially with my sense of humour…
The Early Springers’ Book Club
Derek Smith VII had something of a Problem. A Problem that had crowned a week of calamitous ill-fortune, culminating here, now, in an English test sprung upon Class 4C by the ethereally beautiful Miss Dunbavin.
Derek shivered and told himself to stay calm, and then remembered that there was nothing in this world more likely to induce a pandemic of unbridled hysteria than telling oneself to remain calm.
He was supposed to keep his head while wrestling with his Problem and also the fact that he wasn’t Derek Smith VII at all: his father was called Derek, and his father’s father was named Marion, after John Wayne.
At best, he was Derek Smith II; at worst, he was just Derek Smith Junior.
And that was, unfortunately, just the beginning…
On Monday morning, that same week, Miss Dunbavin had come into class with exciting news – though to be fair, everything Miss Dunbavin said or did was exciting.
‘Boudicca,’ she breathed.
The class said, ‘What?’
‘I am actually related to Boudicca,’ she intoned huskily. Derek liked it when Miss Dunbavin intoned. He sometimes lay on his bed, in the dark, thinking of her, intoning.
She heaved and gushed that she’d met a genealogist over the weekend, who’d told her that she was distantly – very distantly – related to the infamous warrior queen, Boudicca.
Half the class cooed in excitement.
Sophie Stebbs asked who Boudicca was, and Derek remembered hearing that Sophie Stebbs had been dropped on her head as a baby.
He wondered how someone could tell Miss Dunbavin was related to Boudicca simply by examining her bits, and by the time he realised that a genealogist probably wasn’t what he thought it was, the notion of Miss Dunbavin’s bits had already caused the Problem to rear its unwelcome head. It was little more than an inconvenience at first, but the less he tried to think about it, the more it seemed to think about him. Demonstrating rudimentary self-awareness and an instinct for self-preservation, it burst through the Y in his fronts and chafed uncomfortably against the polyester lining of his trousers.
Derek was quite simply terrified.
‘Are you all right, Derek?’
Miss Dunbavin had pouted when she’d asked; he was sure of it.
Don’t think about the pouting, he told himself; it’ll only makes things worse! ‘Yes, it’s fine.’ Derek said. ‘I mean… I’m okay!’ The desk was too low for him to cross his legs.
‘You look… pensive,’ Miss Dunbavin said through moist, slightly parted lips. ‘Is there something you would like to share with the class?’
Derek stared in despair at his groin and shook his head.
‘Can’t hear you, Derek. You know how I feel about boys mumbling into their trousers.’
Derek swallowed and said nothing.
Miss Dunbavin pressed on: ‘Perhaps there’s something interesting about your family you’d like to share.’
Derek shook his head.
Penalty two. Miss Dunbavin’s goddess-like nostrils flared.
‘I think you’re being a little bit rude, Derek, to your class, and to me.’
Derek liked it when she referred to herself in the first person. She did that a lot. His Problem shifted, looking for release.
‘Derek, stand up.’
‘I come from a long line of Dereks!’ he shouted, so loudly that Miss Dunbavin lurched back; her breasts shook, invitingly; Derek’s Problem banged its fist against his zipper.
‘Are you sure about that, Derek?’ Miss Dunbavin looked doubtful.
‘Oh yes,’ Derek said. ‘My dad’s called Derek, and so was his dad.’
‘I thought your grandfather was called Mar—’
‘No, it was definitely Derek! In fact, his dad was called Derek! And so was his dad too!’
Miss Dunbavin narrowed her eyes. ‘Really.’
Sniggering. Derek could definitely hear sniggering, especially from Sophie Stebbs whom, rumour had it, had starved her brain of oxygen for a dare. She’d been revived in a hospital six hours later – so rumour had it.
‘I’m the seventh son to be called Derek!’ he lied desperately. Seven. Yes, that was good. The seventh son. It was like Seventh Son of a Seventh Son:Iron Maiden, or Blakes7. Yes. He liked that.
The sniggering grew. The Problem squirmed and thrashed about his thighs, threatening to call the police if it wasn’t set free this very moment.
Sophie Stebbs said, ‘So, you’re like, Derek the Seventh.’
The sniggering shed its skin, unfolded its wings and soared. Derek felt his neck heat while Miss Dunbavin appealed for calm.
‘That is such crap, Derek.’ Sophie Stebbs sneered.
‘Manners, Sophie!’ Miss Dunbavin interjected. Derek liked it very much when Miss Dunbavin interjected. She’d leapt heroically to his defence, just as Boudicca would. His spirit rallied.
‘It’s bloody true, that is!’ he yelled, and shot to his feet.
Sophie’s eyes bulged.
The rest of the class gasped.
Miss Dunbavin made a funny little shrieking sound then tried to hide it by coughing into her fist.
‘Derek, sit down.’
Derek felt the world shrink to the size of a telephone box, with just enough room for himself, Miss Dunbavin, and his growing Problem which now appeared to be accruing mass from some magical dimension.
‘Derek! Sit. Down!’
Sophie Stebbs came to her senses. She remembered where she was, who she was; she snatched up her ruler and flicked Derek’s Problem as hard as she could.
The class howled.
Miss Dunbavin sent Sophie to the headmaster.
On her way out Sophie turned, and in her very best Marilyn voice said: ‘Is that a banana in your pocket, Derek, or…’ she stopped for a moment to search her addled brain, ‘or… is it…? Are you…?’
Derek remembered hearing, not so long ago, that Sophie Stebbs had been hit in the head with a cricket ball.
‘Out, Sophie!’ Miss Dunbavin thrust a finger in the direction of the door.
On Tuesday of that same week, Derek Smith dragged his feet to school because he was, quite rightly, expecting the day after to be very much worse.
He was met at the school gate by Sophie Stebbs and her coven. They looked at the noticeboard, looked at him, then ran into school, laughing, Sophie tipping him a wink as she sprinted away.
Derek sighed and shuffled over to the noticeboard. Amongst the usual announcements for school recitals and lost sweaters, he found a large, hand drawn film poster. It was a very mature piece, clearly the work of Sophie Stebbs who, despite having caught her head in a clothes mangle at a very early age, had flourished into an outstanding and prolific young artist. The poster showed Derek standing in front of class 4C with his raincoat open. Sophie had given him blood red eyes and a pair of goat’s horns growing from his forehead.
The class looked on and pointed in astonishment.
And Miss Dunbavin appeared to have fainted dead away.
Coming to a classroom near you! the poster exclaimed. The Stiffening! – starring Derek Smith.
And to add insult to injury, someone had written ‘the seventh’ in brackets, after his name.