Tag Archives: teens

Remembering Rick (& The Young Ones)

I used to love the BBC series, The Young Ones, possibly because of the time it exploded into my life. During a year when I was fully immersed in HSC (that’s the vintage VCE) study stress and adolescent unrequited love angst, it was a welcome 30-minutes a week of shouty, rude, politically incorrect, violent, stick-it-to-the-man, anarchic comedy mayhem*. Just what every teenager needed.

My brother went completely fan boy. He perfected the sneer and dressed as Rick for a costume party. He owned the Cliff Richard single on vinyl, the etiquette book and Neil’s Heavy Concept Album. The book, with its section on How To Use Hyphens (to make better insults), gave us hours of fun.

And so the sad news this morning of the death of Rik Mayall prompted this detour down memory lane. I figure a spot of Googling is the least I can do to acknowledge the impact Mr Mayall and his mates had on my teen years.

Please find below, via IMDB, a snippet of the script from the Cash episode in Season 1, along with a clip of the people’s poet in action.

*If you’re new to the Young Ones, consider yourself warned.

 

Neil: Guys, guys, guys, I think I’ve solved our money problem. I’m writing to my bank manager. See what you think…”Dear Bank Manager.”

Mike: Yeah?

Neil: Well, that’s it. I’m quite pleased with it so far, though.

Mike: Oh, well, it’s a strong opening, certainly.

Vyvyan: I don’t like the “dear.” Sounds a bit too much like, “Will you go to bed with me?”

Mike: Well spoken, Vyvyan. What do you think instead?

Vyvyan: Uh, what about…”darling?

[everyone concurs]

Neil: [writing] “Darling Bank Manager…”

Rick: No, no, no, no, no, not “Bank Manager,” it’s far too crawly bum-lick. Tell it like it is, put “Fascist Bullyboy!”

Neil: “Darling Fascist Bullyboy…”

Mike: That’s nice, yes, so far so good. So what do you want to say?

Neil: Well, basically, I want to ask him if I can have, like, an extension on my overdraft, but I know there must be a better way of putting it than that.

Mike: Well, what about, “Give me some more money”?

Vyvyan: …”You bastard!”

Neil: Don’t you think that’s a bit strong?

Mike: Ah, Neil, people like that respect strength.

Neil: Yeah, you’re right. Uh, “Darling Fascist Bullyboy, Give me some more money, you bastard…” Uh…”Love, Neil.”

Vyvyan: Not “Love, Neil”! That sounds far too much like, “Come and get it like a bitch-funky sex machine!”

Neil: Yeah, you’re right… Uh, what about, “Yours sincerely”?

Rick: Oh, come off it, Neil. If you’re going to be that sycophantic, why don’t you go ’round there now and stick your tongue straight down the back of his trousers?

Neil: Oh, look, I know, I know, why not “Boom Shanka”? It means, “May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman.”

Mike: He’ll never understand “Boom Shanka,” you’ll have to write the whole thing out.

Neil: Right, okay, here we go. “Darling Fascist Bullyboy, Give me some more money, you bastard. May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman, Neil.”

Rick: Well, if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.

 

YA fiction: The dark side

It’s a perennial yarn. Someone easily shocked or offended picks up a work of Young Adult fiction and reels at the contents. Horrified that their innocent young darling could be corrupted by such truth-telling, they quickly fire off a complaint to the library/school council/education department/all of the above. A cranky letter to a local newspaper follows and before you know it there’s a story cobbled together asking whether YA fiction is too dark and dangerous for young people to read.

As a journo and YA author I follow these stories with particular interest. These days I’m more author than journalist so I was amused/bemused by a recent media request to discuss this exact topic. The piece was due to run in a Fairfax weekend mag but I’m yet to spot it. (Please shoot me a link if you’ve seen it.)

One of the points I failed to make during the interview is that I grew up in an era where there was no YA section in bookstores or libraries. In the school libraries I frequented, once you were beyond Enid Blyton and had scaled the heights of Ivan Southall and Colin Thiele, you were fast running out of options. In town, the library bus visited fortnightly. While my younger siblings pillaged the limited children’s selection I was free to range the semi-trailer and make my own choices. Invariably I returned home accompanied by Stephen King, James Clavell or James Herbert – guys who didn’t exactly bubble wrap the darkness and violence in their stories. I don’t believe I’m any the worse for reading their work before I turned 18 or 21 or whatever age you’re allowed to know the world isn’t entirely Blyton-esque.

My own YA novels draw heavily on my experiences as a journalist and subsequently contain dark matter. I make careful choices about what I include and how explicit I should be. I also borrow from history as true stories often can’t be topped. It’s rare that I get a complaint. (For the record, I did get one a few weeks back from a reader disturbed by one of the historic elements I used in Five Parts Dead. I’d forewarned him the books were intended for older children and told his parents to read ahead of him… Interestingly, he preferred Game as Ned, which I feel is even more confronting. We clearly have different sensitivities.)

One of the things I did refer to when interviewed was the short story competition I judge annually. The entrants are 12 to 18 years of age and heavily skewed towards the 13-14 year old bracket. The topics are of their own choice – serving as a free window into teen thinking. Having just finished the judging, here are the topics covered this year and the number of young people who tackled them:

A favourite from my adolescent years. I've read this many times.
A favourite from my adolescent years. I’ve read this many times.

  • Bullying (4)
  • Cancer/disease/mental illness (5)
  • Divorce/family breakdown (6)
  • Family/travel/good times (7)
  • Heartbreak/love (8)
  • Horror (8)
  • Murder/kidnapping/crime (4)
  • Natural disaster (1)
  • Road fatalities (5)
  • Sci-fi (5)
  • Suicide (3)
  • War (6)

I could rail on about fiction being a safe space to explore and gain insight into the dark side of life but I think that list renders my comments redundant. Many young people portray a world that is considerably crueler than I could dream up.

So I’ll keep on writing the stories that feel right to me. Hopefully, to quote one of my former editors, my stories will show that even in dark places the light can shine through.

Language alert

I regularly rattle on about the use, abuse and evolution of language, including in this earlier post.

Last weekend I heard a teen friend using “maybs” – a short form of ‘maybe’.

After mentioning this to my fellow web-heads they also gave me “totes” for ‘totally’, and “evs” for ‘whatever’. When my kids can’t even bother with all the syllables in what-ev-er, I’ll know communications have reached an all-time low.

I also heard a breakfast radio presenter calling for similar examples of teen speak and the best he was offered was a ripper: “You’re harshing my mellow.” Presumably this translates as “disturbing my calm”. It reminds me of Neil, the hippy member of the unforgettable Young Ones share house. Now those guys really knew how to have fun with language.

Speaking of conversational combat, here are a couple of sizzling put-downs I’ll never forget:

Me reading out a grab from a newspaper citing a new “guru”…
Colleague’s reply: “Huh. They only call someone a guru when they can’t fit charlatan into a headline”.

Me telling a friend about someone who took a year off work to write a novel…
Reply: “He didn’t write a book. All he did was prance about wearing a f***ing beret.”

Journo to telephone caller: “You’re not witty! You’re about as sharp as a f***ing bowling ball!”

Ouch.

To *$@! or not to *#@!

I’m currently reading John Green’s Looking For Alaska, which was the winner of the Silver Inky award for 2007 (and numerous other prizes). I thoroughly recommend it.

Among other things, this boarding school story contains images of teenagers smoking and drinking to excess – partly to be cool and rebellious and partly to disconnect themselves from consciousness of various events in the characters’ lives. (Apologies if I’m being vague but I hate spoilers.) The teens also use colourful language.

My favourite YA book from 2007 is Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the tale of an impetuous, passion-fuelled night in New York. I really enjoyed this novel but, initially at least, found the profanity-laden language used by the characters to be a distraction. As the story progressed, I become hardened to this and didn’t even notice the swearing any more.

Now I’m reworking the dialogue in my manuscript and my wife has suggested I need to consider unleashing the wolves in my characters’ speech. I’m (they’re?) being too polite, she reckons.

It’s a vexed issue for me. I listen to how teens talk and try to bring a realistic version of their speech to my characters. And many teens swear so often it loses its shock value. It’s almost comical how rude words are abused in every conversational context.

In Game as Ned, which was set in the 1970s, I kept the swearing under control and limited it to words such as the Great Australian Adjective ‘bloody’. My current story is far more contemporary. If I’m going to hold a recorder up to current teen speech, I should be using words much stronger than ‘bloody’.

But for some reason I’m reluctant to linguistically go all the way. Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t want my kids talking that way or because I know there are loyal older readers who enjoyed my first book and would be offended by such language. Maybe I’d like to believe fiction can paint a picture without the colours having to be as brutally vivid as in real life. And that a book can be cool without dropping the f-bomb.

Whatever the case, it’s something I’m tossing around at present. Any thoughts / arguments from readers would be welcome. As a librarian said to me this morning: “If it’s full of swearing the library probably wouldn’t buy a copy … but if the kids think it’s banned from school they’ll all buy their own, which might be better for you”. Hmmm.

Incidentally, I was lucky enough to meet Nick & Norah’s co-author Rachel Cohn during the Melbourne Writers’ Festival this year. She asked her audience for permission to read from the novel uncensored. Everyone present agreed. BTW, Nick & Norah is coming out as a movie around Boxing Day, starring Michael Cera from Superbad and Juno. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the story transfers to the big screen.

You can check out the trailer here.