Best-selling authors, Cat Clarke and Holly Bourne, talk about when life gets complicated. Exploring themes of mental illness, death, love and friendship, they reveal how their characters deal with these hugely important issues in their latest books, We Are Young and We Are All Lemmings and Snowflakes. The event was chaired by award-wining author, Alex Nye.

The authors shared with the audience how important it is to them to explore difficult themes in their books, with Bourne commenting, “I like to identify an issue first, then I ask myself how I can write about it. I want to write books I wish I’d had at that age, with messages that could really help people.” Clarke said, “I don’t set out to write about issues – I write about what concerns me and I explore it.” However different their approaches, there’s no denying these authors are succeeding in engaging their audience.

“There’s a relentless negative attitude towards teens in the media.” Clarke commented when asked about their target audience. Bourne added, “The teenagers I meet are so politically engaged; there are so many teenage activists. In my books, the teenagers are kicking butt because that’s reality.” The authors went on to praise the communities that like-minded teenagers have built online through their social media.

Bourne opened onto a wider topic, asking, “How can we break this cycle, where people keep dumping on the next generation?” She went on to highlight that mental health is impacted by life events and circumstances; and our understanding that would “Make the world a happier and more accepting place to live in.”

When asked about the value of labelling, Bourne suggested that “the diagnostic system for mental illnesses isn’t reliable because it depends entirely on the individual. But there is a power and a sense of belonging that comes from having a diagnosis.”

They have both written about suicide, a sensitive subject particularly in the aftermath of Thirteen Reasons Why. Clarke advised caution, “I understand that it can be scary talking about it but it can be equally dangerous not to. We need to talk about it, but we need to tread carefully.” The authors raised the importance of writing about both the dark and the light, when dealing with these topics.

Concluding with a discussion on the rise of ‘strong female characters’ in young adult fiction, Clarke revealed, “I have an issue with that. If you look at Katniss Everdeen etc. it gives a false impression that you must be saving the world to be strong. My characters are strong in a quiet way.” Bourne emphasised, “We’re gendering behaviours, when what we want is male and female characters expressing varying masculine and feminine characteristics. We need to widen what strong means.”

Something to chew on, for parents and teenagers alike.

For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival click here.