More than a year ago, I heard a conversation.
In my head. It was an argument between a teenager and her dad. (As a novelist, imaginary conversations aren't usually cause for alarm.) I was writing adult fiction at the time and had no plans to change. However, the teenage voice was so strong - angry and sarcastic yet somehow vulnerable - it demanded to be heard.
The result: a series of novels for teenagers and re-immersion in a world I thought I'd left behind. Here is some of what I've learned about that teenage world:
1Teenage years are the most dramatic; if not you make them so. Never before and never again will friends be as important. Everything is crucial: life, love, the planet, the future, romance, gossip. If you want to really live, pretend to be 16 again.
2They may be slow at coming down from their rooms or out of the shower but, boy, are teenagers fast with their thumbs. It's not just texting. It's any gadget — computer, iPod, mobile phone. Technology is like a language created for them.
3Today's teenagers have no time to be bored, what with school, homework, sport, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Social networking's popularity with teens is not surprising; it offers an opportunity to show individuality and humour, the reassuring ability to stay in touch with friends and, of course, to prove to everyone that you actually have friends.
4 It's standard for modern teens to have friends they've never met, friends from other countries that they play with and talk to every day. Online. Such is their world.
5 Thanks to social networking, secrets have become an outdated concept. Everything is up on the internet within minutes of it happening. Not just the interesting stuff. I don't think we've ever had so much data on teenage thinking and behaviour.
6 When messaging each other, words aren't enough. A text without an emote is interpreted as abrupt andunfriendly. So, put a smiley face :) at the end of your message to the teen in your life. Do remember to adapt your emote to the message, though. You don't want a smile at the end of a depressing bulletin.
7 Celebrity is news. And news is celebrity. Remember the Pepsi challenge? Try the Perez challenge. Ask a random selection of teens who they're most familiar with: Perez Hilton or Nelson Mandela. Don't be too despondent. Without the movie Invictus, Mandela's rating would be worse. Perez Hilton, for those who don't know, is America's most famous gossip columnist.
8 Teens speak in shorthand. Why say, “Who do you admire most, Perez Hilton or Nelson Mandela?” when you can say, “Perez or Mandela?”. I guess it comes from all that texting, tweeting and Facebooking. Less is more.
9 Teenagers have purchasing power like never before, and they know it. Thanks to social networking, if they get behind something, they can make it an overnight sensation. Take Twilight, Justin Bieber and Ugg boots.
10 Trends created by teens are owned by teens. They decide what's going to be big. Take Justin Bieber. Who could have guessed that he was going to be so huge?
11 Just as quickly, teenagers can turn against something. Lady Gaga's popularity is plummeting with teens thanks to her bizarre tweets.
12 Teens are confident enough to laugh at themselves. When they say, “Totes”, instead of, “Totally”, they are being ironic. Same goes for “LOL” when said as a word, not three letters. (For the uninitiated: LOL means Laugh Out Loud.)
13 Some things never change. Mirrors are still addictive. Parents are still embarrassing. Skirts can't be short enough. And no matter how cool you think you are, if you're over 30, to a teenager, you are ancient.
14 The movie Mean Girls will tell you all you need to know about teens at school. Everything still applies — the cliques, the pressure to be cool, to look good, to survive.
15 There is pressure — exams, the need to achieve, to look good, have friends, be cool. Some handle it better than others. But it hasn't gone away.
16 And yes, they do grow up quicker. Within weeks of hitting secondary school, they just grow up.
17 Ask a teenager what goes on in discos and they'll say, “What doesn't go on in discos?” That's if they're being honest.
18 Terms of endearment include ho, slut and skank. All these terms can also be used to “diss” someone.
19 Though they might not exactly shout about it, most teenagers are very fond of their parents. In a more liberal society, there is less to rebel against. Family is still hugely important in a world that is sometimes confusing, sometimes unfair.
20 Writing for teens is the most challenging, interesting and fun literary adventure I've ever had. I plan to go on.