I worked hard as a teenager. We didn’t have money; I was the only person in my immediate family to go to university. I was utterly focussed on creating a life for myself that wasn’t like the one I’d grown up in. I studied a lot. I didn’t go out much. Didn’t drink, didn’t take chances.
Looking back, I think I was a typical teenager.
Some of my friends worked hard, like me. Others didn’t have that drive. Some were naturally clever, and sailed through school to university. One of my friends dropped out of school at sixteen and went to work as a mechanic in his uncle’s garage.
All of them were typical teenagers.
Like adults, teenagers are a varied mix of the spoiled and the lazy, the tough and the smart, the brave and the fearful.
It is important to me that my books should reflect this diversity.
I find it unbelievable when teen characters in a book are ALL brave and feisty. Or when they’re all super smart with massive vocabularies. Or when they are all hard-working and noble.
I just don’t recognise that world.
In my books, I’ve tried to create characters readers will believe in.
In Night School, Allie is a good kid who’s gone off the rails. She’s trying to be bad, but it’s not natural to her – it’s hard work being bad.
In The Secret Fire, Taylor is a geek – in love with learning, and desperate to get into Oxford.
Alongside them, I’ve written feisty characters and bitches. Teens with anger issues, and those who seem to have limitless patience. Super smart teens (Zoe, in Night School), and teens who really aren’t that interested in studying (Sacha, in The Secret Fire).
To me, all these characters seem normal. Whatever normal is – they’re all it.
I start with this variety of characters we can all recognise from our lives. And then – and only then – do I add chaos. Because the most interesting thing to me in any story is not the paranormal abilities a character has. It’s how they react when everything goes wrong.
Watching a character’s carefully planned life fall apart, and then seeing how they pick up the pieces – for me, that’s everything.
But I have to start by believing the characters. Because if I don’t believe in them, I don’t care when their world collapses.
More than anything, I want readers to care. When someone writes to me and says my books made them cry, or laugh, or that they saw themselves in its pages….
That’s the real magic.
The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld is published on 10th September (£6.99, Atom)
Former crime reporter CJ Daugherty is the author of the international best-selling Night School series. After graduating from university in Texas, CJ worked as a newspaper journalist in American cities including Savannah and New Orleans. She won numerous awards for her reporting, particularly her investigative journalism into corruption and crime. After moving to England, she wrote books about travel in Ireland and Paris for publishers including Time Out and Frommers. For a while she also worked as a communications consultant for the Home Office, specialising in counter-terrorism. Her Night School series has been translated into 22 languages, and has been a number one bestseller in multiple countries. She is now co-writing a new series, The Secret Fire, with French author Carina Rozenfeld. The first book in that series is due out in autumn 2015.