All hail the King of Teen

I probably shouldn’t write anything about the Queen of Teen shortlist in case it sounds like sour grapes, but since a couple of days have passed and I’m still annoyed, what the heck.

My problem’s not with the shortlist, there are some really wonderful writers on there. My problem isn’t with James Dawson, a – gasp! – man being included on the shortlist, though I do imagine that the organisers originally intended this to be an award for women writers, hence the name, but it may just be that they never considered that books “for girls” are ever written by men. No, my problem is with how the inclusion of James Dawson has been presented in the press.

The Guardian’s article about the shortlist was headlined “James Dawson shortlisted for Queen of Teen crown” and subtitled “Hollow Pike author is first man shortlisted for a prize which celebrates the ‘feistiest, frothiest and most fantastic’ writers in teen fiction.” Under that is a link to ‘Read James Dawson’s top 10 books to get you through high school.’ The article is mainly about James – how he feels to be nominated, the fact that there’s a crown, what his book’s about – all illustrated with a big picture of James.

The Guardian Teen Books account tweeted “Male author is shortlisted for Queen of Teen crown.”

The Telegraph’s article is entitled “Queen of Teen… could be a man”. Again, it’s illustrated with a photo of James and the article ends “If Dawson wins he will, of course, have to wear the victor’s ‘Queen of Teen tiara’. Well, it is an age of equality.”

Is it really? There are nine women on the shortlist. Nine women and one man. So why do the newspapers think the only thing worth reporting – the most interesting thing about the award – is that there’s a man in the running?

(Yes, I know it’s called Queen of Teen, so there’s the ‘LOL, a man could be Queen’ aspect, but that alone doesn’t explain the extent of the coverage.)

I’ve been faffing with this post for a while now because this leads to so much more I want to say, about how apparently it’s embarrassing for a man to possibly have to wear a crown and a sash, but all the women on the shortlist would no doubt be totally cool with it. How so-called boys’ books are taken much more seriously than so-called girls’ books. How this “feisty” and “frothy” discourse plays right into this, leading to reviews like this one (would a book by a male writer be reviewed so dismissively? I doubt it). But I’m just going round in circles and getting more and more annoyed. So I’ll stop now.


40 thoughts on “All hail the King of Teen

  1. Thank you so much for blogging about this. I spent half my weekend trying to articulate exactly these sentiments – only my efforts were mostly SHOUTY CAPSLOCK keymash Arg! (Mine even started with ‘sour grapes’ too. Hivemind!).

    I’m honestly thrilled for all who are nominated; a prize that supports fiction for girls is something we desperately need – assuming that is what this prize is meant to be, which I’m still not entirely clear on. But yet again an award I’m desperate to see get more attention turns into something that makes my heart sink.

    It comes down to this: the prize that the women nominated are supposed to covet becomes laughable if given to a man. We deserve better.

  2. Well said, Keris. It bothers me immensely that the other nominated authors are barely mentioned. The same thing happened when RoNA shortlists were announced a few months ago – ‘Ooh, look, a MAN is on the list,’ screamed the headlines and the subtitle might as well have said, ‘Some women too, but who cares about them?’.

    Once this year’s ceremony is over, I’d like the QoT organisers to have a good think about the remit of their award, come up with a clear and transparent nomination and voting system and be something that all YA authors can get behind and support.

    Pass the grapes, Susie 🙂

  3. Hear hear, and well done for saying so. I thought the coverage of the shortlist was outrageous, especially in the Guardian which supposedly understands feminism. Seems to me that QoT needs a big rethink, and much more clarity about what it is, who runs it, how it picks its shortlist and how it celebrates its authors. Those who think it’s just one big joke should think a little more carefully about girl readers and how we value the books they like to read.

  4. Thank you for saying what I wanted to say, only more coherently! I think James is great, and I think it’s wonderful for people to see a scary horror/thriller novel can be just as appealing to girls as boys. I think it’s always fab to kick gender stereotypes in the rear and say, ‘Yes, a guy CAN be the Queen of Teen, and proud of it!’.

    But at the same time, I can’t help but feel that the only reason the award even got a mention in the Guardian is because a man was listed. Or, if not, clearly the writer of the article wasn’t interested in any other aspect of the situation! The women nominees were completely sidelined, as if they and their books were beneath notice and utterly unimportant (even though supposedly the award was created to support and celebrate women writers). All they got was a bit of snide giggling about the ‘frothy’ nature of the award. Silly wimminz and their silly books! Now let’s talk to the Proper Male Author who’s going to give this award a bit of credibility!


  5. I share your annoyance. The coverage of this pretty much sucks.

    The really stupid thing is, this whole thing could have been presented / interpreted as such a strong and subversive statement. When James Dawson first expressed an interest in being nominated (via twitter), I got the impression it was because of everything the QoT award is perceived to stand for. I really liked that he was openly saying that the admiration of a female teen readership is something to aspire to. (Not because I think it’s more important when a male writer says it, but because I think everyone should feel this way and… you know… small steps in the right direction).

    It’s truly depressing that some will see this as a situation where a man might ‘have to’ wear the crown rather than ‘wants to’ wear it. And as for attention for the one male nominee dominating the coverage – that’s nothing short of infuriating.

    I’m never sure what I think about awards exclusively for women. Like with the Oscars – on one hand I wish that there was a unisex ‘best actor’ category, but on the other I’m all too aware that this would probably lead to less recognition of great female performances. I think that ultimately the way forward is to have awards which celebrate areas of achievement not usually celebrated by traditional male-dominated awards – like the QoT does – and to include the most appropriate nominees, regardless of gender. So in this context I absolutely *love* that James in nominated – I just which the coverage could be smarter.

    1. I agree. I wish unisex awards were possible, but this (along with plenty of other examples) proves we’re just not ready for that yet.

      And equality has to mean men doing (or being celebrated for) traditionally female things rather than just women doing traditionally male things (I am v aware of this as the mother of two boys), but then the coverage shows just how far we have to go. (Does that make sense? My head’s gone all shouty again…)

      1. That makes total sense. I guess the huge problem is that due to the insidious nature of horrible socially constructed gender stuff, anything that deviates is so easily sucked back in to feeding the dominant ideology rather than challenging it. (Er, if THAT makes sense). It’s incredibly frustrating.

  6. Thank you, Keris. This award – and Louise Rennison winning it – was so inspiring to me when I was trying to find my voice in fiction. And then the lovely Cathy Cassidy got it in 2010. This year I’m increasingly confused about what it stands for. It seems as though the headline writers feel the same way: a bloke in a tiara! Hysterical! It’s potentially a precious recognition of writers who cater for a non-award-winning but popular – and very worthwhile – genre of contemporary tween/teen fiction for girls.

    If James wins it, I hope he treasures it. And that the headlines then don’t sideline the 9 female authors whose work was recognised in the shortlist. What sort of message does that send to our readers?

  7. Well, If you wanted to write about those things, I would read it (and think it would make a great pitch).

  8. Really well written, Keris. I completely agree with you. I’m useless at articulating these things – just get impotently ranty and upset – so really well done for doing it.

  9. Thanks, Keris, for the interesting blog mentioning our award. We’re sorry that you and others feel that the press attention has focused too much on James’s shortlisting – unfortunately news websites seem to have picked up on this as being the most newsworthy aspect of the story whereas our award aims to highlight the amazing work done by all authors of teen and tween fiction.

    Whether or not you think Queen of Teen is a good thing – and we firmly believe that there’s a place for an award that celebrates the enjoyable and engaging girls’ fiction that is often overlooked by other book awards – we hope you’ll agree that it does a good job of speaking directly to readers and generating publicity for the genre.

    We would just like to correct, though, the comments saying that the Queen of Teen organisers draw up the shortlist or choose the winner. The Queen of Teen shortlist is entirely based on the number of nominations we receive from teen readers and the voting is then open to teenagers worldwide. So who will win this year genuinely is up to young readers – at this stage we have absolutely no idea who will end up wearing the coveted crown!

    We hope that has cleared up any misconceptions about what our award sets out to do and how it is run.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Can I second everything in Keren’s comment below?

      I absolutely believe “there’s a place for an award that celebrates the enjoyable and engaging girls’ fiction that is often overlooked by other book awards” which is why I would have loved to have been shortlisted myself, but I’d be interested to know how you define “girls’ fiction”?

      (And how you think Patrick Ness, who has been nominated for pretty much every book award going and whose books feature a male MC – but who you tweeted to suggest he ask his followers for nominations – fits in to this.)

  10. Thanks QoT for your interesting response, which hasn’t entirely answered all my questions! If it’s for all authors of twwn and tween fiction, then why is it called QUEEN of Teen and not Monarch of Teen? Why the pink and tiara? Surely the original concept had something to do with either girl readers or women writers?
    In your second paragraph you contradict yourself by saying that the award is not for ALL teen fiction, but specifically for girls’ fiction. Which is it?
    The crux of the problem that many of us have with Queen of Teen is that it simultaneously celebrates and denigrates fiction for girls, with all the frilly pinkness. This year’s coverage is mostly about sniggering at the very idea that a man might play along with all this..but why should any author have to?
    You say that all nominations come from teen readers – how is this validated? I don’t want to get all Electoral Reformist about a fun award, but it’s hard to believe that debut authors, however good, whose books have been out for a matter of weeks can really have built up a huge loyal fanbase. Some of the names on the list have been actively campaigning for nominations on twitter. How do you check the credentials of the nominators?
    Don’t get me wrong, I think the basic idea of Queen of Teen is wonderful. We need awards like yours. It’s just that the way it is done just leaves a lot of us scratching our heads.

    1. I’d be interested in a response to this, too.

      And I think we all appreciate the idea behind the award; it’s just the trappings which seems to undermine everything else and open it up to ridicule.

  11. Hi again, Keris and commenters & thanks for the interesting points you raise.

    Firstly, to address the nature of the award and the branding: we see Queen of Teen as an award that celebrates fiction written for and read predominantly by girls, but as we’ve seen from the diversity of nominations, our target audience enjoys a wide range of authors and genres. Our “pink and frothy” branding is designed to catch the eye of girls who enjoy and respond to this look (as seen on many book jackets for this age group) and hopefully to persuade more reluctant readers that books can be as much fun as shopping, pop music and reality TV shows. Some readers won’t respond to it: that’s fine, there are lots of other routes to reading, but as seen by the heartfelt nominations we’ve received, the girls who love Queen of Teen, REALLY love it!

    Secondly, on the matter of nominations and voting. While we can’t say for certain that no authors or publishers have nominated themselves, we do know that to drum up the number of nominations – each accompanied by a written endorsement – required to make our shortlist, would tax even the biggest and most dedicated publisher’s marketing department. The validity of the nominations are monitored and verified. Let’s not forget, this is not the Booker Prize and there is no large cheque for the winner; we have the relatively modest aim of highlighting ALL authors who work so hard to reach readers of light teen fiction. Of course it’s brilliant that authors such as Maureen Johnson, James Dawson and Hayley Long have campaigned so hard to be included – as previous winners Louise Rennison and Cathy Cassidy know, it helps to mobilise your young readers to support you in any way you can – but we’re as confident as we can be that the authors on our shortlist enjoyed genuinely huge amounts of reader support to get there.

    Finally, we’d love to invite any of you who are interested in finding out what Queen of Teen is all about but didn’t make the shortlist this year to attend our gorgeous award ceremony. Email and we’ll add you to the guest list. Hopefully when you see young faces wreathed in smiles as they get to meet their favourite authors and are treated like royalty for an afternoon, you’ll see that even if our prize doesn’t appeal to you, our hearts are in the right place!

    1. Thank you for your comment and invitation. I don’t think any of us doubt that your hearts are in the right place, that’s really not the point we’re making.

  12. OK, I don’t think this is going to be a very popular opinion, but I’ve followed this discussion and find myself disagreeing with a lot of these comments, so I hope that you won’t mind me sharing my opinion here, even though it differs from the majority!

    I don’t know much about the Queen of Teen award, and I’ve never got involved in trying to get nominated for it, so correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I do know, I see it as a celebration of the kind of thing that doesn’t normally get celebrated – i.e. popular mainstream fiction for girls. Too many awards seem only to notice the books that are fairly weighty and literary and that deal with dark, heavy subjects, and this award seems to celebrate the opposite of that. To be honest, I think that if the Queen of Teen people have set up an award to celebrate fun, feisty, girly stuff and they want to be a bit pink about it, I kind of think why not? I should add here – I’m not remotely a girly pink kind of writer (or person). I just don’t really see what’s all that terrible about having a bit of fun with the kinds of books that are usually written off as popular culture but never likely to be on any awards shortlists.

    Also, as an ex-journalist – as I know a few other children’s authors are too – I totally get why the focus was on James. It’s an angle that makes it a fun, interesting story, as opposed to simply a report of another shortlist which could never have been deemed newsworthy enough to appear in mainstream newspapers like the Guardian and the Telegraph. I don’t believe that the coverage was about saying that a male author is more important than a female one. It was about the fact that this is a girly pink award where you get to wear a tiara, and the winner could be a man – which appeals to the ‘man bites dog’ type of story that would make the news, as opposed to the ‘dog bites man’ one that wouldn’t.

    Most of my writer friends are female, and between them, they’ve probably appeared on pretty much every award shortlist that there is. In each case, in order to get some kind of coverage, there’s got to be an angle to make it stand out. That might be that one of the shortlisted candidates is a first-time author, it could be that they are really young, really old or that they sailed round the world while they wrote the book. Whatever. It’s an angle, which is what newspapers need. In this case, the news angle is the fact that one of the potential ‘Queens’ is a man. And the fact that the story got into mainstream papers means that they award itself did too. It’s made me sit up and notice it (and possibly consider trying to get my readers to nominate me for it next year!) and it’s probably brought it to lots of other people’s attention too, who wouldn’t otherwise have ever heard of it. If they are intrigued by what they read, it only takes a couple of clicks to find the website that will tell you more about ALL the shortlisted authors.

    Like I said, I hope you don’t mind me putting a different view here. And I hope that at least one of two people find themselves nodding a little as they read it. Or am I totally missing something that the 20-year-old fiercely feminist me would be currently disowning me for?

    1. Hello Liz! This is Keris’s blog, obviously, but since I’m one of the commenters you disagree with I hope she won’t mind me chipping in with a response.

      I don’t have any problem with what you’ve said – especially regarding the press always wanting an angle. (Doesn’t make that right, or above question, though.) And you might be in the minority in this comment thread, but I think you’re articulating the popular mainstream position on this sort of thing. I clearly don’t agree, but you’re only saying what the QoT representative is, and what lots of people think re the ‘pink’ issue: where’s the harm? I see harm; you don’t. There we go.

      I speak as someone who has two pink-covered books coming out this year (surprise: not my choice of colour). My covers are in both cases completely lovely illustrations – and I’m enormously proud of the content, which is light and frothy and whatnot, but also, I hope, powerful and personal and worthwhile for the girls who read that kind of fiction – just like Emily Windsnap and co. But I think covering everything ‘for girls’ in pink sparkles is narrow, regressive and, frankly, a bit lazy – and the more embedded that becomes, the harder it is for me to say ‘I don’t want a pink cover’ and get heard. I see tween and teenage girls being patronised by marketing every day; I don’t want me or my industry to be part of the problem.

      If I’m rambling on away from the point of this blog or the issues you raised, apologies; this is a discussion that started a while ago, and I think some of the commenters maybe feel as if we’ve already talked out the ‘where’s the harm?’ question in previous conversations. Keren David wrote (in my opinion) an excellent piece on ABBA a while ago, which might put this in more context.

      (I certainly do think the QoT organisers have their hearts in the right place, by the way – just as I think we do in questioning whether there’s a better, more progressive way to reward and recognise and celebrate fiction for girls. We are all on the same side here.)

      1. Lazy. That’s the key word Susie. But really really and truly I’m not getting involved with Q of T this year. I’m still ranted out from 2010.

  13. Ah, oops, sorry if I was bringing up old yawnworthy points. I hadn’t taken part in any of the previous discussions, and also hadn’t realised that I was actually spouting the majority view!

    Having said all the stuff I said (and stand by) I do also agree with every word you’ve just said here, Susie!

    As someone who writes about mermaids and fairy godmothers, I have had lots of discussions with people about the ‘pink’ issue, and I do totally agree about the wider issues. I think my feeling here was more that I was just rather entertained by the idea of James being Queen of Teen and yes, on this occasion, do find myself subscribing to the ‘What’s the harm?’ camp. But I know that it goes wider than this, and I would certainly like to think that I am amongst writers who aim to show girls that there is more to life than pink. Which is why my mermaids rescue dads from underwater prisons and get into near-death battles with sea monsters, and why my fairy godmothers are feisty and stroppy and defy authority at every turn. Even if they do have a few sparkles on their covers.

    So yes. I reckon you’re right – we probably are all on the same side! 🙂

    1. Nothing yawnworthy in what you said at all, Liz. Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to imply that you hadn’t done your homework somehow – I just meant that internet conversations make different sense depending on what point you join in on them, and sometimes seem weirdly skewed as a result (like, say, an impassioned declaration that Jane Austen is the Best! Writer! Ever! would read differently if you knew that it was a direct reaction to Mark Twain’s ‘I want to dig her up and hit her with her own shin-bone’ quote). But I probably didn’t articulate that well. And probably am still not…

      Definitely all on the same side! I love your stuff.

    2. Celebrating books with strong female characters (and the authors who write them) is a brilliant idea, which is why an award like QoT is important. Unfortunately, pink and sparkly is often shorthand for frivolous and dismissed as a result, in women’s fiction as well as fiction for girls. Keris highlighted a particularly dismissive review in her original post.

      That’s why most of the commenters here would prefer a little less pink and more credit given to the girls who read our books. Then the press might feel able to lead with the James story but offer equal coverage to other nominated authors.

      As Susie said – we’re all on the same team 🙂

  14. I’ve been watching this thread with a great deal of interest, being one of the other shortlisted authors. I’m fully supportive of the Queen of Teen and the efforts they make to get girls reading, and I’m overwhelmingly delighted to be included in the shortlist, primarily because it is determined by the readers themselves. If the readers – both girls and boys – have also nominated James to be their Queen, then good luck to him. There are nine of us waiting to fight him!
    Getting back to the original point, if the inclusion of James gave the award coverage which it wouldn’t otherwise have had, then I can’t see that as a negative thing. What we are all about is increasing readership, and to do that, we need publicity.
    I’m going to hide now.

    1. No need to hide! 🙂

      I know exactly what you mean by “if the inclusion of James gave the award coverage which it wouldn’t otherwise have had, then I can’t see that as a negative thing”, but I have to disagree. How can the fact that an award to promote books “for girls” with nine women on the shortlist is only considered newsworthy because there’s a man on the list be a positive thing?! As Sophia says above – what message does it send?

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