John Young is a writer who is originally from Belfast and now lives near Edinburgh. A former lawyer, he founded and runs The Teapot Trust, a children’s art therapy charity, with his wife Laura. He was a Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award winner in 2013. His debut novel, Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist, is available now from KelpiesEdge.
It’s difficult to write a young adult novel (‘YA’) when the term young adult isn’t defined to any degree that’s helpful. Many writers rue the day that the term YA was coined – even a considerable percentage of target YA audience refuse to give the genre any credence. To which age range does this nefarious term refer? Does YA refer to the age of the characters or the age of the readers? Is YA its own cocktail of sub-genres of sci-fi, zombies, vampires wizards, false love and talking bears? I don’t know.
I do know that I love many so-called YA books, but that doesn’t make me a young adult nor does the term satisfactorily describe the beauty of much of young adult writing. So what is it?
From my own perspective, when I was within that vague young adult target range there was little for me to read between Enid Blyton and James Herbert. It was a culture shock for me to go from ginger beer to gouging rats. With that in mind, I wrote Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist for someone like me when I was a young adult and looking for something different. …Terminal Optimist is a black comedy about escapism. That’s what I needed when I was a young adult, to escape a school that failed; to run away from “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland with the clawing violence and aggression that prevailed at that time. I also wanted to laugh about it, because that was what we did.
Times were different then, and experiences vary from person to person. My own children think I’m joking when I say that I counted myself lucky to get home from school each day without being stabbed. Most kids I knew suffered through school pretending to be thick to avoid getting a kicking for being a swot. That’s no atmosphere to stimulate anything, never mind learning how to cope for the rest of your life. It was this ignorant vandalism of education that caused many people I knew to struggle upon leaving school. I walked out of school with an angry attitude aged 15 with my future balanced between crime and college.
In the end I chose crime – well, criminal law – and took a job in East End London, writing defence statements for convicted and remanded criminals. I was just a teenager, chatting to murderers, drug dealers, and armed robbers. Some were headcases, but many were not that different from me except their lives fell a different way, their life opportunities weren’t the same as mine, their motivations, influences and choices were negative. If they had been given a second chance, maybe things would have been different for them.
Few stories are written about disadvantaged kids, even fewer make the star character an ill child, because the danger is that their illness becomes the focus and I desperately wanted to avoid that. My experience of looking after a disabled and sick child is that people have the tendency to see the chair and the tubes and not the person, when what that child really needs is to get out and do stuff, laugh and be treated like everyone else. Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist tells the story of Connor running away from his care home, without the cancer medication that’s
keeping him alive, spurred on by the school bully and the need to see his dad. However, this isn’t a sick-lit story, it’s a bittersweet comedy about second chances in love, life, family and friendship.
It was written with the aim and hope of being as relevant and appealing to any YA reader as it is to any adult.
Quick-witted, sharp-tongued Connor Lambert won't take it any longer: the bullying, the secrets, the sympathy. He's been dying from cancer for years, but he's not dead yet. He's going down fighting.
Forming an unlikely friendship with fellow juvenile delinquent Skeates, the pair stage a break out and set off on a crazy tour across Scotland -- dodging the police, joy riding and extreme partying -- to find Connor's dad, an inmate at Shotts prison.
But Connor's left two things behind -- the medication he needs to keep him alive, and the girl who makes living bearable.
A fresh and bold debut novel full of heart, guts and raw emotion. Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist is a brilliantly funny, thrilling exploration of friendship, identity and mortality populated with witty, sharply drawn characters.