Then: These are how I remember the facts, though I couldn’t say for certain they’re correct: Creepers was Keith Gray’s first book, either written or published (I can’t recall which) when he was twenty-one. When the book came out, there was an interview with him in the Young Telegraph. I was nine years old.
These facts are relevant firstly because they are why I read the book (how precocious, to read an interview with an author in the newspaper and buy their book!) and secondly because the particular fact of the author being twenty-one was very important. Twenty-one seemed distant, but not ridiculously so, and it was the first time I realised you could be young and be an author too. I had assumed all writers were very very old (like, at least thirty-five or forty), and the idea of someone who was only twenty-one having a book was astonishing. It made my own floppy-disc (remember them?) of Chapter Ones seem real, like one day they might be real books on a shelf.
By my early twenties. (Damn.)
Now: I could remember one thing vividly about the book, which was its twist ending. Given that this was still well-remembered, it’s impossible to say if the twist would still be a surprise reading as an adult. It’s probably not, but from a technical point of view, it’s astonishingly well-managed, and irrespective of the element of surprise, it still has an emotional punch to it.
What stands out most is how cheerfully coarse the book is. Not in a gratuitous or patronising way (YA can do that in an awkward down-with-the-kidz way), but its definitely not sanitized (YA can also do that in a let’s-not-anger-any-parent-groups way) but in a manner that’s actually pretty representative of the way a thirteen year old protagonist might speak, without going overboard. And I’ve written in this genre and trust me: that’s really hard to do. Plus there’s sneaking fags from the corner shop, and older girls in their bras and knickers: its easy to see why the book got tagged with the ‘for reluctant readers’ label (which is educational code for naughty boys). Which makes me laugh: I loved this book, but at nine, that sort of world was a very long way away from mine. Hell, the same could still be said by the time I was thirteen. For all that, I loved Creepers the first time around, and happily, the book still stands up reading as an adult.
(And still — published in his early twenties? Really. Goddamit.)