PARENTS

Fanfiction: A Guide For Parents

08/04/2015 16:26 | Updated 08 June 2015

teenage girls looking at computer.

Whenever I mention my daughter reads 'Fanfiction' most people give me a puzzled look. Up until recently I'd no idea what it was about, either, and vaguely imagined only bored middle-aged American housewives read it.

Until that is, my own 13-year-old got hooked.

Now my daughter Cleo spends up to four hours a day reading fanfiction and has recently starting writing it too, publishing on writing community website Wattpad.com.

She's gone from a child who struggles to get into the habit of reading to one who cannot get enough. And the secret recipe which enticed her seems to be one thing: romance.

In a nutshell, fanfiction is an outlet for fans of anything from boy bands to soaps to write stories depicting their favourite characters. In my daughter's case she likes to write about her favourite musician Shawn Mendes, and Cameron Dallas, a member of a group of teen American YouTubers 'Magcon'.

Her stories have already received 250 views and one reader even voted her chapters as a 'favourite'. Another sent her a message begging her to update the story fast as she 'couldn't wait to find out what happens!'.

So what happens in romantic fan fiction written by a 13-year-old? In essence my daughter loosely bases the main character on herself, while the boy, in her case Shawn or Cameron moves in next door or starts her school.

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While I can proudly say my teen's imagination could give Barbara Cartland a run for her money, as a parent I can't help but be a little worried.

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Although Mills & Boon pages of romantic liaisons have been devoured for years by starry eyed teenagers, I get concerned my daughter's over active imagination is beyond her years. While I saw she'd innocently googled 'what it's like to kiss a boy' before she started writing her latest chapter, I realise she is writing about these experiences before she's even had them!

But while it's understandable for most parents to want their child to hold onto their innocence for as long as possible, there is a darker side to fanfiction not always so easy to monitor.

A friend of my daughter's told me how one story written by a One Direction fan illustrated a scene of rape. No doubt designed by the young author to shock, but it's a sensitive and distressing subject that impressionable minds could be harmed by reading about. Without careful moderation on these sites, testing the boundaries is inevitable.

On the plus side, I am thrilled my daughter, who has never been a fan of books, is suddenly carrying stories with her everywhere - she can even read them on her iPhone - and has an insatiable thirst for words she never had before.

She has even let me read a few chapters myself (with the caveat: 'Don't worry, Mum, this isn't actually based on anything I've done... yet') and she is a gifted story teller. And as Wattpad.com has over 1000 story downloads per day and with a whopping 25 million users, she is far from alone.

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While huge government campaigns to get kids reading have failed, perhaps reading and writing about teen crushes is a way to develop literacy (especially in girls).

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And even the publishing world is now taking notice of this army of teen fiction writers seriously, too.

Not only did Fifty Shades of Grey, which began as fan fiction based on the Twilight saga, go on to sell 31 million copies in 37 countries, more recently a lucky teen's success online is being transported to the mainstream.

Last month, 16-year-old Emily Baker bagged herself a publishing contract from Penguin books. Over 30,000 One Directioners devoured Emily's stories and now her adventures with the boy band will be released as an eBook 'Loving the band'.

Far from being a small market to the few obsessives, fanfiction has become cool, and with instant access and the tools to write it themselves, it's a brave new world of words here to stay.

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