Marilyn Taylor talks about the Jackie and Kev Trilogy

Thursday 14th March 2013 by Support

The Jackie & Kev Trilogy: Could This Be Love? I Wondered; Could I Love A Stranger? and Call yourself a Friend? By Marilyn Taylor

Just because a novel you are writing is set in the present day doesn't mean that you don't have to do any research, Marilyn Taylor has discovered. As well as long hours in her local public library, she has interviewed probation officers, court officials, social workers, gardaí, teachers, students and many others to help her to create as accurate and authentic a picture as possible of modern teenage life. As Marilyn explains:

When I set out a few years ago to write the Jackie & Kev teenage trilogy, I had a few problems. As a long-time school librarian, I thought I had a good idea of the sort of readable, lively story that teenage readers would enjoy, about everyday life in Ireland for today's young people -- school, home, friends, discos, relationships. I knew that the first story, Could This Be Love? I Wondered, was going to be about Jackie and Kev, how they meet, the conflict caused by their different social backgrounds, and the ups and downs of their relationship.

When I started writing, my three children, although they were very helpful and encouraging, were well past their teenage years. And of course my own teenage years were even further back (though I could remember well my thoughts and feelings, fears and lack of confidence in those often difficult growing up years!)

So because of this generation gap, I needed to get lots of information and detail to make the books authentic, about real teenagers of today, rather than just an adult's eye view of teenagers.

Then one day, on my way into work, I realised that here in my school I was surrounded by teenagers -- the very people I was writing about! So I asked a teacher to lend me a class for research. They assumed they would be getting a lecture from the school librarian on what they should be reading.

But instead, I asked them to write down their favourite pop groups, albums, videos, TV and radio programmes. Then I asked them to describe in detail what they wore out of school, from hats (if they ever wore them) down to boots, shoes or trainers.

They answered many more questions, for example: Where did they buy their clothes? What did they do in their spare time? What presents did they like for Christmas or birthdays? Which cafés or takeaways did they go to with their friends? What kinds of food did they like? What was their favourite chocolate bar or ice cream?

Then we went on to words and phrases they used among themselves -- for example, the word or words they would use to tell their friends they were angry or fearful, happy or embarrassed. I did more of this kind of research with other classes and schools for all three books in the series.

I wove much of what I learned into the everyday lives of my characters -- Jackie and Kev and their friends and family. Some of the in-words and phrases were especially useful for the dialogue, allowing the characters to speak to each other in what I have been told, is a realistic way.

In addition I visited many places to get information, background and atmosphere for the Jackie & Kev books, including:


  • Disco: Discos feature in all three books, and I wanted to be sure I got them right. I hovered about furtively at the back of a disco in a sports club near my home, hoping people would assume I was a supervising parent or teacher. It was a bit dark, but I was able to see (and hear!) enough to pick up the atmosphere. Those who have read the books must be the judges of how accurately I described the disco scenes!


  • Computer game shop: For the humorous scene in Could I Love A Stranger? in which Philip (Jackie's younger brother who's usually in trouble), with the family in tow, gets a PlayStation for his birthday.


  • Fast food cafés: In Could this be Love? I Wondered, Kev has had to leave school to earn some money, and gets a job in a café called Burgerama. Also, the crowd hangs out in Pizza Paradise. Several scenes between Kev and Jackie (including the one where they first meet face-to-face) take place in these cafés -- and I needed to know about video jukeboxes and what fast food they would be ordering!


  • Irish Marine Rescue Service: I needed to find out what happens when people are swept out to sea, as in the dramatic near-drowning incident on a Wexford beach which forms the climax to Could I Love A Stranger?


  • District Court: I visited the court for an accurate depiction of what would happen to a young person up in court on a malicious damage charge, as Kev was in Call Yourself A Friend? when he took the law into his own hands with disastrous consequences.


  • Boutique in my local shopping centre: There is a scene in Could this be Love? I Wondered in which Jackie, Deirdre and their friends go shopping for clothes, just before Jackie unexpectedly meets the dreaded Sinead, Kev's former girlfriend.


  • Swimming pool: It was important to get Jackie and the crowd’s visit to the swimming pool right, as it plays an important part in the developing relationship between Jackie and the mysterious Daniel, and also shows up the negative attitude of Jackie’s best friend, Deirdre, towards him.


  • The Shell House: Various other places that I know find their way into the books -- in particular the little ruined Shell House in the local park where Jackie and Daniel meet secretly in Could I Love a Stranger? This is a real place in the wooded area of a park near where I live, called Bushy Park.


I have listed these places to give an idea of some of the detail that goes into a story -- even a contemporary one. As you can see, material for a story, its scenes and its setting, can be found all around you!

All this research was great fun to do, and introduced me not just to teenage style and fashion, but to radio & TV programmes that I'd never seen or heard, and indeed, to a lively and often fascinating teenage world.


Although my methods of finding out about teenagers were effective in creating the characters, dialogue and details of everyday life, I soon discovered that the more up-to-date these details are, the faster they go out of date. I did try to choose fashion, pop music, videos, in-words, etc., that would (hopefully) be fairly long lasting.

And fortunately, I was able to update some of these details, when the three Jackie & Kev books were recently reprinted with brand new covers.


Marilyn Taylor