‘I don’t set out to shock’

Sheffield-born author David Belbin
Sheffield-born author David Belbin
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HOW would you feel if a clergyman, attending a school governors meeting, ripped up a book you’d written while proclaiming its contents unsuitable rubbish?

Pretty chuffed if you’re David Belbin.

The Sheffield author’s most controversial novel, Denial – a tale for teenagers featuring sexual abuse and incest – was torn apart after the churchman found it on the shelves of his local school library.

“I don’t think he was happy with it,” muses David, who has published more than 30 young adult stories.

“I don’t set out to deliberately shock but when I heard that, apart from feeling sorry for the librarian, I found it really quite gratifying.

“I think anything that pushes boundaries will experience some kind of opposition.”

He’s used to that opposition by now, anyway.

The 53-year-old’s first adult crime novel, Bone And Cane, is published this month – but he has long been ruffling feathers with his teenage fictions.

His most famous book, Love Lessons – about an affair between a teacher and his 15-year-old pupil – was originally blocked by W H Smith, while other works such as The Foggiest and The Last Virgin have dealt with everything from right-wing extremism to drug abuse and paedophilia.

Pretty heavy topics, in other words.

Especially when they’re being aimed at school aged kids.

“I think the books push boundaries but they do it in a thought-provoking way,” says David, who was born in Handsworth but has lived in Nottingham since going to university there at 18.

“There are lots of gatekeepers in young adult fiction so anything that’s too shocking simply wouldn’t get published. Even now when schools stock my books some of them will keep it under the counter – although I think that can help make them more popular.”

Certainly, they’re that.

In the 21 years since his first novel, David has sold more than a million books in 25 different languages.

“Sometimes I’ll get a request for a signed photo from someone from a country where I know my books aren’t even published, which is always odd,” he says. “But then I realise they probably just want to sell it on eBay.”

Incidentally, he wrote a one-off non-fiction work about that particular auctioning site in 2004, which saw him go on Radio 2 to sell Jeremy Vine’s tie live on air.

It fetched £1,000.

Oh, and before he turned to full-time writing in 1994 he was a teacher.

“But Love Lessons isn’t autobiographical before you ask,” he says. “Although I did know of teachers, not at my schools, I should add, who did have affairs with pupils.”

But with such a large fan base why, after all this time, move into adult fiction?

“It’s 40 years since I was a teenager,” says David. “So I thought it was time to write about my own generation.”

His young fans will be gutted but at least that clergyman won’t have to rip up any more books for a while.

Bone And Cane, a crime-romance novel set around Westminster and Nottingham in 1997, is published by Tindal Street Press and out now.