Doing It

“It is Burgess at his brilliant best. Not recommended for those over 21.”Siobhan Parkinson, Innis
Doing It

I thought readers might like to have a look at this, my original entry after Anne Fine’s scandalous attack on Doing It in the Guardian, that earned her the nick name of, The Mary Whitehouse of Children’s literature….


I wrote Doing It because I do believe that we have let young men down very badly in terms of the kinds of books written for them – more or less none, with very few honourable exceptions, such as Aidan Chambers. This is changing these days, and Doing It is my go at trying to bring young male sexual culture into writing. The boys in Doing It are, in my opinion, nice boys – not sexist, not bullies, certainly not the vile, dirty, disgusting little toerags that Anne sees. They may make the crudest type of jokes imaginable, but only amongst themselves. Sex is enormously important to them, but it is certainly not a leisure activity – it’s far too important. They treat their girlfriends by and large with respect and regard themselves as being better than them in no way whatsoever. The sheer venom with which Anne regards them and their private jokes convinces me all the more that they deserve the validation that can come from reading about their own type. They and millions like them aren’t dirty, they aren’t bullies and they don’t need that sort of attitude being brought to bear on them. I may have done this well, or I may have done it badly but at least I had a go at it in the face of such poisonous opposition, and I’m proud of the book for that reason alone.

To read a few other reactions to the book, click here.

To read Anne Fine’s infamous reveiw — The most thorough hatchet job in the history of children’s book, according to one commenter – click here.

To see what was said about it on Achuka, click here. If you are not a member you will have to register — but it’s a great deal easier than the Guardian and opinion, although not so voluble, is a great deal better informed. The Doing It thread comes under comment.

I’d like to thank everyone who has been in touch to offer support over the past few days. Mary for fielding the press so very well, Klaus and Francesca and everyone at Andersen Press and Puffin Books for standing so firmly behind the book — and all those authors and readers who have been in touch. Thanks!

Doing It was about the hardest thing I’ve done — no pun intended -but I finally feel confident enough of it to put it out there. I’ve a lot of help from my editors Audrey and Sarah, and a good deal of advice from others — thanks to Jude, Mary, Kirsten, Tim, Tom, Liz and also to Eileen Armstrong and the Lit Critters of Cramlington School. It is certainly very filthy in places — I’m not sure if I can post any of it on site here yet — but it’s also an accurate observation of what it’s like. Well, what it’s like for some people anyway. I realise of course that many people seriously feel that the sort of coarse humour in the book is over the top, sensationalist and simply there to shock. Obviously I’m not unaware of that side of it, but I wouldn’t have spent the last four years writing the thing if that was all there was to it. Doing It is an effort to fill an important gap,(to coin a phrase.) Boy/girl books are always for girls, and this is certainly not because boys aren’t interested. What is it about young male sexuality that is so unacceptable that no one writes about it? Surely such an important part of life hasn’t been neglected just because a few people find it in bad taste? Are young men really so disgusting that they have to lead large parts of their lives in secret, or are we being cowardly about the whole thing? Doing It is an attempt on my part to chronicle a side of that culture, sexually, emotionally, psychologically, and of course, humorously as well. Finally it is exactly because of the sort of self-righteous, crushing reactions of the Fines of this world, and the damage they can do to young poele trying to enjoy and have fun with something, that is, after all, a major part of all our lives, that made me want to write the thing in the first place.

Reviews & Reactions

Below there are a number of reactions to Doing It — but first I’d like to include my favorite, from Jean Willis, author of The Hard Man of the Swings and innumerable hilarious picture book texts, often with Tony Ross. This is a letter she sent to me round about the time the book was published.

Letter From Jeanne Willis

Dear Melvin,
I’ve just read Doing It and I think it’s Bang On. You’ve done a lot of worried lads a favor. Does a teenage boy exist who isn’t worried about his genitals / sex life / popularity? No, but hopefully there will be a collective sigh of relief after they’ve read your book. I’ve lent it to my nephew who will be comforted to know he isn’t the only one with his knob permanently in top gear despite the frustrating proliferation of no-entry signs.

I know the press are having a field day, but I really can’t see why certain people have got their iron-plated knickers in a twist. Perhaps they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be 15. Personally, I’d like to thank you for the nostalgia trip — you took me straight back to the days when me, Ruth and Debs used to hang out with boys just like Dino, Ben anc Co. Your characters were so like them I began to wonder if you and I were in the same gang, in which case you probably snogged my sister. Everybody else did.

My best friend was a typical Jackie who ended up marrying (and divorcing a Dino. Intelligent, tubby Imogen eventually got it together with the best -looking boy on the block because she was more fun to be with than us. Oh — and at least three of the pupils at my sunny suburban secondary school where having it away with members of staff. Sam Carey was screwing the geography teacher at the tender age of fourteen, Jean Sellers was knocking off the P.E. master under the guise of receiving extracurricular trampoline coaching and my friend Joe was having it off regularly with his middle-aged, married baby-sitter. And he was a choirboy.

Those of us who still virgins were doing everything else imaginable sexually with the enthusiasm of Russian gymnasts, yet we were surprisingly sensible about such things. While we couldn’t turn up for cookery with the right ingredients for a jam tart, we regularly visited clinics to equip ourselves with condoms. Most of us didn’t need to use them until we were sixteen though. As far as we were concerned, foreplay was fab. It felt nice, it was free and it was much more fun than maths homework. Despite the rumours we knew it couldn’t make us blind or pregnant. Not could we be fingered by the law unless our boyfriend happened to be a policeman, which one of them was. Yes, boys broke our hearts, but they soon mended. Yes, boys said horrid things, but we were just as horrid back. Nobody died though.

Just for the record, none of came from broken homes, none of us were abused or were familiar with social services. We were just regular teenagers behaving like … well … teenagers. If that made us sluts / pervs in the eyes of our elders, hurrah! It was joyful, fantastic! Surely there was no better time to “Do It” with our peers than when we were at our lustful, gorgeous, energetic best. Sometimes, like adults, we did it for love. Or because we needed comforting. Or because we were pissed. Other times we did it simply because our spotty, heaving, ever-changing bodies were aching to be touched so badly, we’d explode in an orgasm of of tears. We weren’t sad — just unspeakably horny. Strange how we still can’t speak about it without causing an outcry — still, you did and took the inevitable flack. Someone had to. Congratulations. Meet you behind the bike sheds at break, yeah?

Jeanne Willis

Comments from teenagers who read the manuscript

“Adults won’t like it but there isn’t a teenager in the country who won’t love it to bits — at least in secret”SAMMY

“It’s mint!”JAMES

“An excellent, if a-bit-on-the-crude-side story. Lots of problems, lots of sex talk but it all adds up to a great and true-to-life story. Basically it’s an entryway into the male mind but it goes much deeper than that. Deno is an outstanding character — thinking he had everything but suddenly having it ALL taken away — bless him!”KELLY

It’s novel because it totally and utterly IS written from a male point of view. I was expecting it to be shocking — because it IS Melvin Burgess but not THAT much — it’s more like obscene! Don’t get the wrong idea — it really helped the story along, (except where there are whole sentences of strong language and swearing) adding to both plot and character — especially Deno, actually in love with Jackie but trying desperately to pretend the opposite. Melvin really captures Deno’s complete sense of not knowing HOW to feel — everything is so new and strange and bewildering. The climax (oops! ) — crisis point; the build up to Jackie’s belief that Deno didn’t know HOW to feel for her, her accusations of 2-timing…brings alive Deno’s acute sense of hurt, shows he’s no longer “it” and just how close he is to breakdown but at the same time making you understand totally why Jackie reacts the way she does. The other couples in the book are equally real and cleverly bring out important issues that need to be thought if not talked about — not judging by appearances, that character counts more than size and how important it is to stand up for what you believe in.SAMMY

It’s scary seeing right down into a male mind like this — now I know what they REALLY think! The ending too is a complete surprise — the teacher affair is realistic enough and you can predict the break-up — but that she left and disappeared too…it’s typical Burgess; not happy but realistic and COMPLETELY believable. This happens quite a lot — and to people you know.KELLY

Definitely 1 for the 15+ reader which will change the way you think about people. It’s amazing because girls will read it more than boys — but it wouldn’t have worked — or had the nearly same effect if it had been written by a woman.JEMMA

“I’ll be reading it again.” — SAMMY

“I SO want to read it” — SUSAN

This has GOT to be the first time an author has ever written quite so frankly in a book. It’s real eye-opener (if you’re not a teenager any more!) — there is NOTHING this man doesn’t understand about teenagers. Maybe the adults won’t like it because they’ve been there too — and like us not liking to think about our parents “doing it” they can’t bear the thought of us…KELLY

“It’s real life — like a fly-on-the-wall documentary but in a book. You can predict it to a point — and boys will enjoy it just as much as girls — from the very first sentence you’re hooked!”

Reviews and Critics

‘I have finished the book, and am delighted (and relieved!) to say that I like it quite a lot…Melvin writes well, cleverly and with his usual humour. Like Junk, this is at base a moral story. I hope the novel does really well; it’s nice to tell teenagers not yet in the sexual frame that it can all be so very nice so long as everyone also remembers their responsibilities at the same time. ‘Nicholas Tucker, writer, critic and reviewer for The Independent

‘Everything you never wanted to know about sex and boys — but probably should.’Dinah Hall of the Sunday Telegraph

‘This is Burgess on top form — punchy, provocative, on the edge and in your face. Doing it sizzles and crackles with life from beginning to end. Teenagers will love this honest, irreverent and frequently hilarious study of their awakening sexuality.’Tim Bowler, Carnegie Medallist

‘I think that Melvin’s treatment of that whole confusing scenario of being a teenager — racing hormones, peer pressure, trying to ‘find’ yourself as an individual and simply trying to enjoy your teen years — is, as ever, brilliant.’Caroline Horn, Children’s Books Editor, The Bookseller

‘It’s like I’m reading a teen version of ‘High Fidelity’, the same feeling that secrets, previously only known to the XY chromosome gang, were being divulged for the first time.’Graham Marks of Publishing News

‘I thought it was great. Hilarious, brutally honest and also very brave. It is a great read for older boys and a good recommendation for reluctant readers especially those who think reading is boring. Give them a copy and I’m sure they will change their minds!’Catriona Scott of Scottish Book Trust

‘A bold, brash, swaggering read that entertains as much as it shocks. Melvin Burgess may know how to tell a damn good story, but in doing it he reveals just how life is for teenage boys. It’s filthy but funny, and surprisingly tender too.’Matt Whyman, internet and magazine agony uncle and author of XY: A Toolkit for Life

‘Doing It represents another milestone in teenage publishing. Its frankness is sincere; it’s a book for teenagers about their sex lives, and attitudes to sex. Teenagers will be hugely relieved to read this book, I suspect, and will identify with the characters and situations which are observed with much humour and honesty.’Damian Kelleher, journalist and reviewer

‘I like the way it refuses to commodify sex (as pornography does), but presents it as part of the continuum of the human experience, in an emotional context. It’s also hilariously funny. Burgess at his brilliant best!’Siobhán Parkinson, reviewer for Irish Times and Inis and author of books for children and young adults

Comment from Andersen Press, Melvin Burgess’s Publisher

In response to some criticism which has been levelled at Andersen Press and Doing It by Melvin Burgess: this book is specifically aimed at the 16+ age group which is quite evident from the cover, with its adult treatment and clear warning of explicit content. The advance positive reactions we’ve had to date from highly respected critics and authors confirm our belief in both the book and the integrity of Melvin Burgess as a distinguished, prize-winning author of teenage fiction. Klaus Flugge Publisher and Managing Director Andersen Press Ltd

Comment from Penguin Books, Melvin’s paperback publisher

Melvin is one of our most exciting and original contemporary writers — writing for teenagers about things that are of huge importance to them. Doing It is about sex, but it is as much about not doing it as doing it — and about love in its different forms too. It’s incredibly warm, funny and life-affirming. It is a book which needs to be published: there are lots of teenagers who will be hugely comforted and relieved to read it. But it is definitely a book for older teenagers — and when we publish the paperback edition of the book, it will be branded with a Penguin adult logo — not our children’s Puffin one. Francesca Dow Managing Director, Puffin Books