Last year I wrote a book. If I were to categorise it I’d call it a women’s commercial novel. A more grown up version of the books I had published in my twenties. It was a cathartic book to write, and dealt a lot with what it’s like to be the parent of a child on the autistic spectrum. As I was editing the book last year (which I did
too much a lot) I was mulling over what book to write next. I had an idea that was darker than the last. Higher concept. It would be a challenge but I was excited by it and itching to get going. In a quiet moment one afternoon I sat down and started to sketch it out.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how some ideas grow slowly over time and some just hit you – bam – fully formed? That was what happened when I was plotting my next book. All of a sudden, in strode a brand new, completely different idea. It was suited and booted and ready to go. It had a plot, characters, title (The Howard Objective), everything. The trouble was, it was also a YA story. It had to be. It had four main characters aged 16 and 17. I was just about ready to start sending out a women’s commercial novel. How would it look if I said my next book was YA? Publishers like to build a brand and style, they like consistency, don’t they? I tried to ignore it and stick with the women’s commercial but it was no good. The new idea was shouting the loudest, demanding to be heard. It was making my heart pound. It had me Googling whether it’d ever been done before. It kept me up that night. It had to be written, like it or not.
So, that’s how I’ve ended up writing a YA novel. It’s a new genre for me but it’s one I have a huge amount of respect for. Some of my favourite books fall into the YA genre – Holes, Catcher in the Rye, Eleanor & Park, anything by Judy Blume (who got me through my own YA years). My two children are both teenagers. At home I’m usually outnumbered by young adults and I still feel like one myself a lot of the time – does that ever stop?
I guess the reason for me writing this post – yes there is a reason – is that while surfing around a few days ago, blog hopping and Twitter link following and generally #NotWriting I found a site for a well known book series giving advice for people new to writing YA. What I read was so surprising I’ve had to revisit it several times to be sure I got it right. Use shorter sentences, blurt things out, choose simple words, use hyperbole…teenagers exaggerate, judge and act quickly, are self absorbed… Gargh! I mean, I can’t profess to be an expert but surely anyone who reads, writes or hangs out with young adults will know that they are some of the brightest, most curious, interesting, intellectual-at-times, challenging group of people you can meet. They’re smart. They’re being fed knowledge on a daily basis and they haven’t had time to forget it yet. They’re diverse and switched on and just like adults, they understandably hate being patronised.
Since I’ve started writing YA I like to think I’ve raised my game (others may argue but as no one’s read it yet that’s my line and I’m sticking to it). I’m more aware than ever of what I’m writing, I feel creatively more free and I’m certainly not going to be dumbing down for potential readers. It’s daunting writing YA, a genre where John Green (whose novels are more intellectual than most charting adult books) is awarded the adulation of a rock star. Just go on sites like Tumblr and Good Reads and you’ll see this genre attracts some of the most vocal, analytical, passionate, loyal fans any writer could ever hope to have.
Perhaps I’d better not dwell on that too much. My hands are getting sweaty. I guess all I want to say is that if you ever come across that advice when you’re
procrastinating researching on the web then skip right past it. My advice, for what it’s worth, is simply to respect your potential readers and write the best story you can.
Oh, and don’t go on Tumblr too much. You’ll lose days. Literally.