no longer the exclusive preserve of children’s writers. An increasing number of adult novelists are now eyeing up the genre. Indigo’s launch list for example, includes Shelter, the first young adult novel by US thriller writer, Harlan Coben which features the nephew of his regular adult protagonist, Myron Bolitar.
So what’s the attraction? ‘In Harlan’s case he really wanted to write for this market – he has four children of his own,’ says Fiona Kennedy. ‘I’m generally a little sceptical of adult authors writing for young adults: it’s very easy for them to write down and patronise. But Harlan has a very good voice and he writes a pacey story. More generally, I think it’s become a tempting market for adult authors, since Harry Potter.’
‘You do often find that authors, when they have children themselves, want to start engaging with younger age- groups,’ says Amanda Punter. ‘Charlie Higson is one name that springs to mind in this context. I think it’s also a market thing: adult fiction is such a challenging area at the moment,’ she adds.
This tension between market forces and the actual audience that a book is suitable for is nothing new. We are now well used to the concept of the crossover novel, but the edges between what constitutes a YA novel, and what belongs in the adult fiction arena do seem to be getting blurrier. Often, it’s the market that decides, not the author. Jason Wallace, author of the Costa-winning and CILIP Carnegie shortlisted Out of Shadows, originally conceived of his book as a novel for adults, only to be told that he might stand more chance of having it published as a YA novel. The result was a prize-winner for children’s publisher, Andersen.
Teenage and Young Adult
Given the blurring at the top end of the YA age-group, the very adult content of some YA novels (Long Reach by Peter Cocks is a recent one that springs to my mind) and the fact my 9-year-old daughter happily reads Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘teen’ novels, should we now be making a distinction between Teenage & Young Adult? Or are the terms still interchangeable?
‘The question of whether YA and Teenage books are diverging is a tough one,’ says Fiona Kennedy. ‘On the one hand, any reader of 12 years and over could read any Indigo book, but that said, the list is also intended to give us an entrée into a wider, older market.’
‘There is a distinction in my mind,’ says Barry Cunningham. ‘YA is about the experience of growing up, of giving older teens different perspectives on life as it changes radically before them. But I think this area should still be the province of children’s publishers.’
Stella Paskins is less sure of the distinction. ‘I certainly think the audience is a tricky one. At the moment I use the terms
Caroline Sanderson is a freelance writer, reviewer
and editor and the author of Kiss Chase and Conkers, a book about traditional games.
(Photo by Dan Wootton)
YA and Teenage interchangeably. However a 12- or 13-year- old is very different from a 15- or 16-year-old, and this is where packaging and positioning is very important.’
Publishers do seem to agree, however, that they should still bring a sense of responsibility to the books they publish aimed at older teen readers. ‘You can’t just distil any experience into these books unfiltered,’ says Barry Cunningham. Fiona Kennedy agrees. ‘We’ll still be very careful about how we handle subjects like sex and drugs.’
Dystopia on the way out?
However you define it, the YA genre does seem to be in a transitional period. The old definitions are blurring, it’s gone global, and there are plenty more developments in the pipeline. So are vampires dead? And whither – wither, even – dystopia?
‘Dystopia is on the way out,’ Barry Cunningham assures me. ‘The word on the street is that we’re in for a wave of historical time-slip books, and that the zombies are coming. Also SF. And Animal stories for this age-group would be my outsider tip. Someone at Bologna was trying to persuade me that Westerns are coming, but I’m not so convinced of that.’
Stella Paskins is in broad agreement. ‘Yes, we are in a dystopian phase. Led by The Hunger Games, it’s obviously been huge in the US and the film might see it really take off here. But I’m not sure it will be as big in the UK.’ Both Amanda Punter and Stella Paskins also see signs of an SF trend. ‘That excites me because it’s something that I enjoyed as a teenager, when I read authors like Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham,’ says Paskins.
‘The paranormal is still selling in vast quantities. It’s far from being over,’ says Fiona Kennedy. Stella Paskins also believes that reports of the death of vampires have been greatly exaggerated. ‘Dark romance à la Twilight is only one aspect of vampires: there is much more to them. I think the fatigue with vampires is retailer-led rather than reader-led.’ In September, Egmont publishes Blood, the first book in a trilogy by K J Wignall, who has previously written adult novels under the name Kevin Wignall. The trilogy features vampires, but not in a dark romantic way, apparently.
And for youngish adults like myself, with a taste not for the red-blooded or dystopian, but for something a little more here and now? Amanda Punter tips a new series for Spring 2012, ‘Three Little Words’ by UK writer Joanna Fox. ‘We’re calling it Judy Blume for the 21st century. It’s an honest portrayal of teen relationships which doesn’t shy away from telling how it is in terms of sex etc.’
Whatever your taste, with all these new developments on the block, it looks as if YA publishing is going to be a gripping area to watch for some time to come. n
Books for Keeps No.188 May 2011 5
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