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FULL STEAM AHEAD: Caroline Sanderson grapples with


When ‘feisty’ Evan Lennox first encounters bad boy, Winchester Youngblood in Liz Reinhardt’s New Adult novel, Fall Guy, she admires his ‘lean, chiselled face’, and the ‘clean lines of his muscles through the thin cotton of his button-down’. Their relationship soon sizzles into life in this ‘hot, sexy and addictive novel for the New Adult generation’.


A


year ago, hardly anyone was using the term ‘New Adult’. Now the phrase is all over UK publishing schedules. There is absolutely nothing new about a youthful thirst for sexy


romance novels. Decades before New Adult became a twinkle in any publisher’s eye, readers in their late teens and early twenties were sneaking a peek at the work of authors like Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins to find out exactly what more experienced adults got up to in their steamier moments. I myself got an education from a Harold Robbins novel I found in a holiday house my parents rented one year. But the process was a furtive one.


Now New Adult books are specifically attempting to portray the angsty transition to sexually mature adult in a much more frank and mainstream manner. ‘There has always been a readership for erotic romance in that younger age-group, but it was a guilty, hidden pleasure’, says Emily Thomas, Publisher at Hot Key Books. ‘But there’s a legitimacy to it now which has made it easier to buy and talk about’. Given that upfront TV programmes like Gossip Girl, Skins and Lena Dunham’s Girls have been around for a while, it’s perhaps surprising that this is only happening now. Gillian Green, Commercial Fiction Director at Ebury dates the rise of New Adult to a competition St Martins ran in the US to find fresh, commercial voices to write about what she dubs ‘that second coming of age’. ‘Not teenagers becoming adults, but those awkward years where you’re legally an adult but don’t really have a clue. It’s YA’s older, sexier, edgier sibling and as such usually has slightly older characters and stronger themes’. New Adult is usually about firsts: first job, first love, first year of college, first sexual experience.


It would be easy to assume that the New Adult flame – with its focus on hot romance for a core readership of late teens/early twenties readers – was ignited by the global success of Fifty Shades of Grey, and undoubtedly there is a connection. Sarah Lambert, Editorial Director at Quercus Children’s Books can date her first encounter with New Adult to January 2012, just prior to the publication of Fifty Shades. Having just joined Quercus,


14 Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013


one of the first books to cross her desk was Slammed by Colleen Hoover which features an 18-year-old protagonist who ‘falls hard’ for a new neighbour. ‘These books were already out there. What Fifty Shades has done is allow the conversation to become more real about how we do sex in teen books’.


You might think that with a core readership over the age of 18, anything goes in a New Adult novel. However, with most New Adult titles being published by children’s publishers in the UK (albeit for an adult readership), editors feel that they still have a duty to publish books with ‘responsible’ content. As Emily Thomas puts it, ‘These books haven’t sold out completely to erotica: they have a sweetness and sensitivity to them’. Hot Key has even produced both a censored, and an ‘uncut’ edition of The Vincent Boys and The Vincent Brothers, the two novels it publishes by US author, Abi Glines. Glines originally wrote for YA, but has seen sales of her books climb since she began adding steamier content ‘You have to work out where the dividing line is’, says Annie Eaton, Fiction Publisher at Random House Children’s Books. ‘The difference is around the fact about it being taken for granted in New Adult books that the characters are ready to have sex’.


So while sex plays a leading role in most New Adult novels, it is seldom the driving force. ‘New Adult is definitely not erotica. It’s much more about the relationships than the sex’, says Lucy Icke, Commissioning Editor at Little Brown which publishes The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen in paperback this April. Icke downloaded Sorensen’s self-published eBook for pleasure one weekend, attracted by its high Amazon chart position and rave reviews. ‘The main thing which appealed to people was the characters, and their relationships which were touching, emotional and real’.


Whilst New Adult authors and publishers are not constrained by the ‘gatekeeper’ issues which necessarily preoccupy those in YA there is still something a little earnest about many New Adult novels. It’s interesting that books set in southern US states currently dominate the field. In the bayou, the climate is steamy, the clothes are skimpy, and whilst Tennessee Williams it ain’t, there are plenty of streetcars named Desire. However the Bible Belt setting also puts the brakes on the characters’ sexual behaviour . ‘It is all a bit vanilla’, says Jane Griffiths, Commissioning Editor for Children’s Fiction at Simon and Schuster. ‘Although there is still a level of sexual content you can’t have with YA’. Or is there? Brenda Gardner, Publisher at Piccadilly Press is reluctant to label its standout title - Irresistible by Liz Bankes - as New Adult. ‘I’d say it’s more top-end YA. For me there’s a distinction between New Adult, which is very raunchy with lots of sex, and ‘steamies’ which for me are more about passion and first love. They are much more romantic, portraying first sexual encounters as every girl would like them to be’. Confused now? I still am.


What is not in doubt, is that New Adult – however you


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