Since the arrival of Harry Potter, the term Young Adult has become familiar in every household and is used frequently by every child, teacher and parent to describe teenage fiction. There has been plenty of discussion on reading these magical books, but very little on the writing process itself. So Dublin Book Festival invited Sarah Webb and Kevin Stevens to talk with Mags Walsh about what it means to be a writer of Young Adult fiction. Here’s a snippet of what they had to say…
Although the term Young Adult is widely used, it seems that most people have a different understanding of what Young Adult actually means. Can you clear this up for us?
Sarah: “It’s an American term – what we used to call these books teenage. Young Adult is not a genre – it’s an age category, for readers aged 14 plus. Within the Young Adult bracket, there are plenty of genres – such as horror, romance, literary fiction, etc. People tend to forget or not notice that.
Kevin: “Going into a bookshop is overwhelming – so the term helps categorize for librarians, booksellers and book buyers.”
So, what are the challenges involved in writing Young Adult fiction?
Sarah: “I started out writing for children, but then I wrote eight adult books. I do a lot of work in schools and on one particular occasion the girls asked whether I would write for them. I was lucky – I asked them to tell me what they wanted to read about and then they gave advice on the drafts. But the real challenge is remembering what it’s like to be a teenager; it’s a huge advantage for any writer to be able to connect with those feelings. So my character of Amy Green is based partly on me as a teenager and partly on my interactions and observations of teenagers.”
Kevin: “A friend asked me if I had ever considered writing for Young Adults and I said yes – but I needed an idea. I had an idea of focusing on two male characters, one in Ireland and one in America, which reflects my own heritage. I know that boys don’t read much so I decided that if I chose a video-game theme, it might have more appeal. I was amazed to find the creative process is the same as writing an adult book – but the challenge is finding a good idea and making sure your book engages with the target age group.”
And as for the actual writing process, what kind of routine do you need?
Kevin: “It’s personal to every writer. Some writers, for instance, say they find it easier to write on trains, because of the enclosed space and the rhythm, but I find routine more important than place. It’s important to write if not every day, then frequently. You have to work at getting better.”
Sarah: “I agree with Kevin – routine is essential. I write every day between 10am and 2pm and then I the afternoon and evening I do the admin stuff; Facebook, Twitter, emails. When I publish a book, I take a month out for launches and events, and every Friday outside of that I travel Ireland and the UK for school events.”
Both writers agreed that they loved their jobs and writing for Young Adults, but both clearly stated that self marketing and engaging with your readership is as much a part of the role of a writer as writing the book itself – something for all aspiring writers of Young Adult fiction to make note of.