So after the literary-awesome of Reading Matters, I then spent my weekend at the Emerging Writers Festival conference weekend at the Melbourne Town Hall (which I hope to write up over the next few days), but the event I was most looking forward to was the Getting into Genre panel on YA, which was run in conjunction with the Wheeler Centre. Chaired by Andrew McDonald, the panel featured Tim Pegler (Five Parts Dead), Adele Walsh (Program Director at the Centre for Youth Literature and Persnickety Snark) and Fiona Wood (Six Impossible Things).
(Andrew McDonald, Tim Pegler, Adele Walsh and Fiona Wood)
- Young adult fiction currently makes up approximately 13 - 15% of the Australian book market.
- Andrew began the discussion by asking Tim and Fiona why they write YA, and why Adele reads it:
- Tim claimed to have ""stumbled into it" and felt he was writing about but not necessarily for teenagers. He also made the excellent point that adolescence is a really exciting time - full of big (life-changing) decisions and stupid risks.
- Fiona said she was "too much in-tune with my inner teenager" and also started writing YA somewhat by accident, and told us about how Dan from Six Impossible Things kept coming up whilst she was working on a screenplay.
- Adele remarked that her own teen years were "so uneventful" and from reading YA, she's able to experience things she missed out on and make sense of her own experiences.
- Tim talked about his experiences as a journalist with The Age and the effect it had on his writing and "shining the light in dark places". He also spoke about some of the student responses he'd had about Five Parts Dead (especially in regard to drink driving), which was great.
- Then came the topic of voice - both Tim and Fiona's novels are in first person and set in present time. Fiona said her reason for doing this was that it gave a better sense of immediacy. Tim talked about the fact that he borrowed a lot from his own life for Dan in Five Parts Dead and also completed a writing residency at a school amongst Year 10 and 11s (and used this experience to add in slang, though it possibly added to much authenticity as his editor made him take some of it out!).
- Andrew bought up Adele's Top 100 YA Novels list which started a discussion about the definition of yound adult literature and some of the difficulties in classifying this area (Adele said that the inclusion of Pride and Prejudice on the list caused a bit of a stir).
- Some of the most interesting discussion came from the idea of whether or not YA is (in itself) a genre. Fiona felt it was more of a notion or readership whilst Tim felt that YA has created a genre. Adele spoke about her love of YA, especially the fact that it isn't self-involved or pompous haha.
- The importance of "writing what's real for you" and not what you think will fit with the current market - wise words Adele!
- The trend (or more of a flood I would say) of paranormal romance in YA was also bought up. Adele made the excellent point that the sales in this area was being pushed by girls who weren't reading before (reluctant readers) and that she found it hard to criticise something that's encouraging people to read.
- Marketing, publicity, media coverage and blogging all came up and Adele spoke to the trend in twenty-something-females blogging about YA (guilty). She also mentioned that a lot of Australian YA bloggers were passionate about getting the books and authors they loved out there. Adele also gave a little shout-out to librarians, booksellers and teachers who are responsible for a lot of hand-selling and helping great books find their way into the hands of teenagers. Something I also thought was interesting (and a bit sad) is that there is far less interest and respect paid to YA by the mainstream media.
- In terms of practical tips (as it was part of the Emerging Writers Festival) there were some good ones - like being honest in your writing (and Fiona quoted Markus Zusak from his Reading Matters speech about writing the book that only he could write). Tim described YA as "sassy, emotionally honest and never dull".
- Fiona also emphasised the importance of finishing what you write (which I definitely agree with) and to avoid the temptation of sending out a partial manuscript to a publisher or agent (again, having worked for an agent - I strongly agree). Tim suggested to not be too precious about your writing. Adele also reminded the audience that the Australian publishing industry is small and people do talk/know each other.
Thank you to the Emerging Writers Festival, the Wheeler Centre and the panelists for such a fantastic session! If you haven't read Six Impossible Things, Five Parts Dead or Andrew McDonald's The Greatest Blogger in the World, I urge you to race to your nearest bookseller and get your hands on a copy!