Tag Archives: Emerging Writers’ Festival

EWF: YA Is Forever

The first event I went to for the 2015 Emerging Writers’ Festival was a panel called ‘YA Is Forever’, featuring Kirsty Murray, Sulari Gentill and James Phelan.

As a child, Kirsty Murray described herself as a nerdy, pretentious reader. She wanted to be a writer, and believed a familiar idea: ‘to be a writer, I need to have a big adventure in order to write about it’. This thought kept coming back to her as she grew up and progressed through her life, that ‘one day I’ll have something worth writing about’. She never dreamt of being a children’s/ YA writer, but says she stumbled into it because at that stage of her life she was surrounded by 6 children under the age of 14 (not all her own), and that voice is what came naturally. She always gravitates to child protagonists between the ages of 11 and 13 – there’s something special about that age for her. She once wrote a 17-year-old, and that was a stretch!

What’s with YA writers? Are we all suffering arrested development?

Kirsty brought up the question – what even is YA? Is it a readership or is it a genre?

She thinks that post-Twilight, YA writing developed the tropes of a genre. There’s a structure and type of content that is recognisable. She also joked that looking on the library shelves in the YA section, it would appear that a necessity is a black cover with a single word title: Shiver Embrace Abandon Gone Splintered Fallen Unwanted Sway Unmade Unmarked Panic Conversion …

And what age is a ‘Young Adult’? Just ‘teens’ in general? 12-17 year-olds? Up to 25-year-olds? How come so many adults read YA? Kirsty says it’s a spectrum, and she sits at the bottom end – at the crossover between children’s (or Middle Grade, if being specific) and YA. Someone like Maureen McCarthy sits at the top end of the spectrum, at the crossover between YA and Adult.

On the other hand, Sulari wasn’t aware of YA tropes. She just wrote a story and was as surprised as anyone when her publisher said it was Young Adult because of the age of the protagonists, even though the language was more sophisticated than you might expect for this readership. She believes in staying loyal to the story you want to tell and letting it find its readership.

How much grown-up stuff can YA books handle – in terms of sex, violence, issues to do with mental health and suicide, and swear words?

Kirsty Murray thinks that ‘it might be a good read, and realistic, and find its readership – but it might keep you out of school libraries and off book lists’. There’s a balance between reality and fiction, especially when the book has to get through the adult gatekeepers (parents, teachers, librarians) into the teenagers’ hands.

‘Everyone in the marketing department is an adult, and they are trying to sell the book to anyone with the most disposable income’ – which will usually be the parent. That said, the teen reader does have buyer power – they very successfully market books to each other by word-of mouth, they have a strong pester factor, and they may have some disposable income of their own.


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EWF: Writing for Young Adults

My ears perked up as soon as Penni Russon (Only Ever Always, Undine trilogy) said she did the PWE course at RMIT, through which she got a placement at Allen & Unwin in the Children’s/ YA department, through which she was eventually offered a job as editor. Reading so many manuscripts, she said, “allowed her to pop open the bonnet and have a look at the story-writing engine to see how it worked”. Now she writes YA novels. Sounds like my ideal career path.

“I never grew out of reading YA,” she said. “When I started writing YA fiction I was 24, and I wrote in that voice because I wasn’t very far away from it. I feel like I know the YA voice, and that’s what comes naturally. I don’t feel like I know 20, 30 year old voices!”

“I write stories for grown-ups too, but seeing as I still call them ‘grown-ups’, I think that says something.”

Why does she like writing for YA audiences?

“Teenagers are interested in the world, despite their bad rap for being self-obsessed. They’re often fascinated with dystopian worlds, because they can relate to injustice, and to having no political power. There’s an intensity of feelings in YA. Teens are experiencing all these intense emotions, and they’re experiencing them for the first time. It’s hard for them to imagine that once, their teachers and parents went through these feelings too.”

What about writing sex for YA?

It’s so much more powerful. Sex in adult lives can be mundane, it’s just a part of domestic life. But not for teens. They’ve got all these hormones pumping for the first time, everything is new and meaningful.

What’s the difference between writing for children and young adults? Where’s the line? Is there an age cut off?

“I think in children’s writing, there has to be a higher order. There’s parents, or teachers, protectors. The story is set in a protective space. YA writing deals with the loss of this protection. It’s when their world blows up. They discover there is no higher order, or it’s not as it seemed. There’s divorce, or death, or the truth. It deals with how people can function within this.

“The Harry Potter series becomes YA when Dumbledore dies. And Harry finds out stuff about Dumbledore’s past, which shakes his understanding of the world. I don’t think it could have been a seven book series without this realisation happening.”

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Emerging Writers’ Festival: Seven Enviable Lines

EWF_Web_Banner-fixedEWF Conference. Two packed days of sitting and listening and jotting and tweeting. All that inspiration, it was pretty exhausting.

The Seven Enviable Lines panel was a great way to start the weekend: what writing-related tips would you tell a younger You?

Here are my favourites.

Melinda Harvey:

“A career in writing is not like winning Tetris—you don’t automatically go up to the next level.”

“You’ve got to be at your desk/computer/notepad to write. Inspiration can strike, but like lightning it’s rare. First, you’ve got to produce the right climatic conditions…”

John Safran:

“Here’s what’s wrong with you. You’re lazy, and too in love with your one stupid idea.”

Khairani ‘Okka’ Barokka:

“Take care of yourself, write clearheaded. You might think tortured writing is the best, but usually it’s delusional and self indulgent.”

“Back up your files. Type up your notepads. Go through the archives and tease out the old threads.”

Jennifer Mills:

“Persistence is more important than talent.”

“Being a writer is not an excuse for being an asshole! Be nice to your families, partners, friends. They are the ones that will support you.”

Walter Mason:

“Run, don’t walk. Don’t wait until the time is perfect. Don’t put it off. You can do amazing things by yourself online, and you can do them tonight when you get home.”

“If invited to book/writing/publishing events, never give into the impulse to stay at home.”

“I’ve never once been hired on my skills. Fabulousness has always won out over literary prowess.”

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