Why I Write YA
by Sue Wallman, author of Lying About Last Summer
Aged ten, I wrote a crime book. I still have the manuscript (in a blue lever-arch file that’s covered in Snoopy stickers). The writing is really neat on page one. A lot more scrawly by page 97. In my twenties I tried to write chick-lit style fiction and I had a few short stories published in the magazine I worked for. When my three daughters were small, I went on a residential writing course called “Starting to write your novel”. I’d looked forward to it for ages. This was going to be the start of my novel-writing career. It wasn’t. It made me feel completely inadequate and I stopped writing for a while.
But then a few years down the line, after I’d got back into writing and was faffing about, I realised how stupid it was not to take seriously the one thing I really wanted to achieve: getting published. I spent a lot of time working on voice, that elusive component people bang on about when you start working out how to improve your writing. It seemed my authorial voice was a teenage one and I think that’s because I can clearly remember how I felt as a teenager.
I’d read a few YA novels before I started writing it myself, such as Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. After my first YA novel crashed and burned, I started to read various strands of YA compulsively. Apart from the age of the protagonists the novels didn’t seem that different to the sort of adult books I liked. I mostly found that YA had better, tighter plots and less boring chunks of description.
There’s something really exhilarating about a strong, authentic voice that grabs you from the beginning. Young Adult fiction is awash with brilliant voices – just for starters, Birdy by Jess Vallance, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence and Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield. To really understand what voice is, I was recommended David Levithan’s Every Day. Each morning the main protagonist called A wakes up in a different body. A isn’t actually a person at all, as such, yet s/he feels so real.
It took me a while to hone my own voice, find the right plot and crack YA. Lying About Last Summer, my debut, was my fifth book, and I can see that with each new book I’ll have to crack it all over again. Writing a novel that hangs together is hard. But reconnecting with my teenage self and bringing in the twenty-first century challenges that my own teenagers and their peers face is an endlessly fascinating process.
Being part of the UKYA community is a fantastic spin-off to the solitary task of writing. Events are still quite nerve-wracking for me but I’m very pleased to be taking part in The UKYA and Children’s Extravaganza at Newcastle City Library on Saturday 17th September. I love the idea of so many authors in a library at once. It’s something teenage me would have absolutely loved.
I write teenage/young adult fiction.
Lying About Last Summer was published by Scholastic UK in May 2016.
"This YA debut is a moving account of overcoming grief, and also a gripping psychological thriller." BookTrust
"Don't start reading this book unless you know you have the time read it through to the end. This is a rare treat of a book that is almost impossible to put down." The Bookbag
"Lying About Last Summer is a layered, beautifully-observed and powerful story about choice and responsibility that should not be missed." The Alligator's Mouth bookshop, Richmond
My next book will be published by Scholastic in May 2017.
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Skye is looking for an escape from the reality of last summer when her sister died in a tragic accident. Her parents think that a camp for troubled teenagers might help her process her grief. All of the kids at the summer camp have lost someone close, but is bringing them together such a good idea? And can everyone at camp be trusted? When Skye starts receiving text messages from someone pretending to be her dead sister, she knows it's time to confront the past. But what if the danger is right in front of her?
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