When is a Young Adult not a Young Adult?

img_0010

Newnham College, Cambridge, library

Weeks later, I’m still chewing over something that came up in the Writing for Children Event I spoke at in Cambridge recently. A quotation was put to me and fellow panellists Mary Hoffman and Sue Limb, from an article written by children’s literature critics, Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig:

‘The sense of moral obligations, which governs all writing for children, has acquired a new bias. It used to entail keeping your stories as anodyne as possible; now if anything, the opposite holds true. Painful topics have become virtually de rigeur.’

Tracy BeakerI tackled the moral obligation assumption bit already, plus the truly weird idea that anyone would strive to create anodyne stories for any audience, let alone children.  As for the last part of the quotation, given that these critics were writing about trends since the 1970s, I wondered what had upset them.  The answer? Writers such as Jacqueline Wilson, it turns out, with her realistic portrayal of children from broken homes like The Suitcase Kid and Tracy Beaker.

From a social history point of view, this is fascinating. You could argue that Wilson is actually following her Victorian predecessors in depicting children in difficult, lonely situations; all that has changed is that’s she’s updated the reason for their plight from parental death (The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Kim), to the present day realism of divorce and single parenthood.  KimHer heroes may go through painful predicaments but they learn to deal with and surmount them, just as the unloved and neglected orphans of the century before. Tracy’s acute sense of abandonment leads her to behave badly; but then so does Sarah Lennox in The Secret Garden, until she finds friends who actually care about her. Rather than children being disturbed by such realism, fiction can do a valuable job of making those struggling in similar situations feel less alone.Houghton_AC85_B9345_911s_-_Secret_Garden,_1911_-_cover

I’d have had more sympathy with Cadogan and Craig if their quotation referred to the more recent genre of Young Adult fiction. While not strictly intended for children, YA books are allowed to compete against children’s books in literary prizes, with the result that in the last 7 years, 5 of the winners of both Carnegie and Costa Children’s awards have been books whose plots involve dystopia, war, violence, rape, death, torture, incarceration, terminal illness, suicide and other equally cheerful themes. maze-runner-trailer-2-11Topics not so much painful as positively agonising. Of eight books on this year’s shortlist, all bar one – Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth – are classed as YA.

Our author panel at the Newnham Literary Archive Event mused on possible reasons behind this flowering of such depressing literature, much of it wonderfully written by some of the best authors around today.  My theory is that the genre has grown out of computer games, with their linear narratives involving fantasy kingdoms, fast action and blood all over the screen. But I was much taken by an audience suggestion that its roots may lie in the overwhelming bureaucratisation of the education system, allowing teenagers to escape to a simpler world where you can just fight your way out of the endless pressure of SATS tests and GCSEs.

satstests2_2

Fighting their way out of SATS tests

Whatever the reason, it is unfair that YA is allowed to dominate the children’s book awards, simply because there is no separate category for this genre. And I wonder if publishers realise that their biggest readership – far from being teenagers – is young people in their 20s and 30s. Go to any YA event at a literary festival and you’ll see what I mean. If Patrick Ness is appearing, you’ll probably find my sons there (26 and 29). YA fiction being read by young adults, then.

Or as we used to call them, adults.

Advertisements

3 lucky winners!

Yup, it’s over.  My Goodreads giveaway finished last week and three FREE copies of The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst are now in the post to the winners who, rather pleasingly from a broadcasting point of view, are scattered all over the UK (inasmuch as you can scatter, er, three people).  2-img_1987

Over 200 people entered, which is a terrific number – thank you, everyone, for being intrigued enough by the book to try for a copy!  If you were one of the winners – or even if you weren’t, and have read the book anyway (oh lovely person) – please take the time to leave a review on Amazon.  The more reviews a book has – and they don’t even need to be ecstatic ones – the more Amazon will recommend it to other customers, leading to more eager readers like these ones.

(Who needs lessons?)

3 FREE copies of The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst

My children’s book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst (FINALIST in the People’s Book Prize) was released a year ago this month.  To celebrate, I’m running a giveaway on Goodreads beginning TODAY.  Enter here for your chance to win one of THREE free copies.  All I ask is that if you do win a copy, once you’ve finished feverishly turning the pages, you would find a moment to post a review on Goodreads and Amazon.  THANK you kind readers.

How to win the People’s Book Prize (or come a close second)

Children's finalists PBP 2016

The 7th Peoples Book Prize award dinner took place last night in the splendid Worshipful Company of Stationers’ Hall in the City of London. With 36 finalists, publishers and guests, the atmosphere was happy and supportive – there is something liberating about a prize decided entirely by popular vote.  Every finalist called up to the stage was there because lots of people loved and voted for their book; good news for authors, publishers and above all, the public, who’ve shown that books and reading are things to get excited about.

It was great to meet up again with fellow former prize winner, Giles Paley Philips, whose entry, Little Bell and the Moon, is truly magical, with Giles’s beautifully cadenced poetry matched by Iris Deppe’s outstanding illustrations. In fact the standard of the finalists overall was so high, I’d prepared myself for a stiff competition and wasn’t too downhearted when Milky Moments by Ellie Stoneley scooped the prize.2-DSCN3115

A new category, Best Publisher, was introduced this year, for which I was delighted to discover that my publishers had been nominated.  Congratulations Sarah Taylor of Troubador, it was brilliant seeing you at the dinner, even if Troubador didn’t end up winning!

Which sums up my experience of the evening overall: it really wasn’t just about the winning. What mattered was being there at the finals, meeting other authors and publishers who’ve come from all over the world, and celebrating together.

Thank you, all you wonderful people who backed The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst,
IMG_6578 2enduring stoically my stream of PBP reminders over the last few months. Without your support the book would never have got as far as it did and if it didn’t quite equal Ante’s Inferno’s achievement of winning the People’s Book Prize 2013, being a Finalist in 2016 is a pretty close second.

So who won? Find out tonight!

Well, folks, today’s the day…. the winners of the People’s Book Prize 2016 will be announced at Stationers’ Hall, London, tonight.  As one of 12 finalists in the Children’s category, I am looking forward to this evening with much excitement and a good dollop of nail-biting.  Thank you all you wonderful people who sent in your votes.  The wait will be over SOOOOOON.

Here’s a lovely article that appeared in Saturday 9 July Oxford Mail.

 

 

The People’s Book Prize – Spring Collection – Children – “The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst” By Griselda Heppel

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst By Griselda Heppel

Published by Matador ISBN 9781784623043   The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst COVERSpring 2016

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst has reached the FINALS of the People’s Book Prize. Follow the link below to read more and VOTE!  The winner of each category is decided entirely by public vote so it’s up to you. Closing date: 10 July.

Thank you!

Synopsis:  In the shadows of Walton Hall a demon lurks. His name: Mephistopheles. In 1586,…

Source: The People’s Book Prize – Spring Collection – Children – “The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst” By Griselda Heppel