Tag Archives: books

What are 13-year-olds reading?

17 Jan

The YA community is always abuzz with news of trends and ‘big books’, so much so that it can be hard to follow what’s in and what’s out. As we know, a large part of this trade is driven by adult consumers, but we must remember that YA also includes the Y part of the equation!

At the moment I teach five ‘literacy’ lessons a week to different classes, which includes time for silent, individual reading. Now that I work in a girls’ school, the majority of the pupils really enjoy having the chance to choose and read their own books (in a mixed environment, this was more challenging – there were many boys who liked to read, but some others found it hard to settle and focus for extended periods, or to find something that suited their interests – I highly recommend the Guinness Book of Records for such occasions). There are still one or two in my current classes who are reluctant, but as I always say, you can’t possible ‘hate all books’ – you just haven’t found the right one yet!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to post a snapshot of what one class of 13-year-old girls were reading this week, to give some insight into how the younger teens are engaging with YA (or not, as the case may be – many of their books would be considered MG). The results are interesting, and may surprise some people – overall, they suggest that what kids really want is something familiar and comforting, and that new releases are not necessarily foremost in their minds.

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What I Read in 2014

20 Dec

I know the year isn’t over yet, but it’s around this time that I usually do my reading round-up post and I have to say, I’m pretty proud of myself. This year I managed 43 books! I know that’s nothing compared to some of you out there, but it’s five more than 2013 and 2012. A longer commute and part-time work are probably to thank! I also feel like I read some amazing things this year, with very few duds and quite a nice variety in genre. The number of YA books decreased somewhat, to make way for a few more Adult reads and even a few non-fictions. My absolute faves are bolded.

The List: What I Read in 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Deathless by Catherynne M Valente (stunning Soviet fantasy – does for 20th century Russia what Pan’s Labyrinth did for the Spanish Civil War)

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (thought-provoking and utterly absorbing sci-fi set on a distant planet without an external light source)

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Vicious by Victoria Schwab (super-powered antics with a pleasing lack of certainty over who is the true hero)

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On Writing Love Interests

7 Oct

I know some people disagree with me, but I feel like a great romance is a really important ingredient of YA. In fact, I think the combination of genre and romance is what draws me to YA so often – sure, adult genre works like ASOIAF have relationships in them, but they’re hardly romantic. A great romance can make or break a YA. However, having read a couple of books recently in which the love story was luke-warm at best, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes for a successful one – and the love interest is definitely a massive factor.

My favourite love interest comes from my favourite YA: Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters. Felix Carnival is as swoon-worthy as they come, and, most importantly, complex. What I like about him is that he challenges the heroine, Harry, in all sorts of ways – acting as the physical embodiment of a sexual and creative awakening that ultimately ushers Harry into adulthood. Like many YA boys, he is lovable but with a hint of danger – in his case the presence of his unstable twin brother, Hadfield, whose night-time assault leaves Harry confused about her attraction to Felix and afraid of the lurid fantasies she writes in secret. Moreover, Felix also has his own motivations beyond just loving Harry. His struggle against his brothers is a powerful force in the story, giving him a complexity beyond simple stereotype.

In writing my own love interests – and I’ve now written four guys and one girl – I try to adopt similar principles. I want the LI to be their own person and have their own goals, but similarly to provide something for the MC to bounce off. If the LI is only about mooning and moping over the MC, I find that the romance can be stale and unbelievable.

Who is your favourite love interest and what do you think makes a successful one?

An Afternoon with Benny Lewis

22 Mar

I’ve just come back from a lovely afternoon at Waterstones Piccadilly. It has been ages (shamefully) since I was in a bricks and mortar bookshop – since leaving Clapham I’ve been without a local indy – but I really enjoyed browsing and picked up Guerra, a book on the Spanish Civil War, which I know practically nothing about.

Fluent-in-3-Months-3D

However, the point of my trip was really to meet one of my favourite bloggers, Benny Lewis of Fluent in Three Months. He has just released a paperback based on his popular website. I stumbled across the blog at the end of his very first ‘mission’ to learn Czech, and stuck around for Benny’s adventures in Brazilian Portugese, Dutch, Mandarin and ASL amongst other languages – even Klingon!

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2013 in Reading

22 Dec

Equalling last year’s score of 38 even though I’ve been slacking this month..I have really enjoyed almost everything I’ve read, with the exception of a few eye-rollers, but absolute favourite reads are in bold:

1. The Twelve by Justin Cronin

2. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz (gay mermen ahoy)

3. The Last Dance by Victoria Hislop

4. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (short but ultra-dark and fascinating)

5. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (typical Chas…long winded but ultimately good yarn)

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Holiday Reads

8 Sep

Today has been the first really autumnal day of the year and I have had to put my jacket on for the first time in months. Brr! September is in full swing and so is school, making the holidays seem like a distant dream.

I was lucky enough to tag along on my parents’ trip to the lovely Portugese resort of Sao Martinho, on the central ‘Silver Coast’. It was a very relaxing break where we pretty much just read, swam and ate delicious food like feijoada de gambas (bean stew with prawns) and grilled snapper.

I got through:

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Why I write YA

28 Dec

I’m a YA writer. That means I write for teenagers, approximately 13-19 years old, who come under the umbrella term ‘young adult’.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure how it happened.

When I finally stopped dreaming about writing, got my bum in the chair and just did it, I wasn’t thinking about markets, genres or publication. All I wanted to do was get this damned idea out of my head and on the page. It was just one of the hundreds of stories I’ve dreamed up over the years, but it was more insistent than the rest – like a little bee buzzing away at the back of my brain. Plus, I was alone in a drafty bungalow in a tiny Greek village where I couldn’t go out for fear of being mauled by wild dogs (I exaggerate…just). I had time to spare.

afidnes

Afidnes, which is actually a lovely place, as you can see

It was only later that I realised I’d written something that might fit into this category ‘YA’. I had a teenage protagonist, a fast-moving plot and, somehow, I’d managed to tag onto the underworld/Hades/grim reaper mini-trend that was happening in 2009-10. When I thought about all my other ideas too, they were also a good fit. YA seemed perfect for the adventurous and action-packed (yet romantic) stories I was coming up with.

By another stroke of good fortune, I’d come to YA at a brilliant time for the genre. We may slag off Stephenie Meyer till the cows come home, but she (and, to some extent, J.K. before her) made teen fiction a booming business – and not just for Twilight rip-offs. I realised that, in this genre, there was a really good chance of getting my books published – and reaching an eager audience, both of teenagers and, increasingly, adults.

As I did more research, I found there were so many great books that had been published in the eight or so years since I’d moved on from teen-lit myself. My choice was a little limited while I was in Greece (restricted to the Eleftherodakis English section), but I would pick up a few and sit in the top floor of the bookshop reading for the afternoon. I soon realised that I not only loved writing YA, I also loved reading it! Well-written YA books are absorbing, heart-stopping and brilliant escapism. With teenage protagonists, emotional conflicts become magnified and every decision feels like it has universal significance (and indeed it might, given YA’s proclivity towards the fantastical and speculative). What’s more, your story has to grab attention from the very first page to even stand a chance of wresting young readers away from their phones or PSPs.

That first novel is now snoozing soundly in the trunk, but I’m still writing for teens. YA lit is going strong, and I can’t wait to add my own books to the shelf!