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Writing Young Adult Fiction

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Lisa Gorton, Kate De Goldi, chair Laurel Cohn, and Diana Sweeney discuss what it means to write Young Adult fiction. Photo credit: Cath Piltz

One session to kick off the second day of the 2014 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival focussed on the Young Adult (YA) genre with several award winning Young Adult fiction writers.

Enthusing young adults to read novels is not just how some authors earn their crust, it is their passion. But interestingly, the authors in this panel came to the genre in unlikely ways.

Chair Laurel Cohn started the discussion by asking the panel to define YA. In the publishing world, Young Adult Fiction (YA) is specifically marketed to teens aged 13-18. However, although her protagonist was an adolescent, Diana Sweeney did not realise she was writing a YA manuscript until her editor pointed it out.

According to Kate De Goldi, author of The Ten PM Question, the age of the protagonist tends to determine who the book will be targeted at. But does a YA novel necessarily need to have a teenager in it? De Goldi isn’t entirely sure. Her books are suited for all ages and she suspects the YA form may be an artificial construct manufactured by librarians who were trying to cater to a teenage market.

“Just about every book falls somewhere between definitions,” says De Goldi.

Cohn asks the panel to talk a bit about language and the focus shifts to poet, fiction and YA writer, Lisa Gorton. According to Gorton, poets have trouble with plot and there is more freedom in poetry writing because none of the strict genre labels are applied.

Nobody talks about fiction and non-fiction in poetry and there is no young adult label. Although Cloudland is a novel set predominately in the clouds, Gorton had no idea it was a fantasy novel until someone else came along and put a label on it.

Diana Sweeney’s YA novel, The Minnow flows from the past, to the present, and into the realm of dreams but Sweeney has no idea how she worked her structure into the book.

“It certainly wasn’t conscious,” says Sweeney, “and I have no idea if that is my style. It just came out like that!”

Among the panel of YA fiction, there is a recurring theme of magic realism, and a freedom in writing that does not seem to apply to adult fiction. Cohn asks if this style is intentional. According to Gorton, children have this deep interest in philosophical questions. They invoke a fresh sense of reality and that is what she loves about writing for a YA audience and in her poetry writing too.

De Goldi also speaks about the young reader and the freedom she finds in writing for a YA audience.

“You have to remember the young eye,” says De Goldi . “The young eye is seeing the world for the first time”.

All stories are about making the self, argues De Goldi, and after listening to the panel speak about the freedom they find in YA writing, it seems less necessary to define what YA actually means.

In essence, all writing is valued when it is able to explore the world with a fresh eye, and when creativity and imagination are able to roam free.

Misha Sim is a student at Southern Cross University.

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