Why YA?

The Young Adult (YA) category of novel didn’t exist when I was a kid. Sure, there were plenty of books that would have been categorised YA if they’d been published today but mostly it was just kids’ fiction or fiction for everyone else. Depending on your reading level in the upper primary school years, you’d be switched over to ‘adult’ fiction and never look back. Not any more. YA means there’s another (optional) rung in the ladder before you climb to the adult end of your library.

From a bookshop point of view, I guess separating out books for tweens and teens is about consumer convenience. If you’re shopping for yourself or a friend in the YA zone, you’re much more likely to find what you’re looking for – and quickly. From an author’s point of view, YA can be a two-edged sword – mainly because you’re less likely to be stumbled across by an adult reader!

I aimed to write a YA or “crossover“* novel because I felt comfortable with YA voices and felt my story was about young adults. I’m rapt it has struck a chord with young adult readers but I’m also chuffed to have had great feedback from readers as old as 97. To my mind, a good story is a good story and it doesn’t matter what section of the bookshop you find it in. Good stories resist age groups because they entertain everyone.

I also write YA fiction because I enjoy reading it (and most other fiction). And, despite my calendar age, I still see myself as a youngish adult.

In future posts I’ll write about some of the YA fiction that I’ve really enjoyed.

*NB: For the uninitiated, “crossover” novels are those that are seen to have market appeal to grown-ups as well as young adults. Examples include the Harry Potter series; the Tales of the Otori series by Aussie author Lian Hearn; The Book Thief and The Messenger by another Aussie author, Markus Zusak. These titles all come highly recommended by me!

My words, someone else’s mouth

My seven-year-old son is a little young to read Game as Ned, much to his frustration. But, with a long car trip imminent, I agreed to let him listen to the audio version of the book with me – thinking I could skip over any of the more confronting parts of the story.

On the road, with my wife and daughter asleep, I put the first CD into the car stereo. Within moments my words were trickling from an actor’s mouth. I had goose-bumps.

When you write a novel you can expect to read it, rewrite it, reread it and so on, many, many times. By the time you’re done, you’ll probably know some of the passages off by heart. Indeed, one friend told me that “when you reach the stage you can’t see the words on the paper any more, it’s time to hand it over to someone else”. I know that sounds odd, but when you have read the same words umpteen times, your brain stops seeing them properly. There might be a blatant spelling error but you’re no longer capable of seeing it.

Anyway, hearing the first chapter of the Game as Ned audio book felt like a stranger was speaking inside my skull. By the second and third chapters I’d switched to listening to the actor, and how he skillfully interpreted the different characters. Then a really odd transition occurred.

Somehow, the editor switch was flicked on in my brain. I started listening to sentences and paragraphs and thinking “that line jarred” or “I’ve overused that word” or “I could have written that better”. It was another reminder that reading your writing aloud is one of the best ways to differentiate between passages that work and those that need more polish. After onscreen and then paper edits, a verbal read through is vital.

if you’re interested in the GAN audio book, please contact Louis Braille Audio.

Secret lives of a book

In a previous post, I mentioned that a book takes on a life of its own once it is released. In part, this is because every reader brings their own world experience to the words they read and they respond accordingly. 

Indeed, the first time a publisher read a manuscript of Game as Ned, I was encouraged by her response because she said she shed some tears at key moments in the book. I would have picked the same two moments – one sad, one happy – as most likely to make me choke up. That said, I’ve had other readers contact me to say they cried (or laughed or smiled) at entirely different moments. Truth be told, I’m chuffed to hear that the story is triggering any emotional responses as this suggests readers are identifying with the characters or events I tried to portray.

A book also takes on its own life in the commercial world. I’m gobsmacked (and grateful) that Game as Ned has been purchased for publication in Poland, for instance. If I’d had to hazard a guess as to potential international readers, I would have picked Ireland as first cab off the rank. GAN has also been turned into an audio book (more on that in another post), read by professional actors.

Critical acclaim is another aspect of a book’s life that is difficult to predict. I was rapt that GAN made the Children’s Book Council of Australia Older Readers Notable Books list for 2008 and amazed to be mentioned in such high-powered company. GAN was also long-listed for the Ned Kelly Awards 2008, as judged by the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia. As a first-time novelist, I’m flummoxed just to be on the same page as these wordsmiths.

GAN is also listed for upper secondary students as a Premier’s Reading Challenge book for 2008, which is also fantastic.

On the road

During my time as a newspaper journalist, I became familiar with writing articles that generally had a very short shelf life. You soon learn that today’s news is tomorrow’s food for the compost worms. When you write a novel, the experience is very different. A book takes on a life of its own the minute it is published. Where and when it will make an impression is almost impossible to predict.

So it was a fantastic surprise to hear from Albion Park High School in New South Wales where an entire Year 9 class had just read Game as Ned. I received handwritten letters from each student and the feedback was blunt and brilliant. Thanks guys. You made me laugh (and my wife cry.)

I hope to be having more to do with schools as GAN becomes better known. With this in mind, I’ve signed up with the speakers’ agency Booked Out where I’m humbled to be on the same list as scores of much better known and comprehensively published wordsmiths than me.

I spent time recently with five classes of grade 1/2 students from my son’s school and, once again, was blown away by the enthusiasm of the kids and their wacky, obtuse questions. (For the record, my favourite colour is still green.) I’m also scheduled to chat to Year 9 students at Braemar College soon and join a Ned Kelly-themed panel at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. August is going to be action-packed!

Speaking of MWF, if you have read Game as Ned and want to learn more about how I tangled bushranger fact and fiction together, please join me at Federation Square’s ACMI Cinema 1 on August 25 at 10am.

Tim Pegler's author odyssey