One afternoon session of The Kids & YA Festival saw four YA authors come together to discuss their passion for young adult literature, the experiences that have enriched their story telling, and their contributions to the YA community.
The panellists came from a variety of backgrounds. Both Steph Bowe and Will Kostakis began their writing careers as teenagers. Now at the age of 22, Steph has two young adult novels published while Will’s first novel was released when he was just 19.
Tristan Bancks and David Burton both began their careers in theatre and television before shifting their focus to writing for younger audiences. Tristan has two series for YA and teen audiences and his most recent novel Teen Wolves is aimed at middle graders. David Burton is an award winning playwright and his first book How to be Happy: A Memoir was published in 2015.
Adele Walsh, program coordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature, chaired the panel and her focus highlighted the different backgrounds of each author and the pathways that lead them to writing YA.
On what makes YA exciting to write…
Will notes YA writing is usually about characters who are on the edge of the rest of their lives and about to take those first steps, or have taken the first steps and realise that they’re really bad at walking. ‘It’s about firsts and figuring out who you are’.
Building on this, Tristan believes that adults can really relate to these moments and tap back in to what it was like to be on the precipice of everything: ‘It’s a time where it feels like anything could happen and as a storyteller that’s gold.’
David believes that YA literature demands an honest kind of storytelling that you can’t get away with in other forms.
On maintaining an authentic voice while growing older and further away from young adult experiences…
Both Will and Tristan refer back to their own writing at younger ages to stay in touch. Yet Will spoke about moving away from what he wanted to write as a teenager, raising the question ‘Who am I writing for?’
Tristan highlighted our ability to dive down into the moments in our lives that were powerful or disrupted in some way and how this can serve as direct route to that age group.
All panellists agreed that engaging with young people is essential. David travels to schools often but also finds that staying in touch with popular culture is important. Remembering that young adults have their own critical processes helps to engage with young audiences authentically. As he puts it, ‘They detect when someone is being honest with them, they can detect when a writer is reaching across the page and talking to them directly.’
Steph finds the Internet a useful tool. There is now greater access online to the writing of young adults themselves, whether it be in the form of blogs or fan fiction. Even without this resource, she says, ‘There’s always within you every experience you’ve had before. You can always tap back into that’.
Talking about longevity as an author and staying published…
Steph spoke on the risks of the industry, saying, ‘You can put a lot time into public speaking and social media and your book still might not sell well. I don’t think you can guarantee longevity. It’s just about having a professional attitude and putting a lot of time into promoting as best as you can.’
But you’re not alone, Will adds. He suggests talking to your publisher and asking them what works. Do as many events as you can, use social media but don’t spread yourself too thin, pick one and stick with it. Twitter isn’t really a space to cultivate an audience, he says; rather it’s more of a platform for staying in touch with the industry. ‘Try to find your audience but don’t lecture them to buy your book.’
Tristan warns that writing fast and churning out books is not the way to build a readership. Having your own sense of when the book is ready is more important than delivering to someone else’s deadline and abandoning the story.
Advice they would give to their younger selves and other writers….
Steph emphasised that ‘Publishing is not going to change everything for you. Writing itself has so much value, even without an outcome’.
For Will its about the walls we put up between ourselves and our writing and the key to getting better is pulling down those walls. ‘Don’t hide,’ he says.
Similarly David advised that fear is a really good clue and its important to pay attention to the places it can take you.
‘Not pulling punches is the toughest thing,’ says Tristan. ‘It can be dangerous to your writing’. Despite concerns about being boring, it’s important to slow down and trust the reader to come with you.
This event recap was written by Reilly Keir as part of her NSW Writers’ Centre internship.