Sophie Masson is the award-wining and internationally published author of over 60 books, most of which are for young adults. She is also the chair of the New England Writers’ Centre and a former Chair of the Australian Society of Authors. She is an experienced presenter who has given creative writing workshops all over Australia. Her latest YA novel is Hunter’s Moon and her earlier YA novel, The Crystal Heart, was named as a Notable Book for Older Readers in the 2015 CBCA Awards.
How did you first start writing in the Young Adult genre?
I first started writing in the YA genre after my first novel – which was actually an adult novel called The House in the Rainforest – was published by UQP back in 1990. That novel is narrated by a young woman called Kate, who as an adult journalist is investigating present-day problems going back to the past, and so the story goes back to her at age 16. After the book was accepted by the adult fiction publisher at UQP, I got a very nice letter (no emails in those days!) from Barbara Ker Wilson who had set up the new YA fiction list at UQP. She said that she thought I had captured a very good authentic voice in the 16-year-old Kate’s scenes, and had I ever thought of writing actual YA fiction, because she’d love to see anything I might write in that line! Well, an invitation like that was hardly to be passed up, and I had an idea in the back of my mind… I sent the resulting manuscript of what became my first YA novel, Sooner or Later, to Barbara just a few months later – and the rest, as they say, is history! I’ve written many YA novels since then, from contemporary realism to historical to fantasy, and more!
What are Australian publishers currently looking for in YA manuscripts?
Currently, Australian publishers are looking for several kinds of YA fiction: contemporary realism with a ‘high concept’ – meaning an unusual idea or a strong issue – often combined; speculative fiction (but not really dystopia or vampire/zombie/ paranormal, which have run their course); good thrillers with teenage protagonists. In fact those are just some of the possibilities and it’s in no way prescriptive: what publishers are seeking is what they’ve always looked for: memorable stories with a strong emotional centre, good writing – and a capacity for surprise. All those things work well with YA readers, who love their best-loved books intensely.
What’s your number one tip for those writing YA?
My number one tip for writing YA is to never underestimate your reader: this readership reads intensely, but is also pretty discriminating.
Learn more from Sophie Masson’s vast experience in her upcoming workshop Teen Buzz: Writing Great Young Adult Fiction, on Saturday 9 April, 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.