Tag Archives: young adult fiction

Literary prizes or page turners?

jan12-006.jpgThere’s been some chat on #UKMGchat about prizes and genre and whether people would rather win a prize with a “literary” novel, or get books into the hands of children because the book has mass appeal.

You can find the thread, here.

By coincidence I went to a CILIP unconference (read all about it here)  on Saturday in Keynsham, where the criteria behind the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals were discussed.

Something that emerged from that is that Middle Grade (oh how I hate that expression) despite driving much of the children’s book market, often doesn’t make it on to the short lists, because much of it doesn’t have the quality of writing that YA has.

I have to confess, I bridled a little at that.

It was suggested that younger children can’t always access more difficult vocabulary, or abstract concepts, but a one time judge of the Carnegie replied that past winners had included Middle Grade – Alan Garner for the Owl Service, Frank Cottrell Boyce for Millions and  Philip Reeve for Here Lies Arthur, so it was possible to create quality fiction for younger readers.

Another thing that was said by the two Carnegie judges present was that the aim of the prize was to bring books of great merit, that wouldn’t necessarily make it onto the WH Smith’s top ten, to the attention of parents, teachers, librarians and of course, children.

I don’t think this is exclusive to the Carnegie. It is, I think, is the aim of many of the children’s book prizes that are run across the country. I don’t know about them all, but often they are chosen by librarians and then ultimately judged by children.  Sometimes they contain the same books that are in heaps on the tables of Waterstones, but often there are quieter books. Books we haven’t seen all over twitter and that aren’t suggested by Amazon algorithms.  This way, children get to read a more diverse selection, that isn’t just David Walliams or Roald Dahl.

I would suggest, that it is possible to write a book that is both popular, and prize winning.  So it appeals to the gatekeepers, and the children.  I think Millions probably did that.

This I think should really be the aim of all writers for children.  A page turner isn’t enough, we should all aspire to write something of literary merit.  But a prize winner that no-one wants to read isn’t enough either.

The books we write should try to do both.

Younger writers write older fiction – true or not?

I’m delighted to have been asked to help judge the entries for the Hot Key Books & Kobo young writers prize.  For this competition the definition of a young writer is 18-25 and the prize divides into two areas;  manuscripts for ages 9 – 12 & manuscripts for ages 13 – 19.  I’m there for the Middle Grade or 9 – 12 age group because that’s the age group I write for –

Now I have a belief, and I’d love to be proven wrong.

My assertion is that the younger you are as a writer, the more likely you are to write for teens, the less likely you are to write for middle grade.  The older you are, the more likely it is that you will write for younger children.

Amongst my compatriots from Bath Spa, I noticed that there was only one real exception – Sam Gayton, who wrote the Snow Merchant, and was I think, still under 25 at the time.  Otherwise, there was a strong leaning to teen or Young Adult fiction. Those of us over 35  wrote younger books.

I wondered if it was remotely true and did a little research (on a famous online encyclopedia) into famous middle grade writers:

CS Lewis was already 41 when he began the Narnia series.

David Walliams was 37 by the time The Boy in the Dress was published.

Jeff Kinney was 36.

Nina Bawden was in her mid thirties when she started writing for children.

Michael Morpurgo was over 30.

Roald Dahl  was 27. His first book, the Gremlins, was published in 1943. 

This is utterly unscientific, and taken over a small number of writers, but I really can’t think of many exceptions to the rule.

So prove me wrong young writers – I’m dying to read your manuscripts.