Tuesday 15 December 2009


A recent blog post raised a question from a reader, which I promised to answer. Have I ever let you down yet? [There's still time, of course.]

The post was here and the question from Samantha went as follows:
 "Are you saying, Nicola, that one must be widely read in a particular genre before attempting to write for it? Up until now I have written humorous chick lit and very much enjoy reading this genre. But, all of a sudden, I am inspired to write YA, not so humorous, because the plot I really want to write about doesn't 'fit' an adult genre so well. So, am I supposed to read widely in YA before putting pen to paper?

... [removed bit] ...I guess it just niggles me a bit, because as writers we are always being told to 'write the story we feel compelled to write' - and now I  feel I'm being told, ooh, if you aren't well-read in YA, how can you possibly attempt to write it.

Aargghhh! I'm sure you'll put me right:)"
Oh, indeedly doodly!

[As an aside, the bit I cut cited Meyer and Rowling as two examples of writers that Samantha reckoned just "wrote the story they wanted" and weren't well-read in their genre. Actually, an Eng Lit grad and mother, JKR is well-read in her genres - fantasy / children's - and Meyer I haven't a clue about but in any case we don't learn anything if we use the very unusual to explain the ordinary. Besides, Samantha says - and I honestly know / care nothing about this but she may be right - that Meyer's publisher then "tailored the book for the market". Well, je reste ma valise: is that what normal authors want or can expect? No, it isn't. Thing is, both those authors hit a vein of success which cannot be predicted or planned and any attempt to use them to prove anything that relates to writing in general is unhelpful. Therefore, can we not [c]rabbit on about this in the comments below? I regard it as off-topic. We can talk about it another time if you must, and if you care nothing for my mood, especially since I gave myself three paper cuts opening Christmas cards this morning, as well as one Magimix cut.]

Right. Back to the point. Why did I say and why do I absolutely maintain that writers should be well-read in the books being currently published in the genre they are writing for? [And by the way, I'm not alone: Stephen King also says it in On Writing. Nor have I ever heard any published writer, agent or editor say anything to contradict it.]

First, why "CURRENTLY"? Why can't we just read old stuff? What's wrong with the good old days when people knew their split infinitives from their hanging participles?

If you are only reading bygone successes you risk one of two traps:
1) The Jane Austen Trap. Every couple of years there's a stupid fracas when a silly person sends a slightly disguised first chapter of a Jane Austen book to a publisher pretending that he /she wrote it; publisher returns it saying it's "not right for our list"; silly person jumps up and down in self-righteous glee, saying, "See how useless publishers are! They can't even recognise a classic when they see it!" No, stupid: Jane Austen is not right for their lists because publishers are not looking for Jane Austen, because if readers want Jane Austen they can read Jane Austen. Publishers want what readers want NOW, not what they wanted a million years ago.

2) The Enid Blyton Trap. There are, last time I counted, 5,739,841 aspiring writers out there who have decided that they'd like to write a children's book because they remember enjoying them so much when they were little. Well, all respect to EB, but she was writing in times of old-fashionedness, and, as well as writing in the style of those times, was unhealthily affected by the undesirable aspects of the day, such as classism, racism, sexism and Imperialism, as well as the more pleasant ones such as naiveté, absence of health and safety, and lashings of ginger beer. Things have changed, and the things you can, should, must, mustn't do are vastly different. So, if you don't read the modern stuff, when you come to write it you risk looking like some patriarchal buffoon who hasn't noticed that the Empire has fallen and there's gravy on his cravat.

So, why do we have to be widely-read in our genre? Samantha is widely read, but now she wants to write a YA novel and says she's not widely read in this genre. Can't she just go ahead?

First, I respect Samantha's reason for wanting to write YA  -  that the plot that she's thinking of fits YA. If she'd said she just fancied doing it, I'd have been more inclined to be crabbit: too many people simply think it would be easier than adult fiction. It's not. Just different.

However, I wonder how anyone knows the plot fits YA if they don't know much about YA books. It's common to think that simply having a teenage character makes the book YA. In that case, please read The Illumination of Merton Browne by JM Shaw. Or even the first chapter.  

On the other hand, Samantha may well be right and her plot may beautifully fit a YA format. But she won't know that until she reads some, and not just any: there are many types of YA, so if hers is "gritty realism" she'll need to read some [for example] Keith Gray or Catherine Forde. Etc etc for other types of YA. And I'm not only talking about YA  -  the same applies for any genre.

Anyway, speaking generally now and moving away from the personal. Here's what we all risk by not being widely read in our intended genre:

1)  not knowing the rules of the genre. Every genre has rules and if we don't know them we risk breaking them and looking silly [or not being published.] Rules are there to be deliciously broken or stretched but only intentionally and with reason. You can't do that if you don't know them.

2) not knowing what's already been done. It would be very easy for an author not to realise that a topic / voice / character has already been done to death or has recently been tackled in a high-profile book. You could look very ignorant. As Stephen King says in On Writing, "the more sf you've read, the less likely it is that you'll simply revisit the well-mined conventions...".

3) not writing in an original voice. Of course, not every story is or can be original in voice, but you could easily look very unoriginal or old-fashioned. Is that what you want?

4) not being passionate about what you do. And that dispassion will shine through. Stephen King again: "You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing unless it has been done to you."

5) not being able to show or feel total commitment to a career in this genre. After all, one book is not enough. Your agent or publisher will need to build a career with you and you will need to feel utterly comfortable with the genre if you are to write several books in it, consecutively.

6) failing to sell it to an agent or publisher because you cannot show knowledge and commitment in your covering letter, or because you appear shallow or ignorant in your approach. I agree that this would be easily overcome with common sense, but you would not believe the ignorance of this sort that I've seen in covering letters shown to me by agents.

7) remaining outside the world of your future fellow authors. Writers  -  real writers  -  read. I spend a lot of time communicating with other YA writers and I would quickly know if one of us wasn't up-to-date with what was being written. We recommend books to each other all the time - sometimes in criticism, sometimes in praise. I'd have a very low opinion of someone who couldn't join us in our own game and passion and yet who presumed to reap money from it. I'd call them a mercenary. What we read informs and redefines us; as readers and as writers. As a writer I want to be part of it, not outside looking in.

8) displaying disrespect for your fellow authors. So, you're saying their sort of writing is so easy that you don't need to learn anything about it? [Samantha, please don't take this personally: I am making a general point about risks for authors choosing not to read in genre. I am sure you're not disrespectful. Well, you'd better not be!]

9) displaying arrogance. Yep, I'm saying it again. Again, I'm not saying I think Samantha is but I'm saying this is the risk. You may not feel arrogant, but it's what a potential agent / publisher will think if you show that you don't read in the genre. It displays a sense of, "yeah, well it's easy to do what these crime fic / YA / pic book authors do  -  I can do that, easy as falling off a bike."

Yes, well you can do yourself a nasty injury falling off a bike.

So, to anyone planning to write in a genre for which he or she does not have affinity, passion and knowledge, I say, don't. Unless you want to take a very very long time to become published. Or unless you want to rely wholly on luck. In which case, good luck to you because you'll need it.

Personally, I write for teenagers because I love teenage fiction and I feel very connected, through it, to teenagers, my readers. I don't know a teenage author who doesn't feel like that.

None of this denies the other truth: that we must tell the story that we burn to tell. I just question how would know how to write it brilliantly, if you don't properly know how that type of story works. And doesn't work.If you don't know the traps, how can you avoid them?

PS for any putative YA authors out there (Samantha?) - if you tell me what type of story it will be I'll recommend you three YA novels to read. You don't have to read the whole canon!

PPS please don't forget the lovely offer of a doubly-signed book, signed to you [or a friend of yours] personally by David Robinson and Alexander McCall Smith. They are coming, at my request, to sign the copies on Thursday, so you need to order by tomorrow. In Cold Ink is a fabulously interesting look into the minds and lives of many of the world's best authors and if it's a well-read person you want, look no further than David R, Books editor of the Scotsman!


Unknown said...

Thank you for this! I have been working my way through a lot of YA fiction recently but would be interested to get your recommendations, I am writing a first person magical realism YA novel set in Cumbria.

Nicola Morgan said...

Well, funny you should ask but I wrote one myself except it was set in Yorkshire!! Mondays are Red is YA 1st person magical realism. It's not perfect, nor is it "normal", but it did very well and got great feedback.

But the masters of this stuff are Tim Bowler and David Almond. (Not Tim's Blade series, which are different) but any of his stand-alones. Try Frozen Fire first. David Almond's Skellig, Clay, Kit's Wilderness and Heaven Eyes are all brilliant, though you definitely need to read other authors too, because how one authors does it is only how that author does it and you need a wider picture. David's books are very distinctively "him" and he's such a master that he gets to break a few rules and some people don't find his books categorically "YA". That's another reason why you need to read several other authors too. Hope that helps. (You've probably already read some of these anyway.)

Marisa Birns said...

As usual, wonderful advice.

I appreciate all you've said especially: "What we read informs and redefines us; as readers and as writers.

I, too, do not want to stand outside with my face pressed against the glass. Want to be part of it.

Oh. And sorry that people are sending you Christmas cards that apparently have teeth. Most unusual.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I think they might be finding their way onto my next Amazon order (I can't just buy presents for the family and not buy a present for myself).
I do read many different YA authors not all in magical realism.

iGrannie said...

The late Walter Cairns (Literature, Scottish Arts Council) said some years ago that he didn't think the SAC would be funding many more writing classes, as they seemed pointless, given that so many attending hadn't read widely, wisely or well. "We would probably be more inclined to support reading classes," he said "because it's obvious that they're very much needed." What you say, Nicola, is very true.

Jill said...

Hopefully, I'm covered because I read anything and everything, including YA (I have a teenage daughter and she literally forces her books on me). It's hard to keep up on the newest works in all genres, though. I just wrote a supernatural book, and I must admit that this is a weak genre for me (as far as new books read). I must force myself to focus!!

A signed copy w/ Alexander McCall Smith??? Lovely--I wrote him a letter once, and he wrote me back--a nice, personal letter. I'd love to order this book, but my book budget is broken.

Catherine Hughes said...

Aha! For once, dear Nicola, you have nothing to teach me! I was an avid reader of YA well before I started trying to write it. But then, I am an avid reader full stop, devouring anything that even remotely grabs my interest.

You are so very right - I wouldn’t have been able to write what I have so far written had I not read so much of the genre first.

I write YA SF Romance (phew!) and so I read Sarah Dessen (for the romance), Gemma Malley, Timothy Zahn (his Dragonback series mainly), Garth Nix (including his stuff for younger readers), Lucy Christopher (what a wonderful, beautiful book ‘Stolen’ is), James Owen, Alison Croggon, Cassandra Clare, Simon Morden, Trudi Canavan (regarded as a crossover author by Waterstones at least), John Dickinson… And I have books by Sam Enthoven and Janice Hardy on my ‘to-read’ pile. If you can suggest any more, I’d love it - SF, romance, fantasy or just plain old very good. In fact, Any suggestions, adult or YA or 9-12 - I can't get enough reading material.

(In sycophantic mode I must report that I have also read Fleshmarket and will be reading more of you very soon when next illicit Amazon order arrives.)

I also agree that you need to have that connection with teens that doesn’t always come about through reading YA. I used to teach 16-19 year olds. I taught A Level Law which sounds so dry and boring, but it was always wonderful to see them wrap their heads around legal tenets that even I found difficult (promissory estoppels, anyone?).

I have two teenage daughters and two more children who will be teenaged far too soon, but I love all teens. I love their wit and intellect and I have tremendous fun with my team of 16 year old beta readers (known as the Teen Team and about whom an article will shortly appear in Writers' Forum, provided they like it when I’ve submitted it!)

There is so much I want to pass on to my teens and their friends. My characters all suffer from the self-esteem issues that plague so many teens and they all find their own ways of working past self-doubt and being strong. And I find similar themes in the YA I read - in Dessen’s work especially.

OK, as is no doubt obvious, I could bang on about why I write YA and why I so badly want to be published in that genre, but I shall cease and desist (for now). Just wanted to give a personal example of how you are (as usual) so right about this!


Catherine Hughes said...

Ps - Kelley Armstrong's YA stuff is as good as, if not better, than her adult books.

Rebecca Knight said...

Ooh, and now this helpful post has resulted in book recommendations! :) Could it get any better?

I write for adults in the fantasy genre, and found a good source for finding good contemporary reads to be the Hugo Awards. Check out the awards list for your genre of choice, and you'll not only get the winners, but many of the runners up, and can go read them all ASAP.

Good luck to everyone, and happy book buying!

Nicola Morgan said...

Rebecca - excellent point about checking awards lists in your genre. It's a very good starting point, though they tend to be a bit narrow and you want to widen your choice, but it's great way to start

igrannie - hmm, very interesting!

catherine - you deserve to succeed! (especially for the flattery)

Arabella - hope your budget mends soon! He is lovely. I bump into him every now and then as he lives round the corner.

Marisa - yes, and my fingers have three plasters on. My new magimix didn't help either. Ouch

Catherine Hughes said...

Argh - whoops. I forgot 'Shiver' by Maggie Stiefvater. How could I forget such a beautiful, gorgeous book. And Lene Kaaberbol's 'Silverhorse' and 'Midnight'...

Somebody gag me!

Catherine Hughes said...

And N M Browne's Shadow Web...

(Don't worry; I have to get up and leave the computer very soon....)

Unknown said...

Lots of great recommendations from Cat! I agree 'Shiver' was a great book.

Donna Gambale said...

Fabulous post! (And I just realized that when I read your blog in my mind, I even give you an accent. It's quite a mangled accent but very fun. I read blogs from around the world, and yours is the first blogger voice I've ever done this with!)

Anyway, I'd love your reading recommendations!
I'm writing a contemporary, realistic upper YA, and 3 best friends in their junior year of high school are the main characters -- their friendship being the central plotline. What springs to mind is the Traveling Pants series, the Peaches series, and How to Be Bad. Any others?

Donna Gambale said...

And thank you!!!!!!

Nicola Morgan said...

Donna - are you thinking light-hearted, frienship-based, rather than gritty and dark? (I'm more an expert on the latter but think about examples of the former if that's what you want.)

And re accent - I hope you've haven't made me sound Scottish! Cos I may live up here but as soon as you hear my actual voice you'll know I'm a southerner!

Administrator said...

Ooh, late to this - thanks for answering is such detail, Nicola.

Can i just say, i know another author as an online acquaintance, and he has written a serial which is selling very well (teen). The first book he subbed, it was just a book he felt he had to write - the publishers liked it and tailored it to the market they felt it would fit.
Perhaps this is more common than you think!!!!
Agreed though, it is probably still very rare and i shouldn't be swayed by my published friends success stories. Humph.

I do see the point you are making and, having decided to write the YA book i then found a comment (on Nathan Bransford's blog, i think). The gist was, on changing genre - are you doing it to further you career seriously or are you doing it for fun. And, i have to admit, i was doing it more for fun, and it made me think should i really stick with the chick lit and try and master that first - ie work a little bit harder at one genre.

And your point about not revisiting and idea... Yes, i can see that too, and tbh hadn't thought about that (obvious as it might be).

As a result of a lot of things, i have put my YA book on the back burner and have an idea of a new chick lit book. I have decided to try and become a master of one trade instead of a jack of none. I have worked for 5 years on chick lit and have decided it might be unwise to give that all up for a whim.

Have i made the right decision? Time will tell.

Very interesting post, though, which confirms my decision as the right one, so thanks.

Administrator said...

Confirms it for the moment, anyway:)
Excuse all above typos - madly getting ready for 11 guests arriving at weekend...

catdownunder said...

Oh goody, now I can tell everyone I am doing 'research' at the children's end of our local library.
Seriously though I have a small problem. Adult books are chosen by adults for adults. Children's books are, by and large, chosen by adults for children. This is understandable but it does mean that adults tend to dictate what children read. The child who told me "I'm sick of AIDS and death and divorce. I just want an ordinary adventure story" had a point but I doubt the "ordinary advanture story" I wrote (and which did the rounds of a group of children with apparent enjoyment) would even be looked at by a publisher. It would be considered 'old fashioned'. (That said, look at what Vanessa Robertson is doing over at Fidra - seems there is still a market for 'older' books and there are plenty of children who would still enjoy them given a chance.)

Donna Gambale said...

Nicola... yes, definitely more lighthearted with the content/tone. And no, the accent isn't Scottish -- I couldn't hear that if I tried. If anything, you sound exactly like my favorite high school English teacher -- she was absolutely awesome, actually looks a little bit like you ... and now that I think of it, your personalities (at least pertaining to the written word) are oddly identical. But she had a very distinct way of speaking that matches how you write very well. And that's what I hear. (Longest explanation EVER.)

Harry Markov said...

I also have a question that borders on the other end. I have been reading books that similar tropes to what I do. right now I am doing a novel with an unreliable/flat out loud lying protag and have been asking for books that have the same kind of protag or novels that have similar worlds built [because every idea has been developed once before]. I read them innocently to get a better feel for the trope or technique and know how to proceed, but it feels like copy-pasting on a subconscious level. Mind you I have the decency to rely on my own imagination to cope in the end, but I need examples.

Am I thief in sheep's clothing or is this a smart move? Cause my moral compass has been spinning and spinning.

David John Griffin said...

Excellent advice! One aspect of this however, concerns reading while writing (not at the same time, of course!) Personally, I don't read when I'm stuck into my WIP; I find it can spoil the flow. I'm sure that wouldn't apply to everyone though.

Nicola Morgan said...

Samantha - ah, serials are different. Separate genre, almost. What I tend to talk about (biasedly) are author-driven stand-alones or even author driven series, such as trilogies. I've written market-led /publisher-led materials myself (eg Thomas the Tank engine books), but this isn't what I mean when I talk about an author writing a book from the heart. The idea that an author would even want a book they'd written to be "tailored" (as opposed to edited) is so not what I care or talk about. That's more like book packaging. Don't get me wrong - I'm not dissing it, and I have very good friends who I hugely respect and who write such books to earn a living, but I also think it's not what you're after either? I can't account for the stuff that publishers decide they're going to "tailor" to a particular market but it's not what most authors are looking to do when they have an idea for a stand-alone novel. Yes, we have to have an eye to the market but don't we want and expect to "tailor" it ourselves in that sense? So, yes, it's very very common, but amongst formula writing, not what I think most of my blog-readers are aiming for, in their hearts? As I say, not knocking it, just distinguishing it. As a writer, I need a voice of my own that I've created myself for my own reasons, to connect with the readers I choose, not because a publsiher tailored it. And beleive me, I know many dozens of different writers and I really do know all the different types.

Harry - tricky question. The fact that you're asking / worrying is good. I wouldn't read specifically to find out how to do something, but more to get into the spirit and at the same time to make sure I'm not doing exactly the same. Only you can know whether you've crossed a line. Actually, when I'm writing something, I deliberately avoid things in the same genre, in case I'm trapped or influenced, so i'm not advocating reading WHILE writing. (Prob should have pointed that out!) I don't think you should "need examples" and I suppose that sounds slightly concerning? I'd do the reading before the writing, not during. I also think you're asking not about genre but topic - I would only read a book with the same topic in order to make sure I wasn't copying. Does that help at all? Prob not!

Donna - "favourite English teacher" - ok, I can cope"

Catdownunder - thing is, reprints of OP books are not the same as new books. People buy them for different reasons.
I agree, adults buy books for children and but there are two stages here, represented by a) adults who choose to publish books for b) adults to buy for children. And by and large both sets get it right! The gate-keepers have in nmind the main principle: what will children enjoy? And when they have that at the front of their minds, they tend to be right, because they adapt. and i would like to point out that the child who is sick of "AIDS and death and divorce" needn't bother being sick of it because there is every sort of book out there for them. For crying out loud, there's enough cute / kind / happy / moral / soft /light etc etc etc to keep everyone happy ever after. I would not want to use the word ordinary to describe something good, but if ordinary is what you want, it's there. I hope you're not implying it isn't, because actually I have written adventure myself, with no divorce or AIDS in them at all!! :) Death though, oh yes - what would adventure be without the odd death of a baddie? Old-fashioned does not mean bland, remember. Plenty of death in those days too. It's not about death etc - it's about a whole lot more than that.

Nicola Morgan said...

David - you must have been commenting at the same time as me! So you'll now know that i agree!

Sarah said...

Wonderful advice, Nicola! Some of your earlier posts on reading widely hit home. I wasn't reading as much YA as I should. I'm not sure I am now, but I'm beginning to spend more time in the YA section of my library than I do in the regular.

I'm working at a high school, and I also try to read the books the students are talking about. I love talking with them and hearing why they do or don't like a book.

Administrator said...

Hmm, maybe i've mis-used the words serial and tailored then - he wrote a very original series and the first one they tweaked to fit a certain age group - he had just written the kind of book he'd want to read as a young man, i think and they helped him make it more marketable. It certainly wasn't formula-driven.

Whatever, though, i get your point and realize now that that is very unique and certainly not likely to happen to me!

Great post as usual. I wonder when you find time to eat and drink. Or breathe even:)

M Harold Page said...

Very nice post. Thanks!

When people cite successes that broke the "rules", I generally cite Survivor Bias: One lemming on a Jamaican beach drinking Red Stripe does not validate lemming vacation strategy...

Jemi Fraser said...

Really good post, spot on advice, as usual :)

It drives me batty when I hear some people say they don't read a particular genre, but they're sure they're writing the next best-seller in it. Even worse are those who disparage a genre, then proceed to write it - arghhhh!

Harry Markov said...

At first I would have squeaked about it, but I seem to not have crossed the line, because I usually compile a list with novels at the same topic after I am done with the first draft and read them before revisions. With my scatterbrain revision schedule, which sets a novel 2 years after draft zero, I am relieved a bit that I am not doing too dubious things.

catdownunder said...

I know, I know! Please do not get ruffled fur because I know there are all sorts of books out there. I was just trying to point out the power adults have over what children read as opposed to what adults read. And, if you saw the children's shelves of the local library you would weep. I live a sort of nightmare life allowing my precious collection to be loaned out to children who do not want to read about AIDS and divorce or the sort of death (from illness) that is considered 'suitable'... maybe it is the central buying policy committee which is at fault? I don't know - I do know From reading reviews that there are good books for children not hitting library shelves because the 'social issues' books are considered more appropriate. But - this is not the place for that debate so I shall cease ranting.

Stroppy Author said...

Does everyone here write YA? I am feeling very left out... Picture books and first readers! great stuff - you can read the competition really quickly :-) Maybe I'm just lazy - but that's not how I chose the genre, honest...

Unknown said...

I'm working on a middle grade dark fantasy type book. Although I'm a little tentative on just how dark dark can be. :P

But I do have a curious question regarding how books are labelled. I've seen Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials in both the YA and Middle Grade category. The topic is rather challenging and I'd personally throw it into YA myself, but is that just me being paranoid that young kids won't get it? Or were the people doing the labelling not really reading the books? Or are some books just difficult to put down in one specific category?

Catherine Hughes said...

This is bad for my sanity! How on Earth did I neglect to mention Phillip Pullman?

I also forgot Sherryl Jordan, Frances Hardinge, and Lili St Crow (the YA version of her name that Lilith Saintcrow uses).

And where do Neil Gaiman's 'Stardust' and 'Neverwhere' (Love, love, love that book) fit in? I would say they are YA...

Also, how could I have left out Melissa Marr and Holly Black? I adore both. Doh! Plus Chris Wooding and also the 'Tunnels' trilogy (which began life self-published) by Gordon and Williams - they're in my reading pile.

Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series is also worth a look - not one of my faves but an agreeable way to pass some flu time!

And, going way, way back to my own teenage years, also read Meredith Ann Pierce - 'Dark Angel'. I remembered the first book so vividly that when, many, many years later, I found it again, I actually cried. She also wrote a second series (about unicorns, I think) which I haven't read, but her Dark Angel series was one of the earliest vampire-redemption-love stories I can think of.

OK, I hear you. I swear I will shut up now. It's a passion - I can't help it. Books made me who I am.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Samantha - yes, I think it depends what he, you and I all mean by "tweaked"! Anyway, I'm sure (?) you agree that we'd all rather get it right from the heart ourselves, for preference. But a series / serial is a very different thing and if a publisher decides to get behind it then yes, they will do all sorts to make it marketable. i just don't want that for my books!

stroppy - I think the only reason all the YA authors are jumping up and down is that i offered to make suggestions, as it's my special interest, but then Catherine waded in with much much more! Down, Catherine, down - you're scaring all the non-YAs away! :)))

Catdownunder - I'm wondering if that's quite an Aussie thing? I don't recognise it here, except in the pages of some library journals etc

Amanda - good question but maybe needs a post of its own? No time just now but will get round to it - remind me in a few weeks if i don't

Catherine Hughes said...

**skulks in corner and looks mournful**

But I just can't help myself! Sorry. It's not just YA, though, I could do the same with adult SF&F, too, if anyone is interested...

No? Um, better go back to shutting up, then!


**exits stage left still mumbling...**

Nicola Morgan said...

Catherine - I am laughing (in a good way, not an exasperated way, I promise!) Your enthusiasm and knowledge do you credit. But go and do some writing, woman!

Catherine Hughes said...

Ohhh, I've been writing today!! Check out the blog and you will see what I mean. I am fuelled by fury this afternoon!

But yes, I am laughing too - I do so love talking about books, so posting all my faves has helped to cheer me up today.

Oh, and is it me or has the word verification only just reappeared or have I been filling it in on autopilot??

Sarah said...

Nicola (and Catherine!), I'd love to hear your YA suggestions for fairy-tale-ish stories. I'm looking for a straight re-telling, and not the literary equivalent of Shrek.

I love the tone of Shannon Hale's Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days. I've read Gail Carson Levine, and some of Jessica Day George's books. But I've not been able to find too many more like them. Help!

Catherine Hughes said...

Ooooooh yes! Can do.

I have just ordered (although i shouldn't have but it was only £2.99) 'Fairest' by Gail Carson Levine. It concerns an ugly princess with abeautiful voice - right up my alley!

Ah - drat, you've read her - but I shall leave this in case it is of interest to others.

Robin Mckinley has retold various fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast twice, and Snow White, Rose Red, I think) as has Mercedes Lackey - I prefer the latter but both are good. See, for example, 'The Snow Queen', 'The Fairy Godmother', 'One Good Knight' - all in her Five Hundred Kingdoms series. I haven't read them all but love her as an author generally.

Also look at Patrica McKillip who I am sure has retold at least one fairy tale.

'Tender Morsels' by Margo Lanagan is supposed to be 'Snow White and Rose Red' retold. Everyone else (including Nicola, I believe, loves it, but I must confess I am struggling).

If I think of any more I will post them for you.


Sarah said...

Catherine! How could I have forgotten about Robin McKinley? I remember reading some of her books years ago!

Thank you for that- and for the other suggestions as well

Catherine Hughes said...

PS - Mercedes Lackey also did 'Black Swan' a retelling of the Swan Lake story.

And I also ordered 'The Hollow Kingdom' by Clare Dunkle - looks good! Goblins, oh my!

Sarah said...

Good recommendations! Thanks, Catherine.

Catherine Hughes said...

You are very welcome. You helped to take my mind off things, so thank you in turn!

Cat x

Cardownunder said...
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Nicola Morgan said...

Catherine, you are amazing. If there was money in recommending any book in any genre, you'd be rich! (Sadly, however...) Next time someone asks me I will shoot them your way!

And yes, i had to introduce word verification, sadly, because I was alerted to some foul spam comment, which i had to delete. I'd been aware of some before but not realised that actually the links went to seriously sick stuff, and I hate to think of it being here. What makes these sickos tick?

And yes, I was a huge fan of tender Morsels. I agree it's very touch stuff, emotionally and viscerally, but I love how she makes us suspend disbelief and how she makes me, congenitally allergic to "magic", believe the magic.

catdownunder said...

You may be right Nicola. I don't know what happens in the UK these days but in South Australia almost all books for public libraries are bought be a central authority and then distributed - there is a limited choice within that to cover local/regional needs. Local libraries have a very limited budget for local purchases. The idea is that it is cheaper to buy in bulk. Books tend to be very expensive in Australia - due to some arcane, archaic and protectionist policies as well as a GST(VAT) on books. The policies are supposed to protect Australian writers and publishers. Whether or not it does is another story!

SF said...

Thanks, a great post. I agree with read read read, but not at the same time as trying to do your own work.

I decided to have a go at YA mainly because some of the books I've enjoyed most - and still do - are those I read as a teenager. I don't think YA means easy or simple storylines, just different, like Nicola said. And perhaps there's a bit more room for invention without having to become a 'fantasy' writer (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

I'm a bit late - but any reading suggestions for an aspiring writer of historical YA?

Nicola Morgan said...

SF - historical YA? Yes! My second novel, Fleshmarket, is my most successful book and definitely fits your requirement! It was selected as an ALA Best YA Books and won various things. And try Celia Rees, or Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793. But perhaps my favourite would be Julie Hearn - eg Ivy or The Merrybegot. They're all very different, and different from Fleshmarket, but that's the great thing about any genre: it doesn't dictate, just guides.

Catherine Hughes said...

I am very chuffed to be amazing at something! Please do send anyone else who might wish for recommendations my way. books are my absolute passion - writing them, reading them, sniffing them, running my fingers over the pages of them, organising them on my study library shelves... Oh yes, and buying them , of course, which can cause problems because I really, really shouldn't at the moment.

Amazon are about to deliver 'The Passionflower Massacre' and 'Deathwatch' by the way. And I have 'Wasted' on pre-order...

Historical YA? NM Browne has a whole series 'Warriors of...' on various periods of history as experienced by time travelling children. Maybe not exactly what you meant but might be useful. I think she's on the fifth book now (I haven't actually read these but my daughter has).

Similarly, take a look at Marianne Curley, who I have read. Wonderful combination of comtemporary and historical but again with the time travelling. I've read 'Old Magic' but there are more.

Shall I start a 'guru of SF&F / all forms of YA / quite a few 9-12 books' blog???

Cat x

SF said...

Thanks Catherine, and Nicola. And oops sorry for not knowing you've written in exactly that genre! My only excuse is I'm not in the UK, but I will see if it's available over here.

Jo Franklin said...

Am I too late for this chat?

Sarah was asking about fairytaleish books and I have just read Seasons of Secrets by Sally Nicholls which has the Green Man myth interwoven with a modern story line of a family coping badly with a death.

I always make a bee line for the 'New Books' shelf in the children's library so that I am reading the latest books.
I love Ali Sparkes and hope that one day my books will be on the shelf next to hers.
I want my readers to feel that they could step out of their own backdoor and enter an adventure which is grounded in modern life but has a historical/supernatural/futuristic/something twist in it.

Any suggestions for further reading very welcome.

Catherine Hughes said...

Jo, are you writing for adults, children or YA?

If adults, try reading everything by Eileen Wilks, Kim Harrison, Jenna Black, Lilith Saintcrow, Wen Spencer, and perhaps Sarah Zettel's Isavalta trilogy. Jaye Wells is a relative newbie with great promise, too. Definitely read Simon Green's 'Nightside' series (although I must say that they do become a bit samey after a while) and maybe his 'Unnatural Histories'. And Jim Butcher's 'Dresden Files'. These are all Urban Fantasy, which I think is what you might be getting at. (My apologies if not)

If for YA, try Un Lun Dun (China Mieville) and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (I so adore that book!). Others to consider would be Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr, NM Browne, James Owen and definitely Holly Black. There is also a book I read as an older child which is still available via Amazon Marketplace - 'Down Town' by Viido Polikappus and Tappan king.

And for younger readers, you could try having a look at the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix.

If I have misunderstood, but you have an author in mind who encapsulates what you are looking for, let me now and I should be able to give you some similar stuff to look for. I have to confess to not recognising Ali Sparks, but am about to search Amazon and find out!

Nicola, I hope you don't mind me continuing to wax lyrical about books. Please say if you want me to shut up!

Cat x

Jo Franklin said...

Thanks Cat, Have added your recommendations to my library book wish list.
Just reading 'What I saw and How I lied' by Judy Blundell. Great title. Great cover. Will let you know what I think when I've finished it.

Catherine Hughes said...

No problem, Jo. Happy to oblige and yes - please do tell me what it's like; been considering that one for a while now.

Cat x

Pen said...

I'm wondering if when I am mentioning in my query which books mine in like should I be thinking in terms of the story content or going beyond that to the "voice" of my writing and thinking about not only the genre but which author in that genre my story sounds like?

I'd love to hear your recommendations as I'm struggling to find books in the YA section of my local library that are like mine (they seem to be more in the adult section). The ones I do do find that have a similar "voice" seem to be more the "re-worked fairy tale" variety (which I love, btw)

I'm writing a YA fantasy trilogy complete with mythical creatures (naiads, dryads, shape shifters, centaurs and giants), champions and reluctant wizards, and a princess. I draw on mythology, legends and fairy tales reworking them into my own story.

Each book is a separate quest which the main characters embark on, all of them ultimately leading to the restoration of the kingdom where the story is set.

Ideas anyone?

Catherine Hughes said...


It's perhaps not YA, but have you read Andrzej Sapkowski 'The Last Wish' and the follow-up 'Blood of Elves'? You could also try Alex Bell's 'Jasmyn' although it is rather flawed as reviews on Amazon indicate.

'The Name of the Wind' - Patrick Rothfuss (I am eagerly awaiting the long overdue next book in the series) is another one which isn't strictly what you are asking for but might be useful to read anyway.

Reworked fairy tale suggestions are above in my reply to Sarah.

Ummm, I see what you mean about the YA... How about Frank Bedder's 'The Looking Glass Wars', followed by 'Seeing Redd' and 'ArchEnemy' - I haven't read these yet but believe them to be very good. I know Alice in Wonderland isn't exactly fairy tale or myth, but the weaving of worlds might be helpful to you.

I will ask my daughters if they can think of anything else...

Dave Daniels said...

Why would someone want to write if they don't like to read? And why would someone want to write a certain type of book if they haven't read that type of book? I really am bewildered by that attitude. I think you should read at least 100 books of the type of book you'd like to write, then everything else. Someone asked Hemingway what he thought a writer should read, and he said everything. He didn't say what the writer *could* read, he said what the writer *should* read.

Rach said...

Hi, I am soaking up your wisdom sodden website at every available opportunity and realise I have made the fatal error of not reading in my area.
I'm writing SF for pre-teens/10+. (I read SF for adults obv!) Can I take you up on your (2009) offer of providing three titles I should buy and read immediately? I know I'm late to this particular party but I'm hoping you'll oblige 'cos I'm nice. Many many thanks.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Rach - can you find any examples from the comments above? If not, i'll set my mind to it but I'm snowed under just now! I'm going to ask Twitter friends...