One of my literary heroes is Neil Gaiman. Not because of his style – though that’s good too – but because of his approach to writing. He sees himself, first and foremost, as a storyteller. Which means he’s not bound by genre or age brackets. He doesn’t limit himself to writing men’s fiction or women’s fiction or LGBT+fiction; he doesn’t limit himself to writing crime or romance or comedy; he doesn’t limit himself to writing for adults or children, your young adults or toddlers. He doesn’t even limit himself to writing novels: he also writes graphic novels, comic books, short stories, screen plays.
The point is that he just writes – the best stories he can in whatever genre and for whatever audience that might happen to be.
Now, Gaiman is something of a genius. Few can pull of such a feat and I would not presume to have the talent to match his industry or his output. But I do believe in writing widely and broadly.
My adult fiction is classed, by my wonderful publishers at Little, Brown, as ‘commercial women’s fiction.’ So much the better for my stories: women are prolific readers and buyers of books and what writer would turn their nose up at being commercially successful? And yet, I have the sneaking suspicion that my fiction is a little broader than that. Mainly because men have written to me to say home much they loved my stories – as well as children. It’s telling that some people mistook What Milo Saw as a YA novel and part of its success is that it has had such crossover appeal, much in the way that The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nightime did. Again, I am humble in drawing this comparison.
And so, my latest novel, grouped in the Young Adult (YA) category, is not such a departure, in the end, from my adult fiction.
Indeed, my hope is that my adult readers will enjoy my YA fiction and that my young readers will enjoy my adult fiction too – and that maybe mothers and daughters and fathers and sons (and grandparents and grandchildren) will share these stories about family life and living in today’s beautiful and messy world.
So, what’s different about my YA fiction? Well, there’s only one narrator, Feather, and she is a teenager. I gather that YA books with adult narrators, even if these alternate with younger narrators, do not go down so well. I guess that teenagers want to stay in the head of the protagonists who see the world as they do, that feeling they have a voice is one of the great gift that YA novels offers them. But the story of Wishbones is not so different from What Milo Saw or The Return of Norah Wells or Before I Was Yours (out in July 2017). Wishbones, like these novels, are contemporary and rooted in strong social issues relevant to our times. They are about family and have a tragicomic style and a quirkiness that defines my writing – and my view of human beings.
They are, above all, about ordinary people who, within the constraints of their ordinary lives, do extraordinary things.
And of course, anyone who works in the publishing industry will now that YA novels are read more widely by women in their twenties than any other age bracket, so the YA-adult fiction bracket is blurred, at best.
When I first signed with my incredible agent, Bryony Woods from DKW Literary Agency, I told her that my dream was to write both for adults and for young adults: ideally, two novels a year so that I could sustain myself as a full time writing. She’s helped me make that dream come true. Now I have to live up to the challenges of writing well and prolifically in both genres!
I have a particular fondness for writing for teenagers.
There’s something very important about giving a voice to those who often feel ‘shut up’ by the world – in particular the adult world.
Unlike many, I do not find babies and toddlers gorgeous whilst bemoaning teenagers. Of course I love my little two year old daughter – she is a daily wonder.
But I’ve spent my life working with teenagers and I think they’re pretty awesome.
They are going through a radical transition: they are leaving the land of childhood and travelling to the land of adulthood: perhaps the greatest migration there is, both physically and psychologically. They are fascinating creatures.
Their view of the world is also, for the most part, still open.
Teenagers are explorers: they are trying to come to terms with themselves and those around them and the world of ideas that their minds are unfurling to.
I’ve had more fun writing Wishbones than any other novel – and the voice of Feather, the teenage protagonist, has come to me more easily than any of my other characters. I wrote it while I was waiting for a new contract to come through for my adult fiction – not knowing, because we writers never really do, whether it would come.
My philosophy is simple: if you’re a writer, write. And never stop.
So I just wrote and wrote and worked on this idea that I loved and my agent loved and that we felt would work well for Young Adults. I could have wasted those months bellyaching about the adult contract – instead, I created a novel that I am deeply proud of. I hope you like it too.