Garth Nix moderated a panel of three young adult fiction writers who discussed the genre and why it has been very successful. The panel featured Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction, Margo Lanagan, US writer Laurie Halse Anderson
This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival featured an array of workshops and discussions, among them The Rise and Rise of YA: A Look at the Fastest-Growing Category in Fiction.
Award-winning author Garth Nix moderated a panel of three young adult fiction writers who discussed the genre and why it has been very successful. The panel featured Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction, Margo Lanagan, US writer Laurie Halse Anderson – best known for her searing novel Speak about a 13-year-old girl who becomes mute after a sexual assault – and Sally Gardner, award-winning novelist from London.
The authors talked about their approach to writing young adult fiction, the calls for censorship of the language used and even whether there were too many YA books, to which Lanagan replied, “I don’t think there can be too many books of any kind”.
According to Association of American Publishers (AAP) statistics, young adult book sales were up in 2014 by 22.4 per cent from 2013. The genre outperformed adult fiction, which saw a drop in sales of 3.3 per cent. A separate report from 2012 found that adults aged between 33 and 44 purchased 55 per cent of young adult novels.
The genre’s success has been attributed to a need for adults to be reminded of the immediacy of emotions conveyed by protagonists, usually aged younger than 25 years. All agreed that young adult fiction provided a reflection of “how we saw ourselves at that age”.
Gardner said adults found it more exciting to read about new experiences of young people and that another appealing aspect of the genre was adolescence, which she described as “one of the biggest transitions of [our] lives”.
The success of YA fiction was also attributed to its vibrant writing style. Gardner indicated there was too much “waffling” in adult fiction. She suggested a more direct approach was needed to grab the reader.
“Get a hold of your reader and run as fast as you can to the end of the book,” she said.
Halse Anderson agreed, telling the audience of a fan letter she had once received from a young boy who said hers was the first book he had ever finished reading, adding “I’m really glad you didn’t waste my time with sunsets”.
Despite its success, young adult fiction has met with conservative criticism. Halse Anderson said she was once referred to as a “pornographer” for including themes of sexual assault in Speak.
On the issue of censorship the panel agreed that most of it came from concerned parents who were “nice people” operating from “a place of fear”.