Meet the 2017 #YA10 authors

Alex Wheatle

Can you sum up Crongton Knights in one sentence?
An epic journey for best friends to the bad ends of town to retrieve a stolen phone.

Why did you write Crongton Knights?
I've always wanted to write a modern day quest story that is relatable to contemporary teenagers. I wanted to show that despite friends living in a tough housing estate, they know the value of loyalty, sticking together and defending each other in time of crisis. Also, I wanted to explore how young adults cope or do not cope with loss.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
It means the world to me to be part of such a diverse shortlist. It's been an incredible year of YA fiction and I'm very proud to be in the mix.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
I don't think the term 'YA' was coined when Treasure Island was penned by Robert Louis Stevenson but I always dreamed of writing something as exciting as that. A recent reading of Angie Thomas' The Hate You Give gave me that same adrenaline rush.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
What is special about YA fiction in the UK and Ireland is that authors are prepared to tackle any tough issues and try to search for the truth in their storytelling. It constantly reflects the reality of modern day experiences for young people and I'm proud to be a part of that movement.

Martin Stewart

Can you sum up Riverkeep in one sentence?
Wull does not want to be Riverkeep, but in order to save his father he must brave the river’s monsters, magic and death.  

Why did you write Riverkeep?
I had a very unusual path to publication. The idea for the role of a Riverkeep was sparked by the real-life river-man of Glasgow, George Parsonage; the serving officer of the Glasgow Humane Society, an institution founded in 1790 to rescue and recover victims of the Clyde. The article I read about him contained the astonishing fact that he’d first carried out his duties aged just fourteen. As a writer of YA fiction, that set my mind fizzing, so I wrote about Wulliam and his pappa in a short story as a favour for another writer’s blog. Eventually that short story found its way to Penguin, and I had to turn that snippet of Wull’s world into a full-length novel.
As well as a sense of adventure, comedy, and horror, the story was fuelled by a desire to explore the experience of my grandfather’s dementia; and to honour the young carers I’d known in my career as a teacher. Wull has to undertake his quest while caring for his rapidly degenerating father, and that dual challenge―of negotiating real life while caring for a loved one―is faced by thousands of young people every day in the UK.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
More than I can adequately express! Everything that’s happened, in the build up to publication and since, has exceeded even my furthest ambitions. It took over ten years of writing to get published, ten years of scribbling stories in the corners of my life―so to find one of them now out in the world and being involved in something like this is incredible. I’ve read most of the books on the shortlist (working on the rest!), and I’m just thrilled to have my story considered alongside such diverse, brilliant work.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. So beautifully, elegantly written, so imaginative and exciting, and so delicately insightful about what it meant to be a human being. It made me realise with a terrifying clarity that these were the kind of books I wanted to write―stories that young readers would enjoy throughout their lives. There are many books that had a lasting impact on me (The Knife of Never Letting Go was a mind-opening moment), but only Northern Lights had such a life-changingly profound effect. That’s the power of great stories: they tell us something about who we are, and who we’d like to be.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
The same things that are special about the people: the frankness, the irony, the comedy, the grit and, most of all, the authenticity. Reading UK/Eire YA, you’re arrested by the sense of a story that needs to be told, that is honest and true. It’s the most exciting area of publishing there is, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

Francesca Simon

Can you sum up The Monstrous Child in one sentence?
Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead, tells her grim story of love and betrayal in her own sarcastic, funny, “yeah whatever” teen voice.

Why did you write The Monstrous Child?
Because Hel’s voice came to me one morning when I was sitting on the New York subway. She said: “You’d think after my brother the snake was born they’d have stopped at one.” I recognised her immediately. Hel is the young goddess who is human from the waist up, and a decaying corpse from the waist down, who Odin hurled into the Underworld and forced to rule the dead. I also think it’s illuminating to write about the modern world through the prism of myth.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
The Monstrous Child is my first YA book so I am especially thrilled to be shortlisted. I loved writing for an older age group, which allowed me to explore my interest in myth while developing themes about love, rejection, vulnerability, and young women’s feelings about their bodies.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
I love the huge variety of subjects—just look how eclectic the shortlist is—and how fearlessly YA writers tackle big and urgent themes about growing up, society, and the nature of good and evil.

Peadar O'Guilin

Can you sum up The Call in one sentence?
I usually describe The Call as a Harry Potter where everybody dies.

Why did you write The Call?
Every writer gets story ideas by the dozen. Sometimes they're just isolated images, or an opening line. Whatever it is, it acts like an irritant, sticking in your head until you can match the initial inspiration with characters and setting and plot. The image that gave birth to The Call was a person disappearing in a crowded room. I had to know where they went and what happened to them. It obsessed me for weeks.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
It means reaching readers that might not normally consider my work. That's very nerve-wracking, of course!

Which book made you a fan of YA?
The late Tanith Lee's Silver Metal Lover. It's the story of a romance between a robot and a human girl. This sounded like the world's worst idea for a story when I first heard about it and I wouldn't have touched it if I hadn't already been familiar with the dark nasty brilliance of her writing. Silver Metal Lover is a magnificent stew of science fiction world-building, dystopia and heartbreak. Please read it.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
I don't want to speak for other writers, but in my case, coming from Ireland, I had thousands of years of tradition and mythology to draw upon. The Call couldn't have been conceived without those resources.

Patrice Lawrence

Can you sum up your book in one sentence?

Good boy Marlon stars in a London thriller about loyalty, family, friendship and grief with added Primark and music.

Why did you write your book?

It was an accident. I’d gone to a crime writing course with a plan for a series of books set in 1940s Port of Spain, Trinidad. I came out with a few thousand words that later became Orangeboy.

However, I’ve always been fascinated by choice versus destiny. I remember a teacher telling us at school that by the age of five, you can identify the children who will be troubled adults. Was that true?

There was also an interview with Stormzy recently where he said it was a foregone conclusion that he would get into trouble in his teens – “I think just growing up where I’m from, the secondary school I went to, the people I was surrounded by… It was just all the recipes for like ‘You’re gonna do this’”.

What draws people into that world? What enables them to pull away?

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?

To be able to call people I admire and respect ‘my peers’? Joy.

Which book made you a fan of YA?

Paul Zindel’s The Pig Man courtesy of Mr Jones, our second year (Year 8) English teacher. Followed by the rest of Zindel’s books, courtesy of Haywards Heath library.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

The ambition, the politics, the creativity and the community.

Lisa Heathfield

Can you sum up Paper Butterflies in one sentence?
It’s June’s story, about finding hope in the darkness.

Why did you write Paper Butterflies?
I was working on another book when June appeared to me and asked me to write her story instead. I tried to appease her, telling her that I’d write her first page and then would have to be left alone for a bit, but she wouldn’t go. When I told my editor about June, she said that I had to write her story, so I started that night and became completely consumed by it.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
It means SO much to me. There are so many incredible YA books being published at the moment, so to even be considered alongside them is truly amazing.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
I’ve been reading YA books since I trained to be a secondary school English teacher years and years ago. The three books that stood out for me at that time were Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, Go Ask Alice and Junk by Melvin Burgess (I promise that I’m not saying that because he’s a judge!! I’m truly completely speechless that he might now read a book of mine).

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
Writers and readers are passionate about it. It’s open, it’s honest and it increasingly reflects our diverse society.

Clare Furniss

Can you sum up How Not to Disappear in one sentence?
A secret past and an uncertain future unfold as pregnant teen Hattie and her cocktail-drinking great aunt Gloria who’s losing her memory go on a life-changing road trip together.

Why did you write How Not to Disappear?
I’ve wanted to write about dementia for a long time. My grandma had Alzheimer’s when I was growing up and even though she would forget things that had just happened she could remember things from her childhood incredibly vividly. I wanted to explore what losing your memory means in terms of your identity, and to compare the lives of teenage girls in the 1950s and the present day in a way that felt real and exciting and funny and sad. There were a lot of strong, intelligent, opinionated older women in my family when I was growing up who had a huge impact on my life and I wanted to write a story that celebrated those precious relationships that span the generations. I love reading and writing mysteries so I knew from the start that Gloria’s story would have that element to it, as Hattie tries to work out the truth of what happened to her. And I love the film "Thelma and Louise" so the road trip was a bit of a tribute to that!

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
It’s amazing! This book was a hard one to write and at times I felt I’d never even manage to finish it, let alone create a story people might want to read! YA in the UK and Ireland is so strong at the moment, it’s a huge honour to be on such a strong, diverse shortlist.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. It really showed me the scope of YA. Here was a book about the terrible effects of war but also about the complicated family life of a teenager who hates her pregnant stepmother, that was also a love story AND made me laugh out loud. It was the book that made me decide to try and write YA.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
I love the fact that UK and Irish YA authors take their readers seriously and don’t sugar-coat or simplify difficult subjects. The result is books that are powerful and thought-provoking as well as being exciting to read. This shortlist shows perfectly the uniqueness of YA in the UK and Ireland - there’s the mythology and folklore, the history, the rich cultural mix, the darkness, and the humour. It’s a very exciting time to be writing YA!

Laure Eve

Can you sum up The Graces in one sentence?
"Everyone said the Graces were witches - I was going to make them mine."

Why did you write The Graces?
Frankly, the world needs to love complicated, unlikeable female characters as much as I do. I'm doing my bit for the cause. I've also always been curious about ideas around power. What is it, what makes some people have it and others not? Finally, ever since I was taught "The Crucible" in school and read Robin Jarvis and Terry Pratchett at an impressionable age, I've been obsessed with the idea of witchcraft.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
It's shocking. At some point I feel sure someone's going to sheepishly announce that they made a mistake and they meant to shortlist a different book called The Aces or something. You just have to look at the two previous winners to realise what a fabulous prize it is, and how unbelievably flattering it is to make it onto the shortlist.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
Wait, this is tricky. How far are we allowed to go back, here? I mean, Carrie by Stephen King... The Secret History by Donna Tartt... I see these as YA books. I think the book that really introduced me to the modern label of YA was The Hunger Games. I'd heard a rumour that it was a rip off of "Battle Royale" (a beloved film of mine) so I approached it with some reservation. Then I found myself totally devouring the whole trilogy over 48 hours of a particularly rainy holiday.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
I think it has a kind of fearlessness to it. There's a sense that it wants to be upfront with its audience about the big, complicated, terrible stuff, instead of playing it safe and dumbing down. It's very admirable, and an ethos I aspire to.

Malorie Blackman

Can you sum up Chasing the Stars in one sentence?
Chasing The Stars is a story of love, jealousy, murder and betrayal set in space!
 
Why did you write Chasing the Stars?
I’d wanted to write a story inspired by Shakespeare’s “Othello” for quite some time. My main character Olivia is the captain of a ship who is desperately trying to make her way back home to Earth after a mysterious virus has wiped out her crew. She rescues some human refugees and falls in love with one of them, a guy called Nathan. But someone on board is intent on sabotaging Olivia’s new relationship.  And then the deaths start...
 
What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of such an amazing shortlist which is truly diverse in subject matter. There is something for every reading taste here. I’m just thrilled to be a part of that.  
 
Which book made you a fan of YA?
Growing up, there were no books written specifically for YA to be honest. Yes, I’m that old!  The book that made me want to write YA was Melvin Burgess’s Junk (such a fantastic book). The books that switched me on to YA books were Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty and Fifteen by Beverly Cleary among others.
 
What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
While I love reading about experiences from around the world, there’s something about the familiarity of recognisable landscapes, people and places that is also incredibly enjoyable and satisfying. YA books from the UK and Ireland keep getting bolder and better. Long may it continue.

Sara Barnard

Can you sum up Beautiful Broken Things in one sentence?
Longtime best friends Caddy and Rosie learn about friendship, love and recovery when Suzanne hurricanes into their lives.

Why did you write Beautiful Broken Things?
Because it wouldn't let me go! The characters have been with me for a long time. I wanted to explore the "after" of a traumatic experience, the way the effects can linger and what the impact can be on a young person and their relationships.

What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
A huge amount. This is *the* prize that honours and celebrates YA in all its variety and diversity. Just look at the list - there's such a range of genre, content and style, taking readers from the depths of space to inner London. There's something for everyone in YA, and this prize recognises that. I feel very honoured and proud to be on the list.

Which book made you a fan of YA?
It wasn't a single book, so I couldn't name just one. There wasn't much of what we now call YA around when I was actually a teenager, especially not from the UK, but I loved Sarra Manning and Malorie Blackman. Across the sea, I was a big fan of Jaclyn Moriarty in Australia and Sarah Dessen in the US.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?
I think it's very honest - you don't see much romanticising, which is a great thing. It's down-to-earth and often quite unflinching. You can tell you're reading a British/Irish YA book from the first page.