Mel Salisbury, author of The Sin Eater's Daughter (Scholastic) on her book and YA fiction.
What is The Sin Eater's Daughter about?
It's a retelling of the classic girl-in-a-tower story, but with added poison, incest, and a dose of feminism. Set in the kingdom of Lormere, Twylla's life has been entirely planned for her, and she's never questioned it. She's raised up from poverty, given a prince to marry, given powers that make her a living goddess. She's worshipped and feared. And so very, very alone. So when an outsider joins the palace staff, she's inevitably drawn to him, to his stories about how different life is beyond the castle walls. He makes her start to question her life, and to dream of change, and choices. But choices have consequences, and that's a lesson she might not learn until it's far too late.
What does it mean to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist?
It's an absolutely impossible honour! I'm sure all of the other shortlisted authors are saying the same thing, but for me it's definitely true! My debut novel is featured alongside the novels of some of my writing heroes, people who've written some of the most important books this generation, people who are at the top of their craft. And then there's me... I'm still waiting to be told it was a mistake, if I'm honest!
Why do you think your book should win?
Because I'm trying to change the landscape of what it means to be a 'strong' woman through my books! I get a lot of emails and anonymous messages from readers who've thanked me for writing Twylla, because they see themselves in her. They know how it feels to be trapped in a situation it seems impossible to get out of, to be at the mercy of an abuser, or caught in a lifestyle that is at odds with who they feel they are becoming. These are young people who feel hopeless, and despairing, and also lack the resources to just "fix" the situation. The greatest reward I've had from The Sin Eater's Daughter are the messages from people thanking me for giving them hope that things will change - that they can change them. That they don't need any special skills, or magical powers, or the ability to fight to do so. That they have it in themselves to do it. I won't pretend I wrote the book with that in mind, far from it, but learning that it's helping people feel less alone is the best thing I've ever done with my life.
What is special about YA in the UK and Ireland?
The most exciting, diverse and exploratory books are coming out of the UK and Ireland right now. Every single person featured on the YA Book Prize list, and a great many more besides, are pushing the boundaries of what it means to write YA. We've turned our backs on the old, formulaic stuff and we're writing the real stuff we see and feel - that the teens and young people around us are telling us they see and feel. It feels like we're not adults writing what we think teens should read, but people writing what teens want to read about. We're changing the game; I'm writing fantasy that doesn't have girls wielding swords, but choosing how and when to save themselves. Holly Bourne is writing teen life that reflects what actual teens are experiencing. Louise O'Neill is writing books that are like a punch to the soul, but tell the truth about the world we live in. It feels to me as though the UK and Ireland YA writing collective is really becoming a force for good in representing and reflecting real life. And I hope the rest of the world follows our lead very soon. I couldn't be prouder to be part of this community.
What kind of YA books do you like to read?
All of them! Here in the UK I'm spoiled rotten by the variety of books available to me. If I want magical realism I have Moira Fowley-Doyle, if I want hilarity I have Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen. I've already mentioned Holly Bourne's books - honest, funny, heartbreaking depictions of teen life. Sara Barnard writes excellent female friendship, Patrick Ness writes complex, diverse heroes in unique situations. We've got horror, fantasy, contemporary, thrillers, crime - I can't just pick one!