Sarah Crossan says she "100% didn't expect to win" the YA Book Prize 2016.
Apart from the fact that there were "some heavyweight books on the shortlist that have had a real impact on the YA community", she predicted that her winning novel One, written in verse, would be "a niche book".
"Because it’s poetry, I didn't expect it to be so embraced or have commercial appeal; that has been surprising for me."
She originally started the book in prose and had written 30,000 words before she decided it "wasn’t working" and, following advice from her agent, started again. "When I began rewriting it, it came out in verse. I thought ‘oh no’ because verse is more challenging to write and it's a longer process."
Despite her worries, she says that her publisher was supportive of the book from the start. "Rebecca McNally (publishing director at Bloomsbury Children’s) was the first person to read it and she was so nice. My publishers are very supportive of authors and an organic creative approach."
Crossan was concerned about how gatekeepers, such as booksellers and librarians, would react to a novel in verse; "I think it's a hard commercial sell, you have to convince them that teenagers will want to read poetry". That said, she has found that "it doesn't daunt them as much as adults expect".
She says: "Teenagers are reluctant about the poetry element initially but I think they're braver than adults. That's what I love about young adults - they are risk-tasking in what they read."
On the subject of taking risks, Crossan says that she was nervous writing about conjoined twins as she was keen to not "prostitute their lives or turn it into a freak show".
The inspiration for the book came from a documentary that she watched called "Joined For Life" about Abby and Brittany Hensel, conjoined twins from the United States. She explains: "I'd also just had a baby, and I always wanted a sister and especially to be a twin. So I watched that and started wondering what it would feel like to be that attached to someone."
Despite not having the chance to speak to any conjoined twins while writing the book ("there are only 12 living sets I think"), she hopes that she has been faithful to their experience and that readers feel the main characters Tippi and Grace "are their own people".
As well as winning the YA Book Prize 2016, One has been awarded the CBI Book of the Year and is currently shortlisted for this year’s CLiPPA award for children’s poetry and the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016. Regarding the Carnegie shortlisting, Crossan says: "Again, it's such a strong shortlist so it feels overwhelming to be on it."
Crossan accepts the YA Book Prize from Melvin Burgess and prize chair Charlotte Eyre at the Hay Festival on Thursday 2nd June.
Though she has earned critical acclaim for her work before – her previous novels for The Weight of Water and Apple and Rain (both published by Bloomsbury Children's) were also shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal – Crossan feels that the feedback for One has been more positive than with her other books, especially from bloggers and on social media. She explains: "I think it's because it's made people cry – people praised my other books but this has provoked an emotive response."
Coming up, Crossan will publish a book that she has co-written with Brian Conaghan called We Come Apart (Bloomsbury Children's, February 2017), which is also in verse. Then she will release a novel in prose, which she is editing now. She "won’t say too much about it", apart from the fact that it’s set in the US.
Sharing her thoughts about the current YA literature scene in the UK and Ireland, Crossan says she is "really excited that Irish authors have won the YA Book Prize twice" (the inaugural winner was Louise O’Neill for Only Ever Yours, published by Quercus). "There are lots of strong voices coming out of Ireland at the moment and there's a real YA community growing and taking on its own identity."
She adds: "I love the diversity of literature in YA at the moment – both in terms of characters and form – though, of course, it could still be more diverse. I think that kids can now find themselves in books, which I couldn't when I was young."