Meet the 2019 #YA10 authors

Laura Wood

Can you sum up A Sky Painted Gold in one sentence?

A dreamy, romantic coming-of-age story set in the golden summer of 1929 featuring moonlit parties, a pair of dazzling siblings and plenty of whispered secrets.

What inspired A Sky Painted Gold?

Oh, lots of things! I suppose the book began when I first visited St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. There's a beautiful little island that's attached to the mainland by an ancient causeway, and when the tide is out you can walk across, but when the tide comes in the path is submerged and the island becomes something separate and remote. It's like there's magic in the air and as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to write about it.

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

It means a huge amount. To be on the shortlist with so many writers I desperately admire is amazing. I put my whole heart into this book and you never know how something is going to be received. I never in a million years imagined being shortlisted for a prize like this.

What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

I love coming-of-age stories, and that's exactly what being a young adult is. There's something very tender about writing YA fiction, and it feels like such a gorgeous, delicate place to write from—for me YA is about moments of change, emotional highs and lows, and real self-discovery. I just think it's the greatest.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

How incredible the community is, and how welcoming. How many interesting, kind, funny people are writing interesting, kind, funny books. How playful it can be and how genre defying. It feels like such a new and exciting place to be working.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

Unfortunately, it is 'sit down and write something'. It's the advice I need to hear most often! You can have the most perfect book that ever existed in your head, but until you make time and space to actually sit down and write the words it's impossible to move forward. You have to do a terrible first draft before you can make something readable.

What song best sums up A Sky Painted Gold?

The Call Me Maybe cover version by Postmodern Jukebox ft. Von Smith (the perfect mix of old and new, and a pretty accurate reading of Lou's relationship with the Cardews!)

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed A Sky Painted Gold?

Books - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
Film - Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby

Juno Dawson

Can you sum up Clean in one sentence?

A London socialite learns to love herself in a rehab clinic.

What inspired Clean?

There were various tabloid stories a few years ago about very wealthy women who’d suffered addiction problems and I started to wonder how wealth and mental illness interact. The character of Lexi had been hanging around in my head for a couple of years before I knew what to do with her. She’s pushy af though and wouldn’t leave me alone.

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

I love the YA Book Prize – the shortlists are always so diverse and interesting. There’s no snobbery about genre either which is great. It’s wonderful that this prize highlights YA fiction by British authors as the emphasis is often on our US counterparts.

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

‘Young Adult’ is such a fluid term. I don’t know what it means. I just write the book I want to write. I figure someone will stop me if I go too far.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

Our books have teeth.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

I think pace is key. Don’t try to be ‘down with the kids’ or to preach a message.

What song best sums up Clean?

Am I allowed a very explicit one? The Hills by The Weeknd captures Lexi perfectly. If not, Nobody Asked Me (If I Was OK) by Sky Ferreira.

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed your book?

Cruel Intentions, what else?! For a book, do read Junk by Melvin Burgess if you haven’t already. Which you should have.

Fiona Shaw

Can you sum up Outwalkers in one sentence?

A future England, and Jake and his dog Jet are trying to reach Scotland, and Europe - but nobody leaves England now, and there's a border, and guards with guns, and the government has eyes everywhere.

What inspired Outwalkers?

I had a dream, before the Scottish Independence referendum, about a boy and a dog trying to escape from England to Scotland. They were hiding out inside a motorway bridge. I woke up and thought: what if Scotland votes for independence, and what if one day there is a hard border – a Wall, even – between England and Scotland? What then?

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

I’m over the moon. And honoured. Outwalkers is in amazing company.

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

I remember so well the books that were most important to me as a teenager. It’s exciting to think that this shortlist could be some of those important books for tomorrow’s adults. It’s quite a responsibility.

Writing for young adults keeps me on my toes as a storyteller. Because YA readers will call you out immediately on things they don’t understand, or don’t like – and sometimes that’s challenging. Always, it’s exhilarating.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

Writing on an island is fun, when you remember that you are on one. It’s exciting, too, to see the amazing range of YA books being published on these islands right now. An explosion of stories.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

Read! Read anything and everything. 

And if you love a book, then stop reading and ask yourself: what did that writer do, to make me love it? And hunt back through the book to try to work it out.

What song best sums up Outwalkers?

Laura Mvula – Overcome (“When your heart is broken down, down, down / And your head don’t reach the sky / Take your broken wings and fly…”)

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again (“Home again, home again / One day I know I’ll feel home again…)

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed Outwalkers?

Any book from this shortlist. Also, for another vision of a slightly future, too believable UK: Tracey Matthias’s Night of the Party.

Film: Children of Men and The Incredible Journey (for Jet).

Tom Pollock

Can you sum up White Rabbit, Red Wolf in one sentence?

It's a thriller about a brilliant teenaged mathematician with severe panic disorder thrust into a conspiracy of family secrets, spies and twisted friendships.

What inspired White Rabbit, Red Wolf?

Lots of things! But three particularly: my own experiences with mental illness (I've lived with anxiety, depression and bulimia for a couple of decades), a love of spy stories, and a baffled fascination with the beauty of mathematics. And also the story of Kurt Godel  - the Austrian logician who was so brilliant that he proved that maths was full of holes in the 1930s, but ultimately so stricken with anxiety that he starved himself to death for fear of being poisoned.

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

A huge amount! UKYA authors like Holly Bourne, Mal Peet, and Frances Hardinge are gigantic influences on me, and to have White Rabbit, Red Wolf, which is a very personal book, rated amongst the phenomenal books UKYA authors are putting out at the moment is such a huge compliment from people I really respect.

What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

YA readers are the smartest and most passionate and engaged people I've ever run into. I love chatting to them online and IRL at events. Even more than that, I love the stories. I love stories whose bones are discovery, I constantly feel like I'm fighting to work out who on earth I am and where I fit in the world, and so I write a lot about characters who do the same. 

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

There's some brilliant YA coming out of other parts of the world too, obviously. But the people writing the stories that I'm most fanatical about like A Face Like Glass, and The Sin Eater's Daughter, and After the Fire are by UKYA authors. And well, I'm biased here, but I always feel like any story needs a balance of new and exciting stuff and a kind of resonance that comes from the familiar. So I love reading stories set where I live, where the characters talk like people around me. 

What is your best writing tip for young adults?
Experiment, have fun with it. Try a bunch of stuff in both reading and writing. Don't worry about talent. Talent's a real thing, but it comes a distant second to caring enough about the specific story you're writing, and enjoying something enough to spend the time to get good at it. 

What song best sums up White Rabbit, Red Wolf?

Run Boy Run by Woodkid. Both because of the title, and because it's got a driving thumping rhythm, and because it's got strings and brass and heavy bass and rapping and singing, so it's really varied and so is White Rabbit, Red Wolf.

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed White Rabbit, Red Wolf?

The book often gets pitched as The Curious Incident of The Dog In the Night Time meets The Bourne Identity and they're both good comparators, but in terms of slightly less famous stuff you might not have seen/read, I'd say definitely watch Killing Eve and Sex Education, and read Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.

Louise O'Neill

Can you sum up The Surface Breaks in one sentence?

A feminist re-telling of The Little Mermaid. (That was easy!)

What inspired The Surface Breaks?

I was approached by Lauren Fortune, an amazing editor at Scholastic, who wanted to know if I was interested in re-imagining The Little Mermaid. I was in the middle of writing my first novel for adults at the time and should have said no, and I would have said no if it had been any other fairy-tale. But I had been so obsessed with this story as a child, and it was only as a teenager that I began to realise how problematic it was – a young woman who mutilates her body, sacrifices her home and her family, and literally gives up her voice, all for the sake of a man she barely knows. I was incredibly excited at the opportunity to reclaim the little mermaid, to give her agency, and to help her recover her voice.

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

It’s always lovely to be nominated for any award, but it’s especially gratifying to be on the YA Book Prize shortlist. Every year, I’m impressed by the calibre of the talent that’s on the shortlist and this year is no different. I feel very proud and lucky to be included.

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

I really enjoy writing fiction for adults but there’s something immensely gratifying about the way in which young adults interact with your work. Their enthusiasm is unparalleled. It’s good to be reminded that words on a page can be a cause of excitement! As I’m dealing with issues that directly impact young women, it’s very humbling to hear how the books have resonated with teenage girls.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

The community here is very strong and people genuinely support each other. I’ve made some great friends within the YA community. As for the fiction itself, I think there’s a great deal of humour, but authors from Ireland and the UK aren’t afraid to deal with darkness either.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

I think it’s the same tip I would give for writers in any genre or age category. Be as honest as you can. Readers crave that kind of truth-telling.

What song best sums up The Surface Breaks?

I don’t know if it best sums up my book but my favourite song from the Disney movie is one of Ursula’s (of course!). I could listen to Poor Unfortunate Souls on repeat and never tire of it.

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed The Surface Breaks?

I think everyone should read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber because it’s dark and feminist and twisted and beautifully written.

And it’s not a re-telling, as such, but Return to Oz properly traumatised me as a child and I want everyone else to share my pain.

Alice Oseman

Can you sum up I Was Born for This in one sentence?

I Was Born for This follows one week in the lives of famous musician Jimmy and ultimate fangirl Angel in a story about fame, fandom, antique knives, London, secret crushes, obsession, glasses of milk, wings, fanfiction, flooded woodlands, and being so famous you get mobbed in the street.

What inspired I Was Born for This?

I’ve always been fascinated by the love – and sometimes obsession – people feel for celebrities, particularly in fandom spaces. I’ve also always felt that fans, especially teenage girls, get a bad rep across most media. Fangirls are often painted as deranged and childish and the fangirl stereotype is ‘hysterical girl who wants to marry a famous guy’. But I think the relationship between celebrities and fandom is far deeper and more complex than that. In I Was Born for This, I wanted to explore that relationship from both sides. Why are people obsessed with celebrities? What does this obsession feel like for the celebrities themselves? And is fandom wholly good, bad, or somewhere in between?

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

It’s an honour beyond words. The UKYA community is my literary home and has been my support system since I first got involved in the community in 2013. I feel so grateful and excited to be on a list among so many authors I admire.

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

The freedom. I firmly believe that YA is the most exciting, diverse, and revolutionary area of fiction right now. YA is doing things no other age groups of fiction are doing. I feel I can be at my most creative here and write about the things I care about for people who are always willing to squeal about books and characters with me.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

There’s something incredibly special about seeing your own experiences represented in a book. While YA is dominated by books and authors from the US, it’s so important to cultivate our incredible crop of British and Irish authors so that young British and Irish people can continue to see themselves in books. One of the reasons I wrote my first novel Solitaire was because I couldn’t find any books that I felt represented my experience at a British grammar school, with the uniforms, Sixth Form, form groups, and assemblies. To get teens into reading, there need to be books out there that represent them, and I feel very proud to be doing that as a UKYA author.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

Write the book you want to read and don’t worry about publication. It wasn’t long ago that I was a teenager and I know that teens are heavily pressured into thinking about nothing but the ‘long game’ – their grades, university, a career, and money. It can be easy for young writers to get caught up in stress about making their writing financially viable and/or getting published as soon as possible. As soon as you start putting that sort of pressure on yourself, writing probably won’t be very fun anymore. So don’t worry about any of that. Just focus on coming up with a story you adore and have the most fun writing it!

What song best sums up I Was Born for This?

Starz In Their Eyes – Just Jack

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed I Was Born for This?

For a complex, empathetic look at fandom culture, read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. For a melancholic, quiet exploration of the psyche of a famous person, watch Lost in Translation.

Muhammad Khan

Can you sum up I Am Thunder in one sentence?

Muzna’s heart roars with thunder as she battles Islamophobia and radicalisation only to discover that the fate of a nation may rest in her hands.

What inspired I Am Thunder?

My students kept asking me why people like us never get to be the hero in books. They watched the news, they could see what was going on with the rise of the far right and Islamist extremism, and they had a lot of questions and frustrations. My heart broke when some of them told me they were abused on the way to school just for being recognisably Muslim. I wanted to do something to help so I began to write.

In terms of the actual plot, I guess it was inspired in part by the journey of Dr Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) who fell in with the wrong crowd before finding his way and also by the news reports of three girls from Bethnal Green who sadly fell prey to ISIS.

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

Honestly I am SO grateful. Being on the YA Book Prize shortlist brings validation to a story about a Muslim girl who is funny and witty and flawed but ultimately becomes a hero. My students are beyond excited! For them to see something like this encourages them to write their own stories and believe that people from underprivileged/minority backgrounds can succeed. It’s really heartwarming – thank you!

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

As a fulltime teacher, I love working with teenagers just because they are so open-minded and full of dreams. Another reason I love working with teenagers is that they have no filter and are very honest with their opinions which really helped me in writing the story and finding a unique voice for Muzna. Writing for them is AMAZING because I get to show them people very much like themselves but in situations perhaps outside of their own experiences. It builds empathy and supports wellbeing. Hopefully the next generation will be a lot kinder to each other – that’s what really excites me.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

Both the UK and Ireland are rich with distinct yet diverse cultures. Our YA speaks to that and I think it’s grittier than many imports. We don’t shy away from the tougher issues or dumb them down for young people. I’m proud that we have such a wealth of writing talent over here. Just looking at all the other authors on your shortlist has me fanboying!

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

Write because there’s a fire inside which cannot be put out, because you have something unique to say which keeps you awake at night. Don’t worry if it’ll be well-received or not. If it’s important to you, it’ll be important to others. Remember that nobody on earth can write your book better than you.

What song best sums up I Am Thunder?

That’s easy! Titanium (David Guetta featuring Sia). Muzna has to deal with a tremendous amount of pressure but instead of dropping at the first, second or even third hurdle, she forges armour of titanium and her hijab becomes like her superhero cape.

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed I Am Thunder?

I actually wrote I Am Thunder because there was nothing like it. No narrative featuring a Muslim girl dealing with Islamophobia and radicalisation, a mysterious and thrilling romance, and becoming a kick-ass hero. For a maths teacher to even have the audacity to write a book there had to be the complete absence of that kind of rep. After speaking with my students and hearing their thoughts, I shaped the narrative of I Am Thunder. Radicalisation is something relevant to teens so why no one else was asking them for opinions really bothered me.

Some readers have likened I Am Thunder to The Hate U Give. I guess both feature a female protagonist who navigates the prejudices of society, thinks the way her community is treated by the system is wrong, and eventually stands up for what is right. Since The Hate U Give is both a book and a movie, I’ll go with that!

Laura Dockrill

Can you sum up Big Bones in one sentence?

A love letter to food.

What inspired Big Bones?

I found some of my old diaries in my mum’s attic and I was so gutted that they were all moaning about my poor unhealthy relationship with my body. And it’s clichéd and sad that that is what we expect to find inside a teenage girl’s diary. I thought, 'wow, there were so many years that I hated my body and I pretended to hate food too!' Imagine what I could have done if I’d had a kinder perception of myself; how refreshing it would be to read of a teenager who was actually happy with their body.

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

This is particularly special for me. I am so happy to be shortlisted. Not to be X-Factor-sob-story about the whole thing but my book was set to be realised this time last year. I honestly felt like I had the world at my feet – I had safely clambered over the 30-year milestone and this book had held my hand through that; I was about to give birth to my son; I was with my dream guy; I felt set up and ready for life. It felt like such perfect timing to be releasing a book about body confidence when I was physically and mentally changing so much. Transforming in my own way, by becoming a mum for the first time. But unfortunately, on top of the book’s release (which was also International Women’s Day, my sister’s birthday, the day beforehand my partner’s birthday AND, ironically, just before Mother’s Day!) following a traumatic birth and a scare of nearly losing our baby, I was hospitalised with a rare illness called postpartum psychosis. The illness hit my family and me against the rocks and it sabotaged not only Big Bones’ whole publicity campaign and launch – and all the work we had put into it – but made me resent the novel entirely as I felt like it was written by a person I no longer knew. Having this nomination makes me feel like we’ve been given a second chance. And it’s come just at the right time, a year on, when my baby is one and everything is great. It’s made me fall in love with the book again. Thank you! It’s a really nice thing for myself and my team to have.

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

I love it because it’s like a 15-rated movie! You can hint at stuff, leave a door ajar and leave the rest to the imagination. You’re writing for an audience who are at a big time of change and that can be overwhelming and exciting but scary too – so your readers are really looking for a secret friendship within a book.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

It pushes boundaries. It’s raw and explicit but without being pushy. I find it poetic and playful and I love the break of form. A lot of the reads can be quite cinematic, playing with structures and set ups. It’s a great time for this genre.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

Don’t patronise! Teenagers can sniff you out a mile off! Do not try to ‘sound’ like a teen and be ‘down’ with the kids. Try not to mention anything too current like Twitter/Facebook or pop stars/culture that are current at the time of writing. Something that might be on trend the year you’re writing could suddenly be the least cool thing in the world the year your book hits the shelves, and you’ll look dated and out of touch and be off-putting to your readers. Something you might think is ‘cool’, your reader may not. And lastly . . . don’t write about vampires just because vampire books are popular. Vampire books probably won’t be popular by the time your book comes around. So be inventive and write what YOU want to rather than copying a trend.

What song best sums up Big Bones?

Sigrid – Don’t Kill My Vibe

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed Big Bones?

Films – Juno, Muriel’s Wedding, Dumplin’, the TV show Girls

Book – Toast by Nigel Slater

Katherine Webber

Can you sum up Only Love Can Break Your Heart in one sentence?

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is about a popular girl with secrets and cracks in her heart, the boy who thinks she’s perfect, and what happens when they think the other one can give them something they can’t.

What inspired Only Love Can Break Your Heart?

This book, like all books, was inspired by a variety of things. Back in 2015 when I first signed with my literary agent, Claire Wilson, I was telling her the now hilarious story of my first epic high school heart break. And she said it sounded like there was a YA somewhere in there. Only Love is in no way autobiographical, but it was easy for me to tap into the intense emotions I felt when I was experiencing heartbreak as a teenager. I vividly remember feeling conflict between who I was perceived to be, who I actually was, and who I wanted to be, and I wanted to capture that.

Additionally, I’m extremely close to my siblings, and I find myself returning to the theme of sibling love and loyalty in my work. I’m lucky in that I haven’t experienced the kind of grief that Reiko, my main character, experiences, but I wanted to explore the more lasting effects of grief and what happens if it takes someone longer to move forward and feels like they have to hide that from the world, pretend to be okay when they really aren’t. I also was interested in writing about a character who is a little bit spiky, a little bit difficult, and peeling back the layers around why she might be like that.

And I knew I wanted to write a book set in the Palm Springs desert. In a lot of ways, this book is my love letter to the desert.

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

I’m thrilled! Especially because I’d actually already read all of the other books on the shortlist so I know what excellent company I’m in. It is genuinely a real honour. I also think it is so fantastic that there is a prize celebrating and championing UK and Irish YA. And as an American living and writing in the UK, I feel very lucky to be so warmly welcomed and included in the wonderful UKYA community.

What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?

I love reading YA, so it makes sense that I also love writing it. And there are so many reasons why it is such a great field to be writing in. When you are a teenager, you are often experiencing so many things for the first time. First love, first heartbreak, first found family, first time you realise people can really let you down, first time you start seriously thinking about who you want to be. I’m fascinated by the intersection of how you present yourself, how people see you, and how you are, and I think this is never more strongly felt than during your teen years. It all makes for great themes and topics to explore in my writing. And, more than all of that, I think teenagers are awesome, especially teen girls, and I love writing for and about them. I also love getting to meet teen readers at events.

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

I love UK and Irish YA. My first encounter with UKYA was Louise Rennison (I didn’t know what ‘snog’ meant till I read her books as a teen!) and what really came through then, and I think still comes through in contemporary UKYA, was the humour and the heart and the slight irreverence. And I think fantasy UKYA feels very unique and special. As an American author who has been let into the UKYA club, I know I have to up my writing game to keep up with the competition over here! There is also less published on this side of the pond, so I think that raises the overall quality of the work.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

I know every author says this as writing advice but read! Read lots of YA but read adult books too, and read books in different genres and by a diverse range of authors. Try and think about what resonates with you and why.

And try and remember how you felt as a teenager, what experiences shapes you, what emotions you remember feeling most vividly.

What song best sums up your book?

I listened to Castle by Halsey on repeat while writing this, and while on the surface it might not seem like a good for a contemporary YA (Castle might be a better fit for a fantasy) the fierce feminist themes in the song capture a lot of what I wanted to explore in the book.

Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed your book?

Clueless (Reiko would totally be friends with Cher), To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, and Fierce Fragile Hearts by my fellow YA Book Prize-shortlisted author Sara Barnard.

Sara Barnard

Can you sum up Goodbye, Perfect in one sentence?

Wild child Eden struggles to deal with the fallout when her steady, reliable best friend runs away with their teacher, causing Eden to question everything she thought she knew about her friend, the world and herself.

What inspired Goodbye, Perfect?

I was interested in all the stories that don't get told when there's a big scandal on a national stage — all the friends, family and wider community that aren't given a voice. So though this story features a student running away with a teacher, that's not what the story is actually about — it's about how it affects those closest to her and the people left  behind.

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

I'm thrilled to be on the shortlist, especially as the other books are so fantastic, and it's a celebration of all that's great about UK and Irish YA.

What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

They are such passionate readers at that time of their lives. If you find a book you love as a teenager, it's with you for life. So there's a responsibility to it, but a huge privilege, too.  

What is special about YA from the UK and Ireland?

That it is from the UK and Ireland. So much YA is from the US, and that's often the YA that gets talked about, but there's such brilliant homegrown YA that's reflecting the day to day life that UK/Irish teens recognise. I think we're producing YA that is very real while also being down to earth; it's not glossy, and I think readers appreciate that.

What is your best writing tip for young adults?

To read as much and as widely as they can, and to enjoy it.

What song best sums up Goodbye, Perfect?

Stronger Than That, Bahamas



Which book and film would you recommend reading/watching if someone enjoyed your book?

Anything else on the shortlist, and a British film about teenagers. There aren't many, unfortunately. We need more!