Find Out Friday: YA with Victoria Lamb

Photo by Anna Rybacka
Photo by Anna Rybacka

We are delighted to welcome RoNA award winning Victoria Lamb to our Find Out Friday feature. Victoria kindly explains YA. Take it away, Victoria.

Q. What is YA?

A. YA is writing aimed at Young Adults, which bizarrely enough is a label that extends from age 12 through to whenever. It’s also known as teen fiction. But many consider the chief consumers of YA to be people in their 20s and 30s, and certainly these books are generally bought and paid for by adults.

Q. What kind of YA do you write?

A. Currently I’m writing the “Tudor Witch” series published by Corgi in the UK and Harlequin Teen in the States. My series is YA paranormal romance. Book One, WITCHSTRUCK, won the RoNA award for YA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013.

Set in Bloody Mary’s reign, WITCHSTRUCK introduces Meg Lytton, a country witch who is also maid to the Lady Elizabeth, the disgraced Queen’s sister imprisoned in the ruins of Woodstock Palace. When Alejandro, a young Spanish priest-in-training, arrives at Woodstock, Meg knows she is in mortal danger from him – and from the terrifying witchfinder who insists he wants to marry her!

The second book WITCHFALL continues the story. Meg conjures up a spirit whose dark powers she is unable to control – soon all of England is at risk, and even the Queen’s conjuror John Dee cannot help. Can Meg find the spell to lay this spirit to rest before it destroys her world?

WITCHFALL came out in paperback yesterday (July 4th  2013).

Out now
Out now

Q. Is there a different way to write for teens than for adults?

A. When I started writing WITCHSTRUCK, I had no prior experience of writing for teens. So I just concentrated on telling a story I wanted to read myself – as an adult – rather than gearing it towards a particular age group. My plotting and language were not modified particularly, though I kept the story fairly linear and straightforward. (However, that’s my narrative preference as a writer for adults too.) Since my decisions about sexual activity were based on what was likely in the Tudor era between teenagers, nothing much happens beyond a stolen kiss here and there. Yet I’ve been told the book drips with sexual tension. So it’s all in the writing.

Obviously sex is the trickiest part of writing a YA romance or similar. Your youngest readers may be very innocent, and that should be borne in mind when describing romantic and sexual activity. But at the same time, the bulk of your readers will have some experience and understanding of being in love, so don’t feel you should hold back if sex is absolutely essential to the story. Kids tend to skip what they don’t understand, in my experience as a mother of five voracious readers. And more explicit stories can be educational or reassuring for older teens. But be sensitive, be circumspect, and remember that parents and librarians are your primary gatekeepers. If you write graphic sex in your YA novel, even if it gets past an editor it will almost certainly not get past that conservative guard. And you need parents and librarians onside.

If your story is sex-centric, and heavily romantic in feel, you might want to consider the new genre of New Adult. This is for late teens/twenty-something readers, and is becoming popular, especially in the States. It nearly always contains graphic sexual content. This is not erotica, however, so beware of over-sexing your characters. Romance is still the touchstone here.

Q. Any writing tips for YA hopefuls?

A. Clearly you need to read widely in your chosen area, assuming it exists. I found that hard, as my story is multi-genre and quite unusual in that respect. But make sure you read the newest books in particular, as this will give you an idea what editors are looking for. And resist bandwagon-jumping. By the time you’ve jumped, that wagon will probably have left town.

Write what excites and inspires you, and try not to ‘gear it’ towards teens by simplifying dialogue or characters. They will notice and be offended. The usual writing rules apply, but perhaps more so. Start quickly with a strong hook, don’t make them wait pages before something interesting happens, and end chapters on cliffhangers wherever possible – even if it’s just an intriguing line of dialogue. Avoid filler, avoid info-dumps, avoid pages of empty dialogue that does not move the action on, avoid slang and technology wherever possible (or in a few years, your book will sound old-fashioned), and my own preference is to avoid swear words. These also date a book, offend YA gatekeepers, and are in general the recourse of lazy, unimaginative writers. ‘He swore under his breath’ is a perfect get-out if you need a strong reaction. I’m not saying never. Just use your writer sense.

Narrative-wise, assume intelligence and wide reading, assume sophistication and fair general knowledge. Kids these days grow up watching complex films and analysing narrative structure in primary school; you don’t have to dumb down stories for them. But again, be sensitive and think about what you might like to see your kids (imagine them if you don’t have any) reading as teens. What excites you as an adult may not always appeal to a teen. But romance, adventure, intrigue … these are perennial favourites across all genres, so you can’t go far wrong with them in YA.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

A. I’m currently finishing book three in the “Tudor Witch” series. But I’m also working on a joint writing project with my husband Steve Haynes, who works at Salt Publishing and is editor of the Best British Fantasy Anthology series. We’re writing the first book in an epic fantasy series together. It’s very exciting! And so far, hardly any disagreements … ahem.

Thank you for inviting me to the Romaniacs blog!

It’s our pleasure, and thank you so much for explaining YA. Please visit again – we’d love to find out about your joint project with your husband. xx

5 thoughts on “Find Out Friday: YA with Victoria Lamb

  1. Really interesting interview. Great tips for writing YA and NA. I now know what the difference is between the two. Best of luck with your new novel, it sounds great.


  2. I should add re technology, I mean writers should try not to be too specific about ‘makes’ or ‘brands’ as these change so rapidly. But obviously contemporary stories would be odd without refs to mobiles or tablets or emails etc. 🙂

  3. A great post and very informative Victoria. Good luck with your new book and hope to see you soon.

  4. Really helpful and utterly relevant advice. Am very interested in the Romance balance in YA as well. Have just read two John Green novels which are brilliant, as am tracking male POV, but will have to read yours now! x

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