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

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Find Out Friday with Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax photo
Helena Fairfax: Stumbling along the road to publication.

Hello, lovely Romaniacs, and thanks so much for having me on your blog. First things first, I’ve brought my trusty Tupperware container with me, and inside is a cake just crying to get out. Mmm…the heady aroma of a fresh chocolate and orange sponge…
Oh, you mean you’d like me to talk as well? I thought I’d just come to eat and drink tea. No? Oh, in that case I’d love to talk to you, let me just wipe this chocolate from my mouth…
Yes, I’m even happy to put down cake in order to tell you all about my first novel, The Silk Romance, which will be published next week – on the 24th May, to be exact, and I’m counting down the days!

As a former member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, The Romaniacs have asked me along to talk about my road to publication.

I remember once years ago coming home from yet another terrible day at the office, and moaning for the millionth time: grr, I hate my job! My long-suffering husband asked a simple question: what would you actually like to be doing with your life? My answer: writing romance novels. Next question: well, what do you need to do to get there?
I knew what I needed to do. ‘All’ I needed to do was to write a novel and get it published. Oh, the simplicity of those words! The path to making my wish come true has been long and tortuous, but never dull. And the final result is thrilling beyond everything!

It’s hard to say where the path first started, as I’ve been scribbling away for what seems to be forever. Maybe the first time I seriously thought I could make a go of it was when I sent off a first chapter to a writing competition. Sadly I didn’t win, but I received a very encouraging letter from the organisers. The editor who wrote to me talked about my characters as though they were real people.
Entering that competition finally gave me some confidence in myself – something I was sadly lacking – and having confidence in your ability to write is an essential first step.

RNA Logo

My next step: joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. There was a story in my head, but I had a lot to learn about how to get it down on paper in a way that readers would really enjoy.
I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice. The first year, I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of the novel. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was on the right lines, and my reservations were right. I received a four page, highly detailed letter explaining exactly why the story still wasn’t quite right, and some suggestions on what to do to polish it up.
(If you’re interested in the nitty gritty of my reader’s observations on my particular book, I’ve written a post on my blog outlining exactly what her advice was.)
I took my reader’s brilliant and extensive comments to heart, and rejoined the NWS for another year. I was really excited about finishing my novel, and took both great pains and great pleasure in manipulating the characters and the emotional conflict, to make sure all my reader’s advice was followed.
By the end of the year, I finally had a finished novel. I sent it off to the RNA again, waited with bitten fingernails for a response – and finally, hooray! My reader loved it! Just a couple of tweaks required, and not even any need for a second reading. Hooray again! This should be the part where I jacked in my job and made millions. Oh, if only life were so simple…

I sent off my novel to a publisher and waited. And waited. And waited. And began writing another.
Then I finally heard from the publisher…and it wasn’t good news. They enjoyed my story, but it wasn’t right for their line. So… back to the drawing-board, and back to continuing with novel two. I had confidence in myself now, I had some encouraging words from editors and professional writers, and I had the determination to succeed. What could go possibly go wrong?

One thing I have learnt from my experience in life, above all else, is that we have these neat little plans and we follow them, thinking we are going somewhere, but fate almost always has other ideas. I suffered a terrible tragedy that stopped me writing for a very, very long time. I put away my novel, moved out of the house I’d lived in for twenty five years, bought a smaller place in need of renovation, and spent an entire year doing it up. Painting and digging the garden were the sort of occupations I could engage in that didn’t require any concentration. My mind was shot. By the time I felt able to open my lap-top again, the world of publishing had changed in a dramatic way. Writers such as Amanda Hocking and E.L. James were making massive success stories for themselves with e-books.
I revisited the first novel I’d written and thought, hey – a professional romance author at the RNA really liked this story. Just because it wasn’t accepted at one publisher doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try another. And what about e-books? E-book romances have taken off in an incredible way. So, I started looking around on the internet for other publishers who might be interested. After a lot of research, one publisher seemed to draw me more than all the others. Since starting in 2010, MuseItUp Publishing has made a name for itself as a growing e-publisher, with a supportive and friendly ethos. I submitted The Silk Romance to them. After all, I had nothing to lose…
…and everything to gain. They absolutely loved it, and offered me a contract. Since then, they’ve also offered me a contract on my second novel, The Antique Love. I’m now writing my third.

I wish I could give proper professional advice on how to get published, but I feel I’ve just been stumbling along the road trying my best. One thing I do know is, joining the NWS was invaluable. It gave me confidence in myself and determination to continue writing. I also ended up with a story I really loved. I had great faith in my characters to leap off the page and to be engaging.

Helena Fairfax The Silk Romance 333x500
Here’s the blurb to The Silk Romance:
Jean-Luc Olivier is a devastatingly handsome racing-driver with the world before him. Sophie Challoner is a penniless student, whose face is unknown beyond her own rundown estate in London. The night they spend together in Paris seems to Sophie like a fairytale—a Cinderella story without the happy ending. She knows she has no part in Jean-Luc’s future. She made her dying mother a promise to take care of her father and brother in London. One night of happiness is all Sophie allows herself. She runs away from Jean-Luc and returns to England to keep her promise.
Safely back home with her father and brother, and immersed in her college work, Sophie tries her best to forget their encounter, but she reckons without Jean-Luc. He is determined to find out why she left him, and intrigued to discover the real Sophie. He engineers a student placement Sophie can’t refuse, and so, unwillingly, she finds herself back in France, working for Jean-Luc in the silk mill he now owns.
Thrown together for a few short weeks in Lyon, the romantic city of silk, their mutual love begins to grow. But it seems the fates are conspiring against Sophie’s happiness. Jean-Luc has secrets of his own. Then, when disaster strikes at home in London, Sophie is faced with a choice—stay in this glamorous world with the man she loves, or return to her family to keep the sacred promise she made her mother.
The Silk Romance is available on pre-order here in the Muse bookstore, and from 24th May will also be available from Amazon and all major e-tailers.
If you’ve enjoyed my post, please call in on my blog: www.helenafairfax.com, or on my Facebook page. You can also email me at Helena(dot)Fairfax(at)gmail(dot)com. I love meeting people 
If you’d like to know a little more about me, here’s my author bio:
Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now and that’s just as well, because nowadays she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, right next door to windswept Brontë country. She has an affectionate, if half-crazed, rescue dog and together they tramp the moors every day—one of them wishing she were Emily Brontë, the other vainly chasing pheasants. When she’s not out on the moors you’ll find Helena either creating romantic heroes and heroines of her own or else with her nose firmly buried in a book, enjoying someone else’s stories. Her patient husband and her brilliant children support her in her daydreams and are the loves of her life.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Romaniacs! I love reading your posts, and really look forward to your weekly chat, especially the cake. Although I see there isn’t a great deal left of the one I brought! Hmm…how did that happen?

Many thanks, Helena, and it was our pleasure hosting you. Congratulations on your publishing contract and best wishes for the future.
I have no idea what happened to that delicious cake…