A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
There’s a classic TV series called ‘The Prisoner’. People in it are known by numbers, and the lead character famously says ‘I am not a number, I am a free man.’ These days, books are all allocated numbers in the form of age ranges. 0-2, 3-4, 5-8, 9-11, 12-16, teen and young adult, adult.
But readers are not numbers, so all books have readers of a range of ages. Parents can read a small child’s favourite book aloud literally hundreds of times. Children read books intended for adults. A host of parents read Harry Potter books because their teenage children adored them, and found they enjoyed them too. Young adult books have a famously wide range of readers.
So even if a book is intended for a particular age group, it probably has a wide range of readers. Some authors deliberately write some of their books for one age group and some for another. After writing the Harry Potter books for young adults, J. K. Rowling moved on to write books for adults.
With the ‘Earth Girl’ trilogy, I set out to do something slightly different, aiming to write crossover books to appeal to both young adult and adult readers. This, of course, meant doing some thinking about what was different between young adult books and adult books, and finding a compromise.
It’s true that young adult books tend to have young protagonists, but adult books can have both children and teens as main characters too. Scout Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is 6 years old.
I didn’t need to simplify the world building. As the Harry Potter books demonstrated, the young adult readership could eagerly embrace a complex fantasy world.
I certainly didn’t need to make the science simpler, since the average teen would know just as much about science and technology as adults.
There were no real limits on content. There are young adult books that include swearing, sex, pregnancy, complex moral issues, violence and death.
Diversity definitely wouldn’t be a problem. You can find some gloriously diverse characters and settings in young adult books. Just look at Sangu Mandanna’s ‘Lost Girl’, Amy McCulloch’s desert-inspired ‘The Oathbreaker’s Shadow’, or Laura Lam’s startlingly different main character in ‘Pantomime.’
In the end I came down to just two things that I felt I needed to bear in mind about young adult books. The first was about plot. Young adult books are about first times, about discovering yourself and the world around you. Fundamentally, they are the coming of age stories that used to be published as adult books but now have their own label.
The second thing was really about the readers rather than the books. ‘Earth Girl’ is science fiction. Most adult readers of science fiction would have read a lot of science fiction books before. For a significant number of young adult readers, ‘Earth Girl’ would be their first science fiction book. My challenge was to make sure I made everything clear for new science fiction readers, without boring those who had been reading science fiction for decades.
I’m delighted to say that ‘Earth Girl’ has had an even wider variety of readers than I hoped. I’ve had feedback from a lot of people who’ve enjoyed reading it, from one as young as 10, to one that’s a proud great-grandmother. From those who’ve never read science fiction before, to those who’ve read it for five decades. From schoolchildren, students, archaeologists, military veterans, and engineers.
Last summer, I was pleased to see ‘Earth Girl’ listed in the Amazon.co.uk summer sale in two categories. Teen and adult.
I am not a number!
Janet Edwards lives in England. As a child, she read everything she could get her hands on, including a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy. She studied Maths at Oxford, and went on to suffer years of writing unbearably complicated technical documents before deciding to write something that was fun for a change. She has a husband, a son, a lot of books, and an aversion to housework.
Find out more about her and her EARTH GIRL trilogy at www.janetedwards.com