A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
One of the things I enjoy most about school visits is when I’ve finished talking and the students get to ask questions. You never know quite what you’re going to get. There are sensible questions and not so sensible questions. There’s almost always the old classic – ‘how much do you earn?’ – and, when the eager young readers discover that I also write books for adults, there is one other question that often rears its head.
‘What’s the difference,’ they ask, ‘between writing for adults and writing for children?’
So I pause for a moment and wonder. Do I try to think of something clever to say? I could tell them that it’s important not to patronise young readers – they’re young, not stupid. I could say that young readers enjoy stories with big themes, just as adults do, but topics like sex and violence might need to be treated more carefully. I could suggest that books for younger readers tend to have young protagonists, and that some of the language and symbolism might need to be a little simpler and more obvious. The writer often needs to get the adults out of the way, so the young characters can resolve the conflicts on their own. Book length is a dull but practical difference (with a few exceptions) and it’s essential not to be boring, to write a balanced story with interesting and relatable characters . . . but that’s true of any kind of writing, surely?
I haven’t Googled it, but I’m guessing there are articles, blog posts, books, and essays detailing the differences between adult, MG, and YA fiction, because a lot of people far cleverer than I am, would be able to answer that question far better than I ever could. You see, the only time I’m ever aware of those differences is when I’m asked that question. I don’t consciously differentiate. I write one word, then another, and I build a sentence. I write a few of those and feel pleased that I now have a paragraph. I gather myself a healthy collection of paragraphs until I have a chapter. And then I’m on my way.
All I really want to do is tell a good story, because I love stories and I love great characters, and I live through every one of the stories I tell. I remember what it was like to be twelve years old, wanting to be something else, to be special, to be stronger, bigger, better, faster. I remember what made me laugh, what made me cry, and what made me angry. I’m right there in the forest with twelve-year-old Oskari, trying to prove everyone wrong, just as I’m there in the frozen steppes of Ukraine with Luka, hunting for the child thief.
So for me, there is just one key difference. When I write a novel for adults, I write it for my adult self. When I write a novel for young readers, I write it for my young self. After that, all I can do is hope that someone else will like it too.