24 March 2016

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winner Lisa Williamson on writing for Young Adults

by Eli Keren Author Interviews

We’ve been running children’s writing courses for children’s/Young Adult writers for a few years now, and we thought it was time to catch up with a former student of ours, who’s gone on to do great things in the world of Young Adult Fiction. Lisa Williamson studied with us back in 2012 and her debut novel The Art of Being Normal, published at the beginning of 2015, went on to win the Waterstones Older Fiction Childrens’ Book Prize and is currently shortlisted for the Young Adult Book Prize – along with The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by our Writing for Children course tutor Catherine Johnson. Here, she tells us all about her recent success and what comes next.

So what does the future hold for The Art of Being Normal? Which languages is it being translated into, which countries will it be landing in?
It’s already out in the wild in Brazil, Spain (in both Spanish and Catalan) and Germany. Rights have also been sold to Taiwan, France, Italy and Holland. It launches in the US in late May and I’m hoping to go over to New York to do a spot of promotion, something I’m VERY excited about! We’ve also has some interest in developing The Art of Being Normal for film/TV. It’s very early days though.

Can you tell us any more details about your forthcoming novel? How’s it coming along?
It’s coming along slowly but surely. I’ve definitely fallen foul of ‘difficult second novel syndrome’, with lots of false starts and moments of mad panic and low self-confidence. On one hand it’s such a privilege and luxury to have the opportunity to write a second book, on the other, there’s a lot of pressure to deliver something that lives up to the first, especially if it does well. I’m trying to block all those voices out though and let the character and story lead the way. It’s another YA title and focuses on a difficult mother and daughter relationship. All being well, it will be published in early 2017.

So your next novel is also aimed at the young adult audience. Do you feel like you might go over to writing for adults at some point, or is YA the long game for you?
YA is the long game. I love writing for teenagers. It feels totally natural and is definitely where I am happiest. The UK YA industry is buzzing right now. Every boundary is being pushed and every box ticked, and I’m so excited to be a part of that. It’s also an extraordinarily friendly world – warm, welcoming, supportive and inclusive, with lots of opportunities for interaction. I’ve made so many amazing new friends since joining the community, and hope to make lots more.

How has the experience of writing your second novel differed from your first?
I wrote the first with no expectations. Although publication was always the goal, it felt like a crazy dream until almost the very last moment. Writing under contract is very different. I feel a far greater responsibility towards my readers now. When I was writing The Art of Being Normal, it was hard to imagine the general public ever reading it and having an opinion, whereas now that’s an inevitability and one I can’t help but take into account when I’m writing. I want to satisfy the people who enjoyed The Art of Being Normal while also offering something new and unexpected. At the same time, I sort of want to block all that out and just tell the story that’s in my heart. It’s a difficult balancing act with lots of second guessing. I’m getting there though. It’s all a steep learning curve and I imagine I’ll keep on learning with every new book.

Aside from your next novel, what other projects are you working on right now, writing or otherwise?
I’m writing a short story for an upcoming YA anthology called I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which will be raising money for the homeless charity Crisis. It’s out in the Autumn and I’m very excited about it. I’m also appearing at various different literary festivals (which I love doing) and squeezing in the odd school visit. Finally, all being well, I’ll be starting work on a third novel.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wanted to write a YA novel?
Do it because you genuinely want to write about teenagers, not because YA is selling well right now and you fancy jumping on the bandwagon. Don’t condescend or feel like you have to overdo the teenage lingo or pop-culture references (they date really fast). Just write honestly and from the heart. Teenagers are amazing, they can spot a faker a mile off. Also, read as much YA fiction as you can to get your hands on to see what else is out there.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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