With our next children’s writing course closing for applications on Easter Monday, we at Curtis Brown Creative are very much in a children’s/YA headspace at the moment – which gives us the perfect excuse to speak to some of our favourite writers for young readers. Here, we chat to award-winning Young Adult novelist Eve Ainsworth, whose stunning YA debut 7 Days won the Dudley Teen Prize, the Wandsworth Teen Award, was included on the Telegraph’s Best Young Adult Books of 2015 and has been nominated for the CLIP Carnegie Medal 2016. Her second novel, also aimed at a YA audience, Crush, was published earlier this month.
Your first YA novel, 7 Days, is a story about bullying, told alternately by bully and victim. My daughter found it moving and fascinating. What made you decide to write a story for teenagers about bullying?
I decided to write 7 Days after working in a large secondary school supporting teenagers. Bullying was a subject that cropped up again and again, and in my role I was talking to both bullies and the victims. I quickly realised that there was often a reason why a bully chose to behave in such a way and I wanted to explore this further.
Writers often struggle to write novels that have twin narratives (two voices) – why did you decide to tell your story that way and how did you make the voices different from each other?
Once I knew I wanted to write about bullying, I quickly decided that I wanted the bully’s voice to be present too. It was an instant decision for me. In my head I had Jess and Kez quickly marked out, they ‘spoke to me’. I had to make sure I was in the right character’s head whilst writing, so I wrote them on different days to help keep the voice fresh and true.
It’s interesting that the action of your novel happens across just seven days – what were the difficulties for you as a writer in giving your novel such a tight, intense timeframe?
I wanted a pacy timeframe. I thought this would keep more reluctant teenage readers engaged. The main difficulty was ensuring that the timeframe felt realistic, whilst maintaining the tension and not allowing it to drag.
How long did it take you to write you first novel, and how did you find your agent, Stephanie Thwaites?
I had written a previous YA novel, The Art of Kissing Frogs, which took about six months to write. I was unable to secure an agent for it, but Stephanie was one of the agents who read it and gave me some really constructive feedback. She also said she’d be interested in future work. 7 Days was written quickly, within three to four months. I sent it to several agents, including via the Curtis Brown submission system, where Stephanie saw it. She later told me that she recognised my name on the pile and quickly picked it up. She asked for the full text and the rest is history!
Your second YA novel, Crush, an exploration of teenage love at its most powerful and addictive, has just been published. Did you find it difficult to write a second novel, and how did the writing experience differ from the first one?
It was difficult at first because I guess there is a level of expectation. The usual self-doubt demons nibbled at my brain as I worried I was a one-book author. Luckily this didn’t last long and once I had the seeds for Crush planted, the writing soon flowed. The writing experience after that was fairly similar – lots of tea, biscuits and trying not to procrastinate on the internet.
To what extent is it important to you to use your novels to address issues that loom large in the emotional lives of teenage girls? What messages do you want to give your readers via your books?
I think it’s important that teenagers have books that represent the issues that they or someone they know might be exposed to. Not only does it prevent people feeling isolated and misunderstood but it also helps us to become empathetic towards others that might be struggling. I want to open discussions and debate. I’m not sure I have a message as such, I just want readers to feel there are books out there that could help them through a difficult time.
What piece of advice would you give to writers who are working on their first YA novels?
Read other YA books. Read lots, it fuels your engine. Try and write a little every day. Even if you think it’s rubbish, keep pushing on. And ignore the beast that is the Self Doubt Monster – it’ll eat you alive if you let it. The only thing stopping you writing is you.
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.