YA or not YA? – the author Antonia Honeywell guest posts on writing and reading labels.

I loved Antonia Honeywell’s book The Ship and I’m thrilled today to be hosting a guest post and giveaway promoting the rather wonderful YA Shot initiative from Alexia Casale. (As an aside there *are* still a few tickets available for this set of events, please do click on through to the site if you are able to get to Uxbridge tomorrow Wed 28th.)

Over to Antonia.


About three years ago now, I began to show my writing friends the early drafts of a novel I was working on. The idea had been turning over in my mind for a long time – a young girl, loved and valued by her parents to the extent that nothing – nothing – was more important to them that keeping her safe. I’d been obsessed with dystopias since reading Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells shortly after its publication in 1984*. 1984 was also the year in which I read Orwell’s vision of the future, and Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah. I was thirteen and my own world was falling apart; maybe that’s why I clung to characters who were trying to find a way through a post-apocalyptic world.

But Danny and Winston and Anne weren’t loved. Danny and Anne’s parents were killed, Winston was an adult. I wasn’t aware of a novel that explored the situation of a young person in a collapsing world whose parents were not only present and loving, but possessed of the resources to make a difference to their child. What would a family look like when everything it owned, everything it knew, everything it believed was concentrated upon the happiness and well-being of its only child?

I had no idea that Orwell’s Nineteen eighty four, or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which I also devoured at this time, were novels for adults, or that Brother in the Land and Z for Zachariah were for children. The Tripods trilogy (John Christopher) and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair (Nicholas Fisk) were for children too. Memoirs of a Survivor, by Doris Lessing, which I found on my mother’s shelves, was a grown up novel, although I only found that out when I asked questions about it, to be told, ‘You shouldn’t have read that.’ To me, at thirteen, the books I was reading were simply the books I was reading. They gave me ideas – they connected with me – they put me in touch with a world I didn’t yet know I was a part of. Thank God for the library, where I could browse promiscuously and read Robert Louis Stevenson, Normal Mailer, Stella Gibbons and Nevil Shute alongside Jackie Collins, Jilly Coooper, Shirley Conran and countless Mills and Boon Silhouettes, with no one to say me nay.

The thing is, there was no such thing as YA when I was a YA. So when I started putting my own 16 year old heroine out there, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape, I was completely bemused when people who cared, who really wanted my novel to see the light of day, started advising me to ‘go YA.’ Agents and editors wanted to know who Lalla was. Was she Katniss Everdeen, tough, principled, making the most of a life without choice? Then she needed to be less privileged, less spoilt. Or was she Bella Swan, drawn by invincible love into a new, unfathomable world? Then she needed to be more grateful, more passive. And if she was part of an adult novel, was she sci-fi, or dystopia? Where did she belong?

But my Lalla was my Lalla. She refused to be modified to fit someone else’s preconceptions of YA, or indeed anything else, just as she refuses to conform to her father’s expectations. She’s a teenager. Our late teens and early twenties are the years in which we work out the terms of our engagement with the rest of humanity – the degree to which we’re prepared to collude with the world that’s been handed down to us in order to ensure its continuance. That’s the decision Lalla has to make in The Ship. My teenage self was holding my hand every step of the way. The person I became three decades later was there too, thinking about the wider ramifications of Lalla’s actions. Is the result a YA novel or an adult one? And does it matter?

I don’t know. I’m honoured and delighted to have been invited to participate in YA Shot, a massive celebration of YA writing and of libraries. But readership of The Ship hasn’t been confined to the 16-24 age group (although some of my most precious feedback from readers has been from this group). Labels are useful, but when they become prescriptive, they shut people out. The Ship contains so much that’s relevant to adults who need to listen – the people who’ve created the world upon which teenagers sit in judgment. It’s a novel that belongs, heart and soul, to its readers, wherever and whoever those readers are.

And if you are one of them, or decide to become so, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Do come and say hello on Wednesday.

*In case you don’t know, Brother in the Land is a novel set in the aftermath of a nuclear bomb. It is so bleak that when it was republished in 1994, it was given a new final chapter.


the ship antonia honeywellLots of books I’m familiar with in Antonia’s post! I think we were probably reading twins growing up 🙂 If you’d like to find out more about Antonia and her work, her website is here and she’s on twitter as @antonia_writes

And now – the giveaway! Antonia is generously offering two *signed* copies of the Ship, and all you need to do is here in this lovely rafflecopter widget.

(And don’t forget you can still get tickets to YAShot! See details on their website here

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Listed at the t www.theprizefinder.com

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  1. I’d love to win this as I met Antonia at the weekend and she struck me as such a lovely person so that I’d like to feature her on my blog in a review. I think there is some brilliant YA fiction and those who scorn it are really missing out. I used to review teenage fiction for Hodder with regard to its use in the classroom and got my hands on some of the best fiction I’ve read.
    Thanks for the chance to enter

  2. Excellent article. I am also so old that I grew up before there was such a thing as YA and it bemuses and annoys me that books are ghettoised by artificial labels. A book is either good and worth reading, or not.

  3. I do read YA, though I don’t necessarily seek it out specifically – it just so happens that a lot of the blogs I enjoy reading talk about YA books which, quite frankly, sound awesome. YA is kind of nebulous, though – at one end it blurs into adult and at the other into 9-12 fiction and sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think reading necessarily has an age attached to it (although some books may be more useful at a certain age). What works, works, whatever age you are.

  4. Of course I read YA 🙂 Although I’m finding MG more me at the moment as a lot of YA seems to deal with “issues” and I’m wanting something a little fluffier at the moment. I rarely read adult books, and don’t think I’m missing out at all.

  5. I read a fair amount of YA mixed in with anything else that catches my eye. I’m very lucky in my job as it means I get my hands on a fair few proof copies and can also borrow anything I like from work (and read these very carefully as they need to go back into stock afterwards).

  6. http://Nicki%20Ramsay says

    I don’t understand why everything has to have labels these days, I’ll read whatever appeals to me regardless of genre or age group it’s intended for.

  7. I don’t but may try. (@PeanutHog)

  8. http://Lauren%20Old says

    I really enjoy YA fiction and read it because it’s so absorbing and capturing

  9. http://laura%20stewart says

    i havent heard of it

  10. I read quite a lot of it – it’s a such a diverse genre that I think it would be difficult for somebody to never read any.

  11. http://claire%20little says

    Yes i enjoy everything.

  12. http://Maya%20Russell says

    I read YA as I like them.

  13. http://Michelle%20Wild says

    Never as I’ve not heard of it.

  14. http://jo%20liddement says

    I love reading YA fiction and find they are sometimes better than adult fiction.

  15. http://Wendy%20Guy says

    Yes I read all the time. It great for relaxing and I love all the different genres.

  16. http://Wendy%20Becker says

    No never heard of it

  17. http://Lucy%20Carter says

    I read YA, there are some great books out there

  18. http://Michelle%20Austin says

    I have done before now, lots of it. Used to know someone on Youtube who reviewed it a lot so I’d get to hear. Somehow haven’t been into it the last two or three years though. I guess the Divergent, Twilight, Maze Runner stuff just all seemed a bit samey to me. John Green is quite good I know, and I kind of liked The Hunger Games but I’m old now. I’m 30 so I mean, it’s not written for me is it?

  19. http://Ding%20Rankine says

    I don’t read YA but my daughter is just entering her YA reading phase and often we search for books together or discuss them. Like me she has an eclectic taste and at present is reading the zombie version of pride and prejudice after completing the original .

  20. http://Minnie15 says

    Never heard of it as YA before now but yes I have! 🙂 x

  21. http://Emma%20Middleton says

    I read anything that catches my eye, then pass them on to the younger members of my family so they can enjoy them aswell 🙂

  22. http://sarah%20rees says

    I have heard of YA yes, read a few myself and intend to pass on a few of mine to my kids in a few years

  23. http://Chris%20Fletcher says

    Occasionally I read a bit of YA – its good to mix things up and see what all the fuss is about!

  24. http://debbie%20patching says

    no i dont but would like to

  25. http://karen%20Howden says

    I havent read it yet but will do

  26. http://Rachel%20Wise says

    I read whatever! Son has a lot of books so do check out what he is reading.

  27. http://Rebecca%20Hodson says

    I read a lot of YA fiction. I used to read it simply because I think that there are a lot of good authors writing incredible stories for young adults, that are often better than books aimed at adults. I then did a module on Children’s Fiction as part of my last degree and *really* began to appreciate just how good it is.

  28. http://betony%20bennett says

    Yes! I have 2 older kids and I read everything voraciously! 🙂

  29. http://kelly%20morgan says

    not yet

  30. http://kelly%20holden says

    Yes, I love to read true stories, to have an insight into others lives

  31. yes i do…… and love reading

  32. http://Nicola%20Baxter says

    I read a lot of different things, there are some great themes in YA so always worth a try.


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