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A shed full of potent bits: writing for young adults, with Martin Stewart – 21 April 2018

It may seem a tall order to write something that will appeal to children from aged eleven right through to adult, but clearly it’s possible (think of J K Rowling, Anthony Horowitz, Philip Pullman and Suzanne Collins to name but a few.) Well, on Wednesday night Martin Stewart gave AWC members an insight into how it might be done by sharing his approach to writing Young Adult Fiction.

After many years of writing but not giving up the day job, Martin’s ‘big break’ came, ironically enough, after a big break. Forced immobility after knee surgery gave rise to a short story which later became beginning of his first published book.

The transition from short story to novel isn’t perhaps the usual route but, as Martin told us, nothing is ever wasted. Ideas, characters or scenarios that haven’t quite worked can be ‘banged together’ as he put it, to create something new and successful. He said he thought of his files of ideas and nearly-but-not-quite stories were ‘like a shed full of useful bits.’ He also keeps a list of ‘potent words,’ and positively relishes the editing stages after the first draft. A few eyebrows were raised here – ‘murdering your darlings,’ to coin an overworked phrase, is not everyone’s idea of fun. However, Martin insists that this is where the real writing is done.

Children’s fiction, he told us needs to be full of exaggerated extremes balanced with small, everyday or humorous elements to add depth and texture. Reading extracts from his books Riverkeep and The Sacrifice Box (published by Penguin) Martin showed the difference in his writing style between the two – the dark, moody and threatening tone of  Riverkeep and the gently humorous view of a bored and detached teacher in a 1980s’ classroom.

We were advised not to follow popular trends as they may well have run their course by the time your master-work is launched. Write what you want to write and in your own style was the message. Throw your young protagonist into desperate situations but end on a positive note.
Well, on that positive note I will also end. I’m sure Martin has inspired members who have been slightly wary of Young Adult Fiction to give it a try. The range of subject matter is wide open and the potential rewards are great. Why not begin with our Children’s Fiction Competition? (closing date 11 April) It could be the start of something big!.

Maggie Bolton

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