In the run up to Christmas, we wanted to host some nice online events, and as she had to leave our Children’s Publishing: Through the Age Ranges early to jet off back to London, Liz Bankes kindly returned to SYP Scotland to answer all your questions!
Liz is a YA author and editor, so to begin: what was her route into writing, and why YA? “I wanted to write things me and my friends would want to read when we were 14!” she explains. “My route into writing was having a blog – practised my voice on there and got ideas for characters and stories. Also, my publishers read the blog because I reviewed some of their books!
“On my blog I only reviewed things I loved, I reviewed for another site and if I wasn’t keen, I would say who I thought it WAS for, i.e., if you like …, you’ll like this book.”
Edinburgh Book Festival had at least one event where the guests said YA was an exciting genre to work in – what makes it so exciting, in her mind? “Well, I think it is an exciting age to be – so much possibility. YA writing can capture that feeling.”
To the other side, what advice does she have for an aspiring editor? “Read, read, read! Know the market so you can start building your sense of what you think works.” As for the top three skills an editor should have: “approach as a reader, not writer”, “chameleon-ness (inhabit other charac[ters] and worlds)” and “good sense of story”.
But does being an editor affect her own writing? “Not as much as I expected,” she admits, turning to the question of re-writing less material as a writer because she’s an editor, adding, “I find it very difficult to stand outside my own writing the way I do as an editor. Lots of things in my own writing I only ‘saw’ when the editor told me.”
Can she sum up in a line what makes a good YA novel? “True voice and real characters from the hat,” says Liz. “Think that would apply to any book though!”
Does her writing process slow because of that editorial eye, weeding out flaws as she goes? “Try not to,” says Liz. “Better to get story out and then edit for me. Many flaws remain, but that’s what editing is for!”
The community around YA is another major point with the likes of #ukyachat – does she feel other genres and publishers could use digital more? “Yes! Amazing to get feedback from the actual readers and it brings about change (e.g. challenging lack of diversity).”
In this sense, it’s easier than ever for authors and readers to connect – is that why YA has exploded? “Yes, I think that’s one reason. Just having the label YA – though labels can be restrictive, there’s now a space for all these brilliant, different stories written with young adults in mind.”
Does she feel more confident and natural as an author or an editor? “Definitely as an editor! I love talking about other people’s books and feel confident in my ideas. Talking about my own books make me want to shout ‘HEY LOOK OVER THERE!’ and then run out of the room.”
Moving away from her work: as a reader, what have been her top three YA books of 2015?
The YA book she’d most wish she’d written is Trouble by Non Pratt, “then I’d go back in time and give it to 14-year-old me and she’d think I was cool.”
To close, what would she expect, or at least hope to see from YA in 2016? “More diversity (though I think YA leads the way). Publishers not afraid to make bold choices. More comedy!”