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YA fiction writing with Kirsty Hammond – 28th September 2022

A room without a view! We are now confirmed to have changed location within the Mercure for the foreseeable. There are no windows, and it perhaps got a teeny bit warm but let’s just hope it sweats the ideas out of us!

In a brief introduction, Nigel referred to our guest speaker for the evening, Kirsty Hammond, as the club’s ‘go-to’ for all things Young Adult. Nigel described Kirsty’s work as highly recognisable during readarounds and, having heard snippets of her work, I am inclined to agree. In terms of skill and her impeccable way with words, it is clear to see when a piece of work has spilled from Kirsty’s pen.

We had been prepped to bring along a pack of coloured pencils and there was some intrigue surrounding this. All would be revealed after an initial writing challenge to get our creative juices flowing.

We were tasked to write non-stop for 5 minutes. There were no rules other than to continue writing even if we felt the words begin to dry up. Our prompt was ‘The Future’.

Rather unimaginatively I scrawled some nonsense about my visions for my own future in a rather ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ fashion. The exercise was to get all of our cold writing out of the way so we could be properly warmed up for the rest of the session and make way for some prize-winning ideas! … In theory (cough).

Kirsty touched on the Novel writing competition which is due later in the season. This year, we are to write the opening chapters of a young adult novel and so our next writing challenge was to come up with 5 potential ideas for our future YA novels. I do hope I wasn’t the only one who got stuck on 3…

Next, we were to discuss our ideas in small groups, choose the best and perhaps collectively help these little ideas grow. Our group managed to talk about how YA is much more accessible now than any of us remember from our own more youthful days, but we did manage to briefly discuss ideas amongst our procrastination.

Then it was time to break the intrigue! The coloured pencils! Kirsty instructed us to create a mind map to bring our potential protagonists to life. What sort of age are they? What about their family? Dreams? Fears? I personally found this a very worthwhile task and though I’m not usually a planner of any kind (such is the mess of my existence, lol) I can see the benefit of building some backstory to a character in advance of the actual writing of them.

All this took us through to break time, but we still had plenty of time left for further writing tasks and shared wisdom. Kirsty gave us some tips for writing for YA including making sure you start your story right away to ensure the reader is hooked. She asked us to consider what the inciting incident may be, and why the reader care should about your protagonist. Kirsty advised us that what our protagonists want vs what they need are often the exact opposite.

After then writing a brief 3 paragraph synopsis for our ideas (I feel I should at least commit to this idea now for the competition as Kirsty really did get us working hard!) the evening was wrapped up with some more YA facts and a question and answer session. Topics discussed during this were the imbalance of female vs male readers of YA and how there is still a push to get more boys reading – writing more male protagonists for example. How the themes for YA often appear to be fairly dark or heavy – reflecting on teenagers’ struggles. How there are many dystopian YA books available though there is a balance of lighter hearted material also. Kirsty advised us to write what we want to write as opposed to what we feel we should write or guessing what is relevant. The pace should be fast! Sex and drugs are both acceptable topics and it’s ok not to have a happy ending – rather the ending the story needs.

Kirsty finished the session with some advice on YA subscriptions such as UKYA which is £15 p/m plus postage and also advised us of a Golden Eggs course she has been participating in during the year.

All in all, another great session by Kirsty which left me, personally, bursting with ideas and motivation!

Carey Benn-McCabe

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