Writing YA: John Boyne & Andy Mulligan

Firstly I'll confess that I have not read books by either of these authors. I can hear the gasps of shock now. As an excuse, historical fiction isn't really my thing, I have considered picking up The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas more than once but have never quite made it past the front cover.

Over the few talks that I've been to it has been interesting to get the insight into what the path of each writer has been before becoming a published author. These two were no exception. Andy Mulligan worked in the theatre and was happily made redundant, he then went travelling and eventually became a teacher. Throughout this all he was writing and came across his agent through the school. John Boyne had done a writing degree and wanted to be around books while he wrote so he got a job in Waterstones [I'll forgive him!] where he got to encounter a lot of famous authors and other book professionals.

Both authors have had similar experiences through their lives, that have seeped into their writing, whether good or bad they have certainly made for popular reading.

When I made notes from this talk there were so many that it's difficult to know where to focus, the talk was about writing for young adults but the things that led them to it are equally interesting. As this post would be about a mile long if I included everything I'm just going to share with you my favourite bits.

Reading as a child: John Boyne share a memory of his childhood which just made me smile. Once a week his family used to go to the library and his recollection of it is what I think every book lover is like. He was allowed three books, but which ones do you pick? You can pick your favourites to read again, but that means you can't pick a new book... I think that perfectly illustrates avid reader's struggle. Andy Mulligan shared his love of Enid Blyton, and the fact that it didn't really bother him that they got together and had an adventure EVERY summer. [It didn't bother me that they stayed the same age every summer either.] One day though, he realised that while they were doing all this dangerous stuff they didn't get hurt, and that's when he realised he wanted a little danger in his books.

The first books authors write are not always the first books they have published, who knows, one day they might pull a Harper Lee on us and resurrect these hidden works. Originally John started writing books for adults, but when he started The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas he realised that with his protagonist being young and the tone the book was taking it would be perfect for a younger audience. There was no definite decision to write for young adults, it was just where the book took him. Andy's first book was influenced by a trip to India, and being a stranger in an unfamiliar place. He says that there were flaws in it that he couldn't resolve. Hopefully one day he'll solve them, as it sound like a fantastic story.

I'm going to round up by covering some of their tips for writing:
  • It's easy to abandon something, but you should keep going. Finishing something even if it isn't perfect is a great achievement. AM
  • Don't worry about the inconsistencies, just have something that exists and you can sort it out in the second draft. JB
  • [About following the market] If you write something fantastic it will find its market. JB
  • You don't know your book until you've finished the first draft. Writing the second draft is much more fun. JB
  • [On editing] You can write dozens of drafts but you'll get to a point where you can't see past the characters and you need someone elses point of view. JB
Both authors read from their recently published books, Andy Mulligan has published Liquidator and John Boyne, The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain [set just before The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas]. From the snippets they both sound like they'll be firm favourites.


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