Thursday, 11 September 2008


A Young Adult book is not 'a children's book' in the Victorian sense.

Back in the day, humans had a larval stage, childhood, that suddenly ended at sixteen or eighteen and then they were adults. Nowadays, you’re a kid until you’re about eleven, you hit adulthood at some point around thirty. Many, many things that were 'for kids' are now 'for a much broader audience than kids'. Comic books, action figures, video games, ice cream, wearing football shirts on the street, watching cartoons, superhero movies, fantasy novels, pop music, bikes. We can argue whether that’s a good or healthy thing. We can argue whether it infantilises our culture. More to the point, we can argue it while dressed as a Klingon, eating Retro Edition Wispa bars, playing Jet Set Wii-lly while sitting on furniture made of Lego.

The idea that things that were once the exclusive preserve of kids haven’t been for twenty years seems to confuse a lot of people – Keith Vaz, for example, didn’t really seem to get what the '12' in a 12 rating meant when he said he wouldn’t let his 11 year old watch The Dark Knight.

Part of the problem with – let’s say - comics is that many of the things that used to rely on a casual ever-churning generation of kids are now the exclusive preserve of aging fanboys. Doctor Who had this problem in the nineties.

I’m an aging fanboy, so I think it’s wonderful on any number of levels.

That said ... Doctor Who is watched by a lot of children, now. That’s a great thing. The books are available in supermarkets. That’s a great thing. The BBC has a brand to protect and a duty to abide by taste and decency rules. So the books are never going to do anything you can't get away with on television at seven o'clock at night ... but you can get away with rather a lot. As I say, for The Eyeless I was given the guidance 'if it would be OK for the TV series, it's OK for the books'. The TV series has got away with plenty. There can't be any explicit sex or sadistic, realistic violence ... well, it's Doctor Who. If those were in your story, you were probably doing something wrong. There was none of that in the New Adventures or Eighth Doctor Adventures, either. Well, very little of it.

The obvious example of a YA book is Harry Potter - a range with a huge appeal to adults. Probably more adults than kids. It’s ‘the children’s own series that adults adore’. And, if you’re an aging fanboy, you’ve already worked out where I’m going with this – because that was the quote on the back of many of the Doctor Who Target novelisations in the seventies.

Doctor Who was consciously designed as a show that that kids and their parents could both watch and enjoy. As the years went by, a third distinct demographic emerged – the older fans of the show. But all Harry Potter did in the nineties was locate a hole in the market that Doctor Who and Star Wars filled back in my day.

The BBC have always identified the 'YA' market as one to go for. In his very first
set of guidelines for the Eighth Doctor Adventures, Justin Richards, the series editor, namechecked His Dark Materials and Stormbreaker as things that were 'like Doctor Who'. The NSAs aren't 'aimed at eight year olds'. They're aimed at the Doctor Who audience.

The best way to put it is that now a Doctor Who author also has to appeal to children, now. You don't have to lose anything, you do have another thing to think about and factor in. Next time, I’ll try to explain how I approached this with The Eyeless.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

For The Kids

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a little while, but a discussion on The Board Formerly Known As Outpost Gallifrey has prompted me to actual put pen to paper. Then I remembered it would have to go on the internet, so I would have to type up my handwritten notes. Could have saved myself some time and some ink. Anyway …

… ‘the New Series books are for eight year olds’.

They aren’t. The New Series books fit very comfortably into what publishers call YA, or ‘Young Adult’.

These are books with one eye on (book reading, therefore smart) teenagers, but YA books have been the publishing phenomenon of the last ten years. The key thing here is that YA books don’t just appeal to teenagers – almost the thing that defines them is that they’ve found a huge adult audience, too.

The charge was led by Harry Potter, of course, but there are other examples.

For this entry, I’ll do a short reading list of YA books. This isn’t comprehensive, or meant to be. For my next trick, I’ll explain how this applies to Doctor Who, the New Series novels and specifically my book, The Eyeless.

I’m a huge, huge fan of Philip Pullman’s books, particularly his masterpiece, the His Dark Materials series. Pullman’s work has, in places, a lot of Doctor Who feel to it. And, conversely, the end of Doomsday and Rose’s departure is … reminiscent of the end of His Dark Materials. Pullman was delighted by this, and is even writing the introduction to The Writer’s Tale.

His Dark Materials starts with the utterly superb Northern Lights.

I co-wrote a book about His Dark Materials, Dark Matters.

Which predicted that the film wouldn’t work. Well, my thoughts on that are here. And the stage play script shows just what we could have had instead …

There’s a huge boom in YA books. Not all of them are fantasy … or at least not all of them are set in fantasy worlds. Skellig is a great example of how grim and strange YA books can be. Elsewhere, YA books deal with drugs, sex, pregnancy, domestic violence, racism … it’s almost a cliché that they’re grim and gritty.

A fantastic example of a modern YA book is Strange Boy by Paul Magrs.

Meanwhile, Charlie Higson, author of one of my very favourite books, Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen, has written a range of Young James Bond books that are really quite sly and rewarding for adults, too.

While it was discussing television, rather than novels, Screen Wipe showed exactly how grown up fantasy kids shows were compared with more modern ‘realistic’ shows for teenagers and inadvertently clarify why The Sarah Jane Adventures are actually more ‘grown up’ than Torchwood. The discussion starts at about 5:30, and be warned that there’s some language unsuitable for children right from the start.