Isabel Ashdown: Why my favourite fans are YAIt’s more than twenty years since Sarah Ribbons last set foot inside her old high school. Now, as she prepares for her school reunion, Sarah has to face up to the truth of what really happened back in the summer of 1986 – Hurry Up and Wait by Isabel Ashdown
I remember my own teenage years with great clarity. From around the age of fourteen, I pretty much felt I knew my own mind, and started to leave behind the things of childhood – Scooby Doo, sensible underwear, and most specifically books marked ‘for children’. My interests had shifted: I wanted to read about bigger things than my parents chose for me – I was after free-thinking and books with adult themes.
I read widely, from the Virginia Andrews Flowers in the Attic series to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, from Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives to Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. If I loved one book from a collection, I’d read the lot, or at least keep reading until the stories ran out of steam. And when school mates let me down with their ever-changing allegiances, or when my parents were distracted or absent, my books were always there for me.
These days, I’m fascinated to hear what teenagers are reading. My first two books are Glasshopper and Hurry Up and Wait, and whilst they are independent of each other, they share the theme of life viewed through adolescent eyes. However, they are unmistakeably books written for and marketed in the adult reading sector. What places them there is not only the subject matter, but also the presence of an adult voice. In my latest, Hurry Up and Wait, the book opens and closes with the adult Sarah Ribbons reluctantly attending her school reunion, while the main body of the story follows fifteen-year-old Sarah through her turbulent, and at times, traumatic final year at school.
So, why is it I hear from or meet so many younger readers (14+) who have also enjoyed my books? I suspect it is this: the position of being a teenager is common to all of us. As adults, we enjoy revisiting and reminiscing over adolescence (good and bad!) – and in our youth, perhaps we seek to make sense of the ever-changing world through something intellectually more challenging than traditional ‘teen fiction’.
I’m often told: “Your teen voices are so good; you should write YA fiction.” This is heart warming to hear; I’m delighted my voices are authentic. But if the articulate, inquisitive YA readers I’ve met so far are anything to go by, they don’t need me to write something specific to their age group. Their concerns are not so different to those of my mainstream readers – they want a page-turning story, great writing and above all believable characters they can relate to. And if they find these things in my adult fiction, I couldn’t be happier. After all, if YA readers are choosing to pick up my books now, perhaps they’ll also be my adult readers of the future.
Isabel Ashdown was born in London and grew up in a seaside village on the south coast of England. She now lives in West Sussex with her husband, two children and a border terrier dog called Charlie. An extract of her debut novel Glasshopper won the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, and was twice named as one of the best books of the year in the national press. Her second novel, Hurry Up and Wait, was released in June 2011. When she’s not writing, she likes reading, walking, eating Jaffa Cakes and watching X Factor in front of the fire with her kids.