Category Archives: Ya

Cover2Cover Publisher Interview

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Today, Teen Librarian is proud to host an interview with Dorothy Dyer, one of the founders of YA Publisher Cover2Cover

1. Globally publishing seems to be in a crisis and companies are merging for survival – why did you decide to start an independent publishing company?
Cover2Cover didn’t start to compete with existing companies. Cover2Cover started in order to get young South Africans reading, teens who have never really read for pleasure before. So we were wanting to create a whole new market!

2. How have young adult readers responded to these books?
fundzaWe have been absolutely overwhelmed by the responses of readers. We founded a literacy trust, FunDza, and as part of its work it distributes these books to schools and literacy organisations all over the country. Again and again we get rave reviews and accolades, with teachers saying they have never seen their students wanting to read like this before. I just have to quote some of our favourites, if you don’t mind..!

From a rural organisation in Kwa-Zulu Natal: The principal of Siyanda says the kids are so enthusiastic about the books that they are not even waiting to return them to the library before passing them on…She says she goes into the library now and finds kids sitting there in silence, engrossed in their reading – your books have started what we hope will be a revolution.
From a girls’ high school: I thought you would be interested to know that the books have been a huge ‘hit’ in our grade 9 bookclub . The girls are just so enjoying them. We just can’t keep up with the demand.

I think it’s incredibly powerful on all sorts of levels to recognise your life and world in a book, and for many of these students this is the first time it happens.When I do a reading aloud I can feel the ripples of excitement and recognition when there is local slang. It validates your world, to see it in a story, I think.

c2cA-shining-star-cover3. You currently publish Best Reads so far aimed at years 7,8 & 9 and The Harmony High series aimed at secondary school readers do you have plans for more series?
We are also publishing anthologies of short stories that were first published on FunDza Literacy Trust’s mobi-site – we’ve just brought out number 1. We are interested in creating new series – we have been discussing the idea of a series for 9 to 12, as we hear from literacy workers that there is a real gap here as well for contemporary local stories. Here though we would have to look at translation into local languages too to make the stories widely accessible.
Another project is trying to get our books much cheaper, and distributed in a different way. Currently books are expensive items available at bookstores. We dream to change that. We have seen that there are readers who enjoy the books. Now we need to get the books out there, possibly in a different format… watch this space!

c2cSugar-Daddy-Cover4. The books published by Cover2Cover focus on South African youth issues – do you think they would find readership outside of SA?
We have heard that readers in Malawi and Zimbabwe have enjoyed them. They are easy and exciting reads, and although are local, the stories deal with challenges that many teens face, so yes, I think the books could find readership elsewhere. They might be interesting to people out of the country because they also do give a picture of SA that is not always reflected in the news – ordinary people making meaning out of their lives in difficult circumstances.

5. I have seen conversations recently about a lack of people of colour (POC) on the covers of YA books Cover2Cover seems to be bucking this trend are you aware of other publishers putting out YA novels featuring POC on the cover?
Our mission is overt in getting our readers to recognise themselves in books, so we think it is very important that our cover models reflect the characters in the book. I have seen various incidences in this country and overseas where the white models on the outside are no reflection of the darker skinned characters inside the covers, and I think it is distressing that some publishers are prepared to sacrifice the integrity of the novel to get more sales, and seem to think that for this white faces – or rather beautiful white faces – are necessary.
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6. Harmony High is described as a soap opera read for teens – do the stories have to be read in order or are the stories self-contained?
The books are all follow characters who attend one fictional township high school, Harmony High, and there is a vague chronological order. Broken Promises and Jealous in Jozi, for example, follow one particular character, Ntombi, whereas the other books focus on other characters, such as Sugar Daddy, which follows the story of one of Ntombi’s friends. But each book is carefully written so it can be a satisfying read on its own.

7. How many authors are working on the series and how can writers get involved in writing for Cover2Cover?
c2cFrom-boys-to-men-CoverThere is a little team of us – five in total. Ros and I are the puppet masters, or rather the conductors, who make sure the stories fit together etc. We also always test the stories in manuscript form on young readers, to make sure we’re getting things right.
Because it is a bit like a soapie, and does have to be carefully managed, we aren’t looking for anyone to join the team at this stage.

8. Are the books available internationally and if yes how can one get hold of them?
Hard copies can be ordered from us at info@cover2cover.co.za. We are also available on Amazon now, digitally.

YA in SA: YA Library Services in Cape Town, South Africa – a guest post by Rudi Wicomb

Bless Matthew’s soul. The dude (an allowable word if you live near the sea – I do.) totally came out of left field when he mailed me and asked me to contribute to his blog. (Which I hope my superiors never ever read or else I might be subjected to the Managerial Finger Twinge. See my blog for what that means. Plug)

He asked me to list what we’re doing in teen services in our libraries in Cape Town, South Africa. Also, to discuss the services in our libraries and to mention anything in particular I have done in my library (in Cape Town, South Africa).

I think my initial response to curl up into a foetal position and stay there until he went back home was probably the best and least painful response. But then, I wouldn’t be a Public Librarian in Cape Town, South Africa, if a little pain was going to be the issue. And although he doesn’t know it, he’s the one who set me on the path to Comic Books and YA ‘stuff’ evangelism. (Stuff here being a technical term that I use interchangeably to make me seem more intelligent. So far, I don’t think it has worked, but it’ll do in pinch). So I, in the total dude sense of the word, owe him. (I still use his method of preparing Graphic Novels for circulation).

So, what happens from here on can thus be firmly blamed on Matthew. What I hoped was a short little paragraph, turned into something *shudder* anecdotal and slightly personal even. I couldn’t tell you about my experiences with YA “stuff” if I didn’t give you a little bit of background first about me, the Public Library Service in Cape Town and finally, elves bearing gifts.

And it all started with comics and Graphic Novels….

Comics get old-school librarians’ backs up. (Think of every horror movie you’ve seen where the plucky heroine/hero sees the big bad in all its horrible glory, now times 10.) As a reader of Comics and lover of the Comic book medium I couldn’t let that stand.

So, with the fortitude of a young librarian who has not been broken by too much shelving and my trusty power point presentation, I decided to change some minds by presenting a fair, unbiased view of comics to librarians in Cape Town. The emphasis being that there is NO downside to stocking four colour pages of pure unadulterated joy (be they Marvel, DC, Batman, Superman or even Sandman) in their respective libraries.

It worked!

The biggest public library in Cape Town asked me for selection criteria and a list of recommended Graphic Novels for their shelves. It was a vindication for me on many levels which was only eclipsed by the findings of a Canadian educational and psychological study 3 years ago, that stated quite simply: Comics were good for you. Period.

(The YA ‘stuff’ comes in about now. Thank you for bearing with me.)

The perfect demographic for comics in public libraries are teens.

That’s what I told my librarian colleagues and that’s what I believe (and all the scientists and educators agreeing is just gravy). The plan was to get teens excited about reading and keeping them at the library week after week, to grab Comics. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, to slip in a YA novel and hope like hell I didn’t undo this well nurtured enthusiasm.

The plan played out in my library without an issue.

I convinced my boss that it was absolutely crucial, to the point of the world ending, that we needed the teen section front and centre, so it’s the first thing you see when you look towards the English fiction section. She needed little arm twisting when I asked for regular buys of YA books.

And then I did the unthinkable.

I started talking to THEM, and I asked the staff to do the same.

If you want to court controversy, ask a public librarian to hold up the queue to ask a teenager if they really want to take out that book as oppose to these three books in the same series, that might or might not be something they might like and then casually mention the Girl falls in love with a Vampire that wants to eat her.

At the time (and now still) this sort of one on one marketing helped despite no organisational mass marketing tools. Even though most times we received no visible reaction from teens at the desk, the lending stats on titles that we ‘pitched’ told a different story. Still, what we needed was a magic push to get bodies back through the door and short of teleporting a whole lot of teenagers against their will and giving them a ‘read this or die’ ultimatum, nothing could really provide that push we needed.

That all changed when a Mormon lady decided to write about a girl with a vampire and werewolf fetish.

Twilight. *sigh*

If you would ask any public librarian in Cape Town what the significance of Twilight was for our libraries, they would have said something along the lines of:

”It was just another popular fad book.” (Or, “junk”).

This is true. (Except for the junk part though).

It didn’t have the market awareness and GIGANTIC fandom that Harry Potter had but I believe it still left a lot of public librarians wrong footed because suddenly girls AND BOYS of the Teen persuasion were coming in with their parents. The unseen demographic suddenly got seen and YA sections in public libraries in Cape Town, tucked in their corners, out of sight (and out of mind), suddenly had a whole lot of bodies hanging around them looking for the this Twilight “nonsense”(or so-called “junk”).

What followed was:

Thoughtful customer orientated libraries (the good ones) bought the books in good numbers and supplied the hungry masses, while other libraries approached it from the “let’s wait and see” or “if we ignore them they’ll bugger off” approach (the bad ones). The exceptional libraries realised they had an opportunity and moved their YA sections into the light, bought similar titles, and new authors, marketed them (with home-made posters and an overabundance of glitter) and gained consistent numbers in the YA demographic.

This bore fruit when South African novel Spud by John van de Ruit crossed over from adult to teen reading. In libraries it rivalled Twilights’ circulation numbers. This was due to the word of mouth generated by YA readers, who were now all talking about the books they were reading. The YA demo was staying with intent to loiter and read.

What Twilight wrought, was a clear indication that YA readers and the Teen demographic, when mobilised by whatever they craved so intensely, could have wonderful positive effects on circulation as well as shape market trends. (The impact on literacy levels and comprehension levels was something no one tried to find out, but, I’d like to believe it was positive.) It also helped that they were vocal about what they wanted to read next, which in my library’s case was a clear call to meet demands to get the YA horde to stay.

Some libraries took that momentum and used it to cultivate a readership, but others let the tide ebb. YA readers not seeing the books they wanted, left. Or that’s what my colleagues believed. But they were in for a shock when the tide came back in with The Hunger Games. A handful of libraries stocked the book before a movie was even announced, promoted it and used it as carrot for keeping YA readers in the library. So when the wave hit (again), a demand could be met because the exceptional libraries have staff members dedicated to ensuring the YA section is stocked with appetising titles. Unfortunately, in even the exceptional libraries, this staff member usually has to shout very loudly to be given a fair hearing.
Sometimes, in public libraries popular can be a four letter word.

At present I believe we are at a tipping point in our public libraries.

The YA ‘stuff’ is not going away despite some of my colleagues’ best efforts to not care. The short sighted need to still believe in the “preservation of the library” against so called unworthy material is censorship, plain and simple.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. The deeper significance is ultimately not so deep: we keep pushing away a customer base in a time and place where we can’t afford to. Doing so, when all available data indicates that people are reading less, opting for alternative methods to get their bibliographic fix and buying fewer books due to high prices, is tantamount to negligence.

You see, the stuff of YA ‘stuff’ in Public Libraries in Cape Town, South Africa is one of potential that is for now unfulfilled. The why of it is particularly complex and terribly involved and would in effect require a full time study, 3 bags of ice, a best of Barry Manilow compilation and red bouncy ball. Since the budget is simply just not there at all, I have taken a stab at explaining the whole thing and have decided that the reasoning for the (non)state of YA services is in fact:

Reasoning, the First.
What the Public Libraries lack in Cape Town is an effective marketing tool/methodology/magic wand to market the material that sits on our shelves. The drive gets channelled to other pursuits that are equally worthy: reading, comprehension and basic literacy but effective marketing would have a positive effect on those initiatives as well. (And the City’s Public Libraries footprint on social media is about the size of an ant’s indentations across a block of butter. But I can’t say more: Managerial finger twinge.)
The skill (be it technological, biological or mineral) to take a book, track its market potential, communicate to users about its merits and allow users to comment and interact just isn’t there.
The thing is, we are good enablers of reading but what we are crappy sustainers.
What that means in not so indistinct terms, is that we’re reacting to what our patrons want and not being proactive.

The difference being: that 15 people will have to ask for 50 Shades as oppose to having it waiting when person number 1 walks in the door.

Reasoning the Second:

Imagine this sort of reactive behaviour applied to YA books/services and a demographic that at the best of times is tolerated in a Public Library/ies.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that NO YA books are bought for and by libraries.

Not at all.

What I am saying is that YA books in public libraries in Cape Town end up in libraries because;

  • a quota of the money for books needs to be spent.
  • not all the monies can go to study materials.
  • it made a bajilliion dollars and some pimply faced ‘person’ wants to read it.
  • a staff member recommended the book because it was good, well reviewed and would circulate knowing the demographic, circulate well.
  • If you wondering, the last reason is the one that public libraries in Cape Town should use to buy YA books.
    The hard realisation which I am trying to soften with all these snarky asides and failed attempt at humour is that YA services in Public Libraries in Cape Town, don’t exist.

    It’s a hard pill to swallow. The Library and Information Services Department’s specialised groups have been established along lines of Children’s and Adult Interest groups amongst our librarians. YA has a small representation in the children’s groups but not in any meaningful sense. These groups generate a lot of genre based content ranging from reading lists, all the way to developing basic marketing strategies but none seem to touch on the specifics issues or needs of the YA demographic.

    Instead, what we have is more like a movement that exists despite the uninterested that seems organisationally hardwired into the existing work structure. (Any more explanation about that and I’d be shot.) There’s a movement of public librarians within the Public Libraries in Cape Town, who not only keep in touch and recommend and talk about (lament) books, but also try to persuade, cajole, wheedle and just plain nag the Powers That Be to give a little ground about starting a YA interest group, developing better marketing tools and branding for libraries and its services, making eBooks available for cell phones and getting the Public Library “Institution” seen on Facebook, Twitter and Mxit. (Something the Local Authority wants to prevent with all their might).

    It’s not ideal, but grassroots movements have been known to foment great change, and we wouldn’t be public librarians, Cape Town – South Africa, if we didn’t think we could try.

    …and Elves bearing gifts: Just say no* .

     
     
     

    *Thank you Terry Pratchett. Just because.

     
     
    Rudi Wicomb is a South African Librarian based in Cape Town. You can find him blogging at http://fromthelibraryfloor.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/Floorlibrarian

    YA in SA: the Author Interviews: Jayne Bauling


    1. Hi Jayne, as has been customary in my YAinSA author interviews to date, I ask all the authors I have spoken to to introduce themselves to the audience and I am hoping that you will do the same!

    Thanks, Matt, and thanks to Louis Greenberg for suggesting me for your YA in SA series. I’m a full-time writer and have been living in White River in the Mpumalanga lowveld for the last few years, following a move from my home city of Johannesburg.
     
     

    2. You had close to 20 adult novels published before you started writing YA fiction, why did you choose to write for a younger age range?

    The type of adult novels I was writing – romance – can become repetitive. Romance was never meant to be the whole story anyway, but it became a bit of a comfort zone, difficult to get out of. The move from Johannesburg turned out to be conducive to all sorts of other changes, and I started exploring new writing directions. The YA began almost as an impulse – I wondered if it was something I could do, and decided to give it a try. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing about teen characters and their issues.


    3. Looking at the awards you have won it looks like it was a good decision – E Eights won the 2009 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, Stepping Solo was awarded the 2011 Maskew Miller Longman literature award for novels in English and you have had novels short-listed for the golden Baobab and the Sanlam Prizes. Does being an award-winning YA author put you under pressure to produce or can you ignore the pressure and just write?
    The awards have their upside in boosting my confidence as a writer. The downside is a degree of anxiety about whether I can continue to get it right, but I try to ignore that and just get on with the next book, because once I get into the writing I forget the anxiety – at least until it’s time to submit!

    4. Your short story Dineo 658 MP won the Maskew Miller Longman Silver Medal in 2009, do you think that short stories for YA readers are well-received or should they be given more exposure?

    I think that with greater exposure, they’d be highly popular. Young adults’ lives are hectic, so dipping into a collection of short stories, whether in print or online, when time permits might be preferable to reading a full-length novel for some. It’s difficult to get YA short fiction placed. Another South African YA author and I have tentatively discussed an anthology featuring short stories from southern or possibly all African countries.

    5. Do you still write for the adult readers or do you focus exclusively on the YA market?

    At present, the only fiction I’m writing for adults is short stories, but that could change.

    6. I see that you are also a poet, have you had any poetic works published as yet?

    So far I’ve only had poetry published in print and online literary journals, and in three of the annual Breaking the Silence anthologies brought out by People Opposing Women Abuse.

     
     

    7. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

    I love it when I reach the stage of being truly immersed in the first draft of a novel – when my characters start surprising me, and things happen that I haven’t planned.

    8. What do you think about the state of YA publishing in South Africa?

    I think it’s increasingly exciting. There are more and more successful YA authors out there, and it’s a wonderfully supportive community.

    9. Have you had much feedback from teen readers? What have their thoughts been about your writing?

    Feedback has been good. The readers seem to appreciate that I keep my characters’ personal stories absolutely central even if I’m writing about the contemporary social issues affecting young people.

    10. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

    I enjoy the interaction I have with teens at a local school and would love to do school visits further afield. I have in fact just recently learned that I will be asked to do some, possibly early next year. People can contact me via Facebook or Twitter @JayneBauling, through my various publishers or by email to jayne_mb(at)absamail.co.za

    11. Are you currently working on anything new or do you have anything planned for the near future?

    The next YA novel is at the research stage, but because I believe in writing every day, I’m also busy with a few adult short stories.

    YA in SA: YA Lit as Protest, Self-Study and Civil Participation

    I was a teenager less than a decade ago so I can’t really say when the shift happened. The paradigm shift that moved the ground beneath us, creating a gulf between my generation and every generation that came before it, making our social lives and our digital lives start to seem like the same thing. Facebook and Twitter only hit South African shores after I’d graduated from high school but the unprecedented penetration of mobile phones changed everything. In Africa, more people have access to mobile phones than to water – Google it.

    I remember in eighth grade how my friends and I would ache for the clock to strike 8pm, signalling the start of offpeak call time. We never actually called each other, of course, but we texted as though we were possessed. A text became far cheaper to send after 8pm so on a teenager’s budget it made sense to wait it out until late to share the day’s gossip or flirt with a random boy. We rarely used our phones for anything profound or innovative. But then a new shift came: mobile technology started up an affair with Web 2.0 and some South African teenagers started doing something profound with their phones.

    Thousands of them started to wait up until midnight, staring at tiny screens in crowded one-room low-cost housing and informal settlements. They weren’t waiting for cheap texts; they were waiting for cheap books.

    South Africa has no shortage of great writers. For a relatively small, developing country, we have an incredible number of internationally acclaimed authors writing everything from hard-hitting investigative journalism to children’s picture books. What we unfortunately don’t have is an equally vibrant and diverse trade publishing industry. Books are prohibitively expensive for the majority of South Africans and usually cost more than a full day’s work at minimum wage. For these and other sad and well-known facts, the vast majority of our teens often don’t read anything beyond their textbooks.

    This isn’t to say that they don’t want to though. Which is why FunDza Literary Trust, a non-profit reading promotion agency, is giving them what they want: cheap, easy accessible, quality YA lit. Through its mobi-site and its presence on South African mobile social networking platform MXit, FunDza has brought multilingual YA contemporary fiction, autobiographies, poetry, and even science fiction to local readers. Even better, they’re working with our abundant pool of writing talent to do it – serialising the works of award-winning writers like Tracey Farren, Cynthia Jele, Sarah Lotz and Lauri Kubuitsile so that it’s available on any mobile device, at any time.

    Of course, the concept of mobile novels is nothing new – especially if you follow the literary scene in Japan and China. The difference is that in South Africa, reading YA is not just a fun pastime. In the proud tradition of all of our literature, it is also social activism, civil participation, education and, for many, it could be a ticket out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It is just as Dr Seuss said: “The more you read; the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.

    South Africa is a big, messy, cultural hotpot; youthful and full of big dreams. Couple that with technological innovation and the immense talent and generosity of our local authors and you get a body of work capable of drawing in young readers from all over Africa and the world.

    About Me
    Bontle Senne is the Managing Director of the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation (@pukubooks): an organisation trying to bridge the literary and digital divide for Southern African children and young adults. She is 24 and lives in Johannesburg.

    YA in SA: the Author Interviews: Lily Herne

    Daughter & mother writing team Savannah and Sarah Lotz make up the authorial entity known as Lily Herne – author of Mall Rats a zombie apocalypse YA series set in Cape Town.

    1. Would you like to introduce yourselves and the Mall Rats series for those that have not been fortunate enough to discover the excellent Deadlands or Death of a Saint. (I have not yet read DoaS yet but will hunt it down this week)

    We’re going to be lazy and steal ace book reviewer and blogger Lauren Smith’s (aka Violin in a Void) summation of the series, as we love it!: Mall Rats is a post-apocalyptic YA zombie series set a decade after the infection hit South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. It follows a group of kick-ass teen rebels who fight against both the zombies and the corrupt government that worships the undead in a twisted theology of resurrection. Deadlands is set in Cape Town, while Death of a Saint explores the rest of SA.

    Sarah: I live in Cape Town with a motley crew of rescue animals and as I write full-time from home, I spend the majority of my days dressed in pyjamas and drinking way too much coffee. Even though I’m forty-one, I love anything zombie-related (I haven’t grown up).

    Savannah:
    I’m about to start my third year of my screenwriting course at the University of East Anglia. In my spare time I’m a closet gamer.

    2. Lily Herne is an excellent name, what inspired you to use a pen name for the series?

    The general consensus is that unless you’re super-famous, readers can be put off by dual-author names on novels. Plus, we both write other, vastly different work under our own names.

    3. Did the two of you have any problems when it came to writing together?

    Sarah: Not really. We’re too laidback to bicker, although there was a little spat when Savannah insisted on including a baby hyena in Death of a Saint. Animals can be tricky to write. She got her own way in the end (she usually does). Sav tends to come back to SA during her university holidays in order to write with me, but if we need to write or plan anything when she’s in the UK then we work via Skype or email, which is easier than it sounds.

    Savannah: The hardest part for me is not so much the writing but having to share a desk with my mum. She likes to mime out actions while writing so I’ve had my fair share of kicked shins and cold coffee spilt over me.

    4. According to rumour, Deadlands is the first zombie novel set in South Africa, is this true?

    As far as we know it is. (It’s up to readers to decide if this is a good thing or not though!)

    5. I read in the Bookseller that the first two books in the series will be published in the UK in 2013, has the series been picked up anywhere else as yet?

    Deadlands will also be coming out as an audio book in the UK and we have had other interest, but nothing signed and sealed yet. When we received the news that Corsair had made an offer for the books we almost exploded with excitement. It’s a huge honour to be picked up by such a respected publisher.

    6. Sarah you have written as yourself (Pompidou Posse, Exhibit A & Tooth and Nailed), as half of the horror writing team S.L. Grey (The Mall & The Ward) and now you are also part of Lily Herne, have you ever been confused as to who you are writing as when you set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) or are you able to keep the writing personalities separate?

    Haha – no, I’ve never been confused (at least not in that way!) as the solo novels, the S.L Grey books and the Lily Herne collaboration are all so different. I’m fortunate enough to be able to write full-time and I prefer to work on two projects at once. I’m not sure why, I think I must be slightly schizophrenic.

    7. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

    Sarah: I love the planning and plotting stage of a new book. Starting a new work is simultaneously scary and exhilarating as I really get a kick out of discussing character motivations, plot ideas, settings etc. I can blather on for hours about the tiniest detail, which drives Savannah and my co-writer on the S.L. Grey novels, Louis Greenberg, crazy. After that, I enjoy the actual writing. My stories and novels never turn out as I initially think they will, so the process is always surprising and never dull.

    Savannah: I really enjoy the first few weeks after the plotting process. Just before the panic of meeting our deadlines sets in, our plots always take surprising turns and we can end up staying up most of the night trying to work out new twists. There is a certain amount of adrenaline involved during the week before a deadline, which I get a weird kick out of.


    8. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Cat Hellisen and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

    The excellent Sally (Partridge) nailed this one in her interview with you – and we second all her recommendations: Lauri Kubitsile is incredibly talented, versatile and prolific; Cat Hellisen’s When the Sea is Rising Red is a phenomenal novel, we adore Edyth Bulbring’s hilarious Melly novels and we couldn’t put Adeline Radloff’s Sidekick or Alex Smith’s Agency Blue down. One to look out for next year is Charlie Human’s soon-to-be internationally published Apocalypse Now Now, a stunning, scathingly witty debut (it’s not strictly YA although it does have a teen protagonist).

    9. What can we expect from Lily Herne after The Mall Rats series comes to an end?

    We are currently discussing which of our ideas we want to write next – it will probably be a creepy spec novel called The Way Station, but we can’t say too much about it in case we change our minds!

    You can find Lily Herne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/herne13

    and on facebook: www.facebook.com/lily.herne

    YA in SA: Interview with Cat Hellisen

    Credit Nerine and Thomas Dorman

    1. Hi Cat, until Joe at Something Wicked suggested you I must admit that you had not popped up on my radar, would you care to introduce yourself to readers that may know your book but not you and for those that are meeting you (virtually) for the first time?

    Hi Matt, thanks for getting hold of me (and thanks Joe for the props). I live in Muizenberg, which is a village-by-the-sea inside a bigger village by the sea, basically. I grew up in Cape Town and Johannesburg, so while I write secondary world fantasy, being South African definitely influences my writing. I’m a huge music fan, and occasionally I like to torture my family and animals by playing the ukulele at them.

    2. When the Sea is Rising Red your first novel is a fantasy laced with magic, vampires, young love, rebellion and a steep divide between the rich and poor. Have you always been a fan of fantasy literature?

    Very much so. My earliest reading memories are of being engrossed in my Story Tellers, which were a series of tapes and magazines with stories that ranged from traditional fairy tales to poetry and various other weird and wonderful things. I think a lot of children’s literature is perfectly okay with the fantastical, and it’s only when we venture into the adult section that the battle lines are more clearly drawn. These days I’m very easily bored by a lot of fantasy. I like stuff that plays with tropes, or language, or brings new ideas to the genre.

    3. Do you think that inserting social issues into novels (addressing social issues and the divides between rich and poor) helps readers identify more closely with the characters?

    I have no idea. I think that in paranormal and fantasy YA there’s been a trend to make the main characters as one-dimensional and non-threatening as possible, perhaps to make it easier for readers to slip themselves into the story – the character is nothing more than a place holder. I find that insulting to most readers and I don’t enjoy books like that. I prefer stories that give me characters with meat and bones and flaws and failures – something that contemporary YA currently seems to do better. Social issues are perhaps a part of filling out the dimensions of character, but not if they feel tacked on or extraneous to the story.

    Some of my favourite recent YA has done interesting things with character and society: Chime – Franny Billingsley; Slice of Cherry – Dia Reeves; Shadows Cast By Stars – Catherine Knutsson, and Above – Leah Bobet.

    I can’t speak for how anyone else writes, but for myself I like to write characters who feel real, and that sometimes means not entirely likeable.

    4. Who were your favourite writers when you were a YA reader (and were you a reader as a teen)?

    I read voraciously as a teen, but mostly from the adult section. It’s only now as an adult I find myself reading more YA. Probably because a lot of what used to get shelved as fantasy or urban fantasy is being marketed towards teens now, and possibly because there’s simply more variety in teen-lit these days. My favourite authors as a teen were David Gemmel, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Diana Wynne Jones and Gene Wolfe.

    5. When the Sea is Rising Red was published in New York by Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint) – how did you bypass local publishers and end up with an international deal?

    When I first began querying my (unpublished) novels, there were no publishers in South Africa (and I think it’s still the case) who dealt with fantasy. It wasn’t so much that I bypassed them as I had to look overseas to find an agent and a publisher. I spent a lot of time hanging around on the Absolute Write forums, where I learned a great deal from publishing people who are way smarter and more experienced than me, and then I began querying. And carried on. And carried on. And kept writing. (A good thing because those early books are too awful to contemplate.)

    6. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype visits for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

    I haven’t visited any schools. I’m weirded out by the idea because I don’t really know what I could possibly say that isn’t some variation of – “the info is out there, learn, and prepare to grit your teeth and keep going in the face of failure.” I believe I’m supposed to be doing some virtual book tour thing in the near future along with some fantastic YA writers, but details are a little hazy at this point.

    7. What influenced your decision to write for teen readers?

    I don’t really think I write for teen readers specifically, more that I wrote a book that could be marketed towards the YA audience. I write what I like to read, and then it gets labelled to sell. Hah, that sounds horribly cynical, but really, I just write stories, I don’t usually have a particular audience in mind.

    8. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

    When I read something months later, and am pleasantly surprised by the bits I enjoy.

    9. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Lily Herne and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

    S.A. Partridge is much better at this than I am. Heh. Most of the YA writers here concentrate on contemporary, and I’m mainly a fantasy reader. I’m sure that there are fantasy YA writers out there in SA, I just don’t think I know of any off-hand. Sadly.

    10. Are you currently working on anything new or do you have anything planned for the near future?

    I’ve a couple of books on sub to editors at the moment; a scary enough thing in itself. To distract me from that I’m working on a very dark little children’s book and another story.

    Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions

    It was my pleasure 😀 Thanks for inviting me to be a part of your YA in SA series.

    You can find Cat online at her website www.cathellisen.com/

    or on Twitter at twitter.com/hellioncat

    Mondays are Murder: The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

    Sam knows that he and his friend Lloyd made a colossal mistake when they accepted the ride home.

    They have ended up in a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere with man who means to harm them. But Sam doesn’t know how to get them out.

    They were trapped, then separated.

    Now they are alone.

    Will either of them get out alive?
    I may have to speak to my lawyer!  Savita Kalhan has TRAUMATISED me!  She lured me in with the offer of a free (signed) copy on twitter and fool that I am I took her up on it .  
     When it arrived I looked at it and thought oooh! Pretty and creepy!  So very creepy-looking!
    The Long Weekend is a fairly short book – 180 pages in length – oh good I thought!  Quick and easy – I need a book like that!

    Then I made the mistake of reading it! 

    It is quite possibly one of the most gripping abduction, escape and chase novels for young people that I have ever read!  The prose is very tight, there is not an inch of wasted text!
    Sam is an amazing hero, he is a smart kid but he is just 11 years of age – same age as my nephew and sounds like him a bit as well! 
    He realises that he is no Alex Rider as he engages in a terror filled game of cat and mouse in and around the house where he and his friend are trapped. There are no heroics, just a desperate struggle to stay hidden to remain alive.
    I loved The Long Weekend it left me breathless – there were several sections where I discovered that I was holding my breath waiting for something terrible to happen. The building sense of dread compelled me to keep reading and as the book neared its end I realised that I had no idea what was going to happen, I had a sick sense of horror in my stomach as the page count diminished and I can honestly say that I was kept guessing until the very end.
    It has probably been said before that this story is every parent or guardian’s worst nightmare!
    I still feel twitchy even now, I have put the book on my shelf where it is safely away from me!  I fear that I may have nightmares about the worst that humanity has to offer and a little boy who wants to go home.
    Five stars for a riveting story!

    The fact that I finished The Long Weekend at the end of another long weekend is fitting and totally unintentional.

    Many thanks to Savita for the book – it has a special place on my bookshelf of awesome YA books.

    The Girl Who Was on FIre

    Sarah Rees Brennan asks: Why are readers so hungry for the Hunger Games?
    Carrie Ryan looks at how the Gamemakers shape the truth for television.
    Jennifer Lynn Barnes rejects both sides of the series’ love triangle and declares herself Team Katniss.
    Does real-life media training look anything like Katniss’?  Ned Vizzini says yes.

    Who holds the real power in Panem

    Trauma and recovery among Hunger Games survivors

    Muttations in the real world

    What the rebellion has in common with the War on Terror

    The Girl Who Was on Fire answers lingering questions, provides new points of view, and will remind every Hunger Games fan why they love the series in the first place.

    Having read The Hunger Games trilogy twice I was getting itchy to return to Panem for a third time when I heard that they were making a movie.  My heart leapt for joy as I have a fondness for dystopias.  My heart was still go-going in my chest when I bumped into a competition being run by Smart Pop Books – pay them a visit – they have some amazing things on their site!

    Anyway to cut a long story short I won a copy of The Girl Who Was on Fire, which is a collection of essays by some of the best and brightest YA authors. They are (in no particular order): Leah Wilson, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Mary Borsellino, Elizabeth M. Rees, Lili Wilkinson, Ned Vizzini, Carrie Ryan, Cara Lockwood, Terri Clark, Blythe Woolston, Sarah Darer Littman, Adrienne Kress, Bree Despain

    Reviewing a collection of essays is not the easiest thing in the world, with a novel you can give a brief synopsis and write about the story structure, characters and all the good stuff the story holds but in such a way so as not to give it all away and make the review reader want to go out and buy or at the very least borrow the book.

    It is slightly more complicated with an essay collection (at least for me).  SO I will just say that the essays are witty, thought-provoking, deep and above-all readable.  They can be used for personal enjoyment but also for group discussion and sharing.

    The blurb on the back cover says it perfectly:

    In The Girl Who Was on Fire, thirteen YA authors take you back to Panem with moving, dark, and funny pieces on Katniss, the Games, Gale and Peeta, reality TV, survival, and more.

    Go on!  Grab a copy! join some of the best-known authors of YA fiction (and maybe even discover some new ones) and be taken back into Panem and The Hunger Games.

    A book for everyone who is, was or has ever wondered what it is like to be a 15 year old boy!

    One seriously messed up week…

    … in the Otherwise Mundane & Uneventful Life of Sam Taylor JACK SAMSONITE

    Our hero? 
    Jack Samsonite
    His mission?
    1.  pass his GCSEs
    2.  get the girl (to notice he exists)
    3.  survive the week without a serious face punching 
     Good thing he’s got a plan. Well, half a plan… 

    One seriously messed-up week in the otherwise mundane & uneventful life of Jack Samsonite is being billed as a cross between Adrian Mole meets The Inbetweeners. It is also the only book I have had to stop reading on the underground as I was laughing too much in between cringing at the memories of my teenage years it was dredging up. I am seriously in awe of Tom Clempson, the man is a genius with the pen!  He has captured the awkwardness and uncertainty of being a teenage boy perfectly, combining crudity, romance, confusion, lust, friendship and the desire to get through the day without being bullied into the package of Jack Samsonite.

    Warts and all protagonists of the male variety appear to be rare in YA fiction, it started with Adrian Mole in the ’80’s and then there was not much.  It is quite possible that we are witnessiong hte birth of a new trend in YA fiction.  The story is told in the form of a diary written as a school project. It begins with an introduction which was written at the end of the week, so I knew where Jack ended up but as someone once said “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it!”

    The story starts on a Monday – with nob ache. Which, if I remember my teen years correctly, (and believe me there is not a man alive that does not – no matter what we may say. We remember every embarrassing moment clearly) is how many days start for boys in their teens. 
    Read this book, gain some insight into the mind of a teenage boy and perhaps you will even sympathise with them the next time one of them really pisses you off for just being a teenI read it and loved it (unconditionally) for the laughs, the angst and the cringe-worthy memories it evoked. I was Jack without being cool but then most of us were in those days.