Young Adult Reading (and Writing) Guidance. An Interview with Nikki Heath. Part 2 of 2.

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by Jen

The View From Here Interview:
Nikki Heath

Part one can be read here.

As School Librarian of the Year 2008, Nikki Heath is someone who knows books for Young Adults. She has insider knowledge of what young people like to read, current trends in popular books, and of the challenges faced promoting reading to a demanding and discerning audience. She talked to The View From Here, reviews her favourite books for Young Adults and offers her eight top tips for writers.

Which YA authors and books do you most enjoy reading and would recommend to us?

I have many favourite Young Adult authors, including Darren Shan, Michelle Magorian, Anthony Horowitz, J.K Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson to name but a few. These authors are well established writers, with many followers at my school. Newer authors, such as Cathy Cassidy, Jenny Valentine and Derek Landy are all beginning to have their following and all have published books this year that I have adored. However, two of my favourites have to be Robert Muchamore’s ‘The Sleepwalker’ and M. G Harris’ ‘Invisible City’.

Robert Muchamore’s ‘The Sleepwalker’ is the 9th installment of his ‘Cherub’ series, which began 4 years ago. It is impossible to talk about the latest book in this series without mentioning the rest. The books centre around two characters, brother and sister James and Lauren, who were orphaned and joined Cherub. Cherub is a group of MI5 child agents aged between 10 and 17 who are trained to infiltrate situations that adults would find difficult; As the readers of the series age, so do the characters in the book. They go through all the stages of adolescence that our children would, with the added complications of trying to complete their Cherub missions. Some of these are life threatening, and have involved drug smuggling gangs, animal rights activists, prison inmates and eco-terrorists.

In ‘The Sleepwalker’, Jake and Lauren’s mission is to gain the confidence of a 12 year old boy called Fahim who anonymously dialed a hotline. He thinks his dad is to blame for an air crash. His mum has disappeared, too, and Fahim believes that his dad has murdered her. The children word as a team to try and discover exactly what his father is involved in, and help to solve the puzzle of why the plane crashed. The characters are extremely realistic; there is one particular scene describing a typical brother and sister arguing on the plane which I could totally relate to, having seen my children doing the same thing. However, when they realise their plane is about to crash, they change, and work together to try and leave messages in plastic bags for their dad, telling him how much they love him and will miss him. If you have never heard of Robert Muchamore, you need to go and buy his books!

The other book I have chosen is called ‘Invisible City’ by M.G Harris, and is the first book in a series called ‘The Joshua Files’. The book can’t fail to stand out on your shelves, as it’s encased in a bright orange clear cover, which looks fantastic! The story is told as a blog, written by Joshua as he tries to make sense of his dad’s mysterious disappearance. Joshua and his mum have been told that he has died in an accident, and later that he was murdered, but as the circumstances surrounding the apparent death begin to unfold, they become more and more certain that he hasn’t died at all. Josh travels to Mexico to try to make sense of it all, and discovers a sister he didn’t know he had, a codex, and an ancient civilization. However, some people will stop at nothing to keep… or discover a secret.

This is a fabulous, thrilling adventure story, which takes a real country and snippets of its history and seamlessly mixes it with fictional happenings, in this case conspiracy theories and UFOs. You can’t help but feel for Joshua and admire the ways in which he copes with each new obstacle which seems to fall in his way. It’s a must read, and I cannot wait for the sequel!

What do you think YA readers look for when choosing a book?

A great looking cover that stands out. A fast paced, unusual/interesting blurb (when they actually look at it!) Something that's 'thin;' even in years 10 and 11, thick books will put them off. In some cases, something with an element of the forbidden in it, so crime, rebellion, that type of thing!

Nikki's Eight Tips how to Excel as writers for Young Adults:

1.Young Adults tend to be captivated or will reject a book after reading less than a page, so 'grab' them straight away!
2. Say it quickly (no waffling!)
3. Treat the audience for what it is. Try not to be condescending /talk down to them.
4. Keep the plot simple (within reason!). If it's too confusing, they'll not finish the story/book/article.
5. Don't use bad language unless necessary and relevant to the plot. More likely to get recommendations from librarians this way!
6. Research characters and places to make your story seem as realistic as possible. If they don't believe it, they won't keep reading!
7. Write for girls, too! Lots of contemporary writing is aimed at boys and we need more authors writing for girls!
8. Keep up the fabulous work - don't give up! There are so many wonderful established and emerging authors for teens at the minute that it's hard to keep up! What a great time to be an author.


School Librarian of the Year 2008, Nikki is based at Werneth School, Stockport, UK. Werneth School has 1200 pupils, Yrs 7-11 (ages 11 - 16).

Before her appointment in 2004 Nikki, a qualified librarian, worked for the local School Library Service and two further schools. She has head of faculty status and so can keep putting ‘the library’s point of view’ at curriculum meetings. She works in close partnership with Sally, her nominator (both agree to great effect!), and is line managed by the deputy head with responsibility for teaching and learning.

In 2004 Nikki found a library little changed over thirty years. She began by organising a revamp. This sense of purpose has continued, she calls it ‘a journey that never stops’.

Nikki runs the library with the help of an enthusiastic team of pupil librarians. After training they are expected to take responsibility for breaktime and lunchtime running of the library, freeing Nikki to be available for individuals. The librarians are enthusiastic about their roles and the humorous but sympathetic support they receive from Nikki. They mentioned her reputation for appearing in T-shirts with a message, such as, "Old librarians never die, they just get reshelved!"

The Werneth Head of English stated that the library was now firmly at the heart of all the school did “She facilitates: but it’s more than just being a librarian or a teacher: she takes you with her because of her great enthusiasm and belief in reading”.


Stella said...

Great interview, Jen.

Personally, I think the "no waffling" bit is good advice for writers of any age range.


the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Thanks Stella. I love the "Don't use bad language unless necessary and relevant to the plot. More likely to get recommendations from librarians this way." So true - much advice is always focused at editors, agents, publishers, and readers but there is little time spent thinking on the important role librarians play in young people's reading habits or expectations.

Author Jenny Downham discusses writing this week from a YA perspective.