Siobhán Parkinson is one of Ireland’s best-known novelists for young people. She was Ireland’s first ever laureate for children’s literature (2010-2012). She set up Little Island Books in 2010, publishing distinctive and original books for older children and teenagerss, including some translations. A selection of their titles are featured below.
Young Adult: When did you decide to start writing?
Siobhán Parkinson: Don’t remember very clearly, but it was something I always wanted to do, from childhood.
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YA: What about writing for children/young adults appeals to you? Do you write in other spheres as well?
SP: I especially like writing for kids of about 11 or 12, as this is a very special time in a person’s reading life. If you’re a reader at all, you’re it by now, and there is a kind of passion for books that readers have at that age. You know they are really going to enter the world of the book that you create as a writer. They are still young enough to trust their imagination, and at the same time old enough not to be struggling with the language. Brill audience.
I do write also for the next age group up, 12-14/15, and again, I like writing for that age group too, I suppose I think of those readers as a kind of extension of the younger ones, only a bit more sophisticated (though I do not for a moment underestimate the sophistication of the younger age group). If people are still reading at that age, they are by definition keen readers (because a lot of young people tend to stop reading as they enter adolescence/secondary school), and it is lovely to know that your audience is really passionate about books.
But I suppose my main reason for writing for young people is that I like to develop young characters, and I am very much a character-driven rather than a story-oriented writer. Young characters are at a more interesting stage in their lives than adults, they have a lot to contend with (problems kindly provided for them by their adults, by and large) and they are hard at work creating themselves.
And yes, I do also write for adults from time to time, which is neither easier nor more difficult, just different — and not all that different either, actually.
YA: Please tell us a bit more about your journey to become Ireland’s first children’s Laureate.
SP: Hmm, I’ve never thought of it as a journey. I suppose you just work away, experimenting with different styles and ideas, bringing out books of different kinds, for different ages, and before you know where you are you’ve become some sort of long-standing children’s writer, with a fair body of work behind you. Sometimes I look at them all and I wonder where they all came from. And then also I suppose I’ve always expressed a lot of opinions about children’s literature; I’m always banging on about respecting children as a serious audience and giving them quality stuff to read, and how young people are up for absolutely anything, they don’t have to be incessantly entertained, they’re well able to deal with the kind of book that asks them to think — not that I have anything against entertainment, it’s just that I don’t think it needs to be the only thing in a book for young readers.
So then, with a bit of a reputation for having views and a fair bit of experience also (as an editor and a critic as well as an author), I suppose I was the kind of person that fitted the bill when it came to choosing a laureate.
I must say I enjoyed doing it, being a passionate spokesperson for children’s literature, nationally and internationally, but it’s also nice now to have finished my two-year stint and get back to a (slightly) quieter life.
YA: What do you look for in contemporary young adult fiction for your publishing house?
SP: Good stuff. Very hard to say, really, beyond that. A lot of being a publisher has to do with your personal preferences, and those are hard to express, except in the form of your choices as publisher. Generally speaking, I am looking for a freshness of voice and vision.
YA: Are there specific trends in the YA literary sphere? If so, what are they now?
SP: I’m sure there are trends, but I am not interested in publishing to trends. I suppose at the moment it’s what they call dark fiction, which seems to include everything from vampires to dystopian stories. We did publish a dystopian novel just recently (Valentina by Kevin McDermott), but we didn’t publish it because it fitted in with a trend, but because we liked the story, we loved the main character’s voice, and we very much liked the way the main character, who is also the narrator, is quite a spiky, snobbish, self-regarding kind of person, and though she does mellow as the story proceeds and she gains experience, she doesn’t do that very cliched thing of turning into a sweetie-pie; she’s still a troubled, cranky kind of a person at the end of the story, though she has also gained a lot of experience and understands things way better.
I’ve deviated a fair bit from the question, but in a way it’s relevant, as it illustrates how I tend not to think in terms of trends when I make a publishing decision. One can’t ignore these things completely – otherwise, we’d all still be writing like 19th-century novelists – but trends come and go, whereas quality fiction goes on for ever …
YA: Who are the authors/works to look out for in the next year?
SP: Well, as far as Little Island is concerned, you should definitely watch out for Katherine Farmar’s first book, Wormwood Gate, which is a delightful urban fantasy with a humorous touch, coming out early in 2013, and fans of Prim Improper by Deirdre Sullivan, which we published a little while back, will really enjoy the follow-up, Improper Order. This teenage girl diary in a hilariously comic voice but with a bit of bite too is also coming early in 2013.
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Publisher, Little Island Books
Siobhán Parkinson is one of Ireland’s best-known novelists for young people. She was Ireland’s first ever laureate for children’s literature (2010-2012). She set up Little Island Books in 2010, a very small publisher of books for older children and teenagerss, including some translations. Her last book was Bruised (roughly for agesn13-15) published in the UK by Hodder. www.siobhanparkinson.com
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