The theme this month is ‘new’, a fairly broad theme…and I still managed to get stuck. New ideas, new projects…they’ve already been written about. I racked my brains and came up with something that had been staring at me in the face the whole time – New Adult fiction!
It’s funny, I’d never heard of the term “New Adult” until after I’d already finished the first draft of Darkness Watching, and I couldn’t believe that I’d unknowingly been writing it all along! I always intended to set the book at a university, although I did worry – often - that no agents would accept it as young adult fiction due to the protagonists being aged 18 and over. But then I read a blog post that said New Adult was ‘in’. Although most of the recent successes have been in the contemporary romance genre, the category could be applied to any novel with a young adult protagonist at the stage in their life where they’re legally an adult, but not necessarily ready for a completely adult life. Generally they’re studying at university or college, but this isn’t always necessarily the case.
I can kind of see where the contention is, because everyone matures differently. There are people who marry at eighteen and have kids by the time they’re in their twenties. There are people who start work immediately upon leaving school, which in the UK can be as young as sixteen. There are people who travel before starting a career, people who become permanent students and do Masters courses and PHDs and become lecturers…etc. There isn’t one path in life, which is why some people think of it as an attempt by publishers to lump everything and anything into categories –and after all, adults make up over 50% of the audience for young adult fiction. So is ‘New Adult’ necessary?
I personally think it’s a great idea – more than a marketing brand! It defines the period in your adult life where you don’t know what you’re doing with your life – true enough, not everyone experiences it the same way, but very few people know their set path in life at eighteen. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by people suffering from life crises right now – two months after graduating from university! College or university has been compared to an extended childhood, where you’re an adult without the responsibilities that come with having a full time job, or a house, or a family. It’s about finding yourself. For many, it’s the time of their first meaningful relationship, which is perhaps why contemporary romances such as Losing It by Cora Carmack and Easy by Tammara Webber are proving such a hit in the category. But I think there’s definitely scope for other genres in there, too. For instance, Strength by Carrie Butler is a new adult paranormal romance set at college, whilst Stitch by Samantha Durante at first seems to be a college-set paranormal story about a ghost – until a jaw-dropping twist propels it into the world of sci-fi dystopia!
Both novels are great examples of how university or college settings can increase the scope of your story dramatically. For instance, the common YA disappearing-parents dilemma disappears entirely if the main character is already living independently! They can travel, work, and make their own decisions. But at the same time, there’s still that uncertainty, and sometimes innocence. Living like an adult and feeling like one are two different things entirely!
Mainly, I think I wanted to write about this age because university has been the best time of my life, the one in which I feel I’ve found a sense of my own identity. I went to university a naïve eighteen-year-old who had no clue how to cook, operate a washer, or generally how to look after myself. I’m graduating with a vague life plan in mind – and three years of unforgettable experiences. I’ve skydived in Australia, climbed mountains in the Lake District, and visited the home of the Bronte sisters in Haworth. I’ve ridden rollercoasters in Blackpool, volunteered abroad, and gone on a student protest. I’ve LIVED more in the past three years than in my entire life up until now – and I finally achieved my dream and secured a publishing contract. I'm not going to lie, I’m still sad to have left university behind. But reliving it through writing this book series – even though none of the characters are based on real people – has been a great way to see the whole experience in perspective. Writing the Darkworld series – a university-set paranormal/urban fantasy series - has been an adventure in itself, and I’m excited to share the first part of Ash’s adventure, Darkness Watching, on the 10th October (shameless bit of self-promotion there!).
I think New Adult fiction is important because it’s a reminder of these pivotal years in which you discover your own identity and forge your own path in life. Not everything is set in stone. You can change your life plan every other week, or settle down. You can travel, learn, work and dream. It’s frightening, but also exhilarating. As publishers are swiftly learning, this category resonates with a lot of readers and has a swiftly-growing audience – the possibilities are endless, and I’m excited to be a part of it!