Celebrating Young Adult fiction by UK authors


Demons of Ghent blog tour: Top 10 things I need to learn about UKYA by Helen Grant

A3D4E6F3-E197-4800-96B7-F058920EF611A confrontation in a city cathedral. A girl comes running out of the building, eyes wide with terror, and takes off down the street as though all the demons of hell were at her heels. She glances behind her, then sprints down a side street, past racks of souvenirs and postcards. Her pursuer can’t be far behind. Breathless, her heart racing, she accelerates, dodging her way past strolling tourists. If she can only get to the river…

London? No.

City-of-GhentThe cathedral the girl has just dashed out of is not Saint Paul’s, it’s Sint-Baafs. The river she’s heading for is not the Thames, it’s the Leie. When she runs across the road, she’s not just looking out for cars and buses, she has to watch out for trams too. And all of those are travelling on the right side of the road, not the left. This is Ghent, one of the largest cities in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, and the scene of my new YA thriller, Demons of Ghent.

I consider myself a UKYA author. I was born in London and I have spent the majority of my life living in Britain. Still, all my books to date have been set abroad, in Germany and Flanders.

Demons of Ghent_AGIt’s not that I don’t think the city of my birth would make a cracking setting for a thriller. It’s because from 2001 to 2011 I lived abroad, in Germany and Belgium. I found living in those places inspirational. Also, I was following that old piece of writing advice “write what you know.” After a few years of living overseas, I couldn’t have told you the price of a loaf of bread or a newspaper in Britain. Never having seen BGT, Strictly or the X Factor, I couldn’t have my characters talking about what they watched on British TV last night. I had no idea what would be on the syllabus if my teenaged characters were at school in the UK. I knew plenty about life in Germany and Belgium though.

Now I’m back in Britain, and when I’ve finished making the final revisions to Urban Legends, the book that follows Demons of Ghent, I will finally be writing something set in the UK. I’ve been back for three years and I’m losing my grip on the details of everyday life in Flanders. It’s time to move on.

Here are the top 10 things I think I need to swot up on, if I want to make my first ever UK setting sound convincing…


Authors sometimes date themselves fairly accurately by choosing character names that were popular when they were young. When I was growing up, there were loads of Susans, Deborahs and Julies, but I don’t remember ever meeting an Ashleigh or a Kayla.

I spent the best part of ten years living in places where Sabine, Claudia and Lia were popular names, so I’ll need to do some homework on UK names.


You wouldn’t think that food would be so very different a mere 200 miles away in Belgium, would you? (I mean, they love chips.) But several years ago a Flemish friend of mine took me for a slap-up meal in Brussels and I followed his recommendation of what to order. When my dinner arrived, it was sections of fried eel in a thick emerald green sauce. I’m not sure I could see my future UKYA heroines tucking into that with much conviction. Which brings me to…


I think of my years in Germany as the “curry-less years”. There was allegedly a single curry house half an hour’s drive away from where we lived, but nothing locally at all. There were loads of Turkish takeaways serving truly fabulous pide, but if I wanted curry, I mostly made it myself. And of course it never tasted quite the same.

In Flanders they have the fritkot, which is a kind of local Temple of Chips. Belgian chips are double fried so that they come out slightly crispy. They are often eaten with mayonnaise, so I shall have to remind myself that in Britain it’s more likely to be salt and vinegar, ketchup or brown sauce.


I write thrillers rather than, say, romances, so my heroines often have to dress for wading through snow, climbing up the outside of buildings or roaming through forests rather than thinking about what looks cute. All the same, I was surprised when an editor queried the fact that one of them went around in jeans. Apparently UK teens were wearing skirts or those short demins with opaque tights underneath at that time. I made a point of checking out what all the Brussels teens were wearing when I picked my kids up from school that day. Jeans, as far as the eye could see.

I probably have quite a lot of work to do in this area…

What the heroine nips out for

Sometimes for plot reasons, you have to send the hero or heroine out into the street so that they can run into a key person or notice some important thing happening. In the UK, he/she could nip out to buy a pint (*cough* 568ml) of milk. In Flanders or Germany they almost certainly wouldn’t do this. People tend to buy longlife milk in bulk from the supermarket rather than buying fresh milk daily. If they nipped out for something it would probably be freshly-baked bread from the local bakery. I’ll have to remind myself it’s back to the pint of milk.

Mobile phones

It’s quite difficult enough keeping up with mobile phone technology. When I started writing Silent Saturday (the book before Demons of Ghent), Veerle, the heroine, had a flip-open phone because that was what I had brought with me from Germany. A quick glance at the phones the kids were using in Brussels showed that everyone had moved on to slide-open phones. By the time the book had gone to copyediting Veerle had a touch-screen smartphone.

Aside from that, there are differences between mobile phone usage in the UK and other countries. In Belgium and Germany, we had to give quite a lot of personal details when buying a mobile phone (though this may since have changed). This was quite a headache for me when writing one of the scenes in Demons of Ghent, because the heroine needs to call the police without the call being traced. There are virtually no public callboxes in Ghent because hardly anyone uses them any more, but she couldn’t use her own phone because it could be traced to her. It took a while to work my way around that.

It was a surprise when we returned to the UK to find that you could walk into a mobile phone shop and buy a very cheap pay-as-you-go phone for cash without registering in any way. That should make those pesky calls to the police a bit easier in future novels.


I try to steer off using a lot of slang in my novels because it dates so quickly. However, there are some special pitfalls for anyone who’s lived abroad. The Germans call a mobile phone a “handy”, which sounds English. I heard that word used so often that I still use it all the time without thinking. If my future UKYA heroines call their phone that, they’re going to get some very funny looks!


The characters in my books do swear fairly freely, probably because I doubt anyone would stumble over a partially-decomposed corpse or interrupt a serial killer at work and exclaim “Goodness me.” I’ve managed to avoid an atmosphere of (cough) all-out vulgarity by using local swear words most of the time. Klootzak is a particular favourite of mine. I’m going to have to stop doing that, and think about how my UKYA characters can express their dismay without carpet-bombing the text with the f-word.

TV programmes

I still haven’t watched BGT, Strictly or the X Factor so I may simply have to make sure my characters are too busy to watch TV.


The public transport systems in Flanders are excellent – lots of trains, buses and trams running late into the night. I made a lot of use of this in Silent Saturday – it is a perfectly feasible way for a teen without a car to get to all sorts of places. In Demons of Ghent I’ve even explored the possibilities of a tram as a murder weapon.

I’ll have to think carefully about how to move my UKYA characters around. My current home is in the countryside, and the last bus back to it from the nearest city leaves before 11pm. No midnight shenanigans for the heroine then, unless she has her own transport.

On the plus side, now that Edinburgh has its own brand new tram line, there are some lovely local opportunities for tram-related murders…


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GUEST POST: How Dog Walks and a Pub Inspired the Settings of Glimpse, by Kendra Leighton

GlimpseCover2D-1Glimpse was inspired by Alfred Noyes’ poem ‘The Highwayman’ — a poem loved the world over, yet very British with its historical themes and old inn setting. Re-reading the poem as an adult brings back memories of school and the Lincolnshire village I grew up in, which was surrounded by fields, and had a little church and a pub at its centre. Though I was reading a lot of USYA when I started writing, I knew I wanted the settings in Glimpse to have a very British flavour.

My novel is set in a fictional town called Hulbourn, inspired by a real village called Fulbourn (see what I did there? I would be rubbish if I ever needed to create a false identity). For the three years I was writing my book, I travelled to Fulbourn every week to walk a friend’s dog. Though the village itself is smaller than my fictional Hulbourn, it has the same atmosphere, and the fields, woods and paths surrounding it—which is where I was walking—play a starring role in Glimpse.

IMG_1076Liz, my main character, lives in an ancient inn right on the edge of town. As the mystery in the novel ramps up—a mystery connected with ‘The Highwayman’ poem—she spends more and more time outdoors. This was partly out of necessity for the plot, but also to highlight her sense of being very alone, of moving further from the safety of the modern world, of imaginatively stepping out of time. I’m always struck by how being alone in the countryside makes me feel both free and vulnerable, that I could be anywhere at anytime and almost anything might happen, and I wanted to put those feelings to good use in Glimpse.

Another major setting in Glimpse is Liz’s creepy home. The Highwayman Inn sprang from my imagining of the inn in Noyes’ poem, and my investigations into real-life inns dating from the eighteenth-century and earlier. Old pubs, with their poky corners, low ceilings and dark wooden beams, are steeped in history and are a traditional part of the British countryside.

I researched inns that had once been frequented by highwaymen, traveling to London’s Hampstead Heath to visit The Spaniards Inn (famous for hosting Dick Turpin). Though my fictional Highwayman Inn shares some features with The Spaniards Inn, I think Liz would rather live at the Spaniards—it’s considerably cleaner and less scary, and I can vouch that the food is better!

Glimpse is published 19 June by Much-in-little.

Visit Kendra’s website.

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Author Louisa Reid’s Top 10 UKYA books

picLouisa Reid, author of Black Heart Blue and Lies Like Love, picks her Top 10 UKYA books “in no particular order!”

1. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

This book made me cry. It’s terrifying and clever and beautifully written in clear, sharp prose with an ending so heart-breaking and powerful that it had me reeling for ages after. An amazing piece of fiction.

follow-me-down2. Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

I love Tanya’s writing for its originality and vivid detail and also because she isn’t afraid of the dark side. A brilliant book about boarding school mayhem, teenage danger and desire. I read this with relish.

3. Heroic by Phil Earle

Heroic is a fabulous novel with wonderful characters and relationships that feel really real. Definitely one to read if you want something fast-paced but also tender.

127434724. Slated trilogy by Teri Terry

I love dystopian fiction and Teri’s novels are wonderful. I couldn’t pick one out of all of them so I’m having them all! The twists and turns are brilliantly plotted and keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Also these novels are a perfect example of how to use dream sequences to brilliant effect.

5. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I’m a sucker for war novels and this one really is well written. The powerful friendships and the heroism of the main characters is wonderfully portrayed.

unknown56. A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd

This is a brilliant and beautiful book. It engrossed me from start to finish with its powerful evocation of grief and the frightening consequences of loneliness and alcoholism.

7. Trouble by Non Pratt

I’d have loved this book as a teenager and I loved it as an adult reader, even going so far as to badger its poor author for a sequel because I couldn’t bear for it to end! Fab characters and themes – teenage pregnancy, in particular, is dealt with in an original and challenging way and the moral questions posed really had me thinking.

looking-for-jj8. Looking for JJ and Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy

Another cheat, sorry! Two for the price of one. I have to admit to only just reading the brilliant Looking for JJ but I’m glad I waited as it meant I could binge on the sequel too. I love that book box set feeling because I have no patience and have to guzzle everything all at once. Anyway, these are fascinating novels with a tricky and challenging premise. Wonderful.

9. The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine

An old favourite. I first encountered this book early in my teaching career and remember the class loving its darkness, just as did I. Twisted friendships and horrific family secrets make this one a gripping and taut read.

pop_cover10. Pop! by Catherine Bruton

I love Catherine’s writing. She creates wonderful characters with distinctive and original voices. I could really see and hear every detail of this book. It’s a great read with a setting that’s perfect for someone who often misses the grim North (only joking about the grim bit!)

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Guest post: Emma Haughton’s Top 5 UKYA Contemporary Thrillers

NowYouSeeMe_frontcover_green Oh god, the agonising! So hard to pick five. But here goes, and in no particular order.

1. Daylight Saving by Ed Hogan

I loved this book, and am on a one-woman mission to get everyone to read it. I am cheating a bit because although it is a contemporary YA thriller, it does have a supernatural element. A thriller ghost story – what’s not to love? But actually what I liked best about this book is its humour. Hogan does great comedy, and the portrayal of Daniel’s hapless, somewhat depressed father had me laughing out loud. But the story is also moving and poignant, and impossible to put down. Go on, go and read it right now!

2. The Glass Demon by Helen Grant

So many things to love about this book, and many of them unusual. The setting of a small German town, the beautiful prose, and slow build give The Glass Demon the feel of a literary classic, but Grant can do scary and sinister like no one else. I loved the spooky, horror elements, and warmed to the protagonist Lin and her reluctant relationship with a neighbouring boy. But more than anything I loved the portrayal of her utterly narcissistic step-mother, Tuesday, whose laziness and blithe self-regard are painfully funny. And I so worried about the fate of the legendary Allerheiligen stained glass, which has me just as anxious for its safety as the priceless painting in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

3. Cruel Summer by James Dawson

Cruel Summer offers a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek twist on the classic whodunit, with a cast of the impossibly young and beautiful in a glamorous Mediterranean setting. Sharp, sassy and uber-cool, like Josh Whedon’s meta-horror flick Cabin in the Woods Dawson grabs all the horror tropes and turns them inside out, playing out all the clichés with conscious irony through Ryan, who narrates everything in his head as if it were a TV show. A clever, postmodern blend of horror and suspense, chilling and amusing by turns.

4. Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Taking us deep into the psyche of a convicted child killer, Looking for JJ has rightly become something of a YA classic. A brave and daring novel, whose author manages to keep us completely on the side of protagonist Alice Tully; despite knowing what she’s done, Cassidy has us rooting for her success in establishing a new life. It’s not an entirely comfortable read, in that Cassidy doesn’t take the easy route of exonerating Alice from her crime, but shows by slow, painful degrees just how one child might be driven to kill another, and how our only just response is forgiveness and understanding. Harrowing stuff, and I can’t wait to read the recently released sequel, Finding Jennifer Jones.

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Okay, I may be stretching the definition of YA just a little here, and possibly that of a thriller too, but I couldn’t resist including Mark Haddon’s masterpiece. Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone is one of literature’s great teenage sleuths, and The Curious Incident is a fabulous whodunnit, albeit if the victim is a dog. By showing us the everyday through the prism of profound Asperger syndrome, Haddon gives us the world afresh. Clever, profound and deeply moving.

Emma Haughton’s own contemporary YA thriller, Now You See Me is published by Usborne today. A one-time family and travel journalist, Emma’s second novel, Better Left Buried, comes out next year.

Visit Emma’s website at for more details, connect with her on Facebook at or chat with her on Twitter: @Emma_Haughton #NowYouSeeMe

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Guest post: So what actually is YA? by Laure Eve

8516748319_1118f8975e_o v2It’s a tricky and oft debated question. What makes a book YA? Why are some books featuring teenage protagonists classified as adult? Why do some YA books deal with such adult themes and yet still sit in the children’s section?

A lot of it is to do with trends. We all know that while YA wasn’t called YA back in the day, it did exist (Tamora Pierce was my introduction when I was about 11). Harry Potter paved the way for YA as we know it now, with the idea of taking its young readers into successively darker and more grown up stories as Harry ages and they age alongside him.

It’s a deceptively simple idea – if books are going to have a year’s wait in between them, don’t you want to retain the readers you collected with the first one by giving them a story that is growing with them? The gulf between years as a child and a teenager is so immeasurably great (I remember 13 year olds being so far beyond me when I was 11) and as young teens we all strive to be more mature than we are as we start to change. Harry Potter certainly wasn’t the first series to have done it, but it was the first series to have done it as a phenomenon, and phenomenons set the trend for the next few years.

So it is a marketing thing. It’s a ‘section in a bookshop’ thing. But it also, to really be YA, has to be about teenagers. I know that seems obvious – let me explain.

Teenage fiction is about firsts. About first crushes, first nearly-adult experiences, taking on responsibility, growing up, leaving the trappings of childhood behind and the sadness and difficulty that transition represents. Learning to care for yourself. Learning how the hell to navigate in the world. And deciding, eventually, the kind of person you want to present to it. Teenagers change personalities almost as much as they change clothes – they’re trying to find where they fit. If the book doesn’t have any of these kinds of themes, whatever science-fictional-fantasy-dystopian-contemporary drapery it swathes itself in, it ain’t teen fiction.

Let’s take a recent book that most people will have heard of: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It has a seven year old protagonist for most of the book. Would you give it to a seven year old to read? Some might, and that’s fine too. But it’s an adult book. It’s about how an adult remembers being a seven year old, coloured through the foggy glass of adultness, rather than a character who is seven and experiencing the world as such. It deals with loneliness, the passage of time, the loss of magic. Childhood is about finding magic.

It’s the same with teen fiction. If it has a teen protagonist AND deals with teen issues, then I’d say it’s YA. How far you go with mature themes in YA before it becomes adult is a whole other argument (my answer to this: if it deals with teen themes, it’s teen. Teens deal with extremely mature things every day, including violence, sex and swearing. Why hide that from them and fake a world in which these things don’t exist? Use fiction to equip them to deal with it.)

Here endeth the lesson 🙂

Laure Eve is the author of Fearsome Dreamer and The Illusionists (published 3 July 2014)