London’s Sarah Crossan: ‘The Freedom To Write What I Want’

In News by Dennis Abrams

‘Adults are more difficult to convince’ about poetry, says award-winning author Sarah Crossan. Her newly honored ‘One’ is a verse novel, for younger readers.
Sarah Crossan, second from left, and fellow YA Book Prize shortlist authors at The Bookseller's awards reception. Image: Patrick Clarke

Sarah Crossan, second from left, and some of her fellow YA Book Prize 2016 shortlist authors at The Bookseller’s reception. Image: Patrick Clarke

When my former Bookseller colleague Caroline Carpenter interviewed Sarah Crossan about the state of young adult literature, Crossan said that the UK’s ‘Publishers have really responded to the campaign for diverse books in a way they haven’t in other countries.’ With two prestigious awards for her Bloomsbury Children’s release ‘One,’ Crossan has some perceptive comments on her publisher’s support and young readers’ adventurousness. — Porter Anderson

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Bloomsbury ‘Embraced Everything That I’ve Written’
Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan

It may be what some would see as an unlikely YA success story. The story of Grace and Tippi, a pair of conjoined twins told completely in poetry, in the last two weeks has won both the Irish Children’s Book of the Year and The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize.

And that book, One, from Bloomsbury Children’s, has made Sarah Crossan the new face of YA fiction in the UK.

At Buzzfeed, Chelsey Pippin talked with Crossan about her book, the challenges of writing in verse, the risks of tackling such a delicate topic, and in the YA category.

Highlights from the interview:

Chelsey Pippin: You’ve written poetry and prose contemporary novels, as well as two dystopian novels. Was it challenging to switch back and forth?

Cover art for the hardcover edition of 'One' from Bloomsbury Children's Books.

Cover art for the hardcover edition of ‘One’ from Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Sarah Crossan: “I’ve just been really lucky because my publisher could have been like, ‘No way, you’ve can’t write a verse novel and then have us turn around and publish a dystopian book set in the future that’s a genre book.’

“But I was just really lucky, then there was a sequel and a prose novel about a girl who likes poetry–I mean how is that a book that a publisher would say ‘Oh, that’s great!’? But they did, and they just sort of embraced everything that I’ve written and really allowed me the freedom to write what I want to write.

“And you know, some are hits and some are misses, but I think that’s the way you’ve got to write, otherwise you’re just sort of trying to keep your brand, and it’s like, this is your brand. But I think that’s sort of an artificial set-up.”

CP: Do you think the success you’ve had writing across genres and styles says something about YA readers?

SC: “I just think young people are open to all kinds of different things. When I talk to students about the book–and they are a little bit reluctant about the poetry–but when I talk to them, they’re convinced. And at school events they’ll buy the book.

“But adults are more difficult to convince. Adults are sort of like, ‘I don’t know, a whole book written in poetry?’ Whereas kids are like, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll give it a try.’ Kids are a lot braver and more willing to experiment and play with reading in different forms.”

CP: You’ve just won the only literary prize that focuses on writers based the UK and Ireland. Can you speak a little bit about the state of British YA?

Cover art from the paperback edition of 'One' from Bloomsbury Children's Books.

Cover art from the paperback edition of ‘One’ from Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

SC: “I just think the breadth and variety of what’s being published is phenomenal. When I was a teenager I just didn’t have that choice. You know, there was Judy Bloom, and then Virginia Andrews.

“I don’t remember there being such a big range…We’ve got more diverse literature, more people of color, different sexualities and gender identities. I didn’t have that.

“And even just in terms of different types of fantasy, contemporary–I just didn’t have that. I feel like I just lost out.

“I’m not saying our work is done here, though. I’m not saying, ‘Aren’t we great? Let’s pat ourselves on the back!’ or anything. There’s a lot more to be done, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

CP: What would you like to see as British YA grows up?

YA book prize logoSC: “I would like to see more verse novels, actually. I know that’s not exactly about the reader seeing themselves in it. But it’s about not alienating young people from poetry, not making them feel like the language doesn’t belong to them. I think that happens in school, the way that we’re examining kids on poems–you know, underline words, explain what the extending metaphor means. We just explain away poetry. It stops being something that belongs to the heart and becomes something that belongs to the head. I think verse novels are a really good way of keeping teenagers particularly connected to poetry.

“I mean, you’ve got poetry for toddlers. My daughter loves poetry, and I have an 8-year-old niece who’s the same. But you go into a secondary school and the kids roll their eyes, they have no interest. You hear a lot of ‘It doesn’t belong to me.’ ‘It’s boring.’ ‘It’s difficult.’ And why is that? I think it’s because they go from reading Julia Donaldson to Shakespeare.

“What is there in the middle? There’s nothing for them.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.