Tips on Writing YA from Melissa Keil

In preparation for Hitting The Right Note, we chatted to YA author and Ampersand Prize winner Melissa Keil to get her hot tips on manuscripts and writing YA.

Hey Melissa, thanks so much for chatting to us. What have you been working on recently?

Thanks for having me! Like many people (probably), the last couple of months have been a bit of a creative struggle – it’s quite difficult to write in the contemporary-realist space when the world keeps shifting so rapidly underfoot. But, I’ve been slowly chipping away a redraft of a new YA novel (that has been in the works for quite a long time), and I’ve also been working on another project for a different age group (which I can’t talk about yet, except to say that it is nothing like anything I’ve written before, and has been a LOT of fun!)

What did winning The Ampersand Prize in 2013 mean to you?

Ampersand launched my writing career – winning the prize was not only an incredible confidence boost as a first-time author, but the extra publicity and spotlight afforded by the prize was hugely valuable in backing Life in Outer Space, and getting it into hands of readers.

What advice would you give to budding YA authors working on a manuscript?

Obviously read widely – read whatever you can get your hands on in the genre/style that you’re writing in, and read outside of those things too. But I think it’s really important to write the story that you’re passionate about and excited by – passion and enthusiasm translates onto the page, as does just trying to emulate a trend or what you think might be popular with publishers. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your first draft! And join a good writers’ group, if you can – having other writers to bounce ideas off is invaluable.

What do you love most about YA? 

I think the thing I love most is how playful and experimental YA can be – it isn’t a ‘genre’, but a section of a bookstore that encompasses literally every other genre, and often completely inventive mash-ups of those genres too. I love that YA characters are typically dealing with discovery and all those ‘firsts’ – first loves, first forays into the world – and how exciting and visceral those experiences can be.

We love book recommendations. What have you read and enjoyed lately?

Some amazing Australian YA books – Vikki Wakefield’s This is How We Change the Ending and Alison Evan’s Highway Bodies are both recent faves.

About Melissa:

Melissa Keil is a writer and children’s book editor. She is the author of three YA novels: Life in Outer Space, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl and The Secret Science of Magic. Her short story, Sundays, is featured in Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA anthology. Melissa’s books have been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, The CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers) award, and have been translated into many languages around the world.

Catch Melissa Keil at Hitting The Right Note on Friday 19 June, 11am-12pm. Free and livestreamed directly to our website. 

You can read more about The Ampersand Prize and how to enter here.