For a very long time, young adult fiction in India was all about “adults” writing for the “young”. However, now teenagers seem to be in no mood to let that practise continue with 15 to 16 year olds turning authors and deciding to take charge of stories that talk about them.
The result — a flurry of novels of teenagers, for teenagers and most importantly by teenagers.
“I wanted to be a teenager writing for my age group,” explains Tishaa Khosla, who at 16 years wrote her first book .
“Pink or Black”, drawn from her high school experiences and churned into an engrossing tale about lives of boys and girls on the cusp of adulthood.
With the second book in the trilogy just out and over 40,000 copies sold of the first, the 21-year-old credits her success to the fact that the story draws from real life and is rooted in true events.
“People who have read it say it feels like a slice of their life,” she adds.
She may have fictionalised certain events, but the conversations, the situations and the dilemmas are the ones that every teenager grapples with.
And that is exactly what publishing houses seem to be on the look out for — young adult stories which connect with the readers.
“Coming from a teenager, these stories are much closer home to the target audience which instantly arouses a certain curiosity from the reader,” says Saugata Mukherjee, publisher, Pan Macmillan.
Luckily says Tishaa, she decided to try her hand at Young Adult (YA) fiction at a time when it was only slowly being recognised as a space through which publishing houses could gain commercial success.
“Till not very long ago, YA was not seen as very profitable. That idea is now certainly changing and it is a mark of the way publishing industry is growing in India, says Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, Executive Editor of Rupa Publications, which brought out Tishaa’s book.
And what better way to tap into that market than having a novel right out of horses mouth i.e. young adults themselves.
In fact, some of the promising talents in the field are yet to reach their teens but happen to be already much loved authors.
A case in point is Anusha Subramanian, who was just 11 years old when she penned her fantasy novel “Heirs of Catriona”, a story of two teenagers who discover they are princesses of a magical land and embark on an adventurous journey to save their kingdom from the hands of an evil queen.
“I really enjoy writing and wanted to experience the happiness that comes from getting ones work published,” she says. Envisioned as a four part series, this 13-year-old is well into writing the second book and insists she does not miss out on anything and still manages to find time for her writing.
Rather encouragingly, Sudeshna says how children as young as ten are sending in their manuscripts.
“Even a couple of years ago, it was just a one off manuscript that we received from young authors. Now, the numbers are definitely looking up,” she says.
However, no one in the industry is willing to call it a sustained trend just yet, simply because things have started looking up in the area in say the last two or three years.
“It is too early to call it a trend,” says Sudeshna.
Both Saugata Mukherjee and Ahmed Faiyaz, one of the founders of Grey Oak Publishers echo similar sentiments.
Yet, experts believe the phenomenon is here to stay.
“The only criterion is that the story should work on its own and being authored by a teenager should not be its only USP,” Saugata points out.
The young writers too seem to be no short of confidence, firmly believing in their story telling capabilities.
“Age is no bar if you are good at what you do,” says Teresa Sabu, a 16-year-old who decided to debut as an author with a “thrilling kidnap story” — “The Gutsy Escape.”
Having received praise from her idol Ruskin Bond himself, who called the book “an interesting adventure story,” Teresa plans to be a doctor while continuing to indulge in her passion for writing. Just like her peers in the field, this youngster has already started working on her second book that will be a mystery novel for slightly older readers.
“A lot of people still cannot believe that teenagers can write books. There are still times when I have been stared at open-mouthed when I reveal that I am a published author,” laughs Teresa.
Both Anusha and Tishaa also recount similar tales, but point to a positive development that is most definitely a fruit of their labours.
“A lot of my friends who like to write are now thinking about taking their work to publishers after reading my book. I guess it has been an inspiration,” explains Anusha. Yet, there are voices of caution that advocate a wait and watch approach to see how the idea pans out in India.
As Saugata sees it, “Globally too there are just handful of teen authors who have made their distinct mark. I guess the real impetus will come once a couple of young authors break out as bestsellers which will prompt others to follow suit.
Till that happens, we will have to wait and see.”
Not to mention the fact that it is an extremely delicate task to mould a young author at a tender age.
“They definitely need more space and time,” says Sudeshna.
Faiyaz adds, “We’ve seen some promising work by writers who are 13-14 year old and we have requested for them to work a bit more on their writing and on the plot.”
Publishing houses are now more than ever willing to look at new writings and are slowly beginning to build up a young adult reader base.
As Faiyaz sums up, “The aim is to keep encouraging these young writers and keep providing them with an opportunity to tell their stories.”