Angry Robot is one of the most interesting and versatile science fiction imprints on the market and this year marks its expansion into a couple of new areas. Exhibit A, their crime fiction line launches later this year but first up is Strange Chemistry , its YA line. Edited by Amanda Rutter, a long-term advocate of the genre, the line launches in September with Blackwood by Gwenda Bond. I spoke to Amanda about YA, Strange Chemistry and what draws her to it.
What YA books influenced you growing up?
“Actually, I was one of those readers who ventured at an early age into adult fiction. I was a great fan of authors such as Wilbur Smith. I also read a lot of fantasy as a teen: authors like David Eddings, Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan. If there had been the same volume and quality of YA titles then as there are now, I think I would have quite happily basked in that area for many years before moving onto any adult fiction!”
You've been a passionate supporter of YA fiction for years, tell us a little about what draws you, and others, to it?
“YA fiction is a great area of the bookstore – for one thing, all the genres are mixed up under the banner of Young Adult. Dark romance sits next to taut thriller; contemporary fiction sits next to historical. This embracing of all different genres is very cool and means that YA contains a truly vibrant mix of styles and stories.
“I particularly love the way that YA fiction does not shy away from the hard-hitting fiction. There are lighter reads, but YA also tackles real issues – like rape, incest, self-harm and suicide. These are issues that shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet, especially for teens who will have questions and should be taught about real life situations.
“Lastly, as far as I am concerned, YA is an incredibly inclusive area of fiction. There is a real effort to demonstrate that all walks of life are acceptable and should be embraced, which is a fantastic lesson to be teaching teens as they develop from kids into adults.”
With The Hunger Games trilogy on the rise and Twilight and Harry Potter both still riding high, why do you think YA has proved to be so successful over the last few years?
“YA fiction is written in a peculiarly unique manner – it is fast-paced and often from a first person perspective, which gives it a real immediacy. The pages really turn and the books tend to be on the shorter side (we’ll ignore J K Rowling here, who skews the page count average higher!). For a lot of people, YA fiction is a real breath of fresh air from the sometimes stodgy epic fantasy tomes and the doorstopper volumes in the adult section.
“I’ve also found that people enjoy the themes that are being explored and presented in YA fiction. For example, The Hunger Games and the rise of dystopian fiction in YA is a strong commentary on the society we inhabit today: a big brother attitude; a horrific split between rich and poor; a world where people are being controlled. At the same time, The Hunger Games is storytelling at its best, which invites sharing amongst friends.”
What makes a Strange Chemistry book? What do you look for?
“One real characteristic of YA that we’ve seen is the presence of dominating trends – we’ve seen vampires, magic, dystopian, mermaids, zombies… When the new big thing hits, it tends to fill the bookshelves. At Strange Chemistry I am not looking for a trendy book. I am looking for timeless storytelling – books that are both relevant and interesting now and in five years time.
“I also look for strong characters. For me, a book based merely on setting or plot is not enough without characters that can carry the story. I like my heroines to be strong, not meek, and I like my men to be interesting rather than just good-looking. If the characters are right in a manuscript, then the battle is half-won as far as I’m concerned.
“I also like imaginative stories – books that don’t quite go in the expected direction. Our tagline for Strange Chemistry is ‘Experimenting with your Imagination’ and I like to choose books based on that.”
You make an interesting point about YA being a broad church. Given the success of books like the Alex Rider series, is YA contemporary thriller a genre you're interested in? (Apologies if this puts you on the spot by the way)
“It certainly is! In fact, you can have a little teaser secret – in the future Strange Chemistry will be expanding to cover all flavours of YA, from contemporary thriller to historical to romance, as well as the quality speculative reads we're already planning!”
Where do you think YA is going in the next few years? More mainstream success?
“YA is going through an exceptionally interesting stage at the moment. We've seen some publishers closing down their YA imprints as well as some opening new ones. We've had some publishers focusing on one different genre within the category and others who will publish genres across the board. At the moment I feel it is just as likely for YA to entirely stagnate and fold in on itself as it is to expand our into the bookstores – that is how volatile it is. It’s a desperately exciting time to be involved, as everyone figures out what is going on and how YA will be directed in the future.
“Personally I think YA will become something purer – less about the trends and more about the timeless stories that people just have to read. And, with people like Patrick Ness championing the future of YA, I think we're all in good hands!”
How many books will the imprint release a year?
“In our launch period (Sept 2012 – Nov 2012) we are releasing five books – two in September ( Blackwood by Gwenda Bond and Shift by Kim Curran), two in October ( Poltergeeks by Sean Cummings and The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke) and one in November ( Katya’s World by Jonathan L Howard).
“In the first half of 2013 we will be releasing one book a month, increasing to two a month in the second half. From 2014 there will be two books coming out a month. Busy times!”
Strange Chemistry launches in September. Check the website at http://strangechemistrybooks.com/ or follow Strange Chemistry on Twitter at @strangechem