Friday 25 September 2009

Ash: The book that changed my thinking

I don't often recommend a book on my blog. In fact, Year Zero books aside, I don't think I've ever done so. So it's time I did. Just the once.

And that book is Ash, by Malinda Lo.
Of course, in order to justify a change of policy, there has to be a story behind the story, as it were. So why this book?
Well, I came across Malinda when I was looking for places I could send Songs from the Other Side of the Wall for review. D J Young very kindly recommended I try After Ellen, one of the leading lesbian lifestyle magazines. There I discovered a great article by Malinda on lesbian fiction beyond coming out stories, exactly the kind of thing I'm interested in, as Songs has a lesbian protagonist and is nothing to do with coming out.
Hmm, yes, well what has all this got to do with Ash and how it changed my thinking (and what did I change my thinking about?)
Well, Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and rather well done at that. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in young adult fiction. And that's the reason I'm recommending it today. I read a great interview with Malinda about Ash, and the writing of the book, and one thing stood out for me.
Ash began as a work of literary fiction, but over time Malinda came to look at it differently, and began seeing it as young adult fiction, and it's that market into which the book has just been launched.
Now, Songs has a protagonist who's 17/18. And, as soon as I realised the parallels to Muraklami's Norwegian Wood, I started using the phrase "coming of age". But I used it sparingly, fearful lest my use of it mislead people into thinking it was a young adult book. Which it wasn't! It's literary fiction! Just like Murakami, and Coupland, and Brett Easton Ellis.
Only. Well, I know there are lots of people who like the book who aren't young adults (largely, from the response I've had, these are women in their 40s and 50s). But when we started publicising Year Zero, one of the places we went was Suicide Girls, a site frequented by a lot of teenage girls drawn to an alternative/emo lifestyle. And I got some e-mails about Songs. Which made me wonder a little. Sowed some seeds.
And then I read Malinda's interview and I finally realised that the target audience for Songs may just be young adult after all. And what the devil's wrong with that?
So there we have it. Ash, by Malinda Lo, the book that made me see Songs as a young adult book aimed at the alt/emo market. Thank you, Malinda.


  1. Dan, maybe Songs could be marketed as young fiction, but perhaps not exclusively, though I don't know how you could approach that. Like you said, many of us who aren't young adults enjoyed the book. Would older people want to read it if it's marketed as YA? Maybe.

    I also stopped by to say that I'm playing follow friday at and I just nominated your blog.

  2. Hi Anne, first thank you! You've reminded me to add that to my blog roll (now done).

    What I don't want to do with marketing is be too general. I want to target one audience. I'd always thought that would be the 18-30 urban crowd, but the response I've had from teenagers has made me reconsider that.

    And I don't know if I'll lose other potential readers, but I think if I'm going to focus the marketing right I need to be prepared to take the risk.

  3. Dan, interesting troika to represent contemporary literary fiction -Murakami, and Coupland, and Brett Easton Ellis. Not the 3 that might have tripped off my tongue.

    On another note:

    1) How are your book shop sales going? And what online outlets can I get your book from as I can't find it on Amazon?

  4. Not intended to represent contemporary fiction - just the three authors who write about young people (Norwegian Wood, Generation X, Less Than Zero) whose work is most luike mine and isn't young adult.

    Songs is available from Camden Lock Books in London (in Old St Station - don't ask) and Albion Beatnik in Oxford, at both of whcih there are going to be music, reading, and wine parties over the next couple of months. Online it's available at:

    It's not on Amazon yet because (as I'll report in my end of month thingy) the ISBN I ordered went awry.

  5. I am glad you made a change in policy. Support what you love and bash(not slander) what you dislike. Healthy criticism is what makes the world go round.
    -Brandon Rhys Parker

  6. Thanks. Just to be clear, though, you won't find any book-bashing on this site :-) Bigotry and social injustice, on the other hand - it's already open season against those!

  7. If your main target audience isn't young adults, I wouldn't say Songs in YA. Sure, it has a teenage protagonist, but that doesn't make it YA. I think it deals with things that are a little out of bounds of the YA genre, but that's not to say that young people can't read it. And I think labelling it emo/alt is a little too restrictive. I mean, you do want a target audience, but sometimes proclaiming that a work is ONLY for them turns off any other readers that wouldn't necessarily see themselves as that kind of reader.
    You know what I mean?

  8. I DO know what you mean. I absiolutely don't want to rule people out. It's a question of where to go with marketing - where to try and get the book seen without necessarily labelling it.

    And I don't want to fall foul of the morality police if some bits don't fit expectations. Hmm.

  9. It's a tough one for sure. I'd stick with it being . . . accessible literary fiction. When I think YA, I think fifth graders to middle schoolers, and I'm not sure it's really their kind of book . . . Even though I was a terrible example of any normal sort of child, at that age I was reading Gone With The Wind and that sort of stuff (way beyond my level), so I think the "YA" readers will come to you.

    Yeah, you really don't want the morality police after you.

  10. I agree with Sarah, FWIW. As long as "Songs" has visibility, I think the "YA" readers who'd relate to it will find it. And some of those readers might be put off by having the book specifically labelled as YA. (Oops, I've just realised that that last sentence is a poor paraphrase of one of Sarah's. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sarah).

    I find it sad when a book like "Jane Eyre" is squished into the YA box simply because its protagonist is a young girl at the start. And on a personal note, I've had one or two people tell me mine should be listed as YA for the same reason. Obviously I disagree, for myself and for Charlotte Bronte. There are *many* young readers capable of reading "Jane Eyre" (I first read it when I was much too young, and spent many fear-filled nights imagining a madwoman lurking under the bed), but it doesn't deserve to be limited in such a way. And neither does "Songs", IMHO.

  11. Aargh. It looks like rethink number 2 is on the cards, but thank you so much for the input.

    The main point of the post, however, was to get everyone reading Malinda's fantastic book!