The Buzz–Interview with NA author Marnie Riches

Image Credit: Whizzy Barr
The Buzz – An interview with Marnie Riches, author of award-winning NA fiction The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and The Girl Who Broke the Rules. By Larisa Villar Hauser. (For an explanation of the origins of NA, see last week's Buzz!)

The Girl Who Broke the Rules was
published on 20th August.
How did you come to write for what is sometimes called the New Adult market? Was it a conscious choice?

I had been writing quite a lot of middle grade fiction. But as an avid reader of the Scandi-noir adult fiction of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, and as a huge fan of Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, it had been my ambition for quite some time to create a complex, gripping crime thriller with believable, deeply flawed characters that would form my response to Lisbeth Salander, Harry Hole, Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. I hit a snag. For a children's author, launching into writing strictly adult crime fiction was not an immediate, instinctive first choiceMiddle-grade and YA readers, though, would have been too young for the violent, sometimes explicitly sexual tale I wanted to tell.

Melvin Burgess and I were having dinner in Manchester back in about 2009 – he was interviewing me as research for a book. We had a conversation about this novel idea of writing for New Adults, whereby the stories would revolve around people in their late teens and early twenties – just as they were beginning their lives in the world of tertiary education or work. And right there, I knew I’d found my happy medium. I would write about a girl – George McKenzie – who is twenty years old and in her third year at Cambridge University, taking an Erasmus gap-year in Amsterdam. She would be young enough to do all the crazy, wonderful things that you can do at that age. She would be old enough to know her own mind and participate in an adult world. She would have none of the diplomacy and temperance that becomes necessary as you age and take on responsibility. Perfect!
What elements do you watch out for when writing? i.e. things that define the work as NA rather than YA or simply adult?
NA is about "people in their late teens and early twenties– just as they are beginning their lives in the world of tertiary education or work."
 My series is NA/adult crossover, as George does age in the course of the first three books. Though the voice remains consistent throughout, the storylines have become decidedly more adult in nature as the series progresses. Adult fiction tends to slow in places, and even the finest writers employ exposition as a matter of courseMy narrative technique, however, is still very much in the same vein as YA, in that I try to use minimal exposition and keep the whole thing pacey. Each chapter is a contained scene in itself and deeply visual. I tell much of the story with dialogue. So the style of NA, for my part, is very much akin to the economic style used in YA.
She would be young enough to do all the crazy, wonderful things that you can do at that age. She would be old enough to know her own mind and participate in an adult world. She would have none of the diplomacy and temperance that becomes necessary as you age and take on responsibility. Perfect!

Is NA your preferred age group? If yes, why?
I am enjoying writing an NA/adult crossover series, because it allows my younger characters to do things that older characters are simply too stiff or repressed or unfit to do. George McKenzie can abuse her body with cigarettes and alcohol, she can sleep around and get into scrapes and yet still be able to get up in the morning and take on a villain. If she were in her forties, there’s no way she’d be as emotionally or physically daring! Being a New Adult is also a wonderful time in your life where anything is possible.
Do you see yourself writing for older or younger age ranges in the future?
I’m one of those writers who has to write whatever falls out of my head. So, I have a part-complete, high concept YA manuscript on my computer, which I hope to finish at some point. I have a contemporary women’s novel on submission via my agent (not NA) and I may yet pen a middle-grade adventure. Whilst writing this crime series is the best thing that’s happened to my fledgling literary career, I can’t rule out other adventures in words.

Are there particular challenges or benefits to marketing a NA book?
"Being a New Adult is also a wonderful time
 in your life where a
nything is possible.
The beauty of marketing a book as NA is that you’re reaching out to a wider book-buying audience. I have a lot of loyal and enthusiastic readers who are students. I have had wonderful feedback from just as many senior citizens who love George and identify with the much older Paul van den Bergen. 

NA means your covers can be fresher, your promotional slogans punchier. Younger readers are more likely to access their Twitter feed and click straight through to Amazon, downloading the novel onto their smartphones. The marketing has more immediate results. They’ll probably listen to blogger recommendations more, as the YA blogging community is so vibrant and proactive. Older readers might wait for word of mouth recommendations or until the book becomes the focus of book club discussions. 

A young woman on an Amsterdam tram.
Amsterdam is the setting for Marnie's latest books.
But the tricky part comes in the visual language you use to market your story. Some e-posters will highlight George’s rebellious characteristics and will definitely appeal to younger readers. But perhaps if I went a step further and used #UKYAchat on Twitter when the hashtag is trending, I fear I would be seen as an interloper. So, I don’t. NA doesn’t yet have its own supportive social media infrastructure to build on. I rely on other children’s writers and SCBWI to spread the word to YA fans. Hopefully, that will change as UKNA bloggers and other UKNA authors, writing in non-romance genres, emerge. 

Similarly, what happens if you alienate older readers or those who would never invest in a crime series that wasn’t mainstream adult? What if your marketing material was too youthful and punchy? As something of a trailblazer for the age bandingI do fall between two stools a bit. 
I’m optimistic, though, and shall plough on. Not only has The Girl been critically well received, but she’s been an Amazon top 100 bestseller and has won a coveted Dead Good Reader Award! For me, in the immortal words of Del Boy Trotter, it’s a case of “He who dares, wins, Rodders!"

Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, aptly within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. She swapped those for the spires of Cambridge University, gaining a Masters degree in Modern & Medieval Dutch and German. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist, a property developer and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to run, renovate houses and paint. Oh, and drinking. She likes a drink. And eating. She likes that too. Especially in exotic destinations.

Having authored the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, her George McKenzie crime thrillers for adults were inspired, in part, by her own youth and time spent in the Netherlands as a student.

Interview by Larisa Villar Hauser

Larisa Villar Hauser is the author of independently published middle-grade novel UMA & IMP. The second book in the series is due for release in 2016. She also works as a freelance translator, mostly for small TV/film production companies and, lately, in publishing. Larisa has been a member of SCBWI since 2009 and is moderator for the e-critique group Muddlegraders. Her blog,, charts the self-publishing journey. @larisafvh 

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