Writing Young Adult Fiction

w/ Simmone Howell with guests Bec Kavanagh and Dr. Penni Russon

Young adult literature is a wide-ranging category, a bustling literary marketplace, and a fast-growing field of academic study. YA incorporates all genres, often mixing them up in innovative ways. Because it is primarily for and about young people, it can identify and auger cultural change and, as young people are more than ever writing the world (through fan-fic, through Tik-Tok), young adult fiction will, with time, comprise a social history, perhaps even explain life as we know/knew it.

8 x Thursday nights  – 6.30–8.30pm

22 April – 17 June 2021

$ 1,300 / $1,105 alumni

This is a past course.

Young adult fiction is braver and less ashamed than its grown up siblings. It knows its stakes are the highest. It understands ideas of social capital and embraces things grownups forget to remember are important.

Writing in the Young Adult genre requires urgency and surprise and confusion. It is a form of writing often driven by emotion, and always sitting in the liminal space – a place of mystery and ambiguity. Love, friendship, family, belonging, belief, identity, sex, and trouble are all themes that find a home in YA.

To write from a place of astonishment, to meet the reader where they are: these are no small things. Writers of YA understand that their work is for developing selves – that it has the potential to be formative. As writer Barbara Wersba once said: “The best children’s writers know they are writing for the child in the adult and the adult in the child.”

In this eight-week, intensive course, you will learn the fundamentals of writing for a Young Adult audience. This is a rare opportunity to develop your writing in real time, with writing and editing experts alike, while gaining new skills you can carry with you for the rest of your career.

This program will also include the rare opportunity have a sample of your work copy-edited by a Senior Editor who specialises in editing YA. You will work towards providing a 2000-3000 word piece, which will receive two rounds of revisions returned to you following the conclusion of the course.


Writers you'll be working with:

Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell is the author of Notes from the Teenage Underground, Everything Beautiful, Girl Defective and the CBCA- award winning collaborative novel Take Three Girls (w/Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood). She is a PhD candidate at LaTrobe University where she is researching life-writing about the teenage experience. Her non-fiction is published in The Age Spectrum,…

Bec Kavanagh

Bec Kavanagh is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University. Her research explores the homogenisation of the adolescent female body in coming of age narratives. Bec is a recognised expert in youth literature and has worked extensively in feminist literary spaces. She was the inaugural chair of #LoveOzYA and currently manages the Schools Program at…

Dr. Penni Russon

Dr. Penni Russon is a young adult author who writes books that hover on the border of realism and fantasy, interrogating so-called reality and attending closely to the realms of the imaginary. She has recently completed a PhD in the theory and application of comics in youth mental health.

Course outline

The content listed below is comprehensive but is still a guide only. The exact course content could be adjusted according to the experience and concerns of the group and availability of guest writers. The detail of the course is at the discretion of the course director and Faber Writing Academy at Allen & Unwin.

8 x Thursday evening sessions (6.30pm – 8.30pm)

Session 1: Thursday 22 April – SPARKS

What do you want to write and why do you want to write it? What issues or themes will drive your story? This week we’ll get to know each other, set some writing goals and explore the connections between our fiction and out real world ‘secret’ knowledge.


This week we’ll be taking a deep dive into character and point of view. Who is our main character, and who supports them or thwarts them? What are their fears, loves, habits, beliefs, and secrets? How can we give them agency, and why is it important?

Session 3: Thursday 6 May – YA IN THE WORLD

This week Bec Kavanagh gets into the nitty gritty of contemporary Australian YA and coming of age narratives. We look at trends, tropes, audience, rules (are there rules?) and rulebreakers. We look the need for diversity and Own Voices in YA and consider ethical ways to write the other.

Session 4: Thursday 13 May – PLACE AND SPACE

This week we look at setting – where in space and time is your story set? How will place inform narrative? How can place help us map our narratives and generate plot?


Session 5: Thursday 27 May – GENRE

What are the possibilities of genre. Is genre a safe place? Can it be too safe? Often with genre we are writing outside our experience – so how can we write what we don’t know with authority? This week we’ll look at some of the practicalities involved in writing a novel including research and organisation – and we’ll use genre expectations to help build plot.

Session 6: Thursday 3 June – WORLD-MAKING

Whether you’re writing contemporary realism or historical fiction, you need to spend some time to understand the limits and possibilities of your characters’ inner and outer worlds. In adolescence all worlds pulse with both enchantment and risk. Penni will provoke you to think about you bring ‘insides’ into contact with ‘outsides’ in YA world-building.

Session 7: Thursday 10 June – ONE PERFECT SCENE

What are the elements of a perfect scene? What is the point of a scene? Are some more important than others? How do we get from scene to scene without copious unnecessary stage directions? We will look at form and white space (as Max Porter says, “all that white space is space for you to be in.”) and we’ll experiment with writing scenes and less conventional ways to tell a story.

Session 8: Thursday 17 June – REVISION/EDITING

This final session will feature an Allen & Unwin Senior Editor who will talk to you about the editing process in the book industry, with a special focus on YA. Following the completion of this course you are invited to submit 3000 words to be given two rounds of professional copy-editing, to give you an active perspective into how editing works, while improving a piece of your writing at the highest editorial standard.

Praise for this course

“Simmone was an excellent tutor – established a lovely welcoming vibe… and was very generous with her knowledge and experience.” Writing Young Adult graduate, 2020

How to Book

This is a past course.