After this interview (with the Guardian’s teen reporter Patrick Sproull) appeared, Melvin Burgess wrote on his Facebook page: “Not sure if I was a drunk or b) misquoted – but just for the record, whoever invented YA … it wasn’t me!”
Nevertheless, the publication of Junk and in particular its winning of the Carnegie Medal in 1997 (which caused even more of a stir than Kevin Brooks’ win this year) was certainly a defining moment in the UK, and it’s not at all embarrassing for Burgess himself to acknowledge this.
I bring up Junk, arguably Burgess’s most famous novel. Why does he think its legacy has lasted? “It has a historical position because it was a very early, proper YA book,” he says. “When it came out it had a real significance. The teenage fiction genre at the time was really for younger kids and not for teenagers.”
“When you write something and you’re early on in the writing process, you make up your own rules, you set out the territory. It might be quite obvious territory but you’re still setting it out. That’s why Junk’s legacy has survived because I didn’t know the territory, I was inventing it. It really was an adventure for me.”
“If you’re lucky enough to come along at a time when there’s a genre that’s just developing, it does give you unparalleled opportunities, which aren’t there later on. It was for that reason that I got to explore a territory which hadn’t been explored before.”