It is getting on for fifty years since Sam Youd decided to try his hand at ‘young fiction’. In 1966, as he himself recalls:
[My agent] David Higham came to me with a proposition. Richard Hough, the Editor of Children’s Books at Hamish Hamilton, had liked my adult [John] Christophers, and was prepared to commission me to do something in the field of what was already being called Young Adult. The advance offered was far from princely, but opened up a new avenue … if I could do it. I did not read children’s books; but neither did I read science-fiction though generally tagged as a practitioner. And writing down to an audience was not a skill I’d ever had or tolerated. I decided simply to centre events around a young protagonist – at the top end of the eleven to fourteen age group which had been mentioned as my target – and to leave out sex and sexual involvements.
What resulted from this proposition was The Tripods tetralogy, which has been in print ever since and which is due out from Simon & Schuster (USA) in new hardback and softback boxed set editions later on this month.
One reason for the continuing popularity of these books is the questions they raise about individuality, conformity and freedom, always relevant but perhaps particularly so to teenage readers.
In fact, the US educational company, NextLesson, has recently released a study guide based on the first book of the series, The White Mountains, centring on the ‘Driving Question: how valuable is individuality?’