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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

How books can shape your life

Little known fact. I have the letters LJ tattooed on my wrist.

Little known fact. I have the letters LJ tattooed on my wrist.

It is 1996 and eight-year old me has no idea that one of the most important books I will ever read is about to be published.

In fact, I only found the book years later in a pile of old paperbacks my Mom bought at a jumble sale. The tattered midnight blue cover with the embossed silver script immediately caught my eye. And so did the first line.

“It was on the first day of summer vacation that Poppy found out she was going to die.”

The book was Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith, book one in the Night World series. If you’re not familiar with the novels, Night World chronicles the forbidden romances that take place between humans and the supernatural creatures that secretly live among us.

To teenage Sally, a girl with an alternative taste in music and a love of all things dark and spooky, this was quite a find. (Night World was basically Twilight before the existence of Twilight).

In Secret Vampire, Poppy is dying, except her best friend James won’t accept it. He reveals that he is actually a vampire and that he loves her, and that with his help she can live forever at his side. A million things stand in the way of their happiness, but that only makes their feelings for each other stronger.

Gah. Have you ever heard anything more romantic? Teenage Sally certainly hadn’t, and since teenage Sally had been trying unsuccessfully to finish Bram Stoker’s Dracula for almost a year, Secret Vampire seemed like a much more accessible alternative.

It became my instant favorite book of all time and represented my first foray into the world of young adult fiction. I went on the hunt for every YA book I could get my hands on, from RL Stine and K.A. Applegate to Christopher Pike and every other brightly-covered, slim volume showing the slightest hint of the paranormal I could lay my hands on.

Secret Vampire remained my favorite book until the moment I picked up Daughters of Darkness, the second in the series. In this book, Mary-Lynette discovers the existence of three vampire sisters in her neighborhood. She learns that their evil brother wants to take them back to the home they fled from and vows to help them. When they finally meet, Mary-Lynette and Ash clash violently. He hates her for being human. She hates him for being an evil git. Of course they’re destined to be together.

Another winner.

After Daughters of Darkness came Enchantress, then The Chosen and Dark Angel. Those were the only Night World books I could find at the time, so I moved on to Smith’s other paranormal books, The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle. My days were devoured by these books. I must have read and re-read these novels hundreds of times, a habit I haven’t lost as the years have passed.

It is through these books that I fell in love with young adult fiction. I already knew I wanted to be a writer, and thanks to L.J. Smith my taste for the genre pretty much guaranteed the inevitable.

If you’re planning on writing YA then these books should be your first port of call. Smith knows how to grab her readers – forbidden love, paranormal romance, love triangles, danger at every turn – she knows every trick. And if you loved the TV spin-offs, then you HAVE to read the books. Damon is much more devilish in print.

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Postscript: In an interesting twist, L.J. Smith has started writing official Vampire Diaries fan-fiction on Amazon after she was replaced as writer of the series.


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