Michelle Morgan’s Tips on Writing Historical YA

morgan-michelle-head-shotToday, I’m pleased to welcome Michelle Morgan. Michelle is sharing her writing tips on how she wrote her second historical YA novel, Flying through Clouds, released in April.

Michelle’s first novel Racing the Moon, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2014, and released in the UK and US in 2015. Four of her plays have been performed in Short Play festivals in Sydney, Newcastle and Armidale. She has also co-written several songs with her husband, Luke. You can find out more about Michelle and her writing on her website.


It’s not easy being a teenage boy growing up in the tough neighbourhood of Glebe in the 1930s. It’s even harder when your dream is to become an aviator, your parents are dead against it, and your girlfriend’s father is the School Principal. But Joe has even bigger challenges he must face and obstacles to overcome if he wants to achieve his dream. He has a plan and won’t let anyone stand in his way.



5 tips for writing an historical YA novel – How Michelle wrote Flying through Clouds

  1. Inspiration is the starting point –  I was inspired to write Flying through Clouds by two historical events – the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932, and the landing and take-off of Southern Cross by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith on Seven Mile Beach in January 1933. Before writing a word, I immersed myself in research. I read books about aviators, the Depression and Australia in the 1930s, and watched videos, listened to podcasts, visited museums and searched for old photographs and newspaper articles.
  2. Develop a multi-dimensional main character and a support cast of interesting secondary characters – I often use dialogue to reveal character. My enthusiasm for dialogue springs from my love of theatre and playwriting. In Flying through CloudsI explore Joe’s journey through adolescence and his relationships with his family and friends. To do this, I had to develop secondary characters and themes that would resonate with readers today.
  3. Build tension and create conflict – I put obstacles in Joe’s way and explore his reactions. But Joe also has agency and his plan to become an aviator isn’t as easy as he first thought. He has to make choices, sometimes bad choices, which inevitably lead to conflict with other characters. And there’s no story without conflict. When writing for young adults, it’s important to have a strong narrative.
  4. Develop a distinctive voice –  I chose to write Flying through Clouds in the first person from Joe’s point of view. I wanted readers to be able to experience the world of the 1930s through Joe’s eyes, to be accomplices in all his well-intentioned but poor choices. But the first person also has its limitations because the narrator can’t possibly know everything that’s going on around them or inside the heads of other characters. It was challenging to develop the voice, behaviour and personality of a teenage boy growing up in the 1930s. I read widely but also observed significant males in my life, and dug deep to find the rebellious teenager within. Apart from developing Joe’s voice, I had to develop personalities and behaviours for all my characters.
  5. Thorough editing is critical – In the two years it took to edit Flying through Clouds, I evaluated and interrogated every scene. What impact it has? How credible is it? Will it drive the story forward and develop the characters? Each turning point in the novel had to come at just the right time and create tension, as well as propel the story towards the climax. Critical feedback from professional editors is crucial to developing a manuscript towards publication, and I was fortunate to work with two talented editors. A structural edit led to a much tighter plot and a reduced word count. The copy edit a year later picked up problems with grammar, style, voice, punctuation and minor inconsistencies in the text. The copy edit also inspired me to further develop the voice and characterisations.

Michelle hopes that Flying through Clouds engages readers with its compelling blend of humour, drama and historical detail.

Flying through Clouds is available now at bookshops, educational and library suppliers, and can be ordered on my website: www.michellejmorgan.com.au


AUTHOR: Michelle Morgan
TITLE: Flying through Clouds
ISBN: 978-0-9953865-0-1
CATEGORY: Young Adult
AGES: 12+
RRP: $18.99 Pbk
PUBLISHED: 2 April 2017

Teachers notes for Flying through Clouds are available here