With the majority of the afternoon and latter stages of YALC Day 3 taken over by the Harry Potter Birthday Party, all the panels and talks were in the morning and early afternoon starting with a line-up of eight debut YA authors. Yes that's right, eight of them, all desperate to tell us about their books and very kindly offering advice to the newbie writers in the audience. Apologies that in the excitement I forgot to take a picture of their shiny debut faces, but let me introduce you to the new kids on the block.
Pete Kalu, author of Silent Striker, part of a series of standalone books with football as the connecting element. The books deal with racism, bullying, hearing loss, identity and gender, all interwoven with characters that love football.
Harriet Reuter-Hapgood, author of The Square Root of Summer. This time travelling, 'quantum physics romance' is a book I have wanted to get my hands on since I saw her agent/author talk at YALC last year.
Claire Hennessy, author of UKYA debut Nothing Tastes as Good, (She has been previously published many YA titles in Ireland). Think ghosts and weight loss and issues of appearance and acceptance, feeding in mental health and rounding it all off with a dark witty bow.
Chris Vick, author of Kook, which I was given as a free gift in my YALC goodie bag. Looking forward to reading that one. Kook is a tale of surfing and a love all-consuming that can drag you down to the depths. It packs an emotional punch and involves the characters getting in plenty of trouble.
Natalie Flynn, author of Deepest Cut, is a book with a mute protagonist, plagued with guilt after the OD death of a friend. She describes it as, 'dark but fun.'
Martin Stewart, author of the fantasy novel, Riverkeep, a wild adventure story with a hideous river monster, a quest and that nagging responsibility of taking over the family business.
Rhian Ivory, author of The Boy Who Drew the Future, the story of two boys a hundred a fifty years apart in time that can both draw the future, and the curse it brings to their lives.
Julie Gray, author of The Otherlife, a story about the dark in all of us. A supernatural tale of Norse gods and two opposing worlds co-existing.
Together, with the guiding hand of chair and host Luke Franks from Maximum Pop!, the authors collectively framed the outline for 'the perfect YA book' creating characters, plot lines, opening scenes and the grand finale. Far too much Beiber for my liking, but a hilarious mini collaboration.
We then heard about the authors' challenges, what it was like to be published, when you should send to agents and lots of practical advice for burgeoning writers. Here are some of their best bits of advice:
- Martin: When editing, 'be prepared to give up on stuff.' But also keep things you take out as they may be used in another book.
- Chris: 'Work out what you want to say as clearly as possible.' 'Keep it relatively simple.'
- Pete: 'Write the ending first.' 'Have fun and enjoy yourself.'
- Harriet: 'Have a very comfortable chair.' And, 'always back up your work.'
- Claire: 'Caffeine!' 'Passion and enthusiasm are essential.'
- Natalie: 'Schedule for meltdowns.' 'Don't give up. Keep practising. Be patient.'
- Rhian: 'Embrace failure,' your first draft will be awful, but 'never say you're stupid.'
- Julie: 'Don't get too hung up on word count.'
Finally Rhian told us about the text to speech function on the Kindle, where you can actually listen to your book as an audio book. So she listens to her book before considering sending it out to an agent or editor. Thanks for that gem, Rhian. I had no idea you could do that.
It was a delight to listen to so many new voices in YA and how diverse and truly different all these books are. The reading pile just keeps on growing. Good luck with your debut offerings and even greater luck for the evil second book writing.
Next up was the Ask YALC event, where members of the audience had submitted certain issues or problems they were facing, and a panel of YA authors would do their best to offer some advice or point them in the direction of a book that could help. I won't go through all the problems and the responses, but I will tell you that Juno Dawson, Holly Borne and Rosalind Jana were our authors, with Gemma Cairney as chair. They managed to get through several audience problems:
- In love with her best friend (who is also female). Should she tell her?
- Loss of a parent. What book would help a friend through this loss?
- Making friends at YALC. Why is it so hard?
- Being blanked by your best friend
- Wanting to know more about mental health and depression, are there some books you could recommend?
- Exam stress. Sometimes I feel like the only one who feels like this.
- Finding YALC overwhelming.
- The best way to recover from a book hangover.
There was also talk of the inspirations of the authors themselves and much talk around gender issues and stereotyping. It was a well-attended event and I hope it gave support to those who needed it. Times change and technology progresses, but most of these YA issues have been constant over generations and will continue to be long into the future.
From left to right: Gemma Cairney, Rosalind Jana, Juno Dawson, Holly Borne.
The third and definitely one of the biggest panels of the day featured Frances Hardinge, Philip Reeve and Tanya Landman, three very different writers with very different subject matter who complimented each other perfectly and provided a captivating and often hilarious panel.
What first drew you to writing?
Frances was writing short stories for adults when a friend realised her work was probably more suited to Children's/YA. Her friend stole the chapters and sent them off. 'I am very grateful to this friend of mine.'
Tanya used to keep a pet pig. Her first book was about a pig going for slaughter. Drawing on her own experiences.
Philip started as an illustrator. He talks of being 'influenced by everything around us.' And he 'wanted to write on a huge scale.' When he was illustrating at Scholastic he was able to get some writing their way.
Philip definitely prefers fantasy. He finds it 'satisfying creating worlds.' He enjoys 'choosing the elements' to the story and then piling in 'anything you want' in order to make it work.
Frances chooses fun and often 'insane premise[s]' for her books. She uses 'elements of historical facts' to give a piece 'solidity' and likes to 'exaggerate.' She loves fantasy because 'you can't be wrong.'
Tanya usually works within a 'historical framework.' Her books are often based on real incidents and can be subject to criticism if she gets any of the historical facts wrong.
When researching for her books, Tanya does a lot of reading around her historical moment. She likes to use google maps and the Internet as there is 'so much access' to so many resources. She also admits to owning lots of books on the American Civil War and the weaponry.
Frances has been as far as visiting volcanoes for research into her books. She does a lot of reading too and likes to explore the gruesome in her books too. She has seen a lot of post-mortem photography during her research and for Cuckoo Song quizzed the London Transport Museum about what trams were like in the 1920's.
Philip says he 'doesn't really do any' research. He reads a lot and enjoys stuff and facts, but he admits he's 'not that planned.' He makes most of it up. For his recent YA series Railhead, it was mainly his 'experience of trains' that got him started rather than a huge research project.
Would you ever want to write a contemporary, realistic story?
Philip says, 'no. I don't want to.' He says it's not possible at the moment and something more realistic is 'not in focus yet.'
Frances says she 'can't rule it out,' but that she normally writes quite 'weird stories' and that is the way in which she 'perceives reality.'
Rebellious girls and feminism in the books and the characters.
Frances offers 'no manifesto'. She is not writing to be bluntly feminist, her characters are born from the story and it is all about the story. She admits to being 'fascinated and troubled by the state of the world,' and being 'allergic to unfairness.'
Tanya's strong female characters are infused from her youth when it was all about boys having adventures. Why couldn't girls have them too? She talked about the frustrations of the westerns she used to watch where the women were only good for three things: screaming, being rescued and falling down.
Philip talks about his extensive reading as a child and how when he moved on to 'grown-up books' they seemed to be written by or staring female characters. So he started to associate 'proper books' with real life and women. His series Railhead is 'gender equal but class is the issue.'
Philip sees 'everything you consume culturally' as an influence. As a teen he read a lot of sci-fi and enjoyed fantasy and mythology. He mentions Star Wars as a big influence.
Tanya again talked of 'an anger against unfairness' and these westerns that were 'white washed versions of history.' She found anything with a sense of injustice at the heart of it, as inspiration and influence.
Frances devoured books and remembers such authors as: Alan Garner, Nicholas Fisk and Tolkien, lovingly. She also had a fascination with black and white murder mystery films from the 30's and read a lot of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Victorian novels.
Frances told us of her upcoming historical fantasy, featuring an 'angry dead bear' set around the Spanish Civil War.
Tanya wouldn't reveal any spoilers, but said her new book had been sent to the editor and is due out in 2017.
Philip's Railhead series is a 'train based space opera.' Book two is out this October and he is currently writing Railhead 3. So watch this space.
From left to right: Imogen Russell Williams, Philip Reeve, Tanya Landman, Frances Hardinge.
This was a great panels with three big personalities and a nice chance to see Frances and her legendary hat. Thank you also to Imogen Russell Williams for the questions.
Now to my fourth and final YALC panel on the final day of YALC 2016. The end is nigh.
The Morally Complicated YA panel, drew a huge crowd, possibly the largest crowd I'd seen all weekend. And rightly so. This meaty discussion ranged from drugs, rape, prostitution, violence, sex and murder, and featured a cornucopia of newer and more established names in YA.
Melvin Burgess celebrating 20 years of his novel Junk.
Emerald Fennell introducing her third novel: Monsters.
Louise O'Neill, the Irish author of Asking for It and Only Ever Yours.
Manuela Salvi, an Italian author banned from publishing in her own country due to the subject matter of her book: Girl Detached, instead moving to England and publishing in English.
Are you morally complicated?
Melvin says he goes out there to 'educate'. Yes his subject matter is often complicated but he uses morals and ethics to infuse his stories. He's not glorifying anything, he is simply writing about things that happen and should be addressed.
Louise finds that if you have a female protagonist people want her to be likeable. And if they are not particularly likeable, then more questions are raised. But Louise goes for real life situations and real life characters.
Emerald adds that she is being truthful. She is not going out of her way to be unnecessarily morally complicated but it is about the story and the truth of that story and the characters.
Manuela talks of gatekeepers and the controversy that sometimes happen when you are writing about 'difficult topics.' She says, 'literature can be a way out,' and can give us, 'different ways to understand.'
What do you think about banning books?
Manuela has been banned in her home country. She talked about censorship being quite 'covert' in that it isn't given a wide knowledge, it is kept hush hush. It is them 'ignoring something they don't want to discuss.' Of course it upset her as, 'we assume we are free.' She has since devoted her PhD to censorship.
Emerald sees it as 'appalling.'
Louise says it is something not really talked about but that in Ireland 'books and movies were still banned up to the 80's.' She also talked about the fact that abortion is still illegal in Ireland and that there were some art works up saying repeal the 8th, and they have started censoring the art on the streets. She spoke of the danger and worry of 'silencing artists.'
Melvin said it is 'always done quietly.' He said he's had his books 'wrapped in brown paper', 'kept under the counter,' or even in 'a separate room in the library.' He also spoke of there being 'no funding for those books for cinema or TV.' You are essentially 'exiled from TV and Movies on a global field.' Again this silencing of the artists voice.
Louise then added that violence is seen as fine but sex is still not acceptable. But wouldn't you rather your children grow up knowing that they can have a healthy, happy sexual relationship?
Violence and the exploitation of women.
Melvin was perhaps the exception here as his books did not contain violence towards women or the exploitation of women, but he offered that this could be because he grew up in the 70's feminist movement and from that was careful not to write his female characters as victims.
Emerald talked about 'everyday sexism' and that women just have to 'bear it.' It often brings 'shame on women', but she hopes it is getting better.
Louise has received a lot of online abuse and death threats and refuses 'to shut up.' She will not have her voice silenced. She says harassment and sexism are a daily occurrence for many women and it has to be stopped.
Manuela talked about the media influence and advertising, and how fake it all is. She says there is a lot of anxiety over image and during her years as a teacher of graphic design she was shocked how much her students thought the models were perfect, and that they had no idea about air brushing and photoshop. All the social media and selfies are almost forcing kids 'to be sexy,' or to want to be sexy.
Fantasy or Dystopia Vs Real World.
Louise's debut YA Only Ever Yours was a harsh dystopia. She said the adults were shocked, whereas the teens could totally see it as real life. There is a freedom in dystopian writing, that of exaggeration.
Melvin said that dystopia can be quite 'liberating' and can have 'unusual structures.' But obviously it depends on the story you are writing.
Emerald wrote her newest 'psychological dystopia,' Monsters, in first person. One of the main characters also has a mental health issue and the reader 'never know[s] what is real.'
Manuela added that there can be 'dystopian elements in the real world,' and offered 'reality as a possible dystopia.'
From left to right: Translator (sorry I didn't catch her name), Manuela Silva, Emerald Fennell, Louise O'Neill, Melvin Burgess and Mairi Stone.
What a great panel to finish on, lots to think about there. And what a stunning weekend of panels, events and general YA literary wonder. Thanks to all the organisers and thanks again to LFCC for the shared space. And a huge thank you to each and every author who graced the stage, who got a numb bum from hours of signing and chatting to the fans, and who imparted their wisdom and advice to the next generation of authors out there. You inspire and make people believe they can do it too.
*Sigh of relief*. Now I have 11 months to recover until the next YALC. Already can't wait.
Thanks again for reading. Regular rants will continue forthwith.