It was always going to be hard to condense into one blog post my experience of YALC - the UK’s first young adult literature convention that took place last weekend. So to help me, I’ve chosen three watchwords that summed it up for me: Laughter + Kindness + Passion.
The YALC fun began even before I arrived, sharing a train carriage with stormtroopers and several spidermen. And the upside of the hour-long queue to get in was the chance to enjoy the cosplay catwalk as everyone sauntered slowly closer to the doors…
It was clear that no one here was going to take themselves too seriously: confirmed by Malorie Blackman’s opening address - which began in Klingon. You can read about why Malorie set up YALC here.
But the real belly-laughs came during the ‘I’m Too Sexy for This Book’ panel, hosted by freshly crowned ‘Queen of Teen’ James Dawson. Cat Clarke, Beth Reekles and Non Pratt answered some serious questions about enduring taboos in teen fiction, censorship by ‘gatekeepers’ and their desire to be ‘sex-positive’ but realistically informative. However, between their astonishing frankness and some cracking inadvertent double-entendres, this panel won the prize for highest share of audience laughter.
I’d been vaguely concerned about attending a weekend-long event where I only knew one person and might recognise a few faces from Twitter. However, everyone I met or spoke to was exceptionally kind and generous.
From Liz Kessler and Abie Longstaff, who invited me to join their coffee break and generously shared their experience with me; to the organisers giving out tickets and explaining workshop sign-ups; to the workshop leaders giving clear and practical advice; and the writers, editors and readers I chatted to in the coffee bar and the panel seats – there’s something really rather wonderful about the UKYA community en masse.
There was also a warm, honest and generous spirit behind the ‘How to Get Published’ panel chaired by Ben Horslen, in conversation with two of his Puffin authors, Sally Green and Phil Earle. The authors offered insights from their very different journeys to publication, sharing a wealth of advice in a humble and inspiring way.
I couldn’t help telling the smiley woman on the Hot Key publisher’s stand how much I’d enjoyed reading E Lockhart’s We Were Liars just the day before. In return she gave me a WWL poster and a stamp for my hand with the line from the book: ‘Be a little kinder than you have to’.
Well, it seemed everyone at YALC had already taken that advice…
Amidst the deafening buzz in the vast halls of Earls Court, in workshops, panels, signings and chat, something was very clear to me: UKYA provokes passion.
YALC was knee-deep in hugely passionate writers, readers, bloggers, parents, librarians and teachers, all united by their commitment to the young adult literature this country is producing right now.
I listened spellbound to the sold-out ‘The End of the World as We Know It’ panel, where Sarah Crossan, Patrick Ness and Malorie Blackman spoke eloquently and memorably about the current generation of dystopian YA novels.
Discussing our current obsession with the genre, Sarah Crossan said ‘We all have the fear that we won’t be able to handle the worst when it comes along… Dystopias give us a nugget of gold: the hope that we will survive.’
Questioned about the recent furore over UKYA covering very dark subject matter, Patrick Ness responded, ‘Teenagers write very dark stories themselves. Writers need to address darkness, or we abandon teenagers to face the darkness alone.’
Malorie Blackman expanded, ‘YA is not a genre: it’s many genres. It’s legitimate to have books that end on a happy note as well as those that don’t.’
I loved their discussion about resisting pressure to make heroines either ‘likeable’ or conventionally strong in the style of Katniss Everdeen. Flawed heroines feel more real and more convincing, and we love them for their imperfections!
I’ve come back to my writing desk in the attic all fired up to finish the drafts of both novels I’m working on. And my ‘To be Read’ pile just got a whole lot bigger. The difference is that I don’t feel I’m alone in my work: I’m part of a UKYA community and it’s a fabulous place to be!
All quotes are my own paraphrase – apologies if I’ve noted anyone incorrectly!