On the weekend just gone I travelled to London to stay with some uni friends, and to go to the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) in London Kensington, Olympia. I was nervous about going on my own – as a self confessed country bumpkin who lives in the middle of nowhere, just the mention of London sparks images of me getting lost down an alleyway about to be stabbed by some dodgy looking bloke after my (very empty) purse. As you can probably guess, this didn’t happen and I actually had a wonderful time. When I got to Shephards Bush train station I could tell who was going to the London Film and Comic Con – everywhere I looked there were people in cosplay. The minute I walked through the elevator doors onto the second floor where YALC was being held, I felt at home – these people were like me!
There were publishing houses selling their books, most selling them at a reduced £5 or two for £10, which I fell victim to. Having stopped myself from buying loads on Saturday thinking that I’d have to carry it all back on the train and then bus with me, as soon as I was left to my own devices with the reduced prices, “YOLO!!” rang out in my head. I am so pleased with my haul – one of the books I bought, “The Flame Never Dies” by Rachel Vincent is a novel I have been anticipating for a very long time since I read it’s predecessor “The Stars Never Rise“. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I wandered past one of the stalls and there it was, and it’s not even out in the UK for another two weeks at least! I grabbed loads of book samplers from some stalls, some of the new and upcoming YA releases proudly on show.
The first thing I did was go over to the Agents Arena to hear a talk on publishing. You’ve got your finished manuscript, what to do now? The three agents doing the 10am talk, talked about how to prepare a query letter and how to go about sending off your manuscript. At 11am they were doing a talk on if you had ever thought about a job in the publishing industry, but at the same time another of my favourite authors, Holly Bourne, was on the main stage so I went to her panel instead. The publishing talk would have been right up my street because I have wondered how to get into the industry myself, but it’s not every day you’ll be in the same room as Holly Bourne!
Holly Bourne’s panel was called ‘Ask YALC!’ and had Gemma Cairney from Radio 1, Juno Dawson (Mind Your Head) and Rosalind Jana (Notes on Being Teenage) taking part too. It was a really fun, informal panel set in the style of a problem page question session. I really liked how each of the authors responded to the questions, and realised that coming here on my own was probably a very bad idea as it made me want to buy the books from the authors I didn’t know.
I was surprised by the amount of authors who I recognised from their novels – the next panel was made up of Frances Hardinge (The Lie Tree), Philip Reeve (Rail Head) and Tanya Landman (Hell and High Water), which was really interesting. It was interesting to hear the variety of approaches to writing – the two women authors like to research thoroughly, where as Philip Reeve is more ‘meh’ about doing any.
The panel after this one was ‘Morally Complicated YA: How Dark Is Too Dark?’. This panel was made up of Louise O’Neill (Asking For It), Emerald Fennell (Monsters), Manuela Salvi (Girl Detached) and Melvin Burgess (Junk) – the latter of which I’d ended up sat next to in the cafe before the last panel when I was having my lunch! It was really interesting how every author on the panel agreed that some subjects which adults would deem too dark for young adults to read, did actually apply to them and how they felt needed to read about them. That it was better to be informed rather than be told ‘No, that doesn’t apply to you’. I do agree with this – surely it’s better to pose the question and have a friendly debate about it rather than refuse to acknowledge it applies to teens, when in some cases it very clearly does, especially depending on which areas of the country you live in.
One of the topics that came up across all three of these panels was feminism. Does it still apply in today’s society and should this be reflected in our literature? Holly Bourne’s ‘Normal’ trilogy is a wonderful set of books on the topic of feminism, and as was discussed on every panel – yes, it is still relevant today! The male authors didn’t think this was as much of an issue as the female authors did, but what a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that feminism is fighting for equality for everyone, it is definitely not ‘men hating’. Just everyone being nice to each other.
Then it was time for the panel that had brought me to YALC – Maggie Steifvater, talking about her latest novel and conclusion to the Raven Cycle, ‘The Raven King‘. Steifvater was so funny! I thoroughly enjoyed her talk. She talked about what her typical work day was like, telling us some funny experiences she had had. How she used to work as a portrait artist and telling us about the commission that broke her and told her she couldn’t do it any more (ugly baby!), the drag race with John Green where his car set itself on fire, and the universal terror of writing in public (in Steifvater’s example on a plane) and worrying that someone is looking over your shoulder – this last one in particular definitely something I can sympathise with!! I’d been to one of Steifvater’s talks 4 years ago when she came to Hay-on-Wye in Wales just before ‘The Raven Boys‘ came out, and I can remember everyone was too terrified to ask questions and she’d commented on it. So when it came to questions in this event, I decided to channel Confident Leah and asked a question on what she found most challenging to write in the Raven Cycle, her answer again being something I can identify with – how she’s had this idea in her head for the past 15 years and over that time it changed so much. She had her end point and knew how she wanted to finish it, and that because the idea had changed so much over this time how difficult it was to still get it to that end point.
After Steifvater had finished her talk there was a mad dash for the table on the other side of the hall where she would be signing books. This took literally a minute, and when they handed out my ticket (#174!!) they said it would be at least an hour before they got around to my number. I’d brought all four novels from the Raven Cycle as well as Sinner to get signed, but we were told Steifvater would only be signing 4 books and only writing a dedication in one of them. I was sat waiting for 2 and a half hours, and by the time they got to me they had reduced this to one novel. It was lovely to see that when I sat down with everyone else to wait, that everyone got their books out to read. Never have I ever felt so at home with complete strangers. I think my favourite thing of the day was seeing everyone’s faces with their newly signed copies, or looking at their photo with Steifvater on their phones or cameras. The look of pure joy was so heartwarming! I also got to queue in the toilets with Holly Bourne, but thought it would be a bit weird to go “HI I LOVE YOU I THINK YOU’RE AMAZING” there.
Then here it was. My turn. I’d decided to just get the first novel signed – after the drama I had had to go through to find the bugger (climbing into a very spider ridden place behind the sofa in the conservatory to get to the book shelf I knew it was hidden on somewhere) it would be a bit of an insult not to have that one signed. When Steifvater signed it she asked me “Have you read this one yet?” to which I replied “Yeah!”. She said to me “You asked me a question, right?” and I nodded enthusiastically and said “I stalk you online!”. Smooth, Leah. Smooth. You meet one of your all time favourite authors whose work you really admire, and you come out with “I stalk you online.” Her assistant laughed and said “In a good way I hope?”, to which I nervously said “Of course!” and scuttled away as fast as possible. WHY, BRAIN? WHY?? Of all the things I could have said, and “I STALK YOU ONLINE” is what comes out of my mouth. Of course what I’d meant to say was “Yes I’ve read it, I check Amazon and your website every so often to see when your next book is coming out because I really admire your work and I really wish I could write something as artistically as you do.” But no, “I stalk you online” will forever haunt me. Though taking the sheer amount of people she saw that day into account, I highly doubt she’s going to remember the crazy Welsh girl she saw for less than a minute. God I hate my nerves.
It was an amazing day and I ultimately have Maggie Steifvater to thank for being there – if she hadn’t only done 3 tour dates in the UK then I never would have gone! YALC is definitely something I will be doing in the future!