(This week, my coffee and I are sitting down (much later than usual) to a special post: the round up of the first ever Northern YA Lit Fest held in Preston on 24th March. Join me in reading about it, but beware you’re going to need a large drink! In fact, I have so much to say that I have split this into two posts! Today, I will be talking about the panels and author interviews.
Yes please. I will be drinking all of the coffee because I am still exhausted okay? I am drinking Fuyan Yunnan, a filter coffee from China, which is not a place you often get coffee from. It’s roasted by my favourites over at Clifton Coffee.
On Monday, I will be writing more about my personal experience of attending the Northern YA Lit Fest with mention of the stalls, the goodies and the screaming fan-girling. Today, I am going to be writing about the panels and discussions from the event.
Getting into Publishing
The first panel was made up of Danny Weston, Anna Day and Teri Terry, discussing their different routes into publication and answering questions from the audience. They discussed whether YA was a sales and marketing strategy, why they write for the YA audience, and how they get their books noticed. Teri particularly praised bloggers (we love her!) for their work in helping to get books noticed and create an early buzz around them. They talked about their different writing days: Danny tries to work to a 9am-4pm day, Anna binge writes around her full-time job and young children (how she manages all of this, I have no idea. I think she may actually be a wizard), and Teri talked about writing around her adorable new puppy!
Asked about their writing inspirations, Danny said Ray Bradbury “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, whilst Anna referenced one of my personal favourites, The Hunger Games and Teri Terry talked about influences in science-fiction and fantasy. They listed their current reads as: A Skinful of Shadows (Danny), State of Sorrow (Anna – also, excellent choice!) and Things a Bright Girl Can Do for Teri (although she is not reading much so far as she is working on a first draft – exciting!!)
One of the audience asked a controversial question about whether the authors found it difficult to “write down to the YA audience” and I thought the crowd were going to combust in fury. To give the panel credit, they maintained their composure and gave some great answers. Danny referred to a famous quote about writing for children being about writing as you would normally but better because children and young adults are less forgiving. The panel talked about some topics being off-limits due to the audience but certainly no “dumbing down” of their work and were very complimentary of their audience.
Editing tips offered for budding writers in the audience included reading aloud, getting someone else to feedback. Danny said he does not ask family, but Anna recommended her dad as a proof reader for anything because of his logical brain! They all stressed the importance of proof reading.
Feminism in YA
The panel were introduced by Laura Steven, who also talked a little about her debut novel The Exact Opposite of Okay, which tells the story of Izzy Stevens who finds herself at the centre of a slut-shaming sex scandal (this book is amazing, and if you’ve not read it already, I highly recommend you get onto that). The panel was made up of Katherine Webber (chair), Annabelle Pitcher, Lauren James and Matt Kileen.
The panel began by defining what they each meant by feminism, which was a resounding “for female voices to be heard equally”, with Matt Kileen throwing in a joyous “bringing down the patriarchy”! He then went on to talk a little about the patriarchy as a “hostage situation” and the impact of toxic masculinity (he drew on Annabel’s book The Last Days of Archie Maxwell as a book that tackles this issue). Katherine Webber noted that her definition of female included trans women and anyone who identified as being female, and talked a little about intersectional feminism.
They they talked about what they felt made a book feminist. Lauren James talked about strong female characters who are strong because they are female and of books which celebrate female attributes. Matt talked about Katniss (a character from The Hunger Games) and how her story is a feminist one: her actions come from a place of compassion for her sister and the ass-kicking is always secondary to this compassion. Annabel spoke of gender equality and how if we free girls and women from gender stereotypes then we also free boys and men from them. She drew on her experiences of raising boys which I found particularly interesting in this discussion.
Katherine asked the panel what their feminist and literary inspirations were, noting her own as Olanna from the Tamora Pierce books. Annabel said hers was The Accidental by Ali Smith. Matt spoke about Caitlin Moran and her book “How to be a Woman” which had given him the tools to talk about feminism – Is something sexist? Would a bloke put up with it? Others on the panel agreed that they had also been inspired and influenced by this book. Lauren spoke of her experiences as a female science student and how she was asked to make tea for the professors and visiting guests, as well as her feelings of being an impostor in her science studies. She also spoke of YA and MG literature being female dominated and of strong women on Twitter and in the blogging community who have inspired her.
My favourite part of the panel had to be the questions though. First, the panel were asked which Disney princess was their favourite. Katherine chose Cinderella, Annabel picked Ariel, Lauren said Mulan and Matt was releived noone had picked Merida before he did (as an aside, I adore Merida!) They were also asked to recommend one feminist YA book to the audience. The books they chose were: The Pearl Thief (Lauren’s pick), Goodbye, Perfect (chosen by Katherine – I’ve just recently finished this and highly recommend), Before I Die (Annabel’s choice) and Things A Bright Girl Can Do (chosen by Matt).
So, if you’re looking for some reading suggestions, there you have them!
Alywn Hamilton in Conversation with Samantha Shannon
Next up was Alwyn Hamilton discussing the Hero at the Fall, the conclusion to her trilogy. Samantha Shannon was asking the questions and it was lovely to see two authors who so clearly enjoy each others’ work. I particularly loved seeing Samantha giving Alwyn the eye for killing off one of her favourite characters. We have all been that fan! Alwyn said that her finished trilogy looked broadly as she had hoped it would, although it had started off as one book, but she soon found one just wasn’t enough (and I think we would all agree with that!) She said the plot took some detours, but that Hero at the Fall ended the trilogy exactly as she had wanted it to.
It was interesting to hear both authors talk about how they come up with their book titles, and to hear how many changes the titles for this series had gone through before the final names were picked. Alwyn told us that her favourite side character was Shazad and that she loves her side characters because she knows so much about them that any one of them could have their own spin-off book series. I for one am all here for that!
Holly Black in Conversation with Samantha Shannon
Holly Black (looking like an actual faerie Queen) was joined by Samantha Shannon to discuss her latest book The Cruel Prince. I adore Samantha Shannon chairing conversations. She is wonderful and I would love for her to chair all of the panels all of the time. Thank you.
Samantha asked about whether Holly believed in faeries which led to some wonderful stories from both writers about hunting for faeries in their youth, and about living in a house haunted by a ghost called Robbie. Holly also shared her mother’s best advice to her younger self: “Never astral project” you know, because it leaves your body vulnerable to attack if you’re outside of yourself (thus succinctly precising Samantha’s The Bone Season books)!
The Cruel Prince is the first book Holly has written that is set entirely in the world of faerie and there are links to the world of faerie from her other books within this one that keen fans may have picked up on.
Samantha talked a little about how Jude was a wonderful character who “has so much stress she has transcended stress” and why she loved her before asking Holly why she had chosen Jude (a human character) to narrate a story set in faerie. Holly finds herself fascinated by the people who leave their mark on faerie without ever having been touched by it, and it’s safe to say Jude is one such character. Holly also talked of the difficulties of being a human woman in faerie: human women are needed to continue the species, but they are not respected as individuals. Holly went on to say “I have always thought I would not do well in faerie”.
The character she most enjoyed writing was Cardan, she had a lot of fun writing him because he is the worst. She also talked about the setting of her novel and how so much of the folklore and world-building already exists, it’s just a case of drawing on the things you need to include in your story. The authors also discussed the difficulty of naming your fantasy characters and where they drew their inspiration from (often from books or by taking a name they already like and prefixing or suffixing it). Holly spoke a little of co-authoring and how it was different to working alone because it is having a “buddy who contractually obligated” to you, but that also it can be tricky when your working patterns are different: “Cassie [Clare] is very good at sticking to an outline and I am … less good at sticking to an outline”.
Holly is a wonderful storyteller and this really came across in her talk as she told us about her favourite fairy story “The Middle Kingdom” and her favourite fairy tale “The White Cat”, the latter of which sounds so funny I must get my hands on a copy.
Asked for hints about the rest of the current trilogy Holly said that in The Wicked King there’s a wedding and in The Queen of Nothing there’s a funeral. So I’ll be needing those immediately. Please and thank you!
That’s my round up of the panels. I had such a great time! You can probably see now why this couldn’t be one post though, so keep an eye out on Monday when I will be sharing the rest of my NYA Lit Fest experience.