Tuesday, July 21, 2015

YALC 2015 - Day 2

So, following on from yesterday's blog, here's what happened on Day 2 of YALC 2015:

Saturday 18th July 9am-6pm
Hooray, another day of YALC. Another day of amazing authors, talks, panels and even a wander into LFCC, to spy some film and TV celebs. And today I had my partner in life and crime with me, so even better!

Lovin' our YALC wristbands, though the guy took the piss a little with how tight he fastened mine.  

I expected higher numbers today, especially with it being the weekend and huge draws like Cassie Clare, Malorie Blackman, Holly Smale, Patrick Ness and Judy Blume, to name a few. I know. Wow!
So my slightly paranoid status had us sat in the main arena half an hour before the first panel. Well, you wouldn't want to chance it would you?

1st Panel 10.30-11.15 YA: The Next Generation

When the chair of the panel comes on and starts complaining how she feels old at 23, you know this could seriously harm your almost 32 year old self, especially as the panellists ranged from 15 years old to 24 years old and are all successful and published, and you haven't even any agent interest. The chair feels old? I could have mothered the youngest panellist. *Throws up a little*

Okay, so enough of my vomit. This was a fantastic panel, if somewhat terrifying that you can be so successful so young. Yet, why the heck not. If your writing is great then it should be recognised no matter how old you are. Side note: I would really like to be published before I'm 40 if at all possible. *Appeals to YA Literature Gods and Goddesses*

Chair Samantha Shannon and panellist Lucy Saxon who couldn't sit down due to her amazing cosplay. Good effort, I think all would agree. 

Left to right: Samantha, Lucy, Helena, Taran and Alice.

Alice Oseman: Author of Solitaire. Published at 19, now 20. 
Lucy Saxon: Signed with Bloomsbury at 17, now 20. Author of Take Back the Skies.
Helena Coggan: Author of The Catalyst, published at 15, still 15. 
Taran Matharu: Published after 3,000,000 reads on Wattpad. Author of Summoner: The Novice. 24.
Chair Samantha Shannon: Author of The Bone Season, now 23.

1st Question: How did you come about being published so young?

Lucy: Lucy told us that she had a lot of time off school after being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. It gave her a lot of time to focus on her writing. Her parents knew an agent and within eight months she had a deal. 

Helena: Helena told us of entering writing competitions from the age of nine and that she wanted to write a book before she was thirteen. That didn't happen, but once she turned thirteen, she decided to do it. Her parents knew a non-fiction editor who sent it on to someone she knew and within a month she had a deal. 

Taran: Taran had a really interesting story, in that he had taken part in NaNoWriMo and then afterwards was uploading a chapter every day to Wattpad - a social platform where writers can share their work with other writers and readers. After only a month he had 100,000 reads, and after four months over a 1,000,000 reads. He talked about Wattpad being a great service due to the motivation it gave him, and of course that readers can share their comments. A journalist from NBC interviewed him about his success on Wattpad and then he was contacted by an audio book publisher. He sought advice from agents he followed on facebook and pretty soon had three US agents and 3 UK agents to choose from. He has already been translated into around ten languages. 

Alice: Alice too had started NaNoWriMo but had never finished, and deleted the story. But she started writing it again, as the story wouldn't go away and she realised, 'I really believe in this book.'
After five months she had finished writing it, then researched the traditional submission route, and once she had found her agent, they spent six months editing together. 

2nd Question: Has age affected your experience?

Lucy: Lucy admitted to having been 'seventeen for three years,' in the media. 'The younger you are, the more impressive it sounds.'

Helena: Helena told us that 'they pay attention to you quite a bit,' and expect lots of media coverage and interviews, which she admitted was very daunting. She also said she felt they 'judge you less harshly.'

Taran: He said that it has been a lot of fun, being a young published writer, as a lot of your readers are a similar age, so you meet a lot of people. He also told us that he was often asked if he was a 'proper writer,' or if he was just someone that bums around the house not really doing anything. He is proud to be a full time writer. 

Alice: She feels as a young writer that she is sometimes not taken a hundred percent seriously, but that since being published, 'the positives have outweighed the negatives.' She also agreed with Lucy that it can be a high selling point for a publisher, to have a young writer on their books. 

3rd Question: If the target age of YA is 12-18, does the author's age matter?

Alice: Alice said she found it easy writing about people her own age. 

Lucy: 'I'm gonna write the story I would like to write and I would like to read.'

Taran: 'I wrote it for myself.' He also added that the author's age doesn't matter and that the formative years stick out in any one's mind. 'Everyone has been a teenager.'

Helena: At thirteen, Helena felt that two years ahead - her main protagonist is fifteen, her current age - is all she could manage. She also posed a question of her own: Can teenagers write adult characters? 'If you're good enough to write, you're good enough to write.'

4th Question: How much of an influence is social media, and what is your favourite platform?

Taran: Wattpad. He talked of the motivation you can feel to give the readers what they want and to take into consideration their comments. He feels it is a very social experience, whereas now he is writing in a more solitary way, but admits that this does give him more time to reflect. He talked about being a role model for aspiring authors, giving advice and interacting with fans and other writers. 

Alice: Tumblr. This is Alice's favourite as it has its own culture, its own jokes and feels like quite a young website. She likes that you can share your real life too, post photographs and make it more personal. 

Lucy: 'All of them.' Lucy admits to spending way too much time on the internet. She's a huge fan of cosplay, she used to write Harry Potter fan fiction and then branched into original fiction. She uses Tumblr to feel connected to other authors. 

Helena: Helena is pretty much absent from social media. She said she likes twitter and facebook, but is not actually present on them. She says she 'doesn't want to get addicted.' And says maybe in a couple of years she would join up. She wants to get through school without the distractions, but also is worried that she could say something stupid and it could be immortalised forever. 

If only more people had that sense....

5th Question: Diversity and Feminism: is there anything you would change in your books?

Lucy and Alice both talked about the 'white washing' in their books, but also see ways to change in the future. They have been educated in the issues and know they can do better next time. Lucy would also like to explore more gender and sexuality roles in her work. 

Taran: He told us there is actually a lot of diversity on Wattpad, but then this wasn't backed up with the published books that are out there. He talked of the publishers and retailers not being diverse in their choices and acquisitions. He talked again about the role model he can be on Wattpad and that everyone needs to feel represented within literature otherwise it can be a very lonely place. He also told us of a lot of Muslim romance on Wattpad, but that there is none out there in the book shops. 

Helena: Helena told us of the three types of girls in YA: The ugly duckling, the naive duckling and the anti-social duckling. All three of these 'types' end up falling in love with a more knowledgeable male love interest. The end. She admitted that a lot of writers default to their demographic and find it difficult to break out of that. But she also agreed with Taran that to have nothing in common with anyone in fiction, would be horrendous.

6th Question: Any advice for writers out there? 

Lucy: 'Practise.'
'Keep writing.'
'Have faith.'

Taran: 'Don't keep it a secret. Share it.' And when reading, Taran urged us to analyse it and learn from others. 

Alice: 'Write something you want to read.'

Lucy: Lucy said, if you find yourself not represented in literature, then 'write yourself represented. You write you!'

Helena: Helena told us not to wait for a whole novel to form itself in your head like J.K Rowling and Harry Potter. She told us to work on our ideas, and try not to think about endings and what happens on the publishing side. 

Now for the audiences turn with the Q&A:

Why aren't there more young men published?

Helena: Helena sort of flipped this and answered from the point of view of the girls and why there are so many girls published in YA. She thinks it is down to role models for girls - young men have loads - but often girls have to make them up and YA is a great platform to do that. 

Taran: Taran thinks is could be that YA stems from children's which is 'almost entirely female.' but then he also talked about how publishing is still a male dominated world, with YA and children's being the anomalies. 

What about disability in YA?

Lucy: 'I've got plans.' But she also stated that she didn't want to bring her personal struggles with chronic fatigue into her writing. She also feels disabilities are misrepresented or unrepresented in all forms of media. 

Taran: Taran believes mental illness and disability need to be further represented in YA. He talked about one of his characters being a female warrior who had lost both legs but gets about by riding on a Griffin. 

Helena: Helena said that mental illness definitely needed better representation, and that often disabilities are something authors might need to work around, especially in fantasy writing when a lot of battles take place. 

A great opening panel, really interesting to hear how they started their journeys. I have to say I was slightly terrified of Helena. And only because, to be so poised and articulate at such a young age, is just out of my realm of thinking. I couldn't be so poised now and I'm double her age and a bit more. So really I'm just jealous of them all, but then you have to take a step back and say, it will happen in its own time. This was meant to happen for them at this time in their lives, and that is wonderful, but I just have to be patient and keep working my ass off. 

2nd Panel 11.30-12.15: Shadowhunters

As the last panel was so long, I'm going to keep this brief. I love the Shadowhunter series. I love Cassie Clare and the characters she creates, and so I was particularly excited about this. 

Our interviewer, the wonderfully colourful and hilarious Sarah Rees Brennan.

Cassie and Sarah really getting into the questions. 

Cassie was kind enough to tell us about her new series: The Dark Artifices, set five years after the end of City of Heavenly Fire. And she also gave us some insight into the sequel series to The Infernal Devices called The Last Hours. Cassie then treated us to some tales from the Shadowhunter set, talking about her favourite actors and characters. 

I felt a little bit sorry for Sarah at points, as she was so pumped up and probably used to an equally pumped up American audience. Why are us Brits so reserved? I'm certain most of the audience were screaming inside, but on the outside probably came across as dazed or uninterested. Bless her though, she kept going and never let that enthusiasm falter for a second. 

Here is a brief selection from the audience Q&A:

If you could choose one bloodline, what would it be?
Cassie: Blackthorn
Sarah: Sarah didn't want to be a shadowhunter, she wanted to be a downworlder. 'And also a panther.'

Which downworlder would you be?
Cassie: Warlock. They live forever, don't have to drink blood and can still go outside. 
Sarah: Vampire, so she can be 'super foxy forever.'
'I'll drink Jace like a smoothie.'

Which character would you be stranded on a desert island with?
Cassie: 'Magnus Bane as he would find a way to magic us out of there.'
Sarah: Gideon Lightwood.

Which rune is your favourite?
Cassie: Fearless, because you're not just fearless in battle but in all parts of your life. 

Is it difficult to switch points of view when writing?
Cassie told us the hardest thing was matching up all the times. So if it is such a time in Idris, what time is in in New York, and of course, 'what time is it in hell?' She said the logistics were often the hardest part as she actually enjoys adding points of view and writing from different angles. 

'In hell it's always 5am.'

A really fun author interview. Now I just have to figure out how the hell I'm going to fit all the new series on to my dwindling shelf space. Damn you Cassie and your large books and long series. Have pity for the folks in tiny flats in London. ;-)

3rd Panel 12.30-1.15pm: Being a Girl

An eagerly awaited panel on my behalf, I just about had time to stand up and have a walk around, to stave off the numb bum, before Feminism in YA.  And what a treat we had with such an array of fabulous female writers to talk us through it:

Chair of the panel: Anna James
Malorie Blackman: Author of too much stuff to mention. She is the former Children's Laureate.
Holly Smale: Author of the Geek Girl series.
Hayley Long: Author of teen fiction titles and new non-fiction: Being a Girl.
Laura Dockrill: Author of MG fiction and new YA book: Lorali.
CJ Daugherty: Author of the Night School series.

 From left to right: Malorie, Hayley, Holly, Laura, CJ and Anna. 

1st Question: What do you think is a feminist book and how do you make sure your book is feminist?

Holly: Holly doesn't believe there needs to be purely feminist books, she believes that women should be treated as equally as men in everything, as that's what feminism is: equality for both sexes. Holly tries to write girls, 'as amazing as they are in real life.'

Laura: Laura suggested that feminism in YA could also explore tight knit groups of girls, looking out for each other and lending support. 

CJ: CJ said often in her books she tried to take away from the notion that girls get into trouble and boys rescue them, and make it more about girls rescuing each other, or one character rescuing themselves. 

Hayley: Hayley said it was important to create three dimensional characters with good roles for girls, 'not just stereotypes and supporting roles.'

Malorie: Malorie talked about writing 'girls I grew up with. Girls I thought I was.' She also stated that these girls 'don't have to be superheroes.' They should be flawed and they should be realistic. We shouldn't be promoting 'one view of girls.' We should be exploring all facets of what it means to be a girl and not trying to put girls into a box.

Holly: Holly added that it was about honesty and truth.

2nd Question: It's very topical at the moment, but is the term feminism still needed?

Hayley: Hayley thinks it is something at her very core and she doesn't feel the need to call herself a feminist, despite being one. She said, 'It's about being me.'

Malorie: Malorie talked about the term being very much relevant and needed.  She said, 'There's still not that equality. That's why we're still talking about it. There's a way to go on this.' Malorie mentioned how the media is still hell bent on projecting women as merely something to look at, rather than showing believable characters and qualities. 

Laura: Laura talked about the fact that women are still judged on their ability to be a woman, by motherhood and how well they will raise children. 

Holly: Holly talked about dispelling any negatives against the term feminism. And that it is not about angry, men-hating women. It is about equality. She mentioned anti-suffragette posters that were used as anti-feminist propaganda. And she also revealed how the main two questions she is asked at events are still: 'Are you married? Do you have children?'

CJ: CJ talked about teens learning about gender roles and hopefully absorbing these ideals.

3rd Question: When you write are you consciously thinking about gender?

CJ: CJ told us that she started out wanting to write a boy character, but soon gave up and decided it had to be a girl. She also told us about giving her characters roles that they don't currently have in the real world: 'My first act was to admit girls to Eton.' And in literature you can do this. You can have the first female prime minister, and then girls are reading about these things and thinking, I could do that. 

Holly: 'I've been an angry feminist since I was four. It's inherent to me. It's part of my voice.'
She admitted that of course one book won't change anything, but that we have to keep chipping away with every book. Comedy plays a huge part in Holly's writing and she feels that 'humour is inherently feminist,' as you are using your brain, your voice and your strength. 

Hayley: Hayley told us feminism 'is in my blood.' She talked about fighting against the rules when she was younger: 'That's not fair. I want to wear trousers. I want to be noisy.'

Malorie: 'Don't let anyone pin their labels on you.'

4th Question: How do we challenge the stereotypes?

CJ: 'Male characters are allowed to be flawed.' CJ told us that often her female fans are hardest on her female characters, especially when they make a mistake, but that they forgive the flaws of the male characters.

Hayley: 'Girls can be too hard on each other.'

Anna: Anna added that it is often, 'how we've been taught to see other women.'

Laura: Laura spoke proudly of her mother and how strong and supportive she has always been. She talked about it being important to write 'real girls.'

Holly: Holly talked about how society has created feminine and masculine and that we are all mixtures of both. She talked of words used in the media to describe books written by women, as being derogatory and literally meaning, 'without weight.' 

CJ: CJ also added that a big struggle for female writers if there is a female protagonist or a female on the front cover of the book, is that often half the population of YA readers - the male half - won't even pick it up.

Holly: Holly also added the point that when J.K Rowling released Harry Potter, she was advised not to be Joanne, but J.K, as they thought it might alienate the boy readers. 

Say what?

5th Question: Where can YA go next in Feminism?

Malorie: It has to 'keep challenging and keep talking about it'. It has to 'challenge perceptions.'

Laura: 'School visits,' are a good place to start. Introduce these ideas to them young. 

Hayley: Hayley spoke of often the boys enjoying her school trips the most, as they are given the opportunity to read something not always accessible to them, something which may even be seen as taboo to them. 

Holly: Holly then turned that on its head and made the point that girls wouldn't bat an eyelid at reading male characters. 

Now over to the floor for some audience Q&A:

Young Girls are starting to reject the term feminist, asking is there anything left to fight for in feminism?

Holly completely kicked ass here, so much so that I didn't even manage to write anything down. I just had to stop and listen. She was on fire!
Holly kicking ass!

Hayley: Hayley thought that maybe it could be the label that confuses people. 

Malorie: Malorie talked about women never being equal until childcare is free and women can actually go back to work after having children without having to sacrifice their jobs, their positions or their training. She also said that most CEOs and heads of companies are still predominantly men. 'We are not equal!'

Do you think the next big thing in YA could genderlessness?

Laura: Laura talked about us all being 'cockatils of men, women and beasts.' She said we should celebrate our differences. 

Holly: She doesn't feel gender needs to be taken away, but the ideals of femininity and masculinity need to be thrown out as they were made up by society. They don't really exist.

Malorie: 'Make sure boys and girls have access to everything!'

What kind of male characters do you want to write about, and how do you go about writing male characters?

Malorie: 'Half my books have male protagonists.' She reiterated that we should be writing 'realistic men, like the men I've encountered.' She talked of getting your facts straight and 'finding the truth in your characters.'

Hayley: 'Males are not aliens.'

Laura: You don't ask this question about fantastical creatures: 'How did you get into the brain of that zebra?' 

Holly: They should be written with a 'mixture of masculine and feminine qualities.' 

Thank you to all the ladies speaking in this panel. Lots to think about there and just thinking about some of the points raised here, makes you realise how much society and media influence the way girls and boys, women and men are seen and heard. Lots to consider. Thank you again!

Tried to get in on the official photo op. Not quite. It's off centre, but every one's smiling. 

After three straight panels in a row, we had to go for a walk, and we headed for LFCC. Refusing to queue for the stairs - yes queue for the stairs - we took the lift. 

  •   Coming out of the loo behind Malorie Blackman, who then bumped straight into Patrick Ness.
  •    Being in a lift with Judy Blume
  •    Getting to see, and photograph two of the Musketeers from BBC Musketeers. Oh my. 
 Tom Burke AKA Athos
Luke Pasqualino AKA D'artagnan
  • Jodi Lyn O'Keefe from The Vampire Diaries and Prison Break totally busting me for taking a sly picture of  her, by taking one of me. 
 Jodi Lyn O'Keefe
Busted! I did actually strike a pose for her. I'm sure she'll treasure it. Ha ha.

  • Sneaking a little peak of Neve Campbell, 90s legend. 
  • And various Game of Thrones sighting: Pod, Red Lady and Hodor. 
Now back to business, and don't worry this is the last event now: the author talk between Judy Blume and Patrick Ness. For this we were transported downstairs to the Super Stage which had just had a talk by Michael J Fox. 

Again, I'm going to keep this brief, and use my favourite quotes and questions from the talk, as well as some nice pictures:

Patrick losing his shit. 

Hunting for YALC freebies for Judy Blume. ;-)

My favourite quotes and answers from the talk: 
  • (When dealing with expectation) 'You just have to get rid of it. When you write, you have to get everybody off your shoulders.'
  • (On Forever) 'I wanted to write a book where two kids do it and nobody dies.'
  • 'I love bad language. It's satisfying, like tap dancing. (Judy then tap dances.) It feels good.'
  • Patrick talked of Judy's books being very personal to him and being a 'ladder to adulthood.'
  • Her new book is published as an adult title but some of the main voices are teenagers. It is based on a true event from 1951 in her home town.
Q&A from the audience:

What was it like when you were first published?
'I didn't know anything. I didn't know anyone. I just did it.' She talked about her belief that she would die young, which spurred her on and she had all this creative energy and a 'renewed zest for life.'

What did you read as a teen?
'Anything I could get my hands on.' Judy told us of raiding her parent's book shelves. 

Who do you read now?
Judy told us that whilst she is writing a book, she doesn't read anything, as she starts to have self- doubt that she couldn't possibly write something that good. She did tell us that she recently read: We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. And urged everyone to read it. 

How did you feel when your books were banned or censored?
'I was mad!'
She talked about 1980 being the big turn around in banning books and that she works closely with the National Coalition Against Censorship. She also mentioned how books are often only banned after they become popular and they realise the kids like them. 

Why haven't your books been made into many films?
'I have a bad rep in Hollywood.' She said, 'it is too easy to get it wrong.' She also talked about child actors often being 'cute instead of real.'
But she did admit to being quite open to her books being made into films. 

It was such a pleasure to see both these authors in conversation and to have one author - Patrick Ness - so totally shell shocked to be in the position of interviewing one of his all time favourite authors. Books you read as children and teens tend to stay with you for life. The voices of the authors, the characters they create, and how they make you feel, never really leave you. 

What an amazing two days of YA love. Sadly I couldn't make it to Day 3 - hooray, you all cry, I don't have to read another one of these obscenely long blogs - as I ran the very sweaty 10 Km in Olympic Park and finished in the stadium, which rounded off a jam packed and very exciting weekend, nicely. Thank you to the organisers. Thank you to The Olympia for letting YALC move there. Thank you for YALC's separate floor and queue - long may that continue. And no doubt, I'll see you next year.

Thank you for reading. 


Monday, July 20, 2015

YALC 2015 - Day 1

New venue. New queuing system. New layout. It's YALC 2015.

Spread over three days on the weekend of July 17th -19th, at Kensington Olympia and part of LFCC - London Film and Comic Con, the second annual YALC, (Young Adult Literature Conference) had more authors, panels, talks, agents, signings, workshops and books than its inaugural year, and a brilliant new space to share them in. 

Happily perched on the second floor of Olympia Central and sharing its space with the very quiet gaming zone, this year's YALC screamed space and tranquillity compared with the stair wells and lower floors. Yet it hummed with a literary buzz that could only mean a shit load of YA lovers gathering in one place. 

Having a separate queue this time was hands down the greatest enhancement. Avoiding the hours of standard LFCC queue in order to head straight in and up to books, books, books, was great. It also meant you didn't have to leave ridiculously early in order to avoid missing anything. Living on the Overground route also helped my travelling time: 29 minutes Kentish Town West to Olympia. Genius!

I've already stated this year's event was bigger, better, improved, enhanced and absolutely chocca block full of everything YA, so without further ado I present to you the Rants experience of YALC Day 1. (This is what I saw and did, of course there were lots of other amazing panels, workshops and agent events going on, but I couldn't physically do everything.)

Friday 17th July. 1-8pm 

When I first read the schedule for Friday, my mind was blown with not only the first couple of topics up for discussion, but also for all the fabulous authors I would be able to hear speak. Horror. Dystopia. Yes, yes, yes!

On arrival this year, you were given a YALC tote bag, complete with badges, a pen and some freebies and postcards. There were also lots of freebies available on the table outside the main speaking hall. Postcards, badges, posters, lanyards and many other tit bits. But my personal favourites this year were all the sample chapters of books they were giving out. An excellent idea to get people excited about new books, or books that are already out there, but for me also great to explore new authors and titles I have been meaning to read. They are also fantastic for passing on to other people and spreading the love, hopefully opening up some new fans and introducing someone to something different.


After a quick walk around I signed up for the Author and Agent talk over at the Agent Arena, for later in the day, featuring Gemma Cooper from The Bent Agency and her brand new author set to release next summer: Harriet Reuter Hapgood. Then I noticed the main stage area was already starting to fill up, so I shimmied in and stoked out my place for the next couple of panels. 

Panel 1: 2.30-3.15pm Thrills and Chills

The terror. The horror. It's the opening panel of YALC and it's all about fear and all things scary and what that means for this top panel of authors. 

Dawn Kurtagich: Author of The Dead House.
Will Hill: Author of the Department 19 series. 
Lou Morgan: Author of Sleepless. 
Darren Shan: Author of many books and series including his recent Zom-B books. 
And chair Matt Whyman: Author of many books including The savages and American Savage.

Chair of the panel Matt Whyman kicked off with an anecdote about The Blair Witch Project and how it terrified him and how he's basically a big wuss. Then out came the authors. 

From left to right: Dawn, Darren, Lou, Will and Matt. 

1st Question: What was the defining moment that made you want to write horror?

Will: Will knew he wanted to write a book with vampires and other creatures in it, but he admitted to having, 'no master plan, just characters.' Will said that his series, Department 19 had evolved along with his evolution of his characters and subsequent plot, but by the second book he realised he had to plan as there was too much going on.

Lou; 'I'm just a horrible person.' Lou's book, set in The Barbican is a more psychological horror about how it is 'frightening to be lost.' This is coupled with 'the fear of not passing your exams.' Lou revealed she liked to set her horror books in 'real places,' documenting 'something that could maybe happen.'

Darren: Darren told us he likes to 'mix all the genres up.' He said, 'people like to put you in corners,' so people like to categorize him as a purely horror writer, though he knows there is a lot more to his writing and even admits to there being 'romance and comedy' in his books. Dark romance and dark comedy I'm sure. Darren also said his love of horror had started at young age and that he 'likes being scared.' He said that he used to think of scary films in order to give himself nightmares. 

Dawn: 'I don't know.'
'It's intrinsic.'
'I'm a huge wuss.'
She details her horror writing as a 'cathartic experience,' and admitted to putting everything into it, so that it was out of her. 

2nd Question: Where's the boundary between YA and adult horror?

Most of the authors agreed that sex is actually one of the big differences between YA and adult horror. Dawn added that for her it was also 'a character thing too.' 'Adults are too jaded and cynical,' but teens are fun to write about and for, and there is always a coming of age side to her stories. Will added that a US publisher once had an issue with a rather graphic scene, but they weren't bothered by the violence only about the word 'naked' being used in the opening sentence of the page. 

This then opened up the question further to think about censorship and if the authors had ever been subject to that in their work?

Dawn: She said that yes she had been asked to change things but it was always the US publisher, not the UK publisher, and that it was concerning a reference to sexuality. 

Lou: 'I had a word with my editor. I asked, how dark can I go?' And her editor answered, 'As dark as you like.'

Darren: Darren admitted that a scene he had in one book depicted a body upside down and beheaded, the body of the character's mother. He was asked to change it to the father. So it's okay for a kid to kill their father, but not their mother? Interesting. 

3rd Question: Why do you think readers are drawn to the darkness?

Darren: 'I don't think the darkness is what people are drawn to.' 
'It's a small part of it.' 
'It's about being an outsider. Cast adrift.' 
Darren sees his books as ways for readers to 'make sense of it all and make connections.'

Will: He made a Stephen King quote here about making people care about characters and then doing horrible things to them. Will thinks it is about 'something going to happen that you don't want to happen.' He talked about 'survival' and how that can be what a horror story is about as much as anything else. It's about getting to the end of it and making it through. 

Dawn: Dawn describes it as 'a basic human need,' to hear terrible tales and scary stories. Also she talked about the safety of exploring darker themes through books. You are safe because it is in a book and you can close it if you want to. 

Lou: Lou likened it to her love of the disaster film, and how in the opening section you meet the characters and already you are figuring out, 'which ones are going to make it to the end of the film.' She also had some very good advice: 'Never go into the basement, ever!'

4th Question: Do you think people have certain expectations what you're going to be like when they meet you, because of the genre you write in?

Darren: 'Most horror writers tend to be really nice people.'

Dawn: 'You're just so normal.' When meeting her new editor for the first time. 

Lou: 'People expect me to be really hard to scare but I'm the biggest wuss in the world.'

5th Question: Horror literature is very cinematic. It's a very visual field. Are you influenced by films?

Dawn: Dawn admitted to being a 'film junkie' and loving horror films. 

Darren: 'I love movies. I get inspiration from all over the place.' Darren made some excellent points about drawing from lots of different genres and literature, movies and TV, otherwise you are, 'limiting your palette when you come to write your own horror stories.'

Will: Will said action movies and classic horror were a big influence for him, but that he was also, 'influenced by video games too.' He said that pitching his book series: Department 19 was tough and they spent a lot of time on this, yet when he went into a school for a visit, an 11 year old summed it up nicely, 'I really liked it. it's just like Call of Duty: Vampires.'

Then it was the audiences turn to ask questions in the Q&A.
How do you know when something is scary enough?

Darren: 'You never really know until it's published and you get feedback.'

Lou: 'I freaked myself out when I was writing it.' Reference to a particular scene where she almost convinced herself someone was stood behind her while she was writing it.  

Question for Darren on the male and female protagonist balance in horror.

Darren: 'I try to put myself into different shoes. I try to stretch myself.' He admitted that he often fell into a rhythm of male characters, but that he is 'sure [he] will write from a female point of view again in the future.'

How difficult is it to provide a jump scare or a sudden scare in horror literature?

Will: 'It is kinda tricky.' Will talked about various techniques you can use. He talked about the classic jump scare being very difficult. In films there is obviously the soundtrack and music and how it all works with the narrative and visuals, but with literature you have the words and the spaces and the page turns to work with. But he did talk about literature lending itself to 'creepy horror.' He also said, 'what happens to people can often be worse,' in books as you are 'asking [them] to imagine it.' And often people's imaginations are much worse than his. 

Dawn: 'I really, really like jump scenes.' 
You need a 'slow build up.' 
'Short sentences.' 
She says it is 'absolutely do-able' in literature. 

Why do think horror does better with a teenage audience than an adult audience?

Will: Will suggested it could be the 'perception that horror is something you grow out of,' which he also admitted to not being true. 

Dawn: Dawn talked about horror being 'about the things you don't know.' Adults are jaded and have too much experience of the world, which makes them cynical. 

They also discussed 'adult fears' such as home invasion and being unable to protect their families, as being horror that would scare adults. They mentioned a book called The Intruders by Adam Neville, which did play on these adult fears, but they also admitted that it was branded and marketed as a thriller, not a horror. 

A wonderful panel to start, especially as the book I'm working on at the moment is a horror. Thanks to all the panellists, and if you don't know who they are and what they write about, check them out. 

2nd Panel 3.30pm-4.15pm: Apocalypse Now

We've had the scares and the horror, now it's time for the apocalypse and six dystopian writers of YA came to talk about the whole world going to shit. Again. 

I have to say I found it interesting that all the writers were female. I know YA is dominated by female writers, but I thought surely they could have found a male author who writes YA dystopia. There are plenty out there. But then I also started thinking about branding and the way things are marketed and I thought, maybe there are lots of dystopian novels written by men, but they are marketed as thrillers, or under the veil of fantasy or sci-fi. Perhaps the big dystopian novels and series that have gone mainstream are seen as 'for girls' and boys wouldn't buy into them. I don't know, just a thought. Or perhaps it is about there being a lot of female protagonists in dystopia? Hmmmmm. Or perhaps they called lots of men and they just couldn't make it? Just an observation. 

Left to right: Virginia, Marie, Moira, Francesca, Teri and Gemma. 

Firstly, the chair Gemma Malley asked the writers to introduce themselves and talk a little about why they chose dystopia. So we had:
Teri Terry: Author of The Slated Trilogy and new book Mind Games which is about, 'navigating virtual worlds.'
Francesca Haig: An academic who 'accidentally wrote a novel, The Fire Sermon.'
Moira Young: Author of The Dustlands Trilogy, who was heavily influenced by her mother's experience growing up in the great depression, and westerns she used to watch as a kid. She also admitted it was never a conscious decision to write dystopia but that she 'stumbled into it.'
Marie Rutkoski: An academic of Shakespeare and a teacher at Berkeley. Marie says she thinks of her novel as a fantasy, despite there being no fantastical elements in it. She talked about her books: The Winner's Curse and The Winner's Crime being human stories. 
Virginia Bergin: Author of The Rain and The Storm told us that the idea began as a film script and that she supposed it was dystopian. She talked about the 'what if' being important. 

1st Question: Is dystopia a genre or a back drop on which to place a story?

Teri: 'Anything set in the future seems to be labelled dystopia.'
'I don't care as long as people want to read it.'

Francesca: Francesca talked about it being 'a broad umbrella term,' and stated that these terms are 'so reductive.' 

Moira: Moira is a 'non-fan of genre definitions.' She thinks they can 'alienate people.' She also admitted that of course they were 'useful in marketing terms,' but that most authors don't really think about these things when they're writing. 

Marie: Marie thinks it can be a tool in which to explore other topics, but talked about books never being one thing. She told us some people call her book a romance, and that she is also quite happy about that. 

Virginia: Virginia added that it can be a 'narrowing thing' and that she didn't know if dystopia was actually a genre or not. She talked about the element of conflict being important in dystopia. 

2nd Question: What is next in dystopia?

Moira: 'No idea.' She talked about perhaps the next big thing in dystopia being something small. Not the huge issues that are in our face all the time, but perhaps small uprisings and small changes that bring about something new. Watch this space. 

Virginia: 'The next dystopia is in this room.' She thinks that technology and communication still has a lot be explored. She wants to know where is technology and this immediacy of communication going to take us? She is interested in the political repercussions and if it could in fact change the way our brains work.

3rd Question: What are your favourite dystopian novels?

Marie: Feed by M.T. Anderson and The Hunger Games. She especially loves Katniss and the sacrifices she made for her sister. 

Moira: The Drowned World by J.G. Ballad.

Francesca: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. 'It's not YA but everyone should read it.'

Teri: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson.

Virginia: 1984 by George Orwell. The first dystopian she read as a teen.

Then it was opened up to the floor for a Q&A session:

Why do you think the strong female character is associated with dystopia?

Virginia: Virginia talked of 'conflict and power relationships and an uncertain journey.'

Francesca: Francesca talked about the marginalisation of women throughout literature and history. She talked of how there could be an element of 'seeing the oppressed rise up,' and how that could be, 'empowering and exciting.' She also shared how this talk of strong female characters was still a sexist comment, because there are never any comments or questions about strong male characters. They are just implied and expected. Well said!

Which dystopian world would you least like to live in?

Francesca: On the Beach  by Nevil Shute. She talked about there being no hope and the characters just 'waiting for the world to die.' 

Moira: 'I second that. It was terrifying.' 

Marie: Marie turned the question on its head and decided to answer with the dystopian world she would most like to live in, that of Joss Whedon's TV series, Firefly. 

Gemma: 'The Handmaid's Tale.' By Margaret Atwood. 

Will dystopia last?

I think the main consensus was a resounding yes, but the authors added some interesting thoughts:

Moira: 'If we knew that we'd be rich.'

Francesca: 'Dystopian is not a new trend, it's been around since Noah.'

Gemma: 'It could be the same books packaged as something else.'

Is there a formula for dystopia?

Teri: 'I don't write to a formula.'

Virginia: She talked about there being 'tropes, things you expect,' but then the idea was to give these twists.

Francesca: 'There's formula in all writing, good writing and bad writing.' 
'The "literary" novel is formulaic.'

Marie: Marie admitted that some of the stark choices in her books could be construed as formulaic, but that they were influenced by her own life and therefore had emotional depth and truth and honesty behind them. 

Another fantastic panel. It was amazing to hear from Marie and Moira especially as I love The Winner's Curse and it's follow up, and I have read all the Dustlands Trilogy. But I will definitely be checking out the other authors and adding them to the TBR pile. 

Okay, so I took a little break from panels at this point to have a wander around, talk to some of the book sellers and purchase me a couple of treats. I came away with Ruin and Rising (Grisha Book 3) as I had yet to complete Leigh Bardugo's amazing trilogy. I also treated myself to The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, which grabbed me by the first line of the blurb. I then had a short wait until the agent and author talk. 

The book wall and reading area, this year added to by coloured deck chairs. Nice. 

Agent and Author Talk 5.30-6.30; Gemma Cooper and Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Sadly, I have to start this on a negative. The sound was atrocious! No mics for them and so they had to stand up and shout, but all you could hear were the people outside, the people getting books signed and the panels going on on the main stage. Unless you were on the front row of this talk, I'm guessing you missed at least forty percent of it, which was a real shame. I've been following Gemma and her fellow agent Molly, from The Bent Agency, for years, and it was great to finally hear her talk about the agent and publishing process from the beginning. Shame we all missed bits. 

I won't take you through everything said, as it was about one author's experience and every author would experience something different, but I will tell you that when you find your agent, you'll know it because they will be screaming your praises like Gemma was. Such enthusiasm and genuine love of Harriet's story: The Square Root of Summer (out summer 2016). This is something a lot of people are aspiring to, finding an agent of their own. I only hope I can find someone as enthusiastic to represent me. 

Harriet made some interesting comments too about choosing an agent, as you need to be able to deal with criticism from this person, without taking it personally. She also talked about choosing an editor being very important. She said you need to know what that editor plans to do with your book and be able to trust them and communicate well. 

Harriet admitted the publishing process is a very stressful one and might make you feel you want to take your book back, and not have it published, like it is being taken away from you. But Gemma also noted how Harriet's publishing experience was very rare and that there was an eight publisher bidding war for the book. Eeeshk. 

Harriet finished with these helpful comments: 'You need to trust your agent massively, as they are the only ones who really know the process.' She also said you should 'have something prepared for your second book, at least an idea or something,' as of course they are not just accepting this first book, they want more from you. 

Again, this was a very informative talk and I got a lot out of it, but the sound was a big issue. it actually made me not bother going to a similar talk on the Saturday, as I figured there was no point if I couldn't hear anything. 

Okay, so this is the bit where I talk about how fun the Harry Potter party was.......
Sorry, I went home, being by myself and less than sociable at these events. I prefer to be the ghost in the room, invisible but observing and taking it all in ready to blog it all out later. So sorry, no exciting tales of Hogwarts from me. Maybe next time?

I did however enjoy a chilled train journey home and saw these delightful clouds at Olympia station.
 Cirrus clouds. The writing's in the sky.
And some nice alto cumulus.

If you made it to the end of this monstrously long blog, then thanks, but be warned, I went to YALC day 2 as well, so there's more a-comin'.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Long Overdue Rants

It's been a while. I'd like to say I've reasons for this, but I think the blurgh of life just gets in the way sometimes, even of my ranting time. (More fuel for future rants.) And so, here are some overdue rants that I've been storing up just for you guys. Enjoy.

Stress-ful Gelato Vs Stress-free Gelato

Ah Gelato. (Italian ice cream for those of you who live under a rock and/or don't enjoy tasty cold treats.) A delight for the taste buds. A summer miracle - of course you can get it all year round, but an especially summer treat. And usually seen as a stress free pursuit.

Unless, like hundreds of other people two weekends ago, you attended the slightly misleadingly titled 'Gelato Festival' at Spitalfields Market.

In my head this equated to lots of little stands from local Gelaterias, chains and possibly some international Gelato makers, all coming together in a bunting strewn room, competing for your custom with a huge variety of flavours and prices, and lots of charm and fun and ........

No. wait a minute. This is London. At the weekend. In the midst of a heat wave. And there is just one van from one International Gelateria - Italian of course - and there are people everywhere. And the usual market is still going on around you, so you've got angry shopkeepers not wanting you to stand in front of their stalls in case you scare away customers. And there's only about 8 flavours, at least four of which are nutty, or have oyster in them - yes, what the actual fuck - and there's barely any space to queue, which you have to do countless times:

  • To purchase a ticket/voucher for how many ice creams you'd like to purchase, at £3.50 a scoop. (Daylight robbery).
  • For each separate flavour you would like to sample, you join yet another queue. 
  • If you bought the Gelato card which bought you five scoops, a bag, a bottle of water, an espresso, a wafer and the promise of a sixth extra scoop if you voted for your favourite ice cream, you then had to queue for your freebies.
  • Then they gave you a form to fill out. A feckin' form. To vote for your favourite ice cream. I mean come on, couldn't you just have a touch screen device where you tap a button and your vote is cast? They didn't even provide pens. 
  • And then you would have had to queue again to give it in, receive an additional voucher, and then queue once more for whichever flavour you decided on. 
I mean, I'm British and so were my friends I was with, but come on, even that's too much queuing for one afternoon. 

I had purchased a Gelato card between the four of us, so we could each have one scoop, and could share the final scoop plus our free scoop. Well, that was the plan, but one guy was being an arse saying that you could only have one of any scoop with the Gelato card and that each symbol on the card corresponded to a flavour. Yet the guy on the other side that had served my friends 3 of the same flavour, because that's what they wanted, had no qualms. In the end I had to play the 'nut' card. I'm not allergic but I don't like them. So I got my assertive on, and I told him that not only had we not tried this flavour yet, but that most of the other flavours have nuts in and I don't eat nuts. Thankfully, this shut him up and he eventually granted me my white mint ice cream, which was lovely, but tainted with queues and unnecessary stress and having to get my assertive on. 

We never got out free scoop. We'd had enough of queuing for one day, and left the crowds to fight it out over the super expensive Gelato, that was actually nothing spectacular. They probably designed it this way, so that people would give up and not bother with the free scoop. Little buggers. 

Stress-ful Gelato is not the way to go. 

On the other hand I went to Vignola in North Italy, this past weekend, to visit my partner in life and crime's family. We parked the car, walked to the Gelateria (K2) bought a cone with two flavours - you can have up to three on one cone, for the same price - for 2 Euro (about £1.40). It was HUGE!!!!
And we sat on a bench in the sun, listening to busking band sing an array of chilled out covers.

Ah. Stress free Gelato. The way it should be. 

Tennis Heat Equality

Yeah! It's Wimbledon again. I love Wimbledon, and bless them they're actually getting some pretty decent weather this year, and some crazy temperatures down on the courts. So. Gender equality, I hear you cry. This should work both ways, right?

So there's this tennis heat rule thing at Wimbledon, and I'm presuming it's in force at the other grand slam tournaments, and it's starting to tick me off. The rule - if I understand it correctly - is that if the temperature on court is 41 degrees or over and a women's match goes to three sets, the women are allowed a break off court after the second set.  

Yet. There is no such rule for the men, who often have to play five sets in the same heat. Now. You either abolish the rule for women, or at least bring one in for the men too. Surely there is no physical reason why women shouldn't be able to play three sets in that heat? They are professional athletes, who more often than not, train in really hot countries anyway. I know there is a temperature at which it is deemed unsafe for anyone to play, regardless of gender, but this rule, as it stands, seems to demean and belittle women. It feels like some relic from a time when women were still considered delicate little flowers that couldn't possibly handle what a man can. Also, I feel it is harsh on the men, as the rule seems to punish and ignore them. 

Either way, it annoys me. Be fair to both sexes please. And realise it's the freakin' 21st Century. 

Ass in Door

Anyone else ever got their ass trapped in the tube door as it closed? 
No. Me either. *cough cough*
It really nips - so I've heard. 
And there's not much you can do other than hide your yelp of shock pain and continue to ignore everyone on there and pretend nothing happened. 
I've had a bag strap and coat sleeve trapped in there before, but never an ass cheek. 
First time for everything, as they say. 
Not that this happened. I'm just warning you that it could do. 


I seem to have lost the ability to remember dates, which is particularly unhelpful when writing multiple music letters for your summer music classes, to different schools, that I teach on different days. 

Twice I have tried to tell parents at my Wednesday schools, that lessons will take place on Wednesdays, despite having written Monday dates down. Twice! I'm losing it. My marbles are so scattered. 

And now I have to write multiple apology emails, hopefully with the correct dates on them. Doh!

This is also the week when I addressed a parent email to the child instead of the parent. Luckily the parent didn't seem to mind that a complete nutter is teaching his kid. He sent a smiley face in response. To be honest, I'm shocked that's the first time it's happened. 

And so, end of rants for now. Thank you for reading and enjoy the sun while it lasts. 

Remember, stress free Gelato is the only way to go, and make sure your ass is fully in the tube car before the doors close. 

Happy Monday - or is it Wednesday? I don't know. What date is it? AHHHHHHH!