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'.


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