Sunday, August 21, 2016

YALC 2016: Day 2

Following on from last week's blog, here is day 2 of YALC 2016, better late than never, I hope.
I would like to point out the wonder of the YALC queue, this year being open all day, every day. Genius. You never had to queue very long and if you were there for the weekend and had a wristband, then you only had to queue the first day and the other days you just waltz in like a VIP. Not too shabby YALC. Not too shabby.

As I attended six panels in a row on the Saturday, I'd probably better run straight into it. *googles how to condense 36 pages of A4 notes into a concise and fun blog* Eek.

Kicking off Day 2 with a blast of politics and protest came the Rebellion and Resistance panel, with some fantastic authors from the UK and US.
Alwyn Hamilton: Author of Rebel of the Sands.
Julie Mayhew: Author of The Big Lie.
Simon Mayo: Author of Blame.
Kass Morgan: Author of The 100 series.
Anna James: Chair of the panel.
 From left to right: Anna James, Kass Morgan, SimonMayo, Alwyn Hamilton and Julie Mayhew. 

The authors started by introducing their latest books detailing the specific rebellion and revolution running through them.

Julie: Her novel The Big Lie has a bi-sexual ice skating Nazi protagonist..... okay, how can you not want to read this? It's a sort of contemporary, if the Nazi's won the war novel, and gives a bit of weight to what the kids were doing during the war. For Julie it was about the rebellion that happens in the mind, and the idea of someone or something changing your mind against what you previously believed.

Alwyn: Rebel of the Sands, the first of a trilogy is a rebellion in the desert to overturn the Sultan's reign. Her starting point was, 'girl with a gun' and the French revolution played a huge part in her upbringing and education.

Simon: Simon's novel, Blame, centres on heritage criminals and the idea that you can be held accountable for another generations' crimes. He talked about the 'lack of rebellion' in his book and how the criminals are contained and controlled by the prison and the state.

Kass: The 100 series. For Kass it was all about rebellion right from the start. Rebellion against the adults in charge, rebellion against each other. But also rebellion for love and rebellion for protection. It's about what we have to do to survive. Set in the future, using juvenile delinquents as expendables, we see the harsh realities of a post-apocalyptic earth.

Time and Setting.

Julie: Set in 2015, addressing now through Nazism. Didn't want a historical setting, wanted it contemporary and to show how we are still owned by society.

Alwyn: Writing fantasy you get to be epic! She talked about being able to do bigger things with the politics of a fantasy world, and also how not being locked into a specific time period gives you a lot of flexibility. It has a western/Arabian nights feel to it.

Simon: Set only a few years in the future. Was it a premonition? Because in the book Britain had to be out of the EU for the heritage crime to work. And lo and behold, we're out of Europe. Creepy.

Kass: Her books are set around 300 years in the future, the length of time it would take for a nuclear winter to last.

Darkness and violence.
This is a topic that comes up all the time in almost every YA panel, but there were some interesting answers here. All the authors agreed that they had to be true to the story and they had to make it real, but that they wouldn't be gratuitously violent just for the sake of it. Simon added that 'it's shocking where it needs to be shocking.' His book set in a prison, has a prison riot, which of course would be terrifying. it was logical to the story, but 'still has a moral compass.' He did talk of having to tone it down from earlier drafts as it was deemed at points too violent.
Kass admits she 'wasn't concerned' about the darkness and violence as it was integral to the world in which the book is set. Alwyn added that you 'can't gloss over stuff,' and that the teenage mind is often darker than the adult mind. Julie talked about how violence was always accepted in her books, but sex was still not okay. She honoured her publisher, hot key and said they were 'super brave' to take on her project. She also said, 'the real world is worse than the world in the book.'

Something to take away....
The authors were asked about specific messages in their books, or things they would like the reader to take away with them:
Alwyn: Everyone will have 'different opinions', 'I can't control what people take out of it.'
Julie: I want them to 'question the things they accept as normal.'
Kass: 'Bravery, in different forms.' 'Not just action.'
Simon: 'I haven't written a message book.' His book is more about 'shifting blame.'

If you had your own revolution, who would be in it?
Alwyn would go Ocean's 11 style, with everyone having different skills. She would also like Hermione Granger and Kat from High Society.
Julie: Clem, from her novel The Big Lie and the A-team.
Kass: Neville Longbottom (violence as a last resort). And Anne Shirley.
Simon: 'I'll take all of those and Lyra from His Dark Materials.'

A wonderful lead off panel for day 2 of YALC. Great authors, great questions and great insight into some more books for the reading pile. One down, five to go..........

Squad Goals: Friendship in YA  
This panel filled with a litany of female authors was centred around female friendships in YA, and why it is so important for young girls to have female friendships and not just focus on romantic relationships. They also talked about if girls and boys can be platonic friends and gave us their favourite fictional friends. So here are some of their best bits.

Holly Borne: Author of The Spinster Club Trilogy.

  • Holly states 'friendship as the starring role' of her books. To think you've found the love of your life is unrealistic as a teenager, but you could find your friends for life. 
  • In reaction to #squadgoals: 'Not all teenagers have these friendships.' It is 'not what everyone's life is like.'
  • Lots of real life goes into her books from 'who can grow the biggest food baby?' to 'weird school trips and hating teachers.' Holly insists that there should be realistic fights, because sometimes friends do get on your nerves. 
  • 'It's ridiculous to think you can't' be platonic friends with a boy. 
  • Holly worries about social media and how it has changed friendships. All these selfies and comparisons. It's all very competitive. We need to 'accept each other.'
  • Holly's favourite fictional friends are the Ace Gang from the Louise Rennison books, and Thelma and Louise. 
  • She admits she is already in a gang/squad, that of the UKYA community. 
  • From the audience Q&A we found out how Holly had been heavily trolled and abused on line after the hashtag i am a feminist. She said she has 'never blocked so many people in my life.' She also said, 'bad came out of the good' and that 'it's okay to stop and hide.' 'People can be really nasty and scary.'
Sara Barnard author of Beautiful Broken Things
  • Her book is about 'friendship and love between three teen girls.' It's a 'love story without the romance.' She wanted to centre 'solely on the friendship.'
  • She is still best friends with her teenage best friend. 
  • She said it is hard sometimes because 'romance is expected' in YA. But she wanted to talk about the 'emotional bonds' and the history you can build up in friendships. She also talked about how you can be 'different with a new friend than an old friend.' Like you are 'trying out a different version of yourself.'
  • Sara gave a resounding yes to the question of platonic friendships!
  • Sara's fictional friends would be Queenie and Maddie from Code Name Verity. 
  • And her gang would consist of Hermione Granger and Buffy and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  
Sarra Manning author of London Belongs to Us. 
  • Her book is centred around what would normally be seen as the B character. She has a crazy best friend but it is also about the relationships she make in the one night depicted in the book and how a friendship made in ten minutes can sometimes have a lasting effect on you. 
  • She loves to write female friendships as she finds them very interesting. 
  • She talked about squadgoals as perhaps being competitive and that it could be a negative thing.
  • She is 'pro girls', 'pro friendships' and she likes to write 'realistic fall-outs.' 
  • On platonic friendships, Sarra gave a resounding yes, of course they can happen, but she also said how great it can be as 'friendship with a boy gives a different perspective.'
  • Most things that happen in her books are taken or inspired by things that have happened to her. She talked of how even a bus journey can become 'a continuation of the party when you're with friends.'
  • Her favourite fictional friend is Charlotte Lucas, for marrying Mr Collins. 
  • Her squad or gang would include: Lesley Knope from TV's Parks and Recreation, Lizzie Bennett, and Sandra from I Caught the Castle. 
Thank you to Anna James for being the chair - two panels in a row - and for the great questions. 

From left to right: Anna James, Sarra Manning, Sara Barnard and Holly Borne. 

Teenage Soundtrack: Music in YA
It seemed only right to have Simon Mayo YA author, radio presenter and previous Top of the Pops presenter - showing my age now - to chair this panel. What a dude!
Our three authors answering the questions, Non Pratt, Chris Russell and Sophia Bennett all had music at the heart of their recent YA novels and bands in particular, fictitious bands that they wrote lyrics and songs for, and really had to create a living, breathing entity to inhabit their books. 

Non's book Remix is about a music festival, loosely based on Reading and Leeds, a festival she has attended many times herself. She talked about the idea of belonging and freedom that you can feel at a festival, and also the wonder of a moshpit, that people are looking out for you and will pick you right back up if you fall down. She also talked about the idea of being 'obsessed with the lead singer' of a band and what would happen if you in fact did get with a famous person in a band?

Sophia's novel Love Song sees the biggest band in the world coming off a three year tour and the decision to work on one more album. They hire an assistant who is not particularly interested in the music or them, but when working on the album, they are forced to get to know one another and she becomes their muse. The first half is littered with social media but the second half was purposefully set in a location with no internet, so social media couldn't play any part in it. 

Chris's debut novel, Songs About a Girl is about a pop group/boy band loosely based on One Direction, He was interested in the fact that all bands have the same experiences and arguments, whether they are a band playing in their dad's garage, or a super famous band with thousands of fans. You are still going to argue over the set list and what you should wear, and who should stand where on stage. When you 'strip away the fame' it's the same for all bands. I had to mention his collecting 'November Rain' - literally rain that fell in November, when he was obsessed with Guns n Roses. And not only that, but he kept it for years and years. He was definitely a devoted fan himself.
 From left to right: Simon Mayo, Sophia Bennett, Non Pratt, Chris Russell. 

They all talked about playlists, as that is becoming a huge thing now. What did you listen to whilst writing the book? What would you recommend we listen to whilst reading the book? What other bands/songs exist at the same time as your fictional band in the book? It's all about a shared experience, and an additional bond between author and reader. Chris Russell, is also in a band and the has been recording songs from his novel: Songs About a Girl, so they are available as tangible property to consume alongside the book. Sophia Bennett, author of Love Song has her playlist in the back of the book, so readers can experience the music that inspired the book from the author's point of view, again offering that additional connection with readers. 

Interestingly, whilst actually writing the novels, Non and Chris preferred silence. Non would start off with a mood enhancing track to get her in the zone, but would gradually turn down the volume to silence. Whereas Chris prefers utter silence and then rewards himself with music at the end of a successful writing period. Only Sophia works with music in the background but said it had to be chilled and on a loop. She mostly has two tracks by Zero 7 that she has listened to so many times they have become like white noise. 

Wow, only half way through. But there were so many interesting panels on day 2. Don't blame me, blame YALC for making it too good to resist. With only fifteen minutes between panels, there was only ever enough time to hit the toilets and return to your seat. Good job I brought a shed load of snacks, because lunch wasn't happening until at least 4pm. Good times. 

Anyhoo, on to panel number 4, To Bodly Go: YA in Space, with the delectable Malorie Blackman, who always draws a huge crowd because she's awesome! As well as Malorie, we were delighted to have James Smythe and Eugene Lambert, with questions by Emily Drabble. All three authors were introducing their current trilogies, all set in space, with Eugene as a debut author in the field. 
 From left to right: Malorie Blackman, James Smythe, Eugene Lambert and Emily Drabble. 

Malorie: Chasing Stars. A new trilogy set in space, inspired by Othello. The main character falls in love with a refugee they pick up in space, and her brother is not happy, so he poisons her mind with whispers and lies. 

James: Australia Trilogy, 1st book Way Down Dark. 2nd book Long Dark Dusk. He describes it as: 'Teen version of Ripley (from Alien) becoming Batman, on a spaceship with the crew of Mad Max.' James couldn't tell us too much without huge spoilers, but if that doesn't make you want to pick a book up, I don't know what will. (Incidentally, I had purchased Way Down Dark, the first of his Australia Trilogy, on kindle a few weeks previously, but hadn't found the time to read it yet. It was the first book I read after YALC.)

Eugene: The Sign of One is his debut novel and the first in a trilogy. It takes place on a 'dump world' in space, where twins are considered a curse. He is a twin himself.

What is sci-fi?
Malorie: Something that is 'scientifically possible or probable' in the future. It's alternate realities and multiverses.

James: 'Fine line between sci-fi and Fantasy.' 'Fantasy is beyond the possible,' whereas sci-fi sees us 'plausibly getting to that situation.'

Eugene: Eugene finds that the 'science' in sci-fi can put people off and that the term isn't always useful.

Dystopian warnings for the future?
James' dystopia revolves around climate change and social structures. He leads with the idea that 'nothing's wonderful' and that 'things are getting worse.'

Eugene talked of the practicality of dystopia, because a utopia is just not interesting. Also, you can exaggerate things within a dystopia.

Malorie's dystopia is more class based, with the 'haves and the have nots'. She talked about art and culture costing money and how not everyone can access it. Her book is set 150 years in the future.

Why Space?
Malorie originally set her Othello remake in a boarding school but found it wasn't working. When it came to her: Shakespeare in Space, she tried to fight against it, but that's where the story yearned to go, so that's where she took it.

James wanted to tackle the effects of society and violence. He set it in a dystopia in space where it was perfectly normal for everyone to go around killing people. If you take away the rules what happens?

Eugene wanted to create a claustrophobic and intense novel, and space was the 'most appropriate place for the story.' He again stripped away the laws.

High Tech?
In Eugene's world they are deprived. They are 'dump worlds' using what you might call low tech or improvised technology, the sort of 'grimy end of sci-fi.'

James said, 'as soon as I can get rid of a phone.....' He likes no technology or as little as possible, finding it gets in the way of the story.

Malorie agrees with James, that you have to be careful technology doesn't take over. Malorie's protagonist is very proficient with technology but finds herself overwhelmed by people and emotions.

Female Characters
Malorie always found it frustrating that in sci-fi film and TV the women were often 'there as eye candy.' And there was 'always a woman that would trip.'

James added that he hates the tropes used for women, that they are all so clumsy and need rescuing all the time. His main character is a girl and she has to do anything she can to survive. His main male character 'gets saved a lot.' And 'he trips.' Nice little role reversal there.

Eugene adds that his main male character is saved by Skye, a female character and she is not very sensitive about it.

Another quality panel here at YALC 2016 and lovely to see James Smythe, whose adult books I have read before, and lovely to meet a new face in YA. Plus, any excuse to listen to Malorie Blackman speak. Awesome!

Okay, I'm up to five out of six. Stick with me if you can, we're getting there.

Panel: Secrets and Lies
I won't deny my excitement at this panel, having read all four of the authors and some of them very recently. We were lucky to be joined by Chelsey Pippin from Buzzfeed, as our chair for the event, and these four wonderful authors;
Sarah Crossan: Author of One, the Weight of Water, Breathe, Apple and Rain.....
Keren David: Author of Salvage, When I was Joe and Cuckoo.
Sophie Kinsella: Author of many adult books but her first YA: Finding Audrey.
Annabel Pitcher: Author of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Ketchup Clouds and Silence is Goldfish.

From left to right: Chelsey Pippin, Sarah Crossan, Annabel Pitcher, Sophie Kinsella, Keren David.

They kicked off with a game of two secrets and a lie, most of which the audience guessed wrong, and then we were straight into a discussion on why secrets are so important in their books.

Sophie told us it is part of the storytelling. When you're dealing with families or protagonists with problems then there are bound to be secrets kept. There is often an element of shame involved too. Her protagonist suffers from anxiety and is scared to leave the house, but Finding Audrey deals with more than just Audrey's secrets.

Annabel said it is reflective of how we all feel and that we all have something we keep hidden. It's about finding that character's truth.

Keren told us about her latest book Cuckoo and how everyone within the story knows the secret, but she wanted to keep it from the reader as long as possible.

Sarah's book, One, is about conjoined twins, but it is not only secrets kept from each other, but also the wider family secrets that infuse this book.

Some YA books completely get rid of the parents and wider family, but in all these books, family, especially parents played a huge part in the secret keeping and the lies. Annabel's father character is hiding a huge secret in that he's ashamed that he doesn't love his daughter. He is not her real dad, her dad was a sperm donor. In Sophie's novel the dad acts as a comic relief. Yes he has secrets and yes he lies, but he also spends a lot of time looking at Alfa Romeo's on the internet. Keren's book deals with parents and adults falling far short of perfect. It deals with extremes of emotions and her adult characters are often unpleasant and unsympathetic. Sarah's father character is an alcoholic and she admits he 'could have been a villain', but he is still functioning as a father and human being. There is a lot of denial and dysfunction within the family.

Mental Health, Shame and Social Media
Sophie spoke of a phone being 'a toxic portal' and this 'inability to switch off' having detrimental effects to teenagers and their mental health. She is often 'saddened by attitudes' towards mental health on social media.

Keren talked about image and how there is somehow this image of perfection created, that people are striving towards. But it doesn't exist.

Annabel said the biggest problem is pretending and covering things up. It's a case of 'how you feel you should be instead of how you actually are.' A lot of social media is for show. 'It's not real life.'

Sarah, Annabel and Sophie all admitted to being secretive writers, not wanting to share their work with editors, friends or agents, until it is as close to perfect as they can manage. Though Annabel also told us of how hard it is to let go of that need for perfection when editing. Only Keren admitted to needing lots of attention when writing, and needing lots of praise and encouragement from people. Thank you to our secretive authors for their time and insight.

Yes, it's the final panel I attended on day 2. It's the Horror Inspirations panel. I really will try to keep it brief. I want this finished as much as you do. David O'Callaghan returned from Day 1 of YALC to chair this gruelling group of fiendish authors and steer us towards their horror favourites. From their group worship of Stephen King, to their love of 80's horror and James Herbert, this was essentially five horror lovers telling us why horror is awesome! Not a bad panel to finish on.

We were joined by Dawn Kurtagich, Derek Landy, Alex Scarrow and Darren Shan. And here are some of their best bits:


  • 'I'm addicted to scaring myself.'
  • Dawn favours psychological torture in her books. 'I like to watch them destroy themselves.'
  • Dawn's favourite Stephen King novel is IT. The idea of all those adults turning a blind eye to those kids and what they were going through was the main terror. 
  • Her favourite horror films include Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness.
  • If she had to write in another genre she would write dark fantasy and would tackle it in the same way.  


  • 'I like blood. I like it on the page.' I like to 'torture the readership.'
  • First Stephen King book was Firestarter. 
  • He was 'raised on horror and fantasy.' He says 'more authors are writing it' which has seen this resurgence of the horror genre. 
  • He highly recommended the writing of James Herbert, especially the Rats books, to scare the bejeezers out of you. 
  • He loves the film work of Sam Raimi, especially Evil Dead and Army of Darkness.
  • If he had to write any other genre, he would write crime.
  • Writing horror gives him - and hopefully his readers - an 'adrenaline kick'
  • He would like to 'dissolve people'. 
  • Alex went from reading Tin Tin, straight to Stephen King's Carrie. 
  • The book Devils of D-Day scared the crap out of him. It's World War 2 won by zombies. 
  • Alex loves the classic 50's horrors like The Thing and Forbidden Planets.
  • Alex prefers to write his horror in third person, giving him a broader canvas and 'a way into their thinking voice.'
  • Alex would write sci-fi or adult books if he had to move away from horror, but his style would remain the same. 
  • Horror is his default setting. 
  • He loves the simplest deaths the most. 
  • The first Stephen King book he read was Salem's Lot, after watching the TV show in the 70's. 
  • Horror is back due to ease of accessibility and also all the authors and creators that were brought up on that earlier horror are now the creators and are continuing that love of the genre for the next generation. 
  • Darren too saluted James Herbert's Rats books as the scariest stuff to read, and also gives a nod to Clive Barker and his 'well written extremism.'
  • Darren prefers to write in first person, giving his writing an 'immediacy' and very personal nature.  
  • Darren would write sci-fi or fantasy, or do a mix of genres if he had to move away from horror. His approach would be the same, it would just involve a change in the manipulation of words. 
From left to right: David O'Calloghan, Dawn Kurtagich, Derek Landy, Alex Scarrow, Darren Shan. 

Thank you YALC Day 2 and good night. 

Wow, that was epic. I hope it wasn't too verbose and that you had water and a snack handy. I don't need any of you passing out now. Well, only one more YALC blog to go, and don't worry I only attended four events on the final day, so it shouldn't be a repeat of this monster. Anyhoo, if you missed any of YALC or any of these panels, I hope I've given you a decent insight into the authors and their books and the issues they were trying to get out there. If your reading pile hasn't significantly shot up in volume I'd be surprised. There were a great mix of subjects covered on day 2 and I was able to listen to and see in the flesh, many authors I hadn't seen before. I did have a quick wander in LFCC and saw quite a few celebs. Several Lost characters were there. The usual cohort of Game of Thrones characters primary and secondary were there, and a personal favourite of mine: Michelle Gomez AKA Sue from The Green Wing. 'A Handbag!'

LFCC fun. 

Thanks for reading as always. You really are dedicated if you made it all the way through this beast. YALC Day 3 to follow shortly.

Ciao for now. 


1 comment:

  1. Er... that was CLIVE Barker, not Charles!! :-) (Darren Shan)


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