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My Day At YALC, Summer 2015

A photograph of YALC

The Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC – the acronym is pronounced as a word) marks a beginning of sorts. We Brits don’t see many mass book events beyond festivals, so far having only to look at photos of events in America and attending those if we have the funds. With YALC and its parent, LFCC, it’s happening. My train trip demonstrated just how new this and the use of the convention is – a small number of carriages packed to bursting; not peak time, not expected.

For now it’s only in its second year so there’s not too much to see or do. More publishers and authors need to get on the bandwagon; the room was large enough to hold much more than it did. For what it is, however, it’s excellent. Everyone is brimming with enthusiasm, the publishers more than willing to chat – they are there to have a good time just like the readers – and the panels fun and informative. It’s difficult to hear at times because of the space, but only if you sit at the back.

I admit to having a shy day so I wasn’t as talkative as I could have been, but I got a fair amount of information regardless. (Can we make ‘shy day’ a thing like ‘bad hair day’ and the, albeit failed, attempt at making ‘fetch’ happen?)

A photograph of the publishers of Firefly Press and author Sarah Govett

The publisher I want to mention here is Firefly Press, whose stall enticed me because I’d never heard of them before and they have rather awesome covers on their books. They are a small independent publisher of young adult fiction and their books fall into the fantasy and dystopian categories. They are Welsh and very new, in fact the titles on their table were what they’ve published so far. (If you want to get into their books now is the time to do it as it wouldn’t take too long to catch up.)

The cover I was most drawn to was for Sarah Govett’s The Territory. Govett (far right of the above photograph) was there and she told me about the book; I was sold pretty quickly. The Guardian calls it ‘the 1984 of our time’ and Govett described it as young adult but with political satire that adults will enjoy – this is a book for both young and old. The basic premise is that in the future, teenagers must pass exams to be able to live in relative happiness; if they fail there is little hope. The rich kids have help from their parents, the poorer left to the mercy of the exam questions. Govett told me it is today’s unfairness of exams, of schools, eliteism, that inspired the book. It sounds a ‘current’ read and one I’m very much looking forward to reading.

A photograph of Pia Fenton (Christina Courtenay) and Claire Watts

There was Pia Fenton (pen name Christina Courtenay), Claire Watts, and Gill Stewart of the Paisley Pirahna collective I told you about last week when I spoke of the RNA conference. They had a great little stall, selling the YA books they’ve self-published (and one of Fenton’s Choc-Lit books). The four (three at YALC) working together was certainly a good look – you’d think they were a publisher and that’s in their favour – but most importantly they were bringing self-published books into a mainstream traditional space. The authors plan to be at the next YALC later this year.

I could be seen hovering around the Hot Key Books stall, which had signed copies, tote bags (the ‘choose books’ one is perfect for book shopping in general) and is publishing a book by Call The Midwife’s Emerald Fennell, and the Penguin stall, where Oreos were offered. In addition to the publishers I met Missy Chambers, a soundtrack composer for various game and comic book companies. She told me about the artwork displayed and about her own work, which was fascinating to hear, perhaps because I’m musical myself.

A photograph of Dawn Kurtagich, Darren Shan, Lou Morgan, Will Hill, and Matt Whyman

I made notes of a couple of panels, and I’ll say now that I’ve never read any of the authors so my notes are strictly reported rather than commented on. The first, ‘Thrills and Chills’ was chaired by Matt Whyman and included Darren Shan, Will Hill, Dawn Kurtagich and Lou Morgan. Hill said his plan was to write less books, he never set out thinking it’d be an epic. He wrote the first book seeing where it would go. Morgan said she was inspired to write dark books by a part of London she lived in – no one had set a book there before. She used the Barbican and likes the Blair Witch Project idea of things starting normally then going bad. Shan said a person should write what they want to write. He likes mixing genres up and goes to bed thinking about scary things.

To the question of where the line falls between YA and adult horror, Morgan said that all the YA books contain things readers – be they youths or not – are interested in. You have fears when young and those fears feed into the books. For Shan the dividing line is sex. All the violence is fine but you’re not allowed much sex. You can explore adult dubiousness more in adult horror where the bad guys can be worse. Kurtagich agreed on sex, but said that characters are the dividing line. Adults are jaded so you really have to shock them. In YA it’s about coming of age so in horror books you can break the characters down. Hill hasn’t written things differently for teens; he doesn’t see the value in sanitising. His American publisher rejected the word ‘naked’ but had no problems with all the violence. Shan’s been told to scale back by his American publisher too, whereas his British publisher tells him to make it rough and gritty. Morgan’s lucky, she says, she’s been told she can be as dark as she likes.

Why are readers drawn to horror? Horror can explore what it’s like to be alienated from the world, said Shan, to make sense of it. Stephen King makes good characters and then constructs horrible things to happen to them, said Hill. You have to make the characters real or you won’t feel anything when something does happen. Hill said he went straight from children’s books to adult horror as a reader because there was no YA when he was young. Kurtagich said her favourite book is House Of Leaves because the first line is “This book is not for you.” We’ve always had a need for terrible stories, she said, and horror is that for her. And it’s safe – you close the book, you walk away.

A photograph of Virginia Bergin, Marie Rutkosi, Moira Young, Francesca Haig, Teri Terry, and Gemma Malley

‘Apocalypse Now’ was chaired by Gemma Malley and included Virginia Bergin, Marie Rutkoski, Francesca Haig, Moira Young, and Teri Terry. Is dystopia a genre? asked Malley. Everything set in the future is called dystopia, said Terry. Young said that as soon as you put a label on a book it alienates others who may enjoy it. It’s useful for marketing but not for the author. Bergin said genres are narrowing. Dystopia is a philosophic genre, it works on both an intellectual level – thinking about things – and an emotional level.

Malley asked where dystopia is going next, which worlds we haven’t explored. I think it’ll be more interesting to look at not what we know – climate change and so forth – said Young, but things on a micro level, under the radar. Not just fighting things, making new things in our environment. Bergin said she’s interested in what technology is doing to how we communicate. We hear so much about the negative side of social media, she’d be interested in how that immediacy of communication is going to progress.

I’m glad for the few hours I had at YALC. The line was short, the day was bright and the inspiration and enthusiasm bounced off the walls. I think we’re at the beginning of something great and it’s going to fun seeing how it progresses over the years.

Did you go to YALC? If not, have you been to a literary convention before?


HeatherAnne @ Foofy * Not Foofy

July 22, 2015, 3:22 am

I agree that the dystopian label can alienate readers. It certainly alienates me. I will usually overlook anything with that designation unless it has been recommended to me by someone who knows me.

I didn’t go to YALC as I’m in the US. I haven’t been to a literary convention at all yet but I’d really like to!

Gill Stewart

July 22, 2015, 10:52 am

Great report Charlie. And I can so agree re. a ‘shy day’. I’m now officially adopting that as my favourite phrase :)


July 22, 2015, 1:18 pm

The first thing I went to like this was Wiscon, and it was eye-opening, finding people who wanted to talk about books all day!

Pia Fenton (Christina Courtenay)

July 22, 2015, 3:53 pm

Great report, Charlie, and thank you so much for the mention (and the photo!) – really glad you enjoyed the day and I agree with you in hoping YALC will continue to grow. We certainly enjoyed it very much!



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