Young Adult Literature Conference 2014 – A view from the inside by Alice Nuttall

Young Adult Literature Conference 2014 – A view from the inside by Alice Nuttall

One of the biggest events of the Young Adult calendar occurred in July 2014, and no we’re not talking about the glorious Golden Egg summer social (blog to follow on this next week).  #YALC (Young Adult Literature Conference) took place on the weekend of Saturday and Sunday 12 and 13th July and our very own Golden Egg newbie, Alice Nuttall was there.  And she’s written us this lovely blog…

Alice Nuttall

When I heard that the first Young Adult Literature Convention was going to be held at London Film and Comic Con, I think the entire street heard my whoops of excitement. Comics and young adult literature together? My two favourite mediums in one place? Sign me up!

My anticipation grew as I scanned the Children’s Laureate website, learning  more and more about this brilliant event. I was already attending LFCC as a small press exhibitor, selling copies of the webcomic that I make with my best  friend and long-term collaborator Emily Brady. While I was looking forward to the weekend, the prospect of seeing old friends, new readers and a weird and wonderful pantheon of cosplayers, selling comics can sometimes be a bit of a drag. For every interesting conversation you have, there are long periods of sitting hopefully behind a table, trying to engage visitors who are there to see someone far more famous (in this case, Stan Lee), and have no time for bizarre stories about faeries hitting each other with shoes.

With the YALC going on at the same time, the problem wasn’t that there wouldn’t be enough to do – quite the opposite, in fact. Looking at the panels on offer – Malorie Blackman talking about dystopia! Meg Rosoff on crossover fiction! Horror with Charlie Higson! – I realised that the problem would be narrowing down the panels I really couldn’t miss, so as not to abandon Emily at the table.

In the end, I settled on two. ‘Bring Me My Dragons: Writing fantasy today’ was a must-see; I’m a fantasy writer at heart, and I couldn’t resist that title. ‘Sisters Doing It For Themselves’ appealed to my inner feminist critical thinker, who is constantly reading over my shoulder (not a bad thing, I hasten to add). The line-up of authors looked interesting – I’d read Jonathan Stroud’s work, but although I’d heard of several of the others, such as Tanya Byrne, I hadn’t got around to reading any of their books.

Annoyingly, our table was upstairs in Brompton Hall, about as far away as it was possible to be from the YALC events. On the Saturday, I ventured down into Earl’s Court Two on a quest to find the panels, authors, and everything else. And, let me tell you, quest is not an exaggeration. The convergence of Stan Lee, several Game of Thrones actors, exclusive Sherlock events, and of course the YALC itself meant that the attendance at LFCC was astronomical. I’m no stranger to hot, crowded convention halls, but this one was so packed that I could have lifted my feet off the ground and been carried along by the crowd, if I didn’t melt into a puddle first. (After the weekend, I found a meme that someone had created, featuring Frodo’s face and the words ‘I’m not saying LFCC Saturday was too hot, but two hobbits walked past Earl’s Court Two and threw a ring into it’.)

Eventually, after many trials and tribulations, I made it to the YALC area – or, as I thought of it by this point, sanctuary. The reading area, with its cushions and beanbags, was heaven after the teeming circle of hell that was the overcrowded convention floor. A table full of flyers and free samples for new and upcoming YA novels provided the perfect scavenging ground for this voracious reader. The staff at the enquiry desk were friendly and helpful, pointing me towards the panel stage when I asked where I could find Malorie Blackman.

I caught the end of the Doctor Who panel, where Malorie Blackman was speaking with Charlie Higson, Andrew Lane, Patrick Ness and Marcus Sedgwick (Steve Cole chaired), and heard just enough to wish I’d been there for the whole thing. Afterwards, I rushed up to the front to fangirl at Malorie Blackman, who turned out to be just as sweet and friendly to her twenty-eight-year-old readers as she does to eight-year-olds (although I may have reminded her of said eight-year-olds – I did shove a picture into her hands and blurt out “I drew this for you!”)

The next panel was ‘Bring Me My Dragons’, chaired by blogger Marc Aplin and featuring not only Jonathan Stroud, but Frances Hardinge, Amy McCulloch and Ruth Warburton, all of whom I immediately added to my reading list. The panellists discussed all the aspects of fantasy that I love to consider while writing; methods of building a convincing world, the need to keep to your own rules (especially when writing about magic), and how fantasy can be an important vehicle through which YA readers can relate to the real world. At the end, the panel received a question from a woman who had genuinely brought dragons, which got her a round of congratulations from all four authors.

The Sunday was slightly quieter and slightly cooler than the Saturday, for which I and everyone else I spoke to was infinitely grateful. Even so, I was tired by the afternoon, and almost skipped the journey down to the other hall to see the ‘Sisters Doing It For Themselves’ panel. I’m very glad I didn’t. This panel featured Tanya Byrne, Isobel Harrop, Julie Mayhew and Holly Smale, and was chaired by Sarra Manning, whose Diary of a Crush series had me buying Just Seventeen magazine religiously as a young teenager.

Once again, the panel resulted in a mix of me scribbling endless additions to my reading list and punching the air with agreement – this time, at the panellists’ unanimous dislike for flawless female characters who are held up as feminist role models, and who are in fact dull as ditchwater. The panel discussed the importance of YA heroines who make mistakes, deal with things badly, and overcome problems while still being relatable for their readers; in short, heroines who are human.

Usually I’m exhausted after conventions, but YALC left me brimming over with enthusiasm. The atmosphere was fantastic, and it’s so heartening to see that YA has grown as a genre to a point where it’s deemed worthy of its own convention. I can’t wait for YALC 2015.

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