At 7am on Wednesday 28 October, I was not, as I am accustomed to being at 7am, in bed. Instead, I was on a train to London to attend the inaugural YAShot, a (relatively?) miniature festival celebrating books for young people. Curated by YA author Alexia Casale, the programme included a veritable smorgasbord of the brightest and the best authors, talking about all sorts of exciting things. (Okay, mainly it was books. They’re big into books.) Most exciting for me, personally, on this day of exhilaration and exhaustion, was the fact that the whole thing was supported by and supporting libraries. If you want to have a good time at a Hallowe’en party, give me an unlimited supply of wine and start me talking about public library provisions for teenagers. I mean, that’s just a random example scenario and definitely not a thing that happened in the same week as YAShot. If you don’t have wine or a Hallowe’en costume, you can read the interview I did with Lauren James as part of the YAShot Blog Tour for a similar effect.
ANYWAY, I took extensive notes at the panels I attended, so I thought I would share some of my personal highlights from said indecipherable scrawlings, three weeks on:
Warning! LONG POST AHEAD!
SURVIVING SECONDARY SCHOOL (with Eve Ainsworth*, RJ Morgan, Alice Oseman, and David Owen) Okay, I didn’t actually take notes on this talk because I was half asleep after being sat on the Metropolitan line for several years. There was a lot of love for The Catcher in the Rye, which I hated as a teen. I’m thinking about rereading it to see if I still hate it. I really enjoyed RJ Morgan’s stories about picking up current slang from her students: “It’s my only attempt at learning a foreign language.”
DIVERSE LIVES (with Sarah Benwell*, Candy Gourlay, and Lisa Williamson) “Do I really need to go to yet another diversity talk?” I wondered. Turned out I really needed to go to this one, which was lively, friendly, and frank. I was heartened to hear all three authors come firmly down on the side of writing outside your own experience, despite the fear of “getting it wrong”. “Trans people shouldn’t have to write all the trans stories” was said (though I can’t remember by whom). A lot was said on the nature of diversity: it is reality reflected, it means inclusion, it means books about everyone. “If you don’t see yourself in books, publishing is closed off to you,” said Sarah Benwell, and with audience participation, a discussion was had about the changes we need to see in the industry; how do we make sure writing isn’t just “for posh white people” as Lisa Williamson put it? This panel was a real highlight for me, and made it clear how valuable these conversations are, no matter how many times it feels like we’ve had them.
I wanted to go to the Trigger Warning panel, but by this stage my early start and lack of food/fresh air had taken its toll so I went to recharge in Caffe Nero. After a caffeine boost, I went to get my copy of Am I Normal Yet? signed by the fantastic Holly Bourne. I missed her panel, but I was wearing THE T-SHIRT OF HER BOOK, so I think I’m still an OK fan.
Then it was time for the library (which is frankly palatial, you lucky people of Uxbridge!) and a blogging workshop with Daphne of Winged Reviews and a surprise Jim of YA Yeah Yeah. There was a lot of appreciation for my t-shirt. There were also lots of awesome tips, but I’m selfishly not going to share them here. One of my notes reads simply: publicists SEE YOU.
INTO THE PAST (with Emma Carroll*, Katherine Woodfine, and Anne Booth) I don’t read a lot of MG fiction or historical fiction, so goodness knows what I was doing here, but this was a fascinating panel nonetheless! Katherine Woodfine talked about Edwardian hats a lot, mentioned Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and explained her Pinterest-based research methods, so I feel like I should read Clockwork Sparrow asap. Emma Carroll revealed that the beginning of Frost Hollow Hall was inspired by the ending of Northern Lights, and that she checks out gravestones for character names. Everyone had interesting historical footnotes to relate, and it was generally agreed that there are many, many untold stories left in history, and children want to read a good story regardless of genre.
(AND THEN EMMA CARROLL VISITED MY LIBRARY A WEEK LATER, HURRAH!)
I squeezed in at the end of the Women Re-Writing Worlds panel, to see Melinda Salisbury jumping on sofas and CJ Daugherty telling everyone to “write like a shark” and then it was off to the last panel of the day…
HOPELESS ROMANTICS (with Lauren James*, Cat Doyle, and Lucy Saxon) This was so much fun and a lovely end to the day! I think the spectrum of topics covered can be expressed in two quotes from Cat Doyle: “There’s nothing more pure than the first time you fall in love” and “If I’m walking through a park and see two squirrels, I’ll start shipping them”. Tragically beautiful. Romance in YA is unique because relationships, especially doomed ones, are preserved in the passionate early stage. We don’t have to deal with mundanities. Instead we have the relationship as the underdog, compelling tragedies. The panel talked about their favourite ships, crushing on their own characters, and the importance of writing platonic relationships alongside romantic ones.
After that, it was back on the Metropolitan line for me, followed by HOURS OF TRAIN HELL. I nearly lost my phone! Virgin Trains fully refunded the cost of my ticket! It was a delight! Was it all worth it? Undoubtedly. It was a hectic, fantastic, very very long day. I really hope we can continue to see more of these events and more passion for libraries and literacy in the lives of young people!