Malorie Blackman. Curator of
the convention. Courtesy
of her website.
The United Kingdom’s first Young Adult Literature Convention, held in London on July 12th and 13th, found huge success with engaging discussions and enthusiastic fans. As part of Showmasters’ London Film and Comic Con, YALC featured more than 50 young adult authors and industry professionals in a series of talks, workshops and signings which took place over an eventful two days.
Tucked away in the far left corner of Earl’s Court 2, intimidatingly close to the Stan Lee photoshoot queue, the Book Zone quickly filled with excited young adult readers and curious Comic Con attendees. Fans came from all across the U.K. and Europe to meet their favourite British authors and celebrate their love of literature.
The event began at 11:30am on the 12th when Children’s Laureate and YALC curator Malorie Blackman took to the stage to deliver a warm welcome speech in Klingon, dressed in a Star Trek cape and mask and looking for all the world like the superhero of U.K. YA.
Saturday’s panels focused on genre and popular culture in young adult literature. Malorie Blackman (Noughts & Crosses), Sarah Crossan (Breathe), Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking) and James Smythe (No Harm Can Come to a Good Man) kicked things off with a rousing discussion of the popularity of dystopian young adult fiction.
“Dystopia is basically secondary school. For a teenager every day seems like the end of the world. There are a lot of rules but no one will tell you what they are,” joked Ness.
Fans applauded when the panelists steered the conversation towards the problem of censorship.
“If an adult book ended in a nihilistic way, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, so it’s highly patronising for teenage readers,” said Crossan.
Other talks throughout the day included “Superfans Unite!” with Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl), “Reimagining Famous Characters” with Marcus Sedgwick (Midwinterblood), “Bring Me My Dragons” with Frances Hardinge (Cuckoo Song) and “Heroes of Horror” with Darren Shan (The Saga of Darren Shan). The conversation shifted from the writing processes to fanfiction and fan culture, including comments on the lack of diversity in teen-favourite British T.V. series Doctor Who.
“I declined to do the [Reimagining Famous Characters] panel if it was just going to be five white guys,” revealed Ness.
“Although it’s really important to have diversity within the cast, I think it’s also important to have diversity behind the camera and writing the episodes as well,” said Blackman, adding that she’d love to write an episode of the show.
Sunday kicked off with “I’m Too Sexy For This Book!,” a panel featuring James Dawson (This Book is Gay), Non Pratt (Trouble), Cat Clarke (Entangled) and Beth Reekles (The Kissing Booth) on sex and sexuality in young adult literature. The discussion included age restrictions on books, sex positivity and asexuality, and the responsibility of young adult authors to write realistic sex scenes.
“I wrote about sex because that’s what I wanted to read about when I was 14,” said Pratt.
Other popular Sunday panels included Holly Black and Sally Gardner in “Conversation, Crossover: Not Just For Kids” with Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now), and “Sisters Doing it For Themselves”, a panel on heroines in YA fiction with Holly Smale (Geek Girl) and Isobel Harrop (The Isobel Journal).
“To be seen as a feminist, sometimes you have to create one type of girl, who is tough and hard like a man. To me, feminism is showing how great all shades of a girl is,” said Smale, to applause.
Alongside the panels, authors including Bryony Pearce (The Weight of Souls) and Lucy Christopher (Stolen) ran workshops on a variety of topics ranging from how to plan a YA novel, how to start writing, and how to pitch your novel to agents.
All attending authors’ books were on sale. Advanced reader’s copies, free samplers and book swag were handed out throughout the weekend from publishers’ booths. U.K. publishers hosted small but popular activities, including the Hot Key Books book swap station and the We Were Liars wall of lies. In the far corner of Earl’s Court, a reading area was set up, complete with beanbag chairs and new YA books on display.
Showmasters severely underestimated the popularity of the event. Queues to meet several authors ended up over an hour long. But long queues and sold-out panels served to demonstrate the necessity of an event like this in the U.K. Fans politely lined up to meet their favourite authors with just as much excitement and awe as regular LFCC attendees meeting the convention’s most high-profile celebrity guests, and the Book Zone staff remained positive about YALC’s success throughout the weekend.
“We don’t know whether we’ll be able to continue as yet, but we hope so. Watch this space!” said the YALC team through their official Twitter.
The Young Adult Literature Convention was directed and curated by Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. For more on YALC, visit the Children’s Laureate website.