Jim Dean Talks To Bookbag About The UK's First Ever YA Literature Convention

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Jim Dean Talks To Bookbag About The UK's First Ever YA Literature Convention

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Summary: The weekend of Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th July saw the UK's first ever YA Literature Convention, held as part of the established London Film and Comic Con. Curated by Malorie Blackman, Children's Laureate and author of many of our favourite books, including Noble Conflict, and organised with the help of Booktrust, LFCC organisers Showmasters, and many of the top YA publishers around, the event, held in Earls' Court 2, was a staggering success.
Date: 14 July 2014

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External links: Author's website



The weekend of Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th July saw the UK's first ever YA Literature Convention, held as part of the established London Film and Comic Con. Curated by Malorie Blackman, Children's Laureate and author of many of our favourite books, including Noble Conflict, and organised with the help of Booktrust, LFCC organisers Showmasters, and many of the top YA publishers around, the event, held in Earls' Court 2, was a staggering success.

The main programming for the weekend was a series of panels featuring some of the top names in YA today. Saturday started with a well-received panel on the appeal of dystopian novels. I didn't make it myself due to being in a workshop - more on that later - but it was a great line-up with Malorie Blackman herself, Patrick Ness, Sarah Crossan and James Smythe all appearing, and several friends who went said it was really fascinating.

The two panels I did manage to attend on the Saturday were an interesting one on fantasy novels, with authors Frances Hardinge, Amy McCulloch, Jonathan Stroud and Ruth Warburton, and the superb Superfans unite! The latter, hosted by Geekhood: Mission Improbable author Andy Robb and featuring 19-year-old debut author Lucy Saxon, self-publishing bestseller Tim O'Rourke (who's now signed to Chicken House) and US superstar Rainbow Rowell, was particularly interesting. Taking questions from the audience right the way through, interspersed with a few of his own, Andy quizzed the three on what fandoms were their favourite, their thoughts on fanfiction (all three were heavily in favour) and the way in which fans could actually influence writers today. All the authors here were excellent, with several people commenting after that they'd been inspired to grab Take Back The Skies after being impressed with Lucy's clear passion for books.

Both the dystopian and superfans panel, in particular, were packed out, with 300 seats available and dozens standing around the outside. I think the overwhelming interest had taken many by surprise - we had early bird tickets which allowed us in from 9 o'clock and arrived a little before 9, eventually making it through massive queues for 10. I know some people queued for significantly longer and unfortunately on Saturday a few who turned up without tickets ended up not getting in because demand was so high. I think there was a combination of it being the first year for YALC and the staggering popularity of Marvel legend Stan Lee at LFCC which made it difficult to judge interest, but I know that if (fingers crossed!) the event runs again I'll be planning more carefully.

Panels on the Sunday were also great, with the highlight for me being newly-crowned Queen of Teen James Dawson moderating a really interesting one on sex in YA with Non Pratt, whose debut Trouble is one of my favourite contemporaries of this year, Cat Clarke, and Beth Reekles. As expected the four pulled no punches, talking about age ratings (none of them are a fan!), New Adult, and the importance of teens being able to find out information about sex from books. I missed what sounded to be an excellent - but rather controversial - panel on crossover fiction, moderated by Scholastic's new commissioning editor David Maybury and featuring a stunning line-up of Matt Haig, Nick Lake, Anthony McGowan and Meg Rosoff.

Much of the talk afterwards was about McGowan's criticism of fans of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and advice for them to live in the real world, with Lake pointing out that it perhaps wasn't the best audience for that comment! (In fairness to Anthony, who I'm a big fan of, people who were there suggested he was rather playing devil's advocate to make the panel more interesting, but perhaps misjudged things slightly.) As a huge fan of Hostage Three by Nick Lake, I was thrilled to meet him briefly on Saturday night, along with the awesome Phil Earle, author of the wonderful The Bubble-Wrap Boy, and wished I could have made it to this panel. The convention as a whole was also slightly quieter on Sunday, which I found to be something of a relief!

As well as the brilliant panels (other authors I haven't had a chance to mention who took part included Waterstones Teen prize-winner Holly Smale, horror authors Charlie Higson, Will Hill, Derek Landy and Darren Shan in what looked like an amazing discussion, and US star Holly Black in conversation with Carnegie medal-winner - for Bookbag favourite Maggot Moon Sally Gardner) there were also nearly a dozen workshops held over the two days. As you'd expect, with advice on hand from the likes of Kim Curran, Lucy Christopher, author of The Killing Woods, and Bryony Pearce, the workshops were all oversubscribed and you had to be picked at random to get in. I was lucky enough to be chosen for two, tips and tricks on planning and writing a YA novel, delivered by CJ Skuse, and Alexia Casale's session on finding your writing voice. The workshops were one of the few things I think need to be improved on for future events - they were crying out for a quiet space (although I appreciate there was almost certainly little the YALC organisers could do about this due to the amount of other stuff going on for LFCC.) It was a real strain to hear at times and while this was partly alleviated by the excellent handouts both authors had prepared, it was rather frustrating.

There were also plenty of opportunities to get books signed by authors (and I have to say that, looking at the prices being paid for autographs from guests at the main part of LFCC, it was great that they were free at YALC!) although I was so busy and slightly overwhelmed by the amount of people I wanted to talk to that I didn't take the chance to do so myself. Lots of my friends did, though, and were thrilled to get books signed and have photos taken with authors. I know the Rainbow Rowell queue was so massive that it had to be closed, and I believe Marcus Sedgwick was unable to sign due to illness; I think signings for the other 50 or so authors went really smoothly, though - an impressive success rate!

Lots of publishers had stalls with swag to be grabbed, while Waterstones seemed to be doing a roaring trade - unsurprisingly as they had some amazing books which are yet to be released in the UK! They had Robert Muchamore's upcoming CHERUB: Lone Wolf, from the fabulous Hachette Children's Books a few weeks early, along with The Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan from Hot Key. Most excitingly for me, from Usborne, Waterstones were also stocking Holly Bourne's Manifesto On How To Be Interesting, which I grabbed as I'm a huge fan of her debut Soulmates. Meanwhile Hot Key were selling books themselves, and had two hotly anticipated sequels, An English Boy in New York, follow-up to TS Easton's staggeringly funny Boys Don't Knit by T S Easton, and Vivian Versus America, Katie Coyle's second novel about Vivian, while Hachette's fabulous Books With Bite team were selling their own books, including the yet to be released The Mission by Allen Zadoff and Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston's Frozen nearly three months before it gets to bookshops in the UK! As an added bonus, both these publishers were giving gorgeous tote bags away with purchases. Hot Key also ran a book swap which was fantastic, starting off with a great selection of their own books which people could swap for anything they wanted. I grabbed some amazing books at various points, including Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman, and was able to clear some space by giving them slightly more than I took away. Sadly, the space didn't last as YALC ended with a Great Book Giveaway to hand out books from the massive book wall which had been much admired, and I may have got talked into queueing several times... well worth it to come away with Raymond E Feist's The Magician, Elizabeth May's The Falconer, and Tanya Landman's Buffalo Soldier, as well as spares of books from two of my favourite series to share the love with friends, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter and Flora in Love: The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby by Natasha Farrant.

As great as the panels were, and as valuable as I found the workshops despite the issues, I think my favourite part of the weekend was simply the amount of YA fans in one place. I managed to get introduced to Lucy Ivison who signed my copy of Lobsters, and talk to dozens of other YA authors and even more bloggers, some of whom are old friends and others who I met for the first - but hopefully not the last - time. It was also superb to see the event get mainstream media coverage with a really positive article from Martin Chilton in the Telegraph and brilliant build-up to it from the Guardian in the days prior to the convention.

I'm really hoping the event will happen again next year, and am in two minds as to whether it would be better as part of LFCC or as its own separate event. While I'm sure issues with queues would be less of a problem if the organisers struck out on their own, there was something rather fantastic about wandering around the space and bumping into Chewbacca, or diving out of the Book Zone to get our photos taken on the Iron Throne. Whichever way they choose to go, I'll be ordering tickets as soon as they're available!

A huge thank you to Malorie Blackman for curating and to the committee - Jenny Hayes of Egmont, Hot Key's Rosi Crawley, Little, Brown's Steph-Elise Melrose, Macmillan's Kat McKenna, Katherine Woodfine of Booktrust, Harriet Venn from Random House, Nina Douglas of Orion, Paul Black of Walker - for their amazing organisation of the event, Showmasters - especially Gemma and Taran, Mike and Lauren from Waterstones and Claire Shanahan from Booktrust - and, of course, to all the incredibly hard-working publicists who made the event so enjoyable!