Last weekend I went to the UK’s Young Adult Literature Convention, also known as YALC, for the first time. I didn’t know that YALC existed until a few months ago. When this year’s line-up and schedule were announced, I knew I had to go and see what all the fuss was about. The convention has been going since 2014 and takes place every year as part of the London Film and Comic Con. I attended on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th July.
Here’s what I got up to over the two days.
Friday was pretty chilled. I LOVE the atmosphere at YALC. Everyone was so welcoming and warm and friendly. I was nervous about going on my own but I felt comfortable and at ease the entire time, mainly because I was surrounded by folks who love books as much I do.
My Friday morning kicked off with the ‘Be Kind to Your Mind’ panel with Akemi Dawn Bowman (chair), Amelia Mandeville, Emma Smith-Barton, Holly Bourne and Sara Barnard. The authors discussed mental health in YA, common relationship tropes within the genre and what self-care means to them. This was the highlight of the day for me. It was such a thought-provoking discussion and Akemi Dawn Bowman was a brilliant chair.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around, taking everything in and buying more books than my arms and shoulders could physically carry. There’s a lot to see and do at YALC including author signings, workshops, panel discussions and other fun activities organised by exhibitors, plus there are tonnes of (often discounted) books for sale. Attendees can buy early copies of titles that haven’t yet been published, get your hands on bookish merchandise, exclusive editions and those highly coveted Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). Publishers tend to give away ARCs throughout the weekend via raffles, competitions and for free with purchases. It’s a book lover’s paradise.
Saturday was busier than Friday. There were more people and it felt like there was lots more going on. I ended up going to four panels and one book signing. My first event of the day was the ‘Careers in Publishing’ panel in the Agent Arena. The panellists worked in literary agencies, publicity and editorial. It was interesting hearing each of them talk about their career journeys and the most rewarding and challenging aspects of their roles. They also addressed the barriers that they felt still exist for young people who are currently looking for their first jobs in the industry.
In the afternoon I went to ‘Chiller Thrillers’ panel, chaired by Sif Sigmarsdottir, author of The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake. Thriller/crime novels haven’t interested me a great deal in the past but reading Darling by Rachel Edwards has made me want to delve into this genre more. In this discussion, the authors shared their writing processes, talked about the appeal of writing thriller/crime stories and how they go about maintaining the mystery and suspense in their books.
The ‘Celebrate every body’ panel was a highlight of my day. It gave me so much life! The speakers addressed a range of topics including body image, feminism, gender inequality, women’s rage and more. I felt inspired and empowered at the end of this panel and I’m glad there are amazing women like this who are telling such important, powerful stories.
After this panel, I got to meet the lovely Laura Bates, feminist writer and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. This year, Bates published her first YA novel, The Burning. It tells the story of 15-year-old Anna, who moves to a remote Scottish village with her mother in an attempt to start a new life following a mysterious incident. The thing that she’s trying to run away from eventually catches up with her and completely turns her world upside down. Anna’s story is intertwined with another woman’s throughout the novel, adding further depth to the story. I love this book. It’s such a relevant and impactful read, especially for teenage girls (everyone should read it though). It’s wonderfully written and Bates explores themes like social media, slut-shaming, female friendship, witchcraft, and how women and girls are relentlessly judged and policed. I hope Bates plans on writing more YA fiction.
My final treat of the day was listening to literary legend Malorie Blackman in conversation with Juno Dawson. Naturally, much of the discussion focused on Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series. Everyone was especially keen to hear about her latest book, Crossfire, which comes out on 8 August, as well as the upcoming BBC TV adaptation of Noughts and Crosses.
Embarrassingly, I haven’t read any of the Noughts and Crosses books. I’m not sure why but I will rectify this as soon as possible. After reading the first chapter of Crossfire, I’m starting to understand what I’ve been missing out on all these years – it’s SO good. Hearing Malorie Blackman talk about her craft as a storyteller left me in awe of her mind and her as a person. Also, it must be stressed that without Malorie Blackman there would be no YALC. She helped set up the very first YALC in 2014 during her two years as Waterstones Children’s Laureate. Her aim, she explained, was to bring more books to young people. During the conversation, Juno Dawson mentioned how great it is to see books being celebrated in the same vein as comics, video games, films and TV shows, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Overall, I had a wonderful time at YALC and would happily return next year for all three days. Although the experience was quite exhausting, I managed to pick up most of the books I wanted and met some cool people. In the end, I went home with 16 books in total; buying 12, winning two and receiving two as gifts from publishers. I’m so happy with all the books I got and can’t wait to dive into them.
Full list of the books I brought home:
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal
The Unknowns by Shirley-Anne McMillan
Birthday by Meredith Russo
Jack of Hearts (and other parts) by L. C. Rosen
Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter
All The Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle
The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods by Emily Barr
Penguin Bingeable Boxset Superproof (ARC – gifted)
What She Found in the Woods by Josephine Angelini (ARC – gifted)
Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph (ARC – won)
Jackpot by Nic Stone (ARC – won)
Have you attended YALC before? What was your experience like?