What we learned at YA Lit Con 2014

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It’s official, YA is HUGE. How can we tell? Well, this weekend saw the first ever UK young adult literary convention – YA Lit Con – taking place as part of the London Film & Comic Con. Championed by author Malorie Blackman, YA Lit Con was a place for book fans and book writers to unite over their love for all things literary.

I went along to check it out (donning, naturally, a Sentinel T-shirt) and had an absolute blast. Not only is the logo for the event really cool (does it make anybody else think of Bring It On? Just me?), there were some fantastic authors there talking about such diverse topics as fantasy, graphic novels, horror and Doctor Who. Plus there were comfy bean bags toSentinel Joshua Winning YALC curl up with a good book in, and more freebies than you could wave a promotional bookmark at. (Did you get a Sentinel bookmark or badge? If so, make sure you tweet a pic @SentinelTrilogy!)

The program was packed with fun activities, panels and workshops, and though I wasn’t able to go along to everything, I did manage to check out some of the talks. There were loads of great little tidbits served up by the authors. Here are a few that I found particularly interesting…

– On the topic of world-building, Ruth Warburton stressed the importance of establishing a set of rules for your world and then sticking to them at all costs. That’s definitely something I’ve had to do with the Sentinel Trilogy. If you make a rule, breaking it is like removing a piece from a Jenga tower – it can make your entire world collapse.

– Meanwhile, Amy McCulloch said that research is her favourite part of planning a novel. Even if she only uses a tiny bit of that research in her world-building, it’s important to know as much about your world as you can.

– Here’s one that I always struggle with… How do you know when your novel’s done? According to Frances Hardinge, it’s when your publisher’s deadline rolls around… I can certainly sympathise. If I hadn’t been given a deadline for Sentinel, I’d probably still be tinkering with it now!

– A lot of authors were asked to define just what ‘young adult’ even means. The general consensus seemed to be that a young adult book is a book that deals with themes and topics that have particular resonance with young people. And that doesn’t necessarily mean the MC is a teenager…

– Also on the topic of what constitutes a young adult novel, Frances Hardinge pointed out that YA books often tackle very grown-up topics in a more sensitive way than ‘adult’ books. That struck me as particularly interesting because I think that sometimes it’s assumed that YA writers somehow ‘write down’ to their audience. The opposite seems to be true, though.

– How gory is too gory? Horror author Darren Shan offered up a fun anecdote for this one regarding his infamous chapter in Lord Loss where the main character discovers his family has been massacred. When Shan’s editor said that the scene was too intense, Shan changed one small detail – it’s the father who is decapitated instead of the mother… and the editor was appeased.

– Is there a stereotypical YA hero? Frances Hardinge said that she did some research before coming along to the con and was impressed with just how much variety there is out there.

I could go on forever, there were so many great discussions, but I’ll leave it there. One thing I’ll add: I found the con really inspiring and it was great to meet so many readers over the two days who were as excited about YA as I am.

Oh, and the only problem with YA Lit Con? I now have a huge stack of new books distracting me from writing (including Sally Green’s Half Bad). Alright, it isn’t exactly a terrible problem to have…

YA Lit Con Earl's Court Two

Did you go along to YA Lit Con? I’d love to hear what you thought! Drop me a comment below…

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