Last weekend I attended my first ever YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) and it was amazing! I met so many brilliant authors and got so many books signed, and the panels and workshops were fantastic. I’d never been before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect (although I definitely prepared for and planned my weekend pretty thoroughly) so I thought I’d sum up my experience for anyone else who’s interested in finding out what it’s like.
One of the things I’d done in preparation for YALC was to re-dye my hair pink because it had faded quite a lot. My weekend got off to a great start when an older lady and the little girl she was with both complimented my hair while I was ordering my
McDonald’s super healthy breakfast on my way to the train station. I don’t get a lot of unsolicited compliments so it put me in a really good mood and set the tone for the whole weekend.
When the elevator doors opened and I stepped into the wonderful world of YALC, I took a bit of time to just wander around and get an idea of the layout and where everything was. It’s pretty small as conventions go, so this didn’t take very long, and before I knew it I had embarked on a seemingly never-ending book-buying spree. I bought the most books by far on that first day, which was a good call because a lot of the ones I liked the look of had sold out by the Saturday or the Sunday.
My first event of the day was getting Goodbye, Perfect and Beautiful Broken Things signed by Sara Barnard. Usually when I meet people whose work I really admire, I kind of freeze and stammer and embarrass myself, so I was really pleased that I managed to come across as mostly human (I hope).
After that I sat in on a panel titled ‘Can we be friends?’, which discussed friendships in YA and how they develop, which was really interesting.
I really loved the stall that Penguin had – they went with a sort of ‘American high school’ theme and boy did they stick to it. The staff were wearing orange and black varsity jackets, they had noticeboards and things on the walls to make it look like a school corridor, and my favourite part was the lockers. They had a row of black metal lockers, each one representing a different Penguin book. Inside, they were all decorated with things that fit the theme of the book (my personal favourite was the One Of Us Is Lying one), as well as badges and bookmarks and other little freebies that you could help yourself to.
In the afternoon, I went to an author and agent talk called ‘Mermaids and foreign deals’ which went into lots of interesting details about the author-agent relationship, how rights work (particularly foreign rights), and the publishing market in general.
I then got my US edition of The Hazel Wood signed by Melissa Albert and we both agreed that it’s the most beautiful cover ever (it’s gorgeous!).
I then hopped over into the queue for Louise O’Neill, which was understandably pretty long! This is where I met Daniella (the lovely lady behind Don’t Bend the Spine) who was in front of me in the queue. We got to chatting and discovered we were both there on our own, and ended up hanging out together for the rest of the day (yay, new friend!).
As the queue for Louise O’Neill was so long, they decided to ticket it, which meant we were given numbered tickets and told (politely) to go away and come back again in X number of minutes when our numbers would be called – they did it in blocks of 10 or so, so it would be like numbers 1-10, 11-20 etc. While we waited, we sat in on the end of a panel called ‘Where will you be in five years?’, a discussion celebrating five years of YALC, and speculating what the next five years will hold for YA.
After getting our books signed and wandering around a little bit more, we decided to pop downstairs to LFCC. I knew it would be bigger than YALC but I was taken by surprise when we saw just HOW big it was. My mission for LFCC was to find a Gurren Lagann keyring for my friend who had broken his, but unfortunately I couldn’t find one. I did, however, pick up a rainbow Alpacasso for a great price, and got a Shiro (No Game No Life) figurine as a present for the boyfriend.After about an hour or so exploring LFCC, Daniella and I parted ways and I started to make my way back home. It started to rain on the way back (very heavily at some points!) but luckily I managed to avoid the worst of the downpour.
Shortly after I arrived on Saturday morning, I saw there was a massive crowd at the Penguin stall. I asked a few people what it was for, and I was told that there was some kind of surprise planned but nobody knew what it was. It turned out to be a surprise musical number promoting Dear Evan Hansen! Definitely a very fun way to start the day.
The next talk I went to in the Agent Arena attracted a much bigger crowd – presumably because this one was titled ‘How to get published’, and book conventions tend to attract writers. There were some great tips, some things I already knew, some I didn’t. It was definitely a worthwhile talk, because I was scribbling frantically in my notebook trying to write everything down!
The next event was probably my favourite of the whole weekend. It was a panel called ‘Politics on the page’, featuring six brilliant authors (including Tomi Adeyemi omg). There were so many insightful, interesting discussions that took place in that hour. I loved hearing Yaba Badoe speak; she has such an incredible, powerful voice. At one point she said something along the lines of, “As the saying goes, ‘If we don’t all learn to love each other, we’ll be…’ well, I suppose the word would be ‘fucked.'” and in her wise, mature voice, that was hilarious! Tomi described it as “the most British thing” she’s ever heard.
After that I got in the queue to get A Skinful of Shadows signed by Frances Hardinge, but little did I know that the queue for Tomi Adeyemi was already starting (even though she wasn’t due to start signing for about an hour!) and unfortunately I missed the queue. I rushed over straight after seeing Frances, but I was given ticket number 172 for Tomi – basically I had no chance! Now I know for next year to queue up early for the authors I am most excited to meet.
I tried my hand at a couple of raffle giveaways but had no luck, but was able to snag an ARC of Sawkill Girls from the HarperCollins stand because they had loads to give out.
The next panel I went to was called ‘My Body, My Way’ and it was all about feminism and bodily autonomy in YA. I was a little creeped out because I had sat down in the middle of an empty row of seats and some random guy came and SAT DOWN RIGHT NEXT TO ME. WHY. But the whole thing was redeemed when Jason Momoa randomly walked up the stairs from LFCC and past the panel, and everyone started freaking out. The looks on some people’s faces were priceless!
After that I got The Exact Opposite of Okay signed by Laura Steven, who had just been talking on the ‘My Body’ panel. As I was in the queue to see her, JASON MOMOA WALKED PAST AGAIN!
In the afternoon I went to my first workshop of the weekend, called ‘Dressing the past’ with Lucy Adlington (costume historian and author of The Red Ribbon). I mostly went to this workshop for a lack of anything else to do, but I am so glad I went. Lucy was so engaging; you could tell from a mile off that she’s passionate about her subject. The main lesson we took away from the workshop was that clothing can be so important to a story, especially historical fiction. Anachronistic details can ruin a book for someone who knows their stuff, and an item of clothing can be key to uncovering part of the plot. I had never thought about clothes in writing in any great detail so this was a really enlightening and fascinating workshop. Plus I got to write about some awesome 1940s carved wooden heels from the Philippines:
The third and final day of YALC, it was pouring down with rain all day, and I had to make my way through a sea of cyclists doing Ride London to get to Olympia. I managed to make it without getting soaked or run over, and when I arrived I packed away my umbrella and jacket until it was time to leave.
My first panel of the day was one called ‘The suspense is killing me’, which discussed thrillers (particularly YA ones) and why they are so engaging and tense. Jason Momoa walked by YET AGAIN and at this point it became a running joke between everyone at YALC.
I tried to get into a workshop with Holly Bourne after that, but I didn’t realise that you’re supposed to book your space for a workshop (luckily there was room in the one I went to on Saturday!). So, instead, I started what would be about 4 hours of queuing for book signings. I started with Emily Barr, queuing very early (about an hour or more before she was due to start signing) but this was a good shout because the queue ended up getting quite long, so it gave me a head start to jump into the next queues.
Emily Barr was followed by Marieke Nijkamp, Melvin Burgess, Holly Bourne, and Akemi Dawn Bowman. They had already started ticketing the queue by the time I got to Akemi but luckily I got a pretty early number and didn’t have to wait very long. I had a little wander round and signed up for two more workshops in the afternoon, which conveniently started right after I got Starfish signed by Akemi.
The first workshop of the afternoon was one with YA Book Prize 2018 shortlisted authors Will Hill & Emily Barr. One thing I learned is that Will Hill talks A LOT. But that was just fine by me, because I recently read After The Fire so was interested to hear about how he writes and his experiences in publishing. This ended with an exercise that involved writing about a character who was doing something they’re not supposed to. As I was definitely feeling the book-love that day, I wrote about someone breaking into a library at night to read the rare books (definitely my kind of crime).
I stayed in the same seat because the next workshop started straight after. This one was hosted by Adolescent Identities and focused on creating diverse characters, and then having the different characters we’d designed meet, and creating a story around them meeting. This was a lot of fun, and the character that I and another girl designed ended up kidnapping Jason Momoa and the story became about the others trying to rescue him – thus starting the hashtag #FreeJasonMomoa!
After that I started checking out the book stalls again, because I’d heard that there were some good discounts to be found towards the end of the weekend – and that was certainly the case! Books were discounted all over the place and I ended up getting LOADS. One stall reduced all books to £1 and there was a legit mob of people crowding around trying to get to the bargains. Funnily enough I bumped into a friend from uni in that mob, and I got 3 books for £3, so it was definitely worthwhile!
I had one last scope around and picked up any remaining bargains that were to be found (including a cool wood-burned little box and a D12 dice keyring). I stopped by the info desk on the way out and was given a free tote bag commemorating five years of YALC, so that was a cool unexpected freebie. It had some info inside about YALC and the weekend in general, so I can look up any books I wasn’t able to get my hands on!
I was sad to say goodbye to YALC after spending a full three days there, and I was definitely feeling the post-con blues – but I am so excited for next year already! After this year I am much more experienced and prepared, and will make sure next year’s YALC is even better!
I didn’t want to make this super long post any longer, so I’ll do a separate post on all the swag I collected over the YALC weekend in the near future (including my ridiculous book haul).