Northern YA Literary Festival – Talk round-up

Reader, I passed initiation. A world of possibility has opened at my feet. On Saturday 24th of March I went to my first YA festival. Eleven authors, one stage and a whole load of publishing swag.

How great that it wasn’t in London?! Nearly everything happens in London. Book launches, publishing events and literary festivals are centered around the capital. You’d think as a small island we would be happy to travel to different corners but the UK seems to have signed a pledge to fit everything into the smallest amount of square miles possible. In the past it has been very difficult for many people to get to bookish events. 

Thank goodness for the University Of Central Lancashire for hosting the Northern YA Literary Festival. This day-long event was the first of what will hopefully become an annual event.

Check out my post for a round-up of the talks. I will post separately about my bookish treasures and purchases so check back later for more information.birdGetting into Publishing: a conversation about paths to publication

L-R: Kevin Duffy, Danny Weston, Anna Day and Terri Terry

How is writing turned into a saleable product? Many scribblers have asked themselves the same question.

Authors Anna Day, Terri Terry and Danny Weston spoke in conversation with Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluenose books. The authors shared their routes to publication.  Both Danny Weston and Terri Terry took a traditional route to publication. They sought literary agents who sold their work to a mainstream publishing company. Anna Day’s opportunity came after being shortlisted for the Times Chicken House competition. 

It was clear from this talk – and from discussion throughout the day – that most writers have multiple manuscripts behind them before even approaching the point of submission. Terri Terry was high up there with nine complete novels and Kevin Duffy suggested that four complete novels would be a good average. 

There was some discussion about the role of an agent. Agents have the experience to know whether a book will be marketable. The editing process was discussed, with authors varying on the amount of input they would like to have into their story’s final shape. Anna Day said that after initially feeling disheartened she usually concluded that her editor was correct. Terri Terry was happy that her editors recognised when something wasn’t working but liked to find a solution herself.

The talk followed writing from a hobby through to a manuscript and the various stages along the road to publication. This would have been of interest to writers as well as to people thinking about a career in the publishing industry but with very little idea of what roles might exist.


Feminism In YA:

L-R: Laura Stevens (author who provided a fantastic introduction to the panel), Matt Killeen, Lauren James, Annabel Pitcher and Katherine Webber.

There is no wrong kind of feminism. The key message from this panel was anyone who believes that people should have equal rights regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of gender is a feminist. Chaired by Katherine Webber, the event looked at the theme of feminism and how it featured in the authors’ works.

I was particularly interested to hear Annabel Pitcher talking about The Last Days Of Archie Maxwell. Previously, children’s fiction has featured male protagonists who learn to respect women (Bill’s New Frock, for example) but Archie Maxwell looked at what gender equality means for boys, specifically at the idea that boys shouldn’t show emotion. Archie is a boy who is going through a difficult time but has no outlet, and no vocabulary to explain his feelings.

Pitcher spoke about the misconceptions which turn people away from feminism. These can include thinking that feminists are against femininity and that men shouldn’t be masculine. There is also a problem when people think men don’t gain from feminism.

Writing advice stressed the habit of completion and not falling into the trap of perfectionism. Lauren James also suggested deciding a character’s darkest secret to learn their plot. There was some fascinating discussion about the YA age-group, and how teenagers are in the process of rejecting other peoples’ ideas to form their own.

This was a particularly strong line-up of authors and I liked the topic-based focus.


Alwyn Hamilton (interviewed by Samantha Shannon):

L-R: Alwyn Hamilton and Samantha Shannon

Arabian Night meets The Wild West. Author of Rebel Of The Sands trilogy Alwyn Hamilton spoke about her writing process in conversation with author Samantha Shannon.

Asked which of her three books she liked the most, Alwyn Hamilton spoke about exploring the wider world of her novel during book 2. Book 2 was also where her character developed in a different way. Due to the plot there were fewer action scenes which meant more internal development.

Hamilton originally envisaged the work as a stand-alone novel, but realised there was too much to say in one book. She always knew how the series was going to end. Shannon likened this to navigation. If you know the destination you can read the map, but it can be good to be flexible about routes. This was a nice bit of plotting advice.

Hamilton’s own advice was that trying to be imaginative inevitably results in plagiarism but thinking about interests and questions you want answered can be a starting place for something original.

The chemistry between the two authors and their familiarity with each-other’s work made this an enjoyable event.


Holly Black (interviewed by Samantha Shannon):

L-R: Holly Black and Samantha Shannon

Holly Black came on stage in a faerie crown and held the audience spellbound with her discussion about faeries.

Early influences included an illustrated book of fairy tales and living in a house which her mother believed to be haunted. What draws her back to faeries? Black spoke about the fact that many supernatural creatures are basically human – werewolves, ghosts and zombies are either human or have been human. Faeries are different. Although they look like us their morals are different, and this fascinates Black.

What inspired her latest novel? Black wanted to write a ‘reverse-changeling’ story. The Cruel Prince is about a mortal who is abducted and raised in faerieland. Black gave some hints about what comes next in the series – a wedding in book 2 and a funeral in book 3. This kept her fans talking during the long signing queue.

By the time this event ended many people had been in the hall for eight hours, but you wouldn’t have known it. Black held the stage and it would have been impossible to give anything but full attention.

Many thanks to The University Of Central Lancashire for hosting, to Hazel Holmes and everyone who helped organise this amazing event, and to the authors for turning up and sharing your experience.




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