This weekend, I went to YA Shot for the first time. Not as an author, or as a blogger, but as a regular book lover who wanted to spend the day celebrating YA.
Unfortunately and inevitably, there were clashes. Heartbreaking clashes. Staring-at-the-screen-for-thirty-minutes-because-I-just-can’t-decide clashes. But whilst I can’t tell you about every single event there was, I do still have a day’s worth of fun and fangirling to share, along with advice I got from different authors and bloggers (which I’ve underlined to show clearly).
Now, Uxbridge is quite far out from central London. I know, I know, some people took a whole day to get there from places like Newcastle and so on, but I’m used to everywhere taking about half an hour by train. So the two hour journey to Uxbridge on various different tubes seemed like quite a trek to me. But anyway, myself and Jess (bookendsandendings) ended up arriving late, and sprinting down the High Street in order to make it to our first workshop (for those of you who don’t know, this isn’t like YALC, where all of the events are organised conveniently on the same floor – there were three different locations within the centre of Uxbridge where the panels and workshops were held).
One thing I thought was really cool and creative was that each venue was given a literature-based theme: Uxbridge Library was Narnia; Waterstones was Wonderland; in the Civic Centre, the Middlesex Suite was Middle Earth, and the Committee Rooms was the Ministry of Magic.
Workshop: writing, rewriting and editing
For my first event, I was in the library, learning about ‘Writing, rewriting and editing’ with S. C. Ransom (author of The Beneath). The main thing I learnt from this? Editors are brutal. Seriously. There are four different stages in the editing process:
- Structural edit – looking at the bigger picture, things like character names, gender, content, tense etc.
- Line edit – this is where each line is examined to ensure it is the best it can be, or even if it is necessary at all.
- Copy edit – checking the clarity, flow and accuracy of the story (line and copy edits are very similar)
- Proof read – checking the book for errors with spelling or grammar.
Sue was kind enough to show us a manuscript of the line edit of one of her books, and there was not a single page that was not covered in notes. Overall, the main piece of advice I took from this was: if you think there’s something in your novel that doesn’t flow or fit, but you’re going to try and include it anyway, don’t. Because editors notice everything.
Panel: the social network: relationships in a digital age
Next I hurried over to the Civic Centre to listen to a panel chaired by Nicci Cloke (author of Follow Me Back), with Alice Oseman and Fox Benwell (Solitaire, The Last Leaves Falling respectively) discussing social media’s impacts on their novels, characters and their own writing process. The key thing I took from this was that social media is part of modern culture, and it is therefore an important part of YA. Follow Me Back is set on Facebook, and although that is considered outdated nowadays, it is still a key part in giving the novel an identity.
Workshop: writing strong story openings to grab readers’ attention
This workshop was run by Michelle Harrison (author of the 13 Treasures trilogy), and as soon as everyone was sat down, we got stuck in with planning a strong opening. We each took a word out of a pot, and then made a mind map with anything to do with that word. I chose ‘love’, and although at first I was slightly disappointed (as it is my favourite genre and so wouldn’t necessarily stretch me), I found that the exercise was still really fun.
Then, we simply had to write a strong opening, using any of the words we’d thought of to inspire us. We also had a sheet with some examples from other novels. Once we’d all finished, we all took it in turns to read out what we’d come up with. Usually, I’m way too shy to share anything I’ve written, and to be honest I didn’t really want to, but I’m glad I did. As there weren’t many of us it was a really nice, cosy atmosphere, and we’d all come up with really interesting opening lines using words ranging from ‘thief’ to ‘knickers’.
To finish up, we had to expand our opening line(s) to a short paragraph that could be used as a blurb to a story. This was based off of an exercise Michelle does before writing a story: creating a one to two page blurb-esque summary of what would happen in a potential story before writing it. After spending about five minutes staring at the page blankly and feeling like I was maybe wasting my time, I found that I managed to write something I was pleased with, and that the rest of the group thought seemed intriguing. So for anyone looking for something to spark a story idea, I would definitely recommend this exercise.
Worshop: the blogging system: the things they don’t tell you
As a new blogger, I really wanted to hear more about blogging from successful bloggers. Vivienne Dacosta (Serendipity Reviews) and Laura Heath (SisterSpooky) were absolutely lovely and offered some really good advice. Mainly, they made the point that book blogging is for people who really have a passion for books and reading, and so you should never feel pressured. If you are invited to an event, or asked to review a book, and you don’t have the time, or the energy, or just don’t want to, that is OK, and it won’t be held against you. The other thing they were very clear about is that when you’re a book blogger, remember your reasons for it. Whether it’s because you love talking about books, want to get involved in the YA community, or just want free books, this, they said, was a very important thing to remember as your blog begins to grow. If, for example, you book blog because you want to be a writer in future, decide how much time you want to dedicate to your blog, as it can seriously detract from writing time. Both bloggers were excellent at answering questions about both the good and the bad of blogging, and if you have any of your own, I’d recommend emailing or tweeting them as they were both very welcoming and approachable.
Panel: feminism and the portrayal of romance in YA
I’d say that this was my favourite panel of the day. Chaired by Holly Bourne (author of What’s A Girl Gotta Do?), she discussed feminism and romance in YA with Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Holly Smale and Rachel McIntyre (The Square Root of Summer, Geek Girl and Me and Mr J respectively). These are two of my favourite topics, and I absolutely loved this discussion. Something that was clarified from the beginning of the talk was that feminist relationships are just healthy relationships. In a feminist relationship, the couple are loving and supportive of one another, and don’t force the other to be something they’re not, as well as never looking down or putting down each other. Which, when you think about it, isn’t much to ask of in a relationship, assuming you love your partner and want the best for them. It was also surprising how many relationships in books, and in the media in general, are (to use their word) problematic. In other words, relationships where the couples where one or both parties are condescending, disrespectful, and even sometimes abusive. And yet we still see these couples on the screen, or on the page, and think they’re perfect, and exactly what we should search for in a relationship; which, if you think about it, is actually pretty damaging all round. I found this panel especially stimulating and helpful, as I hadn’t even realised how easy it was to have a problematic relationship in a story, as most people find the drama these couples have make for a more interesting story.
Workshop: going global: taking your blog to the next level
The last workshop of the day was with Chris Moore (YAFictionados). Honestly, at the moment I’m far from trying to make my blog global, but I found it really useful hearing about different things you can do to make your blog more interesting, and to help build it up. Some of the things he mentioned included:
- Guest posts (interviewing an author about their book, or even just something the two of you have in common).
- Top Ten Tuesday (this also gives you a structure, something to post every week).
- Doing collaborative posts with other bloggers (this can be a great way to get to know other people if you’re new to the blogging world).
Overall, the thing that Chris emphasised was the importance of putting yourself out there. The same thing was said in the other workshop on blogging I attended: speak to authors, bloggers, publishers. It doesn’t even have to be about books. Just remember that all these people in the YA industry that seem so intimidating are just people, and are completely happy to reply to your tweets about bake-off, or their cat. Oh, that’s another thing: the entire YA industry is on Twitter, so if you want to go anywhere with your blog, you need to be too. Chris also gave everyone at the workshop some YA books of his that he’s enjoyed, which I thought was very kind of him.
I’m aware that this post is EXTREMELY long, so I’ll just summarise the final highlights of YA Shot:
- Jess and I missed the Melinda Salisbury signing (author of The Sin Eater’s Daughter), however she was kind enough to come and find us once she’d finished her panel. Meanwhile, a couple of the organisers took us into the green room (aka, the VIP room) to get us some tea. I have to admit, I felt painfully awkward standing there with my backpack and tote bag surrounded by all of the authors and bloggers I admire so much. But of course, looking back, it was a very cool experience.
- We also missed the signing for Krystal Sutherland (author of Our Chemical Hearts), but fortunately, Jess ran into Katherine Webber, author of Wing Jones
(to be published January 2017) and best friend to Krystal. She was more than happy to find Krystal, and I was yet again left slightly incredulous of how lovely and open everyone in the YA community is.
- I met so many authors (a few I haven’t even mentioned here being Jenny Downham, Alwyn Hamilton and Jess Valance), and was able to talk to all of them without coming off too much like a crazy fangirl (I hope).
Overall, I spent the whole day feeling quite star-struck, and I had an amazing time (as you can probably tell by this massive, gushy post I’ve written). If anyone has their own YA Shot experiences they want to share, I would love to hear about them, through Twitter or email.
A big thank you to everyone to all the people who took the time to come and take part in this event,(especially Alexia Casale and the other organisers).
I can’t wait for next year!