This entire weekend and the days before that have been unlikely. I’m not a writer of Young Adult (YA) books. I read some YA – but definitely not horror or science fiction or fantasy. Therefore it was highly unlikely I was going to attend the YALC – the Young Adult Literature Conference especially inside the London Comic Con Height of Unlikely from where I stood.
But that’s what happened. In a moment of utter boredom at work, I was googling something when I found that the YALC was in its second year, setup by the amazing Malorie Blackman in 2014 as part of her laureateship. I didn’t go in its inaugural year as I didn’t think myself either as a YA reader or as a YA writer. Loads of my friends from Facebook and beyond did go (they are YA writers) and they loved it.
So like a typical Young Adult or in normal speak teen, I didn’t fancy getting left out this time. I wanted to be part of the buzz too. I was going to go – there was nothing planned for that weekend anyway. So I booked.
Normally I book things and don’t go to everything I booked – simply because I’m an introvert first and a social next. Yeah, yeah, you won’t know it when you see me. That’s me dressed up as an extrovert, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Oops, sorry, Charlie Higson, I’ll talk about it later).
I’ve been scouring Facebook to find others I knew who were going this year. Other than the speakers of course because you know, speakers are different. They’d be on stage and they’d have an entourage and signing queues. I found no one from my immediate comfort zone – that was going. Hmm, as Monday came the ping-pong of I’m going, I’m not going started in my head. I still hadn’t told anyone I was going.
By Wednesday, I was almost pinging on “I’m Not Going” when I saw a Facebook post that Christina Banach and Candy Gourlay were going to be at the Barbican Library to celebrate the launch of Moira McPartlin’s new book Ways of the Doomed.
Barbican Libray – I had always wanted to go back there. I live so close to this library and I work very very close to this library – I thought maybe I would go to the launch.
But I would be gate-crashing. But it is a launch. Anyone can go and buy a book. You don’t need to know Moira. Candy knows me – so she would introduce me. So the argument went on in my head the whole day – I went to the Facebook page and said Going. Then Not Going. Then Going again… I finally changed it to Going at 6 pm that evening, printed out directions from London Wall to Barbican – which is not very tricky at all. And I set out.
When I went there, I found it was a book launch, in a library. Okay, I’ve been to events like this before. I can manage. Yes, I found Christina and rudely interrupted her chat with her friends. And I clung on to her. Then I waved to Candy and Moira McPartlin smiled and asked people to sit in the front and I sat down.
It was a brilliant launch – both Candy and Moira were funny, warm, honest and funny (did I say funny?).
Wine, some more SCBWI people who know me from Facebook and buying of the book and signing of the book and then Moira invited all of us to the pub when the library closed.
More SCBWI people like Peter, Jenny and more time with Candy and YALC came up quite often. Moira, Christina and I were all going. Yes, I finally confessed I had a weekend pass. Gold was it? In any case it was orange in colour. So we agreed to meet up, and stay together. Phew! Now I was going. I had committed. But I also had friends to connect with.
When the time came to get down at Olympia and come face to face with a snaking queue of Comic Con goers I panicked again. YALC – not this queue, said one of the organisers, go around. First I relaxed – okay YALC queue might be shorter, maybe a different building and all. Little did I know.
Around the building meant more queues to witness – more people dressed up. More people perhaps seeing sunshine for the first time since the previous Comic Con (I’m going to leave that description there, Lee Weatherly. If I wrote everything I told you yesterday, I might be sued.)
I was almost ready to type – Something came up, go ahead. I won’t be coming to YALC as a text to Christina and Moira. But I got a text from them – we are in the queue, come around.
Anyway, after a near-panic attack and a lot of advice on Facebook from Jo Cotterill and others to keep calm and carry on, I got inside the building. Entered Level 1 – freaked out with lots of Comic Con merchandise and more sun-starved men and some women and I rushed to Level 2 and slowly relaxed.
More of a book floor. More stalls of books (and some Comic Con stalls too). Spotted some friendly faces, found my friends. Bought myself an exorbitantly priced bottle of water and tea and it all began to unfold.
The three of us glued ourselves to the first row seats, where the speakers could make eye-contact and didn’t get up until the evening. Trust me, I’m an introvert. Even if I was in the front row seat.
I found myself listening to authors I had heard children speak about in schools – Darren Shan, Derek Landy – people who write scary stuff, horror and fantasy and all mixed up.
What was I doing here? I don’t read horror or write horror. I am not scared, I am just not that interested. It’s not my thing. The sound operator perfectly projected my boredom like this.
But it was fascinating to listen as a writer to the process, how they think about hunting down and killing characters. I know kids love it. For me this would be so similar to gaming but with all the imagination and levels in your head. That’s the best thing about books, isn’t it?
Now the ping-pong for the next day started – should I come back? Do I really want to sit through stuff that I won’t ever write about or read? This event is for fans – I felt as if I was an imposter. I wasn’t a fan. I can’t talk about this stuff with any authority. I don’t dress up as characters. I barely dress up as myself most days.
Did I go to the Cosplay party after Day 1 – you’re joking right? Especially Harry Potter themed – I have to confess, I’ve only read one paragraph of the first book. I would be more of an imposter if I did go. I want to read it – but there’s such big books.
But the next day had less paranormal and more closer to normal – if you think there is something called normal for teenagers. But Malorie Blackman would be there. More authors I know and I’ve read. And of course the big event – Judy Blume and Patrick Ness in conversation.
Anyway, as usual comrades in conference, Christina and Moira kept asking – you’re not coming then? Oh go on then, I’ll come. But I won’t come at 9 am like a fangirl. I’ll come to my first event to see Malorie at 12:30. Although Christina and Moira said I made a mistake by missing the first panel by young writers. Oh well. Trade-off for a morning of clearing my work, getting some writing done and lunch before I headed to Olympia again.
The story changes track here. It was a fabulous second day. Great speakers, fun interviews. I enjoyed the entire programme. And we were as usu al seated in the front row where the official photographer wished he could be. We took some amazing pictures of the stage.
I was tweeting all day with #YALC and engaged with so many people. Made a school visit connection, met a twitter-friend and librarian in person who has invited me to her school.
And now it turned Unlikely. Chris Riddell was in the building. Wow! Fantastic! Even the bookshop was surprised. Oops! The official bookseller had not stocked his books because no one knew he was going to come. What a brilliant laureate and person he was. He drew individual pictures for each person who wanted to meet him. How lucky those folks were. I got a book signed – big mistake. So I didn’t get a drawing that could go on my wall. I should have asked for a picture too – but I chickened out. I did talk to him about Prague and its spires and its Gothic architecture and he told me he felt the same. Right behind me was Holly Smalle waiting and the pressure to leave Chris Riddell in celebrity hands was high – so I walked away holding my book close.
Well I skipped over something very important between tweeting all day and meeting Chris Riddell.
And of course about an after-after-party at Hand and Flower with some YA luminaries. That’s for the next instalment too because I’d be here all weekend writing about that.
Read Part 2 here.