The NYALitFest 2019 was held at UCLan last Saturday and it was incredible! I knew it was going to be good as I’d been to the last one and I discovered some of my favourite authors there.
The Harrington Social Space was absolutely buzzing at 9 am on a really grim day, and the stalls were packed with books, literary merch and bookish gifts. To be honest, I was mainly looking at the publishers’ stalls with the hope of getting my hands on a proof copy or two! Here in the North, we don’t really have many (any) book festivals like this so getting hold of a proof copy of pretty much anything is a huge bonus.
The first panel was YA Thrillers, chaired by Caroline Carpenter and on the panel were Will Hill and M.A. Bennett. I don’t really read YA thrillers, which thinking about it doesn’t make much sense considering my love for true crime. But hearing both Hill and Bennet speak about their books and their writing process made me excited to give this genre a go: as a reader and maybe even as a writer!
Bennett spoke about her writing process by describing it as unscientific- “winging it” -but also creating a chapter plan and following it, ensuring that the story remains organic. Sounded like a great way to keep on track without stifling creative flow!
While talking about one of his works, After the Fire, Hill discussed his worry about making sure the book was factually accurate, the book centres around what happens after trauma and the psychiatry involved.
Feminist Fantasy panel
Next, I went to the Feminist Fantasy panel which featured Melinda Salisbury, Samantha Shannon, Laure Eve & Rose Edwards. There was a lot of exciting discussions here, and it could have continued for hours without any of us getting bored!
First, the authors were asked whether or not they specifically set out to write feminist fiction. Short answer: No. Eve said that she sets out to write interesting female characters that don’t always stick by society’s roles. She also points out that the female characters are not necessarily nice or morally outstanding.
Shannon stated that a criticism she often faces is the presence of noble characters who are women, people of colour or anyone representing LGBTQ+. She pointed out that this complaint is ridiculous, given that the existence of fantasy creatures such as dragons in her books doesn’t get any obvious reaction.
The panel went on to talk about the Bechdel Test, the updated test and how it relates to their favourite films. This is described at https://bechdeltest.com/:
The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test of female representation which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.
Eve commented that she does still watch some films that do fail the test but is more mindful of them. I have been aware of this test for some time and I do find it funny to watch and read with this test in mind, but, I don’t actively avoid material that I know won’t pass the test.
The panel discussed relationships, and how many don’t see platonic friendships as relationships even though they can be as hard, if not harder when they go wrong. They discussed that as a teenager you long for romantic relationships but in reality, you desire what you already have with close friends: trips to the cinema, meals out, closeness. With this I found that the longing doesn’t just happen in adolescents it happens throughout; this can be caused by the media and society portraying romantic relationships as some kind of goal which needs to be achieved for a happy fulfilled life. This part of the discussion really resonated with me as I had never thought about how society and media controlled this thought process was.
Shannon and Eve spoke about the issue they have when writing; ‘getting it wrong’. Eve noted that no matter what they say not everyone will agree. Shannon stated that this can be the case when writing about sensitive topics such as sexual assault. Salisbury used this to point out that the only time that women are described as strong is when something bad has happened to them.
I found this panel to be incredible, I have not been able to write about everything that was talked about as I was engrossed. All four authors spoke with such passion and this made me so excited to read more of their work.
Following this panel, I went to the Ask an Agent event, but worrying about the word count of this post, it will be in a separate entry!
Shame-Less in YA
On this panel were Katherine Webber, Melvin Burgess, Laura Steven and Tamsin Winter. I was so excited to see Laura Steven back at the NYA Lit Fest, I had been introduced to her at last year’s event and been so excited to read her debut: The Exact Opposite of Okay.
Webber defined shaming as an act of bullying and asked the panel what drew them to the subject. Steven spoke about her past experiences of bullying and how she wanted to write about and develop a character that fought back; this being the reverse of her own experiences.
The panel looked at the links between technology and shame, how people can be bullied 24/7 with social media. However, Steven stated she does not blame technology for bullying saying that anything that can impact a human, for good or bad, is the person themselves not social media or other technologies. Adding to this, Steven does see social media has a positive with the ability to help causes and to make people feel less alone as it can build communities.
Winter believes that shame cuts deeper as an emotion as people are made to feel ashamed about things that are part of who they are. For example, sexuality and anxiety. Winter went on to be thankful that she did got have Facebook when growing up and being in high school. Webber added that internet culture has magnified the idea of shame.
Going back to the idea of shame, Burgess stated that you can’t forgive yourself until your victims have forgiven you. Winter spoke about how shame can be a power for those who shame others.
Laura Steven: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
Mental Health in YA
The Mental Health in YA panel was formed of: Lisa Williamson, Alice Broadway, Sara Barnard, Akemi Dawn Bowman & Alexandra Sheppard.
Sheppard spoke about how she did not set out to write about mental health but, she advised, when writing you need something negative to make a story “pop”.
Broadway said she found the truths you let other people see and those you keep to yourself interesting. Whilst she was speaking about this, I was thinking about social media- and specifically Instagram- where most people only show the best bits of their lives.
The panel talked about the increased amount of books that covered mental health was a real positive. Going further to say that having a book that looks at a person with a family member who has a mental health issue does help situations as books can be passed on to explain what life is like with a mental health illness.
The next question was ‘How important is showing the “ugly” side of mental health?
Barnard believes it to be really important as the ugly side is the reality and it is not fun, unlike its representation in popular culture. She said that authors need to be careful with the representation of mental health as there is a duty of care to readers. The panel advises that writers need to be careful of how they approach fixating and spiralling, but there also needs to be a two-way trust that it is sent and received in good faith. I agree with this as a lot of the media I read or watched growing up portrayed mental health, particularly anxiety as a cute illness that just meant you were sometimes worried and a bit shy. I experience panic attacks quite a bit and they are definitely not cute!
The Mental Health in YA’s tips on staying sane as an author:
- Be easy on yourself
- Know when to stop
- Listen to yourself
- Learn the difference between procrastinating and being tired
- Anti-depressants and counselling where necessary, and keeping up with your own basic needs
- Being aware when you are “in your head”
- 5 minutes a day sitting outside with a cup of tea
- Self-kindness and compassion
- Taking mental health seriously
Akemi Dawn Bowman:
- Social media breaks
- Focusing on what made you love writing
- Learning how to keep centred and keep out the noise
- Taking breaks if you are writing anything triggering
- Learning when to step away from your writing
- Work in a co-working space/ office, this allows her to figuratively clock in and out
- Don’t work from home
Admits that she doesn’t have this mastered yet as she is bad at knowing when to stop and uses the same device as she uses to access Twitter so can be distracted.
As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I found this panel so useful. Not only because it proves that people with the same illness can go on to be extremely successful in their field, but also because they too sometimes have the bad days. I am currently working on what I do and how I work self-care into my everyday life and are hoping to make a blog post about this later. So hearing the authors include this into their lives makes me feel like I am on the right track.
Books that look at mental health:
Alexandra Sheppard: On The Come Up – Angie Thomas
Sara Barnard: Starfish – Akemi Dawn Bowman
Akemi Dawn Bowman: A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard
Stormkeepers – Cathrine Doyle
After this panel I got my book signed by Alice Broadway and had a lovely chat with her about my Book Group. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and being surrounded by people who shared a love for books! I was able to speak to a few of the lovely Northern Bloggers and got a haul of bought and (free!) proof books which I’m excited to tell you about – but in another post, because this one is huge already!
I huge well done to Hazel, Debbie and UCLan Publishing for hosting this and letting the Book Group sit at the front! I am so very excited for next year already.