YALC Weekend Write Up.

[Psst… this post is gonna be loooong and riddled with spelling mistakes… sorry.]


YALC and I got off to an awesome start. I got to the Olympia at about half ten on the Saturday which I thought was pretty reasonable as the first thing I wanted to see was Malorie Blackman (MALORIE) talk about how awesome ladies in YA are was at 12.30.

I grabbed some cash (from the machine, not a randomer) and then I joined a queue behind a fifty-something Thor. I had been warned by people that the queues were HUGE and I would probably be there for at last thirteen hours so my sister had provided me with suncream but within about ten minutes I was in.

So that was excellent.

Then I was in the convention centre, wide-eyed and geeky-tailed, trying to take everything in that I could. But no, Jo. Come on, you’re here for YALC and there’s plenty of time to wander around and you don’t want to miss Malorie Blackman (MALORIE).

And this is where I got a bit confused.

I saw a sign saying “YALC- LEVEL 2!” Great! I thought as I clambered up the stairs. Then I walked around trying to find stairs that actually went up and not down, like every single one seemed to do. I actually resorted to sending  a HELP ME TWEET to the lovely people (wo)manning the YALC twitter.


Obviously I managed to get there or else this blog post would have just been a post about how I got stuck in the Twilight zone of the Olympia Convention Centre. And while I would have made that post excellent and exciting…. I found some stairs and, in doing so, I found YALC.

So let’s talk about it, shall we?

Now, in true professional blogger form (read: not professional. It’s still Jo), I was too giddy at seeing Malorie Blackman (MALORIE) to write notes but needless to say: MALORIE BLACKMAN AND FEMINISM.IMG_5122

So y’know.

I also saw Charlie Higson (you know how much I love Charlie. You don’t? OK... I … love…. Charlie … Higson) which was excellent and both him & Arabella Weir are excellent panellists.


Apart from those two panels, I have to say Saturday didn’t grab me. But it was fine because I got to know the layout (and how to get there *cough*) and you know…. Malorie Blackman (MALORIE)

And I also got to buy lots of books. All paperbacks were a fiver which was excellent news for this impoverished writer slash temp.

The books I bought…


This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales. Anna and I were actually talking about this t’other day when I was stressing out that my WIP was going to be cringey and datey because I had mentioned real life songs in it & she said that this books deals with that really well.

Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas. I actually have an e-arc version of this but a real life version for a fiver. Uhh yeah.

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell. I have been told that this book is terrifying and I just started reading and yeah.. OK….

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop. You had me at Northern girl….

Running Girl by Simon Mason. You had me at the cover…

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. I’ve never actually read any of Keris’ books but… you had me at Liverpool. Northern girls represeeeeeent. What what.

What? Oh yes… the write up.

If I had a criticism of YALC it would be that I noticed a few people wandering around on their own and while I’m fine with walking around on my own (sleuth blogger, thy name is Jo), I think it would be an awesome for next year to have something that encouraged people to meet other peoples. Like a blogger/book lover speed dating or something like that. I just think the whole scenario could have been a bit daunting for people if you’d gone completely on your own and wanted to go to meet other like-minded people but everyone was already with friends and groups and already knew each other… I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me!


So let’s talk about Sunday, shall we?

I was very pleased to see that my wristband matched my dress because although I am the kind of person who would forgo buying a new coat to buy a book (hey! That’s almost the name of this blog!) I am partial to a lovely dress and matching wrist band every now and again.


Mental Health in YA

The Usual Suspects: Matt Whyman, Holly Bourne, Brian Conaghan, Annabel Pitcher. Chaired by Imogen Russell Williams.


So anyone who has ever read my blog will know that I like to bellow from rooftops about YA with mental health issues (done right, I feel I should add) because it was a huge part of my growing up and shaping of me as a person. So of course I was going to get involved with this panel. And it’s funny, actually, because when I go to literary festivals and the like, I love going to talks by authors that I know and love BUT I also love it when I go to talks with authors that I either don’t know or I haven’t read their books. Because I am all for the discovering of new-to-me books.

The authors on this panel were Holly Bourne, Brian Conaghan, Annabel Pitcher & Matt Whyman and it was chaired by the really excellent Imogen Russell Williams who was perhaps myfavourite chair lady of the weekend because she asked great questions and she basically let the authors talk and not interrupt them. The whole talk flowed really, really well.

I think what I loved most about this talk was that there was a really interesting mix of panellists talking about a wide range of mental health issues. I won’t bother writing a transcript of the talk because this blog post will be extremely loooong and you’ll have all wandered off for a snack at this point, won’t you?

Wait. Actually. This blog post is gonna be long no matter what so go and get a snack and then we’ll carry on.

Alright, we ready?

The talk started off with IRW asking how mental illness was portrayed in their own teenage reading. Annabel said that Judy Blume was the author who wrote complex girl characters but she doesn’t remember anything in particular.

Brian says that, as a teenager in 80s Glasgow (can I just say I would be all over a book set in 80s Glasgow!) depression/anorexia/OCD was not part of the consciousness at the time.

I think my favourite question from this talk was about research. When it comes to mental health, I think it’s vital, so so vital, that you have to research so it was great to hear about this aspect of writing.

Matt, who used to be an agony uncle (again, can I just say I would be all over a book about a teenage boy who inadvertently becomes an agony uncle for his school paper) says that there was no school for agony uncles. The magazine he used to work for received lots of questions from teenage boys but they had no one to answer them so that’s when Matt stepped in. He explained that he didn’t take it seriously until he got a letter from a fourteen year old boy who had pubic lice (complete with a pubic lice stuck to a piece of cellotape and included in the letter!) and there’s was this guy who had no idea who to turn to. And that’s when he started to take it seriously. He explains he didn’t want to provide solutions but provide the options.

Holly Bourne’s book discusses OCD and, by a lovely turn of events, was in fact trained by Matt to become an agony aunt. She explains that a lot of the letters were from teens that had problems but was particularly interested in the idea of relase. She said that she spoke to psychotherapists through a charity she used to work with and had a particularly close relationship with a cognitive behavioural therapist.

Brian says that it was his own diagnosis with Tourettes that inspired him to write his book and Annabel says that she didn’t set out to write about mental health but she wrote about  everyday life and it came hand in hand with it (I lovelovelove this. It’s so true. One in four Britains… one.in.four)

Another part of the talk that I found particularly interesting was an audience question that asked about parents with mental health issues. I often seek these books out and, I have to say, the grand majority of them are pretty dire. (Basically, parent is given a mental illness to remove them from the story and ugrghrrgrhgrh… no. Just don’t do that.)

Holly spoke about the idea that parents are the ones that are supposed to ground you but in this case, they unground you. And I was so intrigued by that idea. I personally think it’s fine to talk about this complex relationship because for a lot of people (*personal klaxon* me included), this is reality. So far, the only two books that I’ve read that deals the feelings of anger and sadness and frustration and more anger I went through when I was younger  is Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and Kate de Goldi’s The 10pm Question. A YA book and a MG book. Seriously, if you know anyone whose parent/loved one has a mental illness you should thrust these books at them wildly.

Anyway, I could go on and on and ON about this panel because it was excellent and all of the authors have shuftied their way on to my to be read list.

Bringing Sexy Back.

The Usual Suspects: Louise O’Neill, Non Pratt, Lucy Ivison, Tom Ellen. Chaired by James Dawson.


I had a few issues with this panel, issues I won’t go into right now, BUT I have to say that I absolutely loved, loved the stuff that Louise O’Neill was saying and it’s making me want to read Only Ever Yours a lot more.  I tried to write down pretty much everything that she said but I couldn’t so here are a few snippets: “Violence is more acceptable than sex even though sex is natural” / “sometimes sex is a performance and people are too concerned about looking sexy instead of people in the moment” / “media always pits women against each other and tears women apart”.

I wish we’d heard more from Tom Ellen because it would’ve been quite interesting to hear a bit more about how sex is portrayed from the male pov in YA.

This panel was an interesting one and you can probably get a better and more in depth write-up of it elsewhere but I think I’m going to move on…

Between Fantasy and Reality. 

The Usual Suspects: Frances Hardinge, Ben Aaronitch, Sally Green,  Melinda Salisbury, Amy Alward. Chaired by


I know, I know. Jo from WtOC at a FANTASY PANEL? What fresh madness is this? I’ll admit I was only here because of Ben Aaronovitch because I read Rivers of London and ADORED IT an yes, I need to read the rest because I’m ridiculous. I’ve heard that Frances Harding and Sally Green’s books are a MUST and… well… I’ve always held this dream that one day I’ll write a fantasy book and… yeah. One day.

And you know what? This panel ended up being one of my favourites even though it was pretty much impossible to write coherent notes because there was so many authors up there.  It was chaired by the very charming and witty James Smythe (author of Way Down Dark which looks awwwweesssome) was a very excellent chairman and he can fight with IRW over the crown of Best Chairperson at YALC.

I think this was the only panel that truly, truly convinced me to read all of the author’s books. Amy Alward was extremely sweet & I kinda  fell in love with Melinda Salisbury’s dry & dark humour and what I think was a dungaree dress. Which I am always here for.

Favourite points:

Frances: All her books are either set in the past or have strong historical aspects. The further she went into research the weirder her research became and she found “insane details” which were “impossible not to use” | Fears being “derivative” and wants to move away from the canon, keeps going back with her research.

Amy: Her book (& writing career! She found her agent via Twitter) came from twitter so she wanted to bring the modern world and social media into a fantasy book. She wanted to exlore real places in a fantastical way. | Wanted to explore a world where you could go own to Boots and buy a potion. | “If I can imagine it, it will go in a book” < Isn’t that ace?

Ben: On things you can talk about in fantasy books but not in real life: You can make it more fun. When writing contemporary you tell long stories but in fantasy you can tell long stories with magic and explosions. | Interested in writing the “bureaucracy of magic” and the human rights of a werewolf.

Sally: Start with the characters and then go from there by using the “and then…” idea. Working through the problems that you set yourself and working them out.

Melinda: Starting writing her book from a made up religion because religion, whether you like it or not and for better or for worse, is the cornerstone of society. | “Take a real life thing and sex it up”

Troubled Teens.

The Usual Suspects: Kevin Brooks, Moira Fowley-Doyle, Sarah Pinborough, Clare Furniss. Chaired by Gemma Malley.


I won’t lie. I was mostly here for Kevin Brooks because I find him an extremely interesting writer. But also Jenny Valentine who I’m desperate to read her new one (I have a copy).

She also looked amazing in her jumpsuit. And that’s the last superficial comment I will make but seriously, JV, where did you get it from?

Sarah Pinborough (another new to me author) was extremely charming and I liked that she was honest with the things she said (“we live in a trigger warning society and we cocoon ourselves and children and nothing is safe”).

Kevin was deliciously aloof and didn’t talk too much but when he did he came up with some ace, ace points like: “it’s incredibly strange if there wasn’t darkness. It’s cheating!”.

My favourite part of the talk was when the idea of ‘hope’ came up in the conversation. Basically: do YA books have to have hope? Kevin says that he was told that his book “was totally hopeless” and he found that condescending. He believes that hope comes from what you do and what you do with life. Clare added that hope in a book is not the same as a happy ending and Jenny explained that hope doesn’t always have to come at the end of the story but it could come in the middle, the beginning or the end.

LGBT in YA.IMG_5142

The Usual Suspects: Den Patrick, Hannah Williamson, Liz Kessler & James Dawson. Chaired by Julia Bell.

Hannah Williamson’s book has been on my radar for SO LONG so it was a pleasure to see her talking about it. Transgender teens will always, always been on my radar.

And Den Patrick – gay fantasy? I’m here for that. I couldn’t hear a lot of what Den Patrick said because he was extremely softly spoken which was a shame but I got a bit…

I saw Liz Kessler talk at Manchester & she is so eloquent on panels and comes up with some excellent points. And she’s on first name terms (firstnameterms) with Dame Carol Anne Duffy soooo… you know.

James Dawson talked about how now LGBT community has allies and that celebrities coming out (Tom Daley was one of his key examples) was helping LGBT become more prominent but he said that one of the main turning points would be when a premiership footballer comes out.

This panel brought up some great points but I didn’t take too many notes so, again, please search on t’internet about it if you’re interested in more information.

Sir Terry Pratchett and Me.


The Usual Suspects: Derek Landy, Patrick Ness & Frances Hardinge. Chaired by Imogen Russell Williams.

OK, this panel was awesome and has made me want to read SO much Sir Terry. Like… lock myself in a room in a cabin on a mountain somewhere and read it all.

I’m sorry this write up isn’t going to be do this panel any justice. It was awesome and it was brilliant and every person on it was brilliant and you could feel their admiration and respect for Sir Terry coming off them in waves.

This event was chaired, again, by Imogen Russell Williams: love her panel etiquette.

And it featured: Frances Hardinge (love her and her excellent hat etiquette).

Derek Landy which made me shift guiltily in my seat becaue I neeeed to re-read The Skullduggery Pleasant books.

Patrick Ness who was oddly subdued in this panel but it’s probably been an extremely gruelling weekend and everyone was knackered. Also, it’s Patrick Ness and he can be oddly subdued all he wants. Who am I to judge?

Favourite points:

Frances Hardinge saying her favourite book was Small Gods because of that ending (which I accidentally listened to her talk about it eventhough she made us close our ears and it sounds SO GOOD). Also that she loves how Sir Terry focuses on the side characters and gives them a story (as a girl who will always be emotionally invested in reading and writing about side characters, I know what she means). Frances talking about how she felt a personal loss when he died because he was good company and how it was like losing a “wise, clear-sighted and very funny friend”.

Patrick saying that Sir Terry’s books were filled with “so much Englishness” and showed that satire doesn’t have to be heartless: “You can be furious without being heartless”. And that his favourite character is Granny Weatherwax because she shows that being nice and being good are completely different.  Patrick explaining that the character of Death changed the way that the world thought about death. (Read: the tweets from Sir Terry Pratchett’s twitter account after he died. Go on, I dare you.)

Derek saying that he feels most indebted to Sir Terry because of his sheer audacity because it takes a very particular mind to mine that particular brand of comedy. His favourite character is Death because when you open a book and see page after page of ALL CAPS, you know it’s gonna be a good one.


All in all YALC was amazing. It was knackering, inspiring, nerve-wracking (I introduced myself to two very nerve-inducing yet exciting ladies who were very wonderful and ace and eeehhhh), excellent and I can’t wait for next year.

**I have to hand out some imaginary blogging props to Michelle from Fluttering Butterflies who is absolutely the sweetest lady ever and she welcomed me, the Sleuth Blogger, with open arms and an excellent Harry Potter dress. She’s ace. **

Did you go to YALC? Which panels were your favourite? Did you grab lots of books? Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!

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