This past weekend I flew to Sydney for All Day YA, a special young adult literature event, held as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. It was hosted on Saturday 27th May at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta.
There were 10 events. Although there were two events being run simultaneously in the two theatres, so it was only possible to attend five events. There was an all day pass for $50, which allowed guests to choose 5 events.
In the courtyard there were food trucks, games, a photo booth and an author signing table.
I started my morning with a panel on Australian Young Adult Fiction, Love OZ YA Anthology: Begin, End, Begin, featuring Danielle Binks, Amie Kaufman, Will Kostakis, Jaclyn Moriarty and Gabrielle Tozer.
#LoveOzYA started as a hashtag in response to a lack of awareness surrounding Australian young adult fiction and to celebrate it.
Binks edited an anthology of short stories by 10 Australian YA authors. Kaufman, Kostakis, Moriarty and Tozer all contributed stories. I have yet to read this anthology but my public library has copies so it is on my list.
Next up was Keeping Company: Characters Across a Series moderated by book vlogger Catriona Feeney (Little Book Owl) with James Bradley, Amie Kaufman, Garth Nix and Lynette Noni.
When discussing side characters Kaufman gave the analogy as them being like seasoning. They can add flavour to your main character and story but be careful because they can also overpower and spoil the whole meal (story).
Kaufman pointed out that if you live in the Illuminae world you have a 32 percent chance of survival. She also revealed that the third book in the series is like an Avengers movie, where everyone from the first two books comes together.
When discussing the notion that YA is lesser than adult fiction Nix pointed out that it is “called young adult not old children”. YA is not adult fiction dumbed down!
Bradley explained that good writing comes when you go somewhere dangerous and take risks. Nix said if you can find the emotional truth in a story, everything else will work.
Noni said to ensure that a character is engaging across a series you need to make them real. She also said that her characters take over the story and she is constantly fighting them as she writes.
Nix said that he does not know very much about his characters when he starts and he learns about them as the story progresses. In a nice gesture Nix gave out copies of his books to audience members who asked questions and he also brought Frogkisser character cards that he gave out at the signing.
After lunch I attended a panel More Than Meets the Eye: Diversity in YA Fiction moderated by journalist and author Sarah Ayoub with Australian authors Randa Abdel-Fattah, Erin Gough and Will Kostakis.
At first Ayoub was a little nervous, but of all the panels I felt she was the most prepared moderator with really insightful questions.
Abdel-Fattah, an Australian Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian parents, talked about how identity is fluid and that it is she who defines herself – one day she may be listening to Palestinian music and the next day watching something very Australian on TV.
There was plenty of humour thanks to Gough and Kostakis. Gough quipped “I don’t wake up and look in the mirror and say ‘Hey, look, it’s Gay Erin’ … okay sometimes I do.” She later joked “did you know my parents are straight”.
Kostakis also said that we all have stories but we are often told our stories and experiences do not have value. He also gave a simple piece of writing advice – if you are ever stuck with a story idea just take your life and ask what if?
Abdel-Fattah said when writing it is important to be aware of power relations. She explained that she would never presume to write a story about the Aboriginal stolen generation. That is not her story to tell.
Gough encouraged writers to talk to people and do research to better represent diversity.
When asked for diverse book recommendations Kostakis recommends “anything by Sara Farizan”; Gough recommends Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward and Pink by Lili Wilkinson; Ayoub recommends Bro by Helen Chebatte.
Defying Expectations: How Do Female Writers Defy Stereotypes moderated by Bev Kavanagh with J.C. Burke, Amie Kaufman and Mariko Tamaki.
Kaufman opened the panel by reading two emails from her ‘jerks’ folder. One gave her advice on genres other than sci-fi, which would be better suited to her female sensibilities and the other suggesting that Jay Kristoff is the sole author of the Illuminae series and that her name is only there because of her New York Times best-seller status.
This led to a discussion of being female and writing in genres that are traditionally male dominated, such as science fiction. Burke also discussed writing in the traditional male dominated genre of crime fiction and being the second female to win the Ned Kelly award and the first young adult title win.
Kaufman also talked about flipping the gender of characters during the editing process to avoid subconscious gender bias / stereotypes.
When discussing sexist criticism female writers receive Tamaki said “I’m not less authoritative, you have a problem with my authority.”
I ended the day with TeenCon moderated by author Will Kostakis.
As the audience entered the doors to the theatre we were given free copies of books. I was given Cath Crowley’s 2016 novel Words in the Deep Blue. This is Crowley’s sixth book and I look forward to reading it. Click here to read my past book club pick post for Graffiti Moon.
Representatives from eight publishing houses presented some recent and upcoming YA titles to get excited about.
Kostakis also played a game of heads or tails with book packs for the last one standing. Audience members also had a chance to win books by competing against the publishers in a ‘Reworking the Classics’ competition – think Harry Potter with more diversity and The Hunger Games series where President Snow is Donald Trump and Katniss is Hillary Clinton.
Also on during the day were Writing in Verse: Sarah Crossan in Conversation; Expressing Herself: The Brilliant Life of Rupi Kaur; Mariko Tamaki Talks the Talk; Talking Tough Topics with Jennifer Niven; and Fresh Voices from Western Sydney: A Showcase of Real Talk.