An Evening with Andrew Smith and Michael Grant

So tonight I had the pleasure to attend a talk at the wonderful Waterstone's Piccadilly (honestly they hosts the best talks) to listen to Michael Grant and Andrew Smith reading from their work and answer Q&A's. (And yes, for the FIRST TIME EVER, I asked a question!) As usual, I did a little write up so all the fans who couldn't make it can enjoy the event as well!

First up, I have to admit that I've never read Michael Grant before, which I know is a sin in the YA community but I just never got around to it. So I probably missed a lot of the references he made to his own books due to my lack of knowledge. However, I have read Andrew Smith and LOVED Winger so I think I got most of his things down.

First the guys introduced themselves and it was immediately clear that 1. Michael and Andrew are great friends and 2. they are also very different. Michael called himself a high school and college dropout and talked about the wide variety of, not always legal, jobs he had before writing. Him and his wife eventually started writing together to start a career and he has written MORE THAN 150 BOOKS! And if you're like me and thought you've never read a book by Michael Grant, just be rest assured you probably have without knowing it. He wrote for Harlequin, Sweet Valley Twins and Disney (about "The Duck, which I can say now"), so the odds that you've ever read one of his books is pretty damn big.

Andrew on the other hand has written his whole life but hid it from everyone he knew. He actually finished several manuscripts without showing them to anyone, because he just always wanted to write. When his son was 9, he said he wanted to be an author and to be supportive, Andrew submitted one of his manuscripts to a literary agent. When did his wife find out? When he had already sold the book to a publisher in NYC - she said she was relieved that he wasn't spending so much time in his office having an online affair!

Then both Michael Grant and Andrew Smith read from their books and showed us why they call it the "Masturbation or Murder tour"  - Andrew read a part of Grasshopper Jungle that discussed masturbation while Michael Grant read a part of Messenger of Fear where someone catches fire - very graphically.

Andrew Smith reading from Grasshopper Jungle. 

Andrew Smith reading from Grasshopper Jungle. 

Then there was a Q&A and luckily, the audience had some great questions! This was quite a long Q&A so I'll just put little titbits of info both authors shared!

Both Andrew and Michael says that they don't write with a genre in mind, but unlike Andrew, who believes that he always writes YA ("YA is any book that deals with adolescent experience"), Michael Grant has written in almost any genre imaginable. He sees himself more as a craftsman and considers his early work the way he got the hang of it. This craftsmanship is also expressed in the way he goes about writing his book - Michael makes a "series bible" (he definitely prefers to read and write series) in which he figures out what will happen and actually picks head shots for all of his characters. He then sends this to his editor and he'll get money to write the story. Andrew said he never sells a story before he wrote it and just writes straight through them in a chronological order. 

Michael Grant reading from Messenger of Fear

Michael Grant reading from Messenger of Fear

For the kind of scenes they like to write, Michael thinks the gross action scenes are easiest  and doesn't like exposition or romance scenes too much. As any reader of Andrew Smith might know, he doesn't shy away from sex scenes and says he particularly liked writing the ones in Grasshopper Jungle since they involved bugs having sex. 

There was the question which character is most like them and Andrew said that all characters, good and bad, are a part of him, but he wants to be most like Robbie from Grasshopper Jungle because he is so fair and kind. Michael says he's most like Quinn from Gone because he makes a journey towards being a better person in his books.

And then I asked a question. For the first time ever. And I almost died. But I noticed that Andrew Smith is always praised for including a diverse cast in his book - often with good representation of homosexual characters. I wondered if that was a deliberate decision the authors made or whether it just kinda happened. Both answered that it's not deliberate, but it's just a reflection of the world they see around them. To not have diverse characters would actually mean they'd have to exclude people from their real world and that just wouldn't make any sense. However, they said that forcing diversity would never work and I was so happy to hear two authors say how easily a diverse cast comes to them - it's really inspirational!

That's the end of my little write up - there was LOTS more that was talked about, but as a writer, these were the highlights for me. It was great to meet Andrew Smith and find out he was just as wonderful as all of his books and it was also great to meet Michael Grant and get an introduction to his books - I highly suggest you read some of them if you haven't. (First on your list should be Winger, but I might be a tad biased!)



YALC Day 3

YALC is finished! And the last day of YALC 2015 was panel day: I attended four amazing panels!

So unlike the last posts, I won't give too much detail here, because it will be too text-y. If you want any inside scoop, I have lots of notes and can tell you whatever you want to know. But for now, here are the summaries of four amazing, and very different, panels.

1. Mental Health with Holly Bourne, Matt Whyman, Annabel Pitcher, and Brian Conaghan

This panel talked about the problems with writing a book that deals with mental health issues. Both Brian and Matt grew up in the 80s and talked about how there really weren't any books that dealt with anything mental health related - if there were, it usually was in horror books and involved psychos (often literally). That's why all the writers thought it was important to discuss those issues in their own books.

Ben has Tourette syndrom and wanted to write about his own Tourrete's through his character Dylan. Matt was exposed to lots of teens dealing with issues through his job as Agony Uncle and wanted to help them. (Disclaimer: Matt's first Agony Uncle letter was from a boy who feared he had lice in his pubic hair and sticked a piece of his hair to the letter!) 

Annabelle stressed the importance of having hope in the stories, though that doesn't mean the books need happy endings. Matt disagreed and said that life is not always hopeful, so neither should the books.

What all authors agreed upon is the fact that they don't write "mental health books". Holly said that everyone has mental health, just like physical health, and that no character or person should be defined by their depression, anxiety,... All authors were very aware of that and always tried to make their characters 3D instead of just a disorder, which also ties back into the hope for the reader.

2. Bring Sexy Back : This panel featured Louise O'Neill, Non Pratt, Lucy Iverson and Tom Ellen and was chaired by the wonderful James Dawson. 

This panel was completely different and perfect after the seriousness of talk one. I took a ton of notes, but honestly it was one of those things if you weren't there, a lot of it won't make sense (especially the fun facts), so stick with me.

The panel was asked if sex in YA literature is still a big deal and Non said it is, because sex is a big deal for teenagers. Lucy expanded by saying that everything is a big deal if you want to do it, but haven't done it yet - which is usually the case for teenagers and sex. Attached to that was the author's responsibility to combat the pornographic sexual images teenagers are exposed to and to show the more real side of sex. Lucy and Tom do this in an awkward funny way and draw on their own experiences, while Non writes for her 14 year old self who was horny and curious. 

And then there was Louise. If you know anything about Only Ever Yours, you'll know that there is no positive sex in it. Louise's new book Asking for it (which I CAN'T WAIT TO READ) deals with rape and rape culture. Louise was asked why her book-sex is always so unpleasant and she felt like teenage girls often see sex more as a performance than as something enjoyable and she wanted to represent that in her books.

And to counter that darkness (but so true), a little fun fact about every author:

- Lucy read a book as a teen in which there was a scene where a goldfish was pushed inside a woman's vagina.... And just like her, I can never look at goldfish the same way again.

- Tom would like to have sex with Fleur Delacour

- Louise hates the word moist

- Non wants to have sex with a character she wrote herself (more precisely, Stu from Remix)

- James was my cosplay winner of YALC - as you can see in the picture

3. Between fantasy and reality: This panel featured Sally Green, Melinda Salisbury, Amy Alward,  Frances Hardinge and Ben Aaronovitch and chaired by James Smythe

This panel talked a lot about writing fantasy and since I don't write fantasy (or barely read it, sorry!) I didn't take that many notes. But here's some stuff that might be useful for you, fantasy lovers!

The panel all emphasised that the main thing of fantasy books is character, though Amy warned budding authors that you shouldn't let the character overtake world building. Melinda avoids this by starting with world building in the most interesting way I've heard: she makes up a religion. Since religions play such a fundamental role in societies, a story usually evolves from the creation of a new religion. 

The best question I've heard today was asked at this panel: what were the authors most common editorial notes? 
Ben: When will you deliver?
Frances: Cut out phrase.
Amy: She didn't know what her most common editorial note was, which is probably because The Potion Diaries was immediately amazing!
Sally: This is great, but...
James (whose editor used to be Amy!): Stop editing!

I hope this encourages some of you fantasy writers that editorial notes happen to the best of us - even this amazing panel. 

4. The final panel was Troubled Teens with Jenny Valentine, Clare Furniss, Sarah Pinborough, Moïra Fowley-Doyle and Kevin Brooks 

This panel was immediately asked why teens are so drawn to dark subjects. The reason, according to Sarah, is that we live in a trigger warning society where kids aren't expected to deal with anything heads on. But because the world isn't safe, not even your own body, teens like to read about the more dangerous things. Everyone agreed, but Jenny said she doesn't think about what teens want to read - she writes what she wants to write. 

Kevin talked about his book, The Bunker Diaries, which he spend 10 years trying to publish. Publishers thought his ending was too dark and tried to make him change it, but Kevin refused and is now happy to finally have the book with his ending published. This let to the hope talk (just like the mental health panel!) and whether it should be included in the book. 

The panel believed there didn't have to be traditional hope in the way of happy ending. However, every story has some element of hope in it - whether it's at the beginning, middle or ending of the book. 

The authors then raved about J.D. Salinger (yaaay!) and the Stephen King books they read as teenagers. Then there was the question what they would describe their book as if they couldn't use the word 'dark'.
Clare: uplifting
Sarah: rectangular
Moira: dreamy
Jenny:  short/ heartfelt
Kevin: "Dark is good enough"

And that's my last, rambling YALC post! I want to thank everyone for reading these blog posts - I've had so much feedback and it makes me so so happy! I loved meeting everyone and had a fabulous time AND I'LL SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!


YALC Day 2

Day two is a wrap! And because I know myself, I left in the afternoon because 1. I'm already exhausted and want to have all my energy for tomorrow and 2. IT WAS SO BUSY. Honestly, never go to LCC on a Saturday if you value your life.

So what did I do today? I attended 3 talks: YA: The Next Generation, Publishing 101 and Being A Girl. AND I took more pics of YALC, so if you're just here to see those - there's a little collage/gallery thing at the end of this article.


I started the day with YA: The Next Generation talk, which featured Alice Oseman (of the AMAZING Solitaire), Lucy Saxon (who was in an amazing cosplay outfit), Helena Coggan and Taran Matharu - all young published authors talking about what it means to be a writer before you're even in your 20s!

So as usual, all the authors introduced themselves and then said how they got into writing and interestingly enough, both Alice and Taran's stories started during Nanowrimo. This again shows how important projects like that are to get people writing. Even though Alice only wrote 20,000 words and then deleted them all after - it was the start of Solitaire.

I loved hearing how Taran's story got discovered. He not only wrote the 50,000 words for Nanowrimo - he simultaneously uploaded the chapters on Whattpad and got discovered when his unfinished story hit one million views in four months. All the other panelists went the more traditional publishing route, so they found an agent first and snowballed through the process.

The panel then talked about how their age influenced their writing career and Lucy immediately said that she has been 17 for about 3 years, so everyone seemed keen on keeping her as young as possible! Helena, who was just 13 when she wrote her book, said that people look at her like "a goldfish who can talk" and all writers agreed that, even though their age is used massively for marketing reasons, it is also harder to be taken seriously. 

Just like yesterday, the authors were asked how aware they were of the genre while they were writing their book. More specific for this young panel was the question whether the authors felt like they had to write YA, since they are/were teenagers themselves. This is something that is often discussed in publishing and I loved that none of the authors seemed to actively write YA books. Alice just wanted to write about people her own age, Helena didn't want to write someone too old in fear she wouldn't understand them and Lucy and Taran said they just wrote for themselves and that happened to feature a teen character.

The panel ended with a very important question: do the authors feel responsible to add diversity to their stories? And what I LOVED here is that both Lucy and Alice immediately said that they wish they added more diversity in their first books. They both admitted they weren't aware of it and Alice said it's the thing she hates most about Solitaire. Taran actively tries to be a role model and open the door for minority groups to get into publishing and writing. 

Their advice for us writers? 
1. Keep writing.

2. Find out why you love the books that you love.

3. Write the book you really want to read.

4. Write yourself represented to create diversity.


After that, it was time for the publishing 101 talk. This was mostly a lot of explanation of the process by the lovely Gemma Cooper. I took a picture of the handout she gave us to give you an idea of what it was like, but mostly importantly, the agents stressed the need to be professional and polite. And make sure you never pay an agent! They work on commission and anything else is something you shouldn't even consider. Again, just like yesterday, this talk is amazing to attend, but shows you how unpredictable the publishing process is.


Then it was time for the most interesting talk of the day (and maybe even YALC): Being a Girl. The authors on this panel were the wonderful Malorie Blackman, Hayley Long, Holly Smale, Laura Dockrill and CJ Daugherty. 

This panel was my favourite one, because the topic is closest to my heart and I disagreed with some of what was said. I always love attending panels where speakers dare to be controversional and have the audience against them - in this panel, I felt like that was the job of Hayley Long. This also means that I took the least notes, because I was too obsessed with the awesomeness of this panel.

Early in the panel, the discussion turned to the term "feminism" and whether it works. Hayley said that she doesn't feel like she needs to label herself as a feminist, because everyone should be for equality. She later suggested we should label people who don't believe in equality.  As prominent as that thought of mind seems to be, I was very happy Malorie immediately disagreed and said that there wasn't equality and if you did believe in creating that, you should call yourself a feminist. The ladies stressed how important it is to teach the younger generation exactly what feminism means.

Besides the quite prominent discussion of the label, the authors also talked about creating feminist characters and they all agreed that it's about creating realistic characters. Holly said she tries to create someone who represents women as amazing as they are in real life - and that means they are complicated and strong. Laura pointed out that it's also important for female characters to support one another, and CJ even suggested they could save one another, instead of always having a man save a woman. 

The panel all agreed that they don't actively try to write feminist characters (honestly, all these writers seem to just magically write amazing stories), but they just write women they see around them and the women they would want to be. Holly said that feminism has always been a part of her (she hit a boy when she was four when he said "she couldn't do something because she was a girl") and it always automatically comes out when she's writing. Malorie let her characters have their flaws - flaws that, especially boys in out society, are expected to hide. Laura created a fantasy world where female mermaids are in charge, so there was no way her story would end up not feminist. 

They then discussed the term feminism some more and all, except Hayley, agreed that it should still be called feminism, even if there is a negative connotation. Holly said it remains feminism and we shouldn't let bad publishing ruin our term. I couldn't agree more.

And that was the end of day 2 for me. It was exhausting, but also so educational. I loved hearing all the panelist talk and discover new writers, like Holly Smale who had never been on my radar before. I can't wait until tomorrow and a whole morning of talks!

YALC Day 1

Disclaimer: This post will be messy. And filled with spelling mistakes. Everyone who has ever spend a day at a comic con convention will understand how hard it is to be coherent/alive after, but at least I'm trying!

So today was the first day of YALC - the Young Adult Literary Convention that takes place at London's Film and Comic Con. It was my first YALC and my first Comic Con and I'M IN LOVE. It was insane. I'm not a geeky person (I hardly understood half the things I saw), but I loved the atmosphere at a Con. Everyone is so happy and so passionate.

I loved it so much, that I barely took pictures. Good move, Emma. I'll try to be less overwhelmed tomorrow, but for now you'll have to settle with what I wrote down at the talks. 

Talk one was Apocalypse Now with Virginia Bergin, Marie Rutkoski (YESSS FROM THE WINNER'S CURSE), Francesca Haig, Moira Young and Teri Terry. The talk was basically about dystopia as a genre and whether or not it works.

First all authors agreed that they never intended to write dysoptian - Marie believes her book is more fantasy (but then without the magic) and Moira was inspired by the great depression in America. 

This also means all authors struggled with the question whether dystopia is a genre or a setting. Francesca said that actually it isn't all that important for a writer, she called genres "marketing tools" that she never considers while writing. Virginia agreed and said that genres are actually really limiting for readers. The writers proved this by the example of Star Wars: how many people don't watch Star Wars, because they "don't like that sci-fi thingy?" It's the same for dystopia and the negative connotation the genre has for some people. 

The ladies then all mentioned their favourite books:

Marie: Feed by M.T. Anderson + The Hunger Games (she especially liked Katniss)

Moira: The Drowned World- J.G. Ballard

Francesca: The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Terry: The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson

Virginia: 1984 - George Orwell

Then the floor was opened to the audience and a very interesting question came up: why are strong female characters so associated with the dystopian genre? Virginia said it was because dystopia is all about struggle and overcoming struggles and young women in our societies just have more things to overcome. Francesca seconded this and mentioned that it is very satisfying for a writer to write a female that rises up against all odds. Further, she said she was annoyed with the fact that strong female characters seem special, while we never talk about strong, male characters. 

There was a long discussion about whether or not dystopia would last as a genre and all authors said they hoped it would - it has been along for so long, can it ever disappear? What do you think?

I then walked around Comic Con a lot and went to a really interesting author/agent talk. I wrote stuff down, but basically they only had one real piece of advice: always be polite to everyone - including agents you turn down. There was a lot of talk about the route to publication, but having been to so many of these talks by now, I've learned one thing: there's no clear route to publication. I loved listening to the talk, but I think as far as advice goes for you (and me), there's not much to say. Except be nice.

And then I finally, exhausted, got to go home WITH ALL THE AMAZING FREE STUFF I GOT! I also bought books (duh), but I'll show them at the end of the weekend when I have all the books I want. But let's end this post by ending the gorgeous free stuff I collected:

W Cafe at Piccadilly

Hi booklovers! As you might know, it was my birthday last week and as a birthday present, Waterstone's said I could pick up some free cake at their W cafe! Well, I'm not one to say no to free food OR to pass the opportunity to share this beautiful place with you.

This post might not be completely book-ish, but it's a cafe in a bookstore (the most beautiful bookstore in London), so I think it counts!

So this was the view from the cafe from where I was sitting. As you can see (kinda hopefully) it's an in-between level in Waterstone's. It's right at the back entrance of the store, so you have a view of Jermyn Street. Not only does that mean you can see beautiful old buildings, it also means that you can people-watch while no one can see it, which is perfect.


Even more perfect, is the amazing walls of books and magazines. In my left pic, you can see the wall of art books that are displayed in the cafe. It really reminds you that you are in a bookstore! See all those colours in the distance in the right pic? THOSE ARE ALL MAGAZINES. Gorgeous, glossy magazines that are all there for you to touch and buy. I don't even really like magazines, but this wall just made we want to buy all of them.


So that's my small review of the W cafe that you can visit after stocking up on classics at Waterstone's. It might not be books, but I think this is a damn good place to read all the books you've bought!

Book store review: Stanfords

Stanfords is located in the heart of Covent Garden in London and this is an amazing bookstore for a very specific audience. Are you in London on a trip or are you just bitten by the travel bug? Stanfords will satisfy all your needs!


First off, the building of Stanfords is gorgeous even before you see the inside. It's a beautiful old building, with some great display windows. If you think it's just travel books, you are wrong! When I went, there was also a nice collection of children's book displayed.


But the outside is nothing - we booklovers want a great selection of books and Stanfords definitely delivers. As is well known, Stanfords is mostly a bookstore for travellers. They have an upstairs floor with a special department which specialises in maps. I've heard that not only can you buy any map ever made, you can even get your own gorgeous maps (like the one of the floor) made. Sounds like a perfect present for the traveller in your life to me!



But if you're a tourist and can't actually carry a custom made, gorgeous, massive map with you, there are plenty of tour booklets so you can explore London. As an added bonus, there are some great postcards you can buy so you can show off that 1. you've been to a great travel bookstore and 2. you've gotten some great tips on where to go in London!





The only downside for me is the fact that I don't like travel books that much. I usually google everything I need to know and travel memoirs just don't really do it for me. There are fiction books, but just not enough compared to other stores.





So would I buy something in Stanfords for myself? Probably not. Will it become my go-to store for presents? Definitely.

If you are even remotely interested in travel OR gorgeous bookstores, do yourself a favour and get down to Covent Garden to see this beauty of a store!