At the beginning of February, I attended my first book event: the book launch for Malorie Blackman’s romance anthology, Love Hurts. It was an amazing experience to hear actual published authors and I’m definitely hoping to attend an event like it again (it helps that it only cost like £5 a ticket.) Read on for my adventures, though don’t take them as an actual exact account because I’m writing from memory and not a recording or anything.
ha my organisation skills
I am antsy throughout the whole train journey. Granted, it’s partly because of my Chemistry test tomorrow (which I haven’t yet revised for) but it mostly because I have no idea what to expect of this evening. I’ve never been to a proper book event before, let alone with Malorie Blackman and Patrick Ness, i.e. superhuman beings.
When I arrive, it is actually a very civilised event: wine and orange juice are on offer, and there’s a small group of chairs set out in one end of the bookshop. The first thing I do is a buy a copy of the book; I start to read it whilst sitting in my chair until the authors are announced and I blanch slightly: in my fangirling, I actually kind of forgot about the other members of the panel, Catherine Johnson and James Dawson. I haven’t read anything by Catherine Johnson, but I read James Dawson’s book Say Her Name for my book club and it’s fair to say that I strongly disliked it. I feel a bit guilty.
However, my nerves are mostly eased when the authors begin talking. The first question asked is of why they wrote the love stories they did, and I am pleased to note that Viola from Chaos Walking is pronounced Vy-ola not Vee-ola. “There is no debate,” Patrick Ness says when asked about the pronunciation. “I wrote the book.” He continues, in answer to the question, to say that he wanted to break a stereotype he often say in YA novels: that of the brave, foolish boy (sometimes also a werewolf) and the shy girl who’s beautiful behind her glasses. “Why can’t they both be brave? Why can’t they both be foolish? I tried to write teenagers like the teenagers I knew, not the ones I read about.” There are nods of assent. Patrick adds that whilst there are some great ‘should-be’ writers like David Levithan, he tries to write books showing more how the world ‘is’. James Dawson steps in to admit that in his first book, he wrote a relationship how he would have liked to have in his teenage years rather than what it would probably actually be like. “It was too perfect, too neat.” I agree strongly with this, because to be honest I really disliked the romance in Say Her Name. I decide to try another of his books at a later date to see if it’s any better.
The next topic we talk about is controversy and hope in YA novels. Patrick Ness jokes that some of the darkest stuff he’s read was in a children’s writing competition, and I kind of agree; writing darker things is my default setting. There are also some pretty dark YA novels out there (I’m looking at you, Kevin Brooks) so I am interested when The Bunker Diary is mentioned. Whilst I personally quite liked it, there was a lot of controversy when it won the Carnegie Prize. I am therefore very pleased when Patrick says that it is a hopeful book: “Even the bleakest books can be hopeful, because they tell the reader that they’re not alone, and that’s the most hopeful sentence there is.”
Malorie and James go on to mention Melvin Burgess’ Junk, another controversial Carnegie medal winner, saying that it knocked down the doors for authors to write freely. I haven’t yet read Junk, but I read The Hit by the same author and that was a book that didn’t skip over any sort of dark subjects. It was frighteningly real. Patrick agrees with James and Malorie, and adds that he doesn’t think there are any taboo subjects. “It’s all about how you cover them,” he says.
It is brought up that Cassandra Clare was turned away from publishers because of Alec’s sexuality. Have the authors ever been told what they can and can’t write? “No,” Patrick says, “but that might just be because I’m quite imposing. I think that spite is necessary for an author.” He goes on to say how he’s actually surprised at how little criticism he has received for Seth in More Than This, and was slightly miffed when school reading list including it was banned – but because of a different book. Malorie Blackman says that she hasn’t ever been told to write something or take something out either: “I write what I like.”
Then, questions open up to the floor. The first is about writing about people you don’t know about, especially if they have a different background or sexuality. Malorie says that you don’t, because then she would only have written one half of Naughts & Crosses, and I am pleased because then I’d only be writing about unsporty girls who do nothing but sit in their rooms on the computer. (To be honest, I do think I need to get out more. Experience stuff.) Catherine Johnson jokes that if that were the case, she could only write about Welsh Jamaicans. There is general agreement over this, though Malorie does note that you have to get your research right as with any character.
Someone else asks what book the authors would give to their teenage selves if they could. Patrick Ness immediately steps in and says he hates those kind of questions, because he can’t go back and give himself that book, but says he would have liked the Harry Potter Manuscript: “So I could publish it,” he says. James Dawson answers with Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, because it is about LGBT characters without being specifically about LGBT issues. He also adds that the idea of giant praying mantises would probably have appealed to his teenage self. Catherine Johnson supplies the author Sarra Manning, and I take note because I’m feeling a little thin on the ground in reference to good romantic books at the moment.
The talk is concluded with a signing. They tell us we’ll be sent up in lines, but everyone gets up immediately and I figure I’m the only one who has to be at school by 8 the next morning so I go and get in the queue. I feel quite bereft at forgetting my copy of A Monster Calls, but I did bring Malorie Blackman’s Noble Conflict (and of course, the actual Love Hurts book). The people in front of me seem to be book event veterans and that eases my anxiety slightly, but I’m also exceedingly nervous because HOLY COW IT’S PATRICK NESS AND MALORIE BLACKMAN. The only thing I say when Patrick Ness asks how I thought the talk was is “Great” but to be honest I’m standing within like a metre of four actual published authors so I don’t feel too bad.
Though it pains me, I leave the bookshop without once taking a look in the Teen section. I do read Love Hurts all the way home, though.