It was a double whammy of inspirational YA lit events last week, as a few days before the Scholastic Bloggers Book Feast I went to Waterstones Piccadilly for their Be True to Yourself evening. The panel consisted of authors Lisa Williamson (The Art of Being Normal), Jandy Nelson (I'll Give You the Sun, The Sky is Everywhere), Sara Barnard (Beautiful Broken Things) and Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence), and was hosted by Katherine Webber of The Book Trust (she has her own YA debut coming out next year as well).
While I'd only read The Art of Being Normal before attending the event (hearing that Lisa Williamson would be part of the panel is what promoted me to book the ticket), I was already familiar with the other authors and after hearing them talk so passionately about their work, characters and the important themes running throughout their work I cannot wait to dive into their books and devour their words. If the stories are only half as inspirational as their creators, I'll be in for a treat.
Katherine Webber introducing the authors
The evening was divided into clear sections, touching upon themes such as family, love and fitting in. And between each section one of the four authors read an excerpt from their book. I live-Tweeted the event, which means that my notes are all condensed to short 140-character long bursts of insights, but I'll summarise some of the most fascinating and interesting moments of the evening below.
Jandy Nelson reads from I'll Give You the Sun
The Art of Being Normal is a book that is heavily focused on identity and self-discovery, of which Lisa said: "We all grow up thinking we don't fit in, and this feeling never really goes away. I wanted to explore that through gender identity." Jandy added that her character Noah "buries himself in normalcy". Alice also said that her book is doused in "different levels of repression of identity" (beautifully worded).
Sara Barnard reads from Beautiful Broken Things
When the conversation moved to sibling relationships, Alice said they are interesting because they vary so much; "they can be your best friend or you can hate then". Sara added that a sibling relationship "has a huge effect on who you are. They are there your entire life; the only ones who understand your family and what made you. They've experienced everything alongside you."
Alice Oseman reads from Radio Silence
Jandy spoke about the difficulties of having multiple narrators in her book and she said she had to write each story from start to finish first and keep the file locked. When she eventually went about intertwining the two, it felt like "writing another novel" and she lost thousands of words in between. Speaking of lost words, Lisa revealed that while The Art of Being Normal in its published shape is 85,000 words, it was originally 250,000 – I want to read them all!
Lisa Williamson reads from The Art of Being Normal
And when it comes to writing different perspectives, Alice said that writing in first person gives access to a character that third person doesn't really allow. Sara also mentioned that she writes a first person view from a smaller character sometimes to see how they view her protagonist. While she doesn't use these words, they give her another layer of insight into her characters, which I thought was really interesting.
Finally, the discussion turned to the publishing process and the authors were asked if they could share any tips for aspiring writers. Alice, being the youngest on the panel at 21-years-old (she wrote Solitaire when she was 17!) was asked advice for writing as a young person. She wisely said: "Age doesn't matter, you just have to believe in yourself." She backed up this statement by saying that she didn't add her age in any of her query letters. Other parts of the writing and publishing process that were discussed were editing (Jandy's favourite part) and writing from experience or not (Lisa said that it's a writer's job to make things up).
All too soon, the evening came to an end and it was time for us to splurge on buying all of the books and getting them signed by the authors. Thanks very much to Waterstones Piccadilly and Katherine for hosting, and to Lisa, Jandy, Alice and Sara for giving us a glimpse into your life as an author.