On the weekend of the 12th July I travelled down to London to take part in the inaugural YALC (Young Adult Literature Con) which was joined to Comic Con and took place in the Earls Court arena.
I was to conduct a Creative Writing Workshop entitled ‘Starting to Write’, all about … well it did exactly what it said on the tin. I was a bit concerned that no-one would sign up, and worried about having an embarrassing signing afterwards, but so excited about the rest of the line up that I went in high spirits, dressed (after Malorie Blackman announced that she was going in costume) as Zoe from Firefly.
The first thing that struck me as I walked around the corner to see Earls Court was the insane queue. There had to be 50,000 people all trying to get into the arena. Some had apparently been queuing since 3am. My jaw dropped. Luckily I had a special ticket with a little green dot on a lariat and had been told to go in through gate M, so my guests and I headed past the miles of queuing Avengers, Spidermen, Storm troopers, Lannisters, Starks and, oddly, Disney princesses, towards the gate.
The walk felt like miles and the queue carried on. I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it in for my workshop. But then we got to the entrance and there was no queue. We walked straight in, feeling a bit guilty, but immensely relieved – queuing is one thing I really hate.
And inside what was the first thing I saw – Antony Head doing a signing next to Paul McGann. I squealed. My day was made (yes, I’m an enormous Buffy fan).
I had a couple of hours before the YALC officially started so we walked around. There was a large part of the venue given over to stands where people were signing: everyone from the guy from Airplane, to a ghoul from Ghostbusters, to WWE wresters, to Stan Lee. I was particularly excited about seeing Summer Glau (Firefly) and was hoping to get a photo with her (as I was in costume and all), but every time I walked past, her ‘stall’ was empty. Boo.
There were obviously a lot of stands selling merchandise, which were fun to browse, and you could have your photo taken on the iron throne (which I did).
The main events though, were the talks. Talks by Stan Lee, by the Doctor Who team, by Game of Thrones actors and, of course, panels in the YALC area by the most YA wonderful authors.
I made a plan of what I would see (when I wasn't working), then I headed to the main event - The YALC.
When I turned up: the first talk with Patrick Ness, Malorie Blackman and Sarah Crossan was about to get going. Excitedly I sat down and listened (although my ears were ringing a bit – I was in the same room as Patrick Ness!!).
After being impressed by their thoughts on dystopia (its all about fear, about one person changing the world) I legged it to the green room to sign in for my workshop.
There I found Antony Head and Jamie Bamber relaxing along with various wrestlers, other actors I recognised or half-recognised and a number of writers who luckily seemed as star-struck as me (later I saw Carrie Fisher and Lena Headey, but never did manage to bump into Summer Glau). My excitement could hardly be contained. But it had to be, as I had to go and give a workshop to an empty corner of the YALC.
Only it wasn’t - empty that is. It was full. I realised as I swiftly set up that I was going to have to yell at the top of my lungs for an hour, as there were no mikes for the workshop authors and there were apparently upwards of 70,000 people in the venue by this point all competing with me along with music, other people giving talks (with mikes) and terrible acoustics. I have two small children, so I’m used to yelling for an hour straight, but by the end I had quite the sore throat. Still, I felt that the workshop went well and I didn’t lose any of my audience. I could have gone on for another hour if I hadn’t been kicked out of the space to make way for the next one!
Then to my signing. I knew that I was between Jonathan Stroud (I am a HUGE fan of his Bartimaeus books and had recently finished reading the enjoyable Lockwood and Co) and Andy Robb (marvellous author of Geekhood), so I was a bit worried that my signing queue might look a bit sad.
I was very happy to find an actual queue (and a beer) waiting for me when I sat down. I chatted with readers and soon-to-be-readers who had just bought my book and had a steady trickle of signings for a couple of hours, which was lovely. Nothing like Jonathan though, who was non-stop signing with barely enough time for me to catch his eye and say what a fan I was. And as for Rainbow Rowell’s queue – for a while I thought Stan Lee might be signing books at the other end of the YALC area!
After my signing I had time to go to the other author panels and chat with a couple who were still signing (Sarah Mcintyre signed Oliver and the Seawigs for the kids – she did a lovely illustration for them). I chatted to Malorie Blackman in the green room (she is so lovely) and even bumped into fellow Edgey author Sara Grant!
By this point, on one of the hottest days of the year, with no air con, crammed into a room with thousands of other people and in a leather outfit with knee boots, I was feeling a bit worse for wear, so sorry Sara if I was a bit dozy!
I popped out to change and returned for the drinks party at which I got to chat with loads of wonderful YA authors, tell Patrick Ness how much I loved the Chaos Walking Trilogy, catch up with old friends, meet some twitter / FB friends and make some new ones.
On the Sunday I geeked out for the day, went to the Game of Thrones talk I’d ear-marked, mooched around looking at cosplay and enjoyed more of the YALC events, chatting to Anthony McGowan after his controversial panel (where he got himself in trouble playing devils advocate) and generally having a great time.
It was a shame to leave, but by Sunday night I was exhausted … and they were closing up anyway.
So was the YALC an unqualified success? Well there were a few teething problems mainly caused by the venue itself – for example poor acoustics and a lack of a sound system for the workshops. Some people wanted to come into the YALC but were trapped outside queuing for five hours! But the people who did make it in (and there were a great many) were all smiling, despite unbearable heat. I didn’t hear a single bad word about the event and in fact, an awful lot of complimentary things. The readers, and they’re the most important after all, enjoyed themselves immensely. And, hey, so did I.
So thank you, Malorie Blackman, Katherine Woodfine and everyone involved in making the first YALC so completely brilliant. I hope that it goes from strength to strength year on year and I hope to be there each time. Even if I have to buy a ticket and queue!