Friday, 27 March 2015

The YA Book Prize by Keren David

For the last few months  I’ve been part of a team. You might call it #TeamYA.  I was lucky enough to have my book Salvage shortlisted for The Bookseller’s inaugural YA Book Prize, and, despite the best efforts of the wonderful people running the process to turn us into rivals, we shortlisted authors all knew we were on the same side really.

The shortlist turned into a showcase for the breadth of YA, helpfully nudging forward the perennial debate ‘What actually is Young Adult fiction?’    There was horror, comedy, romance, literary fiction, contemporary realism and dystopia on the list. Debut authors and old hands. Protagonists of both genders (no perceived bias towards boy or girl centred books, which was refreshing), and aged from early teens to near-adult. 
 I have no idea how the judges made their decisions, and what criteria you use to decide between such different books. I’m only grateful that my book was one of them, because I can think of many other books that could have been there, such is the talent of the UKYA and Irish YA communities. 
The Bookseller promoted the prize with huge energy, with reviews, Twitter chats, a tumblr blog, a Facebook page, interviews and swag.  Bookshops and libraries put on special displays.  Supporters of my book were encouraged to shout about being on #TeamSalvage (a hashtag more generally used by a skateboarding team in Alberta), but in truth, most readers were generous about all the books, and many took on the challenge of reading and reviewing the whole lot. 
The process culminated in a prize-giving event at Foyles in central London. As you can see from the video above I was so excited that my voice went all squeaky.  Maybe it was the thrill of seeing my book displayed in the Foyles window, alongside the other nine shortlisted books. Of course, it was disappointing not to win -  although I could make a case for almost every book winning – but what a worthy winner we had in Louise O’Neill with Only Ever Yours, a book with the concerns of the teenage girl at the heart of every sentence, and an ending far darker than any YA book I’ve ever read, including The Bunker Diaries. 

Being part of this amazing prize was one of the highlights of my career so far, and I can only dream that one day I might be shortlisted again. Thank you The Bookseller for creating the prize, celebrating UK and Irish YA, and giving us so much to think about along the way. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Penguin at 80 .... by Miriam Halahmy

Where would I be without Penguin? In 1970 my copy of The Devils by Dostoevsky cost me 50p. My weekly allowance as a student was £5.00. Go figure, as the Americans say.
When I was growing up most of my books came from the library. We couldn't afford to buy books on a regular basis. Access to books was very limited for a thirsty reader like me - we were only allowed to take out three books a week and had no entry to the adult library until we were twelve.

But Penguin was already publishing cheap good quality paperbacks. In 1935 Allen Lane, the director of Bodley Head, found himself on a train platform looking for something to read. The bookstall only stocked magazines and reprints of Victorian novels. Lane decided there and then to set up an imprint he was to call Penguin, to publish good quality contemporary fiction which could be sold all over the country, even in tobacconists, at an affordable price for all.
The first books appeared in summer 1935 and cost just sixpence - the price of a pack of cigarettes. They included works by Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway - Penguin had lit the fires of revolution in publishing which has lasted to the present day - 80 years later.

As I entered my teens and started to earn my own money, a proportion was always spent on books and with Penguin I could afford to buy the greatest classics, the best in history, the major authors - anything my heart desired. This edition of Death in Venice, brought out to coincide with the film in 1971, cost me 20p. Even a poor student could afford the riches of Thomas Mann.

Meanwhile Penguin was busy bringing our absolute gems of poetry books and opening up the world of modern poets. They began a series of Penguin Modern Poets with the highlight being Number 10,  'The Mersey Sound', in 1967, the summer of love, with Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten : My copy falls open automatically to Page 19 : 'Love is feeing cold in the back of vans/ Love is a fanclub with only two fans/ Love is walking holding paintstained hands/ Love is... Penguin proved that it was never going to be stuffy, stuck in the dark ages, unable to reach readers of all ages.

Penguin also started its series of modern European poets and opened my eyes to a whole host of poets I had never heard of before : Miroslav Holub, Anna Ahkmatova, Vaska Popa, to name but a few.

Pelican was started in 1937 as the non-fiction imprint for Penguin and heavens only knows how I would have been able to afford books for my degree without them.

And now - to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Allen Lane's brilliant idea - the founding of our beloved Penguin books - Penguin has brought out 80 beautifully produced Little Black Classics and true to their founding principles, each book only costs a totally affordable 80p. I'm not sure if I will buy all 80 but I've already snapped up my first selection and I'm tempted to go for it and get the entire collection. 
Have you started buying your Little Black Classics yet???

Friday, 13 March 2015

Why Isn't There More YA Horror?

So this year we get Friday 13th TWICE! How unlucky is that?

But as well as bad luck, Friday 13th always makes me think of horror films, and this got me thinking about horror in YA, and why isn’t there more of it?

Horror is a genre which is endlessly popular in film – and especially teen-populated movies – but when I looked in the bookshops I could find only a very few horror titles aimed at teenagers.

But why, if there’s such a craving to be scared, are there not just as many scary books for teens as there are movies?

It’s certainly not that books can’t be scary. I have had more nightmares from scary books than scary films, and I think part of the reason is that the frightening images are formed in my own head, by my own imagination. More than one book had to be abandoned and banished from my bedroom when I was growing up because I could not even bear to sleep with it in the same room (one was a Point Horror: The Train, and another an Agatha Christie: ABC Murders).
Yes, I’m a bit of a chicken, but those books are SCARY!

The Point Horror books were published (shock horror!) in the 90s, but nowadays, whilst the YA section has more than its fair share of black-covered paranormal books, and whilst it’s true that vampires and zombies (the usual suspects in many horror movies) are well-represented in teen fiction, these aren’t usually what I’d really class as horror. More often than not they’re essentially romances, and the paranormal beings themselves are tortured misunderstood souls (and attractive love objects) rather than intrinsically scary.

But why?

Are publishers and gate-keepers scared of traumatizing teens? Is the concept of being scary-but-not-too-scary too difficult a line to tread?

Boundaries of acceptability are drawn (and tested) within other YA genres, so why not horror? And what’s the result?

What’s a horror-hungry teen reader to do?

Give up? Or read adult horror fiction, which has no boundaries and consequently may contain extreme material that the teen reader is unprepared for?

Is YA horror a gap in the market aching to be filled?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

World Book Day and Beyond! by Edge author Dave Cousins.

Books are important—they teach us empathy, make us think and question, help us navigate our way through life—they’re also a lot of fun, which is why I'm a big supporter of World Book Day.

Last week on the roads and railways, you could hardly move for authors, illustrators, poets and storytellers on their way to schools for World Book Day events—David Walliams even took to the air to avoid the congestion! 

My own World Book Day tour started on Monday with a 5am start. Seven days and nineteen presentations to over 1500 young people later, I'll admit I’m a wee bit tired and my voice is a little more croaky than usual, but it was worth it.

Some wonderful displays in the library at Montsaye Academy!
(Thanks to Lisa Shaw)

With schools being increasingly forced to focus on exam results and league tables, I worry that reading for pleasure will be marginalised, despite the important role it plays in a young person's development. The perilous state of our library service, both public and in schools, is a worrying indication of the low value attributed to books by those currently in power. In this climate, World Book Day feels like a festival of defiance—an excited, noisy, costumed parade—a demonstration of just how important stories are. Visiting schools this week, seeing the work staff have put into World Book Day celebrations and the enthusiasm of the students, proves that not everything of value can be tested and entered onto a balance sheet. 

But don’t take my word for it, here are a few photos and some feedback about World Book Day that I received from staff and students at the schools I visited:

Acting out a story at Bishop Stopford School
(photo: Hilary Sutton)

“Seeing 200 faces rapt, involved and amused … was a joy. Introducing them to new books in such a lively manner will undoubtedly lead to more reading enjoyment.” —Hilary Sutton, Librarian, Bishop Stopford School

“I’m so excited I could burst!” — Year 7 student, Bishop Stopford School (I have to admit, that one is my favourite!)

Discussing comics and graphic novels with students at Parmiter's School
(Thanks to Angus for the photo)

“World Book Day is an incredibly important time for school libraries, as it's the perfect opportunity to promote everything that's great about books and reading for pleasure. At Parmiter's we embrace it wholeheartedly by putting on a week's worth of activities for all year groups. From author talks and signings to books sales and competitions, the world is your oyster! We look forward to planning something new every year.” — Nicola Davison, LRC Assistant, Parmiter’s School

Developing ideas during a writing workshop at Skinners' Academy
(Thanks to Skinners' Academy for the photo)

"They were so inspired that we sold out of books and have had to buy many more copies for the library." —Susannah Phillips, Librarian, Skinners’ Academy

I would like to thank all of the staff and students at Holloway School, Parmiter's School, Bishop Stopford School, Skinners’ Academy, Littleover Community School, Ashcroft Academy and Montsaye Academy for their hospitality, enthusiasm and inspiration! Thanks also to booksellers Brenda and Terrie, with help from Zoe and Mia at Parmiter's, and Stuart Cleaver from Quinn's Bookshop at Montsaye. 

Finally, if you haven't already done so, please check out the World Book Day Teen Fest website which has loads of exclusive author videos, playlists and blog posts to keep the festival going!


Dave Cousins is the author of a number of award-winning books for children and young adults. Visit for more information. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

The UKYA Extravaganza - An Edge Perspective by Bryony Pearce

On Saturday, 34 authors of YA fiction gathered in Waterstones, Birmingham (the poster says 35 but we had one hospitalisation).

 This was not a sit in - we had been invited. In fact the whole event had been brilliantly organised by Emma Pass (author of ACID) and Kerry Drewery (author of A Dream of Lights).
Emma and Kerry enjoying well deserved lunch!
 The wonderful thing about the UKYAX (as the cool kids are calling it) was the author to reader ratio. There were about 80 tickets for the event (and they sold out in hours) making it 1 author to every 2.3 readers.
Many attendants have praised the fact that there was such a wide variety of authors.
It was great to see so many diverse authors. @semraworrall
Really great to meet so many authors in one afternoon! @itslauren_JLS
This wasn’t a line up of the ‘usual suspects’, but because it was a ‘first come first served’ event for the authors as well as the readers, it meant that readers were discovering authors they hadn’t heard of before.
Meeting new people and discovering new books @eatreadglam
Not that readers were not turning up at the event with books clutched in hand, seeking particular authors to sign for them. I actually had a Waterstones bookseller, the lovely Andi Yates, come and find me with an ARC copy of Angel’s Fury. I haven’t seen one of those in years!
I saw teens literally buying a book from every single author and leaving with 40 odd books, all signed (I just hoped they were parked fairly close to the shop!).
The format of the event was fairly informal and a lot of fun. We all arrived and looked at the cake, wondered if it would be okay to start eating it and settled in. Then Kerry and Emma introduced the day and got members of the audience to pull author names out of an envelope. The order in which you were picked put you on a panel. 
Keren's panel (Robin, Emma, Keren and Gordon)

We did mini panels of 4 authors each.
Each author got one minute to introduce their book however they wanted – we had some readings, some short talks and some blurb exposes, then there was a short Q&A. After each panel, there was time to mingle with the audience (and eat crisps) and then another panel went on until it was time for Waterstones to throw us out.
I so enjoyed the mingling part. There were readers, bloggers and vloggers to meet and some of them were wonderfully ingenious.
There was the I love UKYA board
Christina telling readers why she loves UKYA
But I was also collared for a quick fire interview where I had to answer such put-on-the-spot questions’ as ‘what is your favourite word?’ Another blogger asked me if I wanted to play a game, then got out the storycubes! I was videoed making up a story on the spot involving an aeroplane, a sheep, an open cage, a question mark and a pair of scales. I can’t say that my story was particularly exciting. But look out for these from lots of authors popping up on Twitter – I can’t wait to see what fellow Edge authors Keren and Paula came up with!
Paula and I having lots of fun
Everyone I saw leaving the event went with a huge smile and I feel that it was a real success: a great way to match up authors and the people who support us - our bloggers, readers and booksellers - in a fairly informal and fun environment. 
I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last UKYAX. I hope to see more around the country (no offence to London, but it isn’t often that readers outside the big smoke get the chance to go to such a well supported author event) and I think that this could mark the beginning of a wonderful new way for authors to get involved with their own publicity. I don’t think any publishers helped organise the event and this was perhaps one of the things that made it so informal (authors are an informal lot generally, so not a surprise that something run by authors would be similarly relaxed) and meant that the event was open to ALL UKYA authors.  

Well done to all involved in the event, from the bloggers involved in the blog tour (35 authors, 35 blogs), to Waterstones itself, to Emma and Kerry, who parented the whole thing.

Here’s to many more.