One of the things I’ve discovered since throwing myself into the UK YA writers’ scene, is the Twitter hashtag #UKYA. Imagine my excitement when I saw a notification from Waterstones Piccadilly for a talk hosting David Levithan, Juno Dawson, Alice Oseman, Lucy Christopher, and Simon James Green. All for a fiver (check me and my Londoner-speak).
It seemed too good to be true, but there they were: a whole bunch of my favourite authors in the same room. The delightful Katherine Webber (a US author, based in London) led an hour of interesting chat around process and inspirations. It’s impossible to capture all the stuff that I got from the night, but below is a summary of each author’s highlights.
Lucy Christopher is a Welsh / Australian author and I’ve been a fan since her first release, Stolen. What I love about Lucy, is that she writes what she wants to write – all her books are different, and her latest, Storm-Wake is a modern fantasy retelling of the Tempest, set on a tropical island. Lucy says the randomness of her choices in which book to write next, drive her agent and publisher crazy, but I love that she writes the book that wants to be written. It’s also more than a little lovely to hear Lucy’s accent slip into the occasional Australian twang.
Any party where Juno Dawson’s invited is going to be good time. With her usual razor-sharp wit and insight, Juno told how she came to write Clean – a story about a Russian heiress who’s recovering from heroin addiction. Described as Girl, Interrupted meets Gossip Girl, it sounds like an obvious winner, but Juno said it was the first book she’d written no-holds-barred – that she’d felt on her best behaviour in writing her previous novel, Margot and Me (which was the first book of Juno’s I’ve read). Juno says she didn’t think the book would ever get published, so she just wrote what she wanted to write. I think it’s awesome that it’s her most anticipated book to date.
I haven’t read as much David Levithan as I would have liked, but I really enjoyed Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (the movie version remains a favourite for me), and I was keen to hear about David’s publishing experience in general (he’s edited for Nina LaCour and a number of other great YA writers). David told of his early decision to write LGBT fiction, to align with his sexuality rather than write what the market then largely dictated. His process with Rachel Cohn is hilarious – basically they just write chapters back and forth, deliberately taking the story in zany directions to see what the other does next. I’m definitely going to pick up their latest collaboration, Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah. I need to work out the deal with the sock-puppet dinner guest (yes, you read that correctly).
Simon James Green was the only author whose work I hadn’t read, but that’s going to change. Hilarious and upbeat, Simon is like having a PG Wodehouse novel in the room. His banana-embellished novels, Noah Can’t Even, and the sequel, Noah Could Never, are Simon’s effort to show LGBT teens that discovering you’re queer can have its fair share of light moments too. If the books are as funny as Simon in person, they’re going to be a treat to read.
A talk with a few great authors was a bonus, but if the only author there had been Alice Oseman, I would’ve been just as excited. Alice wrote one of my favourite reads of 2017, Radio Silence, so I was really keen to learn about her process. It was interesting to hear how Alice found Radio Silence difficult to write, that she had to painfully work through the drafting process. That wasn’t obvious to me at all – sometimes, you get a sense the author is plugging on through, but their heart’s not in it. With Alice’s books that’s never the case. The characters and their stories feel immediate and relatable. Her cast of characters are always diverse, but never contrived. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for the signings, but I’ve picked up Alice’s latest, I Was Born For This. She says it’s her best book to date – I can’t wait to read it.
I’m a bit of a sticky-beak, and one question never far from my mind is: which book should I read next? So when question-time came around, this was what I asked the authors (they could name anything except each other’s books – politeness and pressure, to the side please!)
Here are their recommendations:
Juno Dawson – Slay, by Kim Curran
Lucy Christopher – Kaleidoscope Song, by Fox Benwell
Alice Oseman – Running with Lions, by Julian Winters
Simon James Green – Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsberg
David Levithan – We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour
Katherine Webber – To Kill a Kingdom, by Alexandra Christo