London Writers’ Festival 28th October_ YA Recap

Yesterday I woke up after having friends ‘round for dinner and debated whether I should trip it into London for the Saturday programme of the London Writers’ Festival YA weekend. I sat down and did a few hours of revision on my current MS. Part of me was feeling lazy after a late night, and just wanted to hang out with the family. The other part had mixed feelings about leaving off my edits to catch the train. But then, the train always provides a quiet space to work (a precious commodity in this frenetic household).

I figured I’d look at the program one more time. If the program looked interesting, I’d head in. If not, then I’d kick back with the family and try to squeeze as much revision time as I could. I looked at the Saturday rundown and was hooked. I checked the train timetable. I had half an hour to get ready and head to the station if I was going to do this.

Maybe the Sunday program looks just as good, I thought. My last-ditch attempt at slothfulness. No luck. It didn’t.

My husband was feeling rough from the night before, but waved me off, along with a trio of kids revelling in the knowledge they’d get more computer time under Dad than me.

The festival was at the Southbank centre in London. Set back from the Thames, it’s home to the National Theatre, a myriad of international food carts (ah, the smells, the smells. It’s hard to go past a bag of caramelised peanuts…), and a makeshift skate park tucked under the mezzanine. The peeps skating here are seriously good. It has a dusty streets of Brazil feel (without the sunshine and more damp), where instead of watching the next international football star kicking it around on their home turf, you know you’re seeing the skater stars of tomorrow.

The YA festival itself was a small affair, but the sessions were great. First up was Writing Gender and Identity with Juno Dawson. Juno talked about writing transgender characters and her own journey becoming a woman. Her cheeky humour and optimism is infectious. She encouraged non-trans writers to be allies, but also said it was important to enable trans people to portray themselves in books and movies (to wit, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl is still a CIS-man in a dress). She tipped us off to Ru Paul’s Drag Race on Netflix, which coincidentally, my youngest daughter later suggested we watch. I worried there may be too much swearing, but she assured me the songs her sister listens to on Spotify have a lot more. Okay then. Drag Race is the new house favourite.

Next up was a panel of writers for the BAME (British, Black, Asian, and minority Ethnic) anthology, A CHANGE IS GONNA COME. Most interesting was probably Yasmin Rahman, who spoke of sneaking out of the house to live her double-life as a writer, and how in writing class, her portrayal of a Muslim girl with suicidal thoughts was extrapolated and perceived by her peers as a would-be suicide bomber.

By far the most emotionally-charged session was the slam poetry piece by Deanna Rodger. Lyrical and cutting straight to the heart, Deanna’s open letters to herself and the young women in her life are inspirational. I could listen to her inner-city London voice all day.

The final session was a fun, interactive chat with sex-vlogger Hannah Witton. Feeling like she was only getting half the picture during her school Sex Ed. sessions, Hannah decided to do something about it, taking to YouTube with an open-table approach. No topic too big or too small (read into that what you will). The session brought back memories of rolling condoms onto bananas and watching Puberty Blues. At the time, my girlfriends and I were confused – was the movie a cautionary tale, or a lesson in how things worked? From the sound of things, there’s still a long way to go in schools. It’s exciting (and a little scary) to think my kids can take charge of their own education when the time comes.

On my way home, as the (very) fresh London air stung my face and I spotted the first hints of Christmas in town – a few early fairy lights, a Winter-Wonderland billboard (ice-skating rink coming soon!!) – I was glad I shook off my post-Friday woolliness and made it in. I feel as though I have a better understanding of the YA landscape in the UK, and I love that diversity and open dialogue is at the forefront.

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Alison Whipp

Lawyer. Writes Middle Grade and YA. Known to cackle raucously at 13 y.o. boy-humour. Partial to baked goods of the sweet variety.
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