In July I went to the London Comiccon, which hosted the first YA convention. It was brilliant, and I met lots of people, quite a few of whom had read my book and knew who I was?? It was a bit surreal and I felt like a huge imposter. I got to go to the authors party, which was incredible! I feel so lucky that I get to do stuff like this!
The panels I managed to go to were all amazing, and in particular here are some things that I really enjoyed and agreed with:
Sex in YA
There was a brilliant discussion on whether sex in YA can and should be explicit by nonthepratt, authorbethreekles, Cat Clarke and jamesdawsonbooks. I very strongly agree that there should be sex, especially because teenagers are always going to be curious, and it’s much better for them to read a responsibly written sex scene in a novel that discusses consent, conception and emotions, rather than googling porn.
There needs to be a reliable source of information, in a form that isn’t a Sex Education class. One that teenagers can access without shame, and for free in libraries without having to venture sneakily into the romance section. One where the women aren’t objectified or come second to a man’s pleasure. One with conversations about consent.
Even if younger readers than the intended audience find it, they are going to be less harmed by it than they would be by porn. If a twelve year old is curious about sex, then it is far better that their explorations lead them to a source which is intentionally written for them, which is accurate and responsible. However explicit it is, it is always going to be far less scarring than porn.
It’s even more important to ensure that there are depictions of LGBT sex in YA. Not only for young teenagers unsure of their own sexuality, who already receive a worse Sex Education in schools, and would get a particularly damaging idea of what sex is like from porn. But this is also important for straight teenagers, to show them that there is nothing gross or disgusting or scary about LGBT individuals. That LGBT teenagers are just like them- nervous and inexperienced and probably not taking part in orgies in their spare time.
I think explicit rather than abstract, vague sex scenes in YA is better. The sex should addressed clearly, because if a teenager is curious about what exactly is happening in a scene, they will turn to google, and while they might find fanfiction or a guide to sex, they will almost certainly also find porn. YA is responsible for shaping the ideas of a whole generation, and it needs to be done right.
There was a wonderful discussion by rainbowrowell, lucysaxonbooks, Andy Robb and Tim O’Rourke about the shortening gap between fandom and authors. I am very strongly on the side of fan culture and fanfiction, as you can see. I think that there should be an open dialogue between fans and writers. Feedback is a huge part of the writing process, because I want to write things that people want to read, and as someone who has been a fan for longer than a writer, all I want is for my writing to inspire that kind of passion in people.
I think there is a lot more to discuss about this- about how pop culture should be portrayed in literature, for instance. Social media and fan culture is a huge part of many peoples lives that is often left out of literature, even YA when the majority of the audience are teenagers on the internet. The internet evolves so fast that it’s difficult to decide how much to include in books without it becoming rapidly outdated, but bringing more realism to the writing.
And in relation to the discussion above, I think one of the joys of fan culture is that it has provided a way for teenagers to find out about sex online without resorting to porn through fanfiction, which I think is great.
Fanfiction has sex, but it also has feelings. It talks about what happens after sex, and after the first kiss that often signals the ending of books and films, but the start of relationships. Fandom is a safe place for girls to explore their sexuality without objectification, and that’s wonderful!
But fanfiction is written by people on the internet, who might only have been a few years older than the teenagers reading it. There’s often no mention of safe sex or contraception. There is no editing progress to make sure that the impressionable teenage readers are absorbing accurate information. I’m not sure how that can be approached, but it’s something to think about!
There was a great panel by tanyabyrne, Isobel Harrop, Julie Mayhew, Holly Smale, and Sara Manning on heroines in YA. The idea that strong female characters don’t necessarily have to be ‘strong’, they can have weaknesses and flaws too was proposed. They don’t need to be ‘heroines’ to be a heroine. Male characters are allowed a lot more faults whilst still being likeable. Female characters get dismissed as whiny or a bitch when they are just as realistic as the men.
This is a problem I think is actually more common in ‘grown up’ literature than YA. Female protagonists dominate YA, and I have had strong female role models like Lyra and Sabriel and Hermione since I was a kid, so this isn’t something new. But people still hate on characters like Skylar White for being a bitch when they are perfectly normal, relatable people, just because of their gender. Their complexity is ignored because they aren’t a ‘perfect’ woman.
I think the reason that there can be this wonderful feminist literature for teenagers, but then so much sexism in adult fiction is because boys don’t read books with female protagonists- whether this is due to the marketing or lack of interest- so they don’t get that opportunity to realise that females are people too, like teenage girls do (which they already knew anyway).
So I think that at this point, trying to find a way to close the divide and broaden the readership of YA female characters is more important than writing strong heroines- we’ve had that sorted for years.
There was a lot more at YALC that I want to discuss, but this is going to have to do for now, as I need to sleep! I graduate tomorrow, so I need all the beauty sleep I can get.