YA convention debates gender, sex, and strong heroines

YA convention debates gender, sex, and strong heroines

Author Isobel Harrop has said that the Young Adult field is “one of the best places to be a woman in the media”, thanks to the high proportion of women writing and publishing YA.
 
Her comment was made during a talk about heroines in YA titled "Sisters doing for themselves" at the UK’s first Young Adult Literature Convention held at Earls Court, London this weekend (12th/13th July).
 
The Hot Key author was responding to a question from an audience member, who asked if the authors on the panel - which also included YA writers Julie Mayhew, Tanya Byrne, Holly Smale and Sarra Manning – felt they were taken less seriously by the publishing industry as female authors.
 
Unlike Harrop, Manning said that she definitely felt taken less seriously as a woman and Mayhew said that she thought crossover novels seemed to be taken more seriously if it is a man writing with a teen voice. Byrne said that she felt that the covers female authors are given makes a “huge difference” to how their books are perceived by readers and that she felt less specific covers would encourage more diverse readerships.
 
The panel also discussed the pressure for YA heroines to be “strong” and “perfect”. Mayhew said that writing perfect teen heroines was “unrealistic” and unhelpful as teenage girls are already “under a lot of pressure to be perfect”. Byrne said: “There is more than one type of teenage girl to represent in YA. I’m interested in the shades of grey”, adding that “bad girls are more interesting”. She also said that she refrains from using excessive physical descriptions of her characters, as she wants to focus more on their personality traits.
 
Smale used the example of The Hunger Games series heroine Katniss Everdeen as a strong heroine that she didn’t identify with. She said of the heroine of her Geek Girl series, Harriet Manners: “I wanted to write about someone who’s brave in a different, more vulnerable and relatable, way”.
 
Earlier in the day, the newly-crowned Queen of Teen James Dawson chaired a panel consisting of fellow authors Cat Clarke, Non Pratt and Beth Reekles on the subject of sex in YA titled "I’m too sexy for this book!". All the authors on the panel said they felt a duty to write about sex in YA as it reflects the reality of life for teenagers.
 
Pratt said that she deliberately made the sex scene in her book Trouble (Walker Books) graphic because she wanted it to be “realistic and show what actually happens” as this is what her 14-year-old self would have been interested in.
 
Asked why they think that sex in YA is still a taboo, Pratt answered “fear”, saying that parents and other gatekeepers don’t want to think about teens having sex. Clarke pointed out the “ridiculous” discrepancy between this attitude and parents letting their children watch highly sexualised television shows such as “Game of Thrones” or reading violent books such as The Hunger Games. She suggested this is because there is an attitude that books should be “worthy” and “good for you”, adding: “that’s crazy, books are for entertainment!” Dawson said that it is better for curious teenagers to find answers about sex in novels than the internet. He also suggested that asexuality may be the “last taboo” left in YA writing about sex.
 
All the authors on the panel were opposed to the idea of age ratings on books and they all noted the “trickle down effect” of 50 Shades of Grey on sex in books becoming more acceptable, though Clarke noted that their YA writing about sex was “doing something very different” to 50 Shades, with less focus on titillation. They all dismissed the label New Adult, with Pratt calling it “a marketing tool” and Reekles saying it merely “labels books for gatekeepers”.
 
Other panel discussions on the day included Sally Green and Phil Earle talking about "How to get published" with Ben Horslen, editorial director of Puffin Books, chairing.

Another panel consisting of authors Matt Haig, Meg Rosoff, Anthony McGowan, Nick Lake, with David Maybury chairing, talked about the crossover appeal of YA, with McGowan saying that the “intensity” of being a teen attracts him to writing YA and Lake noting that YA readers seem to be “more willing to read across genres” than adult readers.
 
The Young Adult Literature Convention was hosted by Waterstones Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, who opened the convention on Saturday (12th July) dressed in a Star Trek outfit and speaking in the fictional language of Klingon, in keeping with the setting as part of the London Film and Comic Convention.