30 YA authors. Lots of readers, bloggers and - gasp- actual teenagers. And cake!
As soon as I heard about the second UKYA Extravaganza in Nottingham on 10 October, I knew I wanted to get involved. And the point was, I could. So often, children's book events, including those for YA, seem to feature the same authors. Exposure breeds exposure. I bet we've all said, 'X again! I wish I had X's publicist!'
I know UKYAX has been covered before in ABBA, after the first event in Birmingham, but as a Northern Irish author, used to being on hardly anyone's radar, I wanted to give a personal perspective. (Oh, you're actually part of the U.K.? We always forget that...) And my publishers are wonderful, but they're small, Dublin-based and don't have the kind of PR machine that would normally let me join in with the big boys.
So it was very refreshing to hear of this event which is author-run and democratic. Authors Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery wanted to create an inclusive atmosphere, where there would be no star billings and all the authors would be given the same exposure. The authors included big names, new names, not-so-big names - but on the poster they're all in the same size font and in alphabetical order. That's not the way things often are.
Two minutes each, in panels of four, brilliantly chaired by Paula Rawsthorne, was a winning format. Two minutes doesn't sound long, but when it's two minutes multiplied by thirty authors, that's a lot of information about a lot of books.
Helen Grant had travelled all the way from Perthshire but said the journey was worth it. 'In my opinion it's the most democratic YA event. Because it's regional, it gives everyone the chance to attend; there are no "star" authors and everyone has the same chance to speak. Which is brilliant. Otherwise, how do people hear of authors who aren't best-sellers?'
Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery did a fantastic job of organising the afternoon, which ran slickly throughout. I don't know how Emma had the energy to speak to me at the party afterwards, but she very kindly did. 'We wanted to bring together authors from all sorts of publishers, big and small; to have a big author event which wasn't in London and which put everyone on an equal footing -- and where the readers aren't cut off from the authors.' The mingling in between panels, and the informal party afterwards, was very much part of this approach. Reader Jess Wardle said, 'It was nice actually to see the authors' faces, and everyone was really friendly. '
'There's so much talent in UKYA at the moment,' Lee Weatherly said. 'It's exciting to be involved in something organised by authors themselves with a passion for YA. It's an honour to be in the room with so many authors I admire.'
The UKMG Extravaganza takes place next Saturday at the Central Library in Nottingham, and you'd think Emma and Kerry might fancy a break after that. After all, they're both busy authors who've done this in their own time. But no -- there's talk of one in Newcastle next year. If I'm allowed back, I'll be there!
As Lydia Syson summed it up, ' I just really enjoyed it!'