35 authors. Tickets sold out within hours. More cake than has ever been gathered in one place before. The first ever UKYAExtravaganza took place in Birmingham on Saturday, and it was amaaaazing.
It was proper giddy fun; brilliant to put faces to so many names, and say hello again to lots of people who came to the Love Hurts event two weeks ago. But as I sat on my rail replacement bus home, weary but glowing, two things really stuck out to me.
1) From chatting to some of the young readers who were there: they are longing for more events like this. Lots of them would love to come to YALC, but their parents would need to accompany them (and either wouldn’t enjoy it or wouldn’t want to), or it’s too far away/too expensive to travel to, or the timing doesn’t fit round their exams. If there’s ONE EVENT that is THE EVENT and you’d love to be there but you can’t… it’s just so disappointing. But lots of smaller events, or a tour that popped up around the country (and that means all of the UK, not just the south of England and the a-bit-less south of England) with a big and ever-changing range of authors? They’re much less likely to feel left out.
2) From stepping back and watching: there was no velvet rope, and it was glorious. Yes, we had readings and Q&As and chairs up front for the authors to speak from. But the fourth floor at Waterstones Birmingham High Street also gave us bags of space to mingle and chat informally – and by ‘us’ I mean everyone, no hierarchy: bloggers, readers, authors, all mixed up together. Signings happened naturally, with mini-queues forming here and there, and anyone wandering hopefully with a book in hand being swept up and shooed towards whoever they were hunting for. I kept overhearing authors bigging up not their own work, but other books they loved. There was a lot of ‘oh hang on, I follow you on twitter!’ and hugging; ‘wow, I loved your review!’ as often as ‘wow, I loved your book!’ The word on everyone’s lips was community.
I’m constantly surrounded by loud, confident people every day but I never really truly feel like I belong because I’m not like them. However, these events feel like home. I constantly feel like I belong and like I’m meant to be there because there are so many people like me there.
I wish teenage me could’ve had that experience. I want young people everywhere to have that experience.
The whole thing was dreamed up by UKYA authors Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring it all together. Enormous praise must also go to Gemma and all the team at Waterstones Birmingham, who have done so much to build a YA community in the city, and on the day really went above and beyond.
Next time we need to work on the cake: liquids ratio, because we achieved the impossible – too much cake.
Next time? Well, I’d love it there was a next time. Rumour has it you might want to stay tuned to @UKYAX for some exciting news very soon…