There were a number of panels at the Reading Matters conference. They provided much discussion and lively argument between the panelists and also from the audience. The panelists had obviously all read each others books and so had useful comments to make during the discussions.
There were two that I particularly enjoyed:
The panelists were Libba Bray (an American author), Myke Bartlett and Fiona Wood (both Australian authors). This panel discussed the issue of gender in Young Adult novels. The discussion started with a passionate discourse from Libba Bray who feels very strongly about this issue. She attempts to be very inclusive in her writing and feels that anyone can read her books, whether they have a male or female protagonist. All the authors agreed that story is about connection, understanding and empathy and that this shouldn’t be limited to a particular gender.
There appears to be an advantage for publishers and booksellers having a marketing drive linked to a particular gender. They are able to sell more books and therefore covers are often produced in such a way that they seem to appeal to a particular reader. Covers do have a strong influence on readers and peer pressure can make it difficult for a boy to pick up a “girly” looking book. The reverse doesn’t seem to apply in the same way. These three authors agree that they don’t write with a reader of a particular gender in mind.
Keith Gray did have a different approach that he mentioned in his talk. He has an image of his ideal reader – a boy of about 13 who doesn’t enjoy reading but just needs a book to trigger the love of reading.
The other panel I want to mention was:
“You can’t say that”
The panelists were Libba Bray, Vikki Wakefield and Gabrielle Williams. Swearing and sex were discussed with the general consensus that gritty realism is more likely to attract attention whereas humour seemed to diffuse criticism. Often the problem appears to be the tone not the actual subject.
Gabrielle Williams’ book The reluctant hallelujah was initially rejected by her American publisher as the main plot revolved around teenagers finding the body of Jesus in the basement. The suggestion was made by the publishers that they could publish it if she changed Jesus to Elvis Presley.
They also spoke of the “tyranny of the happy hopeful ending” which was a pressure sometimes felt when writing a novel with a somewhat sad ending.
Overall the conference was a time for listening and discussion. Although the highlight was hearing the authors, the discussions at lunchtime between librarians, booksellers and many other people passionate about YA literature were also invaluable.