Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend YALC – the first ever Young Adult Literature Convention – which was held as part of the London Film & Comic Con at Earl’s Court. If you missed it, don’t worry! In the first of a series of posts, I’m writing out my notes from the sessions I attended. It’s not quite as good as being there firsthand, I know. But it should give you an idea of what went on and who said what! *Important thing you should know: I don’t scribble fast enough to get every word they said, so these accounts are paraphrased rather than word for word accurate!* The first talk I attended was It’s the end of the world as we know it: the ongoing appeal of dystopia and on the panel were: Malorie Blackman (MB) Sarah Crossnan (SC) Patrick Ness (PN) Chaired by James Smythe (JS)
With Divergent and Catching Fire achieving box office success and a host of hot new dystopian tales in the offing, the trend for dystopia shows no sign of fading. YALC curator and Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2013-2015 Malorie Blackman is joined by fellow authors Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan, plus chair James Smythe, to talk about why dystopian fiction appeals to young adult readers today.
JS: Why do we love dystopias? What is a dystopian novel and what were the first ones you came across?
SC: A dystopia is an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be. Probably the first one I read was 1984. PN: It’s a divided society. There are rules that nobody will tell you and you have to accept that even your friends can be duplicitous. MB: The first dystopias I read were things like Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451.
JS: Dystopian novels are so numerous and popular at the moment – do you think we’ve reached ‘peak dystopia’?
SC: Dystopias are based on fear, and often our biggest fear is of not being in control, not being able to cope. In many of the dystopian novels we read, they show that if you can hold onto one good thing, even in the midst of chaos, you can get through it. MB: Dystopias are a reflection of the times we live in. Like in the 1950s when McCarthyism took hold and the result was a move towards sci fi novels and films. Today we have dystopias because of our feelings of powerlessness and the ability of the individual to effect change. PN: Dystopias ask the question – how do you survive when the worst thing happens? When you think of it that way, is even The Fault in Our Stars a twist on dystopia?
JS – How important is dystopia as a genre when writing?
PN: Genre is helpful after the book is done but not at intention stage. MB: Yes. Get the story done. Worry about genre afterwards, otherwise it can limit you.
JS: Why don’t we see utopian fiction as a genre?
PN: Because it’s boring! Conflict is the essence of story.
JS: So what’s next for dystopian fiction?
SC: I think people will be looking at how technology and information can be distorted. PN: Maybe we’ll be using dystopia for a different metaphor. A book is not like a song, but like the performance of a song. MB: I don’t think it will be about trying to write dystopia, but more about playing with ideas that might turn out to be dystopic.
Question from the audience: Some YA dystopia is quite dark. How do you feel about that? Is it appropriate for a YA audience?
Not sure which author said this: You need to address it. Teenagers have dark thoughts and if you don’t address them, you’re abandoning your reader with those thoughts. MB: Kids always want to read up. But teens will self censor. They know what they can cope with. SC: Definitions are for bookshops rather than readers. PN: This is why I’m against age ratings on books. Because as well as making readers want to read up in the “forbidden” age ranges, it could also put readers off. Maybe a 13 year old would really benefit from reading a particular book, but if it’s marked for age 10, they might not want to be seen reading it. That was all the notes I gathered from that session – if you have more to add, or if I got any bits wrong, please comment to let me know!