The YALC Sessions: Fantasy

YALC Young Adult Literature Convention logoIn the second part of my series on YALC, – the first ever Young Adult Literature Convention at London Film & Comic Con last weekend, I’m giving you the lowdown about what happened at the Fantasy talk.

If you missed the opening panel session, you can find out what happened in my Dystopia post.


Bring me my dragons: writing fantasy today was held on the afternoon of the first day of the conference and featured a whole host of fantastic fantasy writers.

With Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings making fantasy increasingly popular in the mainstream, what does it mean to write fantasy for young adults today? Four authors who each take innovative approaches to the genre come together to discuss contemporary fantasy writing with blogger Marc Aplin.

MA: What does being a YA author mean to you?

JS: Does YA exist? It all merges in a grey area. I write books I would have loved at 12-14, but also now “a broad church”. Fantasies are accessible for kids as a way into grown up literature.

FH: I wrote for the 12 year old me; coming of age stories with revolutionary tendencies. Some YA books have teen protagonists, others have  a YA frame of mind; a readiness to unpick your world, knowing it might never be able to be put back together the same way again.

AM: YA is very focused on and concerned with singular character development.

RW: It’s not just the age of the protagonist. Protagonists gel with me. When I was reading the children’s section at the library it flipped a switch in me: the questions they posed and the unlimited possibilities. As a teen you can take any path through life/

MA: Do you censor your work for your younger audience?

AM: No – the publishers actually ask me to ramp it up!

RW: No – I stick everything in, on the assumption that the publishers can always take it out again. But they don’t – they love it!

FH: I generally haven’t included much that might need censoring because it isn’t really my style, but I generally think it’s shortsighted to self-censor. All we are denying them is books dealing with this in a way tailored to them. I have noticed that where these issues do crop up in YA novels though, that they tend to be considered in more depth and that the consequences are more thought through than in adult fiction.

JS – Do I censor my work? Sometimes, unconsciously. In some ways my work is morbid, but you have to treat it in a certain way; not gratuitous, leave it to their imagination. An aesthetic decision.

RW: One great thing about fantasy is that you can be more honest about the challenges teens faced historically and globally.

AM: Teens might not like Game of Thrones, not because of the violence, but because it’s long and rambly! There are elements teens will enjoy but YA is usually faster-paced and more focused.

MA: What are the important qualities of heroes and villains?

FH: Heroes need to have lots of variety as teens look for characters who reflect them. They need to have the capacity to change, hatching into their future selves. They are quite often the outsider and have a touch of the subversive. For villains – villains are quite dark, but should also reflect that ordinary people can do terrible things, such as genocide.

JS: For heroes, I like to look at Italo Calvino’s values in 6 Memos for the NextMillenium: Lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, consistency. I think all these apply to heroes of YA; they’re agile, quick thinking and precise. In a big adult world, the young protagonist has the perception to see through the charade, get past it and create something new. In many ways, villains are the opposite. They’re dark, powerful, have no humour and are ponderous.

RW: The hero has to have an everyman quality. Teens especially identify with characters that make them feel “that could have been me”, but with a special quality that enables them to be heroic. As for villains – they don’t have to be entirely black and white, they may come from the challenges main characters face from the darkness within themselves.

AM: The thing that separates heroes and villains is that heroes may come from a place of ignorance, but they are learning. Whereas the villain already thinks they know it all.

MA: Moving on to morality messages… Do the fantastical elements of fantasy make it easier to include a moral message to take into real life?

AM: I never came into a book with a strong moral message in mind, but there are ideas of oaths and fealty. What if there was a supernatural consequence of breaking oaths? Can loyalty be misplaced? People change.

FH: I have never meant to push a moral. The story comes first, but your views do leak in and the books do touch on ideological concepts. But they are explorations rather than tubthumping: look at all sides, see how complex they are. When you can create your own world it’s easier to convey. There is an argument for inclusion because young readers are more likely to question everything and take it on board.

JS: It would be foolish to impose a moral message on an audience. Rather, frame it as a question in a world where there is one shift from reality and explore the implications. Try not to spell out the correct answer – it becomes clear through the acts of the individual characters.

RW: You can’t go in with a manifesto. As a reader, you find yourself suspicious of others’ ideology. Nobody wants to be manipulated and this is often reflect in books; baddies often have a fixed ideology that they want to impose on others. Though as an author you will have your own preoccupations that bleed into your books. For me, the research I do for historical fantasies is so fascinating that I sometimes end up including elements – like the treatment of the Bryant & May match girls that led to the East End Match Girls Strike in 1888.

*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!*

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!



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