Last week, we relaunched our Twitter chats with Young Adult author and curator of Scotland’s YA festival, Yay!YA, Kirkland Ciccone. Nice preparation for our event on November 18th, Children’s Publishing: Through the Age Ranges! If you missed it, worry not. We’ve recapped it all, from how to break the stigma of YA being ‘lesser’, to the importance of school librarians (hear hear!).
So let’s start with a simple (broad) question: Why YA? “I love the freedom of the format and the enthusiasm of the fanbase!” says Kirkland. “I love that ‘YA’ can be anything…it can be everything. You go into the YA section of your library/bookshop and find…horror, crime, romance, comedy…EVERYTHING.”
Yay!YA is Scotland’s own festival in celebration of Young Adult. How did that come about? “I heard authors in Scotland commenting that they weren’t invited to take part in YALC and so I thought, ‘Why don’t we have a YA book festival?’ So I went out and raised funds! Then I got out my little black book and asked some of my author pals including… @theresabreslin1 @roy_gill @AlexNyeWriter @barryhutchison @CathyMacphail & more. They agreed to take part! Cumbernauld Theatre were amazing too. We go back a long way and they helped out. CultureNL did a bit.
“I made the decision to bring the schools in and the librarians leapt at the chance. 200 teens attended! GOD BLESS SCHOOL LIBRARIANS! They have done so much for me. I owe them my success thus far. It was tough but gratifying! And YES there will be another next year in April over two days, if I plan it properly!
“We want to extend it into a second day with the public getting involved. I see Bloody Scotland as a model. I’ve been taking notes during my stint at #EdBookFest too! YA is here to stay. It’s time we celebrated it and stopped looking down on it. I believe the YA genre is giving some of the best books out now. That’s why I started.
Kirkland spends a lot of time going around schools to promote his work as an author and with the festival. How important is that? “Absolutely essential,” he says. “We create our readers at high school. We write about the high school experience. It was word of mouth about my live shows that got me the attention of librarians. My background is in punk theatre so I brought a sort of underground sensibility to what I’m doing. One librarian saw me, invited me to perform in his library and the rest is history. I’m fully booked!
“You’re paid, if you do it right, of course. And the teens ‘get’ what I’m doing. They’re very smart. The worst thing a YA author can do is to treat [their] audience with contempt. They aren’t stupid kids. I think doing my events in school libraries is important because it makes that area essential. School libraries are essential. I hate seeing them turned into ‘PC Information Rooms’. Ugh.”
While there is plenty of opportunity, does he think the number of publishers is a good thing, or could it lead to flooding the market? “Doubtful. I know the cream AND the scum rise to the top, but teens are savvy. They support what they love. Publishers are canny too. It is a business, but the small presses can develop authors. In a way I think the small press system in Scotland is breeding the talent of the future. Alex Nye went away for seven years and came back with a new deal.
“I’m grateful we have lots of publishers. It means there’s a good chance of good writers (and bad?) getting out and we have festivals galore too! YA author have new generations of fans coming up, constantly renewing, constantly shifting. Backlash? No!”
Moving more to the genre and characters, who is his favourite YA characters? “I adore, love, worship Jupiter Jones of The 3 Investigators. Lyra. Tyler Lawless. & The Endless Empress I love so many YA characters. Lois Lane from @Gwenda‘s new book is now a YA heroine, thank goodness! I shouldn’t pick my own character but I became obsessed with the weirdo world of the Endless Empress.”
What about up-and-coming YA authors? “Victoria Gemmell’s Follow Me is a brilliant debut. I snatched an advance copy. READ IT!”
“I love the genre so much,” he adds. “I occupy the weird punk area of it. But I’m comfortable being an oddball! Give me a pat on the back, not a slap on the face! YA is incredibly powerful right now. Movies, TV, music..”
As for writing it, “I think if you do your own thing…you can never go out of fashion. Bandwagon jumping is lazy. Develop your style. You’ll find it. Read lots. Perform your work. Refine your persona. Take no prisoners. Read good books and bad books. Don’t be scared to be yourself. Write what you love. Do what you can.
So what’s his ideal YA landscape in the future? “More British YA on television, stage, radio. More support and development. Me ruling the world. I’d love to see more bands come out as YA readers, talking about the books, writing about the characters. Is that weird? But for me, music and writing are comfortable bedfellows. John Hughes films were defined by their music.
“Ideally I’d like to see more support for writers starting out. That’s why I’ll always mix established authors with new authors at @OfficialYayYA to give them a chance. It would be great to see more book TV. I’m on radio and TV at times, but not everyone gets that chance.
Books for young readers are still looked down on, despite never being better. How do we change this? “We need to come out fighting. Present a united front against critics. Continue to challenge readers. The phrase Young Adult has the word ADULT in it. Or maybe we need a new classification for our books? We need to dispel this thing that only teens read our books and our books are only of interest to them. My launch [on November 4th] (North Of Porter plug plug plug) had plenty of adults at it. Adults, stop hiding our covers on the bus! Be proud to read our books.
“I have a fear of being pigeonholed. YA is a perfect fit for me. I can do everything. I am constantly asked when I’ll start writing ‘adult books’. No thanks. I’m YA or die.”
Our next #SYPchat will be this Friday (13th) at 7pm with Lucy Powrie (@LucyTheReader), book blogger, booktuber & host of #ukyachat. Come join us!