With the latest announcement for 2016’s Yay!YA happening earlier this week, Scotland’s Young Adult festival, there’s no finer time to learn a little about what goes into putting on such an event. Luckily, author and festival curator Kirkland Ciccone was on hand to do just that!
I decided to set up Yay YA to help the Teen Reads Scene of Scotland. I write YA (Young Adult) books so it seemed like a sensible thing to do. It couldn’t be that difficult, could it? So I went out and started the process of creating a book festival from scratch. I was excited, I was happy, I was…absolutely deluded. For a start it wasn’t easy to get money. The usual places a future superstar of YA could rely on for funding wouldn’t easily part with their cash. Without exaggeration, I nearly named my first hernia after my soon-to-be born literary event.
The idea for Yay came from the community of authors in Scotland. We’re a very nice club and of course every now and again we meet for tea, cakes, and chat. I’m good at drinking tea, eating cakes, and chatting so being an author is my perfect job. Everybody wanted to talk about one thing: the new YALC down in London. At last! We can finally be taken seriously, show the world what YA is about (it isn’t all vampires and dystopian fantasies) at our own festival! Sadly, it was a London event and not one Scottish YA author was invited to participate. Someone asked, “Why can’t we have our own event?” And I replied… “Why can’t we have our own event?”
I’m a punk, so the DIY ethic is nothing new to me. I approached Cumbernauld Theatre and told them about my plans. I wanted to create a day to reward teens and librarians for their support. It would be a unique event. CultureNL, a cultural authority, jumped at the chance to help out. It made sense to me that the event should happen in Cumbernauld, after all wasn’t one of the greatest teen movies ever filmed there? I am of course referring to Gregory’s Girl. It was an easy headline for newspapers. And my background is in theatre, so I knew people at Cumbernauld Theatre. It made sense. They helped fund my fantasy event. So at least the authors would be paid.
I opened up my black book of contacts and asked authors to get involved. Imagine having a wish list and then making that wish list into an actual live experience. It was incredibly gratifying and the authors involved were all wonderful, pulling together to help. I felt like part of a proper community for the first time; I belonged to a gang who wanted to contribute and help me.
I explained to everyone that it was a new event. It was completely untested in Scotland, but would they be up for it? I would pay them and with luck I wouldn’t humiliate myself in front of them.
The authors came back with one question: How can you guarantee us an audience? Ah, well I couldn’t. Not really. So I made the event schools only, that way we would have teenagers there regardless. Hurrah! What a genius I am. But then of course the entire day changed, because it had to become a school day rather than a full day for the public. I had to improvise but it worked. I brought in a local bookshop; Scotia Books in Kilsyth are friends, and they were glad to get involved.
What else did I need to do? Make sure there weren’t any peanuts in the tuckshop food. Check. Make sure schools knew that photographs of the event would be taken for social media. Check. Make up a welcome bag for all the fabulous school librarians who have supported the YA community. Check!
Then I announced the first Yay! YA+ and waited for the response. Word of mouth was massively instrumental in helping us get the message out. School librarians pass along information to each other, and we booked out the entire theatre in two days. It went so well that we’re holding a second event in April. And it too sold out. Over two hundred pupils have booked. Cross your fingers nothing goes wrong!
I met up with a group of librarians from another district. They want to do something similar, and wanted to know if I’d be fine with it. I assume they thought I’d be annoyed they’d ‘copied’ me. But I was delighted. Go out and create your own events. Do it! Support your favourite authors by getting involved. Do it yourself. Power to the people. Punk rock. Use what you have to the best of your abilities. If I can do it, anyone can do it.