Event Round Up: We Love YA! DeptCon at ILFD

As you can see from my past event round-ups, DeptCon has become something of a staple in the Irish YA scene.

“But Arianne,” you whisper, aghast, “doesn’t DeptCon usually take place in… October?”

Yes, it does! This year, however, there was SURPRISE appearance from the DeptCon squad with their summertime We Love YA! event as part of the ongoing International Literature Festival. There were three panels plus signings, and I was lucky enough to attend (and bring back all the deets for you).

“Writing myself into this country”: Muhammad Khan, Emma Quigley and Mary Watson talk ‘New Voices’, chaired by Shane Hegarty 

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L-R: Shane Hegarty, Mary Watson, Emma Quigley, Muhammad Khan

The first panel, themed around the idea of ‘New Voices’, featured three debut YA writers (though Watson is an award-winning South African writer for adults, The Wren Hunt is her first book for teenagers). Hegarty’s questions drew answers on inspirations, writing routines, what they’d be working on next, and more.

Muhammad Khan’s biggest influence has been his time as a maths teacher and tutor in a school where most students are from BAME backgrounds. His students contributed to drafts of what became I Am Thunder, inspiring everything from Muzna’s shyness to the fact that he had the book’s cover artist thicken her eyebrows so that they’d be suitably “on fleek”! He decided to tackle themes like radicalisation and racism in YA partly because of the UK government’s Prevent strategy, which he realised was causing students to clam up in case their questions or experiences got them into trouble. His advice for young writers: “Write a book that you want to write…. don’t follow trends, because by the time you finish your book that trend will be over”. He’s currently working on another contemporary featuring different characters, exploring toxic masculinity ‘through the eyes of a very gentle boy’.

Emma Quigley’s début Bank (out from Little Island Books) is the comedy-drama story of a group of teen boys who decide to start money-lending to classmates, only to make a series of increasingly risky investments as their plans begin to unravel. Quigley wanted to write about friendships between teenage boys but also ended up mirroring twenty-first century financial crises. She spoke about how her son was a reader who often said his friends weren’t – she wanted to write something that would appeal to that drop-off point of readership, and Bank actually sounds really exciting! It was also revealed that her son wrote the tagline for the book: “Lunch money just got serious”!

Mary Watson became fascinated by the Irish tradition of the wren hunt – in which a real or stand-in wren is chased and hunted on St. Stephen’s Day (the day after Christmas Day) – after moving to Ireland from South Africa. She wanted to write a book that she could only have written here, even though The Wren Hunt is technically a fantasy or magical realism novel, full of “quiet magic, everyday magic”. She cited Diana Wynne Jones as an influence and spoke with real feeling about the wealth of African literature that doesn’t always make it to mainstream audiences in the Anglosphere. Watson’s was the only book I’d read of the three before the panel, but I think the discussion did its job because by the end of it I was so intrigued by I Am Thunder and Bank.

“The nineties were dull as dishwater”: Brian Conaghan, Derek Landy and Katherine Webber in ‘Nerd Alert!’, chaired by David O’Callaghan

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L-R: Katie Webber, David O’Callaghan, Brian Conaghan, Derek Landy

Most literary festival panels (naturally) focus on the literary side of life, but this panel was more about pop culture and what it meant to three writers growing up. They talked about the extent to which you can make pop culture references in a book but otherwise concentrated on beloved films, TV and music. There was a lot of love for the ’80s, but most of the ’90s  love was for Webber’s Wing Jones, which is set in 1996 Atlanta – read more about it here!).

Katherine Webber can quote much of Clueless; Conaghan made an impassioned speech on behalf of Grease and declared his belonging to a small global cult following of its much-maligned sequel; Derek Landy apparently owns half the prop department of multiple comic book adaptations, including the original Superman costume and cape. Katie credits Sailor Moon (only half-jokingly) with piquing her interest in Asian culture – she later studied Japanese, then Chinese, and moved to Hong Kong to study. Conaghan was into eternally cool bands, while Webber is an unashamed pop fan.

The conversation returned to literature to discuss favourite childhood books. Katie loves A Wrinkle in Time so much that it featured in at least three different ways at her wedding (shoutout to husband and Sam Wu co-writer Kevin Tsang for highest number of cameo mentions), while Landy commented on the past dearth of YA which once meant going straight from children’s books to crime fiction. Perhaps most interestingly, Brian Conaghan was frank about the fact that he was 17 when he first read a novel and had a reading age of 12 when he was 16, partly due to lack of access to a library or books at school. I so admired Conaghan’s work on We Come Apart and really appreciated someone pointing out that not all readers or writers come to books in the same way.

“I always felt like a changeling. I never felt like I belonged”: Louise O’Neill and Deirdre Sullivan talk ‘Dark Fairytales’, chaired by Elaina Ryan 

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L-R: Elaina Ryan, Louise O’Neill, Deirdre Sullivan, wearing ‘Repeal’ gear

There was something of a uniform for this event on feminist retellings of fairytales. Both Louise O’Neill and Deirdre Sullivan have recently released fairytale retellings: O’Neill’s The Surface Breaks takes on The Little Mermaid, while Sullivan’s Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of twelve short stories which draw on not just The Little Mermaid but fairytales like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty (you can read more about the book here!).

This was the only panel in which the authors were asked to read from their books, which was a fantastic way to introduce or reintroduce the audience to the stories in question. It was O’Neill’s first time reading from The Surface Breaks at an event (she read a scene featuring a character called Sadhbh, a name she insisted on because “the English find it very confusing and I find that very amusing”).  Tangleweed and Brine is almost like prose poetry, making it chillingly effective when read aloud. Both books are quite dark – but that’s because, as O’Neill and Sullivan pointed out, the source fairytales are also quite dark. The Little Mermaid’s original ending at the hands of Hans Christian Anderson, for example, is incredibly unsettling.

There was plenty of talk about that most famous of fairytale strains, the Disney film, but it’s not all bad – there was definite agreement that movies like Frozen and Moana have appreciably feminist moments (in Elaina Ryan’s immortal words on Moana: “she seems like good craic”). And indeed, it is the complicated, sometimes sanitised history of the fairytale that seems to provide such scope for feminist reinterpretation, as both Louise and Deirdre would write another fairytale retelling if they had the chance. O’Neill would love to get her hands on Beauty and the Beast, while Sullivan would like to pair the ‘earth and water’ theme of Tangleweed and Brine with another collection on what I thought would just be ‘air and fire’ but was actually termed the far more poetic ‘breath and ember’.

So there you have it! Did you attend this edition of DeptCon? Have you read any of the books mentioned? Are any of them on your TBR?

 

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20 Things I Learned at DeptCon3

As some of you may know, I attended DeptCon3 (Ireland’s largest YA book convention) again this year! As well as having lots of bookish chats and bumping into various folk from the book world, (there seriously wasn’t enough time for even half of the cool conversations to be had), wearing delightfully vampy nails and only nearly tripping up the stairs twice, I took lots of detailed notes – so many I can barely decipher them, and have decided to do a round-up made of highlights and fun moments instead!

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image courtesy @Dept51

Maggie Harcourt’s top priority when it comes to writing is being near the biscuit tin. Her assertion that bourbons are the best writing biscuit, however, was more controversial…

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it is THE HEALING POWER OF NAPS. As Sarah Maria Griffin put it, “Is napping not just horizontal walking?”

Before she settled on being an author, Krystal Sutherland wanted to be an actress: “I had this grand plan that Peter Jackson was going to get a flat tyre outside my house and discover me…”

There were plenty of podcast recommendations, which is interesting because just last week I devoted a whole post to re-imagining YA books as podcasts… 

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image courtesy @Dept51

Katherine Webber can apparently quote the entirety of Clueless, and can definitely quote the first three minutes. We probably would have been treated to a live reading if there weren’t time constraints on a top-notch panel alongside Lauren James, Holly Bourne, Cat Doyle and Anna James.

We can never look at garden gnomes the same way again, thanks to Cat Doyle and her deviant ex… (Other topics of conversation on that panel included writing female characters and romance in YA.)

The panellists were ruthless when it came to David Stevens’ moderation, as Sheena Wilkinson, Meg Grehan, Sara Barnard and Estelle Maskame chatted responses to characters, fandom, fan-fiction (“It was one time!”), genre, and how “bad choices make good stories.”

If Meg Grehan’s book The Space Between was a kitchen utensil, it would be a ladle…? 

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image courtesy @Dept51

“MAKE GOOD CHOICES, DECLAN!” became one of my favourite slogans of the weekend thanks to Deirdre Sullivan, who is a rare combination of hilarious panel guest and enthusiastic chair (the moderating position, not the piece of furniture) and also she knits very cute hats.

It was Pooja Puri’s first-ever panel, and she got a round of applause for finishing her dissertation!

Whether or not one writes to music was a popular topic and came up on multiple panels; it was addressed by authors including Lydia Ruffles, who listens to songs and lights candles to get in the writing zone, and YA Book Prize winner Patrice Lawrence.

Sally Nicholls “is so here for gay suffragettes!” but had to do quite a lot of research as she is so here for it, in fact, that she wrote an entire book about it.

The eternal struggle of the DeptCon audience: sit near the front for best view (Facial expressions! Secrets boxes!) or near the back to get out first for the post-panel signing (Chat! Shorter queues!)…?

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image courtesy @Dept51

SARAAAAHHHHHH. Hang on, wait, that’s not an answer. Okay, so Sarah, who is English but recently defected to Scotland along with her new fringe, made her first trip to DeptCon this year AND IT WAS GREAT. She made for a fab convention co-conspirator. There may have been singalongs. She and I are fairly seasoned book event people, so instead of participating in the ARC drop I played with a dog and she spent her time on a chocolate muffin #priorities Also I learned actual facts, such as that Gàidhlig (Scottish or Scots Gaelic), is pronounced ‘Gallic’, like the French term, as opposed to the Irish Gaelic or Gaeilge. 

Hayley Barker’s time as a teacher influenced her writing of YA. In a panel that was often focused on writing as a process and a craft, it was generally agreed that YA can act as a safe space for teenagers to explore serious issues.

Anna Day’s book The Fandom isn’t out until January, but she still got to do at least one signing – because I had a coveted review copy with me!

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image courtesy @Dept51

The panel unofficially known as ‘Prosecco and Secrets’, Melinda Salisbury, Cat Doyle, Alice Broadway, Dave Rudden and Moira Fowley-Doyle, was raucous and totally salacious. If this quintet held a dinner party, just some of their guests would include Lyra from His Dark Materials, Death from Discworld, and Sirius Black because Mel wants to sleep with him (“I bought a pair of rams’ horns… for personal reasons… ask Sirius Black if you want to know more!”)

As every Irish person knows, it was reiterated that you should never piss off the fairies. This involved sharing many fairy anecdotes, such as clapping twice after sneezing so a fairy won’t die and mistaking the light of illegal poitín stills on bogs for otherworldly creatures. As Moira Fowley-Doyle put it: “Growing up in Ireland, you’re super sceptical and willing to believe at the same time…” Melinda Salisbury countered with “In England you wouldn’t speak to anyone on the bus, let alone to the fairies” but noted that when she went to the Isle of Man, the announcements on her bus greeted a fairy bridge…

Things got a bit existential when Fowley-Doyle wondered if, rather than fantasy folks being bad at reality, “Maybe reality’s just not very good at us?”

The otherwise brilliant Holly Bourne can’t spell Dobby. She may never live this down. (The Harry Potter Spelling Bee, won by Emily Barr, was a really entertaining addition to the schedule, and it worked really well to break up the panels – more like this, please!)

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image couresty @Dept51

Bonus: there was a giant, portable My Little Pony there for the whole weekend, and nobody questioned it…

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Event Round Up: DeptCon Day 2 (+ Giveaway!)

MORE bookish event reporting? Why yes, I did take enough notes at DeptCon to justify two blog posts. You can check out the first one here!

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Laini Taylor in Conversation (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

Opening day two was a very cool guest. Taylor’s resonance and good humour stood out as she spoke about books, struggling with perfectionism (“even when I hate writing I love it”), and feeling like a fish out of water in 1980s California (“the music was the only good about the ‘80s”). Asked about recent articles disparaging YA, she gave a fantastic, forthright answer about how the media always mocks things teenage girls love and how you can tell when someone hasn’t read the YA they’re condemning. Discussion on ignoring outrage articles, focusing on your art and “maybe the media should look at what people are getting out of YA that we’re not getting out of other literature” as well as revelations about her new book (Strange the Dreamer releases next year and it sounds AMAZING. It’s about a city which has lost its name and a newcomer who is intrigued by fairytales, pitched as a love letter to the fantasy genre) made Laini’s appearance one of the most “YAAAS QUEEN” moments of the weekend.

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Estelle Maskame, EilÍs Barrett and Lucy Sutcliffe (moderated by Claire Hennessy)

Another merging-of-genres line-up. Estelle Maskame (author of contemporary YA trilogy Did I Mention I Love You?), Eilís Barrett (dystopia, Oasis) and Lucy Sutcliffe (contemporary memoir, Girl Hearts Girl) talked what they like most/least about YA, editors as bungee cords and their paths to publication at a relatively young age. It was interesting to hear Estelle speak about writing her first book in frequently uploaded Wattpad chapters but writing her latest book in a more traditional writer-editor process. I would’ve liked to hear Estelle speak more, actually – this was one of the only panels over the weekend where the chemistry seemed a bit off, with quite an obvious disparity in who got to speak and lack of focus on solid questions. It ran over time, too, so the signing was a bit of a rush!

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Lisa Williamson + Susin Nielsen (credit to @dept51)

Lisa Williamson and Susin Nielsen (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

Ah, the panel in which we discovered Lisa and Susin were separated at birth. These two had such a great, natural rapport. Lisa Williamson is a fantastic panellist – professional, funny and down-to-earth – and Nielsen (We Are All Made of Molecules) seemed to embrace being over for the convention as well as regaling everyone with tales of writing for TV before her first novel. Both kept teen diaries and neither think about the reader while drafting. The audience Q&A included questions on approaches to writing (do your research, have fun with it, remember that you’re only writing one experience, not all), whether being involved with the screen helps their process (Susin works well to deadlines but had to improve description, Lisa acts out dialogue), and who they’d invite to a dream dinner party. I recommend Lisa’s The Art of Being Normal all the time so naturally I forgot my hardback, but picked up samplers from All About Mia.

Catherine Doyle, Laure Eve and L.A. Weatherly (moderated by Elaina Ryan)

I’m running out of adjectives to describe how much I liked these panels but this may have been one of the coolest: Laure Eve’s The Graces has been a big blogosphere hit, Cat Doyle writes about hot Mafia brothers, and L.A. Weatherly went flying to research her latest book. They talked influences, planning, reviews and if being a part of multiple cultures and countries has changed their writing. Elaina Ryan was a great moderator, relaxed and friendly while keeping the conversation on track (though she had less luck trying to guess her panellists’ contributions to the infamous DeptCon2 Playlist). AND this was the panel where I asked a question (it was supposed to be about how fan interaction or reaction changes a writer’s perspective but ended up being about shirtless Luca)…!

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Alex Scarrow, Peadar Ó Guilín and Dave Rudden (moderated by David Stevens)

My unbroken streak of attending ALL THE THINGS ended when I had to get food during the first half of this panel (if the convention happens again they’ll really need to schedule a lunch break). I got back for the second half, however, and it seems I missed some laugh-out-loud moments, including Dave Rudden’s now-notorious “Labels are for jam-makers!” which I’m having printed on a t-shirt as we speak, and some great back-and-forth punning between the panellists. With another great moderator in Scholastic’s David Stevens (neé Maybury), it was lively and entertaining to the last, and I met all three authors at the signing (I enjoyed TimeRiders – but left the copies I read in the library where they belong)!

Deirdre Sullivan, Kim Hood and Claire Hennessy (moderated by Elaina Ryan)

Colloquially known as the ‘Ladies of Darkness’ panel (even though they are very nice), this ragtag group of Irish (and a bit Canadian) YA authors talked feminism, juggling multiple careers, their recent releases, books with tough subjects and what they love most/least about YA. Kim Hood came up with possibly one of the best answers of the entire event when she pointed out how many people – individuals, movements, organisations, gatekeepers – talk about what teens ‘want’ or ‘need’ from YA but never actually ask teenagers themselves. There was plenty of fascinating discussion over the weekend but that really struck a chord with me. She was lovely to chat to during the signing, too! Each hinted at new projects (Sullivan has a collection of dark feminist fairytales out next year, for those interested in short story happenings) and when talk turned to collaboration, Deirdre and Claire were ADORABLE.

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Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan (moderated by Sarah Bannan)

IT’S THE FINAL PANEEEEEEELLLL! And they saved one of the best ‘til last: Sarah and Brian were fabulous. They were funny, smart, candid, had terrific chemistry and really made the panel worthwhile, even when it was their first event for We Come Apart – the initial draft of which was written over WhatsApp, exchanging chapters and poems in a game of literary tennis due to busy schedules. They talked the hard graft of writing (“people say you have to have the language but maybe you have to have the heart first”), thinking they couldn’t be writers, the appeal of verse, how “young people are the best critics – they scrutinise in a way adults don’t” and how their collaboration came about before READING FROM THEIR NEW BOOK AHHHHH. I loved the extract. We Come Apart – which Sarah described as “freeing” and Brian classed as “the best writing experience [he’d] had” – is an alternate-narration novel-in-verse about two teenagers, Jess and Nicu, from very different backgrounds. And oh, Nicu is such a good egg. Last stop of the day was the signing queue, where I got my ARC of One signed and BRIAN CONAGHAN ASKED ABOUT MY BLOG which made me beam.

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Sarah Crossan, Brian Conaghan, Sarah Bannan (I don’t even know what to caption this) credit to @dept51

So there you have it: all the highs, lows, twists, turns, and book love from one of the biggest YA events of the year. And to top it off I even have a giveaway! Enter to win a tote bag signed by SEVENTEEN DeptCon authors including Sarah Crossan, Laure Eve, L.A. Weatherly, Estelle Maskame, Peadar O’Guilin, Lisa Williamson and Catherine Doyle – plus plenty of signed swag!

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Event Round Up: DeptCon 2016!

DeptCon is quickly becoming the biggest event in the Irish YA calendar, and I was lucky enough to attend (trusty reporter’s notebook in hand) for a second time this year. Run by Department 51, the YA section at Eason (basically like our WHSmith’s or Waterstones) and featuring not one, not two, but twenty-six authors, everyone was VERY EXCITE.

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David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (moderated by Steve Boylan)

Eason’s were pulling out the YA big-hitters right away in this first panel: David Levithan and Rachel Cohn talked collaboration, what made them writers, movie adaptations, LGBTQIA+ characters and their next project, which will be their first he-said-she-said book told from the points of view of a brother and sister, as well as reading from upcoming release The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily. I didn’t adore Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, but the sequel was surprisingly funny and entertaining – I may have to give the audiobook a try instead! Recommendations included Nicola Yoon’s upcoming The Sun Is Also A Star. I got to read it in August, so I maaaay have it lined up for review soon…

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Eoin Colfer, Derek Landy and Cecelia Ahern (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

This may seem like an odd mix, but the logic behind it was that each author is new to YA: Eoin Colfer with an Iron Man tie-in for Marvel, Derek Landy with something typically gory, and Cecelia Ahern with dystopian release Flawed. They talked about the differences between adult or children’s fiction and YA, though the panel was derailed somewhat by the panellists’ antics. At one point a phone went off in the audience to the tune of Careless Whisper, which was very funny. It was noticeable that Cecelia Ahern, the only woman on the panel, got drowned out a bit – but there were plenty of awesome female-led panels throughout the rest of the convention, including…

Holly Bourne and Juno Dawson (moderated by Deirdre Sullivan)

Such a fab panel. Juno Dawson and Holly Bourne were part of the event last year and with more books under their belt this time around were raring to go. Deirdre Sullivan (author of the Prim trilogy and the acclaimed Needlework) is a delight both as a person and as a panellist. She opened with a Harry Potter question (Patronus and House, natch) which led the way for heaps of fun – all while tackling questions about writing, feminism, past books, the Pale-Male-Stale state of prescribed reading lists, fiction vs. non-fiction, the biases of book awards, and writing for and about teenagers who make mistakes, who don’t get everything right the first time. They also hinted at new books, including the book which prompted Bourne to start an epic best movie kiss vote-off, a romantic contemporary about two teenagers who work at a cinema, which sounds AMAZING.

I got my first signings of the weekend out of the way in the shape of What’s a Girl Gotta Do? and All of the Above, but most exciting of all Eason had And A Happy New Year? – Bourne’s Spinster Club novella – on sale TWO WEEKS EARLY! One thing I love at book events is authors taking time to talk to readers and this panel was no exception (and, let’s be fair, it’s nice to be able to mention Holly Bourne’s books in a blog post without it being ANOTHER recommendation. I JUST REALLY LIKE BOOKS ABOUT FEMINISM AND HUMOUR AND FEMALE FRIENDSHIP, OKAY).

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photo credit to @dept51

Sarah J. Maas In Conversation (moderated by David O’Callaghan)

Oh, wow. The guest list was already pretty great but by the time Sarah J. Maas’s event rolled around, the theatre was packed. I flail about this series SO OFTEN and don’t even have WORDS for how excited I was to hear Sarah J. Maas had added an Irish stop to her post-Empire of Storms tour – I didn’t like A Court of Thorns and Roses but her Throne of Glass books are just so good, and in terms of sheer popularity, her success has really helped bring the joy back into high fantasy for teenagers. She talked about characters, the writing process, plot twists, cardboard Legolas, fighting to keep Manon Blackbeak in Heir of Fire and what it’s like when a series goes from début novel to actual phenomenon. There was emphasis on music and TV shows, which was fabulous because a) it made the panel vivid and entertaining and b) THEY ARE ENJOYABLE STORYTELLING MEDIA and I too have been using this as my excuse for indulging in so much of them *ahem*

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Then of course came talk of the Throne of Glass TV adaptation (announced as Queen of Shadows), and while the quality and results of the adaptation remain to be seen, it was cool to hear her highlight women in the production team she admires, and her hopes for the series. There was a lot of fangirling going on during this panel (there was a lot of cheering during most panels, to be fair), but again, she took the time to chat to everyone who went to get their books signed (and I would expect nothing less of authors for a category so closely tied to its audience). I was inwardly flailing but spoke coherently AND DID NOT FALL OVER AT ANY POINT *phew*

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And thus ended the first day of DeptCon2 not with the absolutely plausible possibility of me falling disgracefully down the staircase but with triumph and SIGNED BOOKS. Between panels I hung out with awesome YA folks (including The Books,The Art and Me‘s Jenny, Eilís, to whom I have become an accidental kdrama enabler??, and the magnificent Jacq, who is lovely and was running about all day like an event-organising superhero), too. Stay tuned to the blog for a day two round up – and a few surprises!

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