In deeply exciting news, I left my house after dark this week. Yes, it was very out of the ordinary. Don’t worry, I’m fine. Nobody kidnapped me.
The reason for my unusual expedition was the Be True to Yourself event at Waterstones in Leeds: my number one hangout at any time of day. In a week in which other teachers at my school were taking netballers to the Caribbean and 14 year olds to the battlefields of Europe, I took on the awesome responsibility of escorting three outrageously well-behaved girls to a bookshop which I visit on a weekly basis anyway. Yes, my school is lucky to have me.
The event consisted of three exciting YA authors – Lisa Williamson, Jandy Nelson and Sara Barnard – discussing and reading from their work. It was the first time I’ve been to something like this and it was exactly the kind of civilised and well-mannered event I’ve been awaiting for three decades.
Some of my highlights from the evening were:
Lisa Williamson, author of The Art of Being Normal, admitting that her main motivation for writing was that it is “so fun making stuff up for a job.” Jandy Nelson, more intriguingly, described inspiration coming to her through “a giant funnel in my head,” which I assume to be metaphorical as no funnels were visible at that time.I also enjoyed her admission that my beloved I’ll Give You the Sun was born out of the fact that she is “in love with art but the worst artist ever.” My numerous attempts to write a great novel about a rock star attest to the fact that I can relate.
Adding to my belief that Lisa is a secret comic genius, when asked about the writing process, she confessed that “you always want someone to come up with the perfect process so you can steal it.” Sara Barnard, author of Beautiful Broken Things, bemoaned the fact that people always ask “what happens” in the book when you’re writing, rather than asking about the characters; all three authors agreed that characters come first, with plot taking a back seat in the early stages. Lisa added to her immense coolness by admitting to a teenage love of Sweet Valley High; it is a well-known rite of passage that all women currently in their thirties read the SVH books as teens and now realise they were terrible.
Two things you should know about Jandy Nelson: she writes reclining in the dark and, more disturbingly, bends the spine of books while she reads. I know this because I was horrified to witness it as she read from I’ll Give You the Sun. Although, in fairness, it was presumably her copy and she wrote the damn thing. She showed some brilliant photos of herself having a sculpting lesson as part of her research for the book and summed it up by saying “sculpting is totally badass.” Quite.
A key thing I learned from this event is that writing books is a job you can do in your pyjamas, with the added benefit of scaring the postman. All these things appeal to me. I don’t particularly like my postman.
And, finally, one of my favourite quotes from the night: when asked what advice they’d give their 16 year old selves, Sara’s response was that she would tell herself, “nobody’s actually looking.” Man, I wish I’d known that when I was 16 (*cough* 25).
Aside from being my perfect night out (except for the bit when they made up leave the shop), Be True to Yourself was fascinating and entertaining and other adjectives entirely befitting the talented writers involved. I can’t wait to stalk more bookish types by hanging out at Waterstones in the future. Thanks to the events team at the Leeds store for organising this event and asking such insightful questions!