Ellie Marney, author of the Every series for Young Adults, reflects on the 11th biennial Reading Matters…
I’m still a newbie. My first book was only published in 2013, which was the year of the previous Reading Matters, and at that stage I think I’d only just started to call myself a writer. But this year I finally made it to Reading Matters 2015 (aka #YAmatters). I was promised wonderful guest speakers, inspiring professional panels, books for sale, and basically something that sounded like Wordsmith’s Heaven.
I was given that, and so much more.
This is it – Reading Matters is the event where all the people involved in the YA book industry come together to celebrate what they’ve achieved, listen to what people think about where the industry is heading, and generally catch up.
Some of my best moments? Just saying hi to friends, including one fairly memorable picnic on the carpet with everyone balancing their plates on their laps, talking about writing and books and showing each other pictures of our respective kids. Everyone was so rapt to see each other! We keep contact on social media, or chance upon each other at events or festivals, but this is a time when everybody gets to sit down and chew the fat.
L-R: Amie Kaufman, Ellie Marney, Vikki Wakefield
Each Reading Matters concentrates on an area where we could focus more of our attention – this year’s focus was on diversity, with particular interest in presses that publish indigenous authors locally, and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that has taken off internationally. In the panels and sessions, we all received a glimpse of new ways of thinking, or new ideas, or even just got a healthy reminder of what we’d been meaning to do more about.
Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak), Sara Farizan (If You Could Be Mine), Sally Gardner (Maggot Moon) and Priya Kuriyan (illustrator for Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean) were the overseas guests who blew me away. I’d love to list all the locals, who were incredible too, but there isn’t enough space!
Readings had their own bookstore onsite at the Arts Centre, which was dangerous, of course, but I managed to hold myself back to…five books? Maybe six? Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, because it’s embarrassing how little self-control I have when it comes to buying new books?
The other exciting thing is hearing about new books under construction, as well as snippets about books that are about to be published…
Tom Taylor drew a silhouette of Batman in the copy of Injustice I bought for my sons. Sara Farizan wrote that she would chop all the wood for me – I really was in heaven.
Yes, it felt kind of essential: that a conference devoted to the literature of Young Adults should have some actual teenagers present, giving their opinions and talking about trends they’d noticed or the things they loved. I can tell you, that was the panel where everyone listening had their ears open. It’s what everyone wants to know: is this industry hitting the beats for the intended audience? How can we improve, how can we make things work better? Because ultimately, that is the most important perspective of all, the perspective of the intended audience.
A first for Reading Matters, and definitely to be repeated. Long queues of people lining up to hear the most wonderful authors speak. A lovely moment where Will Kostakis confessed he didn’t understand the concept of OTP.
Sitting on the carpet sharing Ferrero Rocher chocolates from Vikki Wakefield with Amie Kaufman. Catching up with former Inky Awards judges amongst the bean bags in the workshop room. Getting RSI in my thumb from so much tweeting and re-tweeting, because all the cool words, all the stuff the speakers were saying, just…so much yes!
#YAmatters vlog by Read Like Wildfire
How Organised Is This?
There was food, there was drink, there was a whole hecka lotta work going on in the background of this conference, just to make sure that everything was seamless. And it was seamless. What an incredible job the folks from the Centre for Youth Literature and State Library Victoria did, and what an amazing thing was the result.
When we all got together en masse to go to dinner, and sat around the tables talking writing and books and YA and publishing over a glass of wine or two. Like picnicking on the carpet, but considerably larger scale and maybe a bit more civilised, with chairs. Getting to talk shop uninterrupted, a conversation that could have gone on for days if we’d had time. Crashing on the couch in Vikki Wakefield and Paula Weston’s apartment and showing each other silly Youtube videos.
When a bunch of teachers, librarians, authors, publishers, booksellers, bloggers and industry friends get together for the weekend, anything is possible. Following on from the ALIA lists announcement, there was finally a moment when we all got together and it coalesced into #LoveOzYA. So now we have a campaign to promote Australian YA in the larger community. We have a Facebook group, and a twitter handle, and a hashtag, and we can combine in one large voice to help promote Aussie YA. Let’s see a few more Australian YA titles on the ALIA lists sometime soon.
So that was the whirlwind of Reading Matters 2015. Just from my perspective, of course, I have to say it felt like the most enriching event I’ve been to in my professional career so far. Was there plenty more to talk about? For sure. Does it take a mammoth amount of organisation? Heck yeah – my hats are off to State Library Victoria and Centre for Youth Literature. Is it all worth it? Absolutely. And will I go again? You betcha.