YA Lit Cardiff with Katherine Webber, Tracy Darnton and Savita Kalhan
One of my goals this year was to start going to more bookish events and meeting with local bloggers. When I found out about YA Lit Cardiff, a book event held in Cardiff Central Library, I was so excited that things are finally happening in this part of the country!
Not living in big cities like London and Manchester can mean that finding blogging communities and events to go to is difficult, so every time I see an event like this happening in my local area, it makes my little bookish heart happy.
This month’s event was all about identity, and how authors write about their characters sense of identity in their books. The guests were Savita Kalhan, author of The Girl in the Broken Mirror; Tracy Darnton, author of The Truth About Lies; and Katherine Webber, author of Only Love Can Break Your Heart.
I’m going to give a quick summary of what they talked about. It was such an interesting discussion and I learned a lot for when I start writing my own book!
In each of the books, the characters go through some sort of trauma. Do you think trauma shapes your identity? How does it affect or form your life?
The general consensus for this question was that it’s not the trauma that shapes you, but it’s how you react to it. If something happens to you, the way that event shapes your life is greatly affected by the way you deal with it. Everyone reacts in different ways, and our lives are formed by those reactions.
What makes a character a real person; someone that people want to read about?
Tracy Darnton makes sure to note down some physical attributes, mostly so she remembers details about the characters – for example, if a character has a beard at one stage and it’s gone the next. She also likes to write down some details about their personality and the music they like, because she believes that can reveal a lot about their character. Finally, she thinks it’s important to make their dialogue unique so you know who’s speaking without the tags. That’s how you know the character is well developed.
Savita Kalhan says that everyone has their own identifying characteristics; their own quirks, ticks, and idiosyncrasies. Even in a book, these things are important to give characters some depth. It’s also important that you should give them a good voice and a name that matches their character, because those things help to lift them off the page.
Katherine Webber admits that she doesn’t always know everything about her characters and doesn’t spend ages on the details, but her way of developing them is to put them in different situations and sees how they react. She asks what their primary goals are and what they’re afraid of, because those things can really drive the story. She then needs to know about their family life – their siblings, relationships, culture, and background.
Photo credit: Griffin Books
When did you consider yourself a writer?
Tracy wrote a lot when she was younger, but as she grew up and did pretty difficult A Levels, she found that she didn’t have a lot of time to write. She worked as a lawyer and found what when did was writing, it was about subjects like law and banking. However, when she had kids she fell in love with writing and reading again, and even worked as a librarian for a while.
She went on to apply for the YA Short Story Prize run by Stripes, which involved submitting a story for their Christmas anthology, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. This was a great stepping stone for her career because Stripes would soon become the publisher of her debut novel! The moral is that you never know when you enter something what will happen, so just do it! Tracy admits that she still finds it hard to identify as an author, but she’s fine now calling herself a writer. She said she’s definitely got a case of imposter syndrome.
Savita never thought she could be a writer, but adored reading – she went to the library after school every day, but she never saw any British Asian writers. For a while she taught English in the Middle East, and while she was there, she read a lot of fantasy. Her friend told her one day that they should write one together, but when she started reading Savita’s work, said she should write it herself because she has a talent. Savita wrote a story with a huge fantasy world, and it ended up being 600k words! She still didn’t feel like writer though; she just had fun writing it and it became her favourite hobby. Writing this story was how she learned how to write well, how to hook a reader, and how to bring out their voice. However, she never submitted it or did anything with it.
Katherine, like Savita, always wanted to be a writer but never believed it could happen. She kept her love for writing quiet, but at the age of 19, she decided that she would start writing her first book. After university, in 2011, she decided to take writing more seriously. She had a couple of projects that she queried, but she kept getting rejections. It wasn’t until she started writing her debut novel Wing Jones that it felt different, and she realised that this is what she should be writing. Once she finished the first draft, she sent it out to 10 agents and got almost all positive replies!
Are there any books that have formed you or had a big influence on you in any way?
Tracy loved Anne of Green Gables as a kid, and she told us a very funny story about how she and her friend were flashed in the woods and her mum told her that “life isn’t always like Anne of Green Gables.” It ruined the dream for her! She also grew up loving The Great Gatsby and anything by Enid Blyton. She’s also a fan of John Green and E Lockhart; she likes books that contain intelligent references, and says that she likes that they credit YA readers with being smart enough to understand them.
Katherine is definitely not shy in her love for YA fantasy author Laini Taylor. She’s obsessed with her and her books, and when she sent her Wing Jones, Laini read it and gave her some great feedback. Fast forward to now and they’re really good friends and even went on holiday together. One of the best quotes from the whole discussion was when she said she went to dinner together with Laini Taylor, and said it was “like her Make a Wish day but she’s not dying.” 😀
Savita always liked children’s books such as Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton, and the Hobbit. She read everything in the library as a kid (a bit like Matilda!) and wanted to move onto older books. She said that her mother can’t read at all, so she didn’t know the kinds of books she brought back – the sorts of books that she definitely wouldn’t let her 12-year-old read now. Now, she likes to read books by Laini Taylor, Tomi Adeyemi, and books that feature strong female protagonists.
Photo credit: YA Lit Cardiff and Phillip Fayers
Finally, are there any upcoming or recent books you’re dying to read, or excited that other people get to read?
Savita said that her TBR pile is huge and isn’t looking at it (which sounds a lot like any blogger or reader that I know!). She can’t read YA books while she’s writing because she needs to focus on her own work. She told us that she has another book coming out next year, again with the theme of identity at its heart. In a nutshell, it’s about British Indian boy at a grammar school who sees two teachers in the woods hooking up. He decides to record them, but then has a moral dilemma about what to do with the footage.
Tracy enjoyed Will Hill’s book and is looking forward to seeing more by him. She currently does the Bath Spa MA in writing and sees a lot of books coming out from friends and students. She likes to take pictures all around the world of her friends’ books on the shelves, and finds it very exciting to see more and more of their books coming out over the next year!
Katherine is excited for (big surprise…) Muse of Nightmares, the latest book by Laini Taylor. She’s looking forward to The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke (I was glad that she said this because I have a proof copy that I can’t wait to read!), the latest book by Lauren James, and she also told us that Kiran Millwood Hargrave has a new YA book coming out next year. Intriguing!
This was the second YA Lit Cardiff event and both have been so good! It was so great to hear the authors speak, and it was an added bonus to spend a day with some wonderful friends.
If you’re in the local area, please think about heading to the next event in Cardiff Central Library. The next one will be on 1st December and all the info will be on the YA Lit Cardiff Twitter page. It’s only £2 (yes! £2!) for a ticket and the ticket price can be redeemed against books bought at the event!
Let me know if you’re thinking about attending and I’ll see you there 🙂