I return from my first ever YALC!
Last week I posted about my plans to attend the YA Lit Con in London for the first year and wanted to do a little round-up because, unsurprisingly, I picked up a lot of fantastic books, met some great people and attended some interesting panels that I wanted to share with you all.
Unfortunately, not every aspect of YALC was as great as it could have been and, quite frankly, the accessibility was appalling. I posted about it a lot on twitter at the time but wanted to be able to go a bit more in-depth about what actually happened and what could have been done differently to make the entire experience enjoyable.
Don’t get me wrong, there were SO many things about YALC that were great. I got to meet some of my favourite authors and new to me authors to get my books signed, and they were all super lovely people. It felt completely out of this world to be meeting huge authors like Tomi Adeyemi, Dhonielle Clayton, and Akemi Dawn Bowman. Meeting Becky Chambers also felt completely unreal. I’ve been reading the Wayfarer series since the first book came out, so actually getting to meet her in the flesh rendered me pretty much speechless. I did manage to blurt out a quick thank you for writing the books and including so much diversity in them which she seemed to really appreciate.
There were also some panels that we went to that were really enjoyable. We went to quite a few panels but the ones that really stood out to us was Politics on the Page (Tomi Adeyemi, Yaba Badoe, Alice Skinner, Karen Gregory, Sarah Shaffi and Tom Pollock), Amongst the Stars (Becky Chambers, Lauren James, Samantha Shannon, and Sasha Alsberg), and Real World, Real Me (Akemi Dawn Bowman, Eve Ainsworth, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson, and Lydia Ruffles).
It was really nice hearing the authors talk more in-depth about their books, but what made these panels stand out was the author’s abilities to contextualize their own books within the wider genre and the wider world. Tomi and Yaba spoke very eloquently about writing being their form of activism and using fantasy as a way to talk about real life issues like slavery, migration, racism, and police brutality which was a great conversation to be in the room for! I also loved being able to hear more about how Becky Chambers creates her alien species in the Wayfarer series and what makes science-fiction different from “science fantasy”.
Lastly, one of the best bits was obviously all of the books, samplers, and little freebies! I had a pretty tight budget for YALC as myself and my partner are attending Nine Worlds exactly 2 weeks after YALC so I had to make sure everything would fit within the same payday! (No easy feat I tell you). Luckily, I won a few things and got some books for free (through competitions or at panels). One thing I loved about YALC was discovering new authors and picking up books I never would otherwise have been interested in, such as buying a copy of Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes by Holly Bourne after hearing her speak on the Real World, Real Me panel.
I also won two book boxes, one at YALC (the new world series) and one which I had won a few months ago via a giveaway by Kathy @ booksandmunches which she gave to me at YALC (which was exciting because then we could meet as well!). She included so many great things in my Fairy Loot box including a copy of The Last Namsara which I have REALLY wanted to read, the Fairy Loot Reading Journal (another thing I really wanted), and lots of cute little merch.
Like any event, there are always aspects that you enjoy less, and a lot of that is usually down to personal preference. There weren’t many “bad” aspects to YALC but there were a few panels that weren’t great for various reasons. One was just downright boring rather than being problematic, one was verging on problematic but managed to be saved by one of the amazing authors on the panel, and one (I felt) was problematic.
In regards to the problematic panels, I wanted to briefly outline why I struggled with those because they both fell down in exactly the same area – trans erasure – and both panels were about identity (Centenary of Women’s Vote, and Loud and Proud).
In the first panel mentioned, I actually felt incredibly uncomfortable with the way that the panelists were speaking and felt that they were very trans-exclusionary, which is even more concerning given the topic of feminism, especially white feminism. There were multiple comments made by panelists about masculinity and femininity that were used to boost up femininity, whilst bringing down masculinity. On one occasion, a panelist remarked that women shouldn’t have to “go over to the patriarchy” to be equal. Whilst I, of course, agree with this, this idea of tomboys and/or transmasculine people as “traitors” is very reminiscent to the vitriolic toxicity that is spouted by TERFs. There were multiple other comments made throughout the panel by various panelists but they always came back to this idea of masculinity = traitorous, femininity = “real women” which is super problematic.
The Loud and Proud panel was less outright problematic and more just… erasive of trans people. Despite the term “LGBT” being used throughout the panel, the discussion was very much reserved for discussing “LGB” people even though there were lots of opportunities to discuss trans people. When the floor opened up to questions I asked if the panelists could talk more about trans people, trans characters, and trans authors. It turned out that not only had one of the authors written a book with a transmasculine character but also identified as non-binary. They handled my question really well and we had a great conversation afterward, but I felt like if I hadn’t asked the question then that author wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to talk about their identity and trans people! As an aside, the only female panelist held back from answering the question entirely and the male panelist agreed that whilst it is important to include trans characters in books we also need more trans authors. Whilst this is true, it shouldn’t be wholly on the shoulders of trans authors to write trans representation…
Sadly, there were some things that surpassed being just straight up bad and turned into very ugly experiences at YALC for myself and many other disabled attendees. I am very fortunate that I had my best friends with me and also am quite a confident person, when I feel like something is wrong/injust then I am not afraid to challenge it (typical Gryffindor) but there were times when it even really upset me, at one point I almost had a complete meltdown in the middle of the convention because of how bad the accessibility was.
- Apparently, prior to YALC you could sign up online for a ‘disabled wristband’ which identified you as needing extra help. Despite visiting the website multiple times before the event I never saw this and never received any email making this accessibility aid clear. When I finally found out about it at 4pm on the Friday, I was told that I need to provide PROOF of my disability in order to get a wristband. Thankfully, I live in London and have a diagnosis but I can only imagine how badly that would have ended for people who had traveled from outside London and/or haven’t yet received an official diagnosis. When I spoke to another attendee they said they had to provide their diagnosis, blue badge, identification and doctors letters to “prove” their disability which is something that I have never been asked to do, especially as a convention. (as a side comment, I am aware of why they have introduced this in the context of YALC specifically)
- Once you jumped through all these hoops, the wristband was supposed to make life easier for you by negating the need to queue in the horrendous queues for signings and giveaways – however, this was not the case and was entirely dependent on who was managing the queue. On Friday they operated on a ticket system where you would come back when your number was called and taken to the front. On Saturday they did away with this system, without communicating it to anyone, and disabled attendees had to try and track down a member of staff to take them to the front of the queue. On Sunday, the ticket system was mysteriously reinstated (once again, not communicated).
- As mentioned before, whether you were able to be escorted to the front of the queue to minimize the time spent standing in queues (which is entirely impossible for some disabled people) was dependent on the staff member managing the queue. I was very, very lucky in that I was mostly okay but there were disabled attendees who were told by members of staff that they wouldn’t allow them to “jump the queue”, that it wasn’t fair that they got “special treatment”, that everyone had to “wait their turn”, and point blank refused to allow the disabled attendee (with the wristband they had to apply for) to go to the front of the queue. These comments are downright disgusting and entirely unacceptable, and also resulted in disabled attendees missing out on getting their books signed and/or from entering giveaways.
I know from speaking to other attendees that this year YALC was a complete shambles. People were left queuing for hours for signings, or were turned away due to the popularity of the author. It was almost impossible to get your hands on any ARCs as publishers didn’t bring enough copies and/or got people to queue in long queues for an ARC even when they had given them all out, telling the people when they got to the front that they were all gone by then. Most attendees spent almost all of YALC stuck in queues for signings, giveaways, or purchasing books rather than actually enjoying the convention because the queues were so badly managed. And lastly, the sales were an absolute joke. I missed out on all of the sales because they were either held before 10am, so they were over before I could get there, or they weren’t announced properly via twitter meaning it was complete luck as to whether you happened to be there at the right time or not. As someone on a very low income, sales are an integral part of me being able to get books and it was disappointing to miss out.
There were lots of fantastic things about YALC and I did really enjoy myself, but there were times when the negatives completely overshadowed the positives and I know that if I hadn’t been able to attend with my best friends then I would likely have had to go home despite spending £55 on my ticket for the 3 days.
As YALC is in its 5th year and is attached to a huge convention with lots of funding, I really don’t think its reasonable for these issues to still be ongoing. There are lots of conventions that haven’t been running for as long that are much better in terms of accessibility, for example.
I’m really happy that I attended and I have definitely taken home lots of happy memories (such as seeing Jason Momoa walk past me on the regular and obvs all of the books), but I would like to see YALC be willing to listen to attendees experiences and promise to do better next time.