Saturday, 17 August 2013

Leakycon Lit Panel Recap: Part Two

So after a jam packed first day of lit panels on Friday (see my first recap post here) it was back to do it all again on Saturday! There were just two lit panels I made it to this day, as well as the lit signing. But oh my were they good panels! Below are the highlights of the Friday lit panels I attended. I hope you enjoy!

Panel Recap
Who Has it Worse?
 Dawn O'Porter and James Dawson, moderated by Matt Whyman

This was the only lit panel that was open to the entire conference (so you didn't need a lit pass to attend) and took place in the giant Grand Hall of the Grand Connaught Rooms. It followed on from the Potter Mega Movie Panel so I was able to stay in the room and get a good seat! Melissa Anelli (who runs Leakycon) was plugging this panel both before and after the movie panel as well, so I think a lot of people were encouraged to stay.

Dawn O'Porter and James Dawson were introduced to the audience and we heard a little bit about their books. The premise of this panel was looking at boys and girls growing up and going through puberty and teenage life, and seeing who has it worse. Dawn's book Paper Aeroplanes deals with a lot of the grizzly truth about being a teenage girl (i.e periods) and James has just written a non-fiction book entitled Being a Boy which goes through every aspect of teenage boy life.

The panel started out with Matt asking the others about their most embarrassing teenage moments. For Dawn it was periods, and having to ask a teacher for a sanitary towel, and being outed to her classmates as having already started. James' most embarrassing moments were being a late bloomer, and the rather unfortunate incident of being photographed on the toilet by kids at his school. He revealed his young looks saved him as they all thought the person snapped doing their business was a kid from a younger year!

Dawn discussed life growing up on Guernsey, which is where Paper Aeroplanes is set (not Jersey as Matt thought!). She also mentioned the fact that she grew up in the last generation to be without mobile phones and the Internet. When she was growing up they had to pass notes, or better yet have actual conversations with people to solve their problems. One of my favourite nuggets of information was that Dawn originally intended the book to feature characters in their thirties, but the final product ended up as a YA novel with characters in their teens, a change she was very glad to have made. She also discussed the things she did as a teen, such as over-sharing and comparing herself to other girls in her class. She simply had to know that they were all going through exactly the same things!

James discussed the trials of being a teenage boy, such as the difficulty in being able to be open about body issues when you're a guy. He discussed his hatred of the word "banter" which he sees as a sort of cover up for saying horrible things about people. Talking about his inspiration for his book Being a Boy, he discussed his past as a PSHE teacher and how reading How to be a Woman by Caitlyn Moran really drove him to write his own version. He said Being a Boy is all of his worries from his own teenage years compiled into a book. He explained that he knew if he left anything out then readers with any leftover questions would head straight to the unreliable Google, so he didn't want to exclude anything for that reason. (He said he'd found the strangest things whilst Googling stuff for the book!) Being a Boy covers puberty, sex, relationships - you name it. He also talked about including humour and striking the right tone. (One of the overriding things I took away from the lit panels is that James Dawson is freaking hilarious so I have no doubt that book is spot on and funny!).

Next they were asked what the best thing about being a girl/boy was. Dawn briefly mentioned women's bodies (I think someone from the audience had shouted "boobs!" when the question was first asked!) before moving on to the relationship between women have with other women, and how empowering that is. She said women are funnier when men aren't around because sex and competition are out of the equation, and that affinity like in mother/daughter relationships is really special.

James started with the fact that society benefits being a white male, and then went on to being able to pee standing up!

When asked what the worst thing about being a girl/boy was, Dawn answered bras. She always has issues with bras! (I can sympathise.) For James, the worst thing is the perception of macho-ness, and that people assume because you're male you know about football, or that you'd step into a fight, or that talking about your problems makes you any less of a man. He bemoaned the fact that that force field men put up around themselves is embedded at such a young age, and from then on they just don't talk about stuff.

After that, the authors were asked what they could do if they were a member of the opposite sex for the day. Dawn said she'd be Mick Jagger and sleep with absolutely everyone. James said he'd enjoy having a vagina for the day, and would take advantage of being a woman around all the hot men at the gym. More specifically, he'd be Tilda Swinton doing a fashion shoot.

The two discussed where they got their information about sex when they were growing up. For Dawn, she got all her information from the sexuality section of the library. Then James went on to talk about the porn sharing syndicate of his youth where magazines would be hidden in certain places that everyone knew about. Matt chipped in with the story of where he thought babies came from, which was from the back of a car. That's because when his siblings were born, his parents would lead him out to the car and produce this baby from the back!

When asked what advice they would give their younger selves, Dawn said she'd tell herself not to worry about being popular. James would tell himself to chill out and that everything isn't so life and death. They agreed hindsight makes it easy and then discussed whether they would tell their children about their pitfalls and how to avoid them, or whether they'd let them make their own mistakes because that's how you learn. That really made me think! Matt discussed the magazine column he writes for Bliss magazine and how much it embarrasses his children. The authors then talked about how they'd like to be able to give off a "you can come and talk to me about anything!" vibe when they're parents, because they came from families where you just didn't talk about stuff.

Dawn brought up a project she's been working on which is a book raising money for breast cancer charities entitled The Booby Trap and Other Bits and Boobs, filled with poems and stories from celebrities and authors surrounding the topic of breasts. It sounds absolutely hilarious and apparently Sarah Millican's entry is one to look out for!

The panel then moved to audience questions, and there were some absolutely brilliant ones. The first was about gendered book covers, referencing Maureen Johnson's cover flip experiment. Both authors said they felt really lucky with their covers. Dawn talked about how she knew the two girls that were photographed for her cover, and how that added something personal to it. James mentioned that both his covers have female models of some sort on and how as a male author that goes against the grain.

In my notes at this point I've written down that Dawn talked about there being too many female characters called Clara (which the audience seemed to agree on!). I can't remember exactly how that linked in with the rest of the discussion but I'm throwing it in this post anyway!

Another audience question focussed on feminist icons for the 21st century. Names brought up were Caitlyn Moran, Lena Dunham, Oprah Winfrey for building an empire and Beyonce who was described as a symbol of power that proves feminism doesn't have to be anti-sex. Both authors had lots of praise for Caitlyn Moran, saying she made feminism trendy. The Beckhams were brough up with David being a blueprint for boys, and with Victoria having her own fashion empire, the two are on an equal footing. They talked about how women are critisised more than men when they mess up and that guys get more freedom. Dawn talked about how she doesn't like the role model label and that we need to stop putting pressure on women.

Another audience question brought up girl guiding and scouting, and what the authors thought of that division between boys and girls. James talked about questioning his gender growing up, before fully inderstanding his sexuality, and how he always felt excluded when his sister went to guides. Dawn said she couldn't comment much because she'd been thrown out of girl guides when she was young! (As, it turned out, had someone else in the audience!)

Next up was a question about the coverage of mental illness in the media. They talked about how the media really needs to lead the way when it comes to perceptions, and James commented that BBC Three are doing a great job with their recent documentaries on the topic. It was talked about how hard it is for boys to show weakness. James wishes we talked about it more and says the internet has opened doors, for example support communities on Tumblr where people are open about their issues and it enables people to reach out. They talked about being able to look back as an adult and have respect for mental illness now that they fully understand it.

An audience member asked about how teens views are shaped, and mentioned her flatmate hates feminism and doesn't think women should have the vote. This pretty much shocked and baffled everyone, from the audience to the authors! Apart from saying how ridiculous the whole thing was, they stressed the freedom we have in the UK and how far ahead we are of other countries, and how we shouldn't take that for granted. There was also a question from a secondary school student who got stick at her school for being a feminist. Everyone got behind her for doing what she does!

Another audience member asked about the differing perceptions of two girls kissing and two guys kissing, and how gay women are often objectified. James brought up the Twitter page Everyday Sexism and talked about how homophobia is related to misogyny. Why is it that two guys kissing is seen as girly?

There were also questions and discussions on the glamorisation of men in fiction, and whether or not it gives women unrealistic hopes. I think the consensus was that women are smart and that we know guys aren't all perfect, and that we wouldn't want them to be. Dawn talked about the fact that it's all the men she knows now that are on diets and how much pressure they have on them.

I know there is so much more that was discussed in this panel, but I hope that's a pretty good overview of all the important bits! This was definitely one of the highlights for me, because Dawn and James are such fantastic speakers and it was just so freaking hilarious. Like I just realised I forgot this gem of a quote:

It was such a brilliant topic for a panel and people asked some awesome questions. Thank you Dawn, James and Matt for a great time!

Who Needs School?
 Elizabeth Wein, Samantha Shannon, Matt Whyman, Abigail Gibbs, James Dawson

This was absolutely one of my most anticipated panels, and I'll explain why. I'm a bit of a school drop out. In my teens I had health problems which really affected my education. I got a handful of GCSEs and no A levels, so at the moment I am sort of weighing up what to do with my life and whether to brave going to university. I was really interested to hear the backgrounds of some succesful authors and see what advice they had when it came to education, both as an aspiring writer and a failed student.

Again, this panel was moderated by the lovely Rosianna Halse Rojas an it started with the authors introducing themselves and explaining their academic backgrounds.

James started out by saying that he didn't study A level English, because GCSE English killed his love of reading. He discussed how creative writing is such a small part of the syllabus and he felt like he should keep that part of him quiet. Matt didn't connect with English at school, and it wasn't until later in life that he was inspired to write. Samantha studied English at Oxford, but not creative writing, and that she didn't want to be taught how to write. Abigail said having experience of other things was essential and that you can't live and breathe writing. Elizabeth explained how she applied for creative writing classes throughout college, but that the applications were chosen on merit and that she was rejected at every turn, meaning she graduated without having taken a class in creative writing. She did her PHD in folklore.

James talked about how writing has never felt like a job, and that by having qualifications that supposedly prove you can write, you're ruling out a lot of perfectly capable people who don't have those qualifications.

Samantha and Abigail talked about being unsure of going to university. Samantha said that writing is for everyone and that it is subjective. Just because one person doesn't like your writing doesn't mean others won't! Abilgail talked about how writing was her dream and university was her backup. She felt hearded towards further education because of the school she attended, and went on to point out that people may end up at university because of that pressure when in reality, they are much more suited to other things.

Matt talked about how writing in his spare time makes it more enjoyable.

Abigail talked about the tough job market and how coming out of university with a degree doesn't guarantee anything, because there are so few jobs. They discussed money and the rising cost of tuition fees and how the current generation has to take that into consideration now. Elizabeth stressed that her degree was ridiculously expensive, even compared to today's UK tuition fees. 

James stressed that's important to carry on with the arts, even if you're not making money. As long as you're passionate about writing, drama, art - carry on with your passion.

There were several discussions where the authors talked about other writing projects they've taken on to supplement their income. James talked about his work writing scripts for a new line of dolls called "SaySay dolls" - I think he was relieved nothing ever came of them! Samantha has worked as a copy editor and Matt has ghost written books - including one he said he wasn't supposed to talk about, which involved the winner of a TV talent competition. Elizabeth discussed a series she'd ghost written where she was handed the plot and the characters and just had to churn out the story. James brought up a project he was offered, where the idea for a series was put to him by a publisher and he turned it down. Apparently that series is now out in the wild with a different author's name on it! Abigail talked about how you don't have to stick to fiction. Matt writes an advice collumn in Bliss magazine, for example.

They discussed the publishing industry and how it helps to be informed. This is where my ears really started to prick up because I'd love to work in publishing one day. Samantha discussed her blog about the publishing industry which she started to help dispel some misconceptions about the industry. Elizabeth talked about how important connections were, and that networking and knowing people in the industry had really helped her out. Matt joked that marrying someone in the industry is a great way in, and they all agreed that being able to communicate well was a great skill when it came to being launched into the world of publishing.

Samantha talked about the expectations placed on her because of the fact she is an Oxford student, and how she worries that things like typos that have snuck through the editing process will be scrutinised and she'd be judged because of silly things like that. Abigail talked about the harsh criticisms she'd had from tutors, and how other students react to her being a published author (like asking her for quotes for their projects!).

An audience member asked about studying English Lit and whether you needed to be able to analyse a book to death to really appreciated. Everyone agreed you don't need to analyse a book to enjoy it.

They talked about the moral issues surrounding ghost writers and whether it was fair to the audience, and I think everyone agreed that when it comes to celebrity books, people know that it's ghost written. A few hopes were shattered when children's books were outed as being ghost written! But as it's something a fair few of the authors had done as a way to earn some extra income, they said it was something worth considering, and that it was a good way to get your writing out there.

The panel finished off with some questions about the publishing industry and advice for people wanting to get published. Abigail, who oringially posted her word on Wattpadd, spoke about the advantages of that, like how you can get instant feedback. Elizabeth recommended the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and everyone recommended the Writer's and Artist's Yearbook for those needing a starting book for finding an agent etc.

I really enjoyed this panel and it completely inspired me to get back to writing, and also helped me consider some things about the future when it comes to education! I think it proved that anyone can write, and that you don't have to have studied the craft. Thanks to the authors for another great panel!

Lit signing number 2!

Dawn O'Porter and Abigail Gibbs, two of the authors from today's panels, hadn't been there for the first lit day, so I was really excited to meet them at the second lit signing. I made my way up to the fourth floor, back to the Waterstones stall so I could pick up a copy of Cruel Summer by James Dawson. I'd loved all of his panels and I'd heard great things about this book, but I'd been so weighed down with books at the previous signing that I hadn't had chance to pick up any more!

I managed to make a total fool of myself in front of Dawn and Abigail because I LOVED Paper Aeroplanes so much that I sort of gushed a lot at Dawn when I reached her, and I told Abigail how inspired I'd been as a writer when I saw interviews with her before her first book was released. When I got to James Dawson I told him how after all of his panels all I wanted to do was go and listen to the Spice Girls (because he kept bringing up the fact he wrote for a Spice Girls fanzine!) so when he wrote in my book he put "Spice up your life!" which literally made my day. I laughed so much. Plus at the Esther Earl Rocking Charity Ball later that evening they played Wannabe! Woo!

And that concludes the Leakycon Lit track! Thank you to all the Leakycon staff, organisiers and volunteers, Maureen Johnson, the team at Hot Key Books at the awesome Waterstones Oxford Street team, as well as all the lovely authors and the fantastic fellow bookish people I met in queues and panels. You really made my week!


  1. Yet another great writeup! The Dawn O'Porter/James Dawson talk sounds like it was really funny but also truthful, and you discussed so much! Excellent event :-)

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