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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reading Matters 2013 Recap

This year I attended the 10th biennial Reading Matters Conference in Melbourne, hosted by the Centre for Youth Literature. This was no cheap or easy feat as I flew over from Perth for the weekend at the pointy end of my uni semester. But it was well worth it and I wanted to share the experience with you all. Unfortunately this post has been sitting in my 'drafts' folder since June, long forgotten when uni got hectic, much like the blog, which has suffered this year due to my increasing work load. So even though it is six months late, I do still want a record of the amazing time I had so here is a little recap of the 2013 Reading Matters Conference.

Thursday 30th May 2013
The conference kicked off with a reception at the State Library of Victoria where all the conference guests could mingle with each other and the visiting authors. I ran into some lovely librarians from Perth and various other book industry people. I then spied blogger Danielle of ALPHA Reader and Adele from Persnickety Snark, who also now happens to be the Program Coordinator at the Centre for Youth Literature! Adele then made a point of introducing me to all the lovely authors, which was insanely intimidating (but VERY much appreciated) because, hello, YA royalty! I met Gayle Forman, Libba Bray, Myke Bartlett, Vikki Wakefield (who I met earlier in the year at PWF), Fiona Wood, Emily Gale and Leanne Hall and everyone was so lovely to meet and chat to, and many knew me via my blog which was so flattering!

You can check out Danielle's recap of the reception here.

L-R: Danica (Pages and Pages), Tim Sinclair, me, Gayle, Danielle, Adele and Fiona.

With Gayle, Libba, Danielle and Adele
With Myke and Vikki
Conference Day 1
Friday 31st May 2013
The first panel of the day was chaired by Adele and titled Action! with Gayle Forman, Tim Sinclair and Raina Telgemeier discussing writing about teen experiences. When asked why they choose to write about teens, Tim said because grown ups are boring (agreed!) and Gayle said it's about reliving the teen years and making them better. Raina commented that kids are the same no matter where they are from, they all have hopes and dreams and when Adele asked if YA is a genre or a readership, Tim replied, "it's awesome", much to the agreement of everyone in the room!

Some other snippets from the session:
  • Gayle compared librarians to crack dealers in that they distribute things that are addictive. This got lots of laughs from the audience which was largely made up of librarians.
  • Gayle's idea for Just One Day came from a dream about a warehouse in Paris.
  • Gayle didn't think If I Stay would 'go' anywhere when she was writing it (It became a best-seller seller and the film adaptation is currently filming).
  • The lovable Dee from Just One Day actually came from another novel idea which she had 'shelved'
  • Tim said, his novel Run, which is written in verse and about parkour, is about tricking people into reading poetry
  • Tim got huge laughs when he commented that the poetry section in bookstores is where books go to die (as a poet, he is allowed to say this so poetry lovers, don't go hating!) and that he would be upset if his books were put there.
With Gayle
At question time, the authors were asked what their next projects were. Gayle is working on a suicide/mystery/love story tentatively titled A Code Unknown (now recently announced as I Was Here). Tim is working on "an actual book" as opposed to a verse novel and Raina has a companion to Smile, (which sold out at the conference bookstore within the first half hour of the 2 day conference!) called Sisters, which will be released in 2014. Gayle also told us that the If I Stay film was starting to come together with a new director (RJ Cuter) and that they were in the final discussions as to who would play Mia. As we all now know, If I Stay is currently filming with the amazing Chloe Grace Moretz cast as Mia and will be released sometime in 2014.

Next was a segment called Graphics Alive in which illustrator Sarah Howell did an exercise on drawing emotions. She wrote different emotions on  a piece of paper and then asked us what our facial features did and then drew them. She also showed us how Grimace works, a blending emotions simulator.

The second panel of the day was chaired by Jordi Kerr from the Centre for Youth Literature and was titled Is there an app for that? It featured Fiona Wood, John Flanagan and Paul Callaghan and discussed "stories and communities in a brave new world". I was busy listening and forgot to take notes but I did scribble down a couple of things Fiona said, such as "I write a book I'd love to read". When talking about her new novel Wildlife (a companion to her debut Six Impossible Things), Fiona said she felt Lou and Fred didn't have enough page time in Six Impossible Things and her Wildlife protagonist, Sibylla, needed a friend like Lou. I also took this picture of John checking out photos of the LARP (Live Action Role Play) of his series Ranger's Apprentice...

John checking out LARP of Ranger's Apprentice
The big surprise of the day, possibly the whole conference, was a talk by UK author Keith Gray called Gatekeepers - the good, the bad and my mother. Keith was a fantastic speaker and really hit the nail on the head when it came to discussing people stopping kids and young adults from reading certain books. 

A few golden nuggets from Keith:
  • "Reading is about opening your mind, learning to look at the world from a strangers point of view"
  • "I am yet to hear of a convicted criminal being influenced by James and the Giant Peach" - in regards to banned and challenged books in the US.
  • "The best gatekeepers are the readers themselves"
  • "Fiction is a safety net"
  • "Trust the reader"
Keith's speech in full can be found on the Centre for Youth Literature's website and I highly recommend it.

Me with Keith
By this point I had pretty much given up trying to take notes as I was too busy listening to each of the speakers. The afternoon featured the Everyone's a critic session with Myke Bartlett, Alison Croggon and Morris Gleitzman, and Challenge accepted with Ambelin Kwaymullina, Andrew McGahan and Garth Nix.

"I never dreamed of writing epic anything cos I get sore wrists" - Morris Gleitzman
"I was writing for the kids who didn't have the perfect life" - Ambelin Kwaymullina

The final session of the day, You can't say that! was with Libba Bray, Vikki Wakefield and Gabrielle Williams. I managed to scribble down that Libba said in the US, censorship is more about language than sex or violence. And Gabrielle told us how her US publishers wanted to replace the character of Jesus in her novel The Reluctant Hallelujah, with Elvis.

Libba, Vikki, Gabrielle and Kim Kane
And what's next for Vikki, Libba and Gabrielle? Vikki is working on a love story with a dual point of view. Libba is working on the sequel to The Diviners with all new evil and 1920's avengers. And Gabrielle is writing a novel set in 1986 with four characters, two who are 17 and two who are 23. There is crime, intrigue and romance.

There were many more amazing quotes but I just couldn't get them down fast enough and listen at the same time! Danielle was far more efficient than me and has written a tremendous recap of all the Day One talks in full detail, making you feel like you were sitting there next to us. Check out Danielle's post over at ALPHA Reader.

Conference Day 2
Saturday 1st June 2013
Day Two started with Raina Telgemeier discussing My life in comics. Raina retold how her comic career began and evolved and shared with us the long process it takes to create her comics. She talked about what inspired her to create Smile and Drama and then did a little illustration for us on the projector. As well as creating Sisters, the sequel to Smile, Raina continues to turn the classic Babysitters Club stories into graphic novels.


Zac over at My Best Friends are Books has done a great recap of this session here.

What's yours is mine was second on the bill for the day with Alison Croggon, Andrew McGahan and Gabrielle Williams exploring "creation through adaptation". Gabrielle discussed how the structure of The Reluctant Hallelujah was influenced by The Wizard of Oz, with each of her characters with resembling characteristics. For those who have read it, Dodie - Dorothy, Coco - Toto, Enron - Scarecrow, Jones - Tinman, and Taxi - Lion.

"Sometime you can go on an adventure that isn't about you, it's bigger than yourself" - Gabrielle Williams

See Danielle's post for further info on this session.

Alison, Andrew and Gabrielle
Myke Bartlett, Fiona Wood and Libba Bray were up next to discuss gender and identity in YA with Jordi Kerr. This was quite a highly-charged session with panel members and the audience getting riled up about the constant 'distinction' between girl books and boy books, who will read them, who won't, and the marketing ploys of publishing houses to appeal to who they think will be the most likely readers. 

Libba, Myke, Fiona and Jordi
I'm sure you have all noticed the increase in the number of YA novels with headless girls wearing beautiful dresses (here is a post I recently found that places a bunch of these side-by-side) on covers and I am reminded of a talk I saw last year with Melina Marchetta who said she was very opinionated as to how the cover of Quintana of Charyn was to look. The character is not some pretty, magical looking girl and she didn't want the cover to resemble another 'made-up girl' floating through a forest or beach or whatever (ok, I'm paraphrasing here, but that is essentially what she said) and not reflect the character in any way. When I worked in the book store, it would make me so mad when parents wouldn't buy a excellent book I recommended just because they didn't think their son would read the book because it had a female protagonist, or a girl on the cover, or god-forbid, the author was female! It was/is so utterly frustrating. The Maureen Johnson Coverflip Experiment was brought up during the session and if you haven't heard of it, check it out.

"Books are about understanding the 'other'" - Libba Bray
"Read Books, become better humans" -Jordi Kerr

For a play-by-play recap of this session, check out Danielle's detailed post here.

With Fiona
Next up was I sing the body electric with Paul Callaghan, and then Outsider, outside with Garth Nix, Tim Sinclair and Vikki Wakefield. By this stage I had completely given up taking notes so please stop by Zac's post or Danielle's post to see what these fantastic people had to say.

With Vikki
The Inky long list was announced in the afternoon which is an annual teen literature award run by Inside A Dog, the Centre for Youth Literature's website, and winners are voted for online by the readers of the website. The nominees are listed below, with the winner for each highlighted in green as they were announced a couple of weeks ago.

Gold Inky
Australian Award
Fire in the Sea by Myke Bartlett
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg
Cry Blue Murder by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts
Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina
A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
City by James Roy
Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield
Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Silver Inky
International Award
The Diviners by Libba Bray
This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
Hostage Three by Nick Lake
Every Day by David Levithan
The Originals by Cat Patrick
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

To finish the conference, Gayle Forman, Morris Gleitzman and Keith Gray where guests for the Unleashing YA panel. Zac has a great recap of this session over at My Best Friends are Books which I recommend checking out and Danielle once again has this session covered in her Day Two post.

Gayle, Morris, Keith and Adele
This was my first Reading Matters Conference and I had such a wonderful time and met so many great people. It was definitly a highlight of my year and I look forward to the 2015 conference. Big shout out to the Centre for Youth Literature crew for putting together such a terrific program and for all their hard work leading up to and over the conference weekend. You guys rock! x

With Libba Bray
Bumped into Emily Gale and cornered her to sign
her debut novel, Steal My Sunshine
The swag of signed books I had to fit into my suitcase...
My beautiful signed books <3 span="">

Other recaps of Reading Matters 2013
Danielle at ALPHA Reader
Zac at My Best Friends are Books
Adele at Persnickety Snark
Vikki Wakefield's blog

I was lucky enough to also be invited by Gayle to hangout with her, Annette and Rachel, fellow bloggers who run Looking on the Side of Wonder. The day after the conference finished, we met Gayle at her hotel and then walked through Carlton Gardens to Brunswick Street where we did some window shopping and grabbed lunch.

I hope everyone checked out the #yamatters tag on Twitter because there were some truly awesome quotes put up over the weekend (in particular on the 31st May and 1st June) and the hashtag is ongoing so keep an eye out.


  1. hey jess

    i read this a while ago when it came through my blog feed (only just now getting around to commenting! Shocker!)

    i think it is really cool you wnet to this and it looks like you had a seriously amazing time. especially meeting everyone. looks like it was an incredible atmosphere. thanks heaps for sharing


    1. Thanks Nomes. It only took me 6 months to actually post about it! haha.
      It really was awesome and I look forward to going again in 2015. Hopefully one day in the future, if we are ever in the same state, we will be able to attend a book event together!

  2. I annoyed this question previous but I deduction I worded it wrongly, so I'm profitable to try again.assignment writing service uk I'm observing to attend a writing session next year, so I was hopeful to get some recommendations on some decent ones that happen every year (or every two years, whichever :)


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