Saturday, December 7 2019: the 50th and final YABookmeet. Nearly five years after I began this event, I invited five wonderful authors to return one last time and celebrate the Book Meet’s legacy.
I founded the YA Bookmeet in 2015 because there were no regular, dedicated events for the YA community to come together. I’d desperately wanted something like it as a teen, and back then, there was no #LoveOzYA and no organised movement to support local authors. With the blessing of my store, I was able to make my teen wish a reality. So it was only right that I made community the theme of my final YA Book Meet.
To celebrate the legacy of the Book Meet, I compiled a Very Important Panel of five previous attendees: Will Kostakis (who attended in August 2019), Sarah Ayoub (who attended in Febraury 2016), Wai Chim (who attended in March 2017 and September 2019), Jenna Guillaume (who attended in April 2019), and Helena Fox (who attended in July 2019). It was a brilliant mix of established and new authors, and of different genres and forms — and yet they were all similarly horrified when I revealed I would introduce them via their current Twitter bios! To this I say: you only have yourselves to blame.
And with that, we were off.
We began discussing everyone’s different debut experiences with the community. Will and Sarah had their debuts published in 2008 and 2013 respectively, and shared that the Australian YA community did not exist then as it does today. While there were individuals that people knew, the author experience was far more isolated. Wai, who has published books in 2016, 2017, and 2019, felt that the community definitely existed by the time her first YA novel was released, yet each publication experience still felt unique. As a result, her most recent novel was the first time she’s deliberately tried to capture that Australian teen experience.
Our 2019 debuts, Jenna and Helena, both felt the experience had been overwhelmingly positive. Jenna had already been an active member of the Australian YA community as a reader (fun fact: we first met at Shivaun Plozza’s Tin Heart launch); but Helena joined this year, and described the experience as opening a door into a room full of people saying, “come in” — like nothing she’d ever experienced before. There was some discussion among panelists comparing the local YA community to that in America, with everyone agreeing that what we have here is unique.
Everyone saw their place and audience in the Australian YA community differently, with Helena saying she was surprised to learn that her supposed Magical Realism book was actually a contemporary YA! How It Feels To Float was something Helena initially wrote for her adult self, giving her protagonist Biz the support network she’d wanted as a teenager. Similarly, Wai felt that The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling was something she wrote for her teenage self, and she’s been delighted by the audience responses affirming that she wasn’t the only “weird” kid. Jenna’s What I Like About Me occupied the middle-ground here, being something that was written for her adult self, as well as fulfilling her teen (and adult!) self’s desire for summery rom-coms set in Australia.
Will charted a journey over his books: Loathing Lola‘s desperation to present a specific image lead to The First Third‘s meeting of expectations of him as a writer, to The Sidekicks expanding on some of the previous novel’s exploration, to Monuments. This he described as the novel that did not “find issues” with its character’s identity, but one that embraced it without hesitation — and then sent the characters off on sword-fighting adventures. Sarah’s novels have also showcased a similar arc, with Sarah reflecting on how the books she’s written at each stage in her career (Hate Is Such A Strong Word and The Yearbook Committee) have reflected who she was at the time, as well as her concerns and aspirations.
These same factors influence Sarah’s use of social media and how she connects with her readers: she’s a ‘sporadic Tweeter’ in her own words, but loves Instagram for the community of young women and mothers there. Yet she doesn’t document her author life on the platform too much, preferring to keep the two worlds separate. Wai has a similar approach, drawing on her extensive skills in digital marketing to curate an Instagram feed with photo edits and videos that express her personality and share a selection of what she’s been up to. She loves the platform for providing a more accessible way of connecting with readers, without the same energy expense that in-person events demand. Helena, also preferring Instagram, documents moments that are important to her, which includes a lot of beautiful ocean photography: shots she can look back on and know that at that time, in that moment, she was happy.
Jenna and Will are both active across multiple platforms. Jenna uses Instagram occasionally, but focuses on Twitter, where she’s able to connect with her readers, as well as followers who are interested in her other work. As a freelance writer, she highlighted that a platform such as Twitter provides a much-needed opportunity for socialising, which she can do while working from home with her dogs. Will, who is on many social media platforms and provides a broad range of content, said that Twitter is an opportunity to express thoughts or opinions that he wants to share and have discussions with others. However, Instagram is where most of his actual teen readers are, so that’s where he concentrates his efforts. Rumour has it that he may soon be joining TiK ToK, so stay tuned!
Despite all of this, all panel members felt that there were certain things provided by in-person events that social media didn’t allow for: for Wai and Sarah, it was meeting readers; for Helena it was meeting the authors; for Jenna, it was the chance to talk about her craft and her book; for Will, it was meeting teenagers specifically and hearing what they had to say. He treasures the sight of well-loved copies of his books (dog-eared, colour-coded, annotated, sticky-tabbed–even water-stained!), and the whole panel agreed. The potential of social media could not replace the power of these in-person experiences.
Of course, there were many more topics of conversation–and jokes, and reflections, and hopes for the future. But this recap is just a small taste of a bigger memory, and one of many we’ve made along the way. For now, I’ll just say thank you to everyone who came to the 50th and final Book Meet, and all 49 before that. Thank you to Sarah, Jenna, Will, Wai, and Helena, for returning to celebrate community with us. It was the perfect conclusion to a perfect adventure, and I’m excited for the next one.
We’ll meet again there.
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