Monday, 23 March 2015

Event Report: Melinda Salisbury, Catherine Doyle and Lisa Williamson

Oxford Lit Fest: Part Two! 

A Summary of the Panel of Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Catherine Doyle - The Rising Stars of YA 

I was really looking forward to this panel as all the writers on this panel are fantastic and two of the books were ones I was highly anticipating even before they were released ( the third didn't disappoint in the slightest either!).

This panel was more guided with an interviewer talking to each of the authors in turn followed by a Q and A session from the audience. Each author also did a reading at the start of their turn.

Catherine Doyle

Catherine Doyle talked about her fantastic book Vendetta (which is a sort of Romeo and Juliet style tragic romance with a lot of hot Italian boys, mafia and death threats). She was asked her inspiration behind it and spoke about the movies she loves about the mafia and criminal underworld and how she wanted to add a touch of Disney style romance into it, albeit a rather ill-fated one.

There was also a lot about her American routes. She spoke of how she had set the novel in Chicago (partly because she didn't feel the mafia would fit into Ireland so easily), because her mother grew up and lives in Chicago and Doyle went to visit her a lot. She said that she drew a lot from her mother's personality and experiences and that her mother recognises herself a lot in the main character of the book. She also mentioned an anecdote of her mother tricking her into going into writing, by begging her to come to creative writing classes with her. (which is in the acknowledgements in Vendetta if anyone wants a fuller story). 

When asked about research, she spoke about her very incriminating internet history from researching the horrific mafia murders, but also how much research she did into beekeeping, which is a rather big part of the novel. She also spoke about watching movies related to the mafia and how she writes in a very filmic way so this fitted well with her writing style. 

She talked about the honey pot that is found in the first chapter of the book and how it was her father's idea to make it what it was (which is a bit of spoiler, so I'm not going to say explicitly, but if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about.) 

Finally she talked about Persephone's name being from the Greek Myth and the parallels she drew with Romeo and Juliet and how it's all about crazy romanticism with a thread of darkness.  

Melinda Salisbury

Melinda "What a Badass"  Salisbury spoke about her book The Sin Eater's Daughter (which I adore). 

Again the first thing she was asked was about the inspiration behind it. Which ended in a hilarious anecdote of how she was singing in the shower and the acoustics in her bathroom made her sound amazing. She said that she started thinking she was so amazing that she could go pro. Which got her thinking about what would happen if someone had a wonderful singing voice which was turned around and changed into the most horrible thing imaginable. 

After that she spoke of how much she traveled and liked to travel and how she based a lot of the setting of The Sin Eater's Daughter on Norway and Iceland and took a lot of influence from the culture of Scandinavia and their honesty- how they don't put on much airs and graces. Although a few of her characters do, put on airs, this can be seen pretty clearly in the book. 

She talked about her upbringing on a council estate and how it led her to be quite afraid of wanting and dreaming. She didn't think she could ever be a writer. But she spoke about a bleak time in her life when she didn't have anything to look forward to but the final Harry Potter book and how the book inspired her to get on with her life. How if Harry could defeat lord Voldemort, she could do something with her life. 

After that she talked about getting her work published. How she wrote The Sin Eater's Daughter while she was trying to get something else published and therefore had a bit of luck when an agent asked if she had anything else and she had something to give.

Finally she talked about the flowers in her novel and how she learnt a lot about them from her grandmother. She was taught a lot about flower meanings and uses from an early age, but how her grandmother liked the darker uses of flowers, which inspired a lot of the poisons in The Sin Eater's Daughter. 

Lisa Williamson

Lisa Williamson, author of the ground breaking The Art of Being Normal, a story about transgender teens, was the final one to talk. 

She spoke a lot about her work temping with the NHS, working with transgender teens and being allowed to sit in on group support sessions. which helped her understand a lot about how it is to be transgender. She said that it made her look around and see that there wasn't that much written about being transgender and wanted to tell their story. She also mentioned that she wanted it to be a very British story. 

When asked about whether it was difficult to put herself inside the head of a teenager, she said that she didn't feel that different from when she was a teenager.  Catherine put in that teenage emotions are more heightened but much the same as adults and Melinda gave the advice to not shut yourself off from new experiences. 

Lisa spoke of her writing technique and how she often imagined her scenes as little plays and acted them out so that they're easier in her head to write. 

One of the main aims she wanted with The Art of Being Normal was to make it a positive book, even if it's painful along the way. She spoke a lot about the feedback she'd gotten from young trans people and how the book has helped them and how they've been happy to see themselves in a book. 


There were so many great questions that it seems wrong not to include them at all, but as this has been such a long post already, I don't want to include them all. So here are some of my favourites (paraphrased as my note taking ability isn't good enough to write down everything). 

Catherine and Melinda were asked: Their heroines weren't the typical kind who are there to be liked, was that intentional? 

Melinda:  Found she was getting tired of the go getting heroine types and wanted to show a person she would have emphasized with when she was younger. She wanted to write about a young naive girl who has to learn how to get power.  

Catherine: Wanted someone who wasn't amazingly talented, someone normal and a little naive who had to learn about herself and those around her.  She also strongly wanted Sophie to be a product of her environment. 

The authors were asked about their experience of publishing. 

Catherine: Is getting a lot of feedback from readers, some of which are threatening emails from people who are invested in characters relationships and want her to have things go certain ways. She was also surprised by how long publishing a book takes.  

Lisa: Leo has become a sex symbol for some of her readers and she's excited that her characters are getting a life outside the book. She enjoyed being edited and having her book become more of a team effort than just something she did on her own. She liked seeing the book actual book.  

Melinda: Feels really freaked out by it all and doesn't really know what to do about it. 

All three were asked if they had any particular writing processes. 

Melinda: Pajamas (This was her exact answer, she answered immediately after the question was asked. ) 

Lisa: Dresses in regular clothing, but not really the sort of thing that she would be comfortable going out in. Said she often dressed in weird combinations when writing. She also said she is trying to write her next book in sequence as The Art of Being Normal was written out of sequence and had to be fitted together. 

Catherine: Was very shocked by the fact that writing could be done out of sequence as she can't see how it could work. She said she had to write chronologically. She didn't mention how she dresses when writing. 

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