Students in Uxbridge, UK, recently had the chance of a lifetime—to meet dozens of authors and talk with them about YA and middle-grade books as part of the local library system’s YA Shot festival. YA Shot was held on October 28 in Uxbridge, near London, England. A total of 240 adults, teens, and tweens attended the all-day festival spread out across three locations: the Uxbridge Library, Waterstone’s Uxbridge bookstore, and the Uxbridge Civic Centre.
The library hosted workshops on writing, blogging, and vlogging while the Waterstone’s and the Civic Centre focused on panels and conversations with local authors. Many of the panels and workshops covered hot topics in the teen and middle-grade world, including diversity, female heroines, trigger warnings, and activism. The festival was also a jumping-off point for the Year-Long Legacy Programme, a year’s worth of visits by festival authors to the Hillingdon area libraries funded by a grant from Arts Council England. These author visits will be held in the neighborhood libraries, and local schools, especially those in disadvantaged areas, will be invited to attend the events for free.
YA Shot was planned to be a small library-run YA event. The Hillingdon Libraries asked several authors to take part, including Alexia Casale, a longtime library volunteer andauthor of YA novel The Bone Dragon. “I ended up taking charge and, true to form, it soon turned from a series of panels into a festival,” said Casale. What was supposed to be an eight-author, one-room event ended up with seventy London-area authors, participating in the festival as panelists and workshop leaders, including Casale, James Dawson, and Taran Matharu. An important feature for the YA Shot program is that all of the authors donated their time to the festival. “YA Shot is based on the premise that authors will welcome the chance to ‘join up’ that generosity to achieve something far greater than any of us could accomplish alone,” said Casale.
The festival had an unexpected impact on the library staff. “Not only did we have enthusiastic teens and young adults attending, but we also inspired library staff who had never read the YA genre to give it a go,” said Samantha Everett, YA Shot co-coordinator and Branch Manager of Manor Farm Library. “They are now better engaged and more enthused to work with teenagers and young adults in the future.” The success of YA Shot will also be helpful to the Hillingdon Libraries in the future as it has given the libraries an “innovative and fun” reputation among publishers, authors, and agencies, said Everett. “We are hoping that the festival will be the stepping stone to allow us to work much more closely with our local schools and to be in better position to really promote reading for pleasure amongst local young people,” said Everett.