Alwyn Hamilton and Samantha Shannon are two of my favourite YA authors, so I was really excited to attend this event a couple of weeks ago! It was hosted by the lovely Mariam (@helloiammariam), who holds a Feminism in YA Twitter chat every Tuesday evening at 7pm GMT (in case you somehow haven't heard of it!)
Because I found this event really inspirational, I decided to write up some of the key points and give away a signed copy of 'Rebel of the Sands' and 'The Bone Season' to one lucky winner! Please follow me on Twitter and retweet my pinned tweet to enter. As this post is based on my hastily scribbled notes, please be aware that there may be errors!
First the discussion focused on agency in YA. Samantha feels that fantasy is often based around a historical, misogynistic setting but it doesn't have to be! She consciously kept men and women as equals in the world of 'The Bone Season' and tried to stay away from gender restrictions. Alwyn has been told a lot that women aren't physically strong enough to be a fantasy hero. Amani came from that and Alwyn gave her a gun - a gender neutral weapon!
Mariam, Alwyn and Shannon agreed that 'strong female characters' can be a problematic phrase. Samantha has been asked why her characters aren't as strong as Katniss. She said she would prefer to be asked about her character and to represent real flaws. If all characters are compared to Katniss in this way, it reduces her and the other characters. Katniss is complex and vulnerable at times - not everyone is a Katniss or a Bella! Alwyn felt that 'strong' is often used to mean traditionally masculine traits. She gave the example of Kestrel in Winner's Curse as a brilliant character who is a terrible fighter, but she's smart and this makes her no less strong. She also mentioned that it's great how in the new Ghostbusters films there are plenty of characters to identify with.
The discussion then turned to role models. Alwyn felt it would be a bad idea to use Amani as a role model! She makes some terrible decisions, but that makes her more interesting because she learns from her mistakes.
Alwyn and Shannon then discussed why they created female characters. Alwyn always gravitates to creating female characters and has always turned to books for female characters. Samantha explained that Paige's voice came into her head first.
On the subject of minorities, Samantha discussed how in the Bone Season clairvoyants are secretly operating in London. She felt that being a minority is a common subject in fantasy, in terms of viewing the treatment of minorities through a fantastical lens. Alwyn felt it would be hard to write a society where people are rebelling without minorities and was inspired by the French Revolutions that she learned about when growing up in France.
Alwyn loves the trope of girls dressed as boys. She feels that characters are insisting that they be judged on their worth and she loves the potential for romance!
Later they talked about romance in YA. Alwyn likes the swoon but it shouldn't overpower or take the focus if the book isn't a romance novel! Samantha said it can be risky not to include romance because it can alienate a huge portion of the target audience.
When talking about the trope of the 'Evil Queen', Alwyn said she likes complex female villains such as Levana in 'The Lunar Chronicles'. There's a danger though of characters like this being demonised or over-sexualised. Samantha consciously had Paige fight female police officers and avoided background characters always being white males (as she felt this often seems to be the case).
I've been to a lot of Waterstones author events and I'd definitely recommend them. I hope you enjoyed my write-up - remember to check out the giveaway on Twitter!