So it happened to be just about the hottest, stuffiest evening of this long hot English summer, and the location for Penguin’s ‘YA Secret Society’ author event was an unventilated basement cocktail bar in which the accumulated warmth of +30C days really didn’t need the addition of massed body heat.
But hey, it was a great evening, even though the four authors were completely hidden from me when they gave their mercifully brief presentations. (Mercifully brief, that is, because of the heat, which the stilled attentiveness seemed to increase by 5 degrees.)
I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again, I’m immensely gratified and surprised to continue to be invited to events of this type, aimed as they are principally at young bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTubers and sundry gushing enthusiasts. I like to think I’m still an enthusiast for children’s and YA books, but no one is going to take me for a gusher.
Goodness knows what people take me for, keeping as I do largely to the edges of these events. I hope I’m polite when spoken to, but I mainly listen and observe, and sometimes take photos, though not this evening.
The invitees were nearly all female, the exception being a young chap the absolute antithesis of me – someone at ease talking with everybody, including with me. Turned out he is part of the family which runs the Dulwich bookshop and associated businesses.
There was one person I was very keen to speak with. I am two-thirds of the way through All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth and there were a few things I was curious about. When I shared this with the chap from Dulwich he rather charmingly offered to go over and introduce me. I declined, preferring to wait until the queues had had their piles of books signed.
I heard people comment that the cocktails were strong, by which I think they meant they were strong tasting. I had three of them. They were pleasantly icy but three glasses of wine would have been more relaxing. That notwithstanding, with the drive at the end of my rail journey home in mind, I thought I’d better not test the alcohol content further, so switched to plain water.
A member of the bar staff replenished my glass as soon as it was empty and then, just as I was giving up hope of a chance to speak with her, and regretting not having done so soon after arrival, when the bar had been relatively uncrowded, there she was, Elizabeth Klehfoth standing right beside where I was sitting, in conversation with someone, but no one waiting to have a book signed.
I jumped up and, somewhat abruptly no doubt, asked if I could have a quick interview. We sat down in one of the basement bar alcoves.
I principally wanted to know how an author who had grown up in Indiana was able to write so sure-footedly about the rich, privileged and presumptuous group of people at the heart of her story. She confirmed that she was indeed from a more humble background but that she had attended a college in Orange County, California, which was much like a boarding school, where many of her fellow students were as rolling in money as the characters in her novel. “The parents would literally buy houses for their children.”
She writes about these people well. She writes well, full-stop. I told her how much I admired the opening Prologue only to be initially disappointed to find the main novel opening in a secret society, boarding school scenario. I feared it was going to stay stuck in that mould..
It doesn’t. It opens out so enthrallingly, the next thing I wanted to know was whether the book’s structure was always there or whether it developed editorially. Klehfoth explained it was very much her structure, the interwoven style of writing having been developed through years of studying writing at grad school and initially writing lots of short stories.
All The Beautiful Strangers is literally the first full-length fiction she has finished, as well as being her first published book. And she is only in the early stages of writing the next novel.
I have to finish reading this one first and don’t yet know how I will respond to its conclusion but I am dying to discover how things play out, which in itself is a tribute to the storytelling.
I do find at times there is a curious interplay between the serious goodness of the writing and the occasional Sweet Valley University level of the content, but that is often the case with contemporary YA.
The book is just out, published contemporaneously in the U.K. and USA.
The evening also celebrated publication of three other books:
- The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert – this looks very very good indeed and is already garnering great reviews and sales.
- The Smoke Thieves – a new title from Sally Green, who joked that it was going to be part of a ‘sequence’ of three books, not another trilogy.
- And The Truth And Lies Of Ella Black by Emily Barr – ACHUKA loved Barr’s previous children’s book; so (forgive the pun) memorable.