When Orli Vogt-Vincent confessed here on the Guardian teen's books site that she loved reading and asked "Does that make me a nerd?" – and then went onto reveal that she had kept her position as a children's books reviewer and her reading habit as a secret, I felt my heart sinking.
If someone so engaged with books feels the need to keep the fact that they moonlight as a young literary journalist, interviewing top authors such as Michael Morpurgo a secret, what hope is there for our teen readers? I for one think it's time to reclaim reading for pleasure as a "cool" activity and to also reclaim the word "nerd".
I subscribe to the online urban dictionary's definition of nerd – "one whose IQ exceeds his weight". I'm also keen on the same urban dictionary's definition of geek – "the person you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult". I happily proclaim myself a book nerd/reading geek and proud of it.
When I was a teenager, reading for me was as normal, as unremarkable as eating or breathing. Reading gave flight to my imagination and strengthened my understanding of the world, the society I lived in and myself. More importantly, reading was fun, a way to live more than one life as I immersed myself in each good book I read. I have visited other planets, alternate dimensions, other countries, survived wars, obtained super powers, had numerous adventures, walked in the shoes and lived in the head of countless characters, laughed with them, cried with them, lived with them, died with them? How is that uncool?
That's why I was so keen in my role as Waterstones children's laureate to create a forum where teen books was celebrated in the same way that film, TV and computer games are in popular youth culture. And so the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) , at which 50 of the top YA authors will be appearing, was born. And what better place and space to do this than the summer London Film and Comic Con (LFCC) at Earl's Court this weekend.
YALC, an integral component of this year's LFCC, fits perfectly with the celebration of narratives, something which is at the heart of the convention. If you're loud and proud about your love of genre films, immersive TV programmes such as Game of Thrones and computer games, then why can't you be just as excited and vocal about books, many of which have been adapted into blockbuster films, TV and games?
YA novels are for all those who love great storytelling, it's that simple. Ruth Graham's recent article proclaiming that adults should be embarrassed to be seen reading Young Adult was not only wrong but misguided (see UKYA writer Non Pratt's defence on this site ). It's exactly this kind of rhetoric which seeks to divide and isolate all of us – teen and adult - who read for pleasure by stating that some books are perhaps more "worthy" than others.
A good book is a good book. End of story. Why is its worth diminished if it is written specifically for teens?
Quite rightly, every year more adults are discovering the joys of reading young adult novels. These adults have discovered that young adult novels can and do have all the depth, sophistication and complexity of books written for adults. It is a truth universally accepted by writers of YA novels that teens are an honest audience. You have to grab them and keep them with your story or they will have no qualms about abandoning the book. Therefore the storytelling has to be top-notch.
Another criticism levelled at YA novels by Ruth Graham was the accusation that YA endings are simple and "uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction – of the real world – is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction." I'd love to meet this woman and put Kevin Brook's Carnegie winning The Bunker Diary, and a host of others in her hand.
Any YA author worth their salt knows that a teen readership expects a truthful narrative, one that doesn't hold back from painful and gritty realities.
When I took on the mantel of children's laureate in June 2013, research showed that only three in 10 young people read daily out of class, with a fifth of young people saying they'd be embarrassed if a friend saw them reading. Recent National Literacy Trust research reveals that children and young people's reading enjoyment has reached its highest level for eight years, but teens are still three times as likely as seven-to-11-year-olds to say they don't enjoy reading at all.
Although there has been some improvement, no doubt boosted by film adaptations of YA novels, it is vital that these statistics are improved upon. I want YALC to help reclaim and reposition young adult reading as a desirable, enjoyable activity for teenagers, rather than a mandatory chore. In the US, where YA has been celebrated for many years, there is a vibrant fan culture, something which is starting to blossom over here. US authors such as John Green have fans as passionate as those of Ryan Gosling and Lady Gaga (Green's fans call themselves his "nerdfighters", whereas Gaga's devotees refer to themselves as her "LittleMonsters").
YA book sales over here are booming, and are up 18% from last year. But 17 out of the top 20 bestselling YA books are by US authors. Book sales and teens reading is always a fantastic thing, but we should also be celebrating and consuming the huge wealth of UK and UK-based writing and illustrating talent. Authors such as Charlie Higson, Darren Shan, Holly Smale, Tanya Byrne, Catherine Johnson, Sophie Mckenzie, to name but a few. This weekend's YALC is just one way to do that.
I hope to see you there!