Book Event: YALitCardiff Identity Panel with Katherine Webber, Tracy Darnton & Savita Kalhan


I’m so excited to get to tell you all about a fantastic author panel I went to in my local library on the weekend. I have always desperately wanted more author events in Cardiff and thanks to the lovely Karen and Claire, founders of YALitCardiff, we are now having quarterly author panels. This was the second event and I was SO excited to have the lovely Katie Webber joining us, especially as her first author event was in Cardiff too.

After a morning of gossiping and blogging in Waterstones cafe with blogger friends, we set off for the library and had a wonderful hour of bookish chat with the authors. Karen chaired the event which was based on the theme of Identity which led us down some really interesting routes. I ended up writing nearly 2,000 words of notes but don’t worry, I won’t post everything here, just my favourite snippets. You can also find out more about the authors’ most recent novels at the bottom of this post.


Karen opened the panel by asking the authors whether they believed that we are moulded by the difficult experiences in our lives. Katherine said she doesn’t think we are necessarily moulded by them but that they definitely have an impact on who we are and can often shape the way we respond to things that happen to us. Talking about her own protagonist Jess who remembers everything, Tracy said she believes our ability to forget is so important in letting us move on. We forget the minor fall outs in our lives, but if we remembered everything even the most minor of arguments could have huge impacts on us. Savita, whose book taps into a very difficult subject matter, said it can depend on the level of the trauma and the situation. Jay has to hide a part of herself away and therefore does lose her sense of identity.

Next up was some really interesting chatter about characters and names. Katherine doesn’t like to put too much of herself into characters and believes that if you base or name a character on someone you know and love, it can be too hard to make bad things happen to them. She doesn’t see much of herself in Reiko, but did use some of her own school experiences when writing Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Tracy sees a lot of traits in her protagonist that she would aspire to have: loyal, feisty, intelligent. She also accidentally named the counsellor in her book after a close friend of hers without realising! Savita gave Jay a similar religious and cultural background to her, but from a personality point of view they are very different. Jay is rebellious but Savita was a good girl!

When it comes to creating their characters, Tracy and Savita both use a ‘Top Trumps’ kind of method where they create a profile for their characters with things such as physical appearance, personality traits and quirks. Tracy said this can help with consistency too – she doesn’t want her character to accidentally start scratching a non-existent beard halfway through the book! On the other hand, Katherine said she rarely knows the ins and outs of her characters’ likes and dislikes but she focuses on the kind of relationship they have with their family, especially their siblings.


Then it was time for a bit more about the authors themselves and their writing journeys. Tracy’s debut short story was featured in the Stripes Christmas anthology after she entered their competition – something she highly recommends aspiring writers to do. Savita, on the other hand, decided to turn her hand at writing an epic fantasy novel and got to 600,000 words before deciding that wasn’t quite her thing! Katherine shared her journey of querying and getting heaps of rejections, including two from her current agent (something she doesn’t let her forget easily!). As for their own inspirations, Katherine gushed about her idol Laini Taylor (I’ve probably mentioned that in a blog post somewhere before…), Tracy talked about stories such as Anne of Green Gables and Savita gave a nod to Enid Blyton and more recently Tomi Adeyemi.

After some book recommendations it was time for audience questions and I was glad not to be the only one asking a question. After the last event I decided to come up with a stock question that I can ask each time – although I temporarily broke the authors, I think! My question was to ask who their own protagonist would choose as a best friend from another YA book. After a moment of thinking, Savita narrowed it down to say that she thought Jay would be good friends with Dan from The Truth About Lies but definitely not Seth from Only Love Can Break Your Heart (to which I wholeheartedly agreed!). Katherine said that Reiko is too self-involved and because of her friendship with Dre, it’s hard to pick, but she hoped that Reiko could maybe be a good friend to Jay later in life.

There were a few other author questions which prompted thoughts on the authors’ own writing processes, whether they find that writing an intense book translates to them feeling tense in their own lives (Katherine swears by TV to beat this!), playlists for books and advice to budding writers.

This was such a fun panel and I think we all could have sat there all day chatting about books and identity. After the panel was finished, the authors were available to sign books, which were also on sale from the lovely people at Griffin Books, and for general chit chat. It was a fab even and I’d love to say thank you to all three authors for joining us as well as to Karen and Claire for organising it. I’m already looking forward to the next one on December 1st – come and join us!! Follow @YALitCardiff for more news.


Click the covers below to find out more about the authors’ most recent books.

The Truth About Lies  Only Love Can Break Your Heart  The Girl in the Broken Mirror

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