I should have known better than to incite Melvin Burgess to canoodle with the Gruffalo.
More about that later. Or not. Melvin was at Blackwell’s in Manchester last night to talk about his brand new book, Kill All Enemies, as part of the Manchester Salon’s programme of talking about interesting things to do with writing, art, culture, current affairs and politics. Etc.
Halfway through the book as I am, I didn’t want him to give away too much, so it was as well that Melvin mostly talked about his older books. Although he covered the current state of affairs with rioting teenagers, and why they did what they did.
I’m not sure who normally comes to these events, and I’m guessing that the fact that Melvin writes for young people was not the main thing, since there were mainly adults in the discussion group. Quite a lot of people, and they had to put out more chairs. Which is good.
Melvin looked pretty in pink, which is a refreshing colour on a man. And has very little to do with his writing. I know. Except, maybe it proves why he’s a trailblazer in the YA world. He started off by explaining the birth of YA literature, and Melvin was right there in the delivery suite with Junk.
His own father might have felt that he needed to ‘leave the country’ after reading what Melvin had written, but everyone else loved it. (Well, maybe not all those who have complained and tried to ban his books and who disinvited him to schools, and so on. But most.)
He feels YA is much more mainstream now. Unlike many writers he is happy to have unhappy endings. And he wants more adults to read YA books.
That might be a good thing, especially as Melvin goes around actually interviewing actual teenagers and finding out what they want, what they like, how they talk, and often, what no one else has asked them or bothered listening to. As with Nicholas Dane this time Melvin has talked some more to troubled teenagers and has put their experiences into Kill All Enemies. He feels there is a wonderful wealth in talking to people like this.
As you’d expect, his talk covered a lot of the sex and drugs and abuse and violence that you know from his previous books. It might have been more than the one young child in the audience had bargained for, but then you can be surprised by what people are happy with. I was actually more than a little surprised to hear that my local (now ex-)Borders had not stocked Melvin’s books. More surprised still, seeing as it was where I first met him, doing a signing. But there you are.
He mentioned plans he’d had for writing about young women’s lust, but gave up on the idea to avoid making ‘an arse of myself’. He wrote Lady, My Life as a Bitch, instead. As with Junk, it’s a long way from The Wind in the Willows. And he knows that the main problem in getting his books to readers are the gatekeepers in schools and libraries.
The evening finished with a short reading from the new book, all about snail goo.
I was impressed that Melvin seemed to have taken my suggestion that he wear something nice seriously. And he seemed impressed that I now come with my own photographer. I just shouldn’t have asked him to go and pose with the Gruffalo.
But he took it well, and this photo is as much as you are getting.