Tag Archives: Agnes Guyon

Coping with change

I found I rather liked ‘The Polar Bear,’ aka Steven Camden, at Wednesday evening’s bookfest event. I knew nothing about him, but would quite like to read his book, Nobody Real. I imagine most people were there for Melvin Burgess, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. With them was late addition L J MacWhirter, and they were all kept in reasonable order by Agnes Guyon. (I do like the French way of pronouncing Agnes…)

Steven Camden

Not that Melvin was ever out of my good books, but I appreciated the way he said ‘I love witches.’ His new book is The Lost Witch, and the subject of witches was suggested to him by his editor. I think. And that led to him thinking through what a book about witches would be.

Before this L J volunteered to go first, so she read chapter 11 about the stairs…

Steven didn’t have room for imaginary friends, and this made Thor Baker – an imaginary friend – angry. He read the A-level scene from Nobody Real. Talking about change – the topic for the evening – he said that what’s good is what you add to a situation.

Melvin feels that for teenagers change is obvious, and that’s why YA is interesting.

Agnes wanted to know whether the panel considered themselves to be feminists, and after rambling for a bit, Steven checked himself and replied ‘yes.’ Melvin said you have to be careful, because we all carry our prejudices around. He starts with a male character and then does a sex change halfway through. (Not sure if this is feminist behaviour.) For his next book he’s got a black character, and a friend had explained what he could and couldn’t do. L J loved writing Silas in her book. He’s a bit of a Poldark, apparently.

L J MacWhirter and Melvin Burgess

There were a couple of big names from the children’s book world in the audience; Julia Eccleshare and Ferelith Hordon. It was Ferelith who asked about morality in books. Melvin ‘objects to that’ and fears it might make you sound too pompous. Ethics, on the other hand, are interesting.

L J spoke of disadvantaged teenagers she had met, who wanted to do work that might not be an obvious choice for someone of their background.

Steven doesn’t know about morals. He’s ‘not a great believer in answers’ and prefers to trust his gut. Reading The Bunker Diary ‘messed me up for a week.’ (And then he asked the audience if we’d eaten. He was starving..!)

I’m not sure how we moved on to favourite books, but Melvin is very fond of Not Now Bernard, and Steven loves I Want My Hat Back.

For some reason this made L J mention dark books, which you want or things could get really boring. But after the dark, there should be hope. This might be from Geraldine McCaughrean, or it might not.

Can there be dark middle grade books? Ferelith told Melvin that his books are dark, and he said they aren’t MG, but she replied they are now, The Cry of the Wolf, Baby and Fly Pie (ending with a dead baby). He agreed this was a dark end with no hope.

Melvin doesn’t feel education has a place in novels. You go to school for that. You read about things [to find out about them] and that makes it private. He played around with the word ‘resilient.’ Teenagers can be too resilient = resilient to change. He sent us on our way, wishing us ‘good luck with the resilience.’

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Day #4 of the 2018 EIBF

That’s my fourth day, which to my surprise turned out to be a Wednesday and not a Saturday, meaning I was able to contemplate a much better train home. And as I said to Daniel Hahn when I waylaid him on his way in, having just the one event felt positively holidayish.

We exchanged fond memories of an event at Waterstones piccalilli three years ago, which Daniel seemed to remember even more of than I did.

I was there ‘early’ because I’d agreed to meet up with Toddler Tollarp and his mother. So we had a couple of hours chatting about everything under the sun. Almost. Unfortunately for TT, he slept through most of it, not even getting cake!

Sitting in the greenhouse watching the bookfest world go past, I saw Beverley Naidoo and Jackie Kay. Later on as I checked my train timetable outside the yurts, Nicola Morgan ran past, but I knew she was in a hurry, so didn’t run after her.

It was a pleasant afternoon, which meant lots of people were enjoying drinks on the yurt decking. Saw Alan Johnson and Allan Little walk to their event.

Melvin Burgess

Strolled over to my lone event with Melvin Burgess, Steven Camden and LJ MacWhirter, who were talking to Agnes Guyon. Chatted to friendly, but hungry, lady in the queue, who had a poetry tale to tell. Those are always the best.

L J MacWhirter

Steven Camden

Afterwards, I had my good train home in mind, so made sure the photo session in the bookshop was swift, and I didn’t stop to chat. So you know what happened then, don’t you? The train was late.

Oh well.

Celebrating Young Adult Fiction

Daniel Hahn

There were so many authors for Daniel Hahn’s event on YA literature that we got 15 minutes extra to sort out the seating arrangements, (a rather nice booth at the edge of the Spiegeltent for me) or so he claimed. We should – could – have had much longer. Not so much for the chairs as for the sheer marvel of what everyone had to say, whether or not YA exists. (Some of them reckon it doesn’t.)

Them, were Elizabeth Laird, David Almond, James Dawson and Tanya Landman, plus Agnes Guyon, chair for this year’s Carnegie. That’s four award winners, and one awarder. Daniel said, two of them were suspicious, but he changed that to having suspicions [about YA] when we laughed. The introductions had to be kept short or there would have been no time for the event. Elizabeth has written 150 books, and she claimed ‘most of them rubbish.’ David Almond has won everything, including the Hans Christian Andersen prize. New kid on the block, and reigning Queen of Teen, James Dawson, hasn’t won so much yet, except for the rather spiky QoT crown he keeps in a cupboard. And then there was this year’s Carnegie medalist, Tanya Landman.

With the exception of young James, who did grow up on  Nancy Drew, Melvin Burgess and Judy Blume (yes, that book), before moving on to Stephen King, none of the others had had access to any YA books back in the olden days. Elizabeth read Kipling, Geoffrey Trease and moved straight from Wind in the Willows to Agatha Christie and Jane Eyre. Oh, and she read her great aunt’s books…

David liked John Wyndham and Hemingway, as well as Blyton. Tanya was also a Wyndham fan, she read Leon Garfield, and then she has forgotten the rest. Agnes Guyon went straight from the Famous Five to Zola. As you do. Daniel felt this was a terribly French answer, and one he will use in future.

On being asked how they became YA writers, James said he decided after reading Noughts & Crosses. He reckons we’re all here because of J K Rowling, and what Stephenie Meyer did to follow. David didn’t even know he’d written YA when asked about it in America. Tanya reckons a book is a book is a book, and she doesn’t like categories.

James Dawson

James believes Philip Pullman only got away with what he wrote because the books were aimed at young readers. Elizabeth’s reading is mixed, and she reads what she needs for the moment. When ill she can consume many Agatha Christies in a short time.

Tanya read from her Buffalo Soldier, and had to stick to the first chapter, as she wrote the book with a southern American accent in mind, but she can’t actually read aloud like that.

Talking about diversity, James said there are many books, but none are bestsellers, unlike the leading David Walliams, John Green and the Hunger Games. Elizabeth feels that it’s the 3 for 2 offers in shops that make the bestsellers, in a fake sort of way. That’s why we need libraries, with librarians in them.

According to David, children’s publishers are more adventurous, and more confident in what they publish, than adult ones, and mentioned Shaun Tan. Elizabeth has experience of being recycled. If you can stay in print for 25 years, you find that your readers have become parents and will be drawn back to your books, until 25 years later when it’s the grandchildren’s turn.

Elizabeth Laird

Daniel’s bugbear is translations. There are not enough of them. Pushkin and Little Island are two publishers who do look for fiction to translate. Elizabeth read from her book A Little Piece of Ground, which was very moving.

Adults are people who ought to know better; they should read proper books. Or that’s what people think. Tanya reckons To Kill a Mockingbird has become what it is because it’s accessible. She knew someone who was embarrassed to be seen reading The Book Thief, because it’s not a ‘proper’ book. James even defended Twilight, being someone who’s ‘heading into his mid twenties.’

Tanya said what I’ve long failed to put into words, which is that in YA books things get better within the book (except for Kevin Brooks), while in adult books you start level, and then things spiral into something worse, with divorce, unemployment and worse. Elizabeth had some insight there and then which she shared with us; YA wants to tell a good story, straight and simple, with no ‘tricksy writing’ unlike so many adult books.

Agnes said that what the Carnegie judges look for is plot, style and characterisation, well told. And as someone retorted, ‘how hard can it be?’

James read from his new, almost not published, book, about a bisexual relationship. I think we were all impressed by how daring this seemed, but when asked if he’s ever encountered resistance, he said his whole next book got scrapped (grindr culture for gay men, starting with hardcore gay sex), and as a World Book Day author next year this wasn’t seen as being quite right. Elizabeth laughed so heartily at this, that I suspect the publishers are wrong.

We finished with David reading from Ella Grey, about Orfeus and rather grown-up sleepovers.

One question from the audience was on how children seem to get older younger these days, and James treated us to his memories of reading about demonic sex at the age of eleven.

Someone else told us that YA books save her in her job as a teacher, because the books suit the children. Elizabeth wonders if we are all teenagers, really, and Daniel added that it could be we are just optimists.

Perhaps there wasn’t any wolf whistling from the audience, but almost. This was one happy group of book lovers and we could easily have stayed there much longer. As it was, we trooped over to the adult (the irony of it!) bookshop for signings. It was good to finally speak to Tanya Landman, who was excited enough to give me an extra ‘e’ but that’s all right between Carnegie winner and witch.

James Dawson, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and David Almond

(This photo borrowed from Lindsay Fraser, because it’s so much better than mine.)