Tag Archives: Elizabeth Wein

And the YA debate rages on

My goodness how people have fought! I erroneously assumed Anthony McGowan was merely ruffling feathers on the night at the book festival, almost two weeks ago. Possibly the next day.

But still? And people are growing angrier. Oh dear.

I linked earlier to Tony’s own confession on the Barrington Stoke blog, and later Elizabeth Wein had her own blog post about the debacle. In fact, lots of people have opinions, and occasionally I almost feel that they shouldn’t. Some know very little of the topic, except that doesn’t stop them, and some have difficulty grasping that we can have many differing views and many of us can be right, all at the same time.

Then after a while Tony ‘turned into’ a misogynist, so he blogged some more about that. The Guardian added their bit, confusing matters by illustrating the article with a photo of Frances Hardinge, who was never involved, and using a headline claiming most YA books are crap, which hardly goes for Frances. Somewhere they also listed a few more authors who didn’t take part, which I suspect is the problem of editors who like to improve things by mentioning people you might have heard of, even if irrelevant.

Maybe it all began with the article in the TES shortly before the book festival debate. Or perhaps the damage had been done earlier still?

As long as you understand that I am more right than anyone else…

She loves YA

At last night’s Great YA Debate, chaired by Daniel Hahn, the discussion was kicked off by the children’s books world’s enfant terrible, Anthony McGowan, who was of the opinion that you shouldn’t

to be continued...

read YA. If, you are older than twenty, or so. Especially if you are white and female. And middle class.

Yes, that’s – approximately – what he said, but then Tony had been hired to be the naughty one, to get the conversation going. But he did mean it. I think. Mostly. Tony described his part as the hippo poo, spread all over the place, and Elizabeth Wein was there to clean up after him (and if that’s not an example of all kinds of -isms, I don’t know what is).

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

This year’s YA debate was different from last year’s. We had Daniel Hahn on stage with Tony and Elizabeth, and then they had a stash of other authors on the front row; Annabel Pitcher, Christopher Edge, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence and Philip Womack. They all had an opportunity to disagree later on, as did the audience.

But first it was Tony who described going to YALC and finding it so mono-cultural as to be distasteful. White, female writers, 30+ who write brilliant, terrible dross for people in their twenties and thirties. Elizabeth argued with him, and Daniel pointed out that should anyone tweet that YA is crap, the internet would catch fire.

Tony wants adults to move on. YA is for teens. You should read what makes you unhappy, what you hate, or you won’t be stretched enough. Here Daniel admitted to not only being a reader of YA, but having had an Asterix day not long ago.

I decided it was a good thing Daughter had not come along to this. She’d have exploded on the spot.

No one should read John Green.

Elizabeth pointed out that contrary to what we believe in Britain, YA is fairly old as a concept, and existed in the 1950s in America. You would borrow books from the library or from friends, have them as presents, and you ‘read up,’ so even younger children would read about teenagers in books. She talked about Sue Barton and the Hardy Boys, and how Nancy Drew wasn’t considered highbrow enough…

Back to Tony who called readers of YA immature. Then he went on to talk about Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet as supposedly YA writers, but who write adult books, really, mentioning Life: An Exploded Diagram, which is a proper novel. (I think we are allowed to read it.)

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham and Patrice Lawrence

The authors on the front row came to life here, and Christopher Edge mentioned how he as a teenager went between Alan Garner and Jack Kerouac, depending on how he felt and it had less to do with age. Annabel Pitcher said she doesn’t agree that YA is twee or cosy, and looking at her own books you can see her point.

So Tony said the problem with YA is that it always takes you home. There will always be some sort of resolution and happy ending. It has to be miserable to be worthy. (You have to hand it to him. He really found irritating things to say.)

Philip Womack talked about Mary Shelley, who was a teen author (her age), although Daniel reckoned that writing Frankenstein was never a normal thing.

Back to Tony, who spoke about his experience of working with children in First Story, saying children themselves don’t write YA, unlike the white women or his students at Holloway [writing class]. The difference between [Edinburgh] events where audiences can be self selecting, or they come as part of school groups, is an important one.

Jenny Downham remembered being asked by a young working class girl at a school event whether people like her could write stories. And Jenny mused over the weirdness of finding her own Before I Die on two different shelves in bookshops, both as a children’s book and an adult book.

Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Elizabeth said as a teenager she read lots of categories of books, but as an adult she doesn’t. Tony chipped in and was disparaging about YA book bloggers, and claimed we are not his friends (I will have to think about this). Patrice Lawrence pointed out that at 49 she has lived more than half her life and she has no intention of ruining the rest with Dostoyevsky. Her own Orangeboy is not a book for 28-year-old book bloggers.

And on that note Daniel opened up the discussion to the audience ‘in the unlikely event anyone has any views.’ They did.

The talk was about marketing and whether editors have views on what should be written. The difference between rainbow colours for children and black teen books in shops. A 16-year-old wanted beautiful books [the writing] and Tony came back with saying children’s books are often funny, and teen books not.

Elizabeth feels independent bookshops have more advice to give on what to buy, and it’s important as young people rarely buy, but have books bought for them.

Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Daniel suggested that the remaining time should be for readers under twenty (so that shut me up!) and there were many of them, with interesting thoughts on books and reading. The odd one even agreed with Tony. The girl behind me said she finds War and Peace intimidating. Someone else said there are many exciting YA novels out there, but you have to dig deep to miss the crap.

Our time was up and Daniel suggested continuing the chat over signing in the bookshop. The adult bookshop (the children’s bookshop was closed)…

There were many readers queueing up and many discussions. Elizabeth Wein won the popularity contest (if there was one) with by far the longest queue, which, naturally, I had to join. But I did have some books for Tony – yes – to sign, too. He asked if I offered them out of pity.

Before running for my train, I had time to chat to publicist Nina, ‘Mr Wein,’ and the lovely Philip Womack, who actually is a Bookwitch reader and who didn’t even twitch when I admitted to not having reciprocated. And finally I made myself known to Barrington Stokes’ Mairi Kidd, who thanked me for loving them, and wondered whether I could love even Tony. We decided I could.

Daniel Hahn, Philip Womack and Jenny Downham

On the Front Line with Michael Grant

We were given permission to call him whatever we wanted. This man who recently lay down under a tank in the Ardennes, in case he would need to know what it looks like from down there. Michael Grant was back in Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, converting a tentful of teenagers, some younger ones and a whole lot of older people who were unable to resist. (Although I have a few words to offer the adult who told her child companion to put Gone back on the shelf in the shop. That he wanted it was testament to Michael’s ability to make children want to read [his books].)

Michael Grant

Michael threatened horrible pictures (I hope he didn’t have me in mind) and suggested some of us might want to leave there and then. It wasn’t so bad. Barbara Cartland was very pink, and I suspect Michael will never look like that, despite his past in romantic formula novels. Luckily he gave them up before he had to hang himself in the shower.

This is the man who left school after 10th grade because he arrived for school lunch through the exit door and was told to go out and come back in the right way. The one who surreptitiously gave the finger in an old family photo. Someone who has a past as a burglar of cheap diners. They got him in to inspire us, and he said he’d see what he could do.

Genghis Khan was worse than Hitler, and I almost believe him after hearing what happened in Kiev. And then there was the Chichijima incident, which gave us George Bush for President.

Anyway, Michael was here to talk about WWII and his latest book, Front Lines. He sought inspiration in books, and particularly praised Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, which he told everyone to read. He had done the Private Ryan Package at a rifle range, just so he could try lots of rifles out, despite hating guns.

He wasn’t sure how open he could be, either in the book, or with the audience, but feels that children can cope with the truth. And he only writes something if he thinks he will have fun with it.

Michael Grant, Front Lines

There were two things Michael changed in his book. One was giving women the draft, as he wanted to have them in the story. He also made black soldiers more integrated, earlier than in real life. The war had a good effect for black soldiers, because after fighting Hitler, they returned home less afraid than they’d been before.

This workaholic told us how he met his wife, Katherine Applegate, and how they eventually began writing books in order to quit their cleaning jobs. How they made a fortune with Animorphs (‘we’re going to need some aliens’) and then lived it all up, meaning they had to start again.

Michael Grant

That’s when Michael had the idea for Gone, told his wife about it, and she told him to drop everything and write it. Being a well trained husband he always does what his wife tells him to do.

After Michael had worn out one microphone and moved on to the next, it was time for us to skip over to the bookshop to have our books signed. I must have lost my touch, because I was nowhere near the front of the queue. I blame the photographer who required the buying of her own copy of Front Lines (that’s how inspiring Michael was). And then I tried to convert the young boy who wanted to read Gone and wasn’t allowed…

Michael Grant

I have received complaints for messing up the last photo my photographer was going to take of a very happy looking Michael. I retorted that he doesn’t do happy, but actually, I see that he does. Even with other women readers. So here’s to a smiley Michael. It wouldn’t be Edinburgh without him.

Best Scottish?

It came back to me, out of the blue, a few days ago. I had a Scottish Reading tag on Bookwitch. First, I had my one year Foreign Reading Challenge, which was tough enough. Not the doing, so much as the finding a new foreign published book every month for twelve months. And a different foreign every time.

Seemingly I wasn’t challenged enough, as I veered off onto a new tag, Scottish Reading. I believe I felt I should concentrate a bit more on a slightly ignored section of British books for children. But I just cannot remember what happened to it! The foreign challenge had rules; the Scottish was just supposed to happen.

Recently I have, for obvious reasons, read more Scottish again, but without tagging it or anything. My memory isn’t what it was.

The Resident IT Consultant pointed me in the direction of the the BBC’s 30 top Scottish books list the other day. It even made us argue a bit, en famille. What counts as a Scottish book? Who counts as having written one?

I had my opinion, he had his and Son turned up and said his bit. Can Harry Potter be Scottish? I think so, others are less sure. Does the author have to be Scottish, merely live in Scotland, write about Scottish topics or set their novel in Scotland?

England is full of wonderful authors who are American. But I think we tend to happily adopt these foreigners as homemade successes if they are successful. On that basis, English or American writers living in Scotland ought to qualify, whether or not they write about a wizard school that may or may not be in Scotland (never mind that the train there leaves from King’s Cross).

If a novel is set in outer space, what does that make it? If a Scottish born and bred author sets their novel in London or Cornwall, what then? In fact, it’s getting a bit Brexit. If anyone is supposed to go back to where they came from, the only true Scottish novel must be by a Scottish author, set in Scotland, featuring Scottish characters, who wouldn’t dream of stepping south of the border.

And that’s not right. Elizabeth Wein lives and writes in Scotland. Alex Nye likewise, entertaining us with what Sheriffmuir covered in snow is like. Helen Grant has so far killed the good people of Belgium from the comfort of her Scottish home. Philip Caveney has just joined the ladies here, after some frantic years commuting between Stockport and Scotland. The Scottish Book Trust have all four of these writers on their list of authors.

I have read three of the books on the BBC’s list, and watched another four on film. That’s not much at all, and the fault is all mine. I am overdue another Scottish Reading Challenge. Although it shouldn’t be a challenge at all.

On doing the impossible

The good thing about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is how impossible it is. The many famous and wonderful authors it will be impossible to see there, simply because they have so many such people coming.

The 2016 programme was unveiled yesterday and I have scanned it for the best and most interesting events. Of which there are a lot. So to begin with I will plan not to see quite a few tremendously big names in the book business, since even at a distance I can tell I can’t possibly get them on to my wishlist. Then comes that list, and then comes the more realistic list, and finally comes the actual list I will actually be able to do.

Maybe.

Best of all would be to have no opinion, but to go along one day, or two, and pick something off that day’s menu, where tickets are still available. That would be excellent.

I can’t do that.

There is a follow-on from last year’s YA debate with Daniel Hahn, and Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Wein among others. Chris Riddell will deliver the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, making it unmissable, and Michael Grant is back in town with his WWII alternate history.

Meg Rosoff will be talking about Jonathan Unleashed, and Francesca Simon is ‘doing away with’ Horrid Henry! Cornelia Funke and Vivian French have things to say about dyslexia, Nick Sharratt will talk nonsense (poetry), and Theresa Breslin and Debi Gliori and Lari Don and all those other lovely Scottish authors are coming.

Debut writer Kathy Evans is talking to Jo Cotterill, and Lucy Coats has some more Myths up her sleeve. And so does Kate Leiper, I believe.

Jackie Kay is doing stuff, and many of our finest crime writers are coming along to kill and thrill, and there are Swedes and other Nordic authors; some expected, others more unexpected. Quite a number of children’s authors are doing adult events, which I think is a good idea. Politicians will be there, talking about all sorts of things.

I know I’ve already mentioned Daniel Hahn, but as usual he will be doing so much that he should try and get a rest in now. Just in case. Hadley Freeman is coming, which makes me quite excited. Lemn Sissay.

Who have I forgotten? You see, it’s impossible. There are so many!

Planes

‘You could have asked for a Spitfire,’ said Daughter.

Well, maybe I could have, but I didn’t and it’s not important.

I might have mentioned that Elizabeth Wein was handing out planes at the Scottish Book Awards in Glasgow in March, and I got one too. Not a Spitfire, obviously. Elizabeth handed out more planes at Yay!YA+ in April, but I felt it would have been greedy to ask for another one.

The not-Spitfire

I’d be willing to bet my plane isn’t a Sopwith Camel either, as that is a WWI plane and I trust Elizabeth went for WWII ones. Although, she did set her Ethiopian adventures during the period between the wars, so not necessarily.

Anyway, when she was last here Daughter asked for permission to build my non-Spitfire on account of her past as a plane builder. Apparently she used to buy them at the post office when she was little. I don’t remember that at all.

When she turns up this weekend I might get her to build Tom Palmer’s Sopwith Camel, even though it is not a Spitfire, and not polystyrene but the inside of a book cover.

There is something about planes.

2016 Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

I swear I didn’t enter Cumbernauld Theatre yesterday morning, uttering the words ‘do you know who I am?’ I merely wondered if they needed to know who I am. You know, similar question.

(I suppose I should be grateful I arrived at all. The Resident IT Consultant was to give me a lift. What he’d omitted to consider was the amount of diesel a pumpkin likes to have in order to go all the way to Cumbernauld. It did. It even got him to the nearest petrol station after, so he could drive home.)

It’s interesting how the meaning of the term YA keeps slipping and sliding. Yesterday I suspected that what it meant was that the books were by young adults, and not just for them. In my mind I categorised the authors present as the teenagers, the debutantes (I know), the old hands (those with three published books) and the grand ‘old’ lady (sorry..!). Kirkland Ciccone had done his best to find authors I’d never heard of before.

Scotia Books at Yay!YA

And when Googling Kelpies Prize winner Alex McCall it is well nigh impossible to find anything that doesn’t suggest he’s an older man who has a lady detective in Botswana, but no, it’s not that one. The other Alex (Nye) also has a prestigious award under her belt, the Royal Mail Award. And organiser Kirkland won the Catalyst prize. Elizabeth Wein has won a number of awards, including the very valuable Bookwitch second best book ever.

Code Name Verity

I’m glad that’s the novel Elizabeth chose to talk about in her session in the bar. Not just because it’s such a favourite, but because I’d not heard her in an event about Code Name Verity before. She read a bit, down in her ‘cave,’ and then she showed the children her silk map, and mentioned that one author who inspires her is Hilary McKay. (Such a wise choice!)

Elizabeth Wein

If you’re wondering why the others have not won prizes, it’s because Victoria Gemmell and Martin Stewart have only just got their first books out (Martin’s not actually officially out, even), and Estelle Maskame is only 18. Not that that should stop anyone.

Estelle Maskame

Estelle was in one of the other bars, where she read the first chapter of what I will probably always call DIMLY, when it should be DIMILY, Did I Mention I Love You? She’s one of these online wonders with millions of hits who has gone on to be published ‘properly.’ Estelle began writing her first book (it’s a trilogy) when she was 13… It’s apparently very popular, and I can sort of see that I’d have liked it when I was 14. And as for becoming a role model for pupils barely younger than herself, I can see how that works.

Martin Stewart

In the third bar was Martin Stewart, more or less stuffed in a fireplace, who also read from his book, Riverkeep. It’s based on the Glasgow Humane Society, which seems to be about fishing people out of the river Clyde; either dead or alive. Martin is a former teacher, who gave up teaching when he was offered a book contract on the basis of a short story he’d written.

Kirkland Ciccone

That was my afternoon in three bars. The morning was spent in the theatre itself where Kirkland introduced Alex Nye, before ‘exiting’ – by that I mean standing just behind the rows of seats – and allowing himself to be interviewed very loudly, drowning out poor Alex and making the audience laugh.

Alex did much the same talk as she did in Dunblane in November, and I think it’s a good one, which works well for a secondary school audience. This time her spooky sound effects worked fine and added a certain something to her ghostly readings. I especially like her 007 and M photograph from Glencoe.

Alex Nye

This ‘failed’ waitress who still hasn’t got the red sports car she craves, got lots of good questions from the children, so now we know she writes accompanied by Kate Bush, and that she admires Marcus Sedgwick (that rather explains the spookiness). Her next book about Mary Queen of Scots will be out in July.

Then Kirkland himself took over and basically did half an hour of stand-up comedy, that no author in their right mind would want to appear after. Luckily there was no one else after the exploding houses of Cumbernauld or Kirkie’s older brother the Tesco robber. He did mention Meg & Mog and Winnie the Pooh, but only to follow with Stephen King and some seriously bad book covers.

He wore his leopard jacket again, and teamed it with failed black hair. Apparently he had been aiming for blue.

Kirkland Ciccone, Victoria Gemmell, Alex McCall, Elizabeth Wein, Martin Stewart

Lunch was nice, with lots of things I’d have liked to eat but couldn’t. Luckily the others made up for this, and Alex Nye did some heroic work on the macaroons. Victoria Gemmell had handbag trouble and spent quite some time jamming an enormous pair of scissors into the zip. I’m not sure if that helped. Kirkie said she ought to give me a copy of her book, but unfortunately Follow Me sold so well that it was decided she shouldn’t. (I gave Victoria my card.)

If you are thinking I’ve not reported on either her or Alex ‘not-Botswana’ McCall, you are correct. Kirkie stashed them down in the changing rooms, and whereas they both returned reassuringly unchanged, I vowed last year not to go down there again. (And after hearing one of the ushers telling me and Alex Nye about their resident ghosts, I feel less inclined still. Alex, on the other hand, looked ready to come back to investigate.)

Alex McCall

I had a little look at not-Botswana Alex’s award winning book Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, as I’d understood it to be for much younger readers, but if that is the case, I have to consider myself younger. It looked quite promising. And I’d have loved to hear Alex speak. He still looked as young as he is (that makes sense, doesn’t it?), but seemed nice. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Kirkland Ciccone

There was a sort of book signing at the end. Some of the small venues overran, and some schools had had to leave to get back on time, but there was still a throng of fans in the queue. I decided I was in the way, so escaped into the car park where I was recognised as ‘the witch from last year’ before my newly fed transport arrived for the second time in one day.

Elizabeth Wein