Tag Archives: Jenny Downham

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

The Random Christmas Party

After frenzied discussions on facebook as to the level of insanity of me travelling in this snowy weather, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. Nothing untoward happened as far as my travelling was concerned. To go or not to go. That was the question. And until I put my coat on and locked the door behind me, I didn’t know myself.

Sat next to someone on the train who wrote a list of cocktails on his Macbook, and I wanted to scream when he listed vodke. But to point it out would have been to admit I was reading his document.

And while on the subject of drinks, I may have been standing in the part of the room at Random’s Christmas party where all (well, two) the wineglasses broke, but it wasn’t me. They simply exploded next to me.

I knew I was in the right place. Address, not exploding bits of glass corner of room. Partly because I’d been there before, and also because when I got to the front door Klaus Flugge stepped out of a cab, which was as good a sign as any.

Everyone was there. Except for all those less than intrepid souls who cancelled because of the weather. If I could broom in, then anyone could. Maybe. I understand it’s normally more of a crush at these parties, and although I was unable to hear myself think, Mum Clare told me it was on the quiet side. Of course it was.

Someone even missed Daughter, which was awfully kind of her, and it made Daughter’s day to have been remembered. I’d heard about these parties, and decided that people might dress to the nines for them, but that my Arctic explorer persona would allow me to be sensibly dressed. So I was only slightly disconcerted to find beautifully assembled guests ahead of me. And the rest of them changed into their party toilettes in the toilets.

So, who was there? Philip Pullman was there, until he left. I steered clear of him on account of me having complained about his writing speed only last week. Same for David Fickling, to spare him any more embarrassment. Eleanor Updale came, and I missed speaking to her too. Didn’t even see John Dickinson.

I did spy Sarah McIntyre, so decided to make myself known to her. Her beautiful spectacles and lipstick make her instantly recognisable. I looked at the floor to see if Sarah was wearing very exceptionally, extra high heels, but she wasn’t. I felt a wee bit short. Sarah introduced me to Neill Cameron, who’s one of her David Fickling Comics colleagues.

Neill has a book launch (for Mo-Bot High) today in Oxford, so make sure you don’t miss it. I hope Neill doesn’t miss it either. He looked worried when I said the forecast was for his non-return to Oxford, and said he’d leave at the first sign of a snowflake. We spent some time shouting to each other on a variety of subjects, from what three-year-old boys should read to me being followed on Twitter (and I don’t even tweet) by a fictional 17th century Scottish faerie (hi, Seth!).

I saw Jenny Downham, who actually had a new book out yesterday. I say they missed a seriously good opportunity for a book launch party there. I was introduced to Klaus Flugge, who is too old for blogs. I’ll show him!

Ian Beck was there, and so was Steve Cole, but I never made it across to say hello. Didn’t speak to Anthony McGowan either, and I so wanted to ask him to smile at me. Lindsey Barraclough was there. She’s the neighbour of Random’s Annie Eaton, and who will be a publishing sensation next year. Annie smiled at me and touched the sides of her head. She might have been saying her hair was very nice or that mine was awful. Either way she’d be right.

Agents Rosemary Canter and Hilary Delamere chatted by the window, and Philippa Dickinson made a good speech. It was all about hairnets and labcoats and Puffin’s Kaye Webb, whose biography we must read. I’m more worried about needing to wear a hairnet to operate my laptop.

At some point I found myself clasping a small spear and wondering why, as I had no intention of stabbing anyone, until I remembered it had arrived with a tasty mozzarella ball which I had eaten. Many delicious canapés were being walked around the rooms, but I seemed to attract mostly the sausages and the chicken. If there were no breadsticks left, I suspect it might have had something to do with me.

I have finally met Pete Johnson! And he wasn’t anywhere near as short as his name had lead me to believe. I was so overcome I couldn’t even recall the title of his book which I read about a year ago, so I had to assure him I could remember everything about it except the title. (The TV Time Travellers)

With elderly knee and hearing both giving out, I decided to call it a day before I ended up spending the night (I had threatened poor Clare that I’d come and sleep at her house if the trains were cancelled!) and broomed away pretty swiftly and caught the second last of the offpeak trains where I had a choice between sitting next to a John Boyne lookalike and a Nick Green lookalike. I picked Nick because he had a window.

Age-appropriate advice

Would you suggest to a proficient 14-year-old reader that they read The Witches by Roald Dahl?

It’s not the first thing that would come to mind, is it? Especially if the advisor is someone in publishing, who knows about books for young readers. I’m reminded of my Swedish teacher when I was that age. She kept suggesting books that were far too young for me, even if I hadn’t been permanently glued to Alistair MacLean. In English.

The magazine ViLÄSER arranged a meeting between a children’s publisher and a 14-year-old for a discussion on books, and I was appalled to find the Dahl being her first idea when the girl said she likes exciting books.

Even the previously mentioned Petrini crime novels are a little young, although the girl had enjoyed them. I could barely keep up when the next suggestion was Aidan Chambers, which is a huge jump. The girl’s current favourite is The Hunger Games.

In the end they produced a fairly good list of books, including Ink Heart, His Dark Materials, The Princess Diaries, The Diary of a Wimp, and Before I Die.

But why should it be so hard to give advice?

I found an interesting thought in an interview with a children’s author called Åsa Lind. I have no idea of what her writing is like, but like this quote: ‘You don’t need to write for everyone. It doesn’t have to be easy to digest or easy to buy. Better chewy than soft. But still enjoyable, rather like Romanian poetry.’

Young reviewers and the Guardian prize

While I wait for the result of the Guardian children’s fiction prize tonight, I’ll just mention my reviewers at the local bookshop. Back in June I told them about the competition to review the longlisted books, and was really pleased when all of them walked off clutching a copy of the competition information. It may have helped that I mentioned that someone in last year’s group had won, which either goes to show how easy it is to win, or how very good the Bramhall lot are. None of them won this year, but one of the girls got a mention and had her review on Jenny Downham’s Before I Die quoted from in Tuesday’s Education Guardian. They are very capable readers, and it’s good to see how keen they are.

PS on 26th September – I should obviously not trust the Guardian. At least not the paper version, because that’s what fooled me into saying that “my” Sophia wasn’t a winner. When Daughter said that the school website listed her as having won, I checked again, and the online Guardian does list her. So, well done! That’s two winners in two years.

If I’d been there on Wednesday night, I would have found out. I wasn’t there because the information reached me too late. Us out-of-towners need a day or two to book train tickets to make it vaguely affordable. And I want to know when it might end, so that I know I’ll make the last train home. Most of the world revolves around London, I know, but not quite all of it.

End of moans for today…

Guardian shortlist 2008

Three out of four is pretty good going, even for a bookwitch. I didn’t foresee Cosmic on the shortlist three months ago, but otherwise I got it. So, which book will win the Guardian children’s fiction prize?

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cosmic

Siobhan Dowd, Bog Child

Jenny Downham, Before I Die

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

It’s still a list of death and knives, and I was actually thinking about the knife situation in particular, when the Carol Ann Duffy thing erupted. Knives are in. So is violence and death, and it now seems that even old Shakespeare wrote stuff like that, so what’s to complain about?

As for winning the Guardian prize, I maintain that it can only be Bog Child, despite the list being exceptionally worthy and good.

Branford Boase photos

Having been given access to the complete collection of official photos from the Branford Boase evening, it would seem stupid not to let you have a good look at what went on, so let’s make this a picture blog.

Jenny Downham and David Fickling

The winners, Jenny and David. This photo, and all others are by Paul Carter, so never mind the fact that hovering with your mouse may suggest the witch herself is responsible for the camera work.

Winning children with Philip Pullman

Here are all the winners of the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition, with their bags of books. The chap in the background is Philip Pullman.

Ann Marley and David Lloyd

Ann Marley (The BB boss) gets David Lloyd to pick the winning school out of Barry Cunningham’s hat.

Philip Pullman

I think this could be where Philip tries to prove that he didn’t get to borrow all Jacqueline Wilson’s rings.

Jenny Downham and Philip Pullman

Jenny’s thank you speech, and very good it was, too. Not too long, and not too short.

Jenny Downham and young writer

Jenny signs one young winner’s book. Not sure what Mary is doing in the background.

Nina Douglas and friends

Nina (left) from David Fickling Books, who is very good to the witch.

Mary and the two Davids

It can’t be Wednesday’s rainfall level that they are discussing.

Philip Pullman and Atinuke

Atinuke gets ready to ask Philip for an autographed arm.

David Fickling with camera

Why does David need another photo of Philip?

Before I go, I need to remind you all again that all these lovely pics are by Paul Carter. I only get to play at being Vauxhall Life, if there is such a thing.

Branford Boase Award 2008

The witch broomed to Vauxhall in Wednesday’s deluge, to rub shoulders with the good and the great at the Branford Boase Awards party, hosted by Walker Books.

All but one shortlisted author had also made it. Poor Jenny Valentine was stuck in a watery Hay, so couldn’t be there to receive her Highly Commended prize for Finding Violet Park. It was obviously a night for Jennies, as the Branford Boase Award was won by Jenny Downham for Before I Die.

As the prize also goes to the editor of the winning book, this means that David Fickling now has another framed award for his wall, after last year’s success with Siobhan Dowd. (I wonder if that’s why I had a dream about picture frames the night before?)

Jacqueline Wilson is still convalescing, so couldn’t be there to hand over the prizes, and Philip Pullman stepped into her shoes for the evening. Not literally, as he pointed out, nor was he wearing any of Jacqueline’s many rings. In fact, he was very soberly dressed in a dark (black?) suit, and a horizontally striped black and white tie.

Philip got to hand out a lot of prizes, as there were six winning children from the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition, too. One lucky child – the girl with the very pink Converses – also won lots of books for her school. This prize was drawn from a hat, and as David Lloyd of Walker Books had omitted to wear a hat yesterday, it was lucky that Barry Cunningham arrived wearing one that could be borrowed. Good stuff.

There were many photos taken, in any conceivable combination of winners and other famous people. And then there was the signature hunt, where the witch restrained herself to a signed proof of Before I Die. Jenny looked quite nostalgic to see something from so long ago. Atinuke, one of the shortlisted writers, knew to get Philip Pullman’s autograph on her body…! And her blue outfit was spectacular.

David Fickling was sporting a DFC lapel badge and inquired as to whether I had paid up yet. Does the man scour the subscriptions list personally?

Last, but not least, it was good to meet the ladies from Walker Books who have been so helpful in this bookwitch business. And very nice to see many other publishing world ladies (why are they only ever ladies?) who are also friendly and helpful to witches.

The photo below is to tide you over until the proper one arrives. It’s David Fickling with Jenny Downham (middle) and Jenny’s sons, and her agent Catherine Clarke.

Jenny Downham with David Fickling

Guardian longlist 2008

Luckily Daughter insisted we buy the Guardian yesterday as we boarded our plane, which means I can now let you know the longlist for the Guardian children’s fiction prize, rather than having to concentrate on Daughter’s artistic rearranging of sickbag into flower, while bored on the flight. I think it may have been her way of sorting out Mother’s Day, which is only my second one this year.

Anthony McGowan, The Knife That Killed Me

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cosmic

Jenny Downham, Before I Die

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Rhiannon Lassiter, Bad Blood

Siobhan Dowd, Bog Child

Tanya Landman, The Goldsmith’s Daughter

Good list, but unfortunately one where I have yet again failed to read enough of the books to know what’s what. I’ll go home and catch up as best I can. It’s definitely a list of knives and death, which when you think about it is not very “child friendly”. As for my famous predictions, I can only see one outcome, and that’s for Bog Child to win. The shortlist will feature books 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Sickbag Flower