Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Turning Point - a one day national conference on the state of Young Adult Fiction - Saturday 27/11/04 

Young Adult Fiction is one of the most important areas of publishing, for reasons discussed below , Yet the UK has no conferences specifically devoted to it. There's a lack of critical discussion and even awareness of what YAF is. In particular, many readers fail to recognise that there is a large subsection of YA fiction that is aimed at readers chronologically aged 13 or 14+ rather than at 11+s with a reading of 14 are more. YAF writers are often a small add-on to children's book conferences rather than an integral part of them. Although YAF is emerging as an important area of academic study, there are no academic conferences devoted to it there either.

That's why, earlier this year, when I got a part time job running the MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University , the first thing I did was to persuade Trent to host the UK's first ever one day national conference on Young Adult Fiction. (Obligatory plug: I teach an undergraduate module on YAF at NTU and, from next semester, the MA will also have an option on Children's and Young Adult fiction.)

A bunch of people, including the writers Anne Cassidy, Nicola Morgan, Bali Rai and Celia Rees have been helping me to think through the contents of the day. The full line-up has yet to be agreed, but other writers who have agreed to appear include Keith Gray and Melvin Burgess, who will be the keynote speaker. The Guardian's Children's Fiction editor, Julia Eccleshare, will appear on a panel, as will David Fickling, who is a publisher and the renowned editor of writers including Philip Pullman and Mark Haddon.

It should be an interesting, memorable day of vigorous discussion that raises the profile of Young Adult Fiction and also, I hope, helps to define it. Tickets for the day (including lunch) are 35 pounds plus 6.12 VAT (25 + 4.37 for students in full time education). Sorry, no under 18s: Turning Point is aimed at writers and people involved in promoting YAF, rather than its core readers.

If you want to book for the conference, or be put on a mailing list about it, contact Simon Dawes, at the Nottingham Trent University, Faculty of Humanities, Clifton Lane, Nottingham NG11 8NS. To email Simon, put a full stop between his two names, then add @ntu.ac.uk (you can contact me the same way). He can take payment by Switch or credit card via the net. Cheques payable to Nottingham Trent University.

Turning Point will take place from 10.30-5.30 on Saturday 27/11/04 at NTU's Clifton campus, which is ten minutes by car from junction 24 of the M1 or the same by taxi from Nottingham's main train and bus stations. Information on overnight accommodation is available from Simon.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Auctioning Jeremy's Tie 

Tomorrow, I'll be one of the guests on the Jeremy Vine show, appearing at 1PM to promote and discuss The eBay book. As part of the show, I've set up an auction for the tie that Jeremy is wearing on today's show. I've just been emailed two digital photos of Jeremy wearing the tie, so I've begun the auction listing process.... OK, after resizing the photos, I've got eBay to accept them. Any moment now, the auction will be live. You can go straight to it by clicking the link here. This auction is in aid of the BBC's official charity, Children In Need. You can listen to the show live and hear it for up to a week afterwards by clicking on this link.

There's an entry all about The eBay book further down this page.It's ironic, especially given the post below, that after thirty-odd books in fifteen years as a published writer, I first do live national radio to promote a non-fiction book I researched and wrote in three months, but that's showbiz... coming up next: Turning Point

Post Script As I type, it's 8PM and the tie auction website has had almost 30,000 hits. There were 85 bids, peaking at 950 pounds. I came home from London to a flood of emails (sorry, I can't answer them all), including an apologetic one from 'fluffywuffy001', the bidder who 'won' the auction but was uncontactable during the show. Fluffywuffy001 emailed me while I was in London and offered to donate 500 quid to Children In Need to make up for not following through with the bid. I've replied, giving her/him the opportunity to follow through with this, but, sadly, heard nothing as yet. Still, we showed how easy it is to create an untraceable eBay ID - the important thing is that we got through to the second highest bidder, trader popculturedotbiz who agreed to honour his bid of 930 pounds for the tie and spoke live on air ('the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done' he emailed me later) and is posting a cheque tomorrow.

It was an intense day, managing the auction at the BBC office while Phil, who was looking after me, constantly handled calls, at one point breaking off: 'I have to speak to Desmond Tutu now'. Surreal. I had a great time with Jeremy, fellow Elvis Costello fan, and a pleasant off-air chat with Steve Wright (he didn't want his tie selling but was very interested in eBay). And on the train back I started reading an advance paperback copy of Pirates, an outstanding novel by Celia Rees who will be one of the speakers at Turning Point (PS - no, she isn't - Celia had to pull out because of a scheduling conflict, which is a great shame, as she's a terrific speaker). The day wasn't over. This week, I've bought a new iMac with an extreme airport wireless network (not on eBay: you don't get customer support when you buy second hand computers). When I got home, I found Antonio, a Mac wizard from the wonderful KRCS, a company I've been using for nine years, installing and updating my home network. If you're reading this, he got it to work.

Monday, July 05, 2004

What is Young Adult Fiction? 

I was watching the 'Imagine' documentary about Children's Literature last night. Alan Yentob more than once referred to the 'blurring' of the boundaries between children's fiction and adult fiction without once mentioning that there are writers working specifically in the zone between the two. The area that I mainly write in is called 'Young Adult' fiction (YAF) in order to differentiate itself from children's fiction. YAF has been around for at least thirty years, yet many people are unaware that it exists. To be fair to Yentob, Malorie Blackman, who writes at the younger end of YAF, was given a couple of minutes, while Melvin Burgess, at the older end, got a couple of snippets in a 50 minute show. These ratios accurately reflect the amount of attention that YAF gets within the children's book world.

And yet... Young Adult Fiction may be one of the smallest, but it is also one of the most important parts of the children's books market. It targets readers in their early to mid teens, a time when research shows that half of the audience stop reading fiction and never start again. YAF includes novels aimed at teens and preteens with a high reading age. It also includes the kind of novel I write, which are aimed at readers who have reached adolescence. YAF provides a bridge to adult fiction, yet has its own very specific concerns, providing a vital place for reflection during adolescence, the most difficult phase of many people's lives.

YAF is at a turning point. There are a new generation of powerful writers coming through and much discussion of 'cross-over' success, where adults read novels that they would have never considered reading when younger. But these 'cross-overs' are the exception. It used to be that the YAF books that got most attention weren't aimed at teenagers at all. They were for librarians and teachers who would foist them on their brightest students. Those of us who wrote the kinds of novels that lots of teenagers actually wanted to read were treated as a necessary evil, looked down on because we deliberately eschewed being 'literary'. These barriers are breaking down, yet YAF remains one of the hardest areas for writers to earn a living in. It's a low priority with most publishers, as the audience predominantly borrows rather than buys its books (and from school libraries, where PLR does not apply). Lots of writers soon discover the pitfalls of YAF, and move on. Those of us who stay have to subsidise our work with school visits, part time jobs, or other kinds of writing. Since I started getting published, fifteen years ago, pressure has often been put on me to write for younger readers 'because that's where the money is'. YAF, publishers warn, is too risky an area, undefined and unprofitable.

I know what I'm doing, and why. So do most of the YAF writers I've become friendly with over the years. Nevertheless, many of us feel that we are working in the dark, doing important work with very little recognition. In the next entry, I hope to explore one way we can start to change this situation.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?