Monday, November 29, 2004

Point Turned 

It's over. Nearly two hundred people turned up. Emails have been coming in all morning, saying what a great event it was, and the recurring word on the evaluation forms is 'excellent'. All of the sessions went well. Delegates were particularly impressed that all of the speakers came for the whole day and I'm sorry I don't have the energy to write about everybody's contribution. I need a bit of time for reflection. I have to do an article summing the whole thing up for Books For Keeps by the end of the week. So, for now, once again a big thank-you to everybody: delegates, authors, students, support staff, Sue and, especially, Simon, for helping to make the thing happen.

Best thing about the day was meeting so many people who feel passionately about Young Adult Fiction. I'm only sorry that I didn't have the opportunity to talk to more of them. Giving up a Saturday near Christmas is no small thing and many people had travelled huge distances (there were eight people on the morning flight from Edinburgh alone). Unsurprisingly, although there were tons of writers and publishing people at the conference, the biggest single group was librarians (both school and public, many very senior), the people who do the most to support YAF. Special thanks to the woman who told me she'd stayed up until half three a few days before because she had to finish reading 'Denial', for reminding me that I really am a writer, not a conference organiser. Or will be again soon.

Most heart warming moment of the day The spontaneous and enormous round of applause as I introduced Anne Cassidy and talked about her much deserved, overdue success with the Booktrust award and the Whitbread shortlisting.

Speech of the day isn't for me to say, except that it certainly wasn't mine. Too preoccupied with organisation to improvise as I normally do, I'd written it out, and had the misfortune to come after Keith Gray, whose brilliant riff on the instructions that came with a new ladder (see Achockablog where there's now a full report of the conference) is impossible to paraphrase and was a tough act to follow. The session we were in, 'The Death Of The Issue Novel?' was the one that delegates rated highest, with Bali Rai and Beverley Naidoo both on top form and a very high level of discussion from the floor.

Housekeeping Hint Of The Day In the last interval, Sue had the brilliant idea of offering all the publicity posters on display to school librarians having coffee. Result, the walls were stripped bare in two minutes, saving us a bunch of clearing up and ensuring that the posters didn't go to waste.

Final word from Melvin who did a great job with his entertaining keynote speech, especially since, as he pointed out to me as we walked over to the hall for the last time, 'everything's already been said'. From his website. 'We all all came away with a clearer idea of what was going on than when we arrived'. If that's true, it's as much as I would have hoped for from the day, which was a celebration of the genre (or 'literature' as Alison Waller argued) at a high point, but also a call for YAF writers to raise their game even higher. This was the first national conference on Young Adult Fiction and I hope it won't be the last, that someone will run with the ball and organise the next one. Not me, though. I've got a lot of writing to do.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Venice, Lille and JJ 

Booking for the Turning Point conference closes on Monday, November 22nd. Much more below.

It's been a full eight days. A week ago, I was in Venice, celebrating a romantic anniversary. We'd spent the sunny day wandering round, visiting the fish market by the Rialto (after negotiating a route there that wasn't flooded), visiting the Guggenheim, where I had Magritte's magnificient 'Empire Of Light' to myself for several minutes. When it began to rain, we went back to our hotel for a rest before the traditional tourist visit to Harry's Bar. At first, we mistook the noise outside for street cleaning, but it was too loud, and too persistent. When we opened the window, it was clearly a helicopter, hovering directly overhead. Then there was the sound of rapid, heavy footsteps on cobbles.

We looked down to see at least thirty armed riot police, many carrying riot shields, charging down the alley into the square beyond. We dressed and went down to the lobby, where the man at the desk told us that the police were there to deal with people protesting about the NATO summit on Lido. Outside, we found that our square was the base for the police, who I cheekily photographed. On our walk to Harry's bar, we passed small gaggles of protestors who were heavily outnumbered by the armed police at every bridge. Waiters cleared the bar early to make extra restaurant space for visiting dignitaries (you wouldn't want more than one drink there anyway - it costs too much). When we got near the restaurant we'd booked, our way was completely blocked by a dozen riot police on the small bridge that was our only route. Some carried machine guns. I grinned and said 'restaurant'. They let us through.

Three nights ago, I took the Eurostar to Lille for a conference called 'La Lecture Des Adolescents'. I was knackered, but had a pleasant meal with the Kent librarians who'd invited me along and got a good night's sleep for once, with no conference details to sort in the morning. Next afternoon, the French YA novelist Olivier Adam and I gave brief readings (I read from Denial, which was published that very day and which Veronique Milot gamely translated). Then Olivier and I were questioned about our work and our views on Young Adult Fiction. It was an interesting couple of hours. My French is pretty poor (though I did manage to get a laugh for one three word quip) but I had a hand held device with a simultaneous translator. The guy responsible for those translations also had to keep up and translate what I had to say in front of the whole lecture theatre. It was an interesting discipline, stopping every paragraph, working out what to say next and how to keep it concise.

Many of the things Olivier said about the French YAF scene rang true of the way the UK situation was when I started out, fifteen years ago. Nobody knows where to put the books in shops and he wanted them mixed in with adult fiction. There was censorship and a general unwillingness to take risks. A lot of people failed to recognise that the genre even existed. When I talked about some of the changes that the UK scene had seen this century he got very enthusiastic. That said, I think we still have a long way to go. It's what the conference next week is about.

On the five hour journey home, I read Anne Cassidy's 'Looking For JJ', which I've been saving up. It's a brilliant, gripping novel, superbly structured, full of contemporary resonances, and a deserved winner of the Booktrust Teenage book award. It must be in with a strong chance at the Whitbread, too, where it's on the children's shortlist. But it's not a children's book and it transcends any limitations the powers that be might want to place upon the genre that is Young Adult Fiction. I've known Anne for ten years and nobody deserves this kind of success more. If you want to find out how good Young Adult Fiction can be, try reading Looking for JJ.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Turning Point Programme Finalised 

The programme for 'Turning Point' has now been agreed. The morning consists of two panels followed by audience questions and discussion. The afternoon will have three short speeches with discussion, concluding with Melvin's keynote speech and, if there's time, some more questions and discussion. I hope that it will be an invigorating day of discussion and debate. There are still some places left for the conference. Details of how to book are below, with more information about the conference in earlier and archived posts. If you've registered but not paid, your reservation will not be held after this weekend. Registration will end on November 22nd or earlier if the conference sells out.

Programme for the day

10-10.30AM Registration

10.35 Introduction and housekeeping

10.45 - 11.55 What is Young Adult Fiction? Graham Marks (chair), Nicola Morgan, Alison Waller and Kevin Brooks.

11.55-12.20 break

12.20 - 1.30 The Death of The Issue Novel? David Belbin (chair), Keith Gray, Beverley Naidoo, Bali Rai

1.30-2.30 lunch

2.30-3.50 Anne Cassidy (chair)

To be announced - raising the profile of Young Adult Fiction

Julia Eccleshare - the state of Young Adult Fiction reviewing

David Fickling - The Future

3.50-4.15 break

4.15-5.30 Melvin Burgess - keynote speech, followed by questions and final comments

Tickets for the day (including a bag lunch and refreshments) 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. You can pay by email to or write to Simon Dawes, at the Nottingham Trent University, Faculty of Humanities, Clifton Lane, Nottingham NG11 8NS. Cheques should be made payable to Nottingham Trent University. Simon can take payment by Switch or credit card via the net.

Turning Point will take place at NTU's Clifton campus, which is 10 minutes by car from junction 24 of the M1 and the same by taxi from Nottingham's main train and bus stations.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Dark Ages 

The internet was down all day yesterday, with ntl reporting a 'major system failure'. This turned out to be helpful. For once, I managed to get some writing done before driving to the university at midday. Recently, I seem to spend every spare minute dealing with the Turning Point conference (see below, full programme to be announced shortly). I did some more writing in the evening, then joined Sue at our local, where we'd arranged to meet two friends at half ten. An hour later, we were back at the house, watching the US election. BBC1, CNN and Sky News had the best coverage, but we mostly stuck with BBC1.

Then there was a power cut. I went outside and the whole neighbourhood was dark. We toyed with walking to Rod's house, but decided to sit it out. It's been a while since we had a black out, but the power usually comes back on after 30-40 minutes. We lit a load of candles. I brought down the gigantic 1947 radio we found in the garage on our allotment and had restored (we do have a digital radio with more channels but it has no batteries in it and, anyway, the digital reception's rubbish downstairs). We got some more beers and tuned in Five Live. Lack of telly didn't matter much. There was nothing happening. The four of us talked about stuff. And you know what? That was the best part of the evening. After an hour, the power came back on. On TV, there was still nothing happening. Our freezer refroze. The beers in the fridge got cold again. We cooked pizza. At three, there was still no news. Four years ago the election had been conceded and reclaimed by now.

We got inklings of disaster. NBC had raw voting data as it came in, but you couldn't trust it, not after last time. At half three, James went home and Sue went to bed. Rod and I stuck it out for another twenty five minutes, but there was still no prospect of anything happening. Less than six hours later, when I got up, the result was no clearer. As I turned on CNN, they declared another state for Kerry, making it 254-252 in Bush's favour. At midday, I heard that the Bush camp are claiming victory. They think they've won Ohio, as they did four years ago. If that turns out to be the result, the dark ages are set to continue, with the world order dominated by the clash between two sets of right wing religious extremists. It's profoundly depressing, expecially because our own Prime Minister is so closely aligned with one side of this simplistic, falsehood riddled war. 'The party on the left is now the party on the right' Pete Townsend wrote, in a song called 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. 51% of U.S. voters have been fooled again. And I don't like it.

Post Script: There's a story of mine, 'After Magritte', on Martin's blog Exultations and Difficulties. Check it out.

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