AFCC 2016 and looking forward to AFCC 2017

This May I spent five days in Singapore attending the impressive AFCC (Asian Festival for Children’s Content).  The conference draws professionals involved in the world of children’s books, film, games and other media together in the National Library and hours are spent talking, listening and learning about other peoples expertise.

This year the country of focus was Japan and publishers, writers and illustrators from Japan presented their wonderful books to a very interested crowd whose members came from all over the world.

If you want to know more about the events and the scale of the conference visit the website http://afcc.com.sg/ which not only looks forward to next years event from 17th to 21st May (when the country of focus is Indonesia) but also looks back at the conference over the six years of its existence.

If you are interested in taking part the organisers have put a call out for submissions for papers https://www.facebook.com/AFCCSingapore/

There is no fee paid to speakers but if you are selected to speak then you are given a free multi-day pass to the conference which is worth its weight in gold based on the quality, diversity and range of the wonderful speakers.

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Fancy something new to read?

SCOOP Cover

 

How delicious it is to sit down with a magazine and not be entirely sure what you are going to find between its page, to have a sense of excitement and curiosity about what will be there.  That is the feeling we are hoping to engender and encourage when people subscribe to Scoop.

Scoop is a new magazine for children between the ages of 8 and 12.  It will be jam packed full of wonderful content by a fantastic range of writers and illustrators offering all sorts of different children something to tickle their reading fancy.

From Catherine Johnson to Gareth Jones, Emerald Fennell to Piers Torday, Chris Priestley to Lucy Coats the fiction will be a rich mix of voices and perspectives.  From a look at the fun of cycling to how to paint a flower like Georgia O’Keefe we will have a range of activities.  From writing a play to writing a poem we will encourage interaction.  There will be graphic novel fiction and non-fiction, quizzes, competitions, reviews of exhibitions around the country as well as  reviews of books.  There won’t be a moments boredom and all this and so much more from the likes of Tom Stoppard, Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin ….

So, who are we?  We are Clementine Macmillan-Scott the founder of the magazine.  She has worked as Coordinator of the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka and the Galle Children’s Festival. And me.  Editor-in-Chief, commisioning content and working with contributors.  Our Marketing Director Joanne Owen, a children’s and YA author and reviewer, who has worked for Bloomsbury Children’s, Macmillan Children’s, Walker Books and Nosy Crow.  We all love reading, care about what children read and want that to be fun, quality, accessible and challenging.

Our aim is to enthuse children about the written word in as many ways as possible and publishing monthly at £3.99 per issue it is an irresistible purchase.  The website goes live in the 1st September with lots of exciting content until then you can visit the site to register for a subscription http://scoopthemag.co.uk/.  We are on twitter and instagram @scoop_the_mag and the first issue will publish on the 23rd September.

Why not subscribe  http://scoopthemag.co.uk/ for someone you know.  At £39.99 what a perfect year round birthday, Christmas or any-day present.

WHAT AN INTERESTING CONVERSATION …

What an exciting week in the world of commentary about literature for young readers.  First an article in TES  (attached below for anyone who hasn’t read it) and then The Today Programme on Radio 4 follows it up with the author of the TES article having another opportunity to express his thoughts on the world of writing for Young Adults.  (Again link below )

What can I say!  It amazes me constantly that ‘other people’ are sitting around deciding in their great and elevated wisdom and critical ability what is ‘good’ and ‘right’ for Young Adults to read.  That these wise, educated and cultured people have a notion of what is good means that they also have very clear ideas of what is ‘bad’ and bad seems to be anything that the young person might choose for themselves.  Something that engages with the world on issues and concerns that they hold dear and want to address not only in the books that they read but in their lives both personal and political (or is there a difference!)  So much about reading is about entering another world, the world of another person or political situation which allows you to polish and refine your ideas and opinions.  For all of us (young or old) reading is also a way to vicariously experience, an opportunity to polish our opinions through the action of the protagonists without actually having to engage in the acts of rebellion, heroism, self-sacrifice and more.  Through the vicarious sharing in the dramatic actions of Standish Treadwell I might just make a better and more noble choice when facing smaller but no less significant acts of repression in my own life.

So, when someone writes a long article about the risible standard of literature for young adults and seems to have very limited knowledge of what is being read by young adults today I am very keen to know what they think is good. Like the best wish fulfillment fiction my dream comes true the next day when the same commentator suggests that a good book for Young Adults to read at the moment is ‘The Domestic Manners of the Americans’  by Fanny Trollope.  I have never heard of this book but a quick bit of research tells me that it created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in 1832 as the author had ‘caustic views of the Americans’ , and that she found ‘America strongly lacking in manners and learning. ‘  Sounds like just the enlightened, sensible, generous and empathetic literature we need these days to make sense of our fractured world in such troubled times.  Thanks for the tip?  No.  Not really.  But thankfully young adults continue to vote with their feet.  To buy books by wonderful writers like Lisa Williamson, Louise O’Neill, Malorie Blackman, Brian Conaghan, Juno Dawson, Benjamin Zephanian, Alex Wheatle, William Sutcliffe, Laure Halse Anderson, Non Pratt, E Lockhart … someone please stop me

TES Article  

Radio 4 23.08.16 Today Programme the clip with the commentary about YA fiction is at 8:20 am  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07r1qh0

OPEN SUBMISSIONS AND AMAZING WORLDS

It has taken two months of intense and thoughtful reading to read and carefully consider the well over 500 submissions we received to our call out for manuscripts.  And it has been a really fascinating experience for so many reasons.

Firstly, to see themes and ideas that appear through so many books from authors in hugely different and separate parts of the world.  I wonder why this is?  Is it that people are trying to write things similar to books that they have read and love, or similar to books that are selling well.  I have read advice to aspirant writers that you should see what is working in the market place and try to write alongside that.  Based on my past two months I now know that that is very very bad advice.

Secondly, writers all over the world are looking at ways to create engaging, interesting, original and compelling stories for young readers.  Sometimes those stories are so universal in their handling of their story that I feel concerned that something is being missed and the missing thing is taste and flavour.  I do believe as human beings we are all very similar.  We care about fundamentally the same things – love, friendship, family, independence … the list could go on and on BUT (and this is a big but) we come at all these things with such distinct cultural knowledge and that should neither be ignored or made to be an excuse for certain types of behaviour and attitude that may be challenging.   How do we navigate that literary tight rope …  its tough but we have to as writers, publishers and readers.  We want to see ourselves in books, we don’t want to see a neutered version of people but we also don’t want to feel that we are being pigeon-holed.

Thirdly, magic.  The world is full of magic.  Books are full of magic.  Life is full of magic.  The act of writing a book is pure magic and the act of reading one and having life transformed by that book is also magic.  But magic isn’t a get out of jail free card.  Things should not just happen purely because magic exists.  Even magic is logical and has to make sense.  One action has to lead logically on to another.  A crazy mayhem packed plot may not be magic it may just be confusing.

 

Writing tip #5

Making your dialogue sound natural is always a problem.  Read it aloud to yourself, or even better get someone to read it aloud to you.  You soon hear what works and what doesn’t.

It is also important to avoid having your characters talk about things that have happened in the book.  Dialogue should drive the plot forward not rehash what we have already read.   Remember that all dialogue has to work in helping keep the pace, explore character and reveal important information.

 

 

Writing tip #4

When writing historical fiction carry your research lightly.  We the reader do not need to know every tiny detail of making a dress in 1840 when your character is a dressmaker, or skinning a rabbit when your character is a poacher.  It is great that you have researched and know exactly how these things are done but for us it may be a bit boring to have too much detail.

Get the voice right and consistent.  Ye Olde English can be pretty trying to read but the odd word used here and there can place a character very firmly in a time and place which is not here and now.  Read books written at the time your novel is set in to get a sense of language.

Look at old photos, paintings and other source material for details that can help your book feel time specific.  How did a hospital look in 1917? There are pictures to help.  What was London like in 1925? There are pictures there to help.  Best not to guess or think it was like today but with horses.

Writing tip #3

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops”  Stephen King

Be careful of adverbs.  Running quickly, smiling happily, whispering quietly … Its easy to do and completely unnecessary if we are seeing the characters doing those things in context.

Thank you Stephen King for all your insight in On Writing and it is on adverbs that I quote the master story teller here:

“Adverbs you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify adjectives, or other verbs.  They’re the ones the usually end in -ly.  Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind.  With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously: it is the voice of little boys wearing shoepolish mustaches and little girl’s clumping around in Mommy’s high heels.”

Have courage in your voice.  Keep it simple.  Show it through characters action and look at this great example of good and bad.

“put it down!” She shouted.

“Give it back” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”

“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.

… Now look at these dubious revisions:

“Put it down! she shouted menacingly.

“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, ‘It’s mine.”

“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll.”  Utterson said contemptuously.

The three latter sentences are all weaker than the former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.

Stephen King ON WRITING published by New English Library

 

Writing tip #2

Know your characters.  Not just what they look like and where they live but what they would vote in the EU referendum and which of their neighbour’s houses do they covet, or pity.

For an author to create characters that readers care about they have to be absolutely perfectly imagined.  We readers don’t want to know all that stuff but we feel it when it is there and when it is not.

Write a list of 10 things you know about your character (scared of cats, loves gnocchi etc) 10 things that they would tell their friends about themselves, and 10 ways that their siblings would describe them.  Get in to the habit of really knowing your characters, warts and all.  Even ‘heros’ have their bad points and ‘baddies’ their good.

 

 

So why don’t children read the classics anymore?

I am delighted to introduce you to Anna, a 14 year old reader with some strong views on why children don’t read the classics anymore.  Her opinions are music to the ears of writers and publishers who are trying to create a more varied and interesting diet for young readers.  ENJOY!
“I’ve read countless rants from old people on facebook to old people in the guardian who oddly take some sort of pleasure out of voicing how this degenerate generation doesn’t take pleasure in reading from paper any more.  Not bored of saying kids don’t read enough, it appears that they also read the wrong books. I read recently in the guardian that the number of kids reading classics like The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia have decreased as readers move over to David Walliams and the Hunger Games.
But why is this? Why have children lost interest in the classics, and what makes modern YA so popular?  Here are some of my thoughts and to explain some of my points, I’m going to choose five classic books: The Secret Garden,The Chronicles of Narnia, Five Children and It, The Wind In The Willows and The Railway Children.
These are some of the most loved books by ‘older generations’ and now overlooked by kids. No doubt they deserve their status as classics as they are all fantastic in their own way.  And in contrast five modern books that are popular books, The Hunger Games, Refugee boy, The Boy in the Dress, The Fault in our Stars and The Percy Jackson series. These books have overtaken as the favourites on modern day book shelves.

Between the classic and modern titles, there is far more diversity in the modern books. Yes, there were books like Amazing Grace, but without the help of google, I couldn’t think of any books containing ethnic minorities, disabilities or LGBT that fits in to the classic bracket. Yes, that is because of my limited knowledge of classic kids literature. But at the end of the day, a modern younger kid would not have any more knowledge of classics than I would, unless of course they actively searched. But when you have modern diverse books in your school library, a kid wouldn’t look any further than them (of course this is a sweeping statement, but bare with me.)
Going back to the classics I chose lets look at them a little more closely.  There is The Secret Garden – we have an orphan (white) moves into a rich family’s house (white) and befriends a boy who lives on the grounds (white.) Granted, Colin is disabled and the mother is dead. But I’ll get on to that later.  Next there is Five (white) children and it, a wartime story, The wind in the willows, (animals) The chronicles of rich white children in Narnia, a wartime story and lastly The (white) Railway Children another war time story.
The modern books I chose are different. You have The Hunger Games (okay they are mostly white) but we have single parents, secondary characters who are more diverse, and at the centre, a definite lack of rich family with the token tragedy trope.
Then we have Refugee Boy, a mature kids book about an Eritrean/Somalian refugee in Britain. There is The Boy in the Dress, with a poor single fathered family and a cross dressing eleven year old.  The Fault in our Stars, which has two cancer patients, and lastly Percy Jackson, with a single mother, a black protagonist and a dyslexic main character just in the first book.

The raw truth is the classic books are full of either very rich/very poor, very white and very healthy characters. While in contemporary books, all the kids who aren’t white and 100% able bodied and Neurotypical have representation and heroes.
I have to admit that for bereaved children and poor children, classic books do deliver. But now we are finally breaking into an age where ethnic minorities, refugees, cross dressing, gay, bullied, and outcasts but most notably the kids with learning difficulties have heroes. I haven’t even mentioned the steep rise in heroic female characters. In the past all the girls seemed to watch from the sidelines and cry occasionally, then need a rescue from time to time, and if we are lucky they would scream. That was about as good as our female heroes got. Now a new age of Katnisses are here and ready to be a role model for all the little girls a bit left behind on the hero scene. But we definitely shouldn’t stop here, there is still a really tragic lack of diversity in contemporary teen and YA literature.

On the whole the situations in modern books are a lot more realistic than in the classics. Real people, real conditions, real issues. Readers can directly relate to more of the presented issues in modern novels such as using phones and social media, and the wider scientific knowledge we have today means characters with illnesses have their conditions named and explained. Take Colin’s miraculously cured and completely ambiguous illness in The Secret Garden and compare it to The Fault in our Stars, where the two kids have a definitely incurable and terminal cancer. It’s quite hard to empathise with Colin if you’re in a wheelchair. But on the whole he wouldn’t be a bad role model right up until he gets up and goes for a little stroll. It must have been a bit annoying for all the kids reading The Secret Garden.

Dystopia and war is a noticeable pattern in popular modern novels. But why do kids love things like Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner? These are the big daddies, the most popular. I believe that these books tick every box for today’s readers:  diversity, tragedy, and a really messed up future.  A theory I found on google is that ‘It represents how teenagers feel oppressed by old people and want to stop them ruining everything’ which I think makes sense. In the stories it always seems to be teenagers who seemingly can’t tie their shoelaces that manage to take down the unbreakable and corrupt governments. So does it ignite and exercise that inner thought everyone has what it takes to take down the government? These YA books contain ‘politics with stabilisers’.  Very black and white and unrealistic dictatorships, a government where you have to blow it up and start again to change anything. I think kids read political YA to feel grown up, and feel like they have a good understanding of the real world after reading it.”

‘My name is Anna.  I’m fourteen. I don’t read that much because I prefer movies, but when I do read, my favourite genre is horror and sci fi. My favourite books are: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I don’t have a favourite author so far. I like to read to pass time, because it is like a movie that you can direct and make in your head, and there is more explanation than a movie. Book covers and titles are always the reason I get attracted to books. My pet peeves: forced romance, adventure, boring heroes and books that are the same but slightly altered variables. I buy books mainly because they are nicer when new and it is something to call your own. I look for a good motive, good characters, an interesting story and scary/ strange themes.’

Bologna 2016 and plans for 2017

Bologna Children’s Bookfair has finished for another year with lots of really great good news stories coming out of it.  One of the most exciting initiatives is the plan to launch an international children’s festival in Aarhus in 2017 which will include a publication of the best 39 European writers of YA literature under 40.  Come on everyone … lets get behind and support this.

https://www.hayfestival.com/aarhus39/index.aspx?skinid=29&currencysetting=GBP&localesetting=en-GB&resetfilters=true