Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Great Event

This week a fantastic event was hosted at the Manchester Metropolitan University - where I work.  Four of our best writers for young adults shared the stage for a reading and discussion chaired by Jacqueline Roy - herself a writer of fiction for both children and adults.  The featured writers were:
Geraldine McCaughrean, Tim Bowler, Gillian Cross and Sally Prue and all of them have new books coming out this spring with Oxford University Press.  I had been asked to step in if Jacqueline couldn't make it for any reason & so I had the very pleasurable job of reading the books:
The Positively Last Performance, by Geraldine McCaughrean - the story of a once-glorious theatre now in danger of demolition and peopled by ghosts; Song Hunter by Sally Prue - the tale of a Neanderthal community, 40,000 years ago, in which one young girl feels the first stirrings of the creative imagination that might save her race; After Tomorrow, a dystopian tale set in the near-future, in which there are food shortages, and terrorists, and English families become asylum-seekers in France, and Sea of Whispers by Tim Bowler, set on an 'archetypal island' as he put it, in which a small community, struggling to survive turns against an elderly woman who is washed-up on its shores, and a young girl Hetty, who sees visions in the mysterious sea-glass, has to save her.
What I loved about all these books was that they each take large themes & deal with them so skilfully that they are made entirely accessible for the younger reader.  None of these writers draws attention to their own literary skills - the reader is simply caught up in the plot and characters.  In Song Hunter, for example, the use of voice is so clever - at once primitive and intelligent - using only very slight variations from a standard narration Prue creates a believable inner world for her stone-age character.  As with much young adult fiction, dark themes are explored, in a way that is not always true of adult fiction.  Gillian Cross' book features early on one of the darkest scenes I have come across, skilfully presented for the younger reader, and the very young reader could read it without even fully understanding what is going on - but in this way she remains true to the seriousness of her subject-matter.
Tim Bowler is that rare thing - a modern myth-maker.  His settings are so atmospheric that the reader is effortlessly drawn in to this alternative reality.  And Geraldine McCaughrean has always been one of my favourite writers.  Her books frequently start off in the 'real world', but then take off into a purely magical dimension where anything is possible - and this book is no exception.
All the writers seemed very much at ease, which put the audience at ease, and everyone seemed to feel able to enter into a dialogue with them, and felt encouraged by what they were able to share.
It was a terrific event - and hopefully we can host more like them in the future.

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