This week Christmas came early to my neck of the woods: I’ve spent the last 48 hours with Michael Foreman, Josh Lacey, Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre, Holly Smale, Lauren Child, Levi Pinfold, Sally Gardner, Tony Robinson, Melvin Burgess, Jonathan Stroud and Susan Cooper at the UK’s Youth Libraries Group Conference.
As you can imagine, it was quite a couple of days!
Michael Foreman spoke movingly about his new book ‘The Amazing Tale of Ali Pasha’, a real-life tortoise rescued from Gallipoli during the First World War. Among many lovely anecdotes, we learned that frogs are his favourite creatures and have been, ever since his school teacher, a Miss West, had heard Michael sing and told him he sounded like a frog at the bottom of a well!
Josh Lacey give us an perhaps rather surprising insight into how his Dragonsitting series has evolved; in his first draft he didn’t even know it was going to be about a dragon! In response to a question about the format of his books (a series of emails from a nephew to his Uncle), Josh acknowledge that perhaps he had bewn subconsciously influence by a favourite book of his, ‘Letters from a Lost Uncle’ by Mervyn Peake.
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre wowed us all with their short show about ‘Oliver and the Seawigs’. Every one of us had to draw a sea monkey, and then we were all taught the chorus of a sea monkey sea shanty so we could join in with Philip and Sarah. It was a tremendous session!
Ian Johnstone talked about ‘The Bell Between the Worlds’ and Holly Smale discussed ‘Geek Girl’. I’ve not yet read either but I left wanting to read both!
Next up was Lauren Child. One particularly interesting point in her talk was a discussion about how she’d love to do some darker books, something a little more “avant garde” than her current work, but she said is “not allowed” to do so – that publishers are not interested or willing to take the risk. Given how established she is, many of us in the audience found this surprising and disappointing.
Marcus Sedgwick is always a great speaker, and he wowed us all with the cleverness of his new novel, ‘She is Not Invisible’. In a funny way it reminded me of ‘Masquerade’ by Kit Williams; there is a game to play the pieces to put together in perhaps a similar way, despite Sedgwick’s book being a novel and not a picture book.
The Youth Libraries Group is part of CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), the organisation which runs and awards the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. At the gala dinner this year’s winners received their medals and gave stirring speeches about the importance of libraries.
The after dinner speaker was a personal hero of mine, (Sir) Tony Robinson, better known to some as Baldrick, but for me the person who brought history to life through Time Team, and now through his book series.
Hot on the heels of winning the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize earlier this week Rebecca Stead talked to us about ‘Liar and Spy’. I was particularly interested in what Rebecca had to say about the need to not be afraid of writing something terrible, to be willing to reveal an “inner weirdness”.
Barry Cunningham hosted a session about darkness and taboo topics in YA books, with Melvin Burgess and Lucy Christopher
Lucy and Melvin argued that no subject was too dark for YA books, indeed books offered a wonderful place to contextualise – and therefore better explore – difficult topics.
Jonathan Stroud gave us a spooky introduction to his new series, Lockwood and Co. His session was a hoot as a member of the audience had to dress up as a ghost hunter, complete with equipment and clothing. Wonderful stuff!
The conference ended with a eloquent session by Susan Cooper, talking about how homesickness, and longing has played such a big role in her oeuvre. She also talked about her new book, ‘Ghost Hawk’, but did not mention any of the controversy surrounding it, which I was sorry about as I would very much liked to have heard her response to some of the criticisms which have been made.
So you can see, it was an amazing two days and a conference I’d wholeheartedly recommend attending. Next year it will be up in Durham, so you could even combine it with a visit to the nearby Seven Stories!