48 hours with Melvin Burgess, Susan Cooper, Jonathan Stroud, Michael Foreman and more!

posted in: 2. Illustrators and Authors | 13

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
Michael Foreman

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
Josh Lacey

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
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

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
Ian Johnstone

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!

Holly Smale
Holly Smale

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.

Lauren Child
Lauren Child

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.

Marcus Sedgwick
Marcus Sedgwick

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.

Levi Pinfold
Levi Pinfold
Sally Gardner
Sally Gardner

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.

Tony Robinson and me
Tony Robinson and me

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”.

Rebecca Stead
Rebecca Stead

Barry Cunningham hosted a session about darkness and taboo topics in YA books, with Melvin Burgess and Lucy Christopher

Melvin Burgess
Melvin Burgess

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.

Barry Cunningham (Chicken House) and Lucy Christopher
Barry Cunningham (Chicken House) and Lucy Christopher

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!

Jonathan Stroud
Jonathan Stroud

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.

Susan Cooper
Susan Cooper

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!

13 Responses

  1. A lovely post about what sounds like an utterly amazing conference! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
    Rosalind recently posted..Red House Children’s Book Award blog tour: Rachel Bright

  2. What an exciting two days & it’s great to hear about so many amazing writers
    Damyanti recently posted..Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson

  3. It sounds lovely I would really like to go next year, particularly if it is Durham. I thought you had to be a librarian to go. Could you remind me/us of it when it is time to book next year?

  4. maria cristina

    Thanks ever so much for sharing such exciting meeting and your insightful comments.! As I finish reading your column,Zoe, I feel impatient already awaiting your next…a bit like what you feel at the line “to be continued” in suspenseful fiction!

  5. What a fantastic weekend! I just turned a lurid shade of green from envy. You really should read Ian’s book (The Bell Between Worlds), not least because I’ve known him for over two decades – he’s one of my oldest friends. Great book too.
    Elli recently posted..The Piffington Ghost

  6. Thanks all for comments. Elli, I will definitely be reading Ian’s book! Excerpt he read was wonderful.
    Thank you Maria Cristina – that is perhaps the nicest comment I’ve ever ever had.
    Anne, no, you don’t have to be a librarian to go. It will be about this time next year – I’m not sure if a date has actually been set.
    Zoe recently posted..48 hours with Melvin Burgess, Susan Cooper, Jonathan Stroud, Michael Foreman and more!

  7. That sounds fantastic, it will come as no surprise to you that children’s work was my favourite part of being a public librarian years ago, and it’s something I’d consider going back to.

    They should hold the conference IN Seven Stories, imagine sitting in the attic listening to all those wonderful authors.
    Katherine recently posted..43/52

  8. Well that hat of yours is a thing of loveliness! Thank you for this – I have much envy and I’m glad it was a fab weekend 🙂
    LH Johnson recently posted..#ReadyourwayaroundtheUK – London roundup

  9. Margaret Pemberton

    A brilliant roundup for a really great conference. It was great to see you Zoe. Your hat will be starring in my musings this week.

  10. You have met Susan Cooper, my life is over… !!! She wrote my all time favourite books – the Dark is Rising Series. I dragged my family to Wales (The leapt along behind, hardly dragged) because of her books… Oh how wonderful for you!!! What an amazing event!!!
    se7en recently posted..Se7en + 1 Review the DK Girls’ Book of Crafts and Activities…

  11. What an amazing two days, including meeting your personal hero! Interesting to hear about Lauren Child’s predicament too.
    Thank you Zoe.
    Catherine recently posted..Rabbityness by Jo Empson

  12. Sir Tony will always be Baldrick to me, even when he’s knee-deep in Roman coins!
    Susan Stephenson recently posted..Children’s iPad App, Avokiddo Emotions

  13. AWESOME!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge