Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Night of Sicklit Debate, One Lonely Pringle and a Clown Playing the Kazoo

So as I mentioned last blog, I've been getting to grips with this Twitter melarchy and last night was the first event I attended that I actually found out about via Twitter. A panel of authors talking about the light and dark in YA books and this hideous term sicklit.(Organised by The Children's Book Circle.) So I jumped on that, ordered a ticket straight away and started to check out the authors that would be there.

I was especially excited to be visiting the Penguin offices on the Strand and knew I would be surrounded by many fellow authors. The chance to talk to others and maybe even some of the published authors was also a great opportunity and here's how the night went.

Not off to a great start as I reopened the cut on my finger, just as I hopped off the tube. (I cut it on metal. It was essentially a paper cut, just with a lovely thin strip of metal.) Quickly wrapping it in a tissue as it oozed blood, I ran to Superdrug, bought some plasters but then had to open the box, get the plaster out, open the stupid plaster casing and put it on whilst navigating against the flow of human traffic on the Strand. Not the easiest First Aid I've ever performed.

Why do they make plasters so freakin' hard to get into? I'm sure after all these years they could have made an easier way to access them, especially when most of the time you need a plaster because you cut your finger. Think about it, come on! 

Once I reached the building, I claimed my visitors badge which actually had my middle name on. I was full named. Eek. I haven't been full named since my masters degree and that was about 7 years ago.

Anyhoo, I took the lift up and was pleasantly surprised to find wine and nibbles. I'm thinking.....Couple of glasses of wine and I'll loosen up, maybe even talk to some people. (Yes I know I'm pathetic. I need dutch courage to help me talk to strangers.) But actually I made conversation with a lovely lady - I - and I'd only had one sip of wine. I'm sure it doesn't work that quickly. So yeah me, or so I thought........

The panel was chaired by the lovely Graham Marks and the three authors debating this subject were, James Dawson, Anthony McGower and Joanna Kenrick.

The main issues were: Should a YA audience be exposed to books about sex, teen pregnancy, suicide, self harm, rape, terminal illness, loss, alcohol, drugs, death, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, violence.........? Basically all the issues that an actual teenager does face, every day. Or has YA become too dark?

And well, the answer is a big resounding Duh! Of course they should! And no, it can't be too dark really. The World is full of darkness, we experience it every day. Refusing to or banning books or causing controversy around a particular subject matter is hardly shielding those YA from it. They only have to go on the Internet, do a google search, or read a newspaper to see these issues first hand. And as for violence, I think film, TV and computer games would have to take the brunt before books.

Besides, as the authors rightly stated, their books have been edited and seen by many eyes before given the go ahead. Sometimes things had to be toned down, perhaps language or a particular sub plot taken out, or a warning added to the front of the book. But still, this has already passed through several professionals in the field and been accepted, so therefore, what is the problem? A publisher wouldn't publish it if they didn't think it was needed or relevant in the market. Why would they? It wouldn't make sense.

Language could be an issue in my book, because one of the characters is a little older and he swears a lot, but it is actually integral to his character. It's part of what makes him, him. So I know when it comes down to it, I would battle hard to keep that, but not because I wanted everyone to start if they don't anyway. 

The term Moral Obligation was bandied about a lot, but I think it is a moral obligation for an author to tell the truth of their characters and to focus on real subjects that affect YA. So if their character is gay or has a drug addiction, or both, then it doesn't mean the author is glamorising drugs or telling everyone to be gay, or telling everyone not to be gay. It is a story, a work of art, a character, a truth. And as AMcG said, "Don't lead with a concept", lead with a plot, or a character and you focus on "real subjects." JK made some interesting points about the teenage years being a time when you "learn about things outside of yourself." You start to see the bigger picture and begin to understand how it's all linked and how one thing can affect another. But also that first things first, these are, "books about people." JD added that mostly authors should use their "common sense." You know when you've taken something too far and it is no longer integral to the plot. You know when you've spiralled or digressed and anyone with common sense can reign themselves back in. (Plus anyone that can quote from the film 'Clueless' on a panel like this, makes you know you're in safe hands.)

It may not seem like it, but there was a lot of laughter on the panel and during the accompanying discussion, as well as a little bit of disagreement. But that's what we were there for, to hear different sides of the argument and hear authors points of view alongside that of the public. (The YA writing public.....well most of them were, I think.)

So then came the inevitable after panel mingle. So of course I ran away to the toilet first. That one glass of wine had made my face explode! Great. Anyone want to talk with the beetroot? And to top it off I made a rookie mistake with the nibbles and wine. I took one lonely pringle before the discussion and one glass of white. When I returned to the nibbles table afterwards, there were no pringles and no white wine left. Rookie mistake! I've never in my life ever eaten just one pringle. Damn my stupid manners and the fact that I didn't want to expose myself as the crisp monster I am. J will be tutting at me right now.

If there had been more wine, I may have found the courage to stay and chat but everyone seemed in these little closed off groups and there were all these blonde women - you know how they intimidate me so. Okay. I admit it. I'm pathetic. I have an inability to talk to strangers and mingle. Put me in a room full of early years and I'll chat away but childcare really doesn't teach you to talk with adults, it just makes you more akin to the age group you're working with. It also teaches you to give parents whatever they want, or always say yes to management and to feel inferior amongst childcare professionals. And you don't have to do a great deal of mingling within childcare.

Still, it was good to get out and see real people, especially real authors and hear them talk about their craft. I spend so much time in my P.J's by myself that you sort of forget how to converse with others, not that I've ever found that easy. And when there are barely 5 men in the room and probably 50 women, I am even less inclined to speak up. But I made one acquaintance that night, which is something and she said she would check out my blog. So hi I!

I am annoyed at myself that I didn't go and introduce myself to the authors, especially JD who follows me on facebook and vice versa. I wanted to but #cantminglefortoffee. Ah well, maybe next time.

So after two glasses of orange juice and a few panicked looks, I departed. Why wasn't I given that gene that allows you to talk to anyone and be confident and.......ah well, there's no point whinging about it now. So I set off for the tube thinking about food and Prison Break (my new obsession, though I know the series is 9 years old - thank you Netflix) when I pass by a busker dressed as a clown, playing the guitar and the kazoo. Now I'm talking red nose, make-up, hat and those weird baggy dungaree type trousers, with patches on them.

Amazing! Definite highlight of the way home.

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