It was such a great privilege to run this again and it is certainly one of the highlights of my job. This conference is about the young adult novel and attracts a mixed audience:
Some delegates happen to be all three at once and many, myself included, are members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI)
Once again Melvin Burgess talked about his work and provided the “pushing boundaries” talk. My own research establishes that young adult novels frequently push boundaries. Junk, My Life as a Bitch and Doing It are good examples.
Sara Grant, a long-term member of SCBWI, one of the founders of the Undiscovered Voices anthology, gave the “flying higher” talk. She had the after lunch slot but kept us on our toes by making us create a story. It was good to see Sara again. She and I have history: we used to meet regularly to share work and critique in the back room of the Sherlock Holmes hotel on Baker Street. In fact, when I started reading Dark Parties, I recognised a scene. This was from the very last critique session we held before I came up north.
The second half of the morning was taken up with some in-depth critiquing. Three SCBWI groups met together. Melvin and Cornerstones / independent editor and author Debz-Hobbs Wyatt led a joint critique session with four people who had submitted some work. Sara saw another four one-to-one.
Whilst the critiques were going on, the academics and those not involved in critiquing discussed a possible manifesto for the Young Adult Novel. We debated the following questions:
Questions to consider
1. Who are the gatekeepers?
2. What are the ingredients?
3. What are the characters like in the stories?
4. What type of stories are / should, be being produced?
5. Is the young adult novel relatively new or has it always been there?
6. What is its relationship between it and teen novel and new adult novels?
7. Is the young adult novel always a story of growth?
8. Is the upbeat ending from children’s books still there?
9. What sort of bonds are there between reader and narrator in YA literature?
10. Why do adolescents read fiction? Do they read fiction? Which ones?
11. Is there a need for the novel to teach? Be moral? Have something to say?
12. What about issues?
13. What about diversity? Is it there? Should it be there? What else might be done?
14. Is it making use of new technologies?
15. How do young people consume story?
16. What are the pressures and constraints?
17. What about the car chase?
18. Could computer games count as young adult fiction?
19. How does the tendency to push boundaries affect its relationship to the book-publishing industry?
20. Which role does the young adult novel take in the life of the young adult?
What do we mean by young adult and young adult novel?
How should we look after young adult novels?
What are they?
What must they, should they and could they include?
What is their relationship to young adults, educationalists and the publishing industry?
I’m hoping to collate our findings for an article in The Conversation. The debate can continue. Please add comments here, use the contact form or contact me via the University of Salford.
Nikki Heath, the librarian from Werneth School, gave us some insights into how teenagers are encouraged to read and about what they are currently reading.
My own session was about the value of networking and how readers and writers can support themselves. I mentioned SCBWI, Golden Egg, CWIG, Booktrust, Armadillo Magazine, Books for Keeps and Carousel.
The final session was a round table / panel discussion about the current state of the young adult novel. This involved Melvin, Sarah, Debz, Nikki and Vanessa Harbour, senior lecturer form the University of Winchester and also involved with the Golden Egg Academy, and Rachel McIntyre, published SCBWI member. We established that 55% of readers are not in fact young adults. However, young adults do read young adult books and they want their voices to be heard. They should be truly represented there. There is a move away now form fantasy, dystopia and near future towards current real life. The happy ending is not expected.
Of course, the conversation continued over dinner.
A really pleasing conference. I just might do it again next year ….. Of course I will.