Sunday is touted as Family Day at Sydney Writers’ Festival, and I always enjoy bringing an assortment of children with me. This year it was just me and son #2, which made for some lovely one-on-one. In the picture, my son is reading The Mapmaker Chronicles: Prison of the Black Hawk by A. L. Tait (read her WordMothers interview here). Unbeknownst to me, my eldest 3 all checked the first Mapmaker book out of their school library and agreed it was “great!” so Mr. 8 was overjoyed to buy the next instalment and spent the better part of the day racing through it.
He says: “I like this book because there’s quite a lot of action in it. It is a very good story with no boring parts. My favourite character is Quinn. I like him because he thinks quite a lot and I like to think.”
And here’s his recap of the rest of the festival:
Pier 2/3 The Big Backyard
“In my opinion, The Big Backyard was a bit boring. Most of the things there were for little kids. For little kids, it must have been quite fun. There were lots of craft items and even blow-up animals. The craft area attracted a lot of young children. Best of all, they got on together well. I liked the craft area. The problem was there was too much people. The Minecraft bit was really cool.”
Tell It to Me Like I’m a Kid: Learn about composing music from Andrew Ford, entrepreneurship and big business from Deanne Weir, and quantum science from Professor Michael Biercuk. Hosted by James O’Loghlin.
“This show was very interesting. They even had a businesswoman, a music composer and a quantum scientist. It had lots of information about things. I learnt quite a lot there. My favourite bit was the quantum science. I liked it because it was something I haven’t learnt. It was enjoyable and quite a lot of people attended. The show taught me a lot of science things, like how to trap an atom. It gave me some interesting facts about music and business too.”
While my son was crafting his heart out on the pier, I went to Keeping It Real: Realistic Issues in Teen Fiction, with Erin Gough (read Erin’s WordMothers interview here), Barry Jonsberg, Melina Marchetta, and Laurie Halse Anderson, chaired by Davina Bell.
The authors were asked whether their books begin with a big issue, or if they simply start writing and later realize they’re tackling a significant topic. Laurie said Wintergirls (which deals with eating disorders) was partly a response to people asking her for a book of that nature but it was her most difficult book to write and the one that provoked the strongest reactions. Melina said that she was perhaps braver when she first began writing. Barry said you cannot start with the issue when you’re writing a book; you have to write around your characters.
When asked about censorship, Melina said she sometimes looks at her writing through her mother’s eyes to help her edit insofar as it makes her question whether a swear, for example, genuinely belongs there or if it’s just gratuitous. She also said it’s very obvious to her when something she reads has been censored as there’s an obvious hole where something has been cut / left out.
In speaking to the trouble of keeping up with teen trends, and of material dating rapidly, Melina explained why she left things out in specific instances, saying: “Technology gets in the way of a good mystery.” Erin said she doesn’t worry about trends because if something is thematically good, the work will endure. And Laurie explained her personal knack for tapping into teen culture: “I’m emotionally frozen at 15. That’s my superpower.”
In relation to staying in touch with readers, Laurie said Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram are great for connecting with readers, Facebook for reaching teachers and librarians. Melina said she almost exclusively uses her personal blog. Barry said he’s still fairly new on Facebook (go Like him!) and that he finds it curious how writers of adult fiction are never asked if they keep in touch with adult readers, but it’s expected in YA.
I also went to TeenCon 2015, which opened with a panel of 4 YA bloggers / vloggers talking about why they love the genre, how they began blogging, how they’ve developed their individual styles over the years, and which books they’ve both adored and are looking forward to reading next. I particularly enjoyed hearing them discuss how they all learned to hear and trust their own voices the more they practiced. After that, 11 publishers (including Hardie Grant Egmont via Marisa Pintado — interviewed here) shared the titles they thought we should be reading right now, along with a selection of new books they’re excited about releasing soon. This was followed by “a feisty book boyfriend debate”—I was a bit left out in the cold here as I hadn’t read enough of the titles to know all the characters in question, and I had to go collect my son from his session anyway, so I’ll just say that what I loved most about this session was just seeing a whole group of publishers on stage engaging in a bit of friendly rivalry and just generally having a good time together. It put a nice spin on what’s often perceived as a really competitive industry, and made for a great way to finish my festivaling this year.