Thursday, 24 November 2011

Five Get Edgy In Winchester by Bryony Pearce

Last weekend ‘The Edge’ went to Winchester.  Our panel was appearing on Sunday morning, which allowed us a whole day and a half to see other presentations!
I arrived on Friday evening, which meant that Dave, Sara and Paula had already made a start on our graffiti wall.
Our plan was to put up a big roll of paper on which delegates could write comments, ask questions and draw pictures. We would then address those questions and comments during our event. 
I arrived just in time to watch Dave put on the finishing touches!
Then we all went out for a ‘speakers dinner’, where I met, among others, Anthony McGown, Ben Scott, Addy Farmer and Ann-Marie Perks.  And was shocked to find just how normal and … well nice everyone was.  For some reason, even though I’m a writer and am in the Edge with seven other lovely writers, I expect other authors, especially successful ones, to be on some other level.  I’m endlessly intimidated and find it wholly shocking when I’m speaking to someone normal and realise that they’ve written something I’ve loved.  Lee Weatherly, author of Angel was at the conference - I would never have known it was her without her name badge.  I’m hoping to meet her for coffee next time I venture down to London.
Someone whose name will remain undisclosed, pointed to a gorgeous man I’d been chatting to who was ultra-friendly and happy to give Paula and I advice on school visits.  “Who is that?”  They asked.  “It’s Anthony McGowan!”  I replied.  To be fair he’d been calling himself Tony all night … but I guess none of us had expected someone of his stature to be so, well, happy to talk to us.
I left the speakers dinner a lot more relaxed than I’d started (the wine might have helped) and the next day the conference opened with a speech by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
He was inspiring, funny and generous.  He reminded us that children’s literature ‘valorises small pleasures’ and talked about the joy he has in a boiled egg, thanks to Milly Molly Mandy and how special it now seems to go to a cafĂ© like the one in The Tiger Who Came to Tea. He talked to us about how children’s writing should be about taking something wonderful and passing it on, giving something of ourselves. 
He talked about circles of pleasure. 
Talking of which, after his speech none of us will ever be able to listen to ‘Chitty chitty Bang Bang we love you’ again (if you want to know why look up the reason Ian Fleming named the car as he did). 
I’m not sure how our edgy fiction quite fits into the ideal of passing on ‘wonderful things’, but I was very inspired by the end of his talk. 
I went to a talk about Point of View, with the idea that I can always learn something new and then to an industry panel chaired by Sarah Odedina, the MD / Publisher of Bonnier.  The panel included an editorial director from Orion, an editor and a senior designer from Macmillan, an editorial director from Hodder and an art director from Walker.
Their top tips included:
Read – you can never hear too many voices
Keep up with trends, but don’t follow them - make them
Don’t lose faith in your own voice, be fresh, don’t emulate others
Pitch your book correctly
Be open minded
Don’t try to market the book to the editor
Talk to librarians and booksellers.  Hang out in your local independent bookshop so they will support you.

The editorial director from Orion made the mistake of admitting to creating the Rainbow Fairies series, which meant I had to hunt her down on behalf of my six year old daughter. Once found I wasn’t sure whether to shake her hand (my daughter loves those books) or throttle her (if I ever have to read another one …).  She took my slightly schizophrenic approach with calm aplomb and what I have come to identify as the signature loveliness of one working in the children’s book market.
After lunch I attended Anthony McGowan’s lecture on plotting.  Interestingly he doesn’t like PowerPoint, but creates images with brave audience participants. 

This represents the Freitag Pyramid, which brought back long distant memories of my English degree.
Then he gave us four questions to ask when writing a plot:
  1. Who is your main character?
  2. What are they trying to achieve?
  3. Who is trying to stop them?
  4. What will happen if they fail (ought to be a death of some kind, literal or figurative)?
He talked about setting up a sympathetic main character and the two main conventions of doing so:
  • Undeserved suffering
  • Being nice to someone / something less fortunate e.g. an animal (called ‘pat the dog’)
He talked about archetypes and how the main character should go through them during the story arc: 
    •  Orpan (literal or figurative again) 
    • Wanderer
    • Warrior
    • Martyr (have to make the win by self-sacrifice)
    And I thought about how my book fits into that model surprisingly nicely. 
    We all attended the awarding of the Crystal Kite Award to the wonderful Candy Gourlay who’s speech brought a tear to every eye in the audience (read it in full here:

     There was a wonderful mass launch party of the SCBWI books that had been published this year with a truly amazing cake.

    Then, on Sunday morning, adorned with a slight hangover and feeling of exhausted dismay (Anthony McGowan had already done a talk on controversy in YA literature and anyway, how on earth would we match up to the talks I’d attended?) it was the turn of The Edge. We had a two hour event with a half hour tea break.  Worst case, we could do a two hour tea break and a half hour event … 

    Edgar the elephant represented the elephant in the room and helped us be polite (only the one holding edgar could talk).  We had the silver skull of silence, in case anyone went on too long and it was only used the once (on me, ooops).
     We introduced each other:
    … and then we talked.  We discussed ‘what the heck is edgy fiction?’  The reservations we have about writing edgy fiction and its huge rewards.  We talked about trends, hooking teen readers, swearing, sex and slang, how to hook boy readers, what attracts and repels us from YA literature, age banding on books, the emotional toll of writing edgy fiction and how we deal with it, Sara’s fabulous shoes and her love of Bon Jovi … 

    We finished up by recommending the edgy books we loved the most (there is a full list elsewhere on our website).
    A video of our talk is being edited at the moment and will be going online soon, for those who missed us and want to know more about our answers.
    Lastly I went to Lil Chase’s talk on books that sell and sell well and hopefully learned something about pitching my new books. 
    The closing speech was done by illustrator Chris Riddell and his images made us laugh our way to the organiser’s final remarks. 

    I learned so much at the SCBWI-BI conference, but most of all I learned that the children’s publishing industry, from publishers, to editors, to agents, to writers, to illustrators, the published and the aspiring is populated by lovely people, maybe slightly crazier than those in your average street, but so welcoming.  We’ll definitely be back next year!    
    If they want us there, that is …

    Monday, 21 November 2011

    The Edge at the Kid Lit Quiz

    The Edge at the Kid Lit Quiz
    On Monday 28th November, three-quarters of The Edge Writers will be in Broxbourne School to take part in the National Kid Lit Quiz. There’ll be six of us there plus ten other amazing authors. The National Kid Lit Quiz is an annual literature contest for kids aged between 10 and 13. It’s run by volunteers - mainly teachers and librarians, in the UK, New Zealand, South Africa and China. Canada and the US are two other countires soon to join. The winning teams qualify for national and world finals.
    The Kid Lit Quiz was founded by Wayne Mills , senior lecturer at the University of Aukland, who read enough books to be able to ask several thousand questions each year – without ever repeating a question.  He wanted to encourage and motivate kids to read. Statistics showed that reading was declining, so his idea of the ‘sport’ of reading idea was born.
    We all want kids to read more. Sometimes it does require a stimulus, an impetus, to motivate and excite kids. Wouldn’t it be great if every school in the UK managed to get a couple of teams together? And even if they didn’t, what if each school ran its own Lit Quiz based on books that are available in the school library, the local library?  Yes, a little more money would have to be spent stocking the libraries rather than cutting them, but books should be an essential cost rather than being thought of as luxury items.
    Would something like this not have a significant impact in encouraging kids to want to read more?
    Here’s a map of the participating countries. How great would it be to have more green on it!

    Thursday, 17 November 2011

    Five Get Edgy in Winchester

    This weekend five-eighths of The Edge will be appearing at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Winchester. Bryony, Dave, Miriam, Paula and Sara will be on an Edge panel discussing current trends in YA and looking at the benefits and pitfalls of writing edgy fiction, as well as answering questions from the audience. The weekend will also see the first unveiling of the Edge Graffiti Wall. Delegates will be invited to write questions, comments, slogans and even draw pictures on the wall, which the panellists will then discuss during the session. Our authors are all looking forward to the event and have promised a couple of surprises, including the introduction of a new member of The Edge!
    Photos and video evidence to follow on our return.

    Friday, 11 November 2011

    The Next Big Thing

    Dark Parties author Sara Grant considers trends in teen fiction and asks ‘what’s next?’

    Tis the season for trend pieces. A look at the year behind and a prediction for the year ahead. What’s hot? What’s not?

    Unfortunately my crystal ball is busted. I thought I’d try the Magic8Ball app on my iPhone, but when I inquire about teen fiction trends, the only response I get is: ‘ask again later’. So I decided to do a little informal research. What I found was no surprise. Dystopian, supernatural and urban fiction will continue to be popular in 2012. More generically, most of my sources agreed that teens want lots of action paired with a little romance. [One of the best teen fiction trend articles I found was from Teen Librarian’sToolbox.]

    My debut novel Dark Parties is dystopian. It’s one of seven dystopian novels by debut writers published in the U.S. this year. I’d love to say that in 2007 when I started writing what would become Dark Parties, I knew that dystopian was going to be the next big thing in 2011. But nobody knew it back then. The first agent who read Dark Parties told me she didn’t think she could sell dystopian fiction. The truth is I was writing the story I felt compelled to write – and I got lucky.

    I’d suggest that writers shouldn’t be worried about what’s hot in 2012. The publication process is typically a long one. Even if your manuscript is done and dusted, it could be a few years before it appears on bookstore shelves. My next novel is scheduled for publication in 2013. The book I’ve just started – if I’m lucky enough to sell it – most likely won’t be published until 2014. That means I’m writing for readers who are in their tweens (11-13 years old) now. If you are interested in tapping into the future teen zeitgeist, consider how current tweens and the world will change over the next three years. (How’s that for an impossible and mind-blowing assignment?)

    Because mash ups were popular on Glee and in bookshops, I wondered if I could unearth a future trend by pairing some of the bestselling books of all time with current tween fads and faves. I’m not sure I’ve uncovered a blockbuster – but you never know:
    ·         A Tale of Two Biebers
    ·         Le Petit-Prince William
    ·         The Vampire, the Zombie and the Wardrobe
    ·         Anne of Twitterland

    In all seriousness and based on nothing but my gut and obsession with all things teen fiction, I have a feeling that space, westerns, and thrillers might be staging comebacks. I’m also hoping that soon we’ll see something uproariously funny storming the teen charts.

    Having said that, my next project doesn’t fall into any of the above categories. I’m writing what inspires, obsesses, and challenges me. My best advice is: don’t worry about trends. Write and read what you love. Originality and great writing will win out. Don’t follow trends. Be the next big thing!
    What are your predictions for teen fiction in 2012 and beyond? What do you hope or fear will be the next ‘hot’ read for teens?

    Dark Parties will be published by Orion in January 2012. Find out more about Sara and her book at 

    Thursday, 3 November 2011


    Paula Rawsthorne wonders whether we should be reading to our teenagers?
    I attended a Spoken Word event this week.  The theme (very appropriately) was Halloween and writers got up and read passages from their ghostly  novels, a professional story teller enthralled us with a macabre fairy tale and (as it was held in our local art house cinema) we got to watch old footage of an exquisite reading by Tom Baker of ‘The Emissary’ by Ray Bradbury.  It was just Tom, sitting in an old leather arm chair, staring down the lens of the camera with his wild eyes and hypnotic voice, telling us the story.   The room was packed, the tension mounted and mounted and you could have heard a pin drop.   I don’t think I was the only one who gave an involuntary shudder as Mr. Baker uttered the final line. 

    The whole evening made me think what a wonderful experience it can be when someone reads to you and, how being read to in a group has the added benefit of that warm glow of shared experience.   I began to think about childhood experiences of being read to and how that all seems to peter out once you get into secondary school.

    During pre school days there are opportunities to take your toddler to story time at the local library (if it hasn’t been closed down!).  It’s a great habit to get into.  As the librarian sits in front of the squawking crowd and begins to read from the oversized picture book, quiet descends and little terrors, who only minutes before had been having a tantrums in Iceland, suddenly become entranced by the soothing voice and appealing pictures.

    In primary school the importance of reading aloud to pupils is undisputed.  Many of us have happy memories of ‘carpet time’ when the whole class bunched up on a scratchy piece of industrial carpet and listened at the feet of our teachers as they read to us.  If this occurred after lunch when your stomach was weighed down with semolina and the classroom was hot and stuffy, you’d often be fighting to keep your eyes open or (to your horror) you’d find the head of the boy next to you, lolling on your shoulder.  But whether you were captivated, or sent to sleep, by the story, it didn’t matter because this was always a comforting, relaxing time in the school day.

    And what lovelier childhood memories are there, than having a bedtime story read to you by your mum or dad; and now, if you’re a parent yourself , you have the chance to read stories to your own kids.  You have the pleasure of choosing books together from the library or bookshop, spending precious time together snuggled up on the sofa or sat on the bed trying out your ‘character’ voices on an uncritical audience.

    What a shame that that experience tends to end during your secondary school years.   Of course, the chances of your teenager asking you to snuggle up to them and read is nil but (in my utopian world) what if you sit then down with some popcorn and launch into Lord of the Rings or Jane Eyre, what if, before they even realise it, they’ve listened to a couple of chapters a day and are actually quite enjoying it (and enjoying spending time with you?!!)

    And what about in secondary schools?  I’ve been lucky enough to do a number of school visits now and within my talk, I read an extract from Celia Frost and it seems to hold people’s attention.   Teachers have commented to me that watching the teenagers as they listened to the extract has reminded them that they really should read aloud more to their pupils but, it’s something that tends to get lost within the pressures of secondary education.

     Being read to, at any age, can be an enjoyable, absorbing experience and has been shown to develop and improve literacy skills.  So, what do you think?  Do most teenagers enjoy being read to?  Would ‘story-time for teens’ (I’d have to think of a cooler title) work within schools and at home?  Do you enjoy someone reading to you?