Sing it back…
So, the biennial, immersive, memorable Reading Matters 2013 conference is over. This is not a comprehensive, professional recap (see Danielle Binks’ posts here and Zac Harding’s here for that)—this is more a view from the trenches with tasteful photography. Ahem.
I prepared the shit out of this event (that’s what I have to do to head off an unsightly public meltdown—see previous posts alluding to OCD tendencies). I read eleven books in four weeks. I scribbled pages of notes for my panel sessions, hoping the act of writing my thoughts down would somehow keep them on stand-by, ready for split-second retrieval. The last thing I needed was for my mouth to get ahead of my brain (I get flippant and confessional when that happens). I boarded the plane with the niggling suspicion I’d forgotten something—my toothbrush, maybe extra socks—but of course (you’ve guessed already) I’d forgotten my NOTES. Cue: unsightly public meltdown. But it was okay because a) I got it out of my system among strangers and b) there were kind and solicitous flight attendants who brought me alcohol without judgment.
The Reading Matters experience was a little overwhelming and a lot surreal. This was my first conference as an author, not a delegate, but I went along to every session, barring one morning panel when I missed my alarm. Just a few of my most memorable moments (because my memories are subjective… and sketchy):
Keith Gray’s brilliant Connolly-esque speech: ‘Gatekeepers – the Good, the Bad and My Mother’. I hope this shows up on Read Alert soon because everybody needs to hear it.
Friday Night Fight – a hilarious showdown between emerging writers from the EWF and the ‘Dumb Adults’ represented by Libba Bray, Myke Bartlett and Garth Nix. Team Dumb Adult kicked ass against some worthy opponents, without resorting to sledging and with an invitation for EWF contestants to crash the Green Room. Classy.
A stirring discussion about the entrenched concept of ‘girl books’ and ‘boy books’: ‘Gender Less’ with Libba Bray, Myke Bartlett and Fiona Wood. (This made me realise how lucky I am to have fairly gender-neutral covers. I have never felt as if I ‘write for girls’, only that, so far, I have written from the female perspective, and this should not automatically exclude male readers from experiencing that perspective.)
Many authors were vocal about problems and imbalances within the YA book industry, which goes a long way to addressing issues rather than ignoring them for the sake of a united front. I loved that we didn’t all agree.
I did confess to stealing library books when I was young (which goes down as my most epically stupid blurt to date—in front of 300 librarians) and one lovely librarian granted me absolution after the session by squeezing my shoulder and saying, ‘It’s okay, You must have needed them’. Thank you, I did.
I was also a willing cohort in the ‘Appendage of Steel’ segue (Gabrielle Williams started it) which provided some comic relief after the serious but enlightening discussions about gendered covers and gatekeeping.
Watching from the Green Room as Melbourne put on a spectacular lightning display. Our official group author photo, taken on Saturday evening, will show a sodden bunch of exhausted but happy writers who were caught in a dumping-down as we headed back to our hotel after the conference. This is an unofficial photo (Keith Gray and I are apparently The Bogan Twins, separated at birth):
I would have taken pics of the lightning but by this stage I had misplaced my phone. It turned up later, in my room, with another inexplicable ‘haunted’ picture:
Shopping between events with Libba and Gayle who had to go undercover…
(see how casually I said that? You know, shopping with Libba and Gayle…)
Dinner with super-hot-librarians Nikki, Alison and Kat at an amazing restaurant where they served Myke Bartlett a Seuss-like dessert. Horton did a WHAT?
Wearing Cats beanies during the Geelong Regional Tour (gifts, apparently necessary for safe passage, except my family are Port Adelaide supporters—safe passage was not assured once I arrived back in Adelaide.)
Coming home to this:
The reason Young Adult books are so popular, the reason this part of the book industry is so vibrant and successful, is the community. Thank you to Anna Burkey, Adele Walsh, Jordi Kerr, Nicole Armstrong, Kelly Gardiner and the team from the SLV Centre for Youth Literature, who worked like fiends to pull this conference together and made it such a fantastic experience for all. And thank you, writers—you astound me with your words, ideas and generosity.
In which I namedrop…
It’s Reading Matters 2013 next week!
Imagine the little bumblebee-girl in Blind Melon’s ‘No Rain’ video clip (you’re lost, you dance to a different beat, nobody understands you) then, by chance (or by purchasing a ticket), you stumble into a field (or the RMIT building) and discover your people. It’s a pretty awesome lineup of YA writers (*deep breath*): Libba Bray, Gayle Forman, Fiona Wood, Raina Telgemeier, Myke Bartlett, Gabrielle Williams, Garth Nix, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Tim Sinclair, Morris Gleitzman, Alison Croggon, Paul Callaghan, John Flanagan, Andrew McGahan and Keith Gray. And me.
The main conference is on 31st May – 1st June and following on the 3rd and 4th June Gayle, Myke and I will be on the Geelong Regional Tour.
On Thursday 20th June I’ll be at the Adelaide Convention Centre for SAETA’s annual Meet the Writers convention. Keynote speakers are John Marsden and Lili Wilkinson (woo!). This is a fantastic program for students. Check out the details here.
Looking forward to meeting lots of people who read, write, publish and support YA books.
Rant: Honesty or diplomacy? That is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to band with fellow YA writers
To deflect the slings and arrows of adult criticism
Or to take arms against shitty writing and wooden people (and glitter)
And by opposing it (or them) end them.
If there’s one question I hate to be asked, it’s this: What do you think of Twilight?
I’m asked this a lot, most often by people I suspect haven’t read much YA fiction, as if Twilight is the litmus test for all YA books.
The beautiful thing about reading is that it gets better. Even as you get older and your eyesight fails and your hands cramp and you get a crick in your neck, the reading gets better. The more life you experience, the more colourful and nuanced are the worlds you create with only an author’s words and your own imagination. The more we read the more we expect from our authors—we raise our own bar with every brilliant book and often a book we have loved will slide down the favourites scale depending on what comes after.
Some books I’ve re-read since young-adulthood not only stand up, they’ve grown even more legs. I see themes and layers that weren’t visible to me as a teenager, and I’m achingly aware of just how much of the author’s soul has been bared. I can still read Jack London and be amazed by his ability to describe teeth and snow and blood on snow, in a hundred different ways. Robert Cormier’s novels are classics, deservedly; so too, Colin Thiele.
But often when I re-read a beloved book from childhood, I’m disappointed. The magic has gone.
I read Enid Blyton books to my daughter and struggled to keep a straight face when I got to ‘Dick’ and ‘Fanny’. Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series seemed a little ridiculous. Go Ask Alice wasn’t subversive to me any more—it was boring. Meg Rosoff has been criticised for portraying an incestuous relationship in How I Live Now, so I was prepared to be shocked all over again by Virginia Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I snort-laughed most of the way through it. And let’s not get started with My Sweet Audrina—the most gripping, page-turning book from my teenage years, it was passed beneath desks and talked about in whispers. On re-reading, I only felt sad and disgusted. Poor Billie.
Okay, I thought, maybe I should try some adult books that I read and loved as a teenager. Hot, lusty, bodice-tearing historical romance, the kind I read over and over, picturing myself rattling along in a wagon-train and being ravished by a wild colonial boy. Enter: June Lund Shiplett’s Journey to Yesterday and Return to Yesterday. I pinched these books from my mum when I was about fourteen, read them under the covers by torchlight, and got me an education.
My gorgeous mum tracked these down for my birthday (complete with authentic mouse chew-marks):
I honestly believed they’d be as compulsively readable all over again, even if only for nostalgic value.
Oh, Stacey. You simpering wretch of a woman, bonking two men in two different centuries. And Ben—no means no.
Now if I discover an adored book from childhood or young adulthood, I pick it up. I stroke its cover. I might even buy it—but I won’t read it. Some reading memories are gold dust—try to recapture them and they slip through your fingers. Trixie Belden, you shall remain perky, feisty and unblemished in my fuddled memory; I swear to protect you from my jaded, cynical, grown-up self. Because it’s not you, it’s me.
So how do I answer that horrible question? Honestly? I just say that if I had read Twilight at age 14, I would have loved it.