So on Saturday 5th June I met Caroline and Jo at Embankment tube. We had lunch sitting in the shade of the park and surprise, surprise talked about books, being a blogger and aspiring to write. Then we headed over to the British Film Institute for the event. We got hopelessly distracted by the second hand book stalls which populate the pavement outside BFI. We were nearly late for the start of the event...
Anyway, Non met us inside BFI. I got our tickets from the desk and then we went inside. The cinema attendant gave us all a Spinebreakers tag and then we sat down in Row C, Seats 5 - 9. Yes we had one too many because poor Cat of This Counts as Writing, Right? wasn't well enough to come. Hope you're feeling better Cat!
The boy above was a Spinebreakers guy and not a member of our motley crew. This is really quite irrevelant except to say that it sets the scene for us sitting inside NF3 listening to Melvin Burgess in interview with Iyare (currently working freelance but has worked for BBC Blast and 6 Music). Iyare has a blog and you can check it out here.
For once I took notes because I just had this feeling that Melvin Burgess would be fascinating to listen to and I was not wrong.
Melvin Burgess pretty much decided at school that he was going to be a writer. When he first started writing, most of his novels could be described as fantasies. If you know Melvin Burgess, then this may come as a surprise. If you don't, he is the most controversial British teen writer. He has a huge reputation for not pulling any punches in his writing. Go Melvin!
For a while he lived in Bristol. He was around interesting people. It was an age of punk and politics. It challenged his thinking and I guess began to shape his view of the world. He never set out to write about topical / controversial issues. It just kind of happened. He realised after the publication of his first book Cry of the Wolf that there was no such thing as teenage fiction. There were books for the 11/12 year old market but not for 15/16/17 year olds. Melvin cited here the exceptions to that rule Robert Cormier and Aidan Chambers.
So he started to think back to how he was at 14. He was working in a chemist earning 12.5p per hour. He used to fill his blazer pockets with pills and then hand them out at school and at parties. WARNING: This type of behaviour is illegal and not condoned by Melvin or by The Bookette. But it is how he came to write Junk. A novel that won the Carnegie Medal and is critically acclaimed for its exploration of heroine addiction. Junk rocketed Melvin to fame because of its controversy. He felt that this novel was important because there were so many exaggerations of what illegal drugs did to people back in the 70s. He said people ignored the fact that the reason teens did it was to have a good time. Adults just seemed to spout lies about drugs and what they could do to you. Times have changed though and we have a much better understanding about the long term side effects of drug misuse.
Melvin explained writing as a process of speaking convincingly as someone else. Asking himself: what would I be like if I was in this situation, if I had been raised by these parents, in this era etc? So with each character there is at least a part of him inside. When he was explaining this, I found myself relating this to my own work-in-progress and I could see exactly what he was saying especially when it comes to my main character. Fascinating!
He also said he is a great believer in putting stuff into your brain and waiting for it to come out. He explained it like this: our consciouness is only a small part of our brain. We see and hear things and we absorb them. Then while we sleep our subconscious mind processes all these things. It is the huge area of the brain that we don't use while awake and then voila all that we have absorbed can be transformed by our imaginations into something that flows into writing when we wake up.
His most recent novel Nicholas Dane is about child abuse which took place in state institutions in the UK during the 80s (I think). Although Melvin doesn't go out looking for peoples' stories, this time he did do extensive research and interviews with victims of this type abuse. He told a funny story from one of his interviewees and explained that far from being meek and mild these kids would be very proactive in trying to find ways to escape from the institutions. I swear my heart was in my mouth when he was saying this. It must have been so shocking and emotionally draining to do this type of research.
Melvin also talked about the habit of writing. He said he thinks there are two types of writers. Morning ones and evening ones. He is a morning one although he understands the beauty of writing late into the night. He said in the morning (because the brain is rested) concentrating on writing is so much easier and what you actually produce is of a better quality. Thank you Melvin I am a morning writer. Actually, I am an all round morning person. There is of course nothing wrong with being a night writer. Whatever works for you. He also said that there is research into this concept of 10000 hours. If you do something for 10000 hours you will be brilliant at it. Apparently, it is the difference between a concert pianist and a music teacher. Having done a little research for you, I can tell you that this theory is penned by Malcolm Gladwell. He details this idea in his non-fiction book Outliers: The Story of Success. The 10000 hour rule is simple. Do something for that many hours, you will be brilliant. If anyone wants me to buy a copy of this, read and review it leave me a comment and I will do so.
The important thing is to find your body rhythm and go with it. If you're the type of person who feels completely focused after an hour run, do your writing when you get back and have had a shower. If you work best with music pumping and traffic noise outside, go with it. You just need to work out what works for you.
Iyare asked Melvin about Parental Advisory Stickers. In my school librarian mode, my ears twitched at this point. Melvin said he didn't mind if his books had these stickers and I agreed with both him and Iyare: they improve sales. Anything parents should worry about makes kids very interested indeed.
Another interesting thing that Melvin has been working on is using cross-platform / new media technologies in writing. He has written two stories via Twitter and encouraged us to give it a try. I'm still contemplating this one. People would actually be able to read what I write and I won't be able to take it back. I can't think of anything more scary! You can read his Twitter tales on his website. Link here. One thing Melvin pointed out is that people seem to think these new technologies will create some sort of "uber book". Nonsense. In one format or another, they are just a way of telling a story and a story is a story.
One issue Melvin feels passionately about is the BBC's decision to abdandon certain markets. In his words shutting down 6 Music and BBC Switch is "pathetic". The BBC is meant to be for everyone so how can they justify abandoning keys areas in the media market. He thinks they want to leave it up to Channel 4 but unfortunately Channel 4 do not have any money. Apparently, any one in the media business knows this and now we all do too. He said that teenagers don't have any power. In the UK the voting age is 18 but up until then teens don't any power to change anything. He described them as a "prejudiced minority".
And finally on recommendations of teen writers, Melvin Burgess says we should check out two Japanese writers.
Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara
Out, Grotesque and Real World by Natsuo Kirino
This was the end of the interview and Q and A. Jo, Non, Caroline and I all lined up to get out books signed.
I bought a copy of Nicholas Dane even though I expect it will break my heart into a million pieces.
I'm asking him here if there are any themes or issues he still wants to write about. He said he didn't think there were any taboos left. I explained that I'd been reading Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma and that incest seemed like the last taboo. But since then I've thought about more issues that should be examined in YA. They are: teen suicide pacts (remember the mystery of Brigend), child prostitution and medicating kids so they conform (like on the Louis Theroux documentary. I love Louis Theroux).
And here is Jo getting her books signed. Lots of them! She heartily recommends Doing It! We read a little of it in the park before the event and it certainly had us all giggling.
And here is Non. She bought Sara's Face. Melvin said this is one of his favs even though it is less popular.
And here is Caroline. I missed her photo opportunity with Melvin so I thought I'd include this one instead. Caroline bought a copy of Doing It! I can't wait for her review.
This event was organised by Spinkbreakers. A website for 13 - 18 year olds where they can review books, upload cretive content and get involved in a creative community. I seriously wish there was something like this when I was that age. But hey, if you are 13 - 18, check it out. You could be hosting the next fabulous event.
Thanks to Jo, Caroline and Non for being by event buddies. Love you guys!
Hey if you're a British blogger, you should really come to the next author event. John Green is coming to the UK. He is talking and signing at Waterstones Piccadilly on August 14th. More info is on Jo's blog. Check it out here. I am going to organise us meeting up for lunch before the signing so if you decide you're going to come, send me an email at thebookette @ googlemail.com.