Sunday, May 15, 2005

I have just been to the Youth Literature conference in Melbourne - Reading Matters. Another excellent conference organised by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen and her trusty band of Mike and Lili. Over 300 people there this time, more than ever, but mostly teachers and librarians. It is not a writing conference, it is a books and reading conference and focuses on new books and writers, how stories are written (which is the bit of interest to me) and ideas and issues.
There was quite a bit of emphasis on issues this time - lots of talk about refugees, how to write fiction that explores issues without being didactic, do books make a difference? The overseas guests were Adeline Yen Mah, Tessa Duder (NZ), Karen Levine (Canada), Malorie Blackman (UK) and David Fickling (UK).
David F was of the most interest to me as he is a publisher and his authors include Phillip Pullman and Mark Haddon. He was very genuine, humorous and gave me, as a writer, hope about the state of publishing. I have problems with the bean counters, the ones who write the contracts, and there were a few editors and publishers in the audience. When he spoke about books with such passion and described how to "capture" an author (kind of like enticing fairies or elves - leaving delicious food out on the lawn and staying very, very quiet), I saw a lot of the editors nodding and smiling. A heartening sight.
There were some very good sessions - for example, one on girls's stories and one on boys' stories which raised some interesting points. Malorie Blackman was very energetic and talked about her writing with great enthusiasm and clarity. Karen Levine did a presentation on her book "Hana's Suitcase" which is about a suitcase which survived the Holocaust and how this Japanese woman tracked down who owned it (a 13 year old girl who died at Auschwitz) and then found the girl's only surviving relative. There were quite a few tears in the audience for that session!
My favourite quote for the weekend was "Outside a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.

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