YALC – Malorie Blackman

Yesterday was the biggest day yet of the YALC section at London Film and Comic Con in London. It took over a large section of Olympia, and held in store many delights for those lucky enough to nab a ticket. I will be reviewing the day later in the week and providing overviews of some of the discussions held by the panels, but for now I just want to focus on Malorie Blackman…

I waited in line for the first book signing at 11.15am for Malorie. MYALCy sister patiently held my bags as I got out my extensive stack of books – (surprise, surprise!) Firstly, let me just say that Malorie is my biggest literary idol and so I had high expectations but she surpassed them all! She was very enthusiastic and genuinely interested in what I had to say. Although there was a growing line of fans behind me I didn’t feel like she was trying to move me on at all.

I first read Noughts and Crosses when I was 12 and took along my very first copy which has now lost it’s binding. Malorie laughed and commented on how well signing twoloved this copy must be, and I told her that this was the novel that really got me into reading. Whilst she must have heard this a million times, she seemed really chuffed that this was the case. She then spotted my two dissertations in the pile and asked me all about them. After chatting about the different topics I was interested in she then said she would like to read my MA dissertation. (You will be pleased to know I kept it cool and didn’t pass out then and there!) I shakily wrote down my email to give to her assistant so that I could email her a copy, and asked if she could sign the title page. Malorie was hesitant to sign as she didn’t want to spoil it, but I was adamant if it wasn’t for her I would never have got this far! I asked her if she was pleased with the new graphic novel adaptation of Noughts and Crosses and she said she really was and agreed it was a great idea. We had a few pictures together and then I collected all my books wondering if all of that had really happened!

So, as far as book signings with your literary idols go this was hard to beat. I am now checking my email every 2 minutes and hoping that we will become pen-pals / best friends… Fingers crossed!

signing malorie
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Children’s Literature MA

In September 2013 I started studying for my Masters Degree in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton. In a few weeks I will be donning the gown and mortarboard and graduating at the Royal Festival Hall by the Southbank. It seems only fitting to look back on the degree which I will always wish I could do over and over again…

The University of Roehampton is home to the National Centre for Research into Children’s Literature (NCRCL). It is consequently a magnet for internationally respected scholars and the teaching is innovative. It is the longest running Children’s Literature degree in the country, which means that Roehampton is recognised as the best place to study Children’s Literature. Many authors are also involved in the running of the NCRCL, including Melvin Burgess and Jacqueline Wilson. This means from time to time you may see them wandering around campus with lecturers (which leads to a lot of awkward jaw dropping) or you may be invited to workshops and seminars led by them.

The range of facilities available as an MA student is vast. There is a collection of about 3,000 critical, theoretical, and reference works and an archive of first edition children’s books. There is also a school experience library with stacks of picture books and early reader books. Sitting alongside past student’s dissertations (a few of them now current lecturers) there are a series of specialist children’s literature journals. Once a year, Roehampton organises and hosts the the IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference which showcases themes from members’ research interests. The 2013 Conference even had a visit from Judith Kerr and we celebrated her seminal works including The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968).

I found this degree to be very challenging at times and a real labour of love, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Lecturers encouraged me to use critical 10612907_10152203607052064_9091608947682221322_ntheories in a way I had never considered before. I studied a range of children’s poetry, charting the movement from didactic verse through to innovative and nonsensical poetry. Fairytales and folk tales were a key focus of one module, and we applied readings to modern day picture books using broader theories. An autumn module focused on landscapes within children’s books, and allowed us to discuss everything from maps to oceans to gardens.

The essays I completed as part of the MA are titled:

  • Cultivated Enclosure and Vast Wilderness: Landscape in The Secret Garden and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
  • The Tiger Who Might Come to Tea Again: Negotiating Desire in Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
  • ‘I’ll Eat You Up!’: Grotesque representations of food and cannibalism within Carroll, Burton and Dahl’s poetry for children.
  • ‘I detest rude, unladylike girls!’: Expectations of female politeness and domesticity in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Little Women.

Each MA student is also required to complete a 20’000 word thesis. My dissertation was titled:

  • Teenage Wastelands: The Rise of Female Power and Agency in YA Dystopian Series Novels.

dissoIf I was ever given a chance to go back and complete this MA degree again, I would run back without hesitation. It gave me the opportunity to delve into historical, cultural and subversive worlds of Children’s Literature and to be inspired by the most established scholars in the field. I will never forget how huge a task the MA seemed when I was sitting in the introductory seminar, or how immensely empty I felt when I handed in my dissertation and finished the degree. As sad as I am that it’s over, I am proud to have come out the other end in one piece!

So, I will graduate on the 27th July with a Masters in Children’s Literature and fill the hole with another bookcase or two…

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Review – Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)

Just to warn you, the following review may be a little biased as this book is the one I would rush to save if a fire broke out. I just adore everything about it.

Firstly, I think it is only fair to say that this novel and the consequent books in the noughts and crossesseries have become such a huge success because of the abilities of Malorie Blackman. There are an extraordinary amount of themes and morals being juggled throughout, but the novel is almost effortless to read. Young adult books tend to be full of anxieties about identity, romance and growing up, but Malorie adds other issues to these personal preoccupations within the novel. Sephy and Callum also have to manage these individual anxieties with social expectations and prejudices around race. The novel could very well have felt clumsy and like a tirade of moral debates, but the social commentary fits seamlessly within the plot.

Sephy and Callum are young teenagers and live in a world where black is right, and white is wrong. Callum and his family struggle to operate in a society where they are constantly undermined and denied opportunities because of their pale skin. Sephy is the daughter of politician Kamal Hadley and lives a seemingly luxurious life. As Sephy and Callum’s worlds continue to intertwine, their feelings for each other become inevitably romantic. It becomes painfully obvious to the reader that their relationship will struggle to exist in society.

The novel is narrated in first person by both Sephy and Callum. Some very tender and emotional scenes are depicted brilliantly through this narration. At times Sephy and Callum become distant from each other but the narration doesn’t the distance the reader and we can still access their most intimate thoughts. Whilst the novel is primarily focused on Sephy and Callum as individuals and as a couple, Blackman does not deny the reader of other complex characters. The story of Callum’s sister Lynette is particularly heart wrenching and the depiction of Callum’s brother Jude is painfully realistic. These characters actually become necessary for the reader to understand how complex the protagonists’ worlds are.

Callum manages to pass exams which allow him to go to Heathcroft school where Sephy attends. Desperate to learn, Callum attempts to ignore the abuse he gets from the Crosses, but it becomes too much to bear and Callum begrudgingly decides to leave. One of the biggest forces within the novel is the Liberation Militia, which is a terrorist organisation set up and run by Noughts. This organisation sadly weaves its way into Callum’s family and brings more tragedy into their world. In response to a family death, his brother and father, Jude and Ryan, are accused of setting off a bomb in a local shopping centre. Meanwhile, Sephy is battling her own personal demons with drink and feels she needs to get away in order to fully recover. She persuades her mother to let her go to boarding school, and leaves a letter for Callum to meet her if he still wishes to be with her. However, Callum does not see this in time.

It becomes a turning point in Sephy and Callum’s relationship, and they do not see each other for many years. The circumstances as to how they meet again are tragic, but this is perhaps my favourite part of the novel. Whilst their relationship is explored through these life changing events, it is the moments of quiet intensity between them which are particularly evocative. Even though society and prejudices have tarnished both their lives, their love for one another and hope for equality is inspiring.

I have read this novel over 20 times (maybe more), and each time I finish Noughts and Crosses my heart aches. I cannot recommend this novel enough. It has become one of the most seminal novels of the YA genre and a review really cannot capture the skillful complexity, yet simplicity of this novel. All I have to say is get ready to never put this book down.

Pssst…There is a graphic novel version of Noughts and Crosses being released on 2nd July which I will also be reviewing.

A Guide to YALC!

If you love YA, then you need find your diary and block out the 17th -19th July so that can you get down to Olympia in London. The 2nd Young Adult Literature Convention will be in full swing, and your favourite YA authors will be there (perhaps dressed up, but rumours aren’t confirmed…) The event is one of the many things we have to thank Malorie Blackman for. During her reign as Children’s Laureate, she set up this event which was a huge success and it’s now back by popular demand!

The event runs over 3 days and whilst it is recommended you experience the full 3 days, you can also buy a ticket for one day. The Book Trust website has details of the types of tickets available and the programme for each day. It is essential to read up on the programme of events and authors, especially if you are heading down for the day, but for those of you who just want the ‘need to know’ info, look no further…

There are 2 types of tickets available for either the full 3 days or just a selected day. There is a general admission to the main Comic Con area, which will get you entry into the YALC section later on in the day. Whilst you can still come to book signings etc, it is recommended that you purchase the YALC tickets which will give you early bird access, priority entry to events and most importantly, a goodie bag! Tickets are selling fast so head over to Eventbrite to get yours before it’s too late…

Please note you have to purchase a Ticket Validation for each order (costing £2.50). You have to buy this to ‘validate’ the tickets and you won’t be allowed to enter without this, and you won’t get a refund. The best way to get around this is to bulk buy tickets for friends and family so that you can split the cost of one Ticket Validation between you, rather than having to do it singularly. If they can be cheeky, we can too!

Book Signings
The Book Trust website says that authors will be signing for 2 hours after their main event. If there is an author you particularly want to see, I recommend you attend their event so that you can be one of the first in line for signings. The Book Trust website says a full author signing schedule will be up soon, so it’s worth checking in every now and then to see if it’s up.

Biggest Authors and Main Events
*Please note that the below is a personal selection of authors who will be appearing. Please refer to the official programme for an extensive list and description of the itinerary.

Friday 17th July
2.30 – 3.15pm – Darren Shan, Matt Whyman and more
3.30 – 4.15pm – Moira Young and more
5.30 – 6.15pm – Derek Land
6.30 – 7.30 pm – Harry Potter Party!

Saturday 18th July (Main Stage)
11.30 – 12.15pm – Cassandra Clare
12.30 – 1.15pm –  Malorie Blackman, Hayley Long and Anna James
1.30 – 2.15pm – Charlie Higson and Arabella Weir
2.30 – 3.15pm – Carrie Hope Fletcher, Holle Smale and Malorie Blackman
3.30 – 4.15pm – Judy Blume and Patrick Ness

Saturday 18th July (Workshops)
11.30 – 12.15pm – Getting started with writing
12.30 – 1.15pm – How to edit
1.30 – 2.15pm – Writing YALC

Saturday 18th July – (Agent Area)
11.30 – 12.15pm – Publishing 101
1.00 – 2.00pm – Individual 1-2-1 sessions
2.30 – 3.30pm – Author and agent talk
4.00 – 5.00pm – Behind the Scenes in Publishing

Sunday 19th July (Main Stage)
10.30 – 11.15am – Annabel Pitcher, Matt Whyman, and more
1.30 – 2.15pm – Kevin Brooks
2.30 – 3.15pm – James Dawson, Lisa Williamson and more

Sunday 19th July (Workshops)
10.30 – 11.15am – Author and Editor
12.30 – 1.15pm – Book Blogging for Beginners
1.30 – 2.15pm – Taking your blog to the next level
2.30 – 3.15pm – Writing for screen and page

Sunday 19th July (Agents Area) – Same as Saturday

Some Tips
1) Bulk buy tickets to avoid being caught out by Ticket Validation!
2) If you are a budding novelist bring a short synopsis along to the Agent Area for publishers to have a look at. Try to get as much constructive criticism from professionals and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
3) Take as many books with you as humanly possible! I won’t lie, I have thought about carrying a small (large) suitcase around with me but somehow I think that might not be allowed…
4) Prepare your questions / love poems to your author before you get to the event… Star struck gaping won’t strum up an interesting conversation to brag about later on.
5) Enjoy and mingle! This is one of the best opportunities to be surrounded by other people who are passionate about YA literature and culture.

I will be providing a full review of Saturday 18th July which is shaping up to be the main day. So it’s time to start working on those costumes and thinking of conversations to have with the leading names in YA – see you there!

yalc buttons

Review – The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (2013)

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (2013)

Even before you open Benji Davies’ debut picture book The Storm Whale (2013) it the-storm-whaleis patently obvious that this is a beautiful book. The front page has an illustration of Noi, the protagonist of this picture book, tending to the seemingly sad Storm Whale. The illustrations are undeniably gorgeous and add an unspoken depth to Noi’s experiences throughout the book.

From the very first title page the framing of the story begins. There are images of the sea becoming more violent and restless, representing the loneliness which encompasses the protagonist. We then meet Noi, who is living on the coast with his father  and their six cats. While his father is out working during the night, a storm rages around their house. In the morning Noi walks along the coast and spots a little Whale who has been washed up. He takes joy in looking after the whale (which results in some amusing scenes) but he experiences guilt and fear as he attempts to keeps the whale a secret from his father.

The beautiful illustrations manage to depict the sincere and tender moments which Noi experiences with the Storm Whale and his father. They speak to the reader in a subtle manner alongside the minimal text. It allows the reader to draw their own conclusions from Noi’s story. The polarities of light and dark are used to depict when he is happy and carefree, and when he has to face a situation which challenges his emotions. One of my favourite images is when Noi has to set the whale free. You are drawn in by the vast double page spread, and then notice that Noi and his father are watching the whale from their fishing boat. In this scene, the text is secondary to the image. This is a brilliant example of how images can, and should work in a picture book.

There is a danger to attempt to be ‘too’ clever with picture books; to add in too many metaphors, or to wedge in an explicit moral. Thankfully, this picture book does neither of these things. It is a refreshing ode to simplicity.

It is hard to provide a review of this picture book which does it justice without revealing the most satisfying parts of the book. So, let me just say that this picture book is carefully crafted and heart-warming. It does not attempt to be anything other than what it is; a story of a lonely little boy who seeks friendship. Benji Davies is one to watch.

Review – Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (2012)

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (2012)

Having read Annabel Pitcher’s previous novel, My Sister Lives on The Mantelpiece, I knew I was in for a treat with Ketchup Clouds. Zoe is fifteen, hates homework, and calls herself a murderer. Mr Harris has also committed murder, and is a prisoner on Death Row. Zoe’s best outlet for dealing with the pangs of teenage life, family anxieties and consuming guilt is her pen. The story of her secret unravels in a series of letters to Mr Harris.

From the outsketchup clouodset, Zoe is an endearing character. She is painfully honest, warm and witty. At first, the idea of Zoe as a murderer felt like Pitcher was fumbling for a twist and settled for this, but as soon as you start reading it is evident that this is not the case. Crucially, the act of murder is not the crux of the story. The two love interests in the novel are what really drives Zoe’s story. She is a teenager learning the fatal power of attraction. ‘The Mighty Max Morgan’ shows an interest in Zoe at a party, and it becomes something more than what Zoe actually wants. ‘The Boy with The Brown Eyes’ consumes Zoe, and he is the one who she develops a deep connection with. As the two relationships come to a head, Zoe becomes involved in a destructive love triangle with Aaron and Max. The depictions of first love, infatuation and guilt are powerful and moving.

The story of Zoe’s family is also interwoven into the novel. Her family is depicted as fairly ‘normal’, each character having traits that any reader can probably attribute to their family. The stress of money worries, family illnesses, and personal grudges become key to the trope of keeping secrets in the story. As Mum and Dad’s bickering continues, Zoe’s sister’s Soph and Dot begin to suffer emotionally. Dot, the youngest of the sisters is one of the best placed characters in the novel. She is deaf and her disability becomes a tender story of its own. At times, she is blunt and offers comic relief the way only a 5 year old can.

Pitcher stays away from giving Mr Harris a voice and he becomes an outlet for Zoe to work through her grief, a vehicle for negotiating overwhelming and difficult emotions. As I cried into the last pages of the book, Zoe is able to spread her wings and move forward with the next chapter of her life. This novel is one of the best examples of thoughtful and exciting young adult literature, that is subversive and yet cathartic.