Monthly Archives: June 2014

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Stuff Mom Never Told You: The Literary Reign of YA Fiction

Visit the site for more information http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/the-literary-reign-of-ya-fiction/

I Predict a Riot Blog Tour: Why teaching makes me a better writer by Catherine Bruton

iparWhen I was thirteen and subsisting on a literary diet of ballet books, pony stories and Jackie Collins, my English teacher, Mr Scott, handed me a copy of The Outsiders by S E Hinton.

I felt as if a lightbulb had been turned on in my head: the world suddenly looked brighter, bolder, brasher, more complicated – more brilliant than before.

Now, it’s probably time to confess that I live a secret double life! I’m actually an undercover Hannah Montana (or my hubby might say Jekyll and Hyde!) Some days I’m Mrs Bruton, teaching English to teenagers in a local secondary school; others I’m an author writing hilarious but heartbreaking contemporary crossover fiction! Some days I get to be both at once – which can get a little complicated!

As a teacher, I have the great privilege to introduce young people to some of those ‘lightbulb’ books – the stories that open their eyes, enlarge their sympathies, expand their horizons, enrich their lives, rock their world and leave a fossil print on their souls.

And as an author those are the books I aspire to write: the lightbulb books. Which is why I don’t shy away from controversial topics. My first book, We Can be Heroes explores 9/11, suicide bombers, and Islamophobisa in my 21st Century take on To Kill a Mockingbird (via Alex Rider, Manga and Strawberry Laces!). It was nominated for the Carnegie and described by The Sunday Times as ‘witty, wise and compelling’ (which I may have engraved on my tombstone!.

After my second book, Pop! I was described by the The Guardian as ‘One of the finest teen writers of recent years.’ (Can we fit that on the headstone too?) It is Billy Elliot meets The X Factor via Shameless and it explores strikes, recession and the X Factor phenomenon – broken home and parental neglect via Simon Cowell and David Walliams.

caronfireAnd in I Predict a Riot I focus on the UK riots of 2011 with the story of three kids from very different backgrounds who set out to make a movie and end up involved in a riot in a summer that will change their lives forever.

And the thing is that I am constantly inspired by the many amazing kids I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years: teenage gang members from South London; street kids in South Africa; as well as the children of politicians and pop stars. Their stories, their voices inspire what I write, but also remind me of the responsibility I have when I write.

I first conceived the idea for I Predict a Riot when I was living in Peckham, teaching in a top independent girls’ school and helping out in a youth group with kids from some of the most deprived estates in London. That was where I conceived my the three main characters – Maggie, the white middle class politician’s daughter dealing with her parents’ divorce by hiding behind the lens of a video camera; Tokes the son of a notorious gang member who is running from trouble; and Little Pea, the kid who everyone has given up on – abused by his mum, neglected by society and pushed around by the ruthless Starfish Gang, he is devious, immoral, funny, clever, lawless, brave, maddening, tragic and ultimately heroic.

caronfire2Little Pea is my Artful Dodger. Inspired by many kids but particularly a boy called C, the naughtiest boy in my first ever class in Africa when I was just 21. Looking back, I suspect he had ADHD; he used to boast that his mum had sent him to the witchdoctor to have the devil driven out of him (something I also encountered years later in South London, incidentally). He couldn’t sit still and he drove me insane. One day, at my wits end, I sent him to the headmaster, not realizing he would be caned. Of all the mistakes I have made as a teacher, that is the one I am most ashamed of.

So, Maggie is me, I suppose. The white middle class outsider. Naïve and flawed, ultimately compromised by her role in the death of her friend. She’s every ‘poor little rich kid’ I’ve ever taught – materially rich but emotionally neglected – and believe me there are far too many of those.

policeenfieldFor Tokes I drew on the very best of every young person I have ever taught. He is a symbol of my belief in the potential for good in every kid; my belief that all children – no matter what their background – with the right support, the right help – one teacher who says, ‘I believe in you,’ or a parent who fights for them – can come good, have a second chance – be a hero.

So I had my three characters, but I didn’t really have a story until a few years later when I turned on the TV and saw Peckham on fire: kids as young as ten running wild and lawless, gleefully looting, smashing, destroying their own neighbourhood. I knew right away that I had found my story and it wouldn’t let me have any peace until I’d told it.

policeenfield1Ultimately it was my current pupils who determined the story I wrote. We were studying Lord of the Flies and, struck by the parallels with the recent riots, I asked them whether there were any circumstances under which they could have seen themselves getting drawn into the rioting. The discussion that followed was formative in shaping the book I wrote.

And so I Predict a Riot became my Lord of the Flies – but mixed with Made in Chelsea and Meg Rosoff; Top Boy and The Tempest; Pigeon English and Charles Dickens; The Knife that Killed Me and Son of Rambow; The Outsiders and The Only Way is Essex.

In the end I set out to write a book to make my students ask questions, challenge stereotypes, to flip assumptions about class and race on their heads … make them laugh, make them cry … break their hearts … make them angry … make them think! Switch lightbulbs on in their heads.

But I guess it’s not just for them. The Evening Standard observed that my books are ‘aimed at young people but beautifully written and sophisticated enough to appeal to grey haired cynics too.’ The thing is that I firmly believe young readers are more sophisticated, more open-minded and more receptive than their wrinkly older counterparts.

So, yes, I Predict a Riot is aimed at teens but I hope everyone parents, grandparents even, will enjoy it too!
policeenfield2
I took the photographs in Enfield Town on Sunday 7th August after the police came out in force to break up the riots, a number of rioters escaped the police blockade into the side and back streets where several cars were torched. – Matt

Beyond the Door by Maureen McQuerry Blog Tour

Time-Out-of-Time-2
What have I learned about the world from myth as a writer and a reader? Since writing Beyond the Door and The Peculiars I’ve been thinking about why myth matters. Over the next week I’ll be blogging in the U.S and U.K. about six things I’ve learned from mythic stories that have inspired me. Plus there will be fun giveaways and a post by cover artist Victo Ngai! Follow the thread…

What I’ve Learned from Myth Part 1 (with a little help from Mr. Tolkien)

The World is not a Safe Place
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Fellowship of the Ring
Go down any road in myth and you are likely to encounter…dark woods with no way out, labyrinths with monsters at the center, fairy mounds thick with enchantment, shapeshifters and on wind torn nights, the Wild Hunt. The mythic world is not a tame place. Don’t we know this already? And yet our culture tells us logic will prevail. If we do x, then y will follow. Myth reminds us that the world can be as wild and unpredictable as “an old wives’ tale,” at one moment full of heartbreaking joy and the next as dark as dragon’s lair. Myth never denies the existence of evil. Evil is real, horrific and evil is never good. To dismiss evil easily, is to diminish goodness. The unpredictable and fantastic are just around the corner. We are separated from the impossible by the thinnest of veils.

There is No Easy Way Out of the Maze
When Theseus finds his way to the heart of the maze, he must battle the Minotaur. When Hansel & Gretel get lost in the woods, the birds eat their breadcrumbs. Struggle and conflict will always be part of the journey. We shouldn’t be surprised when the dragons sweep in. In fact, dragons are essential because struggle and conflict, change us, create our arc. Every story is propelled by conflict. Readers want conflict and tension. Myth reminds us that conflict and tension are part of a full life and help make us who we are.
“Do we really have to go through [Mirkwod]?” groaned the hobbit. “Yes, you do!” said the wizard, “if you want to get to the other side. You must either go through or give up your quest. There are no safe paths in this part of the world.” The Hobbit

We Fear the Wrong Things
When King Arthur created the round table, with his brilliant vision of right over might, he was prepared for the enemy without. He was undone by Mordred. Time and again we find the hero’s fatal flaw bringing about his downfall. Think of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. Our heel may be pride or greed or even the dailiness of life that consumes us. We fall in love with Selkies, who will always return to the sea. We fear risk and adventures and looking like fools when the greatest battles rage in our own hearts.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. The Hobbit

selkie
 
 
 
That’s it for today. Tomorrow 3 more lessons from myth for writers, for readers, for living at Making it Up Follow the thread…

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Time-out-of-time-blog-tour

Interview with Nerine Dorman Author of the Guardian's Wyrd

nerinepicHi Nerine, welcome to Teen Librarian. As is customary in these interviews I ask all authors to introduce themselves to the audience.

Thanks for having me over, Matt. In brief, I’m an editor and author of SFF/H based in Cape Town, South Africa. I have a passion for stories and storytelling, especially when it comes to genre fiction. Apart from that, I am nominally involved in the local indie film scene, and also play guitar. I curate the annual South African HorrorFest Bloody Parchment event, short story competition and anthology. For some reason, I’ve also been named The Vampire Queen of the South. Make of that what you will. 😉

Most of your previous works would be classified as dark fantasy for adults and while TGW is still on the fringes of that genre it is aimed firmly at Young Adult readers – why did you decide to write for teens?

Why not write for YA readers? I don’t generally make distinctions, and write what I will, when the story asks for it. I have a great love for tales that follow the progress of characters when they are still in their teens. They have their whole lives ahead of them, which gives the author lots of scope to develop their adventures and grow them as characters. If I think back to my favourite stories, most of the characters were youngsters (think Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, Garion from the Belgariad, Lessa from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, Fitz from Robin Hobb’s books… the list goes on and on). Most of those books were in the adult section when I was a kid. I think if they’d been written in current times, they may have been reclassified as YA.

GW_Cover_09_author c i (2)How would you describe The Guardian’s Wyrd in a sentence that would hook a potential reader?

Teen rebel becomes besties with a prince from a magical realm and discovers that he can wield magic.

The protagonist Jay is mixed-race which makes a nice change from the usual white protagonists in fantasy fiction. What are your thoughts on the under-representation of people of colour as protagonists in fantasy fiction?

I cannot even begin to tell you how bored I am with the standard Caucasian tropes in fantasy, so anything I can do to buck the trend, I will. I’ll mix it up, and even in my secondary world fantasy, I bring in non-standard ethnicities. I love fantasy where the template for a particular culture is recognisably non-European. For instance, I loved GRRM’s Dothraki, and I’m currently reading and loving Karen Miller’s Empress, where the people are most definitely *not* blond-haired and pale.

Good fantasy transcends traditional boundaries, and I’d like to see more authors doing that. The current climate that favours indie and small press authors is great for diversity, and I’d like to see more breaking with traditional roles. This is a difficult stance to take, because there is incredible reader resistance to non-standard settings. But I encourage other authors to be brave. The more of us that write what we want, the better it is for diversity in the long run.

Are there any books or authors that inspired you in the writing of TGW?

Definitely to a degree CS Lewis for the Narnia books. Yes, it’s an old trope to have an Earthling immersed in a foreign, magical realm, but it’s a good one. I recently reread The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which was a slightly poignant experience, because I didn’t quite see the book the same way as I did when I was little. However that sense of wonder still had me in its grip. But I do pay my respects to JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin and Storm Constantine for their epic fantasy, and especially for the sense of the reader stumbling into the tail-end of a story. Mystery, magic and wonder – not to forget the danger and adventure.

One thing I noticed – more by its absence than anything else was the lack of anything remotely love triangle-y (apart from the unrequited yearnings he had for his music teacher and the snog with the bird girl). Why do you think so many authors throw tangled love-lives into their stories?

Plainly put, love triangles bore the bantha pudu out of me. How many of us actually experience them for real? My teenage years were an interminable agony of unrequited love until I had my first proper boyfriend at the age of 17. I’m sure many of us can relate. Sure, I had a pile of unsuitable boys pine after me, but I didn’t return their feelings. Real life doesn’t follow a set script, and I suspect that many writers feel that the love triangle seems to be a convenient narrative device.

That being said, sometimes a love triangle is called for – just not in this story. It’s not something I’ll put in for the sake of having the trope there, and it’s very much *what* an author does with the trope that counts. It’s reached the point that when I read YA fiction with an obvious love triangle, I start rolling my eyes. In real life, there will be people you like. Sometimes they’ll like you back. Sometimes you’ll get involved with them even if you’re not totally in love with them. Maybe you’ll meet someone else you do *really* like. They might not like you back the same way, yet they’ll dance with you and hold your hand for a bit. Then they won’t ever call you back.

When you’re young, it’s difficult to hold onto that whole “one true love” concept. Yes, sometimes there will be that one person who’ll gut you emotionally, and you’ll walk around for years with the rusty knife in your back, but life goes on. You’ll meet someone new, develop feelings for them. Hey, maybe you’ll even get married.

To be honest, I’d like to see more authors write about characters who consciously work on a relationship with someone they choose to love instead of just falling in love. Where it’s a gradual, growing fascination rather than a *Zzzzzt! instalove! Across the room!* thing. And love isn’t always simple, easy or kind.

We had a taste of Sunthyst on Rowan’s world which is shown to be an extremely prejudicial society showed pretty blatantly with the use of slaves stolen from our world and a suspicion of magic users, do you have plans to show other nations or parts of the world that may not be as unpleasant?

I’m a sucker for a “warts and all” approach to my world-building. In real life, each nation is built on the subjugation of another, and they in turn are conquered or overrun. I don’t apologise for my outlook, and believe that as an author, it’s my duty to show the imperfections in society. Or at least in a story where there are heavy fantasy elements, I strive for a degree of realism. Anything less would be writing twee, cute and fluffy stories, and I’m sorry, that’s not what I’m about. My unicorns have fangs. They bite.

Conversely Jay and Rowan make a bit of an odd couple in the real (our) world do you have any plans to show their friendship developing with school and the demands and prejudices of this side of the portal?

Book two has been plotted, and yes, our two friends do test the boundaries of their relationship. Which one of your closest friends hasn’t at some point made you want to slap them? But you stick with them because you know they’ll do the same to you when you’re acting up. You friend can say stuff to you that you’d never tolerate from a stranger. In some ways, friends can be better than family, because you get to choose your friends – not so much with family, who can be unashamedly underhanded and nasty. Especially when it comes to inheritance, or favouritism with parents.

I enjoyed the instances of SA slang in the book (in some cases it was the first time I have seen certain expressions written down) do you think that international audiences will benefit from a glossary?

I’m a firm believer in letting readers figure it out for themselves. After all, not all the books I read from the US or the UK have a glossary, and I had no idea what the words meant. Granted, if an editor asks nicely, I’ll put one in. [smiles] I feel an author should be able to communicate the meaning of the slang through the context of the word. [Go read A Clockwork Orange without referring to the glossary. It’s real horrorshow.] That being said, these days you don’t have an excuse. I ask Google if I don’t have the answer. Google is my friend… 😉

Lastly, South Africa is appears to be experiencing a boom in YA writing, are there any other authors whose works you enjoy that you would like to recommend?

Cat Hellisen, definitely. Though her books are more adult, in my mind, her debut novel When The Sea is Rising Red was released for the YA market. Then Suzanne van Rooyen has totally wowed me. Like Cat, she isn’t too concerned with trends and her writing is gritty and poignant in all the right ways. I can’t recommend Rachel Zadok enough, and would recommend her to YA and adult readers alike, purely because she writes like the secret lovechild of Nick Cave and Poppy Z Brite.

Then for lovers of contemporary YA, there’s SA Partridge, who really knows how to nail the issues that teens face, and with so much compassion too. As for other South African authors in genre fiction, I recommend SL Grey, Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg. Granted, SL Grey is those two writing together, but you really can’t go wrong with them as both are utterly wicked in all the delightfully wrong ways. A recent addition to the local genre fiction scene would be Dave-Brendon de Burgh, who’s writing epic fantasy that should appeal to those who enjoy the likes of Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson.

Follow Nerine on Twitter (@nerinedorman) and sign up for her newsletter (http://eepurl.com/JoPUv). Add The Guardian’s Wyrd to your Goodreads list and purchase at Amazon or Kobo.

Neville Johnson Comic Strip Competition

Have you ever dreamed about being invisible? Ever wondered what it would be like to go wherever you wanted and do whatever you wanted?

If you or an imaginary character were invisible, how would you use your superpower? Try to imagine what kinds of scary, amazing and even humorous situations you might find yourself in…

Create a six panel comic strip of your adventure, using words and images to bring your character and his or her escapades to life. You don’t have to be an artist, just make your comic strip unique, fun and exciting.

Entries for the Neville Johnson Comic Strip Competition will be judged by Curtis Jobling – whose latest book Haunt features an invisible character – and the winner will receive a professionally designed framed print of their comic strip.
For more details and to find out how to enter go to www.mcbf.org.uk and click ‘Get Involved’, or click here.

This competition and resource have been devised by the ‘Walking in Their Shoes’ Schools’ Liaison team at Manchester Metropolitan University. See the MMU Humanities Schools Liaison website for details about the Comic Smart project (on which this competition is based) and to download resources on this and other projects.

• Entries welcome from anyone aged 8-16

• Deadline for final entries is 31/08/2014

• Winners will be announced end of September

• Download your comic strip template here

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand: Poster

I have created an A3 poster commemorating the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand for the first of my Great War displays.

The image below has a generic School Times header rather than the name of my school.

You can download the publisher file by clicking on the image if you wish to adapt it for your own displays.

franz ferdinand front page1

If you wish to change the header title and add your school name I used http://fontmeme.com/old-english-fonts/ Anglican Text to create the image.

The text is from the Manchester Guardian, June 29 1914

English GCSEs: a list of authors, poets & playwrights you are unlikely to see

After the outcry when the new English GCSEs were announced Education Secretary Michael Gove has clarified things by letting us know that no authors have been banned.

No, beyond a set of core requirements, exam boards have no restrictions on their choice of authors.

The Deaprtment of Education added that ‘…the requirements represent “only the minimum pupils will be expected to learn” and that exam boards could still include modern writers from outside the British Isles…

The AQA board conceded that ‘…technically it would not be impossible to add additional texts beyond the essential requirements, to do so would place an unacceptable assessment burden on teachers and students

This is an incomplete list of authors, poets & playwrights that you are unlikely to encounter in English GCSEs

  • Amy Tan The Joy Luck Club
  • Arthur Miller The Crucible
  • Athol Fugard Tsotsi
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie A Purple Hibiscus
  • Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart
  • Doris Pilkington Rabbit-proof Fence
  • Dylan Thomas
  • Emily Dickinson
  • F Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
  • Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Haruki Murakami
  • John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men
  • Lloyd Jones Mr Pip
  • Mark Twain
  • Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Robert Frost
  • Robert Lowell
  • Roddy Doyle Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
  • Stephen Crane
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Tennessee Williams
  • TS Eliot
  • WB Yeats
  • William Faulkner
  • So, yes it is all good from here on out! bannings, only relegation to the sidelines where they can be added to the curriculum if time and teaching allows.

    Haunt: Dead Scared by Curtis Jobling Blog Tour 2014

    Congratulations you lucky readers! You have this opportunity to read the opening chapters of Haunt: Dead Scared, the new book written by Curtis Jobling before you buy or borrow a copy.

    Download (PDF, Unknown)

    Introduction to the Lego StoryStarter Set

    I was fortunate enough to win a Lego StoryStarter Set from Lego Education and it arrived yesterday.

    Below is a photo by photo of the unboxing

    lego11 The brilliant box
     
    lego12The curriculum pack preview documents. You can read more about the curriculum pack here
     
    lego13
     
    lego14Storage compartment
     
    lego15Pictures and quantities of every Lego piece included
     
    lego17The spinner bases and stickers for the storage compartments
     
    lego16Bagged up Lego pieces in another storage compartment
     
    lego18All the Lego pieces spread out
     
    Introducing LEGO Education StoryStarter

    I had thought about making a video but there is already an official introductory video

    Storystarter is designed for Key Stages 1 and 2, targeting the English curriculum. It develops skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as soft skills such as collaboration and communication – all while having fun!

    LEGO Education StoryStarter – Instant Success Introduction

    You can watch more videos here

    Countdown to 5th June Giveaway

    a Rafflecopter giveaway