Category Archives: Bloggers

Splintered Light Blog Tour: Young Adults in Prison by Cate Sampson

splinteredli_paperback_1471115836_300Imagine for a moment that you were in trouble with the police. Perhaps you fell in with the wrong friends, friends who manipulated you into doing things you didn’t really want to do. Or perhaps you got greedy, and found that the quickest way to getting whatever it was you wanted was to nick it. Or perhaps no one had ever taught you that doing some things was just plain wrong. Or perhaps you knew it was wrong, but you wanted to do it anyway, because you thought it would be a laugh. So perhaps it was a surprise when you got arrested, and when they put you on trial in front of a judge. Imagine all that, and then try and imagine what might turn your life around.

My new book, Splintered Light, is about three teenagers, Leah, Linden and Charlie, who don’t know each other, but whose lives collide dramatically twelve years after Leah’s mother was murdered in a local park. One of these three is a young man called Linden. At 17, he’s about to be released from Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution, where he’s been incarcerated for three years. Linden is scared of what’s waiting for him outside, because the things that turned him into a criminal aged 13 are still waiting for him outside the prison gate. Like many young offenders, Linden is afraid that he has no alternative but to re-offend, and to return to jail. He wants a way out, for good, but he doesn’t know how to find it. To write about Linden, I had to read and think not only about what would happen when he stepped outside those gates, but also what had happened to him inside.

Last year, inspectors at one prison for young adults found that young inmates often went hungry because their meals were too small. They ate their meals on their own in their cells, often at ridiculous times of day, so that their evening meal was served as early as 4.45. Cells were dirty, mattresses covered in gang-related graffiti, and on average these young people spent 18 hours a day in their cells.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the age of criminal responsibility is 10, which is much lower than many other countries. In Scotland it is 12. In most of the UK, then, a child convicted of a crime between the ages of 10 and 14 will be held in a Secure Children’s Home. Those aged fifteen to 20 will be held in Young Offenders’ Institutions, first as juvenile offenders and then, above the age of 18, as young offenders. At the age of 21, a person convicted of a crime becomes an adult offender and will be held in a regular prison. Everyone seems to know that the system is a catastrophe. Politicians have referred to children being consigned ‘to the scrapheap’, re-offending rates are above 50%, the institutions offer little in the way of education and retraining, and when young people are released their futures are bleak, with little possibility of employment and often no safe home to go to. You’d have thought that there would be hope for children and teenagers, but when people – even children – are shut away, out of sight, then it’s too easy for all of us to turn a blind eye.

Last month, inspectors reported that one of these prisons for young adults, Glen Parva, was simply ‘not safe’. Three young men had killed themselves there in 15 months, and inspectors reported the prison was rife with bullying and violence. The cells were dirty and ‘poorly ventilated’, for which read smelly, often with no toilet seats on the toilets. Nearly a third of inmates were locked up all day in their cells. One young man, aged 18, killed himself after just two days inside.

It sounded shocking, but the awful conditions are not new. In 2012, an inspection report on HMYOI Wetherby reported, ‘One boy in the segregation unit with a lifelong medical condition that would have been hard for any teenager to manage, and who had exhibited very disruptive behaviour, asked me tearfully if I could take him home to his mum… A boy in health care, described to me as ‘low’, lay on his bed not speaking. All these boys were receiving good attention and care, but you feared for them all…’

‘You feared for them all…’

It’s not the kind of language you expect from hardened prison inspectors.

So imagine yourself in the dock, imagine you’ve messed up badly, and then imagine what happens next. Then, since we are free and many are not, perhaps we should raise our voices louder to say this isn’t good enough.

Cate Sampson

The Arclight UK Blog Tour: talking about Dystopias with Josin L. McQuein

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Hi guys!

Thanks for having me over today.

I’ve been asked to talk a bit about the idea of Dystopia, which has, of course, been a major trend in novels, movie, and television for the last few years. But why? What makes it so popular?

It’s an interesting question – one you could probably write a university thesis on, if you wanted to.
Dystopia has become a catch-all phrase that means every kind of semi-sci-fi, or post-Apocalyptic, or “bad society of the future” story out there. The Apocalypse is a great equalizer, and these stories always have some major cataclysm that starts the world on a downward spiral into darkness. It can be a war, or a global blight, or alien invasion, but something has to light the match that causes society to implode.

What’s left is a lot like what happens when fire strikes shrub forests. Everything’s razed to ash, and it looks like a wasteland, but soon, something amazing happens. You see, there’s a handful of flower species that only bloom after such a blaze. They need the destruction as their spark of life, and right there in the middle of all that monochrome rubble and devastation, they burst into full color, bringing life that never would have been seen otherwise.
The main characters in most Dystopias are like that. They only flourish after the burn; that’s when they shake off the ashes and stand up to be seen while everything else falls apart into smoking heaps around them. Everyone wants to be that kind of person. Everyone wants to be able to say: “Don’t look at the destruction, look at me. I’m still here; I’m alive and I’m perfect for this situation.”

Dystopia is society-soup. It doesn’t matter who or what they anyone was before the fire – only after counts. Money means nothing when there’s no economy. Power shifts based on who’s in charge at the moment and how much they can trust the person standing behind them. All the rules go out the window and people who had no voice are suddenly on even footing with those who used to be in charge.

Basically, everything’s high school, if high school had zombie viruses and killer robots.

In my novel, Arclight, the flash point was a medical disaster. I won’t go into it too much because of spoilers, but basically the world fell to someone’s good intentions gone wrong. Now, all that’s left of human society is one outpost that has to live in a state of perpetual daylight because there are monsters called the Fade outside their walls that thrive in the darkness.

Into this world steps a girl who is the only person known to have ever faced these creatures and survived, unfortunately, she can’t tell anyone how she did it. The trauma of losing her family and her home, on top of running from the darkness and the Fade for days caused a mental block, meaning she literally doesn’t know her own face when she sees it. She’s blank. She’s got desolation inside and out, and she’s trying to figure out how to flourish despite that.

A lot of people would crumble under that kind of pressure, but such people do not make good heroines for novels. Marina perseveres, and I honestly think the draw of Dystopian novels and movies is that simple. It’s not about the destruction or the death, and it’s not about the fear or the loss. It’s about hope and life, and finding the strength to stare death in the face and say “no more.” They aren’t depressing at all.

Great Dystopians stand up after the fire and dance in the ashes like they’re playing in the snow, and who doesn’t love that?

Geekhood: Mission Improbable the Video Interview

A few weeks ago Laura of SisterSpooky, Kerrie from ReadandRepeat and I were invited by Stripes Publishers to interview author Andy Robb on his houseboat near Taplow.

Laura has a brilliant write up of what went on during the filming here: On the Boat with Andy Robb.
 
While we chatted we were painting Dark Angels Space Marines.

calibangreenmarine

There are many like it, but this one is mine!

 
Andy is an excellent host and all-round geek and nice guy. We chatted for ages between filming; about comics (He showed off his Spiderman signed by Stan Lee) I drooled over his Batman/Joker Animated Adventures, Doctor Who and the literary merits of Terry Pratchett versus J.R.R. Tolkien (Andy is a die-hard Middle Earther while I tend more towards the Discworldian view). He played the voice of Kring the magic sword in The Colour of Magic.
 
The video was made to promote and celebrate the release of

geekhood2

Which is a sequel to:

geekhood

Both of whom were written by:

andybat2

The Batman?

Noooooooooooo not the Batman – although that would have been amazing!

andybat3

They were actually written by BatmAndy Robb.
 
The last few photos were taken at the book launch, which was held at the Waterstones on Kensington High Street. The launch was fantastic with a number of people dressing up as comics characters (my favourites being Walter ‘Rorschach’ Kovacs and The Big Figure from Watchmen), I was too busy enjoying myself to take photos.

andybatandcris
This is Andy and Cristina of Crisckracker Films who filmed the interview.

Important Note: Each of the bloggers has a unique coda at the end of their videos so be sure to watch them all!

YA in SA: YA Lit as Protest, Self-Study and Civil Participation

I was a teenager less than a decade ago so I can’t really say when the shift happened. The paradigm shift that moved the ground beneath us, creating a gulf between my generation and every generation that came before it, making our social lives and our digital lives start to seem like the same thing. Facebook and Twitter only hit South African shores after I’d graduated from high school but the unprecedented penetration of mobile phones changed everything. In Africa, more people have access to mobile phones than to water – Google it.

I remember in eighth grade how my friends and I would ache for the clock to strike 8pm, signalling the start of offpeak call time. We never actually called each other, of course, but we texted as though we were possessed. A text became far cheaper to send after 8pm so on a teenager’s budget it made sense to wait it out until late to share the day’s gossip or flirt with a random boy. We rarely used our phones for anything profound or innovative. But then a new shift came: mobile technology started up an affair with Web 2.0 and some South African teenagers started doing something profound with their phones.

Thousands of them started to wait up until midnight, staring at tiny screens in crowded one-room low-cost housing and informal settlements. They weren’t waiting for cheap texts; they were waiting for cheap books.

South Africa has no shortage of great writers. For a relatively small, developing country, we have an incredible number of internationally acclaimed authors writing everything from hard-hitting investigative journalism to children’s picture books. What we unfortunately don’t have is an equally vibrant and diverse trade publishing industry. Books are prohibitively expensive for the majority of South Africans and usually cost more than a full day’s work at minimum wage. For these and other sad and well-known facts, the vast majority of our teens often don’t read anything beyond their textbooks.

This isn’t to say that they don’t want to though. Which is why FunDza Literary Trust, a non-profit reading promotion agency, is giving them what they want: cheap, easy accessible, quality YA lit. Through its mobi-site and its presence on South African mobile social networking platform MXit, FunDza has brought multilingual YA contemporary fiction, autobiographies, poetry, and even science fiction to local readers. Even better, they’re working with our abundant pool of writing talent to do it – serialising the works of award-winning writers like Tracey Farren, Cynthia Jele, Sarah Lotz and Lauri Kubuitsile so that it’s available on any mobile device, at any time.

Of course, the concept of mobile novels is nothing new – especially if you follow the literary scene in Japan and China. The difference is that in South Africa, reading YA is not just a fun pastime. In the proud tradition of all of our literature, it is also social activism, civil participation, education and, for many, it could be a ticket out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It is just as Dr Seuss said: “The more you read; the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.

South Africa is a big, messy, cultural hotpot; youthful and full of big dreams. Couple that with technological innovation and the immense talent and generosity of our local authors and you get a body of work capable of drawing in young readers from all over Africa and the world.

About Me
Bontle Senne is the Managing Director of the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation (@pukubooks): an organisation trying to bridge the literary and digital divide for Southern African children and young adults. She is 24 and lives in Johannesburg.

Writing Children’s Books While Black and Feminist


I received an e-mail from the wonderful Kerensa at Ms.Magazine about an interview they are running on their blog with Jacqueline Woodson–one of the few queer, Black or feminist writers of bestselling contemporary children’s books.

Rather than grab the interview and post it here which would be illegal (read this to find out more) you can find links below and a video of the first part of the interview.

You can read the interview here:

Writing Children’s Books While Black and Feminist

Or watch the first part of the interview here:

You can watch the entire interview on Zetta Elliott‘s youtube channel

Under 14's Only @ My Favourite Books


This is the second year My Favourite Books blog will be hosting Under 14’s Only Month. We were approached by some of our local librarians last year and told – confidentially – that a lot of younger readers are feeling very left out when it comes to books for the younger age group, as everyone seemed so focussed on all the teen novels coming out. Which they of course could not read as these were in some cases too mature for them.

This really worried us and as we are always happy to fight for a cause, we established Under 14’s Only Month to review both old and brand new books that are out there for this large age-group. The publishers have been amazing and have inundated us with a variety of books for all ages within this broad spectrum we’ve chosen to showcase. Between the three of us – Mark, Sarah and myself – we are hoping to highlight some great books and authors in July. I have roped in fellow bloggers and reviewers to make their case for their favourite books for younger readers and I’ve got interviews with authors set up to talk about inspirations, monsters and other shenanigans.

We know how hard librarians, parents and teacher work to get kids reading and to keep them reading – if we can hook readers young, we stand a great chance that they remain readers, especially the reluctant readers, be they boys or girls. We have received some great titles from Barrington Stoke, Macmillan Kids, Walker Books, Bloomsbury, Simon & Schuster, Random House Kids, Templar to name but a handful of publishers taking part in this. Their enthusiasm blew my mind and now all we ask for is an audience to share these amazing books with. Please come and visit the blog and comment and recommend us to everyone you know who may benefit from reading the reviews. And remember there is a chance to win two boxes full of books at the end of July. We are always hungry to hear about more titles and new authors we’ve overlooked. Come visit us for the month of July and enjoy our Under 14’s Only Month celebration of fiction for younger readers.

Liz, Mark and Sarah of My Favourite Books Blog

Satireday

I am currently reading this book, I have started it three times as I am loving the opening pages.  A vicious satire on America’s corporate culture and the super rich.

I am not too sure what I think of Jim the main character – utter philistine when it comes to art and culture but a VERY compelling character.  Honest about his aims and values.

Is he evil? At present I have no idea so I will withhold judgement until the end!

I was meant to read it through last night but I was at the Headline bloggers evening and went to the pub afterwards with some of the publicists and fellow bloggers and ended up drinking and talking books until 11pm and was in no fit state to read or do anything except fall semi-comatose into bed.

Well the Headline blogger event was fantastic, I was invited by the fantastic Maura Brickell and Sam Eades

We were shown a fab short film about their current and upcoming books, although I was blown away by the opening visuals of a pop up book that was just fantastic, it introduced all the genres that Headline produce and was beautifully made.  It was made by a graphic designer and I would really love to see the actual book…

The quiz was great fun with the team I was in not getting into the top three but having a cracking time nontheless!

We got to meet some fantastic authors,

 The fantastic Cathy Brett – I reviewed Ember Fury in 2009 and have been a fan ever since.  I now have a copy of Scarlett Dedd signed and waiting on my TBR pile ^_^

The ace Jenna Burtenshaw – I have been a fan since I read Wintercraft.


Jonathan L Howard – an author I have heard about and now finally have a copy of of Johannes Cabal: Detective

 Not pictured but also in attendance were Geraint “City Boy” Anderson – meeting him was a memorable experience, he is a very entertaining character.  I enjoyed his City Boy column in The London Paper am interested to find out what his fiction is like.

 Julie Cohen Julie Crouch and Jill Mansell – three authors outside my reading sphere but fantastic to be around and truly wonderful people – good company to have in a pub (and possibly out of the pub as well). 

Today (Satireday) I went to a blogger meet-up at Waterstone’s in Piccadilly.  Spent the afternoon comparing notes on blogging, YA books and chatting about books and hanging out.

I met Carly Bennett, Caroline Rose, Kirsty, Michelle, Sarah, Non and someone whom I can only remember as the French guy – I am so sorry but I cannot remember his name.  Coffee and much fun was had and a trawl around the YA section of Waterstone’s before home to Doctor Who, the episode written by Neil Gaiman and the best episode to date that I can recall seeing and that includes the heartbreaking one where David Tennant said goodbye to Billie Piper on the beach >ahem<

anyway I must get back to American Weather!