Gaiman, Lanagan: doing it for the kids, not the librarians

authorsA kind mum put the request to Neil Gaiman on behalf of her eight-year-old son: Please write a Blueberry book for boys.

Gaiman took it on the chin and said he also gets told off for not writing books for dads, who also get a hard time in children’s stories. He’s addressing this with a new book called Fortunately the Milk, where a dad gets to have an adventure. He also revealed how he originally wrote the Blueberry Book for Girls as a poem for Tori Amos when she was pregnant.

It was a fitting note near the end of the session – both Gaiman and well-known Australian author Margo Lanagan had spent much of the time with Kate de Goldi explaining that they struggle to be prescriptive as to whether a book is for children or young adults when they write it.

The success of Coraline, Gaiman said, was due to the young daughters of his agent. The agent had initially said that Coraline wasn’t a children’s book as she was terrified reading it. They worked out a deal whereby she would test it on her children and if they were terrified they’d sent it off as an adult book, and if they loved it, it would be sent off to the children’s publisher.

They did love it – but Gaiman found out at the premiere of the musical that one of the children was actually terrified – she had said she loved it because she knew she wouldn’t get the rest of the story if she said otherwise.

When asked what a young adult novel was Margo Lanagan said “It’s a place in a bookshop. Beyond that it’s a very large argument.”

Librarians teachers and parents and “and other throwers round of their weight” want young people’s books to have particular themes or outcomes. She does put some “concessions” in her books she says, but is now moving much more towards fantasy writing which helps get around the problems.

Gaiman related how when he was reviewing book in the 1980s all he saw were prescribed fictions by teachers and librarians. “A proper book should be kid in south London in a tower block who’s older brother was having trouble with heroin,” he said. The books always featured a noble teacher who would point out the error of the youth’s ways.  “Horrible,” he said.

Diana Wynne Jones was the kind of writer both authors admired. She is often quoted as saying ‘when you write for children you only have to say things once’. Gaiman put it slightly differently: “She assumes that kids are really smart and are paying attention”.

After Gaiman’s professed love of libraries earlier in the day, this was an interesting cautionary note. Encourage reading, don’t gatekeep. What do you say librarians? Are you “throwers around of your weight”?

New Margo Lanagan book

Black Juice
Black Juice

Australian writer Margo Lanagan has a new book coming out. Best known for her speculative short story compilations, Margo was the key-note speaker at the South Island’s Children’s Librarians Conference in March. She talked about her resistance to providing moral lessons in her work for children and young adults and also the need for authenticity, as children can detect dishonesty.

Her “hit single” as she put it, comes from her anthology Black Juice. “Singing my sister down” is a complete short story. It lingers in your mind and is something I go back to everytime I want to really learn about creating effective short fiction.

Her new book is called Tender Morsels and it’s already received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. It’s getting rave reviews from people in the blog world too –

“This book is nevertheless a marvel to read and will only further solidify Lanagan’s place at the very razor’s edge of YA speculative fiction.” – Booklist

You can read some reviews here and also get an advance peek. You can reserve it to be one of the first in the queue when it comes out, or check out some other books by her.