Hot books in the city – listen to Alexander McCall Smith, Camilla Lackberg & more in Christchurch

Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival is underway, Auckland Writers Festival kicks off on the 14 May. Our own The Press Christchurch Writers Festival is going to take Christchurch by storm in August, but in the meantime they – in association with the Auckland Writers Festival – are bringing some pretty fabulous authors to Christchurch next week.

Get in amongst it!

Cover of Letters from Everest Cover of The Forever Girl Cover of Modern World architecture

HLJ---dashHuw Lewis-Jones

a stunning slide show from The Conquest of Everest: Original Photographs from the Legendary First Ascent with images from the book and commentary, including excerpts from the letters George Lowe sent home.”

McCall-Smith-Alexander-credit-Chris-Watt--webAlexander McCall Smith

One of the world’s most prolific and successful authors, Alexander McCall Smith’s popular No 1 Ladies’ Detective Series – now in its 15th year – has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

Jonathan-GlanceyJonathan Glancey

British architectural critic, writer and broadcaster discusses the future of cities as globalism challenges local identities. This lecture will be particularly relevant to a Christchurch audience.

Cover of Buried angelsCamilla-Lackberg_webCamilla Lackberg

Swedish crime-writing sensation.

  • and in association with Bookenz – An Hour with Camilla Lackberg
    Wednesday 14 May, 7.30pm
  • Book here
  • Search our catalogue for Camilla Lackberg

Is the term YA creating a barrier for teens?

My final session at The Press Christchurch Writer’s Festival session this morning was probably the one that I was most looking forward to. Three great writers, John Boyne, Jane Higgins, and Helen Lowe, sat down with James Norcliffe to talk about YA or Young Adult fiction.

After a very detailed introduction, James Norcliffe asked each of the authors whether YA was a word used to describe their writing. John Boyne felt that YA is very much a term used by publishers, media and bookshops, and that putting labels on books tend to exclude people. John doesn’t think of himself as a ‘YA author’ and doesn’t really know how to write for a 14 year-old.  He alternates his writing between a novel for adults and then a novel for a young audience, and his younger books have featured an 8 or 9 year-old protagonist.  He is ‘not interested in categories, just whether it’s a good story or not.’

Jane Higgins didn’t read YA fiction when she was a teenager, preferring adult science fiction writers, books that weren’t ‘tagged as a young person’s read.’  Jane doesn’t think that we are helping teens by having walls between YA and adult fiction, but she does think that it’s important to have guides, like librarians, who can point them in the direction of a new book or author.

When Helen Lowe sits down to write, she doesn’t consciously consider her audience.  She was quite surprised when Thornspell (her first published novel) was published as a children’s title, and when people tell her that her Wall of Night series is young adult.  As a teen, Helen would read anything she could get her hands on, and reading adult books got her thinking about hard issues and the way the world is.  Helen wondered if the thing that makes a book YA is that the protagonists are teens.

Each of the authors then discussed whether they thought there was a genuine divide between adult and teen writing or whether YA is just a marketing term. John pointed out that marketing for YA books relies on the fact that they’re in a series (look at Twilight or The Hunger Games for example). John’s books all have natural endings and he said that he doesn’t have any ideas for series, and he doesn’t really want to write a series. Jane highlighted the extremely careful marketing campaign for The Hunger Games, which developed over time.  They figured out how they wanted to market it and released reviews at specific times.  Jane wondered if, by having a specific area of a bookshop or library set aside as “Young Adults'”we are saying ‘this is your area of the bookshop. This is where you go.’

The teen reading habits of boys also came up in the conversation. John pointed out that boys read a huge amount between 8 and 12 years of age, and that in order for them to keep reading in their teens, we have to keep giving boys good stories to read. He is keen to get boys reading, because books changed his life. As a writer, Jane said that it’s dangerous to say ‘this is a book for boys and I’ll put this in it’ or vice versa. As John pointed out in his session, you have to write for the unknown reader. Helen said that you shouldn’t underestimate boys.  They like quality stories and believable characters too and they’ll pick up on any inconsistencies. One thing that all the authors agreed on was that their goal is to break barriers.  They want boys and girls to be reading the same books.

To end the session, James asked the authors if there were any ‘no-go’ areas in writing for teens.  John suggested that there aren’t any no-go areas, only different approaches to subject matter. John feels that he doesn’t want to write about puberty ‘so if you set the story before then, say around 8 or 9 years, boys and girls can just be friends.’  Helen mentioned that at any age there are things that go over our heads when we read, like the icky things when we’re younger, and we take different things from books at different ages.

Jane’s last comment summed up the whole session for me – ‘Reading at that age is finding stuff you love.  If you don’t like it, you’ll go and find something else.”  So whether we have specific areas for YA in our libraries or bookshops, or group books for teens under the term ‘YA’, in the end, they’ll find something they want to read.

Christchurch children meet local legends

The GeoDome was filled with the excited chatter of Christchurch school children this morning as The Press Christchurch Writer’s Festival kicked off with the Read Aloud Schools Programme. Children from around the city got the chance to come along and listen to stories from three of our best local writers, Gavin Bishop, Kate De Goldi, and Rachael King.

Kate De Goldi was up first and she told us all about her new book, that’s coming out in October, called The ACB with Honara Lee. Like her other novels, her latest story is set in Christchurch, and the Beckenham Loop in particular. She describes it as an ABC book within a story, that’s set in an old people’s home (hence why the title is slightly mixed up). Kate came up with the idea after our earthquakes left cracks, not just in our roads and homes, but also in our community. This got her thinking about the cracks in the memories of old people. Kate found the idea of setting an alphabet book in an old people’s home interesting, because it’s putting something that is very orderly in a place that certainly isn’t. The main character in the ACB with Honara Lee, Perry, is a girl who wants to have younger people to hand out with (rather than just her boring parents) and less to do after school, but she ends up making friends with the old people at her grandmother’s rest home.  Most can’t remember her name or the ABCs, but they know she always brings good baking.  I love Kate’s books, especially The 10pm Question, and I can’t wait to read this interesting new story.

Local legend, Gavin Bishop, talked about how he finds himself looking back into the past more and returning to his childhood when writing and illustrating his stories. Gavin grew up in Kingston in the 1950s, where there were only a few houses, a school (with only 12 students) and a pub. He has captured some of his memories of his childhood in Kingston in his wonderful book, Piano Rock. He read one of the stories from Piano Rock, the only story in the book that he ‘made up’ and told a funny story about his younger brother, who his parents found in the cabbage patch.  Gavin also brought along his tattered old teddy bear, who used to follow him everywhere when he was growing up.

Rachael King is used to talking to large groups of adults at book festivals, but this was her first time talking to a whole audience of children. After asking that the children laugh at all her jokes, Rachael told us about her wonderful new book, Red Rocks. She mentioned that she dedicated the book to her two young boys, and when she excitedly showed them the dedication, they were more interested in getting back to Cartoon Network. Rachael is fascinated by the myths of the selkie (seals that shed their skin on land and become human) and so she decided to write a selkie story set in New Zealand. Red Rocks is one of my favourite books of 2012 and you can read my review on the Christchurch Kids Blog.

The children who came along for the session really enjoyed meeting the authors and hearing all about their stories.  My favourite part of the morning was seeing crowds of children queuing up to get their autographs at the end, and hearing several children begging their teachers, librarians and parents to get copies of the books that were talked about.  Thanks to the organizers for a great event!


The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival

September 5 to 7 sees more than 60 NZ and international writers in Christchurch for The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival.

Some big names have been confirmed: British journalist and author Robert Fisk, authors Xinran Xue and Kate Atkinson.

Robert Fisk is a British journalist renowned for his intelligent coverage of events in Northern Ireland and Lebanon. 

JollyKate Atkinson came to fame with the success of her deliciously engaging novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which won the prestigious Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1995, overcoming stalwarts such as Salman Rushdie.

Xinran Xue is a writer as well as a journalist and broadcaster. Her talk show led to the publication of her critically acclaimed book The Good Women of China  in which she compiled stories from her listeners. 

Bookings will open at Ticketek on July 16 and the full programme will be released then.