Welcome, finally, to my website. Visit, graze, leave a comment, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then go out reading...
Welcome, finally, to my website. Visit, graze, leave a comment, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then go out reading...
I know I haven't updated in a while, but that's because I've been working furiously to finalise all the details on the A MONSTER CALLS MOVIE!! Yep, that's right, it's going to be a movie! Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (who directed The Orphanage and The Impossible), produced by Belen Atienza (who produced Pan's Labyrinth) and written by me.
Shooting starts this fall and if there are open auditions, I'll put that info here. But yay! A movie!
Greetings to the new commenters. I do read them all...
Okay, I wasn't going to publish this anywhere, because a speech is a speech, not an essay. You publish it and it loses all intonation, tone, improvisation, jokes, etc. But as the discussion about the speech I gave Monday to open the Imagine Festival keeps coming up (along with certain folks reactions to it), I give it to you here without comment (except to say that Putin line is, let's call it, "satire"). All the bold words and underlines, by the way, are visual references as I'm speaking to keep my eye moving along; I don't write prose quite that emphatically:
Thank you very much.
I’ve been asked to talk about How not to drop the baton of reading from age-group to age-group as it reaches the YA crowd. How best to help try and address our literacy rates, how to keep reading a vital part of the growing-up experience.
And as I was thinking about this, I was struck by something:
Writers for children and young people seem to be asked and even expected to be activists, to be advocates, to be campaigners, more than any other group of artists.
Think about that. It’s true. You know, you never hear of “Sculptors for the Environment” or “Opera Singers for Veganism”. Rock musicians, I suppose, are probably second after children’s writers, but even then, if they get too boring about it - like Bono - we criticise them and send them back to their poor, empty lives of hedonism and wealth.
I mean, adult writers do get involved; there are great organisations like PEN and Writers for Liberty, which I’m a part of, but even then, the expectation behind that is one of avocation, between tomes, and it often only involves putting their names to “open letters” that achieve pretty much nothing except a mention in the Guardian.
But children’s writers. We’re different, aren’t we? People seem to expect us to be activists. On behalf of reading, on behalf of literacy, on behalf of libraries.
And on the whole, great. I’m happy to talk about the things I believe in:
1) I think Gove’s adversarial approach to schools and teachers is appalling, ignorant and damaging to the country.
2) I think he clearly fancies himself Margaret Thatcher and teachers as the miners.
3) I passionately believe that education is far too important to be left in the hands of a career politician, because Gove is only the latest in a series of disasters and won’t be the last. What exactly are Tristram Hunt’s qualifications for having the arbitrary authority to change an entire nation’s curriculum on a whim?
I’m also happy to call attention to things like the drastic destruction of libraries under this government, and support charities like Booktrust or ones close to my heart like The Siobhan Dowd Trust.
And you’re the same. I know you are. I see you all the time speaking and tweeting and holding events and fund-raising and constantly, constantly not letting those in power forget that there are those who oppose them.
We are an activist group - again, and I think often asked more than other groups of artists, so here’s my central question: is that our primary job? Is that, in fact, the best way we’re going to pass the baton of reading to YA readers?
Maybe. Partially. And I’ll absolutely keep doing it and I know you will, too.
Consider the young adult reader
If you try to hand them a baton in that way, won’t they just say, No, thanks, I’ll find my own baton, you life-ruining fascist. And why shouldn’t they? That’s what I would have done. That’s what I did.
But that’s a good thing. Look up on the batons they pick up on their own. I’ve just been on a tour of the US where YA is huge beyond huge. John Green sells millions. Neil Gaiman attracts crowds of thousands wherever he speaks. YA writers are rockstars over there, even when they’re someone like Veronica Roth who’s very shy and does very little publicity.
And here? I think it’s kind of the same. There are still, if you can believe it, still occasions where I - and I am very sure - you get patronised by adult writers for writing for young people. You know? Where you tell them you write for children, and they say, “Good for you.”
It’s about that point where I say that yeah, we have to struggle on and make do with merely outselling adult writers twenty-five to one. It’s a burden.
Because we’ve got the best readers, don’t we? The way they talk about books on social media. The way they’re passionately dedicated to the characters - just think of JK Rowling when she mentioned Hermione and Ron. Teen readers are almost cult-like in their devotion to books they see as their own.
And that’s brilliant. And that’s an advantage we have over other writers out there.
Kids read. Teens read. A lot.
1) Should we keep being activists for better and more opportunities for them to read whole books in schools instead of just joy-killing excerpts? Absolutely.
2) Should we keep advocating for better press coverage of all those millions of teens who do read and instead get told by a political system that they don’t? Absolutely.
3) Should we keep campaigning to keep public libraries open and school libraries properly staffed and funded so that the great democracy of reading has a chance to thrive and not be choked to death by a government with an interest in keeping its electoral population ignorant? Absolutely.
But there’s always a risk in activism, isn’t there? I’m not talking about reputation or anything like that. I’m talking about despair. The feeling of powerlessness.
I thought of this during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies last week. I didn’t watch them out of my own tiny protest that was, nevertheless, important to me. The anti-gay laws of Russia and the continued ascendancy of Putin fill me with the worst feelings of powerlessness. Despair that it’s only going to get worse.
Then I thought of all the young gay readers out there, the ones who write me letters about their lives and about how reading More Than This meant something to them, for example. And I thought, No, I’m not going to despair. I can’t.
Because I also have a say in how the world is going to be. Putin is clearly a very powerful, deeply-closeted man. But I have power, too.
And this is my only concern for children’s writers expected to be such regular activists. Gove, for example, would very much like you to think you have no power. Why do think he acts the way does? Why do you think he ignores every single one of his critics? Why do you think Blair did it when the nation said we don’t want to go to war and he said, we’re going anyway?
Power wins by convincing you that you’re disempowered.
And so the only really effective way that I could think of to pass the baton of reading to YA readers is to remind you (and myself) of our power.
You notice I’ve kept calling us artists? Yeah, totally cringey, isn’t it? I know. But it’s for a reason. If you think of your job as that of a functionary, filling up pages for a factory machine, churning them out impersonally for the consumption of anonymous readers well, I reckon you probably wouldn’t be here in the first place.
Do I consider myself an artist? Yep. It’s hubris and bit poncey, I know, but all art is hubristic and a bit poncey. I try not to call myself an artist in front of any internet trolls, but still.
It’s what I am before I’m an activist, before I’m an advocate, before I’m a campaigner. I’m a writer.
And that’s where my power is.
The baton of reading is not an event, it’s not a program, it’s not a government scheme, it’s not a poster campaign or sponsorship or social networking. As vitally important as those things are, they’re not the baton.
The baton is the story. The baton is the book. The baton is the novel that a young reader finds and says, “Yes, this is mine.”
What keeps a young person reading? The story.
Think of the power in being JK Rowling and the one to say, “I know your life is difficult, but who would you be if you could be anything?” Anyone under the age of 25 will have an immediate answer to the question, “Which Hogwarts house would you be?” That’s amazing power.
For the record, I’d like to say Gryffindor, but let’s face it, I’m Ravenclaw through and through.
But think, too, of the power of that first Twilight book - and yeah, they go pretty batshit by the end and yes, there are some serious gender problems as they go along - but think of the power of being Stephanie Meyer and the one to ask, “What if those world-shattering feelings you have right now aged 12, 13, 14 could be expressed by an immortal love?”
And the Hunger Games, too. “Yes, you currently live in the dystopia of high school, but what if you had the power to be the victor over that?”
Who gets to ask these questions? We do. Michael Gove doesn’t. We do.
The story MUST come first. That’s where our power lies.
And that’s what I think when I start to feel hopeless. What I think of when I feel powerless in the face of things I disagree with. I think of what story I can tell that hasn’t been told before or told in my way before. What questions can I ask? How can I show a new world, a new future, and new possibilities to a young reader?
Because they’re listening. Don’t ever think they’re not. They listen because we ask the right questions and tell the best stories. That’s power.
And so absolutely shout against injustice, shout against stupid and venal government policies, shout against the politicisation of education, shout against opportunities being denied to poor students in state schools. Be an activist against all of that. Be an advocate, be a campaigner.
I will until the day I’m no longer able. But do all those things after you’ve spent the day writing to your fullest, to the wildest stretches of your imagination.
Because just remember, when you look at Gove, when you look at the grasping politicians who came before him and the ones who’ll come after, just remember:
He isn’t Sauron. He isn’t Voldemort. He isn’t even Putin.
He’s the temporary Mayor of Hamelin.
And me? And you? And you? We’re the fucking Pied Piper.
So pipe loud. Pipe the best story you’ve got. And that song will still be playing when the Mayor is long gone.
Thank you very much.
So I'm just back from a very enjoyable (and tiring) tour of the US. It was great meeting so many of you! Really pleased with how it all went. Hope to come back soon.
In the meantime, in the UK, I've got THREE NEW BOOKS coming out tomorrow. Well, three new paperbacks with new covers. The UK paperback of The Crane Wife comes out tomorrow, as do the reissues of my first two, slightly obscure adult books. My first novel The Crash of Hennington and my short story collection Topics About Which I Know Nothing. They've been very hard to find up to now, but no longer! Check 'em out.
More Than This has been shortlisted for the Red Tentacle in the Kitschies Awards (aka kind of the coolest book awards out there). I won a Red Tentacle two years ago for A Monster Calls, and they always come up with the most interesting awards in the book world. Check 'em out!
The first public events of my US tour for The Crane Wife start tomorrow (24 January). If you're in the Bellingham, WA area or even Vancouver, BC, come along to Village Books Bellingham on Friday, 24 January at 7pm. And I'm in Seattle on Saturday, 25 January, at 6pm at University Bookstore. Then dates following in Oakland, Manahattan Beach, San Diego, Manhattan, Milwaukee, South Hadley MA and Mystic CT. All details here.
Hope to meet some of you soon...
I'm off to America this week for US Crane Wife book tour! Hope you come to see me if I'm nearby. The first events are this Friday in Bellingham, WA and Saturday in Seattle, WA, which has a DIFFERENT TIME than I've been saying. The Bellingham event is at 7pm but the Seattle event is at 6pm. Love to see you there, especially as I'm a local!
I'm also going to Oakland, Manhattan Beach and San Diego, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Milwaukee, WI; South Hadley, MA; and Mystic, CT. All details here. Come see me!
Greetings to the new commenters and America here I come (again). Go Seahawks.
Hey, there. For the US and Canada, The Knife of Never Letting Go is iBooks Book of the Week! I can't really link to it because I'm in the UK and Apple automatically only gives me UK links. But go to iBooks on your US or Canadian iTunes, and there it'll be. Book of the Week.
The big upcoming news is my US tour for the publication of the Crane Wife there. I'm going to Seattle, Bellingham, Oakland, Manhattan Beach, San Diego, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, South Hadley (MA), and Mystic, CT by the end of January. Check out the dates and details and come see me!
I pick Seattle (of course), Denver, New England and Carolina. But only lightly. Greetings to the new commenters!
Happy New Year, first and foremost! Though years are arbitrary, so you can pretty much count today as the first day of a new year if you really wanted.
More Than This has made it onto several Best of the Year lists, which is really nice, including this absolutely cracking one from the Telegraph and this one from the Observer. Some really good books on both.
And USicans! Don't forget The Crane Wife comes out there in January and I'll be touring lots of cities and states in the latter part of the month at awesome indie bookstores. Check out the dates here and come and see me!
Greetings to all the new commenters and just to say, yes, More Than This is a stand-alone book. It ends exactly where it should. All very best til 2014!
My screenplay for A Monster Calls has made the Black List (which is a good thing, indeed) for the best currently unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The Hollywood Reporter has a good explanation (and I have strong, strong hopes that the "currently unproduced" part changes soon!).
Update -- US TOUR DETAILS!! I'm on a book tour of the US for The Crane Wife from 24-31 January that sees me spanning the country from WA to CA to MN to MI to MA to CT. A whole ton of places, so PLEASE check the Events page for full details (but I'm pasting them below, too):
23 January - ABA Winter Institute in Seattle for booksellers (but a bookstore visit in Seattle, too, stay tuned)
28 January - Minneapolis, MN at Magers & Quinn Booksellers at 7pm.
31 January, lunchtime - Mystic, CT at Bank Square Books at 12noon.