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Monday, June 3, 2013

Reading Matters: Professional Program Day 1 recap

The 10th biennial Reading Matters conference kicked off with some wise words from Anna Burkey, manager of the Centre for Youth Literature and Sue Roberts, CEO and State Librarian. They welcomed “writers of today, and of the future” and stressed that this conference was about valuing the voices and views of Australian teens, and focused on what young people like to read. Further to that, the official Twitter hash-tag of the conference was #YAmatters (and at several points it was trending worldwide, right alongside #BEA13).


Gayle Forman, Tim Sinclair and Raina Telgemeier discuss the highs and lows of teen life. 

In discussion with Adele Walsh.  

The first question out of the gate was “why write about the teen experience?”, and Tim Sinclair very quickly said “grownups are boring.” He expanded on this, saying that all adults seem to do is ‘angst’, but when you’re seventeen-years-old everything matters and you feel everything more powerfully for it. Gayle Forman perfectly summarized her books by saying “I write for young people, but not young stories,” while Raina said that while other points in her life are somewhat hazy, she “remembers every detail of [her] teen life.” It was certainly a spectrum of response which perfectly summarized why more than just teen readers are drawn to YA (and why some adults who refuse to read it are missing out). Furthermore, Gayle said if she wrote about her life right now, it’d be boring; a book about a 42-year old mum is dull (and wouldn’t it be dull if all middle-aged women just wrote about being middle-aged women?) 

In writing responsibly for their teen readers, Gayle said she only had a responsibility to write an authentic story . . . though she did admit to having a ‘daughter test’ that not all her characters would necessarily pass. 

Tim Sinclair actually took Parkour lessons to help him write the verse novella ‘Run’ (and he has the physio bill to prove it!). And when asked about writing responsibly, Tim pointed out that sometimes teachers/librarians/parents don’t like the swearing that appears in his novels; “poetry is about playing with language, and if swearing isn't language then I don't know what is!”

The authors were asked to name a moment when they had to make brave decisions in their career or storytelling. Tim said “when you're writing you don't think decisions are brave, you just write what the book needs.” Gayle said that when she was working on ‘If I Stay’ she didn’t think it was a viable book to get published, but she wrote it regardless and that was an act of bravery in itself. Raina had a similar story; everyone told her that comic books for young girls would never, ever sell . . . she persevered, won an Eisner award and proved everybody wrong. But Raina wondered if her publishers were brave, because they stuck by her and never asked her to remove two gay characters from her novel ‘Drama’ (two characters, she noted, who are based on friends of hers).  

Gayle then spoke about how the (beloved) secondary character, Dee, was actually transported from another novel she was working on and he just worked better in ‘Just One Day.’ But after writing him for a bit she grew concerned at having written this gay, homosexual ‘sassy’ black sidekick stereotype – she grew concerned at this, especially, when she and her husband adopted their black daughter. She didn’t want Dee to be a stereotype – so she made his character smart, gave him a very interesting background and elevated him above stereotype. 

On the topic of what ‘labels’ the authors hate being pinned with, Tim quipped that he didn’t like the label ‘poet’ and his books being called ‘poetry’; “Because that's where books go to die in a bookshop.” Raina hates the line; “Oh, it’s just a comic.” All three authors constantly get asked if they’ll ever write a “real” novel (for Gayle, this means fantasy). Gayle, at least, is resigned to the question and no longer minds people asking it (though she may fudge a bit and say “maybe” when what she really means is ‘most likely never’). Tim actually revealed that he’s working on a novel right now, but would say no more other than “the words will go right to the edge of the page and everything!” 

The question of whether YA was a “genre or readership” was put to the authors, and Tim Sinclair gave the best response; “It’s just awesome.” 

Raina spoke about how her novel ‘Smile’ was inspired by the look of Wes Anderson movies, and came from just wanting to have fun in writing a middle-grade novel (and though some middle school children have called her out on certain points, she doesn’t care – she had fun and the book is meant to be fun!). She also warned that if she ever looks at you funny and intently, it’s because she’s deciding how she’ll sketch you later. . .  Gayle complimented Raina, saying she was transported to her own drama days youth with the novel. And on the topic of what each author loved about each of the books. . . Raina loved having a romantic relationship that's not the main character's relationship, in Tim Sinclair’s ‘Run’. Tim loved how Gayle’s ‘Just One Day’ was twisting the usual 'girl meets boy' plot and being about a young girl finding herself by being herself

To cap things off; Gayle said she’s finished ‘Just One Year’ (written crazily, back-to-back with ‘Just One Day’) and it’s due out in September this year. She also mentioned the brand new book she’s working on, ‘A Code Unknown’, which is a ‘suicide, mystery, love story. . . ’ (the audience was most intrigued). Raina is working on a companion novel to ‘Smile’, called ‘Sisters’ and due out in 2014. And Tim’s aforementioned ‘novel-novel’, with words right to the end of the page. 

Question time and Raina spoke about people wondering if she’ll run out of ideas (since ‘Smile’ and ‘Drama’ are semi-autobiographical) but Raina will never run out of ideas because “emotions are ageless.” 

On the topic of ‘what are you reading now?’ Raina highly recommended Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel ‘Relish’, about growing up in a food-obsessed household. Tim Sinclair is reading Riddley Walker (which he’s convinced would be YA if re-released, since there’s a 12-year-old protagonist.) And Gayle Forman is excited to read Fiona Wood’s ‘Wildlife’; normally when she’s asked this question any place else in the world, she recommends Melina Marchetta (but everyone in the audience already knows to read her!) 

Raina Telgemeier has the best author signature. Seriously. 

Before the next event got underway, the brilliant cartoonist Sarah Howell showed us how she draws the 6 basic emotions. She also showed us 'Grimace' - the facial expression simulator. 
Is there an app for that? 

Paul Callaghan, John Flanagan and Fiona Wood talk stories and communities in a brave new world.  

In discussion with Jordi Kerr.


Fiona spoke about ‘agency’, saying “I write a book that I would love to read.” She doesn’t write for a target market, but hopes that when the book is finished it finds a readership. 

In talking about writers online (on Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr, author websites) Fiona finds it very hard to construct a persona that’s her, but also for 12-year-olds. She can’t talk about politics, can’t swear . . . so the online space gets smaller and smaller for her. Posting a million blogs about ‘how to write’ also doesn’t interest, and she feels like she’d be disingenuous if she did so. What really horrified Fiona is when she spoke about publishers wanting authors to partake in ‘platform building’, marketing adjunct and how to (at this point, she physically shivered as she said the words) “grow your brand” (then adding “that hurt me more than it hurt you”). Fiona mentioned John and Hank Green and the online phenomenon of ‘Nerdfighters’ – and now publishers see that as THE ULTIMATE in author’s with online presence. While the Green brothers do a lot of good (like encouraging young people to vote), Fiona admits she wants to see a movie in which the Green Brothers turn evil. 

On the topic of authors and their online presence, John Flanagan (jokingly) said he had no idea about his Australian publishers running a 'create your own custom-built shield' feature on his awesome ‘Brotherband’ website (which is a fantastic interactive and educational tool – though he did need to ask his publisher’s to put a different web support email up, since kids were emailing him with questions that he had no idea about!). The topic then moved on to John’s ENORMOUS fan-base in places like the Netherlands . . . where a battle-field is rented for major ‘Brotherband’ cos-play by some very serious individuals (cue photo of John looking at a photo of himself presiding over one of these ‘Brotherband’ slaughters). 

The authors then moved on to discussions of audiences maybe having too much say in how stories turn out. John said that Hollywood basing narratives on focus groups doesn't work, and if Casablanca was made today it'd have a happy ending – but the very fact that Rick doesn’t get the girl at the end (despite audiences wanting him to!) is what makes that a great film. John Flanagan says to write what you want to write, don't try to fit an audience or expectation. On that topic . . .  John hinted that “a movie is probably going to happen” – though he did muse that the highest compliment paid to him is when kids say reading his books is like “reading a movie” – and he loves the idea that all these kids have different movies playing in their heads when they read his books. 

When asked ‘are apps the death of imagination?’ there was silence from the audience – but Fiona and John both admitted to some concern. John spoke about how moved he was when a boy emailed him to say he used to always be an avid gamer, until he read his books and found a bow & arrow – now he spends majority of his time in the backyard, pretending to be in the ‘Brotherband’ universe. Ultimately though, John said “what counts is emotional connection. And it has to be real.”  Paul Callaghan (freelance writer and game developer) conceded that “in the wrong hands, games can be detrimental to imagination,” but he also said that we’re witnessing the birth of an art-form right now, during a time of great experimentation. 

Social gaming was then discussed, and Paul said these are about giving people a framework in which to tell stories. 

Audience then asked questions, and someone put it to Paul that they simply didn’t know where to find *good* games for their kids. To which the chair asked if we needed a “librarian of games” – Paul said an emphatic, YES, and said he’d compile a list to be accessed via the Centre for Youth Lit website – so keep your eyes peeled!

An older audience member then expressed concern that games don’t teach kids empathy the same way a novel can. Paul was quick to defend, and said that games simply communicate empathy differently than novels – they still explain that actions have consequences, and saying that games have no empathy presumes that kids only go in one direction . . . though Fiona did agree, to an extent, that ‘shooting games’ taught an all too easy empathy that’s not really lasting or impacting.

Gatekeepers – the good, the bad and my mother

Keith Gray

Look, this was one of my favourite Reading Matters talks and I know I won’t be able to capture Keith Gray’s sheer awesomeness in this blog post. I just can’t – because Keith is such a quick wit and he spoke with such impassioned eloquence that had the entire audience in stitches one minute, and then shaking heads in dismay the next. And part of the enjoyment of this talk was being in a room with other people who just *got* it – we were all right there with Keith, championing him and vowing to never be gatekeepers ourselves. Both Jess (The Tales Compendium) & I loved this talk so much, that we totally fangirled to Keith afterwards and got our photo taken:

So, this is my (poor) attempt at explaining Keith Gray’s excellent ‘Gatekeepers’ talk – but, truly, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Keith Gray speak – TAKE IT! He’ll change your world, truly.

Keith’s discussion began with an anecdote about a 5-step ladder that came with 19 instructions and safety precautions . . .  which led him to talk about a bigger cotton-wool, condescending world.

Keith trusts his reader to deal with big, tough issues, saying; “The best books are those that let you think on your own two feet.” That’s why he was quite taken aback by a letter from a 76-year-old grandfather about his book ‘Warehouse’, which he was just disgusted with for the language (the F-word appears twice in 68,000 words) and deemed it unsuitable for younger readers. Now, Keith could have taken this as simply ‘gatekeeper malarkey’ – which mostly presumes that young readers read a book the exact same way that adults do.  But then he got to thinking that before his ideal readers can even get their hands on a copy of his book, they have to go through a number of gatekeepers who could potentially keep it from them;
Publishers – sometimes too timid to tackle tough topics
Librarians – could bring private agenda to public bookshelves
Parents – who have the least amount of knowledge about kid’s books
All of these people, at the slightest offence, could close the gate and say “You Shall Not Pass!” to his books. 

Keith mentioned that a big perceived problem in kid’s books is language, particularly profanity. But, really, young people these days “don’t give a fuck about the F-word”, it’s not an insult to them (they use it to insult elders). Furthermore, Keith said he “didn’t need to read books to learn how to swear” – you learn that in school. 

A big question running throughout Keith’s talk was “do you write a book for the gatekeepers or the readers?” 

He then spoke about a Catholic school who had invited him to speak to their students, but two days before his talk was scheduled the librarian called up, asking him to not make mention of his ‘Losing It’ anthology; A collection of fiction short stories by leading teen writers about losing your virginity. Keith then spoke to the principal, saying he’d feel disingenuous if he omitted speaking about his latest book (it’s not rude or violent, it’s just a very honest examination of love and sex). But the principal was adamant that because the book didn’t conform to the Catholic moral perspective, it shouldn’t be mentioned. Keith pulled out of the talk altogether – and now he reflects and wonders why the principal was only concerned with parent’s reaction to ‘Losing It’; no mention was made of the kids’ potential reactions. 

This, Keith said, was an example of how “the gate usually eases shut with a whisper, not a clang.” 

He’s disheartened to think that books get banned or censored because, GOOD LORD, young people might think too much or don’t think the way we want them to, or read books that aren’t Approved/Sanctioned/Authorized. Keith said to always ask: “for whose sake would these books be banned?” because it’s certainly not the kids. 

Then came a very funny interlude about how if banned books were so bad, surely it’d be because they lead to criminality . . . that there would be research that proves prisons are overrun by people who read banned books as children. 

I can’t stress this enough – Keith asked; "Who are the best gatekeepers? I'd argue it's the readers themselves." We just need to have a bit of trust in young people to deserve good books (*great* books, even) that teach them empathy, respect and that use fiction as a safety net. 

Everyone’s a Critic

Myke Bartlett, Alison Croggon and Morris Gleitzman on setting their stories free.  

In discussion with Annabel Astbury.

First up, Myke Bartlett spoke about his podcasting background – that for a little while he was writing a novel and after completing a chapter, doing a podcast reading. This was a balance between private writing and instant feedback – and at one stage he was writing a chapter a week. While he wouldn’t necessarily write like that ever again, it did teach him what people want from a hero, and how to write for an audience. It also highlighted his tendency to write in the very Australian “spiral of despair” style. 

Morris spoke to Myke’s experience and said he could never do something like that, because as human beings we want to avoid delaying gratification . . . which would result in a happy and concluded book in three chapters. But as a novelist pain and suffering develop and grow characters. In fact; "We identify with our characters best when we share their pain or doubt with them."

Alison Croggon spoke about the amnesia that comes after writing a book. That it’s this very intense and solitary experience, but once the book is out there in the world you just forget – then it belongs to everyone else. She had an experience of a family member discussing the intricate details of one of her ‘Pellinor’ books with her, who wanted to talk about secondary characters and minor plot points . . .  and Alison had no memory of them (this reminded me of an author quote I heard once; that writing a book is like labour – and it’s a good thing you forget the pain or else you’d never want to do it again!) 

For Morris, when he’s finished with a book he’s okay with the end. Because all of his characters stay with him, that the details of the plot may vanish, but those characters are forever. He said that you want that character to go out and find their way . . . even in a hostile world (full of critics and mean reviews!) For what it’s worth, Morris also never dreamed of writing epic anything, because he gets sore wrists. And ‘Once’ was meant to be a stand-alone book, Felix’s story just wasn’t over yet.

. . . on the topic of the stand-alone versus the current YA appeal of trilogies, Morris said some very wise words. He wondered if “because young adults are seen as tribal, they’d like their books to be tribal too?” 

Then the topic moved to the online discourse between readers. Morris spoke about a story-sharing Mandarin website, which (like every other book list in the world has a ‘top 10’, ‘top 100’) and how that was “imposing conservative democratic taste” – that some really fantastic books don’t get read because of these lists that perpetuate popularity. 

Myke spoke about how he doesn’t like that the online space is becoming more personality-based for criticism (and he’s not a huge fan of the first-person review).  This was a topic that was very close to Alison’s heart, having established the first theatre critic blog in Australia and she emphasised that criticism is part of the cultural conversation and very important. Morris said he’d much rather a long, trashing review of his work than a quick but glowing paragraph in a mainstream paper – and it’s just a sad fact that children’s fiction doesn’t get much page-time either way. Morris finished on this thought; "Everyone's a critic, but people confuse criticism with venting" – which is evident in the comments section. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Myke did approach both myself and Jess after his talk and made it abundantly clear that he didn’t mean to sound like he was criticizing bloggers. He loves bloggers – truly. Phew! 

Challenge Accepted

Ambelin Kwaymullina, Andrew McGahan and Garth Nix debate conflict and tension in YA.  

In discussion with Miffy Farquharsen. 

Ambelin kicked things off, discussing tension topics in YA. She said that you don’t write about war the same way for 8-year-olds, 13-year-olds and adults . . .  but that doesn’t mean you don’t talk about it. Garth Nix said a book without tension would, by definition, be limp – and “I don’t want to write a limp book.” 

A question for Ambelin, on the significance of the bad guy in ‘Ashala Wolf’ being called Neville Rose . . .  Ambelin said that was no accident, and the name is based on Auber Octavius Neville who was Chief Protector of Aboriginals in Western Australia, and responsible for the stolen generation. His name has awful connotations for the people of WA. On a personal note, two generations of Ambelin’s family were removed during the stolen generation.

More from Ambelin, who said that young readers who have experienced horror in their own lives respond most strongly to Ashala Wolf – often bullied and refugee kids. Ambelin appreciates this, since she wasn’t writing ‘Ashala Wolf’ for the teens with the happy life. She wanted to write about healing and triumph, not hurt – because those same kids don’t need any more helplessness in their lives.

Andrew McGahan spoke about tropes, and while the young man running off to live a sea-faring life is a common story, ‘Ship Kings’ is a very uncommon book. The main character is really the ocean, and that’s where the magic is meant to be. Andrew is not, nor has he ever been a sailor himself, but he did some sailing research . . .  only a little though, so that it wouldn’t bring too much reality into the book. Andrew also stressed that he hasn’t felt like switching from writing for adults to young adults has been much of a change – the YA world may be more daunting, but there’s no difference in the writing, and the craft is just as hard.

All three authors came to writing YA fiction from very different paths. Garth Nix has worked in a bookshop, was a book publicist, editor and publisher’s sales representative before becoming the incredibly popular YA writer he is today. Andrew was a highly successful and award-winning adult writer before switching to YA. And Ambelin wrote picture books first - and she said “I needed the picture books to get to the novel.” Ambelin’s first picture book about a crow actually came to her in a dream – and her people, the Palyku, believe that elders come to you in dreams so she thinks that set her off on the ‘write’ path. 

The topic of book adaptations was bought up, and I loved that Andrew said “adapting books into movies doesn’t really add anything to the book. Just leave it alone,” (despite the fact that his first book was adapted into a very successful movie). Garth said there has been only one perfect adaptation, which is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (the audience hummed agreement). 

Then the conversation segued into ‘labels’. . . Ambelin said ‘Ashala Wolf’ has been called fantasy and sci-fi. She doesn’t really care – you just write the best novel you can, and then other people can put labels on it. At this point Andrew and Garth pitched an idea about Killer Rainbow Faeries . . . you had to be there.

Discussing ‘taboo’ topics in YA, Garth said “you can put anything in YA – violence, sex. But like sex, it depends on how you do it.” He mentioned Keith Gray’s earlier discussion on gate keeping, and said he was very annoyed at books being banned based on the perception of who the book is for. 

Andrew McGahan mentioned that in the third ‘Ship Kings’ there will be a sex scene . . . not at all graphic, but these are two 19-year-old characters, a boy and a girl, it’s very organic. At this point, Ambelin said that the second ‘Ashala Wolf’ has lots of revelations but only a little romance, and there won’t be any graphic sex scene . . . to which Garth commented that *not* including sex is also very important (I 100% agree – Ashala is a kick-ass heroine in her own right. Her next book won’t be made more interesting by including more romance) 

. . . I should also mention that throughout this discussion both Andrew and Garth continually praised ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’. They clearly just LOVED the book and wanted Ambelin (and the audience!) to know it. 

You Can’t Say That!

Parental guidance recommended with Libba Bray, Vikki Wakefield and Gabrielle Williams.  

In discussion with Kim Kane.

I loved all of the Reading Matters events, and I tried my best to take notes and/or Tweet as much as possible. But some sessions were just so batshit awesome, that rather than note-taking I really just wanted to absorb. ‘You Can’t Say That’ was one such session. So I do apologize, but I really can’t summarize the sheer awesomeness of hearing Libba Bray saying; 'And that sums up the “Jesus rode in on a dinosaur carrying an AK47” mentality that's part of American culture.’ All I can offer is my best recounting of an amazing session that I felt (as I’m sure everyone in that audience) very blessed to be in the presence of, as these three amazing writers bounced their badassness off one another. So, here goes;

The question was asked about modifying work for international audiences – and Gabrielle Williams has a WHOPPER of a story about this. But to understand the sheer lunacy, a huge SPOILER ALERT for her novel ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’. . . Gab’s US publishers told her that the book would never, ever be released in the US because of the Jesus in the basement thing. Gab clarified, for those who hadn’t read the book; “he’s not alive or anything – it’s not stupid.” Still, her US publishers were adamant that it wouldn’t work – and the only way it could is if she replaced Jesus with Elvis (“our alternate Jesus,” quipped Libba). The audience ROARED with laughter. I don’t believe the US version of ‘Reluctant Hallelujah’ will be happening. 

About writing within boundaries, Vikki said that she just writes full-on, until she makes herself laugh or cry. Someone else needs to tell her that she’s gone too far. And if she has any self-imposed limits, it’s that (despite having a dirty mouth) she’ll never use the C-word. Ever (because there’s no male equivalent). Libba added; "I can't order toast without sounding like I'm in a Scorsese movie." Vikki also spoke about other people’s thoughts on boundaries – like the fact that she has written two Aboriginal characters in both ‘All I Ever Wanted’ and ‘Friday Brown’, and there’s often this fear of a white writer writing Aboriginal characters (Vikki and I discussed this in a recent Kill Your Darlings article). Now, Vikki would never write from the perspective of an Aboriginal character (because she doesn’t have the right to do that) but she communicates a view on Aboriginal characters from a white perspective, and you can’t discount that (and you can’t just not have any Aboriginal or diverse characters – that’s not true to life). 

It then shifted to Libba, who has a black character called Memphis in her new book ‘The Diviners’ . . . and he’s there because she really wanted to discuss the Harlem Renaissance in this 1920s book. And, she was writing ‘The Diviners’ in a post-9/11 world, in the wake of Barack Obama as president . . . these characters have to be represented. Furthermore, she’s in the business of creating human beings. 

. . . Um, this bit gets hazy after Libba said nobody had thus far criticized her for writing a black character in the first-person – to which she quipped that she must be like Mariah Carey, living in a bubble of constant praise. And this was the first of many times that the audience just lost it over Libba – just, constant laughter and giggles.

And on the topic of humour, Libba admitted that it’s double-edged. “You either get away with a lot, or people come to your house with pitchforks,”  - on the lampooning satire of her incredible ‘Beauty Queens.’ 

Gabrielle Williams said that she doesn’t try to approach “ISSUES” necessarily, but rather issues come to her characters. 

Vikki touched on something really interesting, and was the first gender kick-off question. She said that contemporary fiction seems to be held to a higher standard with regards to what’s ‘politically correct’ etc, but a genre like fantasy gets away with a lot more – particularly violence, and especially violence against women. SO TRUE! 

Libba said that she “writes book with questions, not necessarily answers.”

. . . And another interlude that I can’t quite capture in this summary. Basically Libba said that “the past disarms the reader the same way humour does” (on her rather scary 1920s novel ‘The Diviners’) and then she segued into talk about BUNNIES! BUNNIES WITH HATCHETS! And how you can lure people in with “Oh, the cute rabbit!”  I’m sorry; I was too busy laughing to jot my notes down. Just know that it was awesome.

Asked if there are certain topics they won’t write about, Vikki said she once started a list of everything she wouldn’t write . . . then she asked herself ‘Do I have some past experience with this?’ – if she did, then she could explore it. She ended up crossing everything off the list – because everything was up for exploration. And then Vikki said that when she’s writing and something doesn’t feel right because she has crossed a line; "It's never the subject that makes me cross the line - it's always the tone" Libba LOVED this. 

Libba admitted to being a little creepy as a child, and said that when children are anxious they’re drawn to dark things – as catharsis. She described herself as “cheerfully anxious.” But Libba saw a lot of darkness growing up – she admitted to having one friend whose mother abandoned her and another who was sexually abused by both her father and brothers. For a long time, by comparison, she had a very normal and stable home life – her father was even a Presbyterian Minister. . .  and then the day came that he came out as being gay. Her mum and dad told her that she had to keep it a secret though, because he could lose his job. So Libba found herself with this very big secret when she was quite young, and that was kinda fun. 

This was another recurring theme of Reading Matters, when Libba mused that the reason adults are so scared of teenagers is because they’re at the point of tearing down the veil and developing a bullshit-detector. 

Asked if she’s in the “YA saves!” camp, Libba amended to say she’s in the “YA sure doesn’t hurt,” camp.

About advocacy in your writing . . . Gabrielle Williams spoke about the relationship that Beatle’s sister, Winsome, has with her English teacher in ‘Beatle Meets Destiny.’ Gab says she knows that’s immoral – but she spoke about the influence for that, and a friends of hers who graduated from teacher college very young (21) and he was very good looking. One night they were out to a bar with him, and some teenage girls were there – his students (there illegally, obviously) – and Gab mused that those girls would be all over him if he was up for it, she told him he must have a “penis of steel” – CUE LAUGHTER. This then became a running joke between the three, and Libba said that ‘Penis of Steel 3’ was working title of her next book (actually, ‘Diviners 2’).

Libba spoke about Theta’s rape in ‘The Diviners’, and how it’s very subtly mentioned because in the context, it’s a painful past memory – versus the murders that are happening in real time. Speaking of the almost-rape in ‘All I Ever Wanted’, Vikki said that lots of people were frustrated that there was no justice/redemption offered – but that’s the wrong assumption to make in YA (and real life), that justice is guaranteed. 

Vikki wondered why it was easier to get away with violence than sex when writing YA, especially since love and sex are vital and so important to our relationships and what makes us, us. But Vikki did admit that violence doesn’t shock her, because she grew up seeing it; “people who had a gentler life” are more shocked by it. But she writes it because people living with violence need to read it too. 

At this point, Libba Bray spoke beautifully about the “Tyranny of the Happy Ending” – she said book endings dictate themselves, and you can’t force happiness for the sake of happiness. You can certainly have shades of hope though, “like the glimmer of dawn” (I thought that was so beautiful – that’s why she writes the books, people!) Gabrielle spoke about the not-so-happy ending in ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’, explaining that she was following the biblical story to an extent, and a sacrifice was required. Vikki said that ‘Friday Brown’ ended abruptly because she had nothing more to say. 

Then we spoke about what they’re all working on next . . . Vikki said she’s writing a love story (the audience then AWWWWWED – and Vikki clarified that because it’s her, it won’t all be good.) 

Gabrielle is working on a YA novel set in 1986 (the year that Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ was stolen from the National Gallery in Melbourne). There’s 4 characters: two are 17, two are 23 and it’s about ‘crime, intrigue & romance.’ You guys – I spoke to Gabrielle about this book and it sounds AMAZING. Seriously – I want!

Libba is working on ‘Penis of Steel’ (now, was it Gab or Vikki who quipped “I hope it’s not a flop!”. . . Hmmm)

Question-time, and I asked all three authors how they came to be readers – what their childhood reading was like (and if they had any ‘parental guidance’). Vikki said she didn’t grow up in a household of readers, but her grandmother told her stories. Vikki believes that everyone takes a different pathway to reading – but once you start, you never stop being a reader. Libba said her mother was an English teacher, and she vividly remembers reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’. Libba also said that when she read ‘Catcher in the Rye’, it was a bit of a revelation (her school librarian told her about it, whispered that it wasn’t available at the school library – but it was at the *public library*). Sure, ‘Catcher’ is the preferred reading of serial killers and social misfits, but that was Libba’s “bible.” Libba concluded by saying “thank you to everyone who ever put a book in my hand.” Gab also grew up in a house of readers, and stressed that “if you have something in your hand and it has text – more power to you!”


  1. Brilliant brilliant recap. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, Danielle.

  2. This is an amazing recap Danielle! Makes me feel like I was there. I really need to read The Diviners, I've had a copy sitting here for a while now. The cover is gorgeous and it sounds so interesting.

    1. Aw, good! That's what I was going for with these recaps!

      P.S. - 'The Diviners' is fab & I have a massive crush on Libba Bray.

  3. Sounds like you had an amazing time! Wish I had the money to attend - not that I don't; just that I'm saving.

    And that flop joke. Took me a while to get it. Sadly. Was thinking figuratively as in Libba's previous books haven't flopped, and then my eyes glanced at penis and I cracked up.

    1. It was great, and I'm definitely going again in 2015. Better than Disneyland :)

  4. Thanks Danielle -- a great summation and thank you for your question. It was the next one on my list and I was disappointed not to get to it so I was thrilled when you stepped in!

    Kim (Kane)

    1. Oh, you're most welcome! Thank *you* for being an amazing chair (and of the discussion which also created the now epic penis puns... I believe the baton has been picked up again on Twitter. Misbehaving authors, gotta love em'!)

      And CONGRATULATIONS on 'Cry Blue Murder' being longlisted for the Inkys!

  5. i am in love with you for doing this. i seriously devoured all the tweets and this recap (and your other one)

    plus you met Jess. i love her so.

    1. You are so very welcome, but it was my pleasure. Reading Matters was fun enough, getting to recap and relive with these blogs has been a nice remembering :)

      I adore Jess - we aim to one day be front-row at Reading Matters (it's a very coveted spot!)

  6. So many things to comment on in these posts! The whole day sounds amazing.

    I will say that I can't wait for the next Ashala Wolf book!


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