Dr Mark Norman, Senior Curator of Molluscs at Museum Victoria, likes escaping too.
He says that non-fiction helps kids escape into the real world.
Which is a Good Thing to say, because lots of people say that non-fiction isn't really reading. Which is nonsense, but provides me with an exellent segue to provide you with a snippet from my talk from the Emerging Writers Festival last weekend:
David Fickling, UK childrens publisher extraordinaire, started out publishing Goosebumps. And although he has moved on to bigger and better things, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Goosebumps, The Babysitter's Club, The Guiness Book of Records... David calls these books readermakers. They’re easy books, accessible books. They’re like the white bread equivalent of books – light, insubstantial, and without much dietary fibre.
But if you’re a young person, and you’re a bit scared of this whole Reading thing because you don’t really get it, and everyone keeps telling you how important it is, a Readermaker can be a great thing. Because you pick it up. It’s easy to get into. Pages turn. Before you know it, you’ve finished. You read a whole book. A whole entire book. And it was fun. So you read another one. This reading thing is easy! And because you’re breezing along, you’re a reading gun, you think about picking up something a bit longer. Something a bit harder. And your love of reading has begun. You've escaped.
At his keynote at the CBCA conference, Neil Gaiman talked about escapism and imagination. He said (in response to a previous keynote bagging Rowling for being a crap writer), that there is no such thing as a bad book, because reading is a contract between a reader and a writer, and when it comes to children's books, the reader does a lot of the work.
Gaiman told us about this book he read as a child. One part he remembered particularly clearly. The torches on the hill, the dark, terrifying night. The smell of smoke. The glint of firelight on the river below. The restlessness of men and horses, before the battle. On returning to the book as an adult, Gaiman was shocked to find the actual words that conveyed all of these pictures:
"Gosh, what a dark and scary night it is," said Margaret.
So, Gaiman told us, it doesn't really matter if the writer isn't doing her job. Because young readers will do it for her. And that we shouldn't try to prevent children from reading crap, because you can grow a lot of good stuff in crap.
It's not really an excuse for shoddy writing, though, and Gaiman emphasised how important it is to write good books for children. Think of how many people have only ever consumed cheap, nasty wine/whiskey/sushi, and then assumed that they didn't like it, and never tried it again. It could be the same for kids; if the first book they read is shit, then they might think they don't like reading.
Anyway. This isn't very coherent, so I shall finish by reminding you of Chesterton via Gaiman.
The only kind of people who complain about escape, and escapism, are jailers.
I'm on a panel called How To Find an Audience (without losing your soul). It's at 12:30 in the Yarra Room at Melbourne Town Hall, and I intend to say some fascinating and salacious things about commercial fiction, specifically Allen & Unwin's fabulous* new Girlfriend Fiction series.
It's lots of stories, pictures and bits by some famous people*, some new people, and some young people.
I really love the format of the book - it's pretty much pocket-sized, and it has a flip book of a jumping dog in each page corner.
It's a bit strange having a book with my name on it, when I didn't write any of it (except the introduction), but the whole process of curating the book - selecting the pieces, working on them with the writers, organising them into some kind of coherent flow - was a really amazing learning experience.
The last three days have been spent running around gossiping networking at the CBCA conference. I'm going to write a longer and more coherent post about it later this week, but for now, permit me some bullet points.
My fangirl moment was only tangentially related to Neil Gaiman. Standing at the Allen & Unwin stall, looking at Bruce Mutard's new graphic novel, a tall man looking over my shoulder. 'Eddie Campbell!' I say, and he looks quite surprised to be recognised. We chat about graphic novels and a possible new TV show that sounds fascinating.
Bernard Beckett is a great speaker and I can't wait to read Genesis.
I am horrified that this man is starring in the film of this book (which I just devoured) ERIC BANA IS NOT A LIBRARIAN.
There was a typo on a poster, proclaiming an "additive new series". Now with phenylalanine!
Why isn't my job title as awesome as Dr Mark Norman's, who is Senior Curator of Molluscs at Melbourne Museum??
1. I met Julia Gillard today. She was at the launch of the MS Readathon, and said some AWFULLY sensible things about how good it would be if Australia put as much effort into winning at reading, as we did into winning at sport. I have a girl-crush.
2. Boy Toy, by Barry Lyga, is a really good book. I heartily recommend. It's a story that I've read many times before, but never as well as in this case.
3. I am going to pinch two very interesting comments that JL Bell put on Oz and Ends, from a panel:
-"Teen books are like adult books, without all the bullshit." --H Jack Martin.
-"I thought I'd been condescended to because I'm an Indian. That was nothing compared to the condescended to because I've written a YA novel... because I've written a book about a 16-year-old, that means I'm a capitalistic whore." --Sherman Alexie, author of another very good book.