Sunday 24 November 2013

Storytelling in the contemporary world

This quote from Walter Benjamin came to mind this week 'Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant.' He wrote this in 1936 a time well before the Internet when books still ruled the world to a certain extent. It came to mind because Charlie Redmayne, the UK boss of Harper Collins, stated that publishers have to take storytelling back from their digital rivals in an article in the Guardian last week. His argument is that they need to think in terms of content for games players, tablets and other devices. But is this really new and something that needs to be discussed? The publishers that I have been in communication with over the last few years have been thinking in terms of this for a very long time and it is not just the start-ups that I am talking about. But maybe it is just another indication of how children's publishing is ahead of mainstream (adult) publishing.

Story is one of the most important part of children's writing. Publishers want a good strong story that has a great concept behind it. A child or teenager is not as tolerant or forgiving as adults of books that take a long time to get going and are full of flowery language and description. (How many of you actually got to the end of Captain Corelli's Mandolin?) Children and young adults want action and a story that moves fast. Could this also be why so many adults are turning to young adult fiction rather than their own? We live in a world of micro moments wanting almost immediate gratification.

I don't think the storyteller has become as remote as Benjamin suggests - however, we may not always know their name these days - instead the storyteller is coming in a multitude of formats. All of which are readily embraced and so they should be. When writing you need to think in terms of multi-platforms and be open to the idea. The book (whether ebook or hard copy) is still important but there are elements that need to go along side.

Computer games, apps, comics, magazines, TV and films all have narratives. They are all embedded within story telling that is because we are homo fabulus, we have to tell (and listen to) stories. This may be around the dining table, over a drink in the bar, in the school playground, wherever, we will tell stories about the events in our lives. In the same way if someone is talking to us about their own experience we will often counter with our exploits.

When writing you are creating vicarious experiences, opening up those opportunities for a reader to enjoy the world you have created. We need to be aware that many will now expect that enjoyment to be enhanced by the opportunity to engage with it on a multitude of levels, so next time your writing, think how many ways you could tell your story...

And here is a bit of Regina Spektor to make IC smile ;-)

Thursday 14 November 2013

Authors For The Philippines

On Monday 11th YAF author Keris Stainton put up a post on Facebook saying that fellow YAF author,  Keren David, had suggested that she ran an auction again for the people in The Philippines who were suffering so much following Typhoon Haiyan. Keris had previously done this when Japan was hit by tsunami and had raised £13,000.

For many of us the Philippines had become very familiar to us due to the ever bouncing and inspirational Candy Gourlay and her book Tall Story, which was partly based in the Philippines and where she originates from. This seemed personal now and suddenly masses of children's authors were offering whatever they could. Candy was our friend and her country was in trouble.

It is now the 14th November and at the time of writing there are 206 items on the auction list with still more being added all the time. There are gifts from authors of signed books, manuscripts (Meg Rosoff), the opportunity to name a character, school visits, meet down the pub (Anthony McGowan and Andy Stanton) to name a few. There are agents and publishers offering a chance to have your MS looked at. At Golden Egg we felt we wanted to do something so I contacted Keris and she kindly agreed that we could offer a place on one of our workshops

I cannot imagine that Keris had any idea how huge this was going to get again.  Even the likes of Armistead Maupin, who offered an advanced copy of his latest book, are getting involved. And according to her latest status still more people are contacting her.

Thank you Keris for doing this.

These Days by Jackson Browne just as a reminder of all those things we have forgotten to do.

Sunday 3 November 2013

YAF and contentious issues...again

I am writing this evening with one eye shut - the joys of yet another migraine but it is something I wanted to write. My good friend Nicky Schmidt wrote a fascinating blog post the other day entitled YA Fiction - a safe haven for teens. Those who know me are aware that this is a bit of a soap box for me. There is always going to be a need for books that deal with contentious issues. Places for teens to escape and explore as I have previously spoken about (some might argue ad nauseum).

There are two things I would like to say here. Firstly, it is important to also understand that not EVERY teen book has to deal with issues such as sex, drugs and alcohol  (Twilight for example is a prime example of that) - not that Nicky is suggesting that. But sometimes teens don't want to be faced with those issues, or equally see so much of it they don't want to read about it. YAF should be all about the story and not about the issues it deals with. In the same way if you are an aspiring writer and you don't want to write realist, gritty, teen fiction that deals with lots of issues. You don't have to, as long as your story is good enough. We all just need to write lots of different stories, gritty or otherwise, that teens can escape into when they need to.

The other idea I wanted to briefly highlight with regard though not specific to YAF is a cultural one. This is something we sometimes seem to forget and also something I have discussed with Nicky quite extensively as she is from South Africa and is currently writing a story based there. It was highlighted to me recently the cultural implications of where a story is written. I have reviewed some Canadian books which contain drugs themes. Often the drug of use portrayed within has been crystal meth. This is not something I ever really came across when I was doing my research into British contemporary YAF. When I explored this further I realised it came down to culture. Canada has a slightly greater issue with crystal meth than we do in the UK (currently that is - who knows what the Breaking Bad influence will have, if any). I could no more tell the Canadian authors not to write about crystal meth than they could ask us not to write about cannabis or cocaine in the way we do. Obviously there are a lot of generic themes which cause no cultural problems but it is just sometimes worth taking a breath and thinking about how your story might be perceived elsewhere.

So many things to think about here and all things I am mulling over for the commissioned book. I have just briefly touched on both of the ideas really.

Those who follow this blog know I am an academic. I have just had a article published which has taken me down a different route. It is a critical/creative combination and was co-authored with Prof Jen Webb of the University of Canberra. If you are interested you can find it here

Also some of you may know that my PhD was a creative writing one. If you are interested in the creative arts and doctoral studies you will find this Special Edition of Text a fascinating read.

And here is a bit of Jane Taylor with All Things Change because let's be honest they do...Thanks IC for the intro to Jane