The kids are all right
Chair: Mandy Hager; Speakers: Sally Gardner, Cornelia Funke, Ted Dawe
All three writers have written controversial books. Most New Zealanders would be familiar with the 'Into the River' saga. The judging panel who gave Ted Dawe the YA book award were told to reconsider, but they stood by their decision. If it had not won a prize, Ted believes it would not have got so much attention. An age restriction was put on it (14 years upwards), which resulted in all his books being removed from the library shelves. Then a religious party managed to get the book banned from book shelves and it was illegal to read the book!
Cornelia Funke and Sally Gardner have had censor problems with their books, too. Mandy Hager asked questions that looked into why adults want to censor children's books and whether they should be.
Mandy first asked why the writers wrote for young adults. Cornelia Funke – writes for teenagers and adults. “We are children dressed up as grown-ups. We are all storytellers.” Ted Dawe – Wanted to engage his male students at high school. He tried to get them to read novels. They wanted to read the newspaper and sport magazines – this persuaded him to write stories. He writes mostly with a narrator giving him orders. Sally Gardner – "With YA the 'Y' is why, 'a' is the answer. Adult books just have the answer, whereas, YA books investigate the why, too."
Sally talked about one of her books that publishers tried to censor. She said she had written it quickly, and thought it would never see the light of day. She had crossed the line three times: One is let a teacher kill a student. Another is have two boys kiss but not make it all about gay love, and thirdly, she included a lot of swearing. First publisher said no unless she took out whole segments. Second publisher said yes. Only one country didn’t want the 'boy kiss' in the book and that was United Arab Emirates. The book went on to win two awards. Sally found it quite amusing that it also won the French prize for imagination.
Cornelia told us how her book Inkheart had two lines from a Holocaust poem. Critics told her she was making light of the Holocaust. Last year she had a situation with her US and UK publishers. Both publishers wanted her to make changes. She called it commercial censoring. They wanted her to tailor it to the market. She published the book herself and it has been very successful.
Sally said we're in a climate of 'Versace' publishing. Publishers want authors to write about witches and vampires. She says she refuses to write what is the latest trend. She said writers write from the heart not to make publisher’s money.
Morag said it was interesting that the ‘Into the River’ debate was called the ‘morality’ debate. Ted said he doesn't think about writing morals. He says publishers want to make it shiny, a little bit like Harry Potter. Ted says he is a social realist writer, making comments about life.
Sally said she is a guardian of children, and loves her audience. She finds that parents sometimes complain about the ‘f’ word in her books. Yet parents will let their kids watch war, swearing, sex scenes on TV and then wonder why their kids are traumatised. She said writers are aware they are guardians and approach their writing responsibly.
Ted said his book was not about sex or swearing it was about bullying. Cornelia and Sally said the censors were the bullies, they didn’t want to bring attention to the bullying message.
Mandy asked the writers about the power of fiction on people. Sally said fiction has the the power to allow you to dream and helps you get out of your situation. "We are all story led; we want to hear people’s stories. They change people’s lives."
Ted said young people are like birds fluttering around a room but when they are reading they are engaged. "A novel can liberate that bird. Fantasy is escapism. Who is against escaping – only the jailor."
Mandy asked if the writers had any concerns for young adults. Sally said Facebook and Twitter bullying worried her. She is alarmed that young children are allowed social media tools. It is mental torture. She can tell by one glance who is being bullied. "We live looking into a machine. Why do we allow children of six or seven to use social media? We hardly know our telephone numbers, we rely totally on plastic. What happens when they go blank. What happens when all the pictures are gone.”
Cornelia sees social media as a way to communicate with her readers. She has only seen the good side of media. She tries to answer all her fan mail. So far it hasn't been a bad thing. She’s communicating with a community of book nerds. If she worries about something: she worries they don’t live. School takes up all their life. Kids come out at 4-5pm and then they do homework.
Ted said while teaching he dealt with a lot of bullying at school. They stamped out physical bullying but harassment stepped up and took its place. It was relentless, heartless, and impossible to stop. Once a kid got on the receiving end of harassment they would go insane.
The writers talked about authors still believing in hope and wanting to stand up for the weak and bullied. Cornelia said the difference between adult and children writers was that children writers like their audience. "If we reach millions of young minds, and give them shelter and hope, we need to hear the storm in the shelter and talk about it. It is incredibly powerful as a storyteller. When writers start out they don't know about that responsibility." She had heard from soldiers, and dying children. "Writers can change things even if we only give comfort. It makes us stronger."
Ted said that kids have asked him before what is the difference between writing for children and adults. He once heard David Hill answer, "We can’t write boring books". Kids are more open to influence so it is a big responsibility. Mandy said she always ends on a form of hope for her audience but also for herself. Sally said she thinks about ending on ‘hope’. Ted said he is not always strong on hope. He does for his younger readers but not for YA because that is often not reality. Sally said she wants authors to be honest.
Tamaki: Drawing on life
I have to confess I thought Mariko was Maori - she looks a little Maori and her name could be Maori. So with that ignorance I listened to her talk about her Canadian upbringing.
Mariko told us there is nothing better than a painful childhood to give material to writers. She has intense memories, as she was constantly grabbing onto things that happened to her. She never let anything go. She was a loner who wasn’t distracted by other things. While other people were living their lives she was going over intense experiences. Kate asked if she was interpreting it.
Mariko said she only writes for unpopular girls. "There are enough books for popular girls. It is part of their culture that says the way you get power in this world is pushing someone down the stairs." She doesn't want to write those sort of stories.
Kate then asked about her novel “This One Summer”. Mariko had observed that teenagers intensively study adults, looking ahead to try and figure out how to be this older person. She said she is also hyper-sensitive of mothers. There was a generation of woman who could not complain or ask for what they want. She depicts that in her novel.
Anna said Maggot Moon has a moral core, and asked how important was that. Sally said the ‘selfie’ sums up this generation. ‘Me that matters most.’ She thought about people sacrificing themselves for love. "That is the truth of us." She wanted to show that. The character’s bravery comes from deep love.
Sally talked about her journey as a writer, next. She thought she couldn’t be a writer because she couldn’t spell. The catalyst was her husband leaving her with three children to bring her up on her own. Her publisher said they better publish all those stories she had been writing and hiding in her drawers. She now had to earn a living for her three children.
Sally uses a typist to write her stories. Her dyslexia is so severe she cannot write a clean manuscript. "It is like car sickness; words wobble and merge together." She said she never plots anything. The characters tell her the story. She writes her stories simply but often about dark subjects.
Anna and Sally talked for a while about how schools could better deal with dyslexia.Sally feels education needs more diversity of minds. "At the moment we are educating rows of conifer trees. We should be celebrating the varieties and differences. It would help academic and non-academic people. At the moment, the two areas you find most people with dyslexia are art schools and prisons." The Blind Foundation in the UK now recognise dyslexia as an eyesight problem and she is working with them to re-publish some of her stories for dyslexic readers.
In the question and answer session someone asked how she coped with sad times in her life and how she got back to her writing afterwards. Cornelia shared that she learned the most about herself during dark and painful times. "We need to focus on those times – you see the world much cleaner. We learn by pain. We never learn better and faster. I am only happy because I’ve learnt from the sad times. When you start hiding from the pain, grief, or loss – then it becomes dangerous because it will knock at your door and you won’t be prepared. The only way is to practise – be open for change. I have the feeling that each time I feel sad time I am better prepared and more aware.”
Chris White, Weta
Digital: The Scorch Trials
There was a completely different audience for this talk. Young adults streamed into the theatre to see the latest film being developed by Weta Digital. I went because I enjoyed the Maze Runner books and wanted to see how they recreated the world.
Within the series there are different themes carried out through the film. For this book it was loneliness and going through different trials and tribulations. Also a sense of going from a small world into a bigger world that is out there waiting. There is also a sense of travel; travelling from one area into the next. The visual effect artists need to know this before they start on the film.
Chris then broke down the work that goes on before they start creating scenes. Theyfirstly collect reference images to get an idea of what they are trying to achieve. They looked at different images of cities going into decay. He said there’s a life to things, to objects, - they go through this process – of telling a story.
Next, they begin creating artwork. They look at it from a director’s point of view. They had to figure out how space worked, and how they travelled through it. They used 3D animation to create space. They had to put in debris, and light coming through the vacant building. They also had to consider how external structure would look like. They started with the city of Chicago because it had a good sense of shape and scale. They wanted to give a sense of what the city was like before.
They looked at different building styles and simulated debris. They developed software that would allow a building to fall. They pinned objects so they would drop, hang onto things, sometimes swing. They ran a physics engine so it was done properly. They didn't just crumble a single building but the whole city. "They are all connected together. All these things influenced each other." To help the city not look so static they draped fabric from the buildings so they could sway with the wind.
Theycreated their own weathering animation system. It mapped weathering, decay and crumbling. He applied this system to the whole city they were creating. They also animated sand accumulating on the city. They looked at the shapes that sand dunes formed. He wanted to get a sweeping motion in the dunes. They modelled the dunes, then brought in dynamics such as wind blowing the sand, and then they had to get the ripples correct.
When looking at skies – they had to have access to a library of sky pictures. "Skies can create moods." He showed us a scene from the film with different skies. You could definitely see which sky images were completely wrong. They used skies from Wellington with a lot of wind, but had to change it because it was not desert type skies. They had to find more options.
When creating cranks (monsters) – they started with drawings. The virus had to grow out of them. They ended up with digitally created characters. They looked at different diseases and used some of those effects. Part of the challenge was how their clothes looked on them.
I then had to race off to catch a plane back to Auckland so missed the last session with Joy Cowley. The lovely Maureen Crisp took my place and here are her notes:
Joy Cowley - 80 Years Young
At home she told stories to her sisters every night –always stories about powerful children. This is very important she says, ‘Children must be empowered in children’s fiction.’
Joy described herself as a naughty child always involved in grease and motorbikes. She was one of the first women to hold a private pilot’s license, and described the joy of flying a Tiger Moth up to 5000 feet stalling it and spinning. The top speed of a Tiger Moth is 48 miles an hour. ‘My motorbike went faster than the Tiger Moth.’
"I felt old as a child I didn’t know who I was with the weight of responsibility. When my own children and grandchildren came along I was tired of being good and responsible so I played with them - having mud fights and going to restaurants and only ordering dessert. We are very close my daughters and I- we all have the same dreams."
She read a new story featuring Snake and Lizard which is part of a 3rd volume of stories being published in 2017 and talked about her friendship with Terry her husband. ‘Terry is the Snake and I’m the Lizard. We complete each other.’
Spirituality is a very important part of Joy Cowley’s life. She feels that other world religions are on parallel paths. ‘The spiritual world is all around us. We all have a path which takes us deeper to a greater reality. Religion is the map – Life Experience is the journey.’
She finished the hour reading a psalm from her internationally acclaimed Aotearoa Psalms. The hour flew by and the length of the signing line was a wonderful testament to the joy she has given us through her writing, which shows no sign of slowing down yet.