Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Middle Grade Reading: Booktalkers 2 for 2012

First published on The Great Raven blog

Tonight I went to the State Library for Booktalkers, which this time was on the subject of middle grade books. The speakers were Gabrielle Wang, Kate Constable and Tom Taylor, a writer of graphic novels, aka comic books. Tom was the only one I had never heard of, but he proved to be very entertaining. I have actually read most of Gabrielle's books and all of Kate's.

The first half of the program featured the two ladies. Gabrielle spoke about the process of writing her Our Australian Girl historical fiction commission from Penguin. She said she was nervous about historical fiction, not having done any history before apart from Little Paradise, which was a personal thing about her parents(and I know how she feels; I took on historical fiction for Ford Street and longed to throw in a spaceship or a unicorn, but had to learn how to handle straight history!), but she chose the Gold Rush era because her great grandparents came out to Australia then. Her heroine was part Chinese, part Aborigine. She felt a connection with indigenous Australians because of being non-white and spoke warmly of her advisers.

Kate talked about Girlfriend Fiction. She was invited to submit at an Allen and Unwin Christmas party. She said she was worried about doing straight mainstream fiction after writing all that fantasy. There were strict guidelines, including words not to use and a hint of romance. She thought of girl with girl romance (Being McKenzie - I actually remember reading that one and thinking she was brave to do that in a YA romance where the girl readers are waiting for the heroine to end up with the gorgeous boy). She said she actstrictly key the strict guidelines; it meant all sorts of decisions didn't have to be made. She likes to write of girls12-13 years old and sees herself as more of a children's writer than YA.

Gabrielle Wang said she gravitates to 8-12 years old.

They were both invited to say what is in the works? Kate Constable has just done a YA novel, but next after that will be another middle-grade time slip story.

Gabrielle has a fantasy novel with her publisher, The Wishbird.

Both writers said they felt their audiences were female. During question time I told Kate that, in fact, there were boys reading her Chanters of Tremaris series and Gabrielle that two boys had read and enjoyed A Ghost In My Suitcase for Literature Circles.

After intermission, there was one more speaker, Tom Taylor, who has had several careers, including juggling in the street, but is now doing very well writing graphic novels for reluctant readers. He is the author of many Star Wars graphic novels (he killed off Bobba Fett not long ago and will have to admit it to the actor, Jeremy Bulloch) but mainly writes The Deep series, about a multi-ethnic family of undersea explorers, which is popular in every country. It contains peril and humour, but no violence. Tom admires Joss Whedon, whom he described as an influence. He says that even when he was a playwright he was more influenced by graphic novel writers than anything else.

He showed a scene from The Deep, which seems very funny and included a pet fish called Jeffrey being taught to fetch.

How difficult was it writing in an established universe?

There are a lot of constraints, he said. Five sets of eyes have to look at each book. It's about continuity. Actually, I'm wondering who gave him permission to kill off Bobba Fett, but someone must have.

Tom said, however, that he gets away with a lot , such as giggling storm troopers.
He nelieves thay comics are an Incredible storytelling medium. They are only an issue here; France, the US, Japan, all celebrate comics. Reluctant readers already love them, they just don't know it!

He ended his talk recommending a number of comics.

Personally, my only problem with comics is how very expensive they are! And especially manga tends to come in multiple volumes, which is very difficult when your budget is as tiny as mine, alas!:-(

The evening ended soon after. It was enjoyable. There was no bookstall this time - disappointing but probably better for my wallet and my bookshelves!

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