Yesterday before heading off to AussieCon 4, I caught a couple of interesting pieces in The Guardian.
A great interview with Terry Pratchett on the release of the last Tiffany Aching book (I admit here that the Tiffany Aching books are my favourites and I want to believe in the Nac Mac Feegles more than I want to believe in fairies). Here's an excellent snippet from the interview:
"Pratchett knows there are strict rules about making things so dark when you are writing for children – 'a child's instinctive grasp of narrativium [sic] is that this has got to end well' – but he is also very clear that, while his witch can take away physical pain (she draws it out into a ball, then dumps it), she cannot, and will not, take loss, sadness, or grief."
Aside from finding 'narrativium' to be an excellent word, I find it odd that this persists: that explanation of darkness in children's literature is required. Children's literature is built upon dark fears and dangerous things. Pratchett has it right. The trick of children's literature is that it will end well. There are ways to fight the darkness. The essence - indeed, the importance - of children's literature is this exploration of the overcoming of the darkness, whether it be in the slaying of dragons or the ability to face and manage depression. Some writers forget this. It's not about the darkness and the fear. It's about overcoming it.
I also found Alison Flood's blog on an AbeBooks survey about the positions in which we read to be entertaining. Let's be honest, being involved in the study of literature, I read a lot. Position is important.
There are some areas of academic study that look at how people read - the physicality of reading can be just as interesting as the intellectual side of the exercise. If you're interested in pursuing that line of study, do get in touch with Monash's Centre for the Book.
I had a good day yesterday. First, Neil Gaiman and Shaun Tan at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Shaun Tan sketched on site a story about an angry moose in space. There were also technical difficulties bringing Neil Gaiman, sleepy but via live feed, to the session and he disappeared periodically, reemerging looking benignly upon us while drinking tea (the large screen above the stage had a rather curious effect in that respect - he was a little like the Cheshire Cat). The panel agreed that adults can read picture books. It's sad we still have to agree to this.
Then it was off to AussieCon 4 (the World Con). I caught the session, "Border Crossing: YA authors writing for adults and vice versa" with Bec Kavanagh, Marianne de Pierres, Pamela Freeman and Cory Doctorow. Curiously, the distinction between adult and young adult persists in terms of sex and swearing. Curious, since I'm pretty sure most young adults know about as much about sex and swearing as adults, yet there is still a perception it needs to be censored from YA and that this is the basis of the genre definition. Of course, it isn't really and the panel discussed this. There is a growing recognition that adults also read YA literature (and, in fact, not all adult books have sex and swearing in them, which is, essentially, the assumption if you turn the perception around). YA and children's literature does suffer from definitions that place undue stress upon intended readerships, readerships that are increasingly understood to be far more diverse than indicated. Much work is yet to be done on how these genres can be defined beyond readership age and censorship of sex and swearing. Likewise, these definitions are coloured by 'anticipated risk factors' where publishers and librarians and teachers etc think ahead to what might be considered unsuitable. Naturally, this leads to greater conservatism and is problematic for the boundary-pushing activity of the genre.
I also did like Cory Doctorow's remark that the prevalence of fan fiction is a sign that the writing is working - the characters go on living in the readers' minds, having further adventures.