Inside Storey Hall
We were welcomed by Sue Hamilton, the Director of the State Library of Victoria who also thanked the numerous publishers and organisations involved in assisting with the conference. Paula Kelly, also from the State Library, who addressed the 'Top 5 Myths about Young People, Books and Reading'. This was really interesting and Paula shared some slides and surprising statistics (such as in 2010, the total Australian sales of childrens' and YA literature was approximately 66.5 million units, with about half of it being home-grown titles - yay!). Paula also emphasised the numerous benefits of recreational reading on the life of young people (better literacy skills, improved comprehension, enriches their cultural and civic life).
And now to the programme!
Markus Zusak's session started with a performance from The Book Thief (by the same group who performed on Wednesday at the Cassandra Clare event - I think they were called Improv Melbourne).
It was a beautiful performance, simply staged and very effective. And then Markus came on! He is such an amazing speaker - he spoke honestly about his work and his success as a writer and was really, really funny. We were then treated to hearing Markus read an excerpt from his current work in progress, Bridge of Clay. Despite claiming to be "the worst reader in public", he did a fantastic job. He read two small portions from the work and wow, they were fantastic (seriously, if they are anything to go by, I urge you all to add Bridge of Clay to your wishlists for it's publication).
Markus also discussed the way he has changed over the past twelve years (since his first appearance at Reading Matters) and the way he is no longer embarrassed about being successful - did you know that The Book Thief is still on the New York Times Childrens' Best Sellers list after five years? That is incredible! Markus also said that in his writing now, he was "just trying to be absolutely myself" and that he wanted his books to read as very him and as though they couldn't have been written by anyone but him.
Obstructed view of the Monsters Ink panel
This panel session featured Kirsty Eagar (Saltwater Vampires), Ananda Braxton-Smith (Merrow), Brenton McKenna (Ubby's Underdogs) and Karen Healy (Guardian of the Dead) talking about myths and monsters in their writing. I toook quite a few (scribbly) notes during this panel, so I'll try and it's dot-point time (also I've tried as much as possible to avoid major spoilers, but please note there may be points that are spoiler-ish).
- Each author has published a work which taps into a deeper, older knowledge and utilises myth (Celtic, Maori, Indigenous/Aboriginal, Batavia shipwreck with a vampire twist)
- Karen noted that some of the interest and appeal of vampire stories could be traced all the way back to Lilith of the Old Testament. She also bought up the idea that monsters can be "used to explain the awful things in us".
- Ananda made a really interesting point about merrows (who for those who don't know, are Irish mer-people) being reflective of adolescence (straddling two worlds, being half-in, half-out).
- Karen admitted she grew up as a huge fan of fantasy fiction and stressed the importance of quests, journeys and the way that conflict drives story and that "if your characters aren't changing and learning stuff then nothing happens"
- Karen also revealed some insight into her writing practices - that she starts with character and setting,as "plot is [her] weakness" and Guardian of the Dead was originally intended to end at Part 1.
- Brenton McKenna confessed he wrote without an audience in mind and that he was "just trying to tell a good story". Brenton also shared that growing up he had reading difficulties and that he turned to comics, which helped develop his visual literacy (yay for comics and graphic novels!)
- Each book had a strong sense of setting: Brenton McKenna's novel is set in post-war Broome (as Brenton grew up hearing stories from his grandmother, who is the inspiration for the character of Ubby). Guardian of the Dead is a story which uses Maori mythology and because of this, the land is hugely important. Similarly, the land was of huge importance to the Celtics and Pagans and Ananda made an excellent link between an island and the body of a young girl during adolescence and said that "the land came first and the girl grew out of the rocks". Kirsty said that her choice of setting in Saltwater Vampires was very deliberate and was inspired by the town of Crescent Head in coastal New South Wales.
- There was also some really insightful discussion about death and ageing in these works. I also loved something Kirsty said about both Raw Blue and Saltwalter Vampires are being about "how to live" and how boring she thought immortality would be "really boring".
- On the topic of death: Brenton quoted James O'Barr's The Crow (win!!!! one of my favourites - both the graphic novel and the film adaptation) that "childhood ends the moment you know you're going to die". I may have been so excited about hearing this quote that I didn't write down the final moments of the session ...
Part 2 featuring Cassandra Clare, Ursula Dubosarsky, Lucy Christopher and Leanne Hall to come soon.