Oxford Lit Fest: Part One
A Summery of the Talks Given by Jack Gantos and Phil Earle
First on the stage was Jack Gantos, the author of (among other things) the successful children's book series Joey Pigza.
He spoke a lot about story and structure, starting off talking about his childhood and children's literature.
There was a slide show to accompany him with many pictures from his childhood as well as the books that inspired him as a child, speaking about how you can see with children's books how it is much easier for children to empathize with the characters.
He talked about how he likes to write out things by hand and how he organises them as he goes along. That writers have to constantly think about two things at once, what you want to write and where you want to place it.
There were pictures on the slide show that he had drawn when he was young. Maps of his neighbourhood and childhood home with lots of detail about things that happened. One thing that caught my eye the most was a picture of a cockroach in the kitchen that was labeled and named. He talked about how Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh) was a major inspiration for his childhood self as she was the first character he had seen that carried a journal. After reading the book, he started spying on his own neighbourhood and family, resulting in the maps and drawings.
As many authors do, he mentioned how he writes hundreds of rewrites. He also mentioned that structure is very important to him as a writer.
I think the most interesting part of his talk for me was about his Joey Pigza series, a series about a child with ADHD told from the point of the child. He spoke about how he knew a real child with ADHD who inspired him to write the series then went on to speak about how he felt that originally writing it in third person was minimalising the child to to a problem child and how in first person it made him feel a lot more comfortable with what he was writing. He spoke of how he liked the feedback he got from the Joey Pigza series was not only from children with ADHD but that the series had inspired empathy in children who had classmates with ADHD who might before have not been so understanding.
He finished by talking about his new book Dead End in Norvelt, which is based on his childhood home. He spoke a lot about history but about how you experience empathy, the different sides of stories and historical events. He talked about a dead end sign in his town and how you should question why it's a dead end and not just take it for granted.
Phil EarlePhil Earle took the stage next. He had a hard act to follow but rose to the occasion wonderfully with his stories about how when he was young he absolutely didn't want to be a writer or ever read at all. He blamed it a lot on the sorts of books he was given to read in school (which were classics), which he didn't relate too. He spoke a lot of how he wanted to be a footballer.
He started out reading comics and graphics novels, especially Batman and found that it gave him a lot of confidence in reading. He mentioned how upset it makes him when he goes into schools and finds that the children are not allowed to read graphic novels in reading times.
While working at a bookshop, he was transferred to the children's department where he was given books to read such as Skellig (David Almond) , Holes (Louis Sachar) and the Joey Pigza (see above). He felt that these books, especially Joey Pigza gave him "permission to write". They made him feel that he could actually write something good enough to be published.
"Stories surround us" was one thing that he spoke a lot about. And he talked about various places that stories can come from, such as music, books and newspapers.
He talked a lot about a story he read in the metro that gave him the inspiration for the Superhero book he is writing. The story was about a man called "Parallel Parking Man" who helps people park their cars while dressed in a towel, a hat and swimming goggles (which he dressed his adorable daughter up to look like as a demonstration).
He finished his talk by saying the thing he felt summed up writing the most was that when writing he could be anyone he wants to be.
It has to be said that there weren't many questions on this panel, and when there were, I have to admit that there weren't many that really interested me. But the one I have to comment on was about Young Adult literature. It caused a fascinating discussion between the authors about the differences between American YA and UKYA and how American YA is doing so much better because there is a separate section in the bookshop for Young Adults, where as a lot of British shops have it lumped together with the children's books (which could make it embarrassing for the teenagers going to buy books). Maybe our bookshops need to take note of this?