28 August 2012
IBBY – the International Board on Books for Young People – does incredible work promoting children’s fiction. I’m a member of the South African chapter, which holds regular Book Bashes to celebrate SA lit. This year’s world congress took place in August at Imperial College in London. The event looked at how children’s fiction crosses boundaries, and included an Honour Roll showcase of notable children’s fiction from around the world, including my second novel, Fuse. I had to go. It seemed like the experience of a lifetime, and I was determined to find a way to get there. And so I did.
I scrimped and saved and lived on marmite toast for four months. I begged friends in London to let me sleep on their couches for a couple of days. I made a silly cardboard poster and video and appealed to friends and strangers through my Indie Go Go Campaign. It was never going to be enough to get me there, but I persevered nonetheless. Then, out of the blue, came the MER Prize nomination, which I was convinced I wasn’t going to win, and then inexplicably did. Suddenly, London was a real possibility.
The conference programme was every children’s book writer’s dream. I attended on the Saturday which focused largely on migration.
University of Otago’s Trish Brooking gave a talk on national identity and the effects of colonialism which was especially relevant to South Africa. Today’s classrooms are the microcosm of society that reflects the ethnic diversity of cities that have been colonized. Trish looked at how colonialism has affected the youth and made it difficult for young people to relate to their cultural heritage. She explained that in a time where young people are exposed to so many different cultures, stories are the means by which families keep their ancestral identity alive.
Author Ira Saxena spoke about how Asian identity is reflected in children’s fiction. She explained how important it is for authors to understand the culture of their characters, who run the risk of becoming stereotypes if not represented correctly. She urged that books featuring characters of a certain ethnicity must not only cater to Westernised readers, but also cater to the culture represented. The novel should appreciate the culture and traditions and contribute to a global understanding of the people. She advised never to marginalize, and keep characters and values realistic.
I also caught some of author Candy Gourlay’s session entitled Motherless Nation, which shone a light on the children of migrant workers, who often have to look after themselves when their parents are on the other side of the world. This was a theme Candy explored in her novel, Tall Story, about a girl separated from her brother who she has never met.
I soaked up all the advice like a sponge, and left inspired to implement everything I learned.
Next was the IBBY Honour List presentation which showcased the Honour List Books from around the world, including Fuse. There were quite a few Honour List Authors present, including Marcus Sedgwick, who I was lucky enough to meet after the presentation.
It was mind-blowingly awesome.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to my Indie Go Go campaign and to those who offered accommodation, especially Phil and Chris, who kindly took us in. You guys rock. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m so, so grateful.