Christchurch Writers’ Festival

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Sunday Morning panel
Authors Helen Lowe, Jane Higgins and John Boyne on the Why YA? panel (Sunday Morning)

Beginning on the 30th of August and finishing on Sunday the 2nd of September, the Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival has seen authors from as far away as the UK and Europe travel to share the stage with our brilliant Christchurch authors.

Many members of the Guild made it along, including the whole administrative team who were sitting in a row for the Why YA? panel on Sunday morning!

That panel was all about the concept of YA and whether it was useful to the readers, or if it was just a marketing ploy. All the authors on stage seemed to agree that the classification bothered them. Each wondered how you would define YA, whether their work strictly qualified, and whether the idea of confining young people to a certain part of the bookstore was a good idea at all.

Helen Lowe – author of the Wall of Night series – pointed out that a story having young protagonists (think Game of Thrones for example) didn’t immediately make it targeted at young readers.

John Boyne – known best for Boy in Striped Pajamas – talked about the gender divide in the youth audience, but wasn’t put off by the bias toward girl readers as he said, “If you give boys good stories to read they’ll keep reading.”

Joanne Harris
Joanne Harris and Nicky Pellegrino at “The Stuff of Life” on Sunday Afternoon

The panel on Sunday afternoon called “The Stuff of Life” was a chance to hear from Joanne Harris (Chocolat), Nicky Pellegrino (When In Rome) and Felicity Price (Head over Heels and A Sandwich Short of a Picnic).

It was an absolute delight to each from each of these authors. Joanne Harris enchanted us with tales from her childhood and helped us understand what it was like for her, in between a French and English family, and the importance food played in her life – its intrinsic link, for her, to story telling.

She told us about an American agent who suggested that no one would want to read stories set in French villages, about old people, with so much food (this isn’t a recipe book…) After hearing this, she followed her nature and did everything he said not to, ending up with a ‘fairly successful novel’, which just goes to show that in the publishing world, “Nobody actually knows anything at all.”

For Joanne Harris, the “Volatile chemistry” of small communities fascinated her, and she felt their nature transcended cultural borders. Her experiences from England were transplanted to the French countryside where they blossomed.

When she was asked where she got her story ideas from, she responded quite simply with, “People are living stories.”

An impromptu reading of Margret Mahy’s Bubble Trouble

I enjoyed the impromptu Margret Mahy readings that popped up here and there throughout the weekend. “Bubble Trouble” was particularly fantastic and the reader did an excellent job getting his mouth around the difficult phrases which sounded harder than Doctor Seuss!

All in all it was an excellent weekend and it would be well worth the Christchurch Writers’ Guild looking at ways to be more involved next year.

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