On Wednesday I drove a Very Long Way to Norwich, to the University of East Anglia. Now in its fifth year, the Festival of Literature for Young people (FLY) is unique, I think. It’s a week of events that brings together children’s authors and secondary school pupils, including a dedicated day for sixth-formers. Most public festivals tend to concentrate on events for toddlers up to the primary age cut-off of eleven. It’s inordinately difficult to sell tickets for events aimed at teenagers at public book festivals (unless you’re lucky enough to get to YALC in London), which is why FLY is such a brilliant idea because the audience is supplied by schools – one student told me he was from a school in France that was over for three weeks and taking in the FLY festival as part of their visit!
Teens get a rough deal when it comes to author visits to schools too. Due to the massively complicated timetabling in most schools, Year 9 upwards is unlikely to be treated to an author visit. So I don’t often get to talk to or work with older students, and that’s a shame because I LOVE teens. They’re so interested and interesting, passionate about issues, experiencing everything about adulthood for the first time, and trying to find their place in the world. They’re also whip-smart, and those at FLY were no different.
I did a talk to about 150 students, who were brilliantly attentive, laughed at my jokes (thank you!) and asked too many questions to get through in the time allowed…
Then I did a workshop with about 20 students, and gosh, they wrote some wonderful, powerful stuff. We talked about different types of stories, and about the many social issues that affect them, and then they set to work writing their own pieces using images for inspiration too. Here are some excerpts:
She can’t ever get away from the pain. It is everywhere and no one even knows it. She hides behind a smile. But she cries herself to sleep.
It’s an odd feeling, emptiness. Like the whole world has abandoned you, left the weakest wolf in the pack to fend for themselves.
The wind is howling and the waves are crashing against the side of the hut. I am trapped with the one person that right now, I do not want to be with. Why did I listen, why did I do what he said? Let me rewind and I will tell you what happened…
Martha ran. She ran to the girls’ hut. She had come to say sorry. She knew now she had taken it too far. But all she saw was her body, lying there…on the water.
Me and my sister Daisy haven’t heard from Grandma in ages. We can’t get to sleep but are still scared, so we settle for a board game. The only one we can find is snakes and ladders, but it’s missing the dice. We start to look for it when we hear a scream. I immediately think of Grandma. I go to find her, when I turn around – where’s Daisy?
I followed my sister to the bank, treading quietly so as not to disturb. The sunny Suffolk day brought the village out to play. But not my sister Kaori. She had no intention of playing games and having fun today.
Aren’t they superb? Such powerful, tight writing, using sparse but descriptive language. Clever students – bet one of them at least ends up as a professional writer!
Then I was interviewed by the FLY media team – and then it was all over!
I drove a Very Long Way home again, but it was unquestionably worth the trip. What a wonderful festival to be part of, and I am quite sure it will go from strength to strength. Many thanks to the organisers Antoinette and Hannah and to the extensive UEA student team who helped run everything so efficiently! And of course to my fantastic audience and workshoppers, who made the whole thing so rewarding. Have a great summer!