I have just spent two days immersed in Young Adult literature at the Reading Matters Conference in Melbourne. It has been a fascinating and stimulating time.
The author I found most interesting was Keith Gray. He is an Edinburgh based author who has won several awards for his YA books. He came from a non-reading family and didn’t read a book until he was 12 (The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall).
He spoke passionately about the best books being those that allow the reader to think. Fiction should give the reader the freedom to explore ideas and thoughts. He used the example of the instructions on his new ladder as patronising writing that implied that you couldn’t think for yourself. Two examples (he did read out most of the 18 instructions!) “Do not walk or jog your ladder” and “Do not use your ladder as a shelf”.
He feels that “gatekeepers” prevent young adults from having access to much writing that would give them the chance to experience empathy with other people and cultures.
He does receive a few complaints about his novels. All are from people concerned about other adult reactions – such as parents and school boards. These gatekeepers do not allow young adults the chance to explore issues and make their own decisions. His overall message was:
TRUST THE READER.
The other part of his presentation dealt with enjoyment of reading. The Machine Gunners was the trigger for his continued enjoyment of reading and for his career as a writer. He feels that teachers hinder the development of this enjoyment of reading by requiring all reading to be followed up by questioning. His quote was:
Books are for life not homework.
I can imagine the talks he does in school would be well received by teenagers as his presentation is a very well prepared, funny and passionate performance.