CBI Annual Conference 2008 (Sunday - live blogging)

I’m a little groggy from the wine, the food and a late night Indian Jones screening (which was great despite it’s flaws). But the enthusiasm around the conference hasn’t slowed and everyone here is ready for another day of ideas, debate and discussion.

First up this morning (at half ten) is Kristen Wardetzky from the University of Arts in Berlin and Anne O’Gorman from Draíocht both talking about their projects in storytelling. But first I’m going to see if I can find anymore of that cake we had yesterday.

10.30 - Professor Wardetzky describes the work of a project based in multi-ethnic areas of Berlin. Storytellers tell fairytales once/twice a week to the classes to develop the children’s imagination and communicative channels. In the beginning of the project there was no indication that it would work - after the first few sessions the children became less interested - until after six weeks of perseverance the children began to enjoy the storytelling and the quiet (in the midst of school, work etc) that it allowed them.

One of the most surprising aspects of the project was that after 6 months the children, who couldn’t speak rudimentary German before, were starting to use complicated phrases and sayings. The children, who previously were disruptive, now listen patiently to one and other as they retell their own fairytales.

Parting shot: The use of regular, scheduled literary and oral storytelling in the classroom is one of the most successful methods to introduce children to national traditions, multicultural ideas and tolerance.

Anne O’Gorman introduces Draíocht and the growing junior literary programme that they are introducing to support schools. (Draíocht is based in Blanchardstown, Dublin 15 - which has the same population as Cork City, with over 100 different nationalities and 28 schools. The levels of wealth in D15 varies hugely - with both high income and disadvantaged areas)

The projects introduce children to new vocabularies, ideas and helps to develop younger children’s approaches to reading later in school. Another large part of the project is moving from storytelling onto reading picture books - through reading outloud, bringing stories to life with objects and having the children writing their own books and stories.

Parting shot: The project is only as good as the practitioners and content involved and parents are much happier if they are only involved in a gentle way (in the room but not called upon to participate).

12.30 - Tiina Nunnally (introduced by Sinéad Mac Aodh from ILE) describes her early introduction to Finnish fairytales and the different communications she experienced as a child.

Tiina details her opinions of previous translations such classics as Hans Christian Anderson - the different approach by translators - such as changing texts to make them closer to current trends. It is not the job of a translator to rewrite the text or to add their own personality - but to act as an artist who recreates/breathes life into a text without removing the original tone.

She was invited to translate a new edition of Pippi Longstocking by Polly Nolan from Oxford University Press. To begin the project Tiina went back and reread the original swedish editions and challenged herself to reduce the formal and stuffiness that was a large element of previous translations. One of the difficulties that Tiina had was trying to maintain the original tone - after she had finished her own translation Tiina referenced previous translations but found that they were unreliable (one previous translation named Captain Longstocking the ‘King of the Cannibals’ which was never present in the original swedish).

There were interesting differences between the US and UK versions too: Pants became trousers, cookies became biscuits, vacations became holidays. The marketing of the editions differed considerably - with different covers for both the US and the UK.

Parting shot: My first responsibility is to the author - to represent them as correctly as possible. My second responsibility is to the reader who wants to read as fluid a text as possible.

Next up: 2 Minute Favourites - a chance for the audience to speak about their favourite book for 2 minutes. (Including: Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick’s Izzy and Skunk, Sean Tan’s Arrival, Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, James Gurney’s Dinotopia, Daljit Nagra’s Look we have coming to Dover, Kids Own Publishing’s This is the place I love best and I’m not just saying that, TS Eliot’s poem Gus the Theatre Cat, Seamus Cashman’s Something Beginning with P and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising.

Off for lunch before Nina Christensen’s talk and then Tim Bowler in conversation with Robert Dunbar.

2.30 - Valerie Coughlan from IBBY Ireland introduces Nina Christensen’s talk: Voices from the North Contemporary Danish Children’s Literature.

A starting point for Danish children’s writing is Hans Christian Anderson. (Such as The Emperor’s New Clothes etc). From here the next large change came in the guise of progressive, ‘reform’, educators in 1930 onwards, who introduced new ideas for the approach to teaching and access to libraries. This attitude was expanded following further changes in 1964 when all libraries were to gather collections for children.

Today - many contemporary Danish children’s writers are influenced by Christian Anderson - specifally Bent Haller’s Me and the Devil and Anderson’s The Travelling Companion.

There are 681 libraries in Denmark, containing more nearly 8 million children’s books (with 500,000 added in 2006). At present budget restrictions in Denmark have seen a reduction in the number of libraries but continue to buy children’s writing.

What makes Danish literature of interest to readers outside Denmark? The variety of styles and languages (Jeff Matthews: Shawarmara), experimental visual books (Snakedog - a wordless book and all of the books by Dorte Karrabaek), experiments with genre (Children’s Encyklopedia, illustrated by Mads Berg), as well as the taboo subject of death that has been discussed in recent publications - The girl who had to Choose by Fupz Aakeson, The Childrens Undertaker by Dorte Karrebaek and Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch.

One large failing in Danish contemorary children’s writing has been the representations of minority groups - with the exceptions of Gunvor Bjerre and Mette-Kirstine Bak’s Super Pizza and Manu Sareen’s Iqbal Farooq. (Denmark has 337,000 compared to 100,000 of immigrants from non-western countries)

Parting shot: Nina Christensen is special editor of the July issue of BookBird with more on Danish children’s writing - order you copy here.

15.15 - Mags Walsh and Oisin McGann introduce Robert Dunbar - whose conversations are now available online - in conversation with Tim Bowler. My apologies to both Robert and Tim for not being able to type fast enough to get absolutely everything that they said. This short review doesn’t really do either of them justice:

Q: Tim is a full-time writer, living by the pen. You started writing at 5. What prompted that first story?
A: My mum is mental in many ways. When I was 5 she brought home a book - Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain - and read it aloud to me and it urged me to write my first story. She still has that story locked in a drawer somewhere in her house.

Q: You chose to study Swedish and Scandinavian studies - why?
A: Basically, I was good at foreign languages at GCSE level and won a scholarship to a summer school. I met a group of Scandinavian women there who were unfathomably beautiful. That was what spurred me on to study Swedish initially but I have since fallen in love with Scandinavian literature and still read many original texts.

Q: Your first book was ten years in the making.
A: It was my first book. I squeezed it into the routine I had and I could only work from 3am until 5am. Writing takes a huge amount of emotional and physical investment - but that is what it takes. Sometimes you have to go the distance.

Q: Tim doesn’t have a shed, but an old stone, outhouse. What goes on in there?
A: I write there. My wife worked as a teacher until three years ago and she used to leave the house at 8 in the morning. I need isolation, seclusion and silence and that disappeared when Rachel retired. So now I’m renting a little outhouse from someone nearby who knows what I’m doing and is happy to leave me alone.

Q: Your characters are nearly all young men between 14 and 15. In terms of vocabulary, two words appear often to me - they are vulnerable, dream(ing)(ers).
A: It’s not something that I’m conscious of when I am writing but you are right. Vulnerable and dreaming are only two aspects though. Courage is another. People between 14 and 16 experience more changes - emotionally, physically and more - and that is a great challenge to write.

Q: You said in your Carnegie acceptance speech (11 years ago) that the written word has nothing to fear from technology. Are still as confident about that?
A: Yes, I think so. I got into trouble with that speech. I mentioned musical art and visual art standing alongside the written word too but I still don’t think that the written word has anything to fear.

Q: You also said in the speech that our job as writers, publishers, librarians etc. is not to preach but to reach. Do you feel that in Britain we have gotten to a point where there are no more areas to reach?
A: There are areas I won’t go to. Because I can’t go there, such as paedophelia. When I said that I didn’t mean that we should thrust horrible stuff in front of readers. Young readers are intellectually more capable than we give them credit for.

Q: In relation to the areas you won’t go. What about the language that you use? As far as I know - you have never used the most popular of all the four letter words.
A: There is a kind of wimp in me when I am writing and sometimes I am thinking commercially but I believe if you don’t have to have it, then don’t put it in.

Q: You have a personal message at the beginning of the Blade series, writing that you despise knives. Yet these are a huge element of your body of work.
A: I have a large fear of knives. Although it’s true that 80% of knife crime is committed by people aged 12 -20 that is very much a spun statement: 95 percent of all people are non-violent and it paints young people badly.

Q: One of the interesting elements of Blade is the safehouse/snug. Blade reads some of the books that are around - including Treasure Island.
A: He’s not some thug, but I didn’t know he was going to be a reader. He’s smart - if he took an IQ test it’d be through the roof.

Robert’s closing: Your forthcoming novel, Bloodchild, is a book I have read twice in a mere two weeks. It made such an impression that I had to go back and read it again to make sure that I got everything from it. I couldn’t recommend it any higher for a summer read.

That’s it - the end of the 2008 CBI conference. Congratulations to Mags, Jenny and Tom for putting together an engaging and interesting weekend. Many thanks to all of the speakers and to everyone I got to meet during the course of things.

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2 Responses to “CBI Annual Conference 2008 (Sunday - live blogging)”

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  1. 1 post conference parley at David Maybury | Blog
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