MWF 2013: No Safe Place

Okay, so yesterday when I said I would be going to Women of Letters today, I meant it. Except that my dementia-riddled cat kept me up half the night and I had a very uncomfortable sleep punctuated with weird dreams and when I dragged myself out of bed this morning I felt a bit sick. I went to the Writers Festival, because Writers Festival, but I’m not quite feeling up to driving anywhere this afternoon as there is a high chance I may fall asleep at the wheel. So you get this blog early! And I get to take a nap this afternoon.

This morning I was back at ACMI for No Safe Place, an event hosted by Clare Renner. She was interviewing Morris Gleitzman and Deborah Ellis about their books written for children, and more particularly, their books that focused on young characters in danger. I was drawn to this event because of the subject matter, but also because I am a massive Morris Gleitzman fangirl and I like hearing him speak about his books and readership. However, I hadn’t done much research on Deborah Ellis, and was pleasantly surprised to realise I had actually read some of her work before.

Morris Gleitzman spoke about how he still uses humour in his stories, no matter how bleak the setting/plot because the more he puts his characters in jeopardy, the more he wants to give them tools to cope with it. He enjoys starting with a character, then getting to know them and the biggest problem in their lives. He focused particularly on friendship in his Felix series (After, Once, Then and Now) because he likes to believe that maybe, MAYBE, a friendship could provide some kind of safe place, despite the worst of human circumstances surrounding it. He maintains that innocence is not the same as ignorance; rather, innocence is a lack of cynicism, and therefore she be preserved as much as possible. He thinks his target readership of 8-12 years old is the perfect age to believe in your own power to influence change – kids of that age are often old enough to know how to question things, and not blindly accept everything the adults around them say and project, but young enough to predate the rush of hormones and cynicism that can often accompany adolescence.

Deborah Ellis believes that children have a really strong sense of justice and injustice, and that ‘safety’ is an illusion, no matter how much we would like it to exist (which I agree with also). She was also quick to remind the audience that the present that happens today only happens because of decisions made in the past. Too easily we forget this, and lose the chance to make the right decisions for the future. Clare Renner also quoted Malala Yousafzai’s UN speech when she thanked the writers for using pens and paper as their most powerful weapons, which was a really lovely way to finish off the talk.

There were heaps of questions asked, a few from some really articulate kids. I joined the line to have my book signed, and this boy in front of me was sort of hopping on the spot as he saw the authors come to sit down in front of the signing queue. ‘I can’t believe I’m really here!’ He said, and I melted into a puddle of book appreciation. It’s moments like these that I love best about the Writers Festival, and I wish, wish, WISH I’d bought tickets to more events.

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