Network News: North West Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher

Media City UK 9.00 a.m. 9 April 2016

On a bright and sunny Saturday morning, on 9th April 2016, what better place to be than at Salford University’s building for the Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher conference. This conference investigates the nature on the young adult and the young adult novel. 

If you live in the North West you must at some point visit Media City UK at Salford Quays.  Some of your TV license fee is being used there after all.  It makes sense too if you write for children: CBBC has its home there as does the Blue Peter Garden.  What a space it is! The Manchester Ship Canal has now become a place for leisure, is surrounded by upmarket properties and smart restaurants and has become home to many water birds that were never there before the canal was built. 

 Key note speakers

Key note speakers were Melvin Burgess, supplying the “pushing boundaries” talk and Sara Grant who told us all about “flying higher”. 

Melvin Burgess

Sara Grant

 Mixed audience

The conference was aimed at academics, writers and educationalists. Several delegates including some SCBWI members were all three at once. So there was much lively debate, including in the less formal parts of the conference. Isn’t that always the way?  

The informal part of the conference

 Intensive critiquing

There was the normal opportunity for SCBWI critique group members to share work in their critique groups. Sara, Melvin and Cornerstones / freelance editor and author Debz Hobbs-Wyatt also offered feedback on a few texts. 

A grand debate

Whilst the critiques went on, those not involved debated the nature of the young adult novel and tried to establish a manifesto for it. We attempted to answer the questions:  

What do we mean by young adult and young adult novel?
How should we look after young adult novels?
What are they?
What must they, should they and could they include?
What is their relationship to young adults, educationalists and the publishing industry? 

Teen do read

Later, Nikki Heath, school librarian, talked to us about her work and assured us that reading is alive and well amongst adolescents.  Sara invited us to create a story as a group and showed us much about the writing process. Melvin talked about his journey though some rather edgy texts.  
Nikki Heath

The power of networking 

I lead a session on networking. How do you get help with writing, getting published and finding out what to read?  I mentioned CWIG, the Golden Egg Academy,  NAWE, Armadillo Magazine, Booktrust, Books forKeeps and Carousel.  Naturally, SCBWI featured there as well. 

Panel discussion 

Our final session was a panel discussion and our speakers listed above were joined by Dr Vanessa Harbour, senior lecturer from the University of Winchester and Head of Academic Relations and Business Workshop Leader at the Golden Egg Academy, and Rachel McIntyre, SCBWI member and published author.  We looked at the current state of the young adult novel.  

A prestigious group

Conclusions?  The conference rather posed more questions than answered any. However, we learnt that:
·         55% people who read young adult books may not be defined as young adult
·         Endings are becoming more downbeat.
·         There is a step away from high fantasy, though near future and mild dystopias still exist.
What next?  Watch this space.  
Gill James is a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Salford. She writes novels for young adults. Her latest publication is a second edition of Spooking, a gentle paranormal romance.  

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