Thursday, 19 January 2017

We sat down for a chat...with Lisa Heathfield

Lisa Heathfield, author of the emotionally charged and spellbinding Carnegie nominated Paper Butterflies, joins us today to talk a little about her novel.

Lisa Heathfield, author of Paper Butterflies
WSD: Bicycles hold a significant value for characters in Paper Butterflies. What was so 'dear' to you when you were a teenager (or now, if you can't remember)?

Lisa Heathfield: I know that it's a bit obvious to say it, but books were always my most important possessions as a teen. The all held precious words and worlds. I still never bend a spine or fold pages!

WSD: If someone gave you a paper sculpture, what do you wish it would be?

Lisa Heathfield: My perfect paper sculpture would have to be of our three sons. Although, I think that'd be fairly impossible even for Blister, so failing that I'd opt for a Scottish mountain.

WSD: Do monsters exist?

Lisa Heathfield: I don't think that anyone is born bad, but so called 'monsters' are created out of circumstance. If all children had the very basics of being looked after and loved, then many 'monsters' would never exist. There's a cycle of abuse, where the child who has suffered often acts out that very same abuse in adulthood - the way to break it is to talk about it, blast it out into the open where the secrets have nowhere to hide.

WSD: In my review, I omitted to mention anything about race although June's abuse was often linked directly to her being 'black'. Would you like to say more about 'racism' as a theme in Paper Butterflies?

Lisa Heathfield: Writing about racism in Paper Butterflies was never a conscious decision. June appeared to me one day and asked me to tell her story. She was as clear to me as if she'd just walked into the room - feisty, guarded and strong. I didn't choose her skin colour any more than I chose her character. And it hurt to watch her suffer racism at school as much as it hurt to see her suffer at the hands of Kathleen, her step-mother. Thank goodness for her bike. Thank goodness for Blister.

WSD: June and Blister have such a deep and intense relationship. Who are some of your favourite fictional couples, either friends or lovers?

Lisa Heathfield: For me, Liesel and Rudy in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief are unforgettable. Their relationship is beautiful in a time of brutality. But it's completely heartbreaking. And I love Tessa and Adam in Jenny Downham's Before I Die. I read it years ago and cried and cried. I still think about them. I also love Saba and her brother Lugh in Blood Red Road - her fierce determination to find him in the incredible world that Moira Young created. 

WSD: Craziest thing you've ever done in a library?

Lisa Heathfield: I've never done anything crazy in a library! But seeing my book in libraries is like my craziest dream coming to life!


Paper Butterflies has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal.
Read my review here.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

We sat down for a chat...with Zana Fraillon

I loved Zana Fraillon's The Bone Sparrow, a tale about a young boy born in a refugee detention centre and a young rural girl in Australia. The novel epitomises what I'm starting to consider my favourite elements of Australian teen/young adult fiction so I'm absolutely delighted to have asked her some questions and to share them here today.

Zan Fraillon, author of The Bone Sparrow
WSD: You've written about refugee children and your inspiration for The Bone Sparrow, and particularly Subhi. Could you say something about your inspiration for Jimmie and her story? For me, it is she that gives the book its sense of Australia.

Zana Fraillon: I really love Jimmie as a character. While she is distinctly her own self, there are many similarities between Jimmie’s life and Subhi’s life, and I think they recognise this in each other. Jimmie is growing up surrounded by grief; she has the sense of being almost forgotten by society; she is desperately trying to get a sense of her past and her family’s past so that she can step forward into the future; and despite everything, she is so strong, and so resilient.

In the same way I wanted to write about children growing up in immigration detention centres, I knew for a long time that I also wanted to write about kids growing up in a really remote area, where the usual support networks don’t exist. In Australia, there are many remote communities whose people are living in third world conditions and whose life expectancies are dramatically lower than people living in other parts of Australia. John Pilger’s amazing documentary 'Utopia' is a very eye opening insight into the conditions of many remote communities, and many people – both in and out of Australia – are not aware of this hugely important social issue. While I wasn’t able to go into great detail of this issue in The Bone Sparrow, it was something I felt I could touch upon and shed just a little light on in the context of the story. 

WSD: You've talked about the resilience of childhood and their ability to imagine and hold onto a 'someday'. When you were a child, what was one of your 'somedays' that you dreamed about?

Zana Fraillon: My someday was all about travel and getting away. I imagined the far away places I would discover – remote places, away from everyone and everything, wild, natural places where I could be completely myself. I always wanted to have kids of my own and imagined a large, gloriously happy family full of kids and dogs. On a recent trip overseas we went to Ireland, and while travelling through the countryside there, I felt an incredible sense of being ‘home’. This was exactly the kind of place I imagined my ‘someday’ unfolding. There is still time…

WSD: You've mentioned being a fan of Isabel Allende (yes!) and discovering magical realism through her and how it finds a place in your books. Can you say a bit about what draws you to magical realism (and do you think there's more magic or more realism in it)?

Zana Fraillon: I have always been drawn to magic. That idea that there are other worlds and other existences and other possibilities just hiding in the shadows is so exciting! As a kid I slept curled up with a garden gnome (who still lives with me, although no longer shares my bed) and used to climb out my second story window and leap across to a huge tree that grew outside and was definitely full of fairies. I suppose magical realism gives me a way, now I no longer have a fairy tree outside my window, of believing that there just may be magic in this very real world we live in. I am not at all religious, so perhaps this is my religion of sorts! This was another bonus for us when we visited Ireland – where we stayed had a lot of information regarding the Sidhe (the fairy people of Ireland) who, in some parts, are very much believed in, and respected and feared. I love this idea. The notion that you have to divert a road to go around a fairy thorn, rather than cut down the tree and risk the Sidhe’s wrath – it was a little like living in a story, where anything is possible because the world is more than what it seems.

I think the reason I love magical realism, but rarely enjoy fantasy, is because of the wonderful balance between the magic and real. There is that sense that the magical phenomenon could almost be explained by other, more real worldly explanations, but then, perhaps, just perhaps, they really are magic…I love that feeling of not knowing, and then that freedom of giving in to the magic. It gets me excited just thinking about it!

WSD: If someone gave you a necklace, what would you like it to be and why?

Zana Fraillon: Something with a story behind it. Something that has passed through countless hands, had hopes and dreams whispered into it, been rubbed in excitement or anxiety or fear. I majored in history at university and am very much drawn to the ghosts of places and things. I quite often (much in the same way Jimmie does) sit on a rock and imagine all the other people that have sat on that very same rock, trying to fly my imagination as far back as it will go, trying to breathe in that person’s story. So an old necklace. A simple necklace, but one that has something to say…

WSD: Please tell us about the mysterious passageways of Melbourne!

Zana Fraillon: I wish I knew more about them! But Melbourne, as with most cities, has an incredible hidden history. There is a huge network of underground tunnels and drains – there is talk of an old, beautifully decorated train station right under what is now the CBD, although its exact whereabouts is currently unknown. There are alleyways and hideouts of local criminal gangs from the turn of the century, and then other smaller laneways that you can wander down and suddenly find yourself surrounded by quite incredible, and usually surreal, street art that makes you feel as though you have stepped into another world all together. And of course there are then all those doors – the ones that are in odd walls, or at curious heights or are just a very strange size for a door, and they make you wonder where they lead, and who are they for and why are all these people walking past without noticing?! But all of them, the lanes and the passageways and the tunnels and the doors – they all have stories in them, just waiting for us to discover.

Thank you so much, Zana, and wishing you all the best for reaching your 'someday'!

The Bone Sparrow is published in UK paperback today and has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal,

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Wing Jones - Katherine Webber

Wing Jones - Katherine Webber
Katherine Webber's debut novel, Wing Jones, is a delicious mix of ingredients. Based in 1990s Atlanta, the main teen characters are all mixed race or black, there's an inter-racial relationship, there's binge drinking and suspenseful moments of gun-toting. But, there's also - and primarily - a naive and painfully vilified fifteen year old girl who is relentlessly bullied, is mocked by her loving Ghanaian and Chinese grandmothers, has a girlhood crush on her popular brother's best friend, and she calls on her dragon and lioness to help her through the most tragic events of her life.  Wrap all of this up in Jessica Ennis 'this girl can' attitudes to sport and sprinkle with happy bliss. Then you've met Wing Jones.

Wing Jones is a pleasure to read. Katherine Webber's writing flows, and she creates immediately likeable characters. Prejudiced attitudes to race and what constitutes criminal activity form central parts of the story without being tackled as 'issues'. The tragic event*, which provides a plot turning point, covers an issue I don't think I've seen in YA before (I'm sure it is out there though) and is tragically very real. Curiously, and despite these elements of the plot (which were my favourite), the overall tone in Wing Jones is cosily warm and those who love cute couples will no doubt be charmed.

*See below for small plot spoiler about the tragic event......

Publication details: 5 January 2017, Walker Books, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof from the publisher for review

Caution: Plot spoiler follows.

Plot spoiler

Plot spoiler.

Tragic event: drinking and driving

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Alpha in translation - part 2, Sarah Ardizzone

Yesterday, author Bessora chatted a bit about herself and writing Alpha. Today, in part 2, translator Sarah Ardizzone goes behind the scenes to tell us about Alpha's artistic and cultural development. her answers are really fascinating. 

Sarah Ardizzone and Bessora on BBC Authors Live

WSD: I think I've gathered that you were the person championing the idea of translating Alpha into English? Why? 

Sarah Ardizzone: Alpha was published in France just before the great wave of desperate migration or what we think of as the ‘migrant crisis’ (which you could say began in the summer of 2015). It stemmed from an encounter that Barroux had with Togola, a migrant who spent time at the artists’ squat in Paris where Barroux had his studio space. It came into artistic life thanks to the creative collaboration between Barroux and Bessora (they’d met at a book fair, where Barroux had sensed that Bessora, with her research background as an anthropologist, was the right person to ‘write’ Alpha’s story). This is important, because the story is not a deliberately ‘timely’ response to world events (although it turned out to be uncomfortably prescient). Rather, it is an organic tale that two artists at the top of their game felt compelled to tell. Barroux was moved by a personal encounter; Bessora became immersed in the research aspect, in order to be sufficiently informed for her fiction to work its truth.

 Translator, Sarah Ardizzone
For me, reading the French version for the first time at home in Brixton (South London) in 2014, it chimed on every level. Firstly, it rendered the excruciating journey that so many people embark on – out of sheer desperation, when they have no option left but to leave their country behind - very concrete and palpable. Whereas the term ‘migrants’ tends to ‘translate’ these people into faceless statistics.

Secondly, it was incredibly exciting to witness the development of Barroux’s artistic style as he tackled a very different topic from the last project on which we had collaborated: the found diary of a WW1 soldier ( Barroux always enjoys a challenge with every new book, and this time it was about creating a diary in transit by an Ivorian man using the kinds of materials (cheap notebooks, and a packet of felt-tips) he might have been able to access.

Thirdly, and perhaps for me most intriguing of all, was being introduced to a writer whose work I didn’t know, but in whose presence I instantly felt comfortable: Bessora brilliantly performs the high-wire act of plotting her searing tale without the characters ever becoming ciphers; of investing in crucial research but ensuring that her text wears it lightly; of politicizing her readers without telling them what to think. Her prose is stripped back, so that it can be a true partner to Barroux’s images – she makes the space for words and pictures to co-exist. And yet her humanity, her humour, her affection for her characters is never far from reach.

All of which to say, what I knew I had in my hands in Brixton was a book that mattered, had been impeccably served by two great artists, and that it was going to be my job to get it out into the English speaking world. Barroux’s and my long-term publisher had changed careers, so we needed to find a new publisher. The children’s publishers I spoke to felt the subject-matter was too tough for their readers, while my concern with the grown-up publishers was whether they’d truly invest in and make all the noise around this book that it deserved. Enter the brand new YA imprint, The Bucket List, at Barrington Stoke!

WSD: You run a variety of interactive translation projects. Do you see performance (and maybe iteration) as being part of a translation process?

SA: Well, one of those interactive translation projects was literally what catapulted ALPHA into securing a UK publisher. At London’s Southbank Centre, I’d been involved in curating something called The Spectacular Translation Machine (scroll down to find out more). This was about getting translation into public spaces, making it visible, encouraging people to engage with it and… oh yes, asking the general public to translate Line of Fire from scratch across two weekends, no matter how much or little French they had – starting with the images. 

When the Edinburgh International Book Festival invited myself and co-curator, Daniel Hahn, to create a Spectacular Translation Machine in their Author’s Retreat tent, I knew I wanted to see how ALPHA would fare up there. And, within moments of Mairi Kidd, MD of Barrington Stoke, walking into the tent, it seemed we’d interested a prospective publisher. So, in that sense, ‘performance’ – turning Alpha into a public spectacle – is precisely what led to it being translated.

We then went on to create Alpha The Spectacle (apologies for the confusing double use of ‘spectacle’) which is a staging of the book, with Barroux drawing live (his work projected onto a big screen by a visualiser), a wonderful actor called Thierry Lawson playing the part of Alpha, and a kick-ass musical soundtrack supervised by Carole Mendy, whose musical roots lie in Marseille.

All these stages are performative and acts of translation – getting a story out to a different audience in a different way.

And, on a personal note, hearing the text of Alpha spoken as actor’s lines of course focused my attention back onto the quality and lexical choices of my translation. We were freely able to change those lines for the live performance. If Alpha is lucky enough to have a second print-run, I would hope that some of those changes would also make it into the printed text.

WSD: And, to end on a humorous note, what's your favourite pun (only because you probably have at least one or two)?

SA: I was being ‘auditioned’ once to translate the children’s writer Timothee de Fombelle. His book, Toby Alone, is an eco-novel about people as tall as a grain of rice who live in a tree containing all sorts of warring factors. I was asked, off the cuff, how I’d translate Con-seil (conseil meant    council or gathering in the context, but the characters were emphasizing the prefix ‘con’             meaning ‘stupid’, to put it politely. I offered ass-embly. It got me the gig, so I’m always fond of       that one.

WSD: Haha, that IS funny! I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more               collaborations from you and Bessora.


To find out more about Alpha, go here: