This year’s CBI Conference was held on the 18th and 19th of May, in the Lighthouse Cinema. The theme was Rebels and Rulebreakers.
I was helping out at the conference with a friend, and was lucky enough to get into every talk but one. Here is my round up of the talks, and the things I learnt:
Hervé Tullet’s talk was great, really interactive. He engaged with the audience, reading the books with us (I Am Blop was particularly fun, and I love Game of Shadows). He said the audience weren’t as good at performing his books as kids are though! There was also a baby on hand who he read the World of Mirrors book to! He also got Sarah Webb (www.sarahwebb.ie) up to help him demonstrate Press Here. I hadn’t encountered Hervé’s work before, but his talk definitely converted me! His books are fun, and kids would love them. Hervé spoke about books as making noise and singing, and that definitely came across in his talk!
This was a very interesting interview; I thought Robert Dunbar asked some great questions. John Boyne said he didn’t prefer writing for adults or children (‘I enjoy just writing’), he writes one book for adults, one for children etc. In terms of children’s books, he tends to focus on 8 or 9 year old books as protagonists, and he intends to continue with this in the future. He sees children’s literature as being defined by having a child at the centre, but beyond that he sees little difference from literature for adults. He tends to write in first person for adults, third for children. We also got a sneak peak of John Boyne’s upcoming book for children Stay Where You Are, And Then Leave, set in WWI. It sounds brilliant!
Comics Panel: Superheroes Eclipsed
This was an interesting panel, about how comics are about more than just superheroes. The panellists (Sarah McIntyre, Alan Nolan and Rory McConville) talked about their influences, and their own work. It was all about pushing boundaries, and expanding the comic form to encompass different genres. I’m a big fan of Sarah McIntyre’s work, and really want to read Nelson, a collaborative graphic novel with several other artists dealing with the life of one girl over 43 years. Alan Nolan’s graphic novels for kids – The Big Break Detectives, and the Murder Can be Fatal Series (with titles such as Death by Chocolate) – sound like great fun, and Rory McConville’s use of the graphic novel to reinvigorate Irish history is similar to what Colmán O Raghallaigh is doing for Irish myths. (see below)
Alex T Smith:
As a child, Alex T Smith wanted to be a writer/illustrator, a chef or a rabbit. This was a fun talk! The Claude books sound fab, especially Mr Bobblysock, and the cheeky bits that he managed to slip into the books! Alex spoke beautifully about how his grandfather inspired him to write. He showed us some of the stories his grandfather had written for him, and some of his own work as a child. He told us that ‘A good book needs heart in it, and sometimes soul.’ We got a sneak peek of some of his upcoming work, including a picture book Hector and the Big Red Knight. In the spirit of the Conference, he encouraged aspiring authors or illustrators to take risks with their work. And then he taught us all to draw Claude!
Yay! Sarah Crossan was the speaker I was most excited to hear, and I loved her talk. She gave us a lot of insight into her writing process, and also about how her own experiences as a child had subconsciously influenced The Weight of Water (read my review here: https://thebookstheartandme.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/review-the-weight-of-water-by-sarah-crossan/). I was really interested in how she wrote this novel – she said all the poems were written in a notebook first, in a non-linear order, and then she rearranged them and filled in the gaps. She showed pictures of her plans and notebooks. Despite the fact it is quite a personal book, Sarah Crossan said she doesn’t think good art can be therapy. Her latest novel, Breathe, is very different to The Weight of Water. It is a dystopian YA prose novel. She said writing in prose was necessary to cleanse her palette after all the poetry, and that Breathe was much more plot-driven. She spoke about issues with genre constraints, and a little about writing Resist, the sequel to Breathe. She spoke about possibly writing a YA poetry novel in the future (yay!). She wants her writing to say “I hear you” to her readers. Also, Sarah was really lovely when I spoke to her after her talk, and got my books signed.
Edge of the Page:
In this slot, speakers discussed books by Irish authors/illustrators that they thought had been forgotten about. The selection included Spooky Irish Tales for Children by Eddie Lenihan which features a creepy face-stealing druid (!), The Second Best Children in the World, a charming picture book about 3 children who take off on a trip around the world to give their parents a break, the Whoosh series by Bernard Shane and William Bolger, with Irish themes and beautiful hand screen printed illustrations. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea, a precursor of the contemporary trend of fantasy in children’s literature ‘All this, because a boy was about to try to buy a book in the second-hand bookshop, in the small grey city of Galway.’
Sheena Wilkinson & Deirdre Sullivan
Unfortunately due to flight difficulties Ana Maria Machado couldn’t make the conference, but Deirdre Sullivan and Sheena Wilkinson, and their publisher Elaina O’Neill stepped in with a very interesting discussion on breaking taboos in YA. Deirdre spoke about how she writes what she wants in her first draft, and later cuts out the ‘bold bits’! They both deal with tough topics (such as grief, suicide and self-harm) and agreed on the importance of not turning their novels into ‘issue books.’ Elaina O’Neill noted that, as a genre, YA allows rule breaking. Their conversation was illuminating and entertaining (ponies in space (!!!), Deirdre ‘cheating’ on one idea with another, or Sheena’s declaration ‘we have no morals!’)
Irish language publishing is a very important area, and Colmán O’Raghallaigh gave a very interesting discussion of how it has developed over time. He showed how many different books, age-groups and genres have been tackled, and how exciting the world of Irish language publishing is. I was particularly interested in his graphic novels, which are bringing ancient Irish myths to a new audience.
Another great talk, and a worthy close to the conference! Jon Klassen is very popular, and the signing was huge! He spoke about his background in animation, and his issues with drawing characters/emotion. A lot of his early work was based more on ‘things’, stories around inanimate objects. He went through his picture books, explaining the processes and the stories. I loved Extra Yarn, it is a really sweet story and I love how he uses the pattern of the stitches throughout. He also spoke about his work on birthday cards with animals who couldn’t care less about your birthday. The deadpan look appears again in I Want My Hat Back, in which he described the animals as bad actors, just reading their lines, going through the motions. It was fascinating to get an insight into the process of making picture books – Jon also discussed This Is Not My Hat, House Held Up By Trees, The Dark (which also looks brilliant!) and some projects that never made it. He doesn’t like outlines, which gives his work a cut-out feel, and is trying to get a more traditional in his work. Beautiful books, that parents and children will love.
Phew! I had a very busy, but great weekend at the Conference, and learnt a lot.
Here are some more round ups you can check out:
Claire Hennessy: http://clairehennessy.com/cbi-conference-recap-the-shiny-bits/
And lots of pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151663005933938.1073741828.137934348937&type=1