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People, Place and Peru - How far do you go to taste a guinea pig - by Chloe Daykin

Posted By Jacob Hope, 01 August 2019
Updated: 01 August 2019
We are delighted to welcome author Chloe Daykin who talks here about her new novel, 'Fire Girl Forest Boy' and launches an exciting competition for National Libraries week supported by Faber Children's Books.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a couple of amazing trips for writing research. The first was thanks to the inaugural Julia Darling travel fellowship (after the much loved and missed wonderful person and author/poet/playwright Julia Darling). On that trip I travelled up to the arctic circle and beyond, to the Lofoten Islands on a sleeper train, staying in log cabins, swimming in fjords and eating cinnamon buns and salmon and hot potato cakes and seeing what emerged into my second book The Boy Who Hit Play.

Last year I was lucky enough to be awarded an arts council grant to travel to Peru to research my third, Fire Girl Forest Boy.  I travelled to shiny white volcanic towns, high altitude lakes, canyons, in rickshaws, buses (so many buses), reed canoes, up through the forest mists to Machu Picchu, the water filled streets of Ollaytaytambo stayed in houses with hot water bottles made from old Inca Cola cartons, soaked in hot springs and drank herbal altitude remedies up high, so high your lungs shrink so small you feel like you’re walking on the moon. 

A key thing to me when writing set in different places is people. As much as I like seeing landscapes and places it’s really people for me that matter and it’s them, their food, their culture and honest way of being that I need to soak up. It feels important to be genuine. And personalities for me need to come from a really real place. So, as much I loved it all it was really the people I went for. The people and the food!

I ate rice pudding from carts, hot dripping charcoal roast chicken with sweet purple chicca morada, alpaca, a little bit of guinea pig, alfadores (cookies sandwiched with caramel), passionfruit three milk cake with thick whipped white icing and red tea, and quinoa. Loads of quinoa. My favourite was quinoa porridge from a family up in the mountains. Delicious! 

On coming home and getting on with the writing it’s hard to know what’s going to make it in or out. 
What I hope that’s made it through into the book is the people’s soulfulness. Their honesty. Integrity. Openness and kindness.  I love their belief in magic. And if you belief in something enough you see it around you. I hope I’ve been able to capture some of that.

As a kid I thought the most exciting place to explore was the jungle. Flying over the amazon while eating my inflight dinner is something I’ll never forget.  So I hope that’s in there too.  A love of the jungle, told at a pace that feels like running through it..  A wild environmental journey through the cloud forests, lawless towns, crisp cities and up into the otherworldly Lima Cathedral - with its art of decapitated martyrs, monsters exploding out of bellies and guinea pig last supper! 

Some of the landscapes are remembered. Some imagined. The environmental aspect came later from home based research. I guess if you love a place you want to protect it. So raising awareness of the illegal logging that’s going on (largely un-reported) - that’s effecting Peru so badly right now felt really important. 

Just after finishing the novel I read of a man was burned alive in Iquitos (where a chunk of the book is set) for standing up for indigenous communities, against mining and logging. His braveness and courage is humbling. I hope this books brings awareness of this cause in whatever small way it can. Without people standing up for each other we’re sunk.  And the people of Peru need standing up for and alongside.

I hope you enjoy the book. When I was writing it I was thinking a lot about Journey to The River Sea, Trash, Matilda, Rooftoppers, Keeper and One Hundred Years of Solitude. So perhaps some of that may have seeped in too.  
 
This week we have the incredibly lovely news that Fire Girl Forest Boy has been long listed for the Guardian’s Not The Booker prize.  And I am very proud and honoured! If you fancy a look at the list - for there are many many wonderful books on it - or a vote the link is here.
 
Before I was an author I started out as an artists/designer//bookbinder and to celebrate the brilliant National Libraries Week (organised by CILIP, the library and information association), in October we’re running a prize of having a library window painted in a lush tropical jungly style (by me!).  Simply tweet a pic of your library window with the hashtag #firegirlforestboy #librariesweek to be in with a chance to win. I would love to meet you and make your library look even lovelier!  Till then, happy reading and a massive thanks for all the hard and wonderful work you do!!!

 

Tags:  National Libraries Week  Reading  Reading Development  reading for pleasure  travel 

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Only the YLG!

Posted By Jacob Hope, 09 October 2018
To mark National Libraries Week, Samantha Lockett recounts her experiences at the  Youth Libraries Group conference.  Samantha won the bursary kindly sponsored by Browns Books for Students. Her account is a powerful reminder of the importance of training and development within the profession.

The theme of this year’s Youth Libraries Group conference was Reading the Future. Sponsored by Enid Blyton Entertainment, it was a celebration of the old and new, looking back on childhood favourites – such as Blyton – while discussing how these can be reimagined for modern audiences. Alongside the nostalgia, there was a sense of immediacy, an awareness that children’s fiction, literacy and libraries must be fought for. The conference explored many of the key issues in contemporary children’s fiction – such as the rights and representation of women, the need for diverse and inclusive books and the promotion of empathy. Throughout the conference, authors, panelists, poets and publishers stressed the importance of reading for pleasure. Reading may not be an instant joy to all children, but with enough support it can become one.  

Within minutes of arriving at the Mercure hotel, I found myself part of a group marching towards Central Library in the torrential Manchester rain. As a visitor to the city, I had only ever ducked into the library, too intimidated by the grand architecture and swish café to do more than browse the gift shop. The tour was an eye-opening experience, giving us backstage (backstacks?) access to the many hidden wonders of the library, including the restoration room and archives. As you might expect from a collective of children’s librarians, we were reluctant to move on from the Children’s Library with its delightful Secret Garden theme, but with lunch imminent we said goodbye to Central Library and headed back. The conference was about to begin. 

That first day, I overheard somebody say, ‘Only the YLG!’. As I watched the opening courtroom skit – three librarians dressed in wigs and gowns, interrogating a series of witnesses, including Anthony McGowan and Non Pratt, about what makes a reader, I could understand why. Only at the YLG Conference. As the weekend went on, it became my internal refrain. Ginger beer cocktails? Only the YLG. A midnight feast? Only the YLG. A lollipop shaped like the decapitated head of Frankenstein’s monster? Only the YLG! One of the things I most enjoyed about the conference was that it encouraged people to have fun, to be a little silly. The poet Matt Goodfellow got an entire room of bookish people to act out his poem Chicken on the Roof. Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre had us in hysterics as they led a group drawing session of Kevin, the flying pony hero of their new book. Audience participation – one of the most feared phrases in the English language – was met with applause. What wizardry was this?! 

With such a jam-packed programme, I was worried about sensory overload. However, the programming worked extremely well, mixing formats – a panel followed by a poetry performance followed by a publisher roadshow – to great effect. I particularly enjoyed the tea break sessions; thirty minutes of listening to brilliant authors while eating themed-snacks may be my new favourite thing in life. On the second day, delegates were given a choice of breakout sessions to attend. I chose ‘Literacy by Stealth’ – a discussion of how the Book Bench project and Read Manchester initiatives have engaged disadvantaged communities in Manchester, increasing tourism and library visits – and ‘Life Online’ – a two-part session delivered by CILIP’s Andrew Walsh and the author Nicola Morgan about information literacy and the preconceptions we hold about teenagers and technology. I found both sessions to be hugely informative, giving practical advice, such as how to reach underrepresented groups and forge connections with partner organisations, that I have since followed in my own library. Another session that I thoroughly enjoyed detailed the painstaking creation of the children’s poetry book, I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year. The book’s illustrator, Frann Preston Gannon, and its publisher, Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, took us through the stages of its creation, from early sketches to the final cover art. It was astonishing to see how much work – and passion – went into producing the book.  As I walked around the Exhibition Room, where publishers showcased their new and upcoming releases, I had a greater appreciation for… books. For everyone who plays a part in making them. I was so excited that children and young adults would soon be reading these incredible titles, and, as a public library, we would be doing our part in providing them. 

Frank Cottrell-Boyce made me cry. He may also have made a nun cry, if his opening anecdote was anything to go by. His keynote speech was so full of sincerity, humour and wild, unrepentant bookish love, that my notes became a scribbled explosion of his quotes. My favourite is this: ‘only books catch all the voices’. Books, according to Cottrell-Boyce, stand for complication. There is a democracy to books. This, I believe, is one of the key themes of the conference. Reading the Future does not mean forgetting the past. In his closing speech, YLG Chair Jake Hope mentioned that he always intended for illustrator and author, Jackie Morris, to be the final act of the conference. Co-created with Robert Macfarlane, her book – The Lost Words – brings lost words back into being. It is a beautiful book, full of Macfarlane’s “spells” and Morris’ uncanny illustrations. Watching Morris paint an otter into life was an experience I will never forget. It showed how books, as tangible, living things, can bring people together. Not just a conference room of strangers, but families and classrooms and communities. What wizardry indeed.  

I would need another thousand words to write about all the other wonderful things I saw at the YLG Conference. Or maybe ten thousand words, including the words I SAW MALORIE BLACKMAN AND SHE SPOKE KLINGON. As it is, I will just say thank you to Browns Books for Students for the bursary, and to the YLG committee for organising it all. It was absolutely brilliant. 


Samantha Lockett is a Library Assistant at Holmes Chapel Library in Cheshire East. She is currently studying for an MA in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth University. 
 
 

Tags:  Conference  libraries  National Libraries Week  professional development  reading  reading the future. bursary  training 

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