By Jacqueline Grima
Young Adult (YA) fiction authors Juno Dawson, Non Pratt and Siobhan Curham visited Manchester Central Library this weekend for a Q&A session entitled Matter Over Minds at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival Generation #MCRTakeover event.
The session, hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University Senior Lecturer in English Ginette Carpenter, invited young people in the audience to put questions to the three authors regarding the issues that are important to them.
All three authors have all written books that focus on the challenges faced by young adults including Juno’s Mind Your Head, which addresses mental health issues, Non’s Trouble, focusing on teenage pregnancy and Siobhan’s Dear Dylan, which explores the challenges of relationships.
Speaking about her own formative years, Juno said, “In my little group, there were eating disorders, self-harm, parents breaking up… No-one gets through adolescence unscathed, even the ones who look like they’re having a blast.”
Student Rachel Rowlands asked the panel if they thought they needed to be delicate when tackling seemingly tough subjects in YA Fiction.
Non answered, “If you try to be delicate, that sort of implies that you shouldn’t be talking about it. I don’t like delicate. I think you should be sensitive and write honestly.”
When asked by Isaac Abs-Brown what is the biggest challenge facing young people today, Non’s answer was clear: “The EU Referendum result is the biggest problem facing young people today. Young people will have to deal with the fallout. They will have to find the courage to negotiate their path to the future.”
Juno added, “It’s a decision that has been made for young people by adults.”
Siobhan encouraged the young people in the audience to be positive, saying, “Don’t accept the ‘It is what it is’ mentality. Find your mentors and role models in history who have said ‘We are going to change things.'”
Asked if Young Adult Fiction has a role to play in challenging the continuing objectification of women, Siobhan said, “We do have a responsibility. There’s so much crap from other parts of the media and we have a responsibility to counter that. YA Fiction is is a great place to counter it.”
Juno added, “I wrote Under My Skin to object against the idea that strong female characters always seem to have to have a weapon in their hands.”
Other topics discussed included whether mental health issues are romanticised and whether ethnic minorities are misrepresented in fiction. Siobhan said, “I think there needs to be a massive change in the publishing industry. These are the people that commission writers. That’s where the change needs to be.”
Poet Alex Wheatle, who was in the audience, also commented on the creation of racially diverse characters, saying, “Now is the time to do it. Young people are now at the most tolerant they have ever been.”
Response to the Q&A session was positive. Nineteen-year-old Michael said, “It’s great to have events like this where young people know that they can openly discuss issues that are important to them without feeling uncomfortable or judged.”