Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Patrick Ness and Angie Thomas in conversation

On Saturday, I had the thrilling experience of seeing Angie Thomas and Patrick Ness in conversation at the Greenwich Book Festival. I felt so lucky to see two of my favourite authors in one place, and Katherine Woodfine did a great job of interviewing them. I've tried to record as much of the conversation as possible, and any errors are my own. Thank you to Annabelle from EDPR for the photograph and the invitation!

Katherine drew an interesting comparison between the authors' books, in that both are personal. Patrick Ness explained that Release is personal in an emotional sense, but not strictly autobiographical. The book's influences are Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Forever by Judy Blume. Patrick wrote Release in part because as a teenager he'd never read a book like Forever starring someone he related to.

Angie Thomas got the idea for The Hate You Give in university, when she thought she had to be a different person there than she was at home. She'd leave home listening to Tupac and be playing the Jonas Brothers by the time she arrived at university. She was inspired by the tragic shooting of a young black man called Oscar Grant by Police in Oakland. Angie wrote a short story in response to people at school, who thought he deserved it because of his background.

Tupac was a huge influence on Angie and hip-hop music was where she saw herself. It was rare to find herself in a book as a teenager. She grew up reading The Hunger Games and Twilight and she couldn't relate to the girls in those books. Her biggest literary influence was hip-hop. 

Patrick loves seeing his books published in different languages and feels that wherever you are in the world, teenagers have the same curiosity and yearning.

Katherine asked why awards are important in shining a light on books, as both authors were nominated for the Carnegie award. Patrick thinks Carnegie shadowing is great, as it means so many teens are reading your book when they read the award shortlist with their library or school. Angie agreed about the value of shadowing groups and finds it a great feeling when a kid says they hated reading but finally connect with your book.

Patrick's initial goal was to get a book published and thinks it's important to really go for it with every book. Each time, he tries to push himself and take risks.

Both authors are excited to see their books made into films, and Patrick pointed out that even if the film is different, the book remains.

Angie shared some really exciting information about her next book, On the Come Up. It's set in the same community as THUG but is not a sequel. In the new book, Brianna wants to be a rapper in a male-dominated industry. Her song goes viral, and the story is about how far you're willing to go to make it.

Patrick's next book sounds fascinating too – a retelling of Moby Dick told by the whale. He's interested in how a story changes based on who's telling it and the monsters we create.

An audience member asked about overcoming self-doubt, and both authors gave really thoughtful responses. At university, Angie said she felt stories like hers weren't worth being told. A professor encouraged her to give a voice to people from communities like hers who don't have one.

Patrick said you need to have some confidence in your writing but you never have to let anyone read that first draft, and you never have to say aloud that you're proud of it. One day, you'll be ready to share your writing.

The first time Angie saw herself in a book was Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. She took Maverick's name from a quote in the book and feels that Starr has some of the main character's qualities.

Patrick learned as a 15-year old that a book can be empowering when he read Jitterbug Perfume. The Colour Purple also had a strong impact on him. He said he can't recommend reading inappropriately enough. Kids will self-censor and if a book is too much they'll put it down.

I had a fantastic time at this event and was really inspired by both authors. Thank you to Greenwich Book Festival, EDPR and Walker Books for all contributing towards such a great event. 

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