I’m very lucky to be involved with the UKYACX Blog Tour this year, I went to the UKYA Extravaganzas the past two years and loved it! This year, it’s based in Newcastle and to celebrate it, two blog tours are running at the same time during the run-up to the actual event (one for YA and one for MG books). Today I’m lucky enough to have Martin Griffin on my blog to talk about libraries and the importance of reading. His latest YA novel, Lifers, was out in April 2016 so you should definitely go and buy it! Here he is, discussing Lifers and some various questions related to libraries and reading.
How would you summarise Lifers?
Good question! Lifers is my near-future government-conspiracy prison-break adventure. I believe everyone’s got a near-future government-conspiracy prison-break adventure in them, and Lifers is mine.
I wanted to write about how spaces imprison us, but how choices do too. Sometimes we make decisions which trap us. That’s what happens to my main character Preston; he sends a cruel text message and that mistake closes in on him. We all make these mistakes, but some of us let them define us and some of us are strong enough to move on. In the middle of the book we visit this dreadful futuristic prison called Axle 6. In there, some children become wild, and some retain their humanity. Preston has to choose which of them he will rescue, poor kid. I put him through some pretty terrible stuff…
When did you first get into reading and which book/s made you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I remember two things in particular. One: I was crazy into Doctor Who, and discovered the novelisations after watching the TV show. I ate those books up – read every single one I could get my hands on.
The second; a bunch of choose-your-own adventure books called Fighting Fantasy. You know the type – “If you want to turn left down the passageway, turn to 352. If you would rather turn right, go to 75.” I read and re-read them, making maps of the locations, adjusting the rules so they played better, trying to design my own. Pretty soon I realised they could be improved in terms of plot, character and motivation, and that started me on the journey towards telling my own stories.
How did libraries impact on your life as a young person?
I was lucky. Our living room had two banks of bookcases to browse and I spent lots of time just examining and handling books. To start with they all seemed super-weird to me; strange titles, bizarre cover art, complex vocabulary. But I read the blurb, read opening chapters, read the critics comments on the back covers and just got to know how novels work, what they’re for, how exciting they are.
In that sense, I didn’t need libraries though I still loved it when the mobile library van came to our village. But there are millions of young people – and having been a teacher I’ve spent a lot of time with them – who don’t really know what books are for. It’s sounds ludicrous but it’s true.
And those children, the vast majority of whom are bright sparky young people, are trapped by their circumstances and find it harder to develop the fluency and confidence of linguistic expression that’s going to get them good qualifications and a goal and purpose or a job they love.
Anyone shutting down a library service should lie awake at night aghast at what they’ve done.
If it were up to you, how would you encourage young people to use libraries?
Well, both examples I gave earlier – Doctor Who and Fighting Fantasy – were of books that were part of a bigger series. The same cast of characters, a lot of the same writers. Some were even numbered on their spines so you could collect them. In that sense, I knew what to look for next – what I liked.
When you know nothing, choosing that first book is ridiculously hard. You don’t know what you like, so you go random. And if the first book isn’t that great, it becomes part of a narrative that goes ‘100% of the books I tried were rubbish’. If you don’t like the second you try either… well, you can see where that ends up. I’ve watched it happen.
We need to be able to help people through those early stages. Great librarians do that. We need more great librarians, not fewer.
Do you feel that with the increase in media and with the easier access to it (YouTube, Netflix) young people are losing an interest in books?
Emphatically no. Those platforms are storytelling platforms too. Most kids aren’t on Netflix or Youtube because they love the easy access to handy information. Most of us are there for the stories. If someone tells me they don’t like books, it’s because they haven’t found the one that’s going to change their world yet.
Platforms like Netflix make finding new stories easy. They let us sample them, they tell them in thrilling little chunks. We should design online spaces where kids can do that with books too.
Finally, are there any books that you feel all young people should read and some point?Again – emphatically no! There’s this myth, maybe our education system feeds it, that there are books we should all like, or should all read. There aren’t. I could run off a list of five books that I currently love – and I will in a sec! – but I’m not saying everyone should read them.
On the other hand, if you want to study Literature; if you’re going to choose it at A level for example, that’s different. You need to know about and have read particular books if you’re going to have a real-life official qualification in the topic. (People don’t study Chemistry and say, “But can I skip the periodic table bit? I don’t like that.”)
So if you’re over fifteen and want a tense-as-hell, dark and super-thrilling read, go for these books in this order (they start YA and move into adult fiction):
Five books I’ve enjoyed recently
- Silver by Chris Wooding
- The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co book one) by Jonathan Stroud
- Locke and Key (Part One: Welcome to Lovecraft) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
- Into the Woods by Tana French
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Oh – and I’m looking forward to UKYAX – I’ll see you there!
Thanks to Martin Griffin for his time and for the great answers to those questions, as well as some good recommendations for books! For more information on his books, check out his website at http://www.martingriffinbooks.com/about.html and for more information on the UKYACX event, follow @UKYACX on twitter. Click the link below to check out the blog tour poster!