May 19, 2016

Michael Grant at AWF 2016: Front Lines

Chelsea from Central City Library tells us about getting to hear one of her favourite writers of all time at the Writers Festival, and taking a turn at the mike! 

Whilst I sat waiting for Michael Grant’s session I eavesdropped on two older women sitting next to me. The one closest to me was asking her friend who they were seeing, with the reply being, straight from the festival programme, "Michael Grant who has written over 150 books for children and young adults". Part of me was so pleased that these women were taking a chance on an author they didn’t know but another part of me wanted to sit them down in a corner with Gone for a few hours so they could see what they’d been missing. Grant then came in, a suave man with a cool American accent, who immediately made a joke about his glass of water being vodka. I decided this was going to be a great session. 

After a brief introduction from Jane Higgins, reading reviews of Grant’s books, the emotive book trailer for Front Lines was played. Against a backdrop of images of war a girl’s voice is telling us why women enlisted, that they were not heroes, they were cold and scared and just doing their part. This is the premise of Grant’s latest young adult novel, an alternative history where women are allowed to enlist for World War II.

Higgins asked Grant what drove him to write Front Lines to which Grant answered, rather honestly, that one reason is marketing. There’s a market for strong female characters but he was tired of the dystopia genre so wanted to move beyond that. His second reason is that he cares a lot about history even though he comes ‘from a country indifferent to learning anything from history’. Grant has a healthy cynicism for American politics but it is also clear that he is very knowledgeable. He explains his research process of reading books on WWII, visiting museums, going inside submarines to get a feel for them and even shooting guns in Las Vegas. Grant is funny, with jokes for both the teenagers and adults in the audience. Such as ‘spoiler alert: the Nazis lose’ and joking that America got into WWII late when it was still possible to make money off it.

Despite the violence in Grant’s books he actually doesn’t approve of guns. He told an animated story of how he bought a gun as a young man because he was convinced that a man who had beaten him up was going to kill him. However upon showing the gun to his family he accidently blew a hole in the floor, not realising that the gun was loaded. This shocked Grant, realising that he could have accidently shot a family member, so much that he traded the gun for a camera and never looked back. In his books however Grant doesn’t shy away from real action and violence, starting from 'Animorphs' up till his more recent series. He explains that he’ll write so ‘you hear the bones cracking’ which elicits an audible gasp from the woman next to me. I sincerely hope that she isn’t regretting her decision to see Grant.

Grant also touches on his 'Gone' series, explaining in a nutshell that it’s about a small town that one day has a dome appear over it and all those over 15 years old have disappeared. You can imagine the chaos that ensues. It is not that unlike ‘Under the Dome’ except that Grant wrote ‘Gone’ first. Grant says he’s been criticised for having such young characters do awful things but he says it’s because ‘an 11 year old with a gun and vodka is scary. If they were 18 it’d just be another night in LA’. When asked why he kills off characters he explains that his characters are his employees and sometimes they’re just not performing. He also says that he needs to be realistic, that you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg. I really appreciate his honesty here and his fantastic metaphors. Super fans will be pleased to hear that Grant is working on a new book set in the ‘Gone’ universe and that there will be some characters who cross over into this new book.

Finally comes question time and I make my way over to the microphone, even though I am sweating buckets. I thank him for writing books that I can recommend to teenagers, and especially boys, in the library. I then ask him what young adult books he would recommend. Grant replies that he actually steers away from young adult books as he doesn’t want them to affect his writing but he does recommend the author Andrew Smith. He then gives some lovely praise to his wife Katherine Applegate, whom he challenged to win the Newberry Medal. She did with her 2012 book The One and Only Ivan. As I sit back down the woman next to me tells me ‘Great question, well done’ and I decide that I quite like her. The session wraps up and upon leaving I see Grant signing books and chatting to teens and I think what a cool and intelligent role model he must be for them.

-- Chelsea

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 23:30


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