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This was one of the last minute tickets I bought as I had not been to many stripped events. I am so glad that I went to it, as it was definitely one of the highlights of the festival. Stuart Kelly arrived to the event dressed as The Riddler, giving the event a definite Batman feel right from the start.

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Above are some pictures of the hand outs that Stuart provided us all with during the workshop.

The first riddle we were asked was:

What do we talk about when we talk about Batman?

It depends on who is telling the story as it is a myth that has been told by many writers. We all thought that the Jack Nicholson version of Batman was gothic at the time but the Christian Bale version of Batman makes the older versions look like Gothic camp.

batman

The above panel is the original batman origin story. Stuart stated that the second panel is one of the worst bit of comic strip writing and I have to agree. In the second panel, it tells you the same thing in three different ways, that there is a bat in the picture.

Batman has been going know for over 60 years and there is a constant tension in the history of Batman as people felt the violence within the early comic strips should be more realistic. Ultimtely the main relationship in Batman is between the rich man and the personal war he has.

Superhero comics are the cultural glue within society. People know about them without having actually read them.

Time for another riddle:

What don’t you need to know to read a Batman comic…..

The entire history of the Batman comics (though it helps)

This is mainly due to the fact that each writer has rewritten the Batman history differently. Batman can be retold again and again. You don’t need to read Batman to know you he is, he is written into our culture through pyjamas, lunchboxes and toys for example. This is what makes him a myth as few things within our culture have this kind of power.

Stuart them took us to a world where D.C. comics are true and took us through the various history that have occurred over the years.

iconic villians

Above are the original iconic villains, Catwoman (she originally had a cat head), The Joker and Pengiun. These villains reoccurred through various Batman comics.

villian

villians1

Above are other iconic original villains; Two Face, Scarecrow, Mr Zero (the original Mr Freeze), The Red Hood (the first supervillain to appear in the comics), The Monk (first Batman villain to appear in the comics), Dr Death (the first reoccurring villain), Polka-dot man and the Penny Plunderer. In Batman everything goes back in the box and there is creative tension as every writer wants to tell new stories and these original villains are drawn on for inspiration.

golden age

From around 1956, D.C. Comics started to redesign various characters: this is sometimes referred to as the change from the “Golden Age” to the “Silver Age”….
The above image shows the redesign of Flash and Green Lantern. Fans accepted most of these changes but obviously wanted explanation.

These changes were explained within the comics -in The Flash September 1961- as being due to the existence of multiple parallel realities. The “Golden Age” took place on Earth-two and the “Silver Age” on Earth-One… And there were many more “Earths”. The physics behind these alternative realties started in 1959, why the comics went this way is a mystery. In Flash there was major changes in the shift from Earth-two to Earth-one. In Batman and Superman these changes were more gradual.

But then another change in 1985, the franchise was “rebooted” and all the universes collapsed in one each other creating just one universe. This new universe introduced some major story lines.

a death in the family
“A Death In The Family” was one of the most notorious Batman stories of all time. It was an event to establish that Batman was not a children’s comic. There was even a phone line you could call to save Robin or kill Robin. Nobody dies in comics, the phrase “he goes for a dirt nap” is used to establish death. This story established a different tone and it was the beginning of the darker comics.

multiple

This was an experiment in a long multiple comic story. It introduced a moral seriousness to the comic.

In total D.C. comics have destroyed and remade the universe five times and this is why it has longevity. When Marvel comics do this they just keep the new universe running alongside the original.

Time for one last riddle:

What do you have to have to be the Caped Crusader?

He has to have nothing!

Nothing happened to him in a explosion
He was never but by a radio-active bat
He didn’t come from the planet Krypton
An alien didn’t give him a Power Ring to access the emotional spectrum
HE’S JUST A MAN
ALBEIT A RICH ONE

This is a crucial part of his story as it has always been about the grief he has suffered due to what he doesn’t have. Superman is painted against a blue sky as he teaches us what it is to be human. Batman is painted against a night sky as he teaches us what it is to be a myth. They compliment each other perfectly.

Most batman villains tend to be human and they are all interesting from a physiological point of view. The majority of them represent chaos and batman represents that force trying to contain this chaos. Chaos is something that people can relate to.

Comics are constantly product testing their own environment and there is a stage where they have to been seen as growing up. By using ridiculous stories it keeps them in the adolescent stage. But the new story line with the Joker using his face as a mask is an experiment to see if we can let characters grow.

Comics are hard to read cause you have to suspend disbelief. You have to let stories have own contours but collaborations do happen.

With that final thought the hour and a half workshop was brought to a close.

All photos are taken from the hand-outs provided by Stuart Kelly at the workshop.

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Chaired by Luke Brown

cattonThere is a rich history of gold with New Zealand’s history, New Zealand was the last place to be colonised but it was the first place to achieve democracy. Eleanor wanted to capture this dramatic atmosphere within her novel, the gold rush meant that towns just popped up within New Zealand.

Hannah’s book based on a true crime committed in Iceland. It is set after the crime has been committed and sentencing has taken place. It mainly looks at her relationship with the family that is forced to hold her and the young priest who is assigned to her. It has two narratives, 1st person in which we hear Agnes thoughts and in parts is told in a 3rd person narrative. Hannah heard the story of this crime when she spent a year in Iceland as an exchange student. She was immediately fascinated with the women that committed this crime and what kind of woman she actually was? In all her research she was struck by the fact that everyone described this women as a monster, evil and had a very black and white perspective of her. This frustrated Hannah and she wanted to write a novel that would show a complex women and perhaps discover something about her humanity. This was done through the part of the novel written in the 1st person. Her voice is a direct opposite to the voice of the 3rd person narrative. Agnes voice is lyrical and metaphorical.

Eleanor explained how it has fascinated her and raged her about how a novel has to be defined as either literary fiction or genre fiction. In literary fiction the characters propel the plot, it is the opposite for genre fiction, the plot propels the characters. The Luminaries is a very plot driven novel but why should the writer have to choose between structure and plot. This puts a element of pressure on the writer to create a level of suspense for the reader. Modern day TV programmes are masters of suspense and they manage to keep character and plot alive.

Hannah explained that her plot was a happy accident, she washannah researching and writing the book at the exact same time. The novel ended up being suspenseful as Hannah herself was in suspense as she didn’t know what was going to happen next. When writing she was thinking more about character and the plot just came naturally through character interactions.

Eleanor wanted her book to be entertaining and she was trying to write a murder mystery. When writing she liked to paint herself into a corner and then try and get out of it. By making the plot as difficult as she could for herself it meant it would be even better for the reader and they wouldn’t be disappointed by the book they were reading.

Burial Rites is about a time and country that does not belong to Hannah. A lot of research was carefully done and all the major plot points were taken from historical sources. The rest was a giant game of dot to dot and the speculation between fact fills in the dots. It was all common sense, logic and informed speculation.

All events are invented within Eleanor’s novel so there was no real historical research done. The prison that features in the novel is real and it was built using convict labour. This chimes with our idea of fate and that we all make our own prisons. Eleanor admits that the length of the novel crept up on her. It is a book of 12 parts and each part is half of the part before it. It is designed to be like a golden spiral and show the dramatic power of two. There was no promise that this structure was going to work until the novel was finished.

With that thought a very entertaining hour was brought to a close.

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Chaired by Russell McLean

jamesThe idea behind James’s novel came from the international hysteria that is going on to do with global warming. It is meant to be a very closed and claustrophobic novel. The things we seem focused on are war, weather and the economy, what would happen if all three of these turned bad at the same time. James’s also writers a series of sci-fi books, they are classed as sci-fi as they have spaceships in them. People are willing to buy into a world to escape from their own.

The idea behind Samantha’s novel came from a solar storm thatbone happened in 1859 and there was an alternative outcome. It has been classed as steampunk by some people but Samantha sees steampunk as modern technology going into the Victorian age and this novel is more Victorian age going into the modern world. Samantha built her world from the bottom up and this allowed a sense of consistency through out the novel.

Horror is used in a very interesting way in James’s book, it is more modern gothic horror than a classic horror novel. Horror should unsettle you. We live in a time in which we are not as obsessed with the body, we are more worried about the mind. If you could cure memories, it would make a difference to society as most of the time memories are just lies we tell ourselves.

There is a lot of slang present in Samantha’s book and through reading it you are meant to understand what is meant through the context of what is going on. However there is a glossary at the back of the book should you need it. Samantha created a system of clairvoyants for the novel and in this system she wanted them all to have believable limits. This was done through a lot of historical research focused on deviation. George Orwell and Margret Attwood were huge influences on Samantha’s work as both are classic dystopian.

The government do a convenient thing of forgetting thing but forgetting thing will not make the problem go away, it will actually make the problem worse. For James a good dystopia lives and dies on what we can believe ourselves. It has to be set in a real world that has a level of fantasy on top of it.

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Chaired by Jenny Brown

chris
The clear theme that links both novels is the shadowy past of Scotland that links it with Barbados. Andrea’s book is about a series of migrations that where happening at that point in history, 1 in 5 people were leaving the Britain to find a better life. This is a story that we as a culture have forgotten. Barbados was that first British colony in the region and it was the place that the sugar revelation took place, sugar was known as the white gold of the island. The story of sugar is pivotal to the story of the region. Chris’s novel is also set in Barbados and it is a story based on a true line of research, of a woman being sent out to Barbados to be an actress.

The story of this vast migration has been written out of British history. The majority of the earlier settlers died and you would have had no idea of what you were going to be faced with when you got there. It was a one way journey, it was a chance to completely reinvent yourself.

The idea for Chris’s novel started with a work trip to Barbados for three months. In his first week on the island, Chris joined the national trust and they took you on walks of the island. Through these walks he discovered the poor white community that is present and is known as the Scotland area. What madness makes a community like this work? It took 21 years to write the book and he has learnt that you should just write the book then do the vast majority of research at a later date. In the early days the island was very much a Scottish island. Scots were better educated and supplied a lot of the doctors and book keepers (dealt with the slaves) for the island. Everyone wanted the novel to be a classical historical fiction but this was not what Chris wanted to achieve. What is history and what is fiction? The odd thing about fiction is that you can use it to discover a deeper truth but we have created a culture that there is an expectation in the reader’s mind that everything within a historical novel is true.

Andrea’s novel is non-fiction and she is well known for her biographies. However this time she has turned her attention to her own maternal family and in a way she always knew she would write about them. If it wasn’t written down then this link to the past may be lost through time. It is a story of slavery, settlement and sugar. The cheapest way to plant sugar was to use slaves. In many ways this was the beginning of the slave trade that were used for this specific purpose. It is the great historical tragedy of the island however the slave trade money enriched the area but the history of this money is never taught. The book aims to try to bring back history and remind us of the reality of the situation. There is a question of how one writes history? People who’s history gets preserved tend to be in the military or royalty. The slave trade have been deliberately written out of history. Andrea always wants to focus on the smaller people in history, so their story gets preserved for generations.

With that final thought, an interesting hour was brought to an end.

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This event featured Julia Donaldson, Samantha Shannon and John Marsden.
Chaired by Kate Mosse.

kate
Above is a picture of the crowd, eagerly awaiting the discussion that was about to take place.

Kate describes herself as a adventure writer and writes fiction which has female heroes, they are the protagonist of the story and they don’t want to be rescued.

Julia kicked off the discussion by asking if one thinks of gender issues when writing. Most writers will tell you no, they write what they want to write. The Gruffalo is a traditional tale so all the main characters are male. However in later books The Gruffalo has a daughter and this was a conscious decision to introduce a female character into the books. However in some countries when the book has been translated the daughter has been made a son. In the world of traditional children publishing, female characters are usually feisty but are politically correct. In fact there are a lot of men campaigning to be portrayed better in children’s literature. Stereotypes have changed over times, the granny no longer knits, she rides a motorcycle.

John put across the point of how adolescents are given a low social status within our society. For example the Garden of Eden and Camelot are given an idol status and a lot of people construct childhood on the same principle. Childhood can be a place of purity and innocence. It is important as a writer to educate people to see children how they actually are, by idolising children we are ultimately setting them up for a fall from grace and this tends to happen at adolescent. Teenagers are seen as a danger to society and this is how they are portrayed in the media. John started writing for adolescents with an agenda he wanted to raise the status of them within society. Young people are excited to see themselves portrayed as heroes. When writing emotion, John feels it easier to do when writing in a female characters voice, this is mainly due to his own psychology.

Samantha mentioned how they first thing that came to her was her main characters voice, it seemed to make her female as Samantha feels she would have had to do research to write in a male voice. Through out The Bone Season the main female character is dominated by men, this was done on purpose as it is going to be a series of novels. In this age the literary scene is a lot more aware of feminism. The idea of labelling characters are “strong female character” gives the impression that by default women are not strong and this is an unusual characteristic. We need to get to the stage were it does not surprise us that the female character is strong.

Kate added that we need to be free to write the characters we want to write.

Julia does not feel any pressure from her publisher when writing. However there are certain thing you are not allowed to have in children’s books but they exist in real life. There is more pressure on authors that write books for younger children. For example in the USA you are not allowed to have nudity in a picture book, in one of Julia’s books a goat had it’s udders removed.

John added the fact that so much about writing is giving the reader what they want. Samantha added that often characters are more settled in adult books and in Young Adult fiction they are just figuring themselves out.

Kate added that even in the digital age we are in the book still exists, they still matter to us as we see ourselves reflected in the characters within the novel.

With that a very interesting hour discussion was brought to an end.

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Chaired by Richard Lea

Both authors gave a short reading from their novels to start the event.

pat
In Eugen’s book the narrative jumps back and forward but it leaves gaps for the imagination. You can only ever show the reader a fragment of the story but you will always have the wrong idea of this book. If someone left GDR it was like they had vanished. The novel is told in pieces to make it shorter as it is possible to compress the marative. The prospective is always changing, you wouldn’t be able to manage that in a film without driving the audience crazy. Each chapter is about 25 pages and in each chapters there is flashbacks present but the narrative does not jump during the chapter. The book is about the fall of the wall and most people have a basic knowledge of this and you can use this knowledge to compress the book even more.

Patricio started by apologising for his English (personally I thought his English was fine), apologised for his voice (he is sick) and for the fact he didn’t know what day it was as he was in Argentina less than 30 hours ago. Part of the story within the novel is common knowledge and it was a painful story for Patricio to write and this is why the story must be written in fragments. It was important to find a form that was unconventional to tell the story as there has been many versions of this story over the years. It was important that the book was not closed at the end of the novel, it was also difficult to think about the right structure and have a balance between fact and fiction. The fiction aspect was added to allow the reader to have the opportunity to think that they story was fiction. Adding fictional aspects was also a way to escape parental control over the novel. The feeling of your parents reading your novel can be very paralysing.

Eugen’s book has the same mixture of fact and fiction within it as parts of the story had to be invented. Fiction in some cases, can be more true than reality. Readers from East Germany feel like the novel is taking their history seriously and West Germany are curious about what really happened during that period of history. As a writer, Eugen feels it is important to keep out of your book as much as possible so you don’t influence the characters.

Where you consulted by the translator during the process? How do you feel about the English translation?
Patricio stated that he has worked with a lot of translators, they ultimately offer a different view of the book. He really likes how his books sound in English and feels like none of the musicality of the novel has been lost during the translation process. Sometimes writers don’t like what they write but they must write it. It is important to write a book that allows people to ask questions again.

Eugen didn’t met his English translator however they did talk over email. He feels like he can tell that the book has been translated by a woman, the rhythm is different and seems weaker.

With that final thought an hours discussion was brought to a close.

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Chaired by Claire Armstead

aeClaire described Charlotte’s novel as being very much a novel about the private life of children. Charlotte described how she found it horrific to be a teenager. We all think that there is a key to being a teenager and when we find the key everything will be ok. However there isn’t a key, we just stop caring about the key. There are Hungarian aunts and grandmothers’ present within the novel, this was done mainly because her maternal grandparents are Hungarian and she wasted to writer about her grandparents because she missed them.

Fayette’s novel is centred round the idea of deception. Shefay paints family life as being built on white lies, there is a duality to this. The grown ups are telling the children to always tell the truth but they themselves are telling lies left and right. There are two sides to the lies Ivy tells, she just really wants to be liked by people. It is all about what is going to get people to like her? Fayette started her novel through NaNoWriMo, this is the idea of writing the basic first draft of a novel in a month. She had two days to come up with the character of Ivy before she started writing and mainly pulled the story out of thin air.

Both novels are set in 1980s, what were you doing in the 1980s?
Charlotte was a teenager during the 80s and finds it easier to write about things she knows. She has to be able to imagine herself as the character in order to write as them. Charlotte stated that she doesn’t want any texts or emails in her novels. By putting these in a novel, it really dates a novel. She is a fan of twitter but thinks it misses the point. You can get a hold of anyone on a mobile and by doing this you will miss a lot of drama.

Fayette was a kid in the 80s and didn’t have the luxury of having time to research the setting of the book. So she used her childhood backdrop with fictional elements to it.

Time for some audience questions

Fayette mentioned how she thought of her main character in two days and then took 5 years to write the novel. How long did it take you Charlotte?
There is a lot of detail in the novel and Charlotte has been thinking about this novel her entire life. The world of her novel, is the world of her grandparents.

How easy did you find it to plot your novels?
Fayette stated how she finds it very hard to sit down and write and also that she hates plot. She finds the idea of plot like pulling teeth. There is plot in the book but that plot had to be created, she plotted on index cards as you are able to physically move the plot around. A third of the plot was thought of before writing and then you get to the point when you run out of train tracks but you have to get putting the tracks down before the train falls off the cliff.

With that a very interesting hours discussion was brought to an end.

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