Bloomsbury hosted a book event with two Carnegie Medal winning authors: Sarah Crossan of One fame and Tanya Landman, author of Buffalo Soldier. Landman was named winner in 2015 and Crossan in 2016. The CILIP Carnegie Medals are the older and most prestigious children’s book awards in the UK.
An interesting thing both books have in common is that they are written by women and fall into the diverse fiction genre dealing with issues such as disability and race. One follows conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi, as they deal with growing up and the difficulties of their unique situation in beautiful and lyrical verse form. Meanwhile, Buffalo Soldier follows Charlie as she disguises herself as a man in order to join the American Civil War.
I have to confess that I’ve not consciously read diverse fiction but this year with the shitshow that is 2016, and thanks to Twitter, I’ve become more aware of the importance of publishing and reading such books. This was one of the reasons why I really wanted to go to this event. Both Sarah Crossan and Tanya Landman published their books before 2016 and have been on the scene and writing for some time. I was curious about what made them write about the topics they explore in their books at a time when diversity in fiction wasn’t as championed as it is now.
Chaired by journalist Harriet Minter, the event was fascinating and I’ll do the usual Q&A summary for you guys.
1. Harriet started off asking Sarah why she chose to write One in verse? Sarah said that she initially started writing the book in prose but that it wasn’t working. However, once she started to write in verse she realised it came more naturally. Sarah said what she particularly liked about this method was that it gives a snapshot of the characters’ lives and story and likened verse to photographs whereas prose was more like a movie.
2. Harriet said that one of the things she’d noticed was that the two books explored the theme of a special bond between characters and asked the authors to shed more light on it. Sarah said she’d met conjoined sisters whilst researching for the book and initially the plan was to explore how romance for one sister might affect their lives. But during her research she found that many conjoined twins were perfectly happy as they were and it was this bond of sisterhood that she wanted to do justice. In Buffalo Soldiers Tanya explores the bond between Charlie and her horse Abe. Her motivation was her own love of horses whilst growing up (and which saw her competing right up until she was an adult!) and that she wanted to portray the solace that people can find in their pets and animals and show the unwritten language of communication these bonds rely on.
3. Harriet then asked Tanya to elaborate more on the fascinating topic of Buffalo Soldier and why she’d felt compelled to write a YA book on it. Tanya said that once she found out about the Buffalo Soldiers she realised it was a piece of history that was missing from conventional accounts of the war. She said she wanted to put back the people and events that had been erased e.g. women and minorities and explore why these women had to go to such lengths to contribute to the war effort in the way they wanted to.
4. Harriet then asked about Tanya and Sarah’s experience of writing diverse fiction. Tanya said she had received flak for another of her books I Am Apache but not Buffalo Soldier but that there was reluctance from US publishers to release the book because of potential accusations of cultural appropriation. Tanya said that she wholeheartedly agrees that writers can write what they want so long as they do it empathetically but that they cannot switch that empathy off as soon as an author of color says they’re having trouble getting published because this is a real and genuine problem in the publishing industry. Sarah echoed that her US publishers weren’t keen on having conjoined twins depicted on the cover because it was too graphic. Both authors agreed that brutal issues and history cannot and should not be hidden – often children do not register these difficult issues and are not affected by them in the way an adult may be.
5. Last question was the usual tips for budding writers! Sarah recommended only writing if you feel compelled to and not for external nourishment or approval because that will never be enough to see you through the hideously long night and editing process. Tanya agreed and added that published authors shouldn’t frequent reviews of their books on Goodreads (a common refrain from many an author!)
Have you read One or Buffalo Soldiers? Are you also new to diverse fiction or a veteran of the genre? Any recs for awesome diverse YA books?? Let me know in the comments below!