A SENSE OF BELONGING: CBI Conference 2019, Day Two


Welcome back to my thoughts and ramblings around Day Two of BELONGING; the CBI conference 2019. After being treated to our morning coffees and teas, we were all wide awake and ready to have a magical, wonderful day...and it really was.
Our first session was a talk between two giants of contemporary childrens' literature; Julia Eccleshare is the former Guardian Childrens' Book Editor and currently holds the position of Childrens' Director of the Hay Literary Festival. What Julia doesn't know about childrens' books is not worth knowing. She was in conversation with an extraordinary author and personal favourite, Frances Hardinge. Frances is the author of 8 books (with her 9th due out any moment now), beginning with Fly By Night in 2005. Her debut novel won the Branford Boase Award in 2006. Her 7th book, The Lie Tree, took the overall Costa Book Award, the only childrens' book to do so since Philip Pullmans' The Amber Spy Glass. But the conversation revolved around the upcoming DeepLight; an incredible fantasy set in an island world still in turmoil after the time 30 years previous when its' intricate and frightening aquatic gods turned on each other and left society without direction. Now living without fear ("You only get gods if you have enough fear."), the story concerns 2 young men trying  to stay alive and make ends meet (basically by conning and stealing) when a chance discovery changes their lives. Frances' imagination and ability to craft a tale has given us a story that is timeless and poignant, touching on many issues in our contemporary world while allowing us to sink into an undersea world of myth and legend. But the heart and soul of the book is the power of friendship and loyalty...and when it becomes too much.
If you haven't read Frances Hardinges' books yet, please, please read them now. Each one has the power to live in your imagination for many, many years to come.
With poetry and the 'verse novel' gaining a stronger position in the reading habits of young adults and children, the session #WeAreThePoets had particular interest and impact. Unfortunately, Meg Grehan couldn't be with us for the day. Her new book, The Deepest Breath is truly beautiful. But we did have British poet, Dean Atta, listed by The Independent as one of the 100 most influential LGBTQ+ people in the UK. His latest book, The Black Flamingo is a thing of wonder and delight; a story that expresses the power of coming to terms with your own uniqueness through verse. The entire presentation of the book sings with genuine voice and extraordinary beauty. And Brian Conaghan was with us to offer his own unique and wondrous voice. His books express the sense of turbulence in that time of coming-of-age that allows the reader to step into their own power, their own voice while relaying the echoes of those things they will carry with them moving forward as they seek a place of belonging. His book, The Weight of Feathers is one of the most heart-wrenching, moving books I have ever read.
We had a brief presentation by a couple of founding members of The Lit. The Lit is Europes' first literature festival run by young people, for young people. It's in its' 3rd year now, steered by young members of the creative writing programme of Waterford Youth Arts. The focus of the festival is to speak directly to young writers and to provide that all important space to explore writing, performing, creativity and the magic and influence of good books. Just to demonstrate how powerful they are at creating this space, we were treated to a performance of one of their young poets...This is what empowered young people look like. Want to know more? You should check out The Lit; Festival of Reading and Writing for Young People. (Tickets go on sale October 11th.)
https://www.thelit.eu/

Now we reach a returning session, but one that is always new; it's New Voices. Ten new voices took to the stage with 5 minutes each to present their work. Obviously (and unfortunately) I can't talk about every one of them here...that's another, extensive blog post. But here's the list and a small focus on a few of them.
Conor Bustutill is an Irish illustrator who specialises in watercolour and ink and has a love of childrens' picture books. A new version of that classic Irish myth, The Children of Lir, retold by Laura Ruth Maher and beautifully illustrated by Conor is out now, published by The O'Brien Press. (reviewed on this blog.)

James Butler, Irish writer and playwright; his new book, Dangerous Games is published by Little Island.
Graham Corcoran is an illustrator, art director and visual designer. You can see his work in Bank by Emma Quigley, published by Little Island and Dare To Dream: Irish Peopl Who Took on the World and Won by Sarah Webb, published by The O'Brien Press.
It was particularly exciting for me to see and listen to Helen Corcoran, a former bookselling colleague and a friend. We always knew she could write, but oh my! Reading from her upcoming YA novel, we were transfixed by the world Helen has created. The Queen of Coin and Whispers will be published in 2020 by The O'Brien Press.
Aoife Dooley is a free-lance illustrator, graphic designer, author and comedian. Her first childrens' book, a delightful board book entitled 123, Ireland was published last May by Little Island.
Barry Falls works with a variety of pen, pencil, paint and found materials. He has a particular passion for drawing animals and nature. His debut book is It's Your World Now! and was published by Pavillion in May 2019.
Olivia Hope is an Irish Writer from Kerry, blogger on https://www.writing.ie/ and reviews for CBI, Inis Magazine. Her debut book, Be Wild, Little One will be released shortly from Bloomsbury Press.
Donny Mahoney is a writer and journalist. Born in America, he has lived in Ireland since 2004. His book, Colm "Gooch" Cooper was published last month as part of The O'Brien Press' Sports Star Series.
Muireann Ni Chioháin is an Irish writer passionate about reaching young audiences. She is the creator and writer of, among others the RTEjr television series Dig In Diner. Her first picture book is Scúnc agus Smúirín is illustrated by Paddy Donnelly and published by Futa Fata (as Gaeilge- in Irish.) And it is simply beautiful.
And last, but by no means least; Megan Wynne is a writer and teacher whose first novel for young people, The House on Hawthorn Road will be published any minute now by The O'Brien Press. This time-flip story for middle-grade readers adds an intriguing and unique voice to our lives, as we discover what happens when the past meets the present...and gets stuck there.
Moving right along, in the penultimate session of this years conference, we heard from Clémentine Beauvais about her work in translation. Now, there are so people who will say they don't read books that have been translated. Well,,,you really should. One of the most important statements coming out of the session was simple; books in translation..."We receive them twice-written." Translation is no easy task. Translating word for word simply doesn't work. When translating, the job is to translate "sense for sense." And by translating, there comes a unique opportunity to immerse the self in the mindset of that particular book as it is being written. Translation, as it turns out is about entering into a relationship with that book and with its' author through words...to seek that sense of belonging in an original form.
The final session had arrived, and you could sense the reticence to leave our safe space of Belonging in the air. But leave we must...and the perfect way to send us on our way came through the work of Mary Murphy. I'm sure you're familiar with her work; a unique and charming picture book artist who has been present since 1997, with her first book, I Like It When... published by Egmont. Since then, she has over 40 books published with 6 different publishers. Her books are direct, bright and evocative, precisely capturing the feelings in each one individually. Mary shows us things quite plainly, but with an interest and joy that lasts long after the reading of the book.


I'm going to leave you with this...because I think it's an extremely important point and Mary demonstrated it so well. She talked to us about the need to 'fit in' as opposed to the need to belong. They are, in fact two very different things. When we try so hard to fit in, we fail to acknowledge ourselves, our own uniqueness and gifts. We risk casting that part of ourselves into the realm of 'the other'. We do not really belong. And, paraphrasing Bréne Brown, the greatest barrier to belonging is fitting in.
Thank you everyone at CBI, those who put this together, those who attended, those who shared their Belonging with us. And thank you to all of you who take the time to read my meanderings.
MAY ALL OF YOU ALWAYS HAVE THAT SENSE...
OF BELONGING.

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