I first visited Hay-on-Wye as a reader, to visit the bookshops. I attended my first Festival in 1990. By then, I’d begun writing and I went, as many would-be writers do, to hear authors whom I admired talking about their work, and maybe hoping for insights and inspiration, that a little of their star dust would rub off on me, too. I remember going to hear Philippa Gregory talking about writing historical fiction. I was there as a reader, because I admired her work, I never thought that one day I would be writing historical fiction myself, still less that I would be appearing at the same Festival. She is at Hay this year talking about her new novel for young adults, The Changeling.
To be invited to appear at Hay is always very special. The first time that I was invited, in 2000, it felt as if I’d reached some kind of personal milestone since that first visit when it was a dream to even be published. I’ve appeared several times since then, sometimes on my own, sometimes with other authors, like John Boyne, Beverley Naidoo and Sally Gardner. I also like to go and see other writers. I still find it interesting to hear writers talking about their work and when it is Margaret Atwood or Ian McEwan, I’m as star struck as anyone else in the audience.
This year, I’m appearing with Melvin Burgess and I’ll be talking about young adult fiction and my new book, This Is Not Forgiveness. It is a hard-hitting thriller for older teenagers, dealing with life as it is lived now: difficult relationships, disastrously misplaced idealism and the impact on ordinary lives of the war in Afghanistan. When I first came to the Festival, I was writing a contemporary thriller for teenagers. I believed then, as I do now, that there has to be a place for a literature that is adult in all but the ages of its protagonists. That’s why I’m looking forward to sharing a platform with Melvin Burgess. He is a writer I admire for the uncompromising stance he has taken in his teenage fiction from his ground-breaking novel Junk, to his latest, Kill All Enemies and he is as robust and honest in conversation as he is on the page. He and I share a belief that it is important to tell it like it is, to reflect the realities of teenage life in Britain today, however harsh or unpalatable, and not to fudge, compromise, or invent happy endings when they aren’t going to happen. We believe that young adults deserve a literature that seeks to examine modern life in all its difficult, baffling complexity and not to assume that some things just aren’t ‘suitable’, or to retreat into a never world of unrealistic heroics, one bound and you are free.
Whether you agree, or disagree, come and join us. It should be a very lively session!
Catch Celia at the festival on Saturday 9 June, 7pm.