Melvin Burgess is a controversial and somewhat pioneering writer of gritty novels for young people like Junk, Smack, Lady: My life as a Bitch, and Doing IT: Do you remember the first time?. Whilst his books have sometimes caused outrage when first published, they've found themselves winning awards, appearing on the reading lists of university creative writing courses and now on the school curriculum! So what are we to make of the various fashions in literature and how do authors cope with these trends when writing. Indeed, to what extent do novels reflect and shape our impressions of society?
Melvin's latest novel, published on 01 September entitled Kill All Enemies deals with the real life stories behind some of the statistics we read about young people, the young people who are chucked out of school - the losers, the wasters ... the kids no one wants. Remembering when he was a kid and thinking about those kids - rough as hell, dangerous kids - the sort of people no one wanted you to mix with or have anything to do with, Melvin has searched them out and attempts to tell the real story behind them in a way that young people can properly identify with them.
To research for the book, Melvin went into Pupil Referral Units (PRU's, where excluded students are sent) around the North West, as well as to other places where young people got together out of school, and asked them to tell him their stories. He found out what he always suspected: so many of those people weren't losers, they weren't wasters - they were heroes; real, one hundred per cent modern heroes, just having other priorities than school. 'Kill All Enemies' is a celebration of the lives of young people who have other things to worry about besides just school - and who are penalised for it.
In his approach to writing, Melvin says "Every writer knows that editing, dramatising, and interpreting events is an essential part of story telling. For me, writing is an exploration. You set up your events and characters and then try to explore them as best you can, via the imagination, and some surprising results come up. Exploring people and their stories imaginatively can lead to more interesting and revealing truths than the bald facts. Imaging how being a different person in a different situation is the best possible way to understand things that we know very little about."
This Salon will be a chance for us to examine the process of writing gritty, realistic novels and how important the process of being immersed in the subject can be for developing stories.
Listen again (not miked so variable quality)...
Melvin Burgess in conversation with Dave Bowden - click on the Play button:
Melvin Burgess in conversation with audience - click on the Play button:
Coverage of and from the Salon..
Melvin Burgess and the Manchester Salon write-up on Bookwitch 07 September 2011
Interview with Melvin Burgess on BritLit, EFL plus more by Mark Andrews after the Salon In Conversation discussion
Some background readings
Jodi Picoult and the Anxious Parent, by Ginia Bellafante, NY Times 17 June 2009
Sympathy for the devil, by Melvin Burgess, for the magazine Children's LIterature in Education
What is teenage fiction, by Melvin Burgess, MelvinBurgess.net
Kill All Enemies, book review by Yasmin Redfearn, Kathrine Payne and Hannah Mason, Manchester Salon July 2011
Melvin Burgess interviewed, by Yasmin Redfearn, Kathrine Payne and Hannah Mason, Manchester Salon July 2011
Kill All Enemies promo video inspired by work experience students after reading 'Kill All Enemies', YouTube July 2011
It was introduction of EMA that turned young people riotous, by Brendan O'Neill, The Telegraph 19 August 2011
The problem with categorising Young People, by Simon Belt, Manchester Salon August 2011
First part of video footage of the interview with Melvin Burgess, click on part 2 when finished: