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# Theme music I'm Waleed Aly. Hi, and welcome to Big Ideas, us on Facebook and Twitter. And just a reminder, you can follow Today's show, Tapping the Zeitgeist. the Perth Writers Festival. Another terrific discussion from tapped into the Young Adult audience, This is a group of writers who've which is globally huge and lucrative. Chetan Bhaget and David Levithan, The writers are James Roy, Julia Lawrinson. with moderator and writer, the holy trinity The discussion moves beyond and The Hunger Games. of Harry Potter, the Twilight series and often fanatical following But there's no bagging of the devoted of these blockbusters. but there are common themes Their books are culturally diverse, Young Adult readership. applicable to the enormous vampires, says James Roy. Twilight isn't strictly about It's really about unattainability, being young throughout literature. a common theme in the agony of is Romeo and Juliet - with fangs. Twilight, he says, sharing something I thought I'd begin today by serendipiditously, yesterday, that I stumbled across, and somebody that - when the wife of a friend, with in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. John Green, who David has worked a review She put something on Facebook about The Fault in our Stars. for John's new book, And I went and found this review, the New York Times, by Frank Bruni. and it was an op-ed piece from And it was a very glowing review. any of us would kill for. It's the kind of review in this review. But there were a couple of faults were reading. He seems surprised that teens by this. He genuinely seemed surprised

YA in the last decade, He also talked about the expansion of as if Young Adult is a new thing.

And he also said this - I'll quote. 'Serious novelists,' 'serious', in just a minute - I want to come back to that word, who would once have blanched 'Serious novelists, YA novels are now giving them a try.' at the the thought of writing (Audience laughter) I'll return to that. in this book by John, He also praises the fact that there were no vampires, there was no sorcery, and there was no apocalypse. shows a fairly gross misreading Which, I think, of YA's place in our canon. we talk about Twilight, 'Cause the thing is, of those once in a generation things and Twilight, of course, is one that's happened three times now, and then, Twilight, with first of all, Harry Potter, and now we've got Hunger Games.

but David edited Hunger Games. He's probably too modest to say it,

but I will. He probably wouldn't tell you that is that... Um, the thing about Twilight

and I often talk about Twilight. ..I go to a lot of schools

And girls, in particular, seem to - Twilight, not all girls, it's mainly the girls who like predominantly girls. but the ones who love Twilight are is that I think that it... And the problem I have with Twilight ..the overarching theme - of Twilight the overarching message to come out anything he wants is that a guy can do pretty much to or with a girl

as long as he's all, like, shiny. (Audience laughter) about this. And this girl took issue with me he's got skin like granite.' She said, 'he's not just like, shiny, (Audience laughs) 'Well, what you're saying is To which I said, we're saying. a kitchen benchtop is really what And she got really offended, 'well, all that's well and good.' and I said, so beautiful, oh, my gosh' She says, 'cause he's like,

explain the creepy aspect.' And I said, 'that doesn't 'well, what' the creepy aspect?' And she said, he watches her sleep, for a start.' And I said, 'well, the fact that It is a bit like Santa Claus, he knows when you're awake. he knows when you're sleeping, and said to her, Um, but then I went on not really about vampires.' you know, 'Twilight's it's not about vampires, And she said, 'What do you mean it's absolutely about vampires.' It's about a feeling. And I said, 'No, it's not. that we've all experienced.' It's about a feeling for reasons you don't understand, It's that feeling where one day day, you see someone, and reasons you can't explain, have known them all your life, and this person, you might before, or you may have never met them but suddenly you see them, a tractor beam. and you're drawn to them like And it feels like love. but it feels like it. And it's probably not love, about Grade 6, Grade 7. And this usually happens around And you fall in love with them. and I use the word very loosely - But the problem is, that love - emotion - and that is fear, comes bundled up with another the fear of rejection. and of course that fear is to this person and say it, And we're terrified that if we go up going to get oxygen, because we know that if this love is

have to have an awkward conversation. then at some point we're going to going up to the other person, saying, And it's going to require one of us (Mock boy's voice) 'Hi.' (Mock girl's voice) 'Hi.' (Audience laughs) I might like you a little bit. 'I've noticed you, and I think or a milkshake, or something.' Would you like to get a coffee is that they're going to say, But the risk there, What? No!' 'Coffee sounds great, but with you? which is horrible, And suddenly, you've been rejected, so you put it off. and you put it off. And you put it off, to the bus stop, and you think, And every day you get 'this person, I'm going to - and declare my love.' today's the day I walk up But you don't. until one day, you go, And every day you put it off,

because then we're on holidays. 'it has to be tomorrow, the next two weeks of my life I don't want to spend on my bike, riding slowly past her house, the rubbish bins out. hoping to see them bringing And so it has to be tomorrow. you walk up to the bus stop, And the next day and you go, 'today's the day.' off holding someone else's hand. You walk up, and you see them walking And your little heart breaks. you get one person. Because, in your mind, And that person, when you're that age, that one person has now walked off with someone else. And you might as well live your life alone, and you're going to live alone, and you're going to die alone, and your body will be eaten by your cats. This is where you're going now. And you convince yourself of this. And it's painful. And that's what Twilight's about. Twilight's not about vampires. It's about this feeling of unattainability and this wish fulfilment and that sort of thing. And I think that's why young people grab things like Twilight, and let's be honest, I don't think Twilight is well written. I know this is being televised. I'll say it out loud. I don't think it's well written. But I understand why it works. And so people seem surprised that Young Adult - They go, 'oh, it's Young Adult, it's such a new thing. No, it's not! Because Twilight is really just Romeo and Juliet with fangs. When you think about it, we've had Young Adult forever. Romeo and Julie, Pride and Prejudice, ah... ..what's that other one? Um, Great Expectations. Ah, To Kill a Mockingbird, of course. All of these books, if they were published today, they would be published as Young Adult. Hamlet is the ultimate Young Adult story. Here's this guy, who is by any measure, an emo.

(Dramatic voice) Life is pain. And he goes, 'my life is shit.' And here's why he says his life is shit, because it kind of is.

His mum - his dad is dead. His mum is whoring it up with his uncle - weird. His best friend is so cool it hurts. And his girlfriend is so crazy she ends up in a pond. And in the meantime, he's just there going, 'I don't know what to do about this, do I end it, do I keep it - slings and arrows - and all that stuff. It's absolutely And if it was published today it would be a young adult story. So, that's why I think that Frank Bruni is kind of... ..really misread, and misrepresented, where YA is, because we think it's this, and you think, it's really not. The books that sell really well. And let's look at some numbers, very quickly. John Green, who we spoke about.

John Green, when I first met him two years ago, I got his books two weeks before I met him, and he had something like 350,000 Twitter followers then.

Two weeks later, he had half a million. Two days ago, I checked. He has 1.2 million Twitter followers. Now, I talked to him about this and he said, 'look, it's not as impressive as it sounds.' Bullshit! It's exactly as impressive as it sounds. (Audience laughs) It means that one of our books comes out, you just Tweet, 'my new book's out!' Hello, you've sold a few copies, I would imagine. But he's also able to mobilise people. When the Iran conflict really kicked off a few months back, John was mobilising - he wasn't mobilising people on the ground, but he was mobilising people to actually have something to say. Young people, and he gets on the TV - on the internet, and he says on his Twitter, 'I am now on the internet reading poetry.' And people get on web TV. And the other day I went on there he was doing web TV, and there was something like 50,000 people, young people, listening to him read Walt Whitman. Listening to him read and talk about Walt Whitman. Half a million copies of Fault in our Stars. Chetan, over here, biggest selling English language writer in India, that's correct? Have I got that right? Young Adult, yeah? John Levithan - ah, David Levithan, Young Adult, sells huge numbers, I'm guessing, yeah? Reasonable. No, he does. He will be modest. He sells good numbers. Young Adult writers, and as David said to me, as we were walking - I'll wrap up on this - as we walked in, David said to me that... ..well, you can say it, what was the story with the best-seller thing from New York Times? With the US did a best-seller list is the composite of all books, so it's not divided by any categories - Young Adult, Adult, etc cetera... And Hunger Games has been No.1, No.2, No.3, for, I believe, 11 weeks now. There you go. And books like Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, which should have been published as a Young Adult book, but wasn't. And I think, if it had been published as Young Adult book, it may not have had the success it's had, simply because people tend to dismiss it a bit because it's YA, instead of having this huge readership. So, this idea that we're in the middle of an emerging zeitgeist of Young Adult, I think it's a little bit false, because I think we've already been in it. And other readers are just starting to notice now. That me, thank you. OK. (Audience applause) Thank you very much for that, James. Our next writer is Chetan Bhaget. And Chetan's books have remained best-sellers since their release. And have been adapted into major Bollywood films. The New Tork Times called him, 'the biggest selling English language novelist in India's history.' Time Magazine named him in the 100 Most Influential People in the World. And FastCompany USA listed him as one of the world's 100 most creative people in business. Chetan writes columns for leading English and Hindi newspapers, focusing on youth and national development issues.

He's also a motivational speaker. Chetan quit his international investment banking career in 2009, to devote his entire time to writing

and making change happen in his country. He lives in Mumbai with his wife, Anusha, an ex-classmate from the IIM-A, the Indian Institute of Management. And he lives also with his twin boys, Shyam and Ishan. Please, welcome, Chetan Bhaget. (Audience applause) Well, thank you. Firstly, this is the first time people have paid to watch me. (Audience laughter) So, I am so honoured. I mean, people have paid to buy my books, but, assuming one fourth of you are here because of me, because there are four of us. I really thank you. I hope I give you your $3 worth.

(Audience laughter) But - and he kind of did, in some ways, has done the job for all of us. And I think some of those other accomplishments are there because it is cool to have diversity. And I am like that Indian guy,

who has to be there in the magazine - Time Magazine or New York Times. And even the Perth Writers Festival, yeah, there has to be an Indian guy, come on. (Audience laughter) So, I'm that Indian guy. I'm the guy who's always in the annual reports, smiling. You know how they have the annual report? They always put, like an Indian guy and a Chinese guy.

(Audience laughing) So, along with all the white guys. So, we're a diverse company. So, it's diverse festival. Please, relax. (Audience laughter) So, because of that, it's always nice to have that minority advantage. some ways. (Audience laughter)

But, speaking of young adults, you know, I think, I'm lucky that in India the books industry is not so industrialised, that there are not so many clear genres, yet. So there is no such thing as a list which has X, Young Adult, Senior Citizen - I don't know how you guys do it, but it's not there. Luckily that classification is not there

and I think mentally everybody is a young adult. Like, you know, physically we grow old but how many of us can really claim that we don't do stupid things? Right? And we don't... and it's true - emotionally, people don't grow beyond a point.

You can grow logically, so you know things. So, if you're a miner, you'll know how to - you'll get better and better at your mining knowledge, maybe, or things like that. But you'll never grow emotionally. People make the same stupid mistakes again and again in relationships, you know. People keep getting hurt right until 75. I mean, you'd think people would figure out -

'You know what, this hurts me, maybe I shouldn't do this.'

But people don't, it's a human condition that maybe it's a flaw, maybe we're still in process.

So, in some ways, this whole classification is a bit odd to me. Yes, I do - my books are read by young people but that's because India is young. The median age of India is 24. And especially the educated Indians, if you take the people who speak English, that's the next generation, so that median age will be even lower. So, if I'm writing for India, I have to write for young people. to write for Also, I find that's a great age can truly influence you. because that's when a book we get all cynical. You know, when we get old And we're like, 'Yeah, whatever, because he wants to sell his books.' he must've done it as we get older You know, we don't trust that easily a book can change your life. but when you're young I remember reading Ayn Rand a capitalist immediately. and I wanted to become I didn't even know what it means. I was like, 'I want to be this,' you know, because he sleeps with that girl, and I was like, 'Wow!' If that's how they have sex, then... So, but it really... is still a little bit like clay really is an age where the mind and you can really influence for different reasons and different people write but one of my reasons to write the value system of my country. is that I do want to change I've been very lucky, before I became a writer, I used to be an investment banker in Hong Kong. companies here. I used to cover mining who are from my banking days, I have friends here who have come - thank you very much. Petroleum and Sons of Gwalia. And I used to cover Woodside that went bankrupt a while back? There's a company Sons of Gwalia Yeah, so I used to look after that. WOMAN: That sounds right. who are the sons of Gwalia. I still haven't figured out Or where is Gwalia. (Laughter) I remember that company. But it is Sons of Gwalia, and things like that I bought too many gold hedges would go down, and they bet that the gold price so, you know what happened then. So... things like that. a lot of modern values, I have been exposed to things, for example, for sports in Australia. things like there's a big culture only told to study, It's not there in India, kids are have no personality, just study, get marks, no emphasis on sports. have no extracurricular activities, is very different. But a place like Australia You know, in India people will ask in school how much did your kids score 'what do you play?' and here they'll ask, which I thought was great. Just subtle differences, a whole section on Australia In fact, one of my books has and the way they look at sports - I force-fed it into a story, but... very good So that's why I find that space a lot of non-cynical people because I'm actually dealing with in their lives who need a lot of change to become modern world citizens, which they'd better become a nation of clerks. otherwise India will remain if you don't - If you don't modernise, Now, that's all my intentions. how do you get them to read? The question is he was talking about come in. Which is where things about my agenda, So, the kids don't care that I want to change the nation they don't give a damn or I want things to be better or I want more sports. or I want less corruption They don't care.

their career and their love-life. Kids care about two things - That's all they care about. You know? Yes, kids are... it's young adults, sorry. And I say 'kids' but I don't know, especially in India, But the way a young person is, of an obsession, the career, it's almost to the point opportunities. because there's not that many because they're very curious And love-life, a generation and their parents are from

where we have arranged marriages. an arranged marriage is, right? You know what I could pick you and you It's basically - and then you get married. Something like that. Kind of. You get to talk for five minutes. Little more involved. But that's... (Laughter) there are people who say, Really there are, trust me, an arranged marriage - but once. 'You can meet my daughter for And then you have to decide.' Just once. And that's our... So, all that is changing, of course, on TV now they're watching 200 channels Housewives and Sex in the City and they're seeing Desperate get my partner that way.' and they're like, 'maybe I want to about this thing called love. So, they are very curious So, a good love story are trying to make it big in life and something where the characters has somewhat worked. there is no formula. Now, there is no rule,

The very nature of these panels into a formula is we try to reduce things and it's not easy, right? after the fact You can explain Twilight similar stories that didn't work. but there are numerous examples of Which are the same kind of... that we ascribe to Twilight. ..are meeting the same criteria right time, So, sometimes it's also right place, the butterfly flaps her wings. sometimes it's like how that something sells. Sometimes it's just pure dumb luck if someone has a Twitter following, And once it does, like you said, for them. then of course it gets easier how I have approached it, But I think this is where, you know, here you can influence young adults. this is where I feel is you want guidance The problem with being a young adult you are independent. but you also want to show the world to your kids also, And this is where it applies not everybody is writing books here you may be a young adult yourself, but you may have kids or some of them I'm seeing here. It's a conflict, you know, but you're kind of grown up too. you're kind of a kid your own decisions You're expected to make of decisions you have to make - but you're overwhelmed by the kind

which partner should I settle with? what job should I take, It's not an easy age and how miserable they are. because they have seen grown-ups 'I'd better make better decisions.' And they're like, my spouse carefully, 'I'd better choose carefully.' I'd better choose my job there's only so much you can do And ultimately, but it's a very anxious time all these things falling apart because they are seeing around them can really help and I think that's where a book

or even a human being who understands this double conflict. I cannot preach to them. If I preach to them, I'm violating their sense of independence, violating their sense of having grown up. But the same time, I cannot mislead them either, I have to gently veer them in the right direction, you know. So, and again, different writers have different views, so I may not recommend... I have no short story with drugs, for example. I could and it'd be very cool and it'll be talked about and it will sell a lot also because it's so controversial, about, say, an Indian girl who does drugs you know, just a day before her wedding. Sounds like an interesting plot but I won't do it, for example. Because that's where the responsibility come, you have to be a little bit - different writers have different views and I'm cool with that. Some writers would say, 'I don't care, they'll pick up whatever they want to pick up.' But I think this is how I've approached it - for me, I've now written so many books and they've all done OK so the incentive to do another book just to sell it is not there anymore. For me, the whole game is about the sociology of this.

How much can I change?

How much can I shift India's young generation towards modernity? For example, I'll show... ..even simple things like in my first book there was a girl who sleeps with her boyfriend before marriage and people were like, 'Oh my God, how could he write that?' How could he write that? People still come up to me and say, 'How would she feel that you've revealed her personal life to the world?' And I'm like, 'But it's a fictional character!' 'But still, you know, she has a reputation.' (Audience laughs) I'm not kidding, these are real incidents. And these are changing now.

Today if I write - and my first book was eight, nine years ago - today if I write that, it's totally cool. And so this is how I look at it. I think it's a great space to be in, I just wish they wouldn't classify it like this, young adults. It almost sounds like 'less IQ'. Oh, these are for people who are not that smart. Hence what Frank Bruni said about serious writers and our thinking... It's much harder to write for young adults. It's much harder. Because you're playing with a lot of things and young people have a lot of distractions, they have phones, they have Facebook, you know, which is the ultimate book, I guess.

(Laughter) And all sort of things, there are fads and trends, and they're constantly trying to look cool. For an author who is able to grip the younger generation convincingly, it's not a joke to do that. I feel sometimes on the other - grown-ups will a book just because they were interested in a subject. Here you're not competing just with books, you're competing with movies, television, internet, boyfriends, girlfriends, you know? OK, thank you so much, Chetan. Our third writer is David Levithan. David Levithan is the author of many acclaimed novels including Boy Meets Boy, The New York Times' best-selling Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

which he wrote with Rachel Cohn

and which was adapted into a popular movie which, in my opinion, is one of the most successful book to movie adaptations I've seen. He is also an editorial director at Scholastic in New York and he lives in New Jersey. Please welcome David. After you two, I kind of just want to go to Q&A but that's OK, I'll talk a little bit though most of my points were already made. But taking the topic literally, so tapping the zeitgeist, I'm asked this a lot. 'OK, I'm an aspiring writer,' or, 'I'm a writer,' 'How do you tap the zeitgeist, try to tap the zeitgeist?'

And the answer I always give is, 'Don't,' when you're writing a book that that is - if you want to be phenomenally successful in the children's and young adult world the worst thing you can do is try to tap the zeitgeist. You in fact want to try and create the zeitgeist. And if you look at the most popular things

from the past ten years whether you look at Harry Potter, Twilight Hunger Games - I guess that's our trinity right now. But even look at books in America like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak Markus Zusak's The Book Thief that came out of Australia all of them are born

not from any consciousness of the zeitgeist whatsoever they're instead born of the author's individual vision and the author wanting to create the world that he or she wanted to create in ways that were adventurous or are adventurous in ways that are new, in ways that are synthesising old things - vampire story, fantasy novel battle to the death - but doing a new very individualised spin on it. And I think that's, as a writer, very inspiring and as a publisher very interesting because there are certainly plenty of ambulance chasers once something becomes successful.

James Patterson, for example,

anytime anything is successful, will then rush to publish something that is a knock-off of that. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which probably actually should be part of the trinity, making it a quartet, is hugely successful - he will publish something... I can't even remember the name, Middle School, The Worst Years of my Life. It does really well but it will never ever do as well as Wimpy Kid. The knock-offs never do as well as the originals in our affection because of the originality and because by breaking new ground you bring that audience in. I love being in children's and young adult because it is not a competitive field when a book is successful - it just brings in more readers who want to read more books. So it's really hard to have animus for any other authors whatever their popularity

because they just bring in readers

and they show readers the value of what we do. And so the question then really I think is not, OK, how do I tap into the zeitgeist but it is the question well, then, what do I tap into? And I think you tap into the things that have already been said. You tap into the universal,

you tap into the emotions that every teenager and adult feels, you tap into the experience of life

and try to tell it in an interesting way in an interesting situation. And all of the books that I have mentioned so far as well as the books of my co-panellists do that. And I think that's really the important thing creatively to think about. Now a subset of tapping the zeitgeist which sort of was in the brief for this panel is about social media and the way that words flow in our day and age in a way that they did not flow five years ago or 10 years ago or certainly 20 years ago. And how do you keep up with that and how does that affect what you write, who you are as a writer, what you have to do as a writer. And I think honestly the only lesson that I've learned both as an author and as a publisher is that you have to decide what you want to do and not do it half-assed

that the most successful people - John Green being probably the most successful of them - have utilised social media to bring in readers and have the ongoing conversation about books and ideas are the people who really did it wholeheartedly. If you don't want to do a blog, if you don't want to have a Tumblr if you don't want to make a video you shouldn't because if you do it in a non full out way that you are as passionate about as you are about your novels it's just going to seem second-rate and it is not going to be compelling to the readers or the audience that you want to get to. For me at Scholastic, one of the biggest projects I've worked on in the past five years is a series called The 39 Clues, which was the first multi-platform series. What this means is that there are the novels which stand alone on their own and the first one was written by Rick Riordan and he did the story arc for all of them. But there's also, in each book,

a code that you can unlock sections on a website and there is a huge web world associated with the book that is all about story and all about narrative and you have one mission within the book and see the characters do it, then you go online and you do another mission

as a member of those characters' family of trying to solve this greater mystery. And it was a lot - like, four years of planning went into it and a lot of work has gone into it and a staff of about 12 have gone into it because we realise that if you did want to compete for attention with video games and you wanted to compete with social networking and all the other things kids are doing online the thing we had in our arsenal as a publisher was story. And we had to create a rich, compelling story that could be told over various platforms that would draw readers again and again back to the books and that's what we did and it's been hugely, hugely successful. We have, I think, over 10 million copies sold so far. But, again, it's not something you can do half-assed. You have to commit huge amounts of resources to doing it but when you do it right, you do break new ground and you do bring people back to what we care about which is the effect that story can have. I'm pretty device-agnostic when it comes to reading. I personally love a paper book but ultimately I feel the important thing is the word, not the device that conveys the words. I think in this shifting landscape that we have certainly as publishers we are very curious and very concerned about which way the words are going to go. But I think the message we've been getting time and time again is that whatever the form, the words do matter. And they do have an effect. And that is really one of the amazing things about the literature that we are part of - is the effect that they have. And that isn't zeitgeisty at all, that is universal, and I think that's going to keep going. So I'll stop there but again, hopefully we'll have a very lively question and answer because there is so much more to be said about this. Can I just add something very quickly to what David just said. I remember doing a panel at the NSW Writers Centre for people who wanted to write for young adults and kids and the panel, the four of us,

was What's Hot in Children's Fiction Right Now. And each of us pretty much said the same thing -

don't go after what's hot in children's fiction right now because by the time you write it either that wave will have gone on or you're just going to come across as, as you say, half-assed. And we all said this, and I was the last to speak, and I thought I'd try an experiment and I said, 'What everyone else has said is right, there are - you don't try and chase whatever the current thing is - create it yourself,' just as David said. But then I tried my experiment - I said, 'But having said all that dragons are pretty hot right now.' And every head in the room went down as people wrote 'Dragons are pretty hot right now.' (Laughter) Which is - I have nowhere to go with that story, I just think that's interesting. I always say leprechauns. I always just pick something totally - Probably right too. I think in paranormal romance That's right. There aren't that many leprechaun romances. Absolutely. OK, well, thank you very much, David for that. (Applause) And I guess now, to have a bit of a conversation between us, all of you do write either consciously or not about characters who are marginalised who are kind of fighting to find their way to fit into the world which, you know, is partly the nature of YA but why is this so important and what is it about doing that that makes your books successful artistically? I think it's what Chetan said earlier

is that it's - everyone at that age feels like they don't quite... And to go further than what you said, this idea that you are expected to make adult decisions but what I often do in my young adult books is I - a book like Anonymity Jones is I throw all this stuff at my character and rather than Bella, from Twilight, who basically lies - turns over and says, 'I don't think I can take it, please carry me away and throw me off a cliff.' Rather than that, we've got a girl who has all this stuff come at her wholesale and she takes steps to remedy that. The problem is that when you take steps to remedy something, as an adult if you take adult steps to remedy what you perceive to be an adult problem adult consequences often come with that. And I think that's one of - I'm wary of the word 'message' in what we do but one of the things that I would like my readers to understand when they read my books is that, yes, as a young adult caught in this place between childhood and adulthood - Nick Earls' books all do this - his young adult books - are about a boy or a girl caught between high school and university, adulthood and childhood. And if you're going to embrace that time in your life and really take on those adult challenges then occasionally you're going to bet tripped up with the adult consequences that come with that. Um...what was the question?

Just talking about marginalised characters -

And every kid, I think, feels in some sense like this. And it's no surprise that in NSW the topic of - the English topic for the HSC, the Higher School Certificate,

the over-arching topic that covers the entire English curriculum

is belonging. Well, I would argue that every young adult book is in some sense about belonging and wanting to fit in and feel like you identify. Children's books are more about family, I think young adult books are more about their identity, if you like. Children's books are more about family, I think young adult books are more about their identity. Yeah. I think, you know, firstly, like you said, it's not like dragons are hot or vampires are hot, anything can be made hot. Anything.

Even a bottle can be made hot. I really believe it. (Audience chuckles) But it's up to the writer to give something so insightful and something so clever, and so original, and so funny that it can be. I mean, now I can say, because I have twin boys too who are almost eight, and they love the Wimpy Kid. I can't tell you the obsession they have, like, they'll buy t-shirts with the same stripes like he wears, and this is just a scrawny little boy but because - if you read Wimpy Kid it's so funny, and it's across ages funny. A grown up will find it funny, a young kid finds it funny.

Simple, non-sexual, good humour.

And I think that's what makes it cool. That's where some of the people have a gift, to do that. And I think that's where it comes from. There was a book on punctuation which became very big - Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It's a book on punctuation! And it was one of the funniest books you could have read because it was so funny, because she brings out the emotions people who are - you know, these sticklers for punctuation - feel. How irritated they feel, they feel like murdering people who put the wrong - And I think what happens is there is a lot of shared feelings between any group of population, whether you disect it any way. It could be amongst Australians, it could be amongst young people - different shared feelings. But sometimes they're not expressed, they're not put down on words. Once you see them on words, you often say - and that's what critics of Twilight say - 'What's the big deal in this? It's like every stupid girl's story, you know, just a little bit of fantasy thrown into it.' But nobody expressed it, how it feels to be in a dull town

with nothing exciting happening, and you meet this - Nobody has done it. But once it's expressed - some of these writers that have done well, they are able to put in words what others only think. You think it. It's not like you might even - And that's why some of the popular writers are bashed - that there's no original thought in this. in the expression. The originality lies that the thought has been put on words

which nobody ever did. So, middle school angst... there, it was there, everywhere, every kid feels it. But Wimpy Kid brought it out.

And once you read it,

you're like, yeah, I also was like this in school. But he did it. And that's why he's reaping the rewards for it. So, I think that's where it comes from. And in Revolution 2020, for example, you take the experiences of this poor protagonist who's got no money, his best friend wins all the prizes, and has the girl, and he works so hard to try and overcome his - is these are two guys who love the same girl, and the girl, she never expresses it but she chooses based on which guy is more successful. Now, it's a fact of life that girls choose based on how well the guy's doing. Whether or not - no girl will admit it. If you ask a girl, you know, what do you look for in a guy, they'll say sense of humour. (Audience members chuckle) But I haven't seen a girl go after poor, funny guys. (All laugh)

All that comes later. You know. So, it's like, 'Oh, I just want a good-natured guy.' Yeah, right! You know, go to an old age home and marry someone. It's just bullshit, right? They do look at what is the guy's stature. It's the same as the guy saying, 'Looks don't matter to me.' Of course they matter. So, it's that - I think, this story brought out in the open. Because what it happening in India is there's a huge surge of ambition in the last ten years. Different people are doing differently. Some people have benefitted a lot from the globalisation, some haven't. And that has led to guys who were together in college doing very differently five years later. And the girls have suddenly changed their priorities. And that had to be brought out, I felt. And that has really connected with people - 'Yeah, that has happened to me. This girl left me because I couldn't get a job, and that guy did.' And that has come out in the story for them, so they feel it's their story. But, I mean, like you said, you can't really say, 'Oh, this is the Zeitgeist,' you know, you'd be foolish to think that you know people's pulse. I think it's up to the writer to make the Zeitgeist - I really like that statement - you make it.

Anything you make cool will become the Zeitgeist for young people. If it's cool, that is their pulse. So, you can make cool, I think it's easier than finding the pulse. I like what you said about putting your own spin on it. I read an article, and interview with Ursula Le Guin, who, of course, wrote Wizard of Earthsea and other great fantasy stuff - one of the doyenne's of fantasy. And someone said to her do you get a bit envious when you see the success of Harry Potter? And she said, 'I don't get envious, I think Harry Potter's fantastic, I think it's a really clever series. She said, 'I get a little bit hurt when people say it was such an inventive, new idea,' she said, 'I was putting boys in wizard school about 40 years ago.' So I think it has as much to do with the way you take it and - Yeah. Like I said, but it's what it expresses, the whole concept of mothers and the whole class system within Harry Potter, these are the things that have worked - it's not the wizard, it's where you can relate to how a kid feels in society. Often you feel there are snobs and - you know, if you're British,

that system is about snobbery and things like that, right? So, that - I think they have worked. You'd be surprised what is working. It's not so much the core plot, of spells and things like that -

all that is after the fact. What is working is the way that boy feels in school, how he feels alienated, how he feels he's not of the same class. And I feel sometimes maybe that's working. It's very hard to say, but I think there's always something very contemporary about it, which is happening now, versus - 'Why was that story, you know,' - All love stories, I say, are Pride and Prejudice anyway. All. But it's always the contemporary takes. You know, yesterday I saw a movie in the open air cinema here called Crazy Stupid Love.

So, there what is happening is she's dating a girl It's the same messages which a Pride and Prejudice would have, it's the same love triangle, but, you know, it's come to SMSs now, it's come on iPhones now. It's the same thing happening though. But maybe that's what people are connecting to today.

'Oh, I also talk like that.' was released as, what was it, Ten Things I Hate About You. And 'O' is Othello. And, you know - Yeah. But that's why Shakespeare is Shakespeare and Jane Austen Jane Austen, because these guys have given plots for us to...

To work with. live on. David, I'd like to talk to you about love,

because you treat love quite differently, and I find it really fascinating. And in something like Will Grayson, Will Grayson, you explore different kinds of love, you know, you have a happy gay boy, you know, which is fantastic to read, because usually gay characters in YA lit are miserable and struggling, you know. And you've got the happiest biggest gay boy in the world, whose straight friend finally comes to the realisation that he can love his gay friend and it's alright. And - I don't know, you just work the material a little bit differently. Can you comment on that? Yeah, I think it goes to your question about marginalised characters too. I agree with James. None of us want to write with the word message in mind, but I do think you want to write something meaningful and different. And I think that part of my career as a writer - although not intentionally, but it sort of fell that way - has been about sort of giving a voice to stories that aren't out there,

because there are plenty of boy-meets-girl stories out there. Um, and that's not necessarily what everybody needs. And I think reflecting the reality of that, as well as the romantic comedy of that, is really what's important. And I think that our literature at its best - it can be, especially for marginalised people, both the window and the mirror. That the mirror is - we hear all the time from kids who read the books and say, 'Oh my God, that's me.'

And just that astonishing connection you can make with a book is important and that's why we have to discuss all sorts of lives, as a way of hitting those kids and getting that mirror out there. But I think just as important, and which isn't as respected as much, is the window, which is that kids who cannot connect to that, who are not living that life can understand what that life is and see the thing they have in common

as well as the things different. and especially in the YA circles in America and that conversation that constantly happens with librarians or gatekeepers or parents, particularly, is the notion that if a book is about a black kid in the Bronx it is urban fiction

and therefore no kid in suburbia should be reading it or would want to read it. Where if a book is about a gay kid, well, then the straight kids won't want to read it, because it's about a gay kid. And that kind of Balkanisation is ridiculous, because we learn as much about our identities by coming into contact with people who are different to us, as we do by recognising the people or the stories that are the same. That's the point of reading, isn't it? Yes, and I think that's why literature is so strong. And again, especially with the audience that we have, of both teenagers and adults, the fact that we can incite these conversations and incite these reflections and get the emails saying, 'I was thinking of suicide, but then I read your book and then it changed the way I was thinking of things.' That, I mean, you would never ever, nor should you ever, ever as an author sit down to write sentence and think, 'I will save a kid's life by writing this sentence.' It's ridiculous, you have no way of knowing. But then you - once your book goes out into the world - you see the effect that it can have and it's extraordinary and it usually is the kids who feel that in the society which is totally immersed in over articulation don't see themselves articulated anywhere and they turn to books and literature to find that. Can I add something to that? Yes. Um, we talk about what makes a story work and it's really about having a miserable character, for whatever reason that is. It is, I mean, nobody wants to read - no-one would want to live in a world that is created by an author, because authors are doing everything they can - I mean someone asked Aaron Sorkin who wrote The West Wing and Social Network - they said to him, in fact, Stockard Channing asked him 'How do you come up with these characters?' And he said, 'It's very simple, I just ask what do they want? and then I work like blazers to make sure they don't get it.' because emotions run so high in the young adult, they think they have to make those problems enormous,

but they actually don't have to be that enormous. I mean, Nick - in my book TOWN I've got kids who are really just going through the everyday stuff of being rejected and of having someone calling them a slut, when in actually fact it's just this terrible misunderstanding and these things that makes them horribly miserable, but miserable in a way that you wouldn't expect

to be terribly dramatic. and I'll put a picture of a daffodil up on the screen

and I'll say let's write about the daffodil and it's so fragile and precious and delicate and the girls will be writing fragile, precious, delicate things and the boys will be writing something like - 'Ten-four, ten-four. Ten-four, Red Leader, go in! (Makes machine gun noises) Ah! Burn, burn. Eject, eject! And I go, 'What are you doing?'

And they go, 'I'm flying an attack helicopter.' And I say, 'Why?' And they say, 'Because I'm saving the daffodil from nuclear holocaust.' And I say, 'Why?' And they say, 'Because it's delicate and precious and fragile, weren't you paying attention?' But that's where a lot of writers for this age group and Young Adult go, as well. And I accept that Hunger Games is a big story. It's a big story, but at its core it's really - as we've said several times in this panel - it's a much more... Nick Earl's book 48 Shades of Brown,

he won Book of the Year for that in the CBC Awards in 2000. He said in his acceptance speech in Canberra, he said, 'This story about a boy who is just caught between adulthood and childhood and can't work out whether he goes to Europe with his parents or stays and lives with his aunty and her impossibly sexy best friend - what a choice. Um, that story for me has resonated in such a way. Winning an award for that demonstrates to me that the story doesn't have to be that huge, it just has to be something that grabs that young person's attention, if you like, and allows them to go, 'Yeah, I get that. I've felt that myself. I know that feeling.' Even if they've never been gay they can still understand being told they don't fit into that group, because of whatever it might be. And I think that's why - and I can't speak for these three people -

but I personally find the reason I write Young Adult and I want to address that, I suppose, for other kids who are a bit like I was.

OK, we'll open up to some Q&A from the audience. There is a roving microphone. Hello, Lindsay Smith Here. I want to raise a question of values, in particular, how you treat the question of drugs in your books. On the one hand you've got the anti-drug rabble in the community, as well as, of course, the legislation relating to drug use, but on the other hand there is of course a widespread use of drugs in the young community.

So, how do you tackle this in terms of imparting appropriate values, which I think you're all interested in? I don't really see... It's a bit like in America when they talked about putting condom vending machines and they said putting condom vending machines in schools is going to encourage kids to have sex. No, it's not. Kids are already having sex.

It's going to encourage those kids to do it safely. And talking about drugs does not, in my opinion, make kids go and do drugs. They know they're out there, they will go and get them. Unless your book has phone numbers of drug dealers in the back cover I don't think it's going to actually facilitate any kids going and taking drugs. Unless of course if it glorifies the thing ridiculously and of course we all know that that can't really safely be done. That's my view. I think it's a bit of a... I think, just deal with it. Are you saying you just ignore it, or...? No, I don't ignore it. I certainly address it. That's my point. I absolutely address it. Um, but I don't back away from it... I had a friend who was a bit odd and we would go to his house and he said, 'Please don't bring a bottle of wine to our meal.

And I'd go, 'That's fine, it's your house. You're entitled to do that.' But I asked him one time why not. And he said, Because, I don't want my kids to see people drinking. It will encourage them to drink. Well, it's a nonsense argument. You know, you go to Paris and people let their kids see people drink all the time and even let them have a drink, because they understand that being aware of what's out there and so on is actually going to make them better equipped to make decisions. I don't think walking away from drugs is ever going to stop kids. Yeah, I think you have to deal with everything realistically. You can't really put it in to glamorise or exploit it. You don't want to have a gratuitous drug scene just for the sake of, 'Oh, I want to write a drug scene.' Instead it has to be in the fabric of the lives of your characters and sometimes there are consequences, sometimes there are not consequences, but I think if you treat it realistically and not try to glamorise it - as with anything.

That's right and all those kids who are reading Hunger Games are going to hunt their brothers and sisters in the woods? It's happening all the time. There have been thousands of deaths in rural Kentucky because of it. No, I think that's it and I think, I always bristle at the word appropriate, because I feel like life isn't appropriate. I wish life would act appropriately with the people I love. It doesn't. Life will just be inappropriate and do the wrong thing to you at any point. And I feel literature has to reflect that and I don't think that appropriateness needs to be the boundary. I think again, if you're doing a realistic work you should realistically treat everything that is within that work. And not glamorise or exploit any of it, whether it's drugs or sex or romance. But I think that you can't ignore it. I think if it's there in the lives of your characters it should be there. Otherwise they just don't look real, do they? I think you've covered it. Any other questions from the floor? Where do you think the category of Young Adult stops? Because there's such a gap out there for writing with protagonists aged between like 17 and 24 - where do you stop? Mine are all between 17 and 24, so that'll be a perfect bridge... (Laughter) Reading HIS books is sexy is what that t-shirt should say. Yeah, that is wonderful. And I think it's important to realise that Young Adult is a publishing category, it's not a writing category. I don't think any of us sit down and say I'm now going to write a young adult book. We're just sitting down to write a book and I think one of the great things - it was funny because I was at the Centre for Youth Literature Anniversary, 21st Anniversary, a couple of days ago and they were talking about crossover books, meaning crossing over from... teens reading adult books. And I was like, oh no,

really, now crossover means that adults are reading the teen books. And I think it is such a fluid barrier between the two that a book about a 17 to 24-year-old, some of them are published - I've published books with 20-year-old characters, that have been published as YA, but I have friends who've published books with 20-year-old characters that have been published as Adult And I think it really, ultimately it matters what publisher you have as far as what they're going to do with the book.

But as far as the book going out in the world I think it can be either. There's nothing endemic to a novel that makes it Young Adult or Adult.

It's really the publisher. See, you have to understand the publishing industry. Writers take a long time to write books and there are all these marketing departments

sitting there in publishing houses with nothing to do all day until the book comes.

So they go let's do Young Adult crossover, semi-crossover. I mean, they have to do it, otherwise they'll get fired and then everybody moves to Twitter, then you don't need a marketing department - it's a real issue. You can almost write a book about these people who classify books. I guess a really stark example of what we're talking about,

this fluidity, is a book like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which is about an eight-year-old boy, but I don't know that you'd argue that it's a book for an eight-year-old boy. I'm sure if my books come out they will be in Indian fiction. It has to be an Indian fiction, but in my country I'm not even seen as literature. They say, 'He's like the biggest black mark on literature ever.' But here I'll be put next to Salman Rushdie. Which is like, 'OK...' Didn't Salman Rushdie have a go at you on Twitter? Yeah, he did. What did he say? Why? Because he's Salman Rushdie. He has goes at things and people and religions and, I don't know. That's a separate issue, but it was... This is a great example of how adults act like teenagers. It's like Salman Rushdie is attacking you on Twitter. You know what he said, he said 'I'm being Bhaggered.' because he wrote a book which was considered blasphemous

and he wasn't allowed by radical elements at the Jaipur Writers Festival like this one and, ah, you know a lot of people were supporting him, but I said that maybe he should also make an effort to reach out to the Muslims who he may have hurt

and that apparently was seen as something... as against free speech or not liberal enough, as a writer should be. Which I can understand. People have different views. But he went on... And I said, if people are not going to talk to each other, both sides should not take extreme positions. Let's just talk it out. Which I think anywhere in the world is a pretty reasonable thing to say, but then he wrote, 'Now, Chetan Bhagat is talking about me. I'm being Bhaggered!' Which is apparently... But at least Salman Rushdie wrote about me and he said it's like being beaten down by Dan Brown. He wrote that. That was his tweet. I'm like, 'Thank you for telling the world that I'm India's Dan Brown.' Because he has a worldwide audience and both you know about that.

And his two million Twitter followers would have been going, 'Ooh. Who's that writer?' But yeah, it's like Young Adults thing to do. Well, I'd like us to please thank our writers. We could talk all day, but we probably shouldn't. They will be signing their books in the tent

immediately following this session,

so please thank James Roy, David Levithan and Chetan Bhegat. Thank you. (Applause)

That was Tapping the Zeitgeist, from the Perth Writers Festival, as well as the moderator Julia Lawrinson. You can find this discussion on our website, along with other talks and panels from the Perth Writers Festival.

That's all from Big Ideas for today. I'm Waleed Aly. I'll see you next time. Closed Captions by CSI

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