Sunday, 21 November 2010

Fickling Lectures On Developments in Children's Literature

Fighting Words was the subject of the sixth Fickling lecture this year. Roddy Doyle was the speaker in the Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building, Newcastle University on 18th November.

I'll post my notes on his talk in a later post. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy details of Nick Hornby's lecture from 2009:

Nick Hornby: Fifth Fickling Lecture

The Fickling Lectures on development in children’s literature were instigated with the support of David Fickling Books in response to the debate about the cultural importance of contemporary children’s literature. The inaugural lecture in 2005 was given by Philip Pullman; later lectures were delivered by Andrew Motion, James Naughtie, and Sandi Toksvig.

Nick Hornby’s lecture on 26 November 2009 was entitled “Why All Fiction should be Young Adult Fiction.”

“Books are more important than anything else,” was an early quote made by Nick Hornby in his look at young adult literature, the subject of reading and writing and the lessons for authors from books intended for a younger readership.

In 2006 a number of authors were asked to identify 10 books that all children should have read before they left school. Philip Pullman, J K Rowling were among those who made selections; many including Nick Hornby refused. Andrew Motion’s list was:

The Odyssey Homer
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
Hamlet William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost John Milton
Lyrical Ballads Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth
Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Portrait of a Lady Henry James
Ulysses James Joyce
The Waste Land TS Eliot

Hornby confessed that he had not read all these and though that such a list would put children off reading for life. He had abandoned reading Ulysses and recommended that if you were finding any book difficult to read you should do likewise. Books intended for you adults could be complex but should address situations reflecting life, even if fantasy or sci-fi. He made special reference to David Almond’s Skellig, which won the Carnegie Medal in 1998 and was the Whitbread Children’s Book of The Year. In 2007, judges for the CILIP Carnegie Medal for children’s literature considered Skellig to be one of the most important children’s novels of the last 70 years.

Children today have access to technology that didn’t exist in Nick’s youth so they will not necessarily pick up a book to read unless the content is interesting to them. In addition to Skellig He also mentioned M T Anderson’s Feed in which the story revolves around a teenage boy and his relationship with a girl with a vastly different world perspective. They live within a futuristic world where technology has merged electronics and telecommunications with the human mind.

I had not heard of the Alex Awards referred to by Nick; the Awards are made annually by the Young Adult Library Services Association and are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, selected from the previous year's publishing. Stephen King’s Just After Sunset was given an award this year. [The Alex Awards, first given annually in 1998, became an official American Library Association award in 2002. The Awards are named after Margaret A Edwards, known to her friends as ‘Alex,’ who pioneered young adult library services and who worked at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. See:]

Nick concluded that what was wanted for each person leaving school to be able to draw up list of 10 books that were their favourites; the content was not important. We want children to read for pleasure.

Interesting comments in the Q&A session that followed were that Nick regards writing as hard work and a job; reading is a pleasure. He also said that the average professional writer earned less than £5000 a year.

[You can listen to a recording of Nick Hornby’s lecture by following the link at


ismay said...


David A. Bedford said...

What we forget is that young adults are adults. I agree all fiction should be understandable to and appropriate for young adults as well as adults.

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