Brave New Worlds

On Tuesday 3rd March the Centre for Childhood Cultures held a creative writing workshop and book launch of Charlotte Byrne’s debut YA novel Folked Up.

Charlotte Byrne sitting behind table with copies of Folked Up books and posters, and sign with prices on.
Charlotte Byrne with Folked Up, 2020. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.

After introductions, the evening started with a creative writing workshop led by Charlotte which focused on world building. As Charlotte pointed out, world building is not only relevant for fantasy novels, but a key part of all fiction.

Charlotte asked us to think, in small groups, about a fictional world we would like to build. Ideas included a world of lost or obsolete things, a village of bog-peasants facing an unknown ecological threat and Majorca during the Spanish Civil war. This prompted us to think about how and why authors choose to build certain worlds, whether they be fantasy or ‘real’, historical or present day. We discussed the different kinds of challenges in creating fantasy or ‘real’ worlds. Fantasy worlds might require the creation of social hierarchies, language, geographies, food and culture. Real worlds on the other hand, specifically historical worlds, might require a lot of research to get right.

We explored how to create a world in fiction that feels real and compelling, reflecting on the importance of sensory detail and character viewpoint. Charlotte shared the ‘four C’s’ she uses to judge her own writing: Clarity, credibility, consistency and character. We ended the writing workshop by crafting sentences describing our worlds from the perspective of an ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’. The workshop made me think about writing as a collaborative as well as an individual process.

Participants of creative writing workshop talking.
Lucie Glasheen and Abigail Fine at creative writing workshop. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.
Participants of creative writing workshop.
Participants of creative writing workshop. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.
Charlotte talking to participants of creative writing workshop.
Charlotte talking to participants of creative writing workshop. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.
Participant of creative writing workshop laughing, 2020. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.

I wondered about how it would feel to try and write a story set in the world of my own doctoral research (1930s East London). Initially, this seemed far more daunting than writing a fantasy world. As a historian I think I would find it hard not to over-qualify factual details, or feel pressure to conduct huge amounts of research, at the expense of a story. Yet storytelling could also offer great potential as a historical method. Storytelling requires that the author moves away from the distanced and supposedly neutral position of the academic. My own research looks at the worlds created in text, image and film narratives aimed at children and created by children, so creating children’s fiction set in this period would be an intriguing way of further exploring the role of narratives.

Close-up of writing
Close-up of writing, 2020. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.
Workshop notes
Workshop notes, 2020. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.

In the second part of the session Abigail Fine led a Q&A with Charlotte about writing Folked Up. Charlotte reflected on her desire to represent working class voices in YA fiction and on her adaptation of ballads, an oral and working-class tradition. The representation of working-class vs middle-class children is something that has come up a number of times in the Centre for Childhood Cultures discussion group, but Charlotte raised some important points about language, speech and culture which would be worth looking at further. This also prompts the question as to whether the YA book market is currently more or less accommodating to working-class authors and characters than the children’s book market.

Charlotte also reflected on the labour of writing a YA novel as well as doing a PhD (!) and her strategy for getting published (persistence). She revealed that she is not done with the world of Folked Up and is working on a sequel, so watch this space…

Charlotte Byrne during Q&A
Charlotte Byrne during Q&A, Folked Up book launch, 2020. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.
Close up of Charlotte's hands signing copies of Folked Up
Signing copies of Folked Up, 2020. Copyright Yellow Ladybird Photography.

You can order a copy of Folked Up on Crystal Peake’s website.

About the author: Dr Lucie Glasheen is a Teaching Associate at Queen Mary University of London. Her research sits at the intersection of literary studies, cultural history and historical geography. Lucie recently completed her PhD at Queen Mary, Children’s play, urban spaces and the transformation of East London in text, image and film 1930-1939.

Advertisement