Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Okay. Here we go...

Righto. So tomorrow morning, after two years of work, the 2012 ACLAR conference begins here in Canberra at the National Library of Australia. We're opening at midday with a keynote address from a scholar I've long admired- Deakin university's Clare Bradford. On Thursday we have Shaun Tan keynoting, and then on friday Professor Kerry Mallan from QUT - another incredible thinker and scholar, and just a perfect fit for this particular event.

Plus, of course, we've got a whole range of other interesting and exciting papers from scholars, writers, students and interested parties from all points of the children's literature compass.

We've got 75 ish delegates, from all over Australia, New Zealand, the US, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and (I'm pretty sure) a few other places.

We've got a function on Thursday night, with Shaun's academy award winning film The Lost Thing being screened, followed by an in conversation with Genevieve Jacobs, one of our fantastic ABC Canberra presenters, who is generously giving up her evening to help out.

At this point, I've got delegate bags done, running sheets and checklists organised, catering ready to go, a little gang of brave volunteers prepared to run the length and width of the NLA to make sure that all goes according to plan, I've done the first airport run, followed by some of the worst navigating I've done in the five years since we moved to Canberra (Poor Clare got a tour of all of the most 'exciting' parts of the parliamentary triangle while I attempted to track down her hotel*)

Oh, yes, and I've also written my own paper, which I'm delivering tomorrow afternoon in the second concurrent session**. I'm talking about American author John Green's most recent novel The Fault in Our Stars. I'm not sure how it'll go down, actually. Because JG - who I've met, like, and admire tremendously as both a person and a writer - has a spectuacularly devoted fanbase, and while I'm not being gratuitously critical of his book***, I am looking at it through a specifically academic lens, and calling a couple of aspects of it into question. But nicely. So I'm hoping nobody will get upset. It's part of the difficulty of being both a children's and YA writer and a children's and YA literature scholar. Even though the two jobs have, in many ways, a really lovely synergy to them, the latter often requires you to adopt a very different perspective on books and writing, and to look at them through a quite specific theoretical and critical focus. It's not always the most comfortable situation to be in. But it is what we do. And it's important - and I really believe this - that scholarly discourse be fearless and objective, so that it is able to make a really solid contribution to the cultural life of a society.

But enough of me on that particular bandwagon...

In any case. I am (touch wood) organised. And it's only taken 24 months!

And to take my mind off things, before I go home tonight, I'm going to a party! Actually, I'm speaking at the party. I'm launching the debut book by one of my colleagues here at the Uni of Canberra - one of our masters students and tutors, Ben Stubbs. Any regular readers of the Sydney Morning Herald will probably recognise Ben's name, because over the past few years, he's become one of their more prolific travel writers. But he's also been working on 'Ticket To Paradise' - the story of his hunt for the descendants of the Australian colony of Cosme, which was established in Paraguay during the early 20th century, by a group of disaffected Queensland shearers, who set off across the Pacific intending to establish their own socialist utopia.

It's an incredible read - Ben has infused every page with a real sense of place and adventure, and paints such vivid portraits of the people and their lives today. It's just fascinating. It's also a work backed up by formidable research, lending it a wonderful sense of authenticity.

So congratulations Ben! I'm so honoured to have been asked to officially send Ticket to Paradise out into the world.

Speaking of which, I'd better go and iron my Tux in preparation.**** 

*(which I've actually stayed at twice!)
**Doing a paper at my own conference seemed like such a good idea. In February.
*** Which I enjoyed a great deal.
**** Joke. I don't actually own a tux. And if I did, I doubt I'd ever wear it.

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