Digital Voice in Young Adult Fiction, by Ashley Moreton

On Saturday 29th of October, I attended “Digital Voice in Young Adult Fiction”, a session that was part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. I have always enjoyed creative writing, and this seemed like a great opportunity to do some writing exercises and learn more about an area of Young Adult fiction that I am particularly interested in.

The session was run by Saci Lloyd, author of “The Carbon Diaries”. We spent the first few minutes discussing what we would like to get out of the session, so she could decide how best to utilise our time. After that, we introduced ourselves to the other members of the group, including the meaning behind our names, and what led us to attending this workshop.

Saci led a short discussion on the difficulty of labelling yourself as an “author”, and contrasted this with how people find it quite easy to define themselves as someone who likes drawing and painting; she suggested that we all have the potential to be authors, and I would agree. You could even take the view that anyone who has ever written anything creative, whether for school or themselves, is an author (but perhaps of varying quality!).

As a group, we discussed where ideas might come from. Saci pointed out that to be able to write about a character, you have to ‘know’ them – understand how they would talk, how they would react to things and so on. We then progressed to a more in-depth discussion of where plot ideas might come from. After discussing works – including books, music albums and pieces of art – that we thought had a profound effect on our sense of self with partners, Saci then told us where her inspiration for “The Carbon Diaries” came from. Apparently, she used to walk past a newsagent’s every day, and seeing the headlines “The world is getting colder – we’ll all have to move to the equator!” and “The world is getting hotter – we’ll all have to move to the Poles!” inspired her to start researching climate change. She found most of what she learned very depressing, which apparently she reacts to by making jokes about it – and this is how “The Carbon Diaries” were born.

In as similar a way as any simulated process can be to real life, we looked at a variety of video clips about robots, especially concentrating on those that look creepily realistic. We discussed our reactions to those videos, then started to use them as inspiration for writing exercises; this is what the rest of the workshop was spent on.

Saci gave us prompts for the writing exercises. These started off with prompt sentences, such as beginning a point-of-view narrative from a character in a video about robots with the line “And then he powered down”. Similarly, after we looked at a picture of an arguing couple, and were told the woman was actually an android, we wrote a paragraph starting with “But what will we tell the children?”.

Next, we watched a series of videos from very busy, modern cities, and wrote down what we saw, and then picked scenes to develop into paragraphs of description. Finally, we looked at a picture of a woman in a dress standing in front of a group of armoured police, and were asked to imagine a backstory, and how this scene had occurred.

I really enjoyed the workshop; I felt that Saci was very skilled at encouraging everyone to produce something, whether they might class themselves as ‘creative’ or not. I think all the activities were very interactive, and the fast pace helped to remove hesitation. I will certainly be trying some of them out with classes in future!

Below, I have included the first three paragraphs from the page of work I produced during the final exercise.

They had been born into this monotony, this endless cycle of training and death. Both sides sustained heavy casualties, but it was clear that, eventually, the humans would win. Without oil, there was no power; the robots were under too constant an attack to have the time to create solar panels or wind turbines. While they might theoretically be stronger, each new generations was crafted from the scraps of those that had already fallen; rusted joints and fried wires.

It seemed like the normal rattle of guns and crashes of falling machinery. But then, a sudden lull.

The soldiers weren’t sure how to react. There, right in front of them, was a woman. A real one. They had all died out generations ago, hadn’t they? You didn’t need women now that you could create life, and why would you create the weaker version of a human?

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