Although Sunday in Edinburgh was wet and miserable, the same couldn’t be said for the children and young people’s corner of Charlotte Square. Edinburgh International Book Festival’s dedicated children’s events and activities area always comes alive with excited youngsters engaging in literature, and such a sight soothes the soul.
Likewise, any event featuring former Carnegie Medal winner and current Children’s Laureate of Ireland, Sarah Crossan will brighten any day, such is her humorous, informative and captivating command of the stage. In conversation with Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards Chair Joy Court, Crossan appeared relaxed as she spoke about her acclaimed Young Adult novels.
The main focus of her appearance was to discuss her latest offering Moonrise, again in her usual style of a novel in verse, which tells the story of Texan teen Joe as he prepares for his innocent brother’s execution. Although it’s not really a story about the death penalty, states Crossan; few of us will ever experience that. It is instead about the universal act of saying goodbye to someone we love. A passionate campaigner against the death penalty, Crossan spent some time discussing the ethics of capital punishment, with harrowing insight. The American state, for example, pays $1million in wages to those who take up the jobs of strapping down the condemned, in order to carry out an irreversible act which has been proven not to bring the promised closure to families of victims. This research made her question, what happens to the families of the men, and occasionally women, sentenced to death?
Court asked about the personal aspect of her other works, and this, she explained, is where her “life” comes in – for example, the aforementioned 2016 Carnegie winner One, which deals with sibling relationships (Crossan shared that she is one of four children), and her debut The Weight of Water. Originally intended to be about bullying, Crossan realised she had written about the immigrant experience, a reflection she believes speaks to her own move to England from Ireland as a seven-year-old. She still identifies very much as Irish, and considers herself “Irish with an English accent”. Explaining why she chose to write for young adults, Crossan credited her former teaching career for helping her find her writing voice, and seeing situations from the eyes of a young person. She mentioned briefly her preference to write in verse rather than prose – it cuts out unnecessary action and only leaves the reader with what they need to know – though did not share much technical detail, apart from that she reads a lot of poetry herself, and that walking helps her find the rhythm of her words. I wanted to hear more about that, but the time flew by, and the audience, made up of mostly teenage girls and parents, were keen to speak to this highly engaging author. Crossan answered questions from the articulate audience with humour and kindness – her advice to budding young writers is “why not?”, and no doubt inspires her young fans to consider that very question as she leave us with a stunning reading from Moonise. Live your dreams, says Crossan, and after this event, I think many youngsters have.