Writing in 1834, the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott observed the following of Daniel Defoe’s most influential novel, Robinson Crusoe: ‘There is hardly an elf so devoid of imagination as not to have supposed for himself a solitary island in which he could act Robinson Crusoe, were it but the corners of the nursery’ (Biographical Memoirs, 279). While Scott’s comment evidently speaks to the pervasiveness of The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, it also more explicitly aligns the Robinson Crusoe story with childhood.
On Saturday May 18th 2019, members of the NCRCL gathered at the gleaming Duchesne building at the University of Roehampton for their annual MA Open Morning. After informally gathering over tea, coffee and pastries amidst a colourful display of vintage and contemporary children’s books, the members headed to the lecture theatre where the director of the NCRCL, Lisa Sainsbury, welcomed the group and began the morning’s programme. The group comprised of potential and current MA students as well as some distinguished alumni, and so Lisa explained about the different modules available to those starting the course in September. In addition, Nicki Humble and Alison Waller also spoke about their courses and their respective current research projects: Nicki on the presentation of craft and hobbies in 20th Century Children’s Literature, and Alison on her recent book Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics.
“Prison Reading Groups was set up in 1999 to help start, fund and support reading groups in prisons. Since 2017 it has been part of registered charity Give a Book. We now run groups in over 35 prisons nationwide and supply more than 3000 books a year to support them. We also support Family Days and family reading initiatives in more than 50 prisons across the country.”
The NCRCL has a longstanding relationship with Prison Reading Groups. In 2015 volunteers from the NCRCL created a database of age-appropriate books and continue to volunteer with the scheme.
We are delighted to share two exciting events at our NCRCL coming up in May 2019. See below for more detail, including how to book your place on each day!
Being Human in YA Literatures
A symposium hosted by the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, London.
Friday 17th May 2019
9.30am (for a 10am start) – 4.45 pm
What does it mean to be human? Identity categories such as race, religion, gender, ability, size, and age intersect in definitions of the self, shaping how we construct ourselves and are perceived by others. Humanity is also under scrutiny, as other forms of consciousness help define what we are and what we are not. A growing corpus of young adult narratives across a range of genres and media attempt to engage with the plurality of the human experience. The NCRCL’s symposium will consider how ‘being human’ is explored through YA narratives. It will feature a keynote paper from renowned YA literature critic Dr Alison Waller, and include a plenary from Dr Leah Phillips, founder of YALMCA and co-organiser of Adolescent Identities.
More information on conference speakers and how to get to the University of Roehampton can be found on the Blog.
NCRCL Open Day
An open day hosted by the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, London.
Saturday 18th May 2019
10am – 1pm
Duchesne Building, Ground Floor, Digby Stuart Campus
10.00 Registration& refreshments
10.20 Introduction fromthe NCRCL team
10.30 Research Talk fromDrKaren Williams: ‘‘…an entirely new line’: The Creation and Reception of the Juvenile Christmas Annuals’
11.15 MA Poster Presentations (a chance to talk to current students about their work), refreshments, and meeting the NCRCL team
12.00 Q&A with MA/PhD Children’s Literature Alumni: Isabel MacDonald & Karen Williams
12.45 News from the NCRCLand Student Prizes
Refreshments and cakes will be available to everyone.
NB If you would like to look around the library (and you are not a current student) you will need to sign in with photo ID for a temporary day pass, so please do remember to bring ID with you. There is a café in the library if you need more substantial refreshment than cake and biscuits!
The Open Day is free, but please book your place so that we have numbers for catering. Please contact Julia Noyce in conferencing to confirm your booking: Julia.Noyce@roehampton.ac.uk
After the Fire is a young adult novel which
addresses the experience of belonging to an extreme religious cult.
loosely based on a real event – the siege of the cult known as the Branch
Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. Their leader claimed he was the
Messiah figure prophesied in the Bible but government forces felt the cult was
a threat as it was known that they were stockpiling firearms, hence the siege
which lasted 51 days. Eventually, FBI agents stormed the cult’s compound and after
the ensuing battle, 76 people (including 25 children) were found to have died.
The government’s handling of the Waco siege (which played out in the national
and international media) was heavily criticized.
Will Hill uses this catastrophe as a springboard to explore how and why
people might become involved in such a community, and what the psychological
effects might be. He calls his fictional
cult the Lord’s Legion and focuses on the experience of one particular individual,
Moonbeam, a survivor of the destruction of the Legion’s base. She is described as
complicated, sarcastic and brilliant” and the indoctrination to which she has
been subjected is powerfully conveyed:
my mom was Banished, I believed in him, and in the Legion, with all my heart,
and part of me misses – will always miss – the certainty that came with that,
the power and pride that came with being part of something that was right and
Hill says his work is “not intended as an attack on anyone’s religious beliefs.” It is “a
story about power and corruption, and how charismatic figures can twist faith
to serve their own ends.” The leader of the cult in the novel, Father John,
certainly wields a lot of power, though his methods of control are often cruel
rather than charismatic and it can be hard to see why his followers love him.
There is some ambiguity in the presentation of his character – for instance,
does he really believe in his own creed?
The structure of the story is highly effective and scaffolds a thrilling
and emotive drama. The protagonist is being cared for in a rehabilitation
centre and she is interviewed daily by a psychiatrist, Dr Hernandez, who wants
to help her and Agent Carlyle from the FBI who has been tasked with finding out
what really happened inside the compound. The past, consequently, is filled in
for the reader through flashbacks prompted by their questions. At first
Moonbeam cannot trust them but her gradual opening up serves to show her
beginning to come to terms with what has happened and suspense is created
because the reader knows all along that there are terrible things she has not
yet revealed. It takes time for her to be able to talk about the events and her
feelings, and there are some things that she cannot even bear to think about. Guilt,
loyalty and the remains of indoctrination limit her revelations. We can see the
barriers in her mind. Some readers may find this a little heavy-handed at times
– perhaps there are too many hints at dark secrets:
“But then I think about my mom and Nate and the
boxes and the locked door in the basement of the Big House. I think about my
Sisters running towards the Governments with rifles in their hands and the five
gunshots and what I found and what I did.” (8 things here!)
the atmosphere of life in the compound is skilfully portrayed and the whole
novel provides a truly immersive and thought-provoking experience. Hill
portrays ordinary people and how they might behave in extraordinary
circumstances. On p424, Agent Carlyle says
of the members of the Legion: “I don’t think they were stupid or vicious or
weak. I think they were misled, and I think what happened to them could happen
to anybody, given the right set of circumstances.”A
key theme is how we can know what is real and who to trust, but ultimately After the Fire is a powerful and
superbly well-written story of survival.
Call for papers: Beyond Boundaries. Authorship and Readership in Life Writing.
A two-day conference held at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, 24 and 25 October 2019.
In ‘The Limits of Life Writing’ David McCooey (2017) argues that in life-writing studies, the concept of limits or boundaries plays a central role. Since the rise of auto/biography studies in the 1970s and 1980s critical attention has been paid to generic limits and the limits concerning the auto/biographical subject. With respect to the former, discussions have evolved in particular around the boundaries between literary and factual writing, and between verbal, graphic, audio-visual and digital forms of life writing. In regard to the latter, academics since the 1990s have given attention to the expansion of auto/biographical subjects previously marginalized, which has deepened, among other things, the cross-cultural understanding of experience and identity. This expansion of auto/biographical subjects, but also the rise of social media as a medium for life writing have contested the limits of selfhood.
Alison Waller is a Senior Lecturer at the NCRCL, University of Roehampton. She specialises in the practice of remembering and rereading childhood fiction, asking how adults negotiate relationships with books from their past.
Alison Waller’s excellent new monograph, Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics, is now available!