Archive for May, 2015

Democracy, Diversity and YA

Ravinder Randhawaembeauty and the beast‘Problems? Confusions? Contradictions? I got them all and if you’ve got them, then FLAUNT them is my motto.’ Meet Harjinder (aka Hari-jan): ‘A’ level student, supermarket worker and desperate journalist. Feisty and impulsive, Hari-jan can’t refuse a dare and to make matters worse has fallen in love with the wrong boy.
Her best friend Ghazala has taken to wearing the hijab and mentoring racists.
Can Hari-jan battle through the hurdles and win her man?
Can Ghazala work out how to do Good in her own way?
A sparkling, coming-of-age novel about life, love and friendship.

Forget Diary of a Wimpy Kid or The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, read the Diary of Mhairi Black Novice MP, a young woman of barely twenty years, who this month became a fully elected Member of Parliament. Hats off to Mhairi!!

Mhairi’s diary (published in the Herald Scotland) contains the episode in a Westminster canteen, which wonderfully sums up Mhairi and the place she’s suddenly found herself in. First, quite heart warmingly, when she gets her lunch of bread and chips, she gets told off by Rita at checkout for not having something more nutritious, then secondly when she sits down near a table where some of the canteen staff are having their lunch they indicate she should be in another part of the dining room. Dutifully Mhairi picks up her tray and walks towards the other end, when she sees a false partition with a sign saying “MPs only beyond this point.” Mhairi immediately turns around and goes back to sit near the canteen staff telling them “If they want us to be snobby you’d think they would go all out snobby and get a different room instead of a half effort partition?!” The whole table burst into rapturous laughter. Good for you Mhairi!

It may be that I’m being unfair, and am happy to be corrected, but it appears to me that politics is not a subject covered in Young Adult fiction. We have vampires galore, dystopian works, time travel, Harry Potter (a genre in itself), cancer, love and identity and so on, but no trailblazing books about the highest seats of power.

There is great talk of the importance of diversity in YA books. I completely agree that diversity, the free exchange of ideas through the medium of fiction, is a cardinal principle. I would put politics under the banner of diversity, for it seems to be a forgotten and therefore undervalued subject, and yet politics underpins our very existence and governs much of what we can or cannot do, what opportunities, rights and freedoms are available to us.

In Britain, the land of the Magna Carta, which first established the principle of equality before the law, a cornerstone of democracy, we’re lucky enough to enjoy civil liberties that people in other countries are struggling for. These brave and courageous people, for instance the blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes – let’s write that again – a thousand lashes – for setting up a liberal website, would be astounded that we don’t value our democracy and therefore our political system (with all its flaws) as a most precious resource.

‘But is there drama in democracy?’ I hear you all asking. Yes, quite simply is my answer. Just look at all the political thrillers, the films and TV dramas set in the ‘corridors of power.’ When they’re well written, whether comedies or conflict, they make riveting watching, or reading.

I accept there’s an issue about age; the political arena is seen as being for ‘grown-ups,’ by virtue of age restrictions. But actually any 18 year old can stand for parliament as long as they can put down a deposit of £500 and are nominated by 10 electors of the constituency. That makes politics into young adult territory.

How many times have we heard people complaining about the young not being engaged with politics. Surely, if their reading doesn’t include books that are set amongst the rough and tumble of politics; the processes, rooms and recesses of parliament; if they don’t have heroes and heroines, villains and thugs who pursue their ambitions in those places, then young people will never become familiar with them or identify them as places where they could be. Politics, and the places of politics will remain distant, difficult and incomprehensible.

We learn from literature: it evokes dreams, sparks ideas, makes known the unknown. I ask YA writers to fling open the doors to those corridors of power so their readers can see themselves there – within the boundaries of whatever story has been created. It can be as full of passion, action, fun or thrills as anything else.

Conspiracies, secrets and devilish deeds can occur as much in those hallowed halls as anywhere (and most probably do); the stakes are high, the prizes are glittering. There’s power to be grabbed and blazing ambitions to be fulfulled. Villains and enemies, the revengeful and friendless, the love-lorn and romantic, the dewy-eyed and innocent, all jostle against each other, pursue their plans, courses, machinations – and many a tangled web is woven and many a drama is created.

Post by Ravinder Randhawa

ravindaRavinder Randhawa is the acclaimed author of the novels Beauty and the Beast (YA), A Wicked Old Woman, The Tiger’s Smile and the short story collection Dynamite. She’s currently working on a trilogy: The Fire-Magician. Ravinder was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Toynbee Hall, Queen Mary’s University, the University of London, and founded the Asian Women Writer’s Collective.
Ravinder was born in India, grew up in leafy Warwickshire, now lives in London and agrees with Samuel Johnson’s saying (though of course, in a gender non-specific way) ‘…if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Loves good coffee and really good thrillers. To learn more about Ravinda and her work check out her Website (here), Facebook(here) or Goodreads author page (here). Alternatively you can interact with her on Twitter(here)

You can check out the rest of Ravinder’s tour schedule here.

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3 Paperback copies of Dynamite

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