Nobody Saw Nothing – Is Child Abuse Still Taboo in YA fiction?

0034011.JPGHere’s something interesting out! That rare, rare beast, a YA novel dealing with the sexual abuse of young people. Read Steve Tasane talking about his book, Nobody Saw No One, in Guardian online..

I did a book about this subject myself a while ago, called Nicholas Dane. I remember at the time a librarian saying to me – “Wonderful book, Melvin, but I can’t think of a single child I’d refer it to.” Not long after I had a boy come up to me after a talk on the book and told me that such things still went on … very brave lad.

Only a decade or two ago, this subject was almost totally taboo. It was so shameful, no one wanted to admit either that their child had suffered in this way, and no employer wanted to admit that any member of their staff had been involved. Perpetrators were just moved on – which why these men were able to abuse dozens or even hundreds of boys and girls over the course of a lifetime.

These days we’ve learned to admit that it happens, and discovered to our horror just how common it is. But we still don’t like to talk to young people about, or even discuss with them issues such as grooming. Such a shame! We know now that almost any unattended child is a target for sexual predators, and you’ve have thought that every parent would want their child to understand how paedophiles operate and what their aims are. But taboos die hard. My own book had a brief flourish and then vanished with scarcely a ripple. Since then, the need to empower young people in the face of predators has become even more apparent.

So how much have things changed? As this article points out, Patrick Ness (who incidentally gave Nicholas Dane a very poor review) said, “Good luck pitching that to a YA publisher,” when asked if there could be a YA book about this subject. So hats off to Walker for going ahead with it, and to Steve Tasane for writing it. I hope his book makes a bigger impression than mine did.


Lovely review of me new book, Persist, from The Bookbag.




It’s the story of Marianne, who lies in a comma and is just starting to regain her memory at the same time that the doctors, and even her mother, are beginning to give up hope. But although Marianne has memories, she doesn’t yet realise who it is who is doing the remembering. The doctors want to turn of her life support. Will she realise in time to save her life?




Prince Tortoise

Another story from inland, told to me by the chief’s daughter on the shores of Lake Tumba,


One day all the animals in the world gathered together to vote for a chef, and when all the votes were counted, the winner turned out to be the Lion – which of course made the Lion very happy. His first decree, now that he had the authority to do so, was that he should be properly enthroned, with proper celebrations as befitted his new status.

The other animals wanted to know what form the celebrations should take.

“There must be feasting and drinking,” said the Lion. “There must be dancing. And there must be sport, the climax of which shall be a trial of strength. And for the winner there shall be a magnificent prize – the hand of my own sister, the lioness, in marriage.”

Of course all the animals were dying to have a go. To marry a lioness – to be a member f the royal family? There could be no greater honor. t once all the strongest and most powerful animals began posing and posturing, training ad boasting, preparing for the great day.

The enthronement came, and as the lion had promised, the entertainment was wonderful. All the first day there was feasting and drinking – and let’s just say that no one went short. At the end of the day everyone went to bed happy, looking forward to the next day when the competition would begin – climaxing in a trial of strength and the marriage of the winner to beautiful and magnificent lioness.

The big day arrived, and it began with sport between the smaller animals, who had no chance of winning he big prize. Then the larger animals turned out. The heavy weights didn’t come on till right at the end.

The rhino was already married, so the real fight was going to be between the hippopotamus and the elephant.. When everyone saw these two huge animals limbering up, making the earth quake and the river froth,, everyone else went very quiet. It was certain no one would stand a chance against them.

Then the tortoise stepped forward.

“I see that only the elephant and the hop have put themselves forward to win the bride,” he said. “Everyone is afraid of them – but not me. If Your Majesty will allow it, I am certain that I can win the day.”

The elephants laughed down his trunk. “You, the smallest of animals in the forest?” He said. “You don’t stand a chance. I wouldn’t even waste my time bothering to fight such an insignificant speck.”

“Was that old big nose blowing his own trumpet, as usual?” Asked tortoise. “Always original – and always looking for the chance of avoiding a fight.”

When the elephant heard this, he started to jump and shout with rage.

“I accept the challenge,” he bellowed. “All I have to do is stamp, once Iike this ..” Ad he stamped so hard that a young tree growing nearby fell down … “And you will be nothing but a stain in the mud.”

“My power is not on the dry land,” the tortoise replied. “My power is in the water. If you face me there, you will not stand a chance. Of course, if you are afraid …”

“Ridiculous,” snorted the elephant. And he accepted the challenge.

Next the Lion asked the Hippo if he was willing to fight the tortoise.
“Me, fight a pie with a hard crust?” said said the hippo. “Of course not. Besides, I wouldn’t want to hurt the poor little thing.”

“Ah, there goes old big gob, who wipes his bum on his own tail, trying to get out of a fight again,” said tortoise.

The hippo was enraged. ” I accept!” he roared. “It won’t take a moment to finish you off. I’Il just drag into the river and leave you to drown.”

“My power is not in the water, but on dry land,” said tortoise. “if you dare to face me there, I promise to make you sorry you ever heard my name.”

And so the hippo accepted too. The antelope was appointed referee. The fight was on!

At last all the other sports were finished and it was time for the big match. The elephant stood waiting for the starting whistle on the banks of the river, while a little further away, the hippo waited in the shallows for things to begin.

The tortoise went to the elephant first, with a rope.

“Tie this end of the rope around your foot. I will go into the river, where my power is. When you hear the starting whistle, pull as hard as you can. The first to pull the other onto in or out of the river is the winner. Agreed?”

The elephant agreed.

Then the tortoise went to the hip, with the other end of the same rope.

“Tie this around your foot. When you hear the whistle blow, pull! The winner will be whoever pulls the other in or out of the river. Agreed?”

The hippo agreed.

Finally the tortoise went to the antelope. “I am going to my end of the rope. When you feel me tug it, blow your whistle and the fight shall begin.” He walked and shortly after, the antelope felt a tug on the rope, blew his whistle, and the great battle began!

The hippo pulled. Great waves churned up the river. The elephant pulled! Earth was ploughed into clods. The hippo pulled, the elephant pulled! Great clouds of dust and spray rose into the air. The water beat against the shore, the earth crashed into the water! The noise was so great, the antelope bolted in panic and ran off to ride.

“Pull!” yelled the tortoise.

The elephant pulled. The hippo pulled. Pull, pull, pull!

The great fight went on all evening, all night and on into the next day. The elephant and the hippo pulled and pulled and pulled, but no matter how hard they strained, neither was able to drag the other in or out of the river. As the second day sank towards evening, both animals were so tired they felt like weeping – but neither would give up. Pull, pull, pull!

By the morning of the third day, both animals were so tried they could hardly stand up.. The elephant was on his knees. The hippo was in danger of drowning, he lacked the strength even to stay afloat. But the tortoise, who had had a good night’s sleep, was as fresh as a daisy.

At midday the lion called a fifteen minute break, and the tortoise took the chance to visit his two rivals, who lay exhausted in the shallows, panting and groaning with pain. When they saw how fresh the tortoise was, and how ready he was to carry on, their hearts sank.

“Well!” the tortoise said. “What a good fight. I had no idea you would be so hard to beat. But now I’m loan forward to the next round. Are you ready to carry on? This business of having breaks is for babies!”

Both the elephant and hippo shook their heads – they were broken beasts.

“No more,” groaned the elephant.

“Enough,” whimpered the hippo. “You win.”

And that is how the tortoise won the greatest fight the animal kingdom has ever seen, and became a prince by marriage. And as you will see if you ever come across a tortoise talking to the other animals, they all treat him with the utmost respect.

The Tortoise and the Eagle

After A VERY long break, I’ve found the time to go back to my notebooks from the Congo and carry on writing up the folk tales I collected … (and to notice, incidentally, that most of the photo’s I posted have been lost when the website was changed – must do something about that!)

Camping on the banks of the Congo

Camping on the banks of the Congo

This story was told to me in the village in the village of Samba by the chief’s son. It’s more like the kind of thing we’re used to in Europe, with it’s happy ending and traditional fable structure. Readers of African folk tales will be familiar with Tortoise the trickster – always one of my favourite characters from folk tales and myth. In this one, he teaches a friend a lesson about the differences of others.. The eagle, as you can see, was a bit stupid, but personally if I’d been him, I might have been tempted to drop our shelly friend on the way back home ….

The Tortoise and the Eagle

The Eagle and the Tortoise were the very best of friends – so much so that every single day, the eagle flew down from the high mountain where he had his eerie, across the steep cliffs, down past the stony slopes, over the trees, across the river, and past the meadows until he came the scrubby wilderness where tortoise made his home.

Tortoise was always there to meet him and make him welcome, and the two friends would have lunch together.

This went day after day, year after year, and the friendship between the two never wavered, until one day, the Tortoise noticed that his friend was quieter than usual. He asked him why.

“Have you ever noticed that its always me who comes to visit you?” the Eagle said. “In all these years, I don’t think you’ve ever come to my house even once.”

“But you live so far away!” replied the Tortoise. “There are mountains to climb, ravines to get over, rivers to cross. The forest is full of tangled roots, the way is littered with boulders and stones. It would take me forever, if I got there at all.”

” Still,” said the Eagle. ” I think you might have managed it just once, if you cared for me as much as I care for you.”

The Tortoise was hurt and shocked that his friend felt this way, but the journey was far, too difficult and dangerous for a stumpy legged little thing like him to ever attempt.

“Don’t be like that,” he begged.  “I’m sorry you feel let down. Give me time. Let me try find some other way of proving my loyalty to you.”

Months past and the Eagle sadly thought that the Tortoise had forgotten his promise. But then came his birthday, and he forgot about his doubts, looking forward to the big day. Every year, the Tortoise prepared a special lunch for his friend and always began the meal with a splendid present.

On the day, the Eagle excitedly made the flight down from the mountain to the desert in double quick time, he was so excited. But when he got there – what’s this? No table spread with goodies, no group of friends – no Tortoise. All there was a package and a card.

The Eagle opened the card and read.

“My friend, I’ve tried for months to think of a way to repay you for all the visits you’ve made to me over the years, but I’ve failed. So today, on your birthday, I’ve decided to come to visit you at your house. It’s a long journey for me, so I’ve decided to take several days to get there, to make sure I’m on time. As you can see, I was unable to carry your present as well. I hope you won’t object to carrying it yourself to your house – where I shall be ready to greet you and help you celebrate this special day!”

“Wow,” thought the Eagle. “Finally – he’s actually doing it!” He took the present in his talons and set off – over the desert, across the meadow, over the river, which he noticed today was very full and strong … Above the forest that was as the tortoise had said, full of tangled roots breaking up the ground, as well as sharp thorns in the twigs and branches. Then up, up he soared, up the slopes of the mountain, beyond the stony slopes and towering cliffs back to his eerie home.

The Tortoise wasn’t there.

“Never mind,” said the Eagle. “It IS a long way for someone who can’t fly.  He’s probably still walking. I can wait”

The Eagle waited … and waited … and waited.

After a bit he began to worry. The mountain certainly was very steep. The Tortoise had such tiny legs – there were a million places where he could slip and fall to his death.

“I’ll find him and give him a lift,” the Eagle thought. He flew off over the mountain, up and down, up and down. But there was no sign of the tortoise. He asked his friends the other eagles to help, and they all flew to and fro, but none of them saw anything.

“Maybe he fell into a ravine,” one of the other eagles said.

“Unless he’s crept past us and is waiting for you at your place, ” said someone else. The Eagle dashed home, full of hope, but the tortoise still wasn’t there.

“Maybe he’s still at the river. But that’s ludicrous – he can’t swim with that shell. He’ll drown! He stupid I’ve been! I must stop him,” thought the Eagle.

He flew off down the mountain side to to river and searched and searched – he even got one of the crocs that lived there to help him … But no one found anything

“Maybe one of my cousins found him first,” suggested the croc.

Off the Eagle flew, in a panic now .. back home , then to the forest, then to the desert, then to mountain again, then back home, then off again … back and forth and to and fro, until his wings ached. But of the tortoise, there was no trace …

It was getting late now. The Eagle realised that what for him was a simple journey on the wings of the wind, was a terrible ordeal for his little friend – an ordeal that had surely killed him. He flew wearily back home, full of guilt. He had lost the best friend in the world, and it was no one’s fault but his own.

He got back and – who should be there to greet him, but  the Tortoise himself,  looking comfortable and rested as he raised a glass to his friend.
The Eagle too one look and said…


“Can’t you guess?” said the Tortoise. “You gave me a lift! I was hiding … inside the parcel you so kindly carried here for me. I AM your birthday present!”

When he realised he had been tricked the Eagle was at first angry … then relieved … then angry again … and then at last he began to see the funny side and started to laugh … and laugh … and laugh.

Finally, they had their party.  At the end of the day, the Eagle carried the Tortoise safely back home and dropped him gently  at his front door. ”

“Just promise me one thing,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t EVER come to visit me again! I don’t think I could stand the stress!”

Manchester Central Library – What the Fuss is About

I’m getting a lot of mails from people asking to clarify the main issues about the Friends of Manchester Central Library Campaign to save the huge cull currently going on of their wonderful reference stock, so I’ve taken time to write down the main issues…

We are concerned about the way that Central Library has decided to slash its internationally renowned non-fiction reference and lending stock (Approx 500,000 books) by between 40–60%, with no public consultation, and has responded to criticism with spin, deflection and evasive answers. We believe that they are in the process of permanently damaging this important public asset. Transparency and accountability are at the heart of our concerns.

The main points are:

• As far as we can tell, there has been no public consultation concerning the fate of book stocks whatsoever, even though the library is slashing its non-fiction reference lending stock by up to 60%. A great many Mancunians will be on the train down to London to the British Library after this.

• Throughout, the library has insisted that they are only weeding out-of-date, damaged or duplicated books. This is simply not possible when talking about such a huge percentage. Recently they have also been talking about irrelevant books – but we have no idea what they mean by that. We believe they are actually working to a percentage, made necessary by the vastly reduced shelving space allocated to non-fiction reference volumes in the architect’s plans for the new library.

• When the reduction process began, Central Library posted on the FAQ’s on its website that they were anticipating no significant book loss. Later this turned into 300,000 – a full 60% of non-fiction reference and lending stock. Once our campaign was under way this dropped overnight to 210,000 – still over 42%. We do not believe they have been operating with any coherent policy.

• The library has done its best to conflate the actual reduction with the full number of volumes in the library – approx. 1,000,000. But once special collections, such as parliamentary papers, which are exempt from the cull, and other collections such as fiction, local history and music are removed, this leaves 500,000 books for the 210,000 to come from: 42%.

• The Library continued with the process of disposal for eighteen months without any Stock Editing Policy being published. After this campaign began, this document was published – then taken down – then re-posted with changes reducing the effectiveness of the transparency clause. We believe there is a strong possibility that this document was only written in response to our questions, and that for the past eighteen months, they have been operating with no coherent Disposal Policy at all. Everything is being done on the hoof in order to fit stock into a reduced space.

• There are only five, non-specialist library staff going through a total stock of 500,000, with no special training – an impossible task for such a small number to do properly. Also, however experienced these people are, they are not the subject specialists that this kind of work needs and deserves. Claims by the library that they call in subject specialists “When required,” are specious. There is no information as to under what circumstances, or when, or how they are called in or who these people are. We believe that many valuable books have been already pulped or sold on.

• We believe that the cost to the library, and money they receive for the books they sell – is somewhere between 10 and 20p a book. This represents bad value for money, in disposing of a valuable publically owned asset.

• We want the disposal process to be paused while full consultation with users, including universities, writers, other libraries, museums, readers and the local community is carried out. Once they have compiled a proper policy, based on the desires of the people who have paid for all these books, that policy should be carried out with transparency and accountability to the people of Manchester.

If you want to help put pressure on Central Library to consult before they pulp, please like our new Facebook page.