What is The Dirt?
The Dirt is where various authors, illustrators and other interested parties take the opportunity to climb onto their soap boxes to air thoughts of one kind and another. It is likely they will explore notions that tend to sit outside mainstream thinking, and their ideas may be at least a little boundary-breaking, rule-bending, thought-provoking and possibly even 'dangerous'. Some will be more dangerous than others … which is how we like it at Dirt Lane Press.
Martin https://www.worldofchatterton.com/ is a force of nature, one of many that we have happily welcomed to Dirt Lane Press. He writes skin-peeling crime thrillers, hilarious chapter books for young readers, and complex brain-twisting sciencey mysteries for young adults. He is a designer, illustrator and fine-art practitioner. He lives between UK and Australia, and conducts spiffing road-trip presentations to schools around both those countries, as well as in China, India and any other continent/sub-continent that will have him. The following is an observation about the picture book he is currently preparing for publication with us in October 2019 …
I'm standing on stage in front of a cinema-sized digital screen in a brand new 500-seat theatre/auditorium at the HD Wanda School in Qingdao, a coastal city in eastern China. The school – sprawled across a vast, Ivy League style campus – has only been open couple of months and the entire, utterly surreal, Truman Show-esque man-made city/island it stands on didn't exist three years ago. As far as Google Maps is concerned I'm performing underwater.
It's the last day of a three week schools tour of the country and in front of me is the entire school body along with a couple of hundred parents. Angel, my aptly named translator, is doing her very best to interpret my snappy one-liners and carefully polished stories and it's going pretty well. But when I put on a video rough cut of a trailer/reading I've made of my picture book, When The White Bear Came, the mood shifts, and the attention levels perceptibly rise. Despite the language problems, there doesn't appear to be any comprehension difficulties. Every eye is on the images on screen, especially those of the children in the front eight rows. I've been trialling the book in Shanghai and Qingdao over the past three weeks and it's had the same effect every time. The kids have been wide-eyed, rapt, curious and immersed. I really think I'm on to something.
The subject of When The White Bear Came is slavery: not a topic you find in many picture books. The idea developed from my PhD, which was about the final slave voyage from Liverpool in 1809, and is about as far removed from the gleaming new school theatre in Qingdao as possible. There is little understanding of the Atlantic slave history here and yet, time and again, the reading and imagery has managed to cross boundaries and engage the audience. It's been one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had and in one of the unlikeliest settings.