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Melvin Burgess: wise words “for the kids”

At home on my sofa today, I can still hear the buzzing conversations and clinking of tea-break cups at yesterday’s Save the Children bloggers’ conference.

It was inspiring day, bringing together a fantastically varied and interesting group of bloggers all with one thing in common: they care, and want to use their creativity and passion to help save lives through our No Child Born to Die campaign.

For me, a particularly exciting part of the day was hearing from writer Melvin Burgess, who talked about his trip to see our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also spoke of his passion for writing for children and teenagers. He talked about that difficult time between childhood and adulthood, which for some reason seems to be taboo among the grown-up and forgetful.

An inner life ‘too old’ for those living it

“I met my first girlfriend when I was 14,” Melvin told us. “She picked me up on a school trip. We spent that summer together, and although we didn’t sleep with each other, we had a lot of fun. If I wrote a screenplay for a  film about that summer, it would be rated 18.”

There’s more freedom in novels to explore this inner world, Melvin explained, because they’re not so much at the mercy of censorship. But still, when his novel  ‘Junk’ came out in 1996, he was criticised for his honesty in tackling the subject of drug-taking. He was accused of corrupting young minds – by people who hadn’t read his book.

This struck a chord with me because although I’m now a writer at Save the Children, I write for teens too and spent some years working in teen magazines – a favourite target for people who saw ‘filth’ being given to innocent young people but who never seemed to actually open the magazines and see what was in them.

Helping children find their own way

“There are two schools of thought on this,” said Melvin, with obvious passion. “Those who think young people need to be protected and shielded from life, and those who think they should be enabled. If and when our children need to make decisions about things like drugs or sex, we’re not going to be there. They have to be equipped to make those decisions themselves.”

That simple but powerful point made me think of how tough a journey it can be for chilren, growing up. And it made me think of how Save the Children describes its work. We save children lives. We fight for their rights. We help them fulfil their potential.

Yes, our work is about life-saving vaccines, trained midwives and decent healthcare – helping babies survive those vulnerable early years and get past the age of five. But it doesn’t stop there. We want every child to be strong, educated and ready for their future – ready to do whatever it was they were born to do.

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