Melvin Burgess does the rounds of East End schools with his novels on drugs and under-age sex

'Billy Elliot' author Melvin Burgess

'Billy Elliot' author Melvin Burgess - Credit: Swanley

Top-selling author Melvin Burgess has held inspirational sessions for pupils at two secondary schools in London’s East End talking about his best-sellers like Junk and Billy Elliot.

Melvin Burgess inspires Year 8 pupils at Swanlea School

Melvin Burgess inspires Year 8 pupils at Swanlea School - Credit: Swanlea Sch

He spent a morning with pupils at Bethnal Green’s Morpeth Secondary to help them with their English lesson as well as looking in at Whitechapel’s Swanley School less than two miles away.

He read extracts from Junk, an international best seller about teenage runaways who fall in with squatters and become heroin addicts.

The book caused controversy when it was published in 1996, because of its gritty and realistic nature and fears that it might corrupt the minds of its young readers.

Burgess in full swing at Morpeth School

Burgess in full swing at Morpeth School - Credit: Swanley

“There were movie-makers all over it at the time,” he explained. “But they couldn’t turn it in to a film because it would probably be an ’18 adults only’ and the audience it was written for would be to young too see it.”

Pupils at Morpeth grilled him with questions including what he would be if he wasn’t a writer.

He replied: “In trouble, as I’m unemployable!”

Burgess explains the secrets of writing to pupils at Morpeth Secondary

Burgess explains the secrets of writing to pupils at Morpeth Secondary - Credit: Swanley

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Burgess held an impromptu workshop to demonstrate how to develop characters and context, by dissecting the personality and behaviour of Little Red Riding Hood and pointed out the similarities between the Three Little Pigs fable and the Hollywood movie Terminator.

Burgess was also at Swanlea Secondary where wehere he revealed he was a bit of a daydreamer himself at school.

Melvin was always thought of as a day-dreamer in class—although he was good at English, the pupils discovered.

It wasn’t until one of his teachers expressed enjoying his stories that he began building self-confidence in his writing, he told his young audience.

His visits to the schools was to provide a background and insight into what goes into writing a novel, while inspiring youngsters to read more.

Swanley school librarian Manjot Bami said: “There was a gap in the ‘teenage fiction’ market when Burgess first rose to prominence—his books filled that gap which also encouraged more young people to read.”

Burgess’s first published novel was in his mid-thirties, The Cry of the Wolf. But it was Junk that won Melvin the coveted 1996 Library Association’s Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction.

He courted predictable controversy in 2003 with the publication of Doing It, which dealt with underage sex, later adapted as an American TV series, Life as We Know It.

Other Burgess books include The Baby and Fly Pie (1993), The Ghost Behind the Wall (2000), Bloodtide (1999) and Bloodsong (2007).

He also wrote the novelisation in 2001 of the Billy Elliot film, based on Lee Hall’s screenplay set in the North of England during the 1984 miners’ strike about an 11-year-old aspiring dance performer dealing with the negative stereotype of the male ballet dancer.