I’ve just finished a two-day booking for Booked Out at Emmanuel College in Warrnambool, a provincial city about 3.25 hours west of Melbourne.

When I departed mid-afternoon Tuesday, it was with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement to be on a road trip through rugged volcanic country I hadn’t visited for a decade or so. Trepidation at how nearly 200 Year 9 students might respond to this far-from-established author. Concern over leaving my family behind when my wife had received unsettling news about her unemployment that morning – and her favourite colleague was laid off. Throw in a seasoning of other emotions after a lunch meeting discussing my latest manuscript with a generous children’s publishing mentor.

Driving solo into the sunset was a chance to listen to my choice of music (no kids’ demands) and enjoy being back in the bush. West of Colac, the landscape changes. It’s almost like travelling through the windswept heath-lands of the Bronte stories. I felt enlivened. The country boy in me clearly needs to get away from the city to defrag.

My brief for the college visit was to “inspire the kids in their writing” and lead practical sessions with seven Year 9 classes. Hmmmm. I’ve done plenty of public speaking over the years but workshops are still reasonably new for me. Year 9’s can be a tough bunch, too. Not quite ready to morph into Year 10 seriousness but often flexing their muscles after finally escaping junior school. My personal Year 9 recollections feature plenty of detentions, usually following over-exuberant smart-mouthed quips. (There was clearly no speed-limiter on my mouth back then… Some might argue it still fails me today.)

Anyway, first up was a talk to the entire year level. I guess I treated it as a chance to establish my bona fides pre-workshops – and hopefully show where a passion for reading and writing can take you. Some of the gags fell flat but maybe it’s tough to warm an audience at 9am on a frosty morning. I certainly don’t have the comedy training of an Andy Griffiths.

My workshops aimed to show that by applying a little forethought and planning to the basics of fiction (characters, voice, setting, plot), it becomes much easier to write a story. They seemed to work.

The students were great. Good listeners with a healthy serving of sass once the ice was broken. They came up with some sensational story sketches. I enjoyed watching their ideas emerge.

I don’t know what they learned or whether they approach writing or reading any differently now. I do know I’ll approach Year 9s differently. They reminded me that 15 is a fun age, even with the occasional detention. Thanks.

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