Tag Archives: Book Week

Book Week and the twin thing

5PD_cover

Book Week is fast approaching and my dance card is full. I’m truly grateful to the team at Booked Out given that a) I haven’t had a book published since 2010; b) I didn’t get a callback after my audition for the new Indiana Jones film; and, c) I’m not known for my dance moves. (Apparently I’m in good company, though.)

This week I begin a month-long (part-time) residency at one Melbourne school and have visits scheduled at seven others.  I’ll be sharing my highly secret tips for better creative writing; possibly pounding out a Bruce Willis-style Hollywood blockbuster plot (or two); and retracing the twisted path that led to my becoming an author. However, speaking for myself, the highlights usually flow from the unpredictable nature of students’ questions.

One of my favourite classroom moments so far in 2014 came during a residency with students studying Five Parts Dead. The main character in 5PD and his sister are twins. I’m often asked about this so it’s a good thing I did a decent amount of research into the bond between twin siblings.

Sometimes there will be twins in my classes and I’ll ask them if they share anything like the mystical connection between my characters, Dan and Mel. Usually the answer is a guarded, “not really” but this particular residency provided powerful evidence for the prosecution.

A staff member who is an identical twin said her link to her sister was so intense that, “I feel sorry for people who aren’t twins”. Then the piece de resistance. Two Year 10 male twins approached me and said I’d nailed the ‘twin thing’. They said they’d regularly been accused of plagiarism because their homework invariably, unconsciously ended up sounding the same.

They said that one of them might be humming a song at one of end of the house, then move to the kitchen and discover his twin singing the same line of the same song. That’s good enough for me. Dan & Mel were an exaggeration of the stories I found in my research but that’s the fun of fiction – we authors get to decide how far we push the boundaries in our stories.

Bring on Book Week and stay tuned for the best of my student questions.

 

 

Book Week and beyond

Farts are funny. Comedy gold. Unless, perhaps, you’re mid-way through a speech to a Year 9 assembly…

I aim for my talks to hit a range of notes, to have highs and lows. It was during a sombre moment, a pause for dramatic effect, that a student let one rip.

To their credit, most of his peers kept it together. The hall did not erupt into riotous laughter. If the flatulent one was intending anarchy, I score his bold bid a fail.

Up at the lectern, I considered a wisecrack response but a) didn’t find a retort quickly enough and b) figured it was better not to acknowledge the eruption. I chose to stay the course and chalk it up to another Book Week moment.

For those of us who write for young people, Book Week can be the busiest five-days of the year. In my city Book Week blends into the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, prolonging the bookish buzz.

Authors and illustrators are out and about everywhere. If you spot a pale-skinned individual blinking in the city sunlight, there’s a fair chance you are watching a wordsmith newly emerged from solitary confinement in front of a computer screen.

In my case, Book Week morphed into three solid weeks of public speaking and conducting writing workshops in schools. There were plenty of memorable moments but one stands out. It reminds me why I write YA fiction.

My second novel, Five Parts Dead, is studied by Yr 10 students at an excellent school in Melbourne’s west. For the past few years I have worked with each class as they studied my story – an experience that tends to be as instructive for me as the young readers.

I’ve known for a while that my first novel, Game as Ned, is studied at a couple of schools. However, I haven’t ever had an invitation to visit and converse with the students. That changed this week.
I spoke to a Yr 8 assembly and tackled a wide range of no-holds-barred questions.

I was particularly chuffed to have teachers tell me that Game as Ned is “a joy to teach” because the students enjoy reading it. But the best piece of feedback came as I headed to the staffroom for a cuppa.

A teacher took me aside to tell me that one of her most reluctant readers had been caught out reading Game as Ned – in a History class, with the book hidden under his desk. Asked why he was reading his English text in History, he said it was because he couldn’t wait to find out what happens next. I call that a win.

Book Week

There’s a parental saying I recall from childhood that arose whenever I asked/proposed something apparently unrealistic, unreasonable, inconvenient or inappropriate. The reply was along the lines of, “What do you think it is, Bush Week?” I quickly came to interpret this as meaning there was no chance of my request/idea eventuating.

Today I Googled the origins of the expression. Seems it refers to a week when wide-eyed bushies visited the city and fell prey to unscrupulous urban scams and rip-off merchants. My parents clearly cast me in the role of the scammer, despite my rural origins.

I’m reminded of the expression mainly because it sounds similar to Book Week. And, yes, this is a time when authors (often introverted and naive like bushies) venture, blinking, out of their garrets and into the wide world to proselytise on the magic of reading and creative writing. For those of us writing for children and young adults it can be the busiest week of the year.

My Book Week kicked off early, chatting to Yr 7 students in Pakenham on Friday. Yesterday I was in Wyndham Vale, as the (kind of) local storyteller accompanying Melina Marchetta, Elizabeth Honey and insideadog.com.au’s Adele Walsh. Tomorrow I’m in Fitzroy, followed by Greenvale (Thurs) and Berwick (Fri).

The following week I’m chatting in Mentone and also chuffed to share a Melbourne Writers’ Festival stage with Alice Pung. Last but not least, I’m trundling down the Western Highway for the Ballarat Writers’ Festival – a brilliant line-up focused entirely on literature for children and young adults. (Think Kirsty Murray, Penni Russon, Kate Constable, Steph Bowe, Leanne Hall, Karen Tayleur, Gabrielle Williams, Maureen McCarthy, Corinne Fenton and many others.)

September promises some other big adventures (details another post) but I’ll round off the month with the A Thousand Words Festival where I’m doing a couple of sessions including, gulp, the keynote address. As I blog this, I’m still open to suggestions on what folks would like to hear about. (At the moment I’m thinking about tackling ‘risk’.) This fledgling festival also puts writing for children and young adults in the spotlight and has some sensational sessions in store. If you’re interested in mingling with authors and illustrators it’s an opportunity to meet the likes of Sally Rippin, Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood & Michael Pryor. The Little Monkey and I attended in 2009 and had a great time.

Come the end of September I reckon I’ll be ready to self-medicate and/or become a hermit. Actually, I’m expecting to be overflowing with ideas and inspired by all these creative encounters. Locking away some rare writing time should be a must.

Speaking of which, folks keep ask me what I’m working on and I give necessarily vague answers. I’m not sure where the current ideas will go when they find water, fertile ground and fresh air. What I can say is my latest piece of published work arrived in the mail last week – a short story in a collection called The New Paper Trails. I was rapt to be asked to submit a story for this textbook and was honoured to find my work surrounded by tales from established authors like Garth Nix and Carole Wilkinson. The book is designed for English teachers with students aged approx 10 to 14. Hopefully it will find its way into teacher resources and a library or two.

Have a great Book Week and watch out for scammers.

Book Week questions

Here’s a belated sample of the questions I answered during Book Week – and my answers, as best as I can recall.

Q: Who are my heroes?
A: Corny as it will sound, my heroes are the folks out there helping people, not for fame or money, but because they can and want to.

There are many authors I admire (generally influenced by what I’m reading) but a stand-out in recent years is Markus Zusak who uses words and tells stories in such unexpected ways (and sells oodles of books doing so).

I also admire His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embraced the role assigned to him as an infant and became a true world leader, emphasising the importance of tolerance, empathy, compassion and arguing for the independence of the Tibetan people.

My Dad deserves a shout-out here, too. He’s a selfless man of peace who has followed his beliefs for a lifetime.

Q: Which superhero do you think would be funniest to write a spoof story about?
A: Now that’s my kind of question. I’d have to say the Hulk because he’s green and only has superpowers when he’s chucking a tantrum.

Q: How can I improve my vocabulary?
A: Wow. Read widely, then read some more. Use a dictionary when you find a word you don’t recognise or understand. And listen to people, too. Listening to how people speak is a great way of learning A) new words* and B) how to write dialogue. (*You probably won’t need everything you hear.)

Q: How do I make a short story longer?
A: For starters, short isn’t necessarily bad. I don’t believe in ‘padding’ – writing extra words just to meet a word count. Your story should determine the number of words you require. If you’ve written something that isn’t important to the story, define and delete it. If in doubt, cut it out.

However, if you want to enhance your story, rather than pad it, think about the characters? What do they want? What’s stopping them getting what they want? This should open up new ideas to explore.

Q: Do I ever feel embarrassed writing about myself/putting my own life into stories?
A: (Smiling) I’ve never deliberately set out to write about myself although bits of me and my life do creep into stories. In Game as Ned the story settings were based on places I had lived, worked or visited on holiday.

In Five Parts Dead the lighthouse setting was inspired by a family holiday and the five near-death experiences were built from things that actually happened to me. I think authors are like bowerbirds. We shamelessly take/borrow/pilfer bright and shiny ideas from all around us and use them in stories. Some of those things might just be from our own lives.

Q: Do I believe in ghosts?
A: I’m not entirely sure. I do believe in places where a sense of history lingers close to the present, so we can almost feel the people that lived before us. I’ve also had people tell me ghostly tales of things they have seen, things I can’t explain. I used a couple of these spooky stories in Five Parts Dead.

Pretty good questions, all of them. Thanks to the students who were brave enough to pick my brain or approach me for a chat.