Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

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.

Books of influence

Think back through your life. What books have left an indelible mark, good or bad, on your soul? Was there a novel you were forced to digest at school that put you off reading forever after? Is there a non-fiction title that led to an epiphany about your true calling? Did a self-help publication rescue you from a dark place? Is there a work with an unmatched ability to transport you from from the humdrum to a place where you can shed your burdens and relax?

These books don’t have to be your favourites. They don’t need to be great literature, either. They just need to have made an impact that echoes within you today. They might be books you can’t bear to throw away, even though you haven’t picked them up for decades. And they could be the titles that stay on your bedside table so they’re always within reach.

Here are a few that helped make me who am I am, for better or worse, and the reasons why:

Tintin & The Red Sea Sharks – Herge
This was the first graphic novel I laid eyes on. The fact that I can still remember finding it in the Yarram library – a hardcover comic felt like a forbidden fruit – is proof this book spiked the Richter scale of my years. I’ll never know whether I ended up a journo because of the adventures of the unstoppable boy reporter but I have my suspicions.

Asterix the Gaul – Goscinny & Uderzo
I moved from Tintin to the Asterix series, which revel in punning and wordplay. During my early tabloid newspaper days I was a rampant punster in inappropriate places. I think the two Frenchmen and their translators are to blame.

To the Wild Sky – Ivan Southall
This novel was young adult before the genre existed. For reasons I’ve detailed elsewhere, it could have led to my becoming an author. Even if it didn’t, it was one of the first books that helped me understand the power of story. And it was Australian, unlike most of the Blyton-esque stories I grew up with.

The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
Wyndham specialised in sci-fi that could be happening in your own backyard. I devoured many of his books. This title made me think what it meant to be different, accepted and able-bodied. It raised questions I hope to explore in my next novel and it certainly led me down a path into social justice journalism.

To Kill A Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
This could be filed with the titles above and below it, under the heading ‘Injustice’. Reading novels such as this, even as compulsory school exercises, made me aware that there are times when you need to speak out, no matter how unpopular that might make you. I was reminded of this courtroom drama recently, when reading Chloe Hooper’s excellent and upsetting The Tall Man.

A Kindness Cup – Thea Astley
I did a unit on ‘justice’ in either Year 11 or 12 and this was one of the set texts. It was certainly the first I’d heard of massacres of indigenous Australians. The injustice evident in this tale has stayed with me ever since and influenced my years at university and as a newspaper journalist.

1984 – George Orwell
Also school reading. At some level I think this made me realise the people in power don’t necessarily deserve to be there and should be scrutinised and held accountable for their actions.

Shogun – James Clavell
One of the towns I lived in as a teenager had a mobile library visit fortnightly in a semi-trailer, adding to the exotic appeal of any space full of stories. Thanks to that truck I dabbled with Stephen King, James Herbert, Ian Fleming and other authors that the librarian cocked an eyebrow at. This Hollywood-esque saga was the first time I was so completely transported to another culture to experience adventure, honour and sexuality. I’ve probably read it three or four times since.

A House for Mr Biswas – VS Naipul
I tackled English literature at university and didn’t exactly love it. There weren’t many books I had to read that I enjoyed. I’m not even sure I enjoyed this one but I’ve never forgotten it. It led me to other titles such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. When I first had the chance to travel internationally it was India I ventured to.

The Art of Happiness – The Dalai Lama with Howard C. Cutler
One of my friends remarked that this book taught him to be a man and how to deal with anger. I wouldn’t go quite that far but I would say it has made me think about who and how I want to be.

Thank you to the lovely Julia Lawrinson for prompting this post in her blog.

Incidentally, last year I did a Facebook 15 Books in 15 Minutes list, with a slightly different brief … and came up with a slightly different catalogue. If I were to list authors that have influenced me, that would be a different list again. Maybe that’s a challenge for another post. In the meantime I’d love to hear about books that have left a mark on the inner you.