Tag Archives: Game as Ned

Where I’m at

Author versus self-confidence
Author versus self-confidence

Thunder Road readers are overdue an explanation. For the purposes of this exercise I’m seeing you guys as the parent while I play the recalcitrant teen:

You: “Where have you been?”
Me: “Out.”
You: “What have you been doing?”
Me: “Nothing.” (Checking phone.) “Stuff.”
You: “Don’t look at your phone while I’m speaking to you! I’ve been worried sick about you. You drop off the radar, you don’t call to say where you are or when you’ll be back. And when I ask what you’ve been up to, I get, ‘Nothing’… It’s not good enough!”
Me: (Shuffling feet.) “Got it.”
You: “I’m going to need to see some changes. If you want to be treated as a responsible adult, you need to show me you can behave like one.”
Me: “Yep.”
Pause
Me: “What’s for dinner?”

Apologies for casting blog readers as parents. You don’t need that sort of pressure. The real heat is on yours truly because it’s almost a year since I posted that I’d finished a manuscript. What the heck has happened since then?

Before I answer that, I probably need to fill in some gaps. Provide some context.

The years that I spent writing Game as Ned and Five Parts Dead I worked part time for a website run by an author-tolerant employer. When I had a publisher deadline, I worked less paid hours than usual or stacked my hours differently so I could clear my head for writing/rewriting/editing/rewriting.

When the website got taken over by a big company I had to change my approach and behave, like, all grown-up and professional to keep my job. When the big company was consumed by a monster company, my workload and responsibilities grew proportionately more intense.

About this time, I discovered I was unwell. I had one operation and learned I needed another, plus some clever treatment, to get things back to where my family and I could sleep easier. After much deliberation, I quit my job to concentrate on rest and recovery.

Best laid plans
The vision was to get healthy while working part-time on several freelance gigs and writing my next novel. I did a heap of writing, including belting out a concept and three chapters of an ill-fated side project. But I was naive about a) how much I’d be affected by the surgery and treatment and, b) how ambitious a project this story is. As I posted here, the manuscript is the longest thing I’ve ever written. It may be Book 1 of several or a third of a long book. I don’t know. Smarter brains than mine may make that decision.

Anyway, I was getting close to finishing a draft when I got a job offer out of the blue. At that stage I hadn’t had a regular income for 1.5 years. It didn’t feel like I could say no to any form of legal employment.

Before I fronted up for day one back in Corporate Land I took the terrifying* step of sending my story to three people. (*Sending a whittled chunk of your imagination out from the shade and safety of your workshop into the sunlight is daunting. Really sleep-wrecking scary. Because if it’s crap, you’re about to find out.)

Person 1 read the manuscript and felt it needed more work. Person 1 was correct. And then I panicked. I was freaking out that a) my story was rubbish, b) I’d lost any ability to write and c)I’d wasted all that time. I asked persons 2 and 3 to stop reading and clutched my manuscript back to my chest.

Detour
Then I put a collared shirt back on and fronted up to an office.

It’s been almost a year back in a job-land. Authoring has had to take a back seat to parenting, partnering, staying healthy and earning a grown-up wage.

All that time, the story has been growing inside me. The characters have been maturing, making decisions and altering their futures. The universe has been evolving. I’ve been increasingly antsy and eager to dive back in.

Last week I took unplanned leave and ploughed through another draft. Then sent it to Person 3 again, plus Person 4. Still scary. I’m clueless as to whether it’s any good or how much panel-beating is required.

But I’m closer than I was a week ago.

Book Week: Hits & memories

When students ask about my ‘writing process’, I sometimes tell them about spending three months in a shed to finish the manuscript for Game as Ned. No Internet, no email, no music. Phone switched off. Very quiet. Very productive.

When I describe this regime, I see teen audience members recoil. ‘That must have been torture’, their frowns say to me. ‘Why would you put yourself through anything so gruelling?’ Social media deprivation would appear to be more dastardly than water-boarding.

Truth be told, many an author would beg shamelessly for regular access to a quiet space with minimal distractions and the chance to listen, uninterrupted, to the voices in their head. These moments are golden. Silence is when the imagination is best able to flex its muscles.

That’s why there’s an element of relief when the peak public speaking period of the year is over and normal writing routines can be resumed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an excellent month sharing in Book Week and other literacy events. Getting out and talking about writing and the power of story is an important part of my job. But when I’m immersed in a manuscript and nearing the end, part of me just wants to lock myself away and get the job done.

Assuming the planets align, the cat is not having a bad fur day and those ninja assassins don’t uncover my whereabouts, my plan for tomorrow is to plunge back into my fictitious universe. That’s why I need to report back to you all now – before I return to the bunker.

Book Week (Month) throws up all sorts of incidents but I’ll leave you with three that made an impression on me:

1. I watched as a boy was suspended indefinitely from a school after being caught wielding a knife at another student. I didn’t see the incident, only the aftermath. But, studying the face of the alleged offender, I couldn’t help wondering what led to him taking a weapon to school. My gut feeling is that his back story would be very powerful indeed.

2. A student who had been studying Game as Ned¬†was asked to write an epilogue or extra chapter for classwork. She shared it with me after a writing workshop and it was fantastic. I was blown away by the life she’d given characters after the story I gave them ended. Kudos, big time.

3. Schools are complicated, sometimes chaotic places and the bane of the teacher and public speaker has to be the regular mid-class public announcements along the lines of, ‘Excuse me, staff and students, would George Thessaloniki please attend the office at recess because his mum has dropped off his cardigan’ or, ‘Would the following students attend the vice principal’s office immediately for post-camp tattoo removal.’

My favourite PA interjection of the month went as follows: “Attention staff and students! I apologise for the following interruption.”

And that was it. No news bulletin. No fire drill. Just a random, but polite, interruption. Job done. You’ve got to laugh.

Many thanks to all the librarians, English teachers and students who have hosted me, not just in the past month but throughout this year. I’ve had great fun.

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YA fiction: The dark side

It’s a perennial yarn. Someone easily shocked or offended picks up a work of Young Adult fiction and reels at the contents. Horrified that their innocent young darling could be corrupted by such truth-telling, they quickly fire off a complaint to the library/school council/education department/all of the above. A cranky letter to a local newspaper follows and before you know it there’s a story cobbled together asking whether YA fiction is too dark and dangerous for young people to read.

As a journo and YA author I follow these stories with particular interest. These days I’m more author than journalist so I was amused/bemused by a recent media request to discuss this exact topic. The piece was due to run in a Fairfax weekend mag but I’m yet to spot it. (Please shoot me a link if you’ve seen it.)

One of the points I failed to make during the interview is that I grew up in an era where there was no YA section in bookstores or libraries. In the school libraries I frequented, once you were beyond Enid Blyton and had scaled the heights of Ivan Southall and Colin Thiele, you were fast running out of options. In town, the library bus visited fortnightly. While my younger siblings pillaged the limited children’s selection I was free to range the semi-trailer and make my own choices. Invariably I returned home accompanied by Stephen King, James Clavell or James Herbert – guys who didn’t exactly bubble wrap the darkness and violence in their stories. I don’t believe I’m any the worse for reading their work before I turned 18 or 21 or whatever age you’re allowed to know the world isn’t entirely Blyton-esque.

My own YA novels draw heavily on my experiences as a journalist and subsequently contain dark matter. I make careful choices about what I include and how explicit I should be. I also borrow from history as true stories often can’t be topped. It’s rare that I get a complaint. (For the record, I did get one a few weeks back from a reader disturbed by one of the historic elements I used in Five Parts Dead. I’d forewarned him the books were intended for older children and told his parents to read ahead of him… Interestingly, he preferred Game as Ned, which I feel is even more confronting. We clearly have different sensitivities.)

One of the things I did refer to when interviewed was the short story competition I judge annually. The entrants are 12 to 18 years of age and heavily skewed towards the 13-14 year old bracket. The topics are of their own choice – serving as a free window into teen thinking. Having just finished the judging, here are the topics covered this year and the number of young people who tackled them:

A favourite from my adolescent years. I've read this many times.
A favourite from my adolescent years. I’ve read this many times.

  • Bullying (4)
  • Cancer/disease/mental illness (5)
  • Divorce/family breakdown (6)
  • Family/travel/good times (7)
  • Heartbreak/love (8)
  • Horror (8)
  • Murder/kidnapping/crime (4)
  • Natural disaster (1)
  • Road fatalities (5)
  • Sci-fi (5)
  • Suicide (3)
  • War (6)

I could rail on about fiction being a safe space to explore and gain insight into the dark side of life but I think that list renders my comments redundant. Many young people portray a world that is considerably crueler than I could dream up.

So I’ll keep on writing the stories that feel right to me. Hopefully, to quote one of my former editors, my stories will show that even in dark places the light can shine through.

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.