Tag Archives: John Marsden

Gobbling up goshness

Click on this link for a sweet piece from acclaimed poet and author Cate Kennedy on the oddities and inconsistencies of language through the eyes of a child.

Cate’s point is well made. By stiffly following convention we stifle creativity. We miss out on unexpected and fresh combinations of words-ideas-sounds-images that have the power of new. I’ve never forgotten a poem from a fellow second year creative writing student (way back when) who wrote of the “goshness” of a kitten exploring its world. It’s not a word you’ll find in a dictionary but we all know what it means.

Delivering goshness is one reason I admire Markus Zusak’s work so much. It’s why I will sit through a car review from Jeremy Clarkson knowing I’ll never drive the vehicle he describes but I can still savour the language he employs to explain his motoring experience.

A few years back John Marsden wrote an article arguing that we shouldn’t tell children that cows moo, ducks quack and so on. Why? Because we might be implanting conventions when a child might find its own altogether better way to depict those sounds. A new way of describing something isn’t a wrong way.

As Cate says, it’s a parenting conundrum. We want to equip our children for the world they live in. But sometimes it’s better if they colour outside the lines.

Adult Readers, YA Books

This article in Louisville, Kentucky’s, Courier Journal was tweeted to me recently. It discusses the growing numbers of adult readers consuming so-called Young Adult fiction.

I don’t think it’s a new thing. I do think it’s a good thing and not just for the obvious, self-interested reason. As I wrote in one of my first ever blog posts a good story is a good story. It should contain truths for readers of all ages, especially the young-adult-at-heart.

When I complete a manuscript for my novels I shop it around to friends and family for feedback. My oldest test reader is almost 100 so it’s an incredible effort for her to read an A4 manuscript. She doesn’t care that the protagonists are teens. She’s all about the story.

For Five Parts Dead my other test readers included a Tarot-reading friend with experience in matters spiritual and paranormal, two obliging teenagers, two or three Kangaroo Island locals, a secondary teacher, a crime-fiction addicted masseuse, my parents and my Tarot-reading wife. Everyone brought different experiences and opinions to their reading and the finished product will be better for their input.

I’m getting off the track. There are lots of pros and not too many cons to being a YA author. Here are a few:

– There’s a certain snobbery out there. Writing for adults seems to be considered more prestigious than writing for children or teenagers.

– Australia has numerous fantastic YA authors yet, as multi-award-winning YA wordsmith Simmone Howell has pointed out, we don’t see them on the tele. John Marsden might be the exception to that rule and even with that exposure few Australians appreciate the international superstar John is.

– The YA aisle tends to be tucked away in the back of bookstores so adult readers are less likely to browse or even enter the teen zone unless they know what they’re looking for.

– I suspect adult fiction attracts better advance$ than YA. Guess I won’t really know until I write a grown up book.

– Hey, everyone says teens are reluctant readers. The teens I talk to aren’t. Whatever the case, I’m rapt if I can get any reader to persevere from the front to back cover of my stories – but uber-impressed when I hear from a teenager who says “your book is the first I ever read”.

– As Cory Doctorow says, it’s an honour to be telling stories for and about young people during such a formative part of their lives. There are books I read as a teenager that have had an indelible impact on the person I am today.

– Writing for YA readers helps preserve the Peter Pan in my mind.

– I get to visit schools and work with fantastically creative young minds before the adult world pummels them into jaded and world-weary submissiveness.

– It’s a great time to be writing YA fiction thanks to JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Lian Hearn, Markus Zusak and countless other “crossover” authors.

I could go on. I won’t. I’m chuffed to be a YA author… or stoked, as some might say.

Next time you’re out to buy a book, please give the YA shelves a gander, regardless of the date on your birth certificate.

Vexed on sex

Back in May I attended a hypothetical session entitled “So you want to be a YA writer?” Run by the State Centre for Youth Literature as part of their annual Reading Matters convention, it was a fun night.

The hypothetical YA manuscript up for discussion included a bodice-ripping lesbian sex scene, prompting the question ‘How far do you go in relating sexual encounters in YA fiction?’

One of the author panellists was lost for words. Another, New Zealand’s Bernard Beckett, essentially said “Go for it. It’s important. It’s on the minds of teens.”

A representative of the Penguin marketing team cited the Twilight series and said the safest bet is to go for URST (unresolved sexual tension) rather than explicit encounters.

I like the URST option, partly because writing these scenes without sounding cliched, crude or gynaecological is tough. URST is also a reason to keep reading. We all want to know whether the “unresolved” ever loses the prefix.

Alternatively, I introduce the idea, tease a little and then drop the curtain. Sometimes the reader’s imagination is the author’s best friend.

John Marsden writes about adolescent sexuality matter of factly in his Tomorrow series. Scot Gardner does it really well in his Wayne books (One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming). There’s nudity, desire, humour, anxiety and absurdity. It’s utterly believable and never crass.

Then there’s Tim Winton’s Breath. I highly recommend this book to male readers because the narrator lives and breathes that phase of adolescence when immortality (seemingly) applies and risk is appraised differently from any other stage of life.

My reservation in recommending the book is in one of the ways the risk-taking manifests. As a journo, I’m aware of stories of teenagers experimenting with erotic asphyxiation – and justified police alarm at the numbers of deaths and near-fatalities. We’re all aware of the celebrity cases that went tragically awry.

In recommending Breath, which is a terrific read, do I risk a teenager absorbing the novel and then doing some experimenting at home? If so, how culpable am I if things go terribly wrong?

I guess the same reader could admire the surfing scenes and then drown searching for the perfect break. Would I feel responsible then too?

Here’s part of what Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan had to say about Breath on July 13:

“Winton does not simply exploit erotic asphyxiation for dramatic purpose; he tries to understand why people, like the extreme surfers in his novel, go to the edge of oblivion for pleasure:

It’s like you come back pouring into yourself. Like you’ve exploded and all the pieces of you are reassembling themselves. You’re new. Shimmering. Alive. Unless you’re dead.

“The mainstreaming of erotic asphyxiation in this novel is another element in the process of mainstreaming the values that have exploded out of the largely hidden margins of society thanks to the advent of the internet. The porn industry, more than any other, has been able to export some of its sensibilities into schools and homes, to the point of social conformity among the young.”

I rarely find myself agreeing with Paul Sheehan. I do find myself worrying about the social conformity he refers to. Young people are exposed to sexual material much earlier now. (My five-year-old daughter just requested Lily Allen’s catchy It’s Not Fair on her playlist, prompted by her older brother’s preferred choice of radio stations. I refused.)

As authors, do we write more sexually explicit stories because our readers have greater awareness? Because kids are trying more stuff? I suspect that the answer is yes. Fiction strives to be contemporary.

Should we write more sexualised stories? That’s trickier.

As Bernard Beckett said, sex is on the mind of teenagers. Believable characters will think about it and talk/brag about it. Some of them will actually do it.

So where should an author draw the line? I’m going to sit on the fence and say the plot will determine how explicit the story needs to be.

Mad March update

Hello again, as indicated in the previous post, I expect my progress down the Thunder Road to be spasmodic at best this month.

That said, I can provide a quick update on some of the activities keeping me busy.

– The 90km Benalla bike ride had a real chatty, community feel for the first hour. One cyclist described it to me as “speed dating on wheels”. Once we hit the main hill climb the superstars took off and the bunch splintered. I rode the final 40km solo into a head wind. By the end I felt like I hadn’t ridden at all – just had my buttocks smashed by a meat tenderizer for three hours. Turns out the bitumen is a bit bumpier in the bush compared to the city.

Booktalkers was a thoroughly fun night. It’s always interesting hearing how other authors come up with their ideas. The only bummer was that John Marsden got stuck behind a fallen tree and couldn’t join us on stage. You can read my report on the night, here.

– And yes, as is evident from that last link, I’m now blogging at insideadog and really enjoying it.

– The Coldplay concert was brilliant. All the hits and almost every song from the Viva La Vida album. Acoustic numbers, piano solos, electronica remixes, singalongs and bona fide stadium rock. All without the usual posturing. Superstars without super-egos. Fantastic.

– No news on my manuscript at present.

Will post other updates here as time permits.