Tag Archives: John Marsden

The seat-belt sign is on

Please resume your seats, fasten your seat-belts and switch off any electrical appliances that may interfere with the on-board navigation.

After a week of turbulence and unexpected requests, I’m pausing to review the diary for the month ahead. On top of the usual toils I am adding the following (with more likely to come):

By the end of the month I may well be as mad as the proverbial March Hare. I may also need to detour from the Thunder Road while these extra duties call. If this site seems idle, you know where to find me.

The edge has moved (but it’s still sharp)

Back when Game as Ned was being pitched to various publishers, there was feedback that a particular scene in the story, a vicious and violent assault, might be considered “too edgy”. This feedback didn’t come from the editorial wings of companies. It came from the marketing divisions who thought it might limit their potential sales.

I’d already come under fire for my writing of the scene and had reworked it extensively. The moment isn’t graphic and I maintained it was integral to the story. Sometimes it takes a major incident such as this assault to be the catalyst for character action and growth.

I do wonder what rock the marketing folks are living under. In my visits to schools this year I have had extensive contact with teen readers, teachers and librarians. Some schools have been a tad squeamish about bad language in (other) YA fiction but none have raised the assault scene with me.

I can confidently say that teens are way more worldly than when I was in secondary school – more hardened to the “edgier” aspects of life. Whether this is a good thing is a debate for another time but check out the bleak-but-brilliant UK TV series Skins if you want a sense of where some YA kids are at today.

Some of the best YA titles published cover the big issues, fearlessly and without marketing spin. Here are just a few that pull no punches:
Before I Die
How I Live Now
Kill the Possum
So Much to Tell You

And there are plenty more.

I can offer further insight into the teen mind to let the marketing folks out there know that “edgy” isn’t what it used to be. For the past five years I have judged the secondary school short story competition for a rural show (that’s a country fair for any US readers). Here is the list of topics tackled by the year 8, 9 and 10 entrants for 2008:

  • Loneliness/abandonment (x 3)
  • Poverty/homelessness (x 4)
  • Domestic violence (x 2)
  • Disability
  • Bullying (x 4)
  • Fatal illness
  • Suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Heartbreak (x 2)
  • We also had plane crash carnage, Viking pillagers, truancy, fantasy and a rare but joyous hint of humour.

In the years I’ve been reading these stories, domestic violence, suicide and bullying have featured prominently. The teen years can be a dark place.

Books for boys

An invitation to speak at a book-flavoured breakfast for fathers and sons this week saw me cover a couple of topics – a brief version of my Melbourne Writers’ Festival chat on Ned Kelly and a rundown of the books that I enjoyed reading as a lad. For good measure, I threw in those that I’ve read recently and would recommend to male readers.

Some of the fathers have since requested the list and it goes as follows:

John Wyndham cover
John Wyndham cover

Childhood favourites
To the Wild Sky – Ivan Southall
Biggles books generally – Capt W.E. Johns (mainly because my Dad had oodles of these.)
A Pictorial History of Bushrangers – Tom Prior et. al
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series – C.S. Lewis
Asterix books – Goscinny & Uderzo (a great way to learn wordplay and puns)
Tintin books – Herge (Is this why I became a reporter?)
The Chrysalids / The Trouble with Lichen / The Midwich Cuckoos … anything by John Wyndham
The Stand – Stephen King
Blade Runner – Philip K Dick (actual book title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
1984 – George Orwell
A Kindness Cup – Thea Astley (a book that I believe still influences my life)
The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien

And while I forgot to mention them on Thursday, I’d also include just about all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.

Current recommendations for YA readers
The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling (more fun to read to my son than solo)
Tomorrow When the War Began series – John Marsden (favourite book Burning for Revenge)
Boys of Blood & Bone – David Metzenthen
Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori series) – Lian Hearn
Samurai Kids series (White Crane, Owl Ninja, others to follow) – Sandy Fussell (My son and I got a lot of laughs out of these books.)
Gravity – Scot Gardner (also One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming)
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Fighting Ruben Wolfe – Markus Zusak
The Messenger – Markus Zusak

Of course, there are plenty more titles that have inspired and informed me. When I work out the technology, I hope to post a library shelf to show you what’s currently on my bedside table.

Happy reading.

NB: This post has attracted a LOT of eyeballs. For those who are interested, here’s a follow up post where I expand on my ideas about boys and reading.

To check out my personal library, click here. I have added a Books for Boys tag to anything I think cuts the mustard.