Tag Archives: librarians

Save the Aussie book industry!

Further to my previous words on this subject, here’s a link to a petition favouring retaining the status quo in the local book industry.

Whether you’re a reader, writer, retailer, librarian, lyricist, student, screenwriter, teacher, tutor, techie, tradie, poet, publisher or proud of our unique Australian culture, please check it out, print it out and get friends and family to add their signatures to this campaign.



Are librarians an endangered species?

Let’s hope not. Actually, let’s not leave it to hope. Let’s campaign to ensure librarians aren’t casualties of over-stretched school or council budgets. Kids need books and librarians know books best. A recession without good books is a depression, from where I’m sitting.

I reckon I owe a lot to librarians. Partly because I was an advanced reader in primary school and therefore annoying to the teacher flat out dealing with the kids under the bulk of the bell curve. So I regularly got shunted off to the library. There the librarian would match books to my interests or suggest new ideas for me to explore.

This is why I had the title character in Game as Ned spend so much time in the library. I was interested in the idea of stories as a source of courage – so there was no better place to put Ned.

During secondary school and early university I entered some writing competitions and, at one point, ended up getting second prize from a local library. Funnily enough, almost 20 years later, after being made redundant from a full-time job and returning to creative writing part time, I entered the same competition at the same library … and came second again. I prefer to see that as consistency, rather than failing to make progress. (Smiling)

You can find the New York Times article that inspired this post here.
Like every good library, it’s worth a browse.

Celebrity authors

In last weekend’s Sunday Age there was an article about the celebrities-penning-children’s books trend. I really don’t think it’s much of an issue. It’s hardly surprising that someone creative enough to compose songs or comedy scripts could also write a book. Indeed, if a story is strong enough to be published, who cares who wrote it?

On the flip side, there was an inference to be drawn that some of these stories might not have been published if they didn’t have a celebrity name on the cover. I don’t know about that, either. Being famous would certainly make it easier to get your manuscript read by publishers but I doubt it would sway audiences in any significant way.

Afterall, the key consumers insofar as kids books go are librarians, teachers and parents. In my experience they buy books that are good to read aloud and successfully engage children’s attention. The name on the cover, whether it belongs to a duchess or a dancer, counts for very little if the kids won’t sit still and listen.

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.