Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

empathy machines

This post is fresh from my dusty Drafts folder … a collection of things I wanted to say but didn’t.

The horrific events in Christchurch are a reminder that decent people should speak up more often. Failure to do so can mean public discourse is dominated by blinkered, unbalanced, extremist voices. When these are all we hear, the angry clamour can be normalised. There’s a risk we’ll forget there’s a rational moderate middle ground, inhabited (I believe) by most of the population. Good people are out there. It’s just that they’re too polite or wise to engage and/or publishers know their views don’t work as well as click bait.

Which brings me back to the original purpose for this post. I can’t recall who said it first, but books are empathy tools. Or, to quote Neil Gaiman, ‘little empathy machines’ that make it harder to hate.

I believe in the maxim that it’s best not to judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Books let us inhabit another person’s shoes, head, world…

The titles listed below all deal with immigration issues, asylum seekers and human rights. The content is confronting. It includes torture, murder, starvation, extreme poverty,  death, grief, mental illness and injustice.

All four affected me deeply. Please consider the maturity of readers when recommending these books. Actively debrief those readers but encourage them to keep reading on these subjects.

Because if we don’t understand why some people need to seek safety, ignorance and fear may continue to fester. And that’s dangerous for all of us.

Highly recommended reading:

Book cover for The Bone Sparrow

Treasure trove of tips on writing

Buried within all the trash-squawking and self-promotion on Twitter are some absolute gems. One of the best Twitter feeds I’ve found if you have a creative bent, write or simply enjoy the beautiful and unusual, comes from @brainpicker.

Tweets from @brainpicker point to the Brain Pickings website edited/curated by Maria Popova, an “interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large”. What a brilliant job description. Every creative writer should aspire to something similar. If you’re not curious and actively seeking the interesting, you’re unlikely to be finding tales that people will want to read.

I’m late to the Brain Pickings party so you may have read their treasure trove of tips on writing already. Even if this is the case, they’re worth revisiting.

You can find 8 great tips from Kurt Vonnegut here. I particularly liked #5.

Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing can be found here. I have #1 covered but need to work on the rest.

Neil Gaiman’s 8 simple (but not easy) tips are here.

Incidentally, while I’m on writing tips, several wordly friends have referred me to Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d already downloaded the sample chapters but must get to the rest.

And if you’re cool with writing tips being as blunt and brutal as a Deadwood script (but funnier), check out Chuck Wendig’s 250 Things You Should Know About Writing.

After a prolonged word drought, I’m back to yarn spinning and telling tall tales. I’m at Neil Gaiman’s rule #2: “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

That feels like progress.

On life getting in the way of the next story

Not a lot of creative writing going on for me lately.

At my ‘real job’, I’ve been learning about complex medical procedures, various ailments and where anarchic commas hide. Lots of editing. Lots of work.

I jot down ideas for stories, or moments in stories, but rarely have time to add flesh to these bony fragments.

When I’m feeling fraudulent about still being an author, I have to remind myself that Five Parts Dead is less than 12 months old. Sure, there are other authors pumping out more than a book a year but circumstances mean I’m not one of them. To folks waiting for the next book, I’m sorry, it’s going to be a while.

That’s why this 2009 post from Neil Gaiman gives me some comfort. In answering a reader query about another author taking his time to write a much-anticipated sequel, Mr Gaiman said the following:

“And sometimes, and it’s as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply don’t feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the backup drive as well…

“And life is a good thing for a writer. It’s where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it.”

It’s true. I’ve had other stuff going on, although the cat now refuses to levitate while my head is turned in his direction.

And I’ve been watching life. Listening and wondering…

Does a masseur read the life stories written under their fingertips in the braille of tired and injured muscles?

Why do strangers always look at the floor in lifts? What if they didn’t?

And one day life will make space for the writing to flow again.

Books for Boys 3

I’ve had a few invitations lately to talk about books for boys. It’s a topic I’m passionate about and all too pleased to tackle. Hey, I’ve been reading for a long time now and I truly believe certain books have made me the person I am. That’s how important finding the right books can be.

On Tuesday night (International Women’s Day) I spoke to approximately 40 fathers and Year 7 sons, at St Bernard’s College in Essendon, on this exact topic. It was a great turnout, given the guys could have been home watching Top Gear on tele. I probably rambled on too long but that’s the risk when I’m recommending books to read.

Several of the father’s present asked me to publish the list of books that I spoke about so here it is. As time permits, I’ll add synopses for the stories as well. Those marked GN are graphic novels.

For primary age readers:

The Dumb Bunnies series, the Captain Underpants series, Dogzilla all by Dav Pikey.

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

For upper primary – lower secondary:

The Samurai Kids series by Sandy Fussell

The OK Team series by Nick Place

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

Rapunzel and Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale (GN)

Chess Nuts by Julia Lawrinson

The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection by various authors including Stan Lee (GN)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Vulture’s Gate by Kirsty Murray

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

The Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden

The Spook’s Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

For mid to upper secondary readers:

Boys of Blood & Bone by David Metzenthen

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

The Cave by Susanne Gervay

Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming by Scot Gardner, not to mention Gravity and all Scot’s other books

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller (GN)

Fighting Ruben Wolf; The Underdog; The Messenger – all by Markus Zusak who is better known for The Book Thief

Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska by John Green

Ten Mile River by Paul Griffin

The Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn (book 1 Across the Nightingale Floor)

Kill the Possum by James Moloney

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

The Beginner’s Guide to Living by Lia Hills

Bladerunner by Philip K Dick (alternate title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

And can I throw in Game as Ned and Five Parts Dead by me?

A few quick comments:

– Most of these are great books for female readers, too. Some have tough and inspiring female protagonists. They just happen to be books that I think will work with male reader for some of the reasons I explain in this post.

– I’m biased toward fiction but if your son prefers non-fiction, find what interests him and go with that. I’ll post more on this in future as several people asked how to get their sons reading fiction.

– Graphic novels are a great way to suck people into reading stories because they feel more like TV. My favourite iPad app comes from Comixology and lets me select from a massive range of graphic novels, with many samples for free. For example, Bladerunner, cited above, has been serialised as a graphic novel, under the original title. I’m also looking at some of Frank Miller’s earlier work on Wolverine. Comics on offer include age ratings in case you’re concerned your offspring might select something too edgy.

– There are other highly recommended books I could include, such as Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series. I haven’t read these yet so, until I do, they don’t make the cut.

Hopefully you’ll find something on the list you and your sons can agree on and enjoy. After all, if you both read a book, there’s common ground for a conversation.