Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Leaking lists

Newspaper editors around Australia must be besides themselves with joy that the WikiLeaks story has broken during the silly season when news can be hard to come by. We do have the Poms belting us black and blue at cricket but that can only fill so many pages. Other perennial summer yarns include the road toll (tick) and wild weather (tick, tick, tick). In the bygone era of aggro industrial relations you could usually count on a beer and/or postal strike to liven up the pre-Christmas period, too.

Without such staples, newspapers, magazines and current affairs shows fill up with Top 10s and Best Ofs. Many blogs do, too.

Before I conducted my 2010 autopsy, I delved a little to see what influences have lingered. Here are the 2009 and 2008 entries. Hey, at least I can show I listened to Angus & Julia Stone before they became mainstream cool.

Ms Adele at Persnickety Snark suggested 11 Top 5s to countdown to 2011 but I’m going to have to settle for this mutated selection from her list, because I clearly haven’t read as quickly or widely:

5 Great Covers: Kirsty Murray’s India Dark, Leanne Hall’s This is Shyness, Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Karen Tayleur’s Six and, dare I say, my Five Parts Dead (thanks to Chong at Text Publishing).

5 Great Series: Based on reading these with my son, Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant Series, Sandy Fussell’s Samurai Kids series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Based on my own reading of the first book in the series – Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Joseph Delaney’s The Spook’s Apprentice.

5 Great Re-Reads (books you’ve LOVED so much you went back for more): These aren’t YA fiction but this year I found myself re-reading Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore, Neil Gaiman’s Instructions, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Dav Pilkey’s The Dumb Bunnies and lots of Dr Seuss with my daughter. I am planning to re-read Markus Zusak’s The Messenger real soon, though.

Most Anticipated (2011 titles): Sheesh, I’m still working my way through a backlog of titles. Books I can’t wait to consume come from 2010 and even further back and include Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, Scot Gardner’s Happy As Larry, Kirsty Murray’s India Dark, Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Lian Hearn’s Heaven’s Net is Wide, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Kate Constable & Penni Russon’s Dear Swoozie, Fiona Wood’s Six Impossible Things, Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy and Kevin Keefe’s Paddy’s Road: Life Stories of Patrick Dodson. Sally Rippin’s Angel Creek is a genuine 2011 title I’m keen to read.

But that’s just the tip of the bedside table stack. One of the apps on the iPad that makes me feel 11 all over again is the ComiXology store where I have already downloaded enough graphic novels to keep me going until next summer.

5 Great YA Bloggers
Authors – Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, Kirsty Murray, Penni Russon, Simmone Howell. Passionate book people – Book Gryffin, InkCrush, Miffy, Persnickety Snark, ReadPlus. There are countless others – but these snare me most frequently.

5 Books I Thoroughly Enjoyed in 2010 (but could have been published any time): Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Joel Deane’s The Norseman’s Song and Simmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful.

The funniest thing I’ve read all year was a chapter in Rene Goscinny’s Nicholas about a teacher doing yard duty at a boys’ school after several days of wet-day timetable. Absolute gold.

Favourite Films from 2010: Up In The Air, The Social Network, Animal Kingdom, Toy Story 3, The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. (Runners up: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, The Hurt Locker, HP7, Inception.)

On Regular Rotation in 2010: Clare Bowditch, The Jezabels, Angus & Julia Stone, Arcade Fire, Whitley, Ben Folds and (still) Bon Iver.

On The Idiot Box: This year I bought a box set of The Wire and became a wirehead whenever free-to-air failed to grab me. Great stuff.

One show that entertained, upset, challenged and inspired me was The United States of Tara. The most recent series of Skins faltered somewhat but I’m still stunned it’s getting re-made in the US. Cue wail of anguish. Nooooooooo! Australian Story is consistently good. Channel 9 desecrated Top Gear.

Thanks list: In a year when I’ve had a new book released, I am acutely aware of the support I need from booksellers, reviewers, Text Publishing, speakers’ agency Booked Out, teachers, librarians, fellow authors, friends and family. Thank you all for being in my corner. I appreciate it.

Have a safe, jolly Christmas and may 2011 see your dreams come to fruition.

UPDATE: Whoops, I’ve added some titles that slipped my foggy mind first time around. And FYI, here’s the New York Times list of Notable Children’s Books of 2010.

Take your time and read it aloud

During the editing phase of Five Parts Dead, one of the things the publisher asked me to do was to read my entire manuscript aloud.

It was good advice and it’s something that I regularly encourage students to do, too. Whether you’re writing fiction, poetry, a speech, book review or essay, it’s always worth going to a quiet room and carefully reading your work aloud. Why? Because if you stumble on an awkward sentence when reading in private, it will snag you like barbed wire when you read it in public. If someone else is reading your writing, someone less familiar with the content than you are, I guarantee they’ll find it even harder to negotiate.

Just as stand-up comedians hone their routines over and over, you need to do the same to ensure the rhythm is right, the words flow and your intended meaning is clear.

I was present at the State Library in May 2008 when Neil Gaiman read from his page proofs for the multi-award-winning The Graveyard Book. He said: “It’s always nice to read stuff in public that you haven’t read before because you find out … that sentences that looked good on the page are impossible to read aloud.”

Another reason to read your work aloud is to highlight repetition.* If you have overused a word or words, you should pick this up quickly. I know that when Game as Ned was turned into an audio book, and I heard actors reading my work for the first time, I became acutely sensitive to particular words that seemed to recur in every second sentence. I also winced at a few phrases and wished I’d polished them more.

So, read your work again. Aloud. And don’t worry about sounding like a goose, talking to yourself. If you’re going to be a writer you’re going to have to get used to the sound of your own voice.

*Here’s another handy tool for picking up repetition. Online software such as Wordle creates ‘word clouds’ that enable visual analysis of your written vocabulary. You might be surprised by words that fly under your editing radar.

Re Tweeting

Twitter is the online equivalent of a pack of licorice all-sorts. There are tweets that trigger a frenzy – replies, follows, retweets, click throughs, outrage, excitement and more. These are those aniseedy jelly blobs covered in 100s and 1000s sprinkles that are snatched first from the lolly bowl.

There are tweeters that are consistently insightful, informative and fun – the dependable striped cubes from the allsorts pack. Good value in sensible quantities.

And there are those that serve up the plain licorice chunks that are always left in the bowl until they go green and leathery. Twisted and you’ll wish you didn’t indulge.

I embraced Twitter reluctantly but quickly became a convert. There’s a poetry to many snapshot tweets and often an honesty that comes with paring yourself to 140 characters. By following specific groups I feel part of those communities. I get updates and insights into the lives of other authors, journos, artists and more – including some that show me the super successful struggle with and/or celebrate the same things as me.

For instance, Neil Gaiman posted this as I was drafting this post:

@neilhimself: If there is a feeling better than that strange moment when a stalled story unsticks and becomes inevitable, I do not know what it could be.

Neil Gaiman has written novels for adults and children, comic books, screenplays, picture books and more. I attended an event at the State Library when fans waited three hours for his autograph. Yet he and I have something in common. I have sat and waited with a story I’m working on. Waited for the pieces of the plot to fall into place. Waited for closure.

The moment when understanding arrives is probably short of rapture but it feels mighty fine.

Other Twitter moments that struck a chord with me follow. I might add to this list as suitable tweets occur.

@parisreview: “The good thing about writing books is that you can dream while you are awake.” – Murakami (Interviews Vol. 4 http://bit.ly/3zPzeV)

@parisreview: “Writing is making sense of life.” -Nadine Gordimer http://bit.ly/4DHqMl

@parisreview: Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer ā€” he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. -E.B. White

@tomwaits: Writing songs is like capturing birds w/o killing them. Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers.

@tomwaits: Iā€™d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy. http://www.tomwaits.com

And

@PaulSherwen: Good African Proverb for today: If you get chased up a tree by a buffalo – enjoy the view.

Writing and reading to an exclusive audience

Readers of this blog might have noticed the Little Dragon and I are huge fans of Sandy Fussell’s Samurai Kids series. As is often the case, knowing the inspiration for a story can make the actual stories even more engaging.

Here’s the skinny on Sandy’s stories from Book Chook. It tells how Sandy started writing because she wanted books her sons would read. Sounds like mighty fine motivation to me.

I’ve been lucky thus far that the Little Dragon is a keen reader. (His personal preference is for manga and other graphic novels.) I read to him almost every night and, apart from Sandy’s series, we’ve ripped through the Harry Potter tomes (I skipped the adverbs to save time), The Hobbit, the excellent Skulduggery Pleasant books and various others. On the go now are Howl’s Moving Castle and Emily the Strange: The Lost Days. We’ll probably do Neil Gaimain’s The Graveyard Book soon because a) I’ve read it and it’s far less scary than Coraline and b) the Little Dragon has a taste for horror that can’t be explained by his immediate gene-pool.

For me, the best bit about reading aloud, apart from encouraging a love of story, is that the text takes on new meanings. My son also helps me see humour and nuances I might not have picked up. By way of example, he thinks Gandalf is hilarious.

The Little Monkey is pre-reading but seems equally keen. She insists on “silent reading” after we read to her and often stacks picture books on her bed that thunder to the floor when she falls asleep. Her favourites include Amy & Louis, the Gruffalo books, Milly Molly Mandy (who’d have thought these quaint stories my Mum read as a child would have such a shelf-life?), Roger Hargreaves’ Mr and Little Miss tales … and anything containing babies.

As for writing for the kids, the Little Dragon is most impatient for me to write something suitable for him to read. Five Parts Dead will be closer to the mark than Game as Ned but still not ideal. I do have a few ideas … but lack the time to write them down right now. One day.