Tag Archives: Paul Kelly

Encouraging the young wordsmith

Dear Mr Peg, 11 year-old A is forever filling up notebooks with stories she has written. Are there any tools or apps we can use to encourage tweens to keep on writing? Thanks, Risky Business.

Dear Risky Business,

Thanks for your question. It’s excellent that Miss A is shaping as a spinner of yarns. As you know well, storytelling is a skill for life. I can’t think of any job where the ability to connect with people and communicate clearly isn’t a massive advantage. From where I’m sitting, (oddly enough, in a parked car, in a narrow, one-way street near a hockey ground, where someone just called me a strange man… OK, maybe a tale for another day…) these are vital skills to encourage.

Like Miss A, I was an early bloomer as a writer. I have exercise books filled with primary school tales of superheroes, explorers and magic. Then there are the excruciating, angst-ridden adolescent-era diaries, and the gnarled notebooks containing tertiary level crimes against poetry. Decades later, the ideas are captured in electronic notes and, hopefully, the maturity is honed, but the ideas still flow freely.

So what can you do to keep Miss A writing?

#1 Read, read, read
I know you’re already onto this but aim to read with/to Miss A daily. Every book is a lesson in writing and an invitation to imitate and improve. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me this advantage.

When Miss A finishes a piece of writing, encourage her to read it aloud. This is one of the best ways for her to learn about punctuation, language and dialogue. We want to train her ears to hear what works and what needs work. Even if you don’t like everything she’s written, pick something you did enjoy (an image, a character, a sentence…) and praise it.

#2 Train the storytelling muscles
Just as you might throw random times tables questions at the kids to improve their multiplication skills, toss questions at Miss A to feed her imagination. ‘What are those people doing over here? Why? What might they do next?’

Use art works or stories in the news to get started. Why do you think a 12 year-old-boy wanted to drive across Australia?

Take a line from a song and ask Miss A to build a story around it. For example, there’s a Paul Kelly song that says, “I’ve done all the dumb things’. What dumb things did the person do and why?

If you can’t keep up with Miss A’s appetite for ideas, search the Apple AppStore for ‘prompts’. There are plenty of options, including some tailored for young writers. You could also try this website with child-friendly jump-starts.

#3 Go for gold
Google writing competitions for Miss A’s age bracket. They’re not easy to find but they’re out there and they offer cash prizes, opportunities to be published (sometimes) and, best of all, a chance to build confidence and writing fitness. Try libraries, local councils, schools and writing groups. Even supermarket competitions that call for an answer in 25 words or less can be exercises in disciplined creativity.

If she wants to develop endurance and spend a month on one story, there’s a youth edition of National Novel Writing Month (or Nanowrimo).

#4 Find her tribe
As Miss A gets older, there are writing communities to explore. Apps like Wattpad and Tablo are for people who write and want to link with willing readers who consume and comment on their material. I’ve been researching these options since I received your question and I wouldn’t want my 11-year-old hanging out here yet. Not unless she’s into erotic fan fiction about boy band members…

But if she’s willing to travel south for a school holiday workshop, I would highly recommend the 100 Story Building.

And when she’s a little older, you could check out these options:

About Us

http://www.teenink.com/fiction/

http://www.voiceworksmag.com.au/

#5 Be boring parents
It’s easier said than done in a busy household but try to create opportunities for Miss A to find time and space to listen to her imagination. Actively seek silence or give her a nook to retreat to. Boredom can be beneficial. It gives an active mind a reason to go solo and find its own adventures.

Help her to be resilient, too. I’m sure you’re already on to this but she’s going to need this quality to survive as a creative soul. Because writing is a matter of taste and tastebuds differ from reader to reader. Everyone is a potential critic and the WWW and social media are overpopulated with cowardly trolls.

Even away from these toxic influences, confidence dips, soars and disappears for long stints. She’ll need lots of love to help her find her way back to trusting her storytelling instincts. But when she gets back there, it will feel sensational.

Sorry I took so long to answer. And good luck.

Mural photo by Tim Pegler
Keep your eyes open for inspiration

Vale Gough Whitlam

I was lucky enough to go to university for free. It seems unlikely my children will be this fortunate.

I’m blessed to live in a country with universal health care.

I’ve seen the devastation wrought by dispossession from traditional lands (and songlines) and forced separation from families. Consequently, I’m a firm believer in indigenous land rights.

I didn’t grow up in a household that beatified the prime minister responsible for these changes. But I certainly grew up grateful for the social policies Mr Gough Whitlam mustered through the federal parliament.

Similar to the cartoonist First Dog on the Moon, my hope is that our current politicians might be inspired by Mr Whitlam’s lasting legacy and focus on the greater good, rather than mean-spirited ideology.

As Paul Kelly and Kev Camody wrote, even small changes can make a big difference.

A Springsteen soundtrack to the years

Two albums provided the soundtrack to my final years in secondary school. Prince’s Purple Rain was epic, eccentric ’80s pop. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA was gritty rock’n’roll stories of blue collar struggles and broken dreams. Prince’s characters were all mascara, lavender and lace. Springsteen’s were denim and dust and could have stepped from a Steinbeck novel.

I played both albums so many times I knew every note. School finished. I became a labourer and university student. New friends and long car trips made for evolving musical tastes. Albums like The Triffid’s Born Sandy Devotional, Paul Kelly’s Gossip and U2’s Joshua Tree intersected with my life. Apart from a brief flirtation with Prince, when we partied like it was 1999, the Purple One rarely returned to my stereo.

Mr Springsteen released a handful of albums I didn’t connect with. Rather than waiting for new material I started delving backwards. Albums like Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town were brilliant. The triple-cassette/CD (and 5 LP) compilation Live 1975-85 was the first box set I ever bought and showed me the showman as well as the storyteller, not to mention a band flexing some serious rock’n’roll biceps. That live set has been a regular companion ever since, ensuring Mr Springsteen’s work has chimed through the decades. The first track even provides the name for this blog.

Last Saturday I was part of a crowd of 17,000 people watching Bruce Springsteen and his legendary E-Street Band. The venue was Hanging Rock, about the closest thing I’ll ever have to a sacred site from my adolescence. Old school friends were dotted through the throng, along with great mates from recent years.

Only one other thing could have guaranteed time travel. Sure enough, there she was, grooving like no one was watching. Sighting the unmatched, unforgettable and unrequited crush of my late teen years felt surreal and somehow perfect.

Mr Springsteen and his 15-member band arrived on stage before sunset and launched into three hours of sublime musicianship. There was barely a breath between songs; even the break before the encore was fleeting. The storytelling was left to the lyrics and performances.

Perceptibly, the band were having fun in front of their biggest audience of the Wrecking Ball tour. Their smiles dominoed through the crowd. I saw years and burdens lifted from mates’ shoulders. We’d all named tracks we hoped to hear live; none of us missed out.

Best of all, the highlights came in unexpected places. Pardon the pun but the brass section blew us away, particularly on Johnny 99 and Pay Me My Money Down. Mr Tom Morello was every bit as awesome on guitar as in the clip on my previous post, making The Ghost of Tom Joad soar.

We walked away abuzz. On Easter Sunday morning I told a friend it was the best concert I’d ever seen. He’d been there at the rock too so he understood. He corrected me, “It’s the best concert you will ever see.”

I’ve trawled YouTube looking for a memory to do justice to our experience. There are great clips but nothing that matches what’s in my head. Instead I’m leaping into the DeLorean and travelling back to the celebrated song about writers’ block, Dancing in the Dark. Why? On this post, it feels right.

For the serious Bruce buffs, here’s the setlist from Hanging Rock, 30 March 2013:
1. Badlands
2. Prove it all night
3. High hopes
4. We take care of our own
5. Wrecking ball
6. Death to my hometown
7. Hungry heart
8. Spirit in the night
9. The river
10. Tougher than the rest (duet with Jimmy Barnes)
11. Atlantic city
12. Johnny 99
13. Pay me my money down
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled & drawn
16. Waitin’ on a sunny day
17. The promised land
18. The rising
19. The ghost of Tom Joad
20. Thunder Road
21. If I should fall behind
22. Because the night
23. Born to run
24. Glory days
25. Dancing in the dark
26. Tenth Avenue freeze-out

Sensational.

Winding up, winding down

How do you capture the flavour of 366 days in a few words? Issued the challenge, I’d have to go with: Work intense. Writing irregular. Friendships strong. Cycling legs good. A curveball (or wake-up call) to end the year…

But that doesn’t really cut the mustard, does it? If it means anything, it’s probably only to yours truly. The rest of you deserve better.

So, at the risk of boring any regular readers, let’s recap a tad. The tiny company I’ve worked with for over a decade, the same mob that’s given me the flexibility to be an author when the Muse sings and a public speaker when schools, libraries and festivals come calling, was taken over twice in 18 months. From my POV that involved adapting to approximately three successive sets of managers and a morass of policies, procedures and paperwork easily the equivalent of this. Or this.

There are definite upsides to working for a juggernaut entity but survival in a large organisation means striving harder to be seen. In the past two years I’ve taken on two massive and rewarding projects – but have had to wind back on being an author and speaker. I’m hoping to adjust the balance soon.

Work aside, this year has served up some considerable challenges. There was the phone call that let me know my parents had been hit head-on by a recidivist careless(!) driver, health scares for friends, the text message in the middle of the night that suggested other friends may be splitting up and the test result that delivered a personal wake-up call.

Daunting in far more positive ways have been the commitment to raise over $2500 and ride 200km plus for cancer research (mission accomplished – thank you all), finding the right secondary school for the Little Dragon (fingers crossed) and working on proposals for two new novels (in progress). I loved touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Working with students studying Five Parts Dead was good fun, too. On the bike I’ve clocked up 4825 km in 2012 so far, which has to be a PB.

A particular 2012 highlight was the night I spent acting as a prompt for Impro Melbourne creativity. Over the course of the night I read three passages from my work and left the impro experts to run with whatever ideas occurred to them, based on my readings. The third passage I chose was from a speculative fiction manuscript I’m working on and, not only did the actors enjoy it, I had audience members approach me and ask where they could buy the book. That’s what you want to hear about an unfinished work. Confidence can be a fleeting thing and any boost is a bonus.

And so to my traditional end of year lists. Because work has dominated the year, I haven’t read, watched or listened as much as usual. I’ve probably forgotten favourites but here are those that sprang to mind as I prepared this post:

TV: It’s been a big year for Glee at my place, courtesy of the Little Dragon singing lead in his school rockband. Once the kids slide into sleep, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ABC productions such as Rake and back seasons of Deadwood and Friday Night Lights.

Movies: Apart from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which was great fun if a tad long, I haven’t had many magical cinema moments this year. The Dark Knight Rises was solid but didn’t quite deliver to the expectations of this Frank Miller fan. Take This Waltz lodged in my head for quite a while but my favourite films for 2012 were Paul Kelly: Stories of Me and the utterly wonderful Hugo (based on the prize-winning book).

Reading: I’m immersed in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) to the detriment of all other titles. Other reading highlights include: David Almond’s Skellig; the marvellously consistent Bob Graham’s A Bus Called Heaven; Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones; The Rider by Tim Krabbe; and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. There’s a few tears in that list.

Music: Apart from the aforementioned Glee, there’s been limited time for music this year, sadly. Albums that did strike a chord include: Metals by Feist; All the Little Lights by Passenger; Spring & Fall by Paul Kelly; and Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. (Late arrivals I’m currently enjoying are Of Monsters & Men’s My Head is an Animal (very Arcade Fire) and Chet Faker’s Thinking in Textures).

Thank you to everyone who has visited this blog, read my books and supported me in 2012. Your faith and friendship is appreciated.

New Year’s Eve update: Having managed some downtime in the past few weeks and in the wake of a visit by the jolly bearded gent I am belatedly entering the universe of Chris Ware. This is storytelling on a whole new level, best tackled by emotionally resilient and visually adventurous readers. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the National Year of Reading. From where I’m sitting it’s been such a success we should do it all again. Starting tomorrow.