Tag Archives: public speaking

Back to the blog

I fielded a complaint recently. “You never update your blog,” my provocateur wailed. “You’re just doing this flash fiction stuff … and I haven’t read that.”

OK, you know who you are now. Please rest assured that no offence was taken and your observations were accurate. Although you really should read the flash fiction stories. Each one is a pearl, I tell you.

Seriously, my intention this year is plunge into another novel – or at least the detailed outline for a graphic novel, following the ASA Masterclass in penning comics that I took late last year. But before I immerse myself in such a project, I need to get fit again. And by that, I mean writing fit.

If I hadn’t ridden a bike for 18 months or so, I’d need to start with small outings and build up my endurance. It’s the same with writing. I haven’t done much creative writing since Five Parts Dead so the mind muscles need to regain their stamina and flexibility. Flash fiction is perfect for this, like sprint training for the brain.

Basically, I snatch an idea and set myself the task of finishing a story in one sitting, ideally under two hours. Yes, it’s rough and ready writing. But you should still get some sense of the character(s) and, hopefully, enough of a plot to propel you through the yarn. Yes, you.

That’s the rationale for the flash fiction. It’s unlikely to be the best stuff I’ve ever written. But if I rediscover my writing mojo, it’s a win.

But what else has been going on? Here are some random observations on the year so far:

  • I led a PD session with librarians on the different types of interactive books and e-books available for iPad. I’m more than happy to be evangelical on this topic and could talk (and demonstrate) for hours. Great fun.
  • I was rapt to be invited to take part in a ghost stories session in the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival. Can’t wait. Will be brushing up on my creepy tales.
  • I met NY author and publisher David Levithan at the 21st birthday of the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature. David, along with Rachel Cohn, wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – one of the books that convinced me I should write for young adults. Apart from a great author, David was an inspiring speaker and thoroughly nice guy.
  • After various school visits this year some of my bugbears have raised their ugly heads again. One is computers. Believe me, as president of the Crap Handwriting Association, I understand why laptops and iPads make life easier for people. But for goodness sake, instant-messaging-Internet-apps-games-social-media seem all too tempting for some students. I’m going to sound like a dinosaur but kids won’t learn while these shiny distractions are beckoning to them. I can say I’ve seen students doing online shoe shopping and banking, updating their Facebook status, playing Temple Run and Pong, texting, sending emails and much more, when they’re supposed to be otherwise occupied. Perhaps it means I’ve failed as a speaker when this occurs but it’s a big ask to compete with those sorts of toys.
  • Weekend sport is consuming an ever larger slice of our weekends as the kids play two sports and I greet dawn on my bike. Last weekend I covered the Little Dragon’s first cricket final on Twitter as an exercise in instant storytelling. The writing was crude – particularly when things got exciting – but hopefully the drama shone through. Stay tuned for a semi-final tomorrow.

I’ll stop there as other tasks beckon. The writing year, although already well underway, is bubbling with possibility. Who knows, 2012 might be a year for big decisions.

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.

Learners

I’ve just finished a two-day booking for Booked Out at Emmanuel College in Warrnambool, a provincial city about 3.25 hours west of Melbourne.

When I departed mid-afternoon Tuesday, it was with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement to be on a road trip through rugged volcanic country I hadn’t visited for a decade or so. Trepidation at how nearly 200 Year 9 students might respond to this far-from-established author. Concern over leaving my family behind when my wife had received unsettling news about her unemployment that morning – and her favourite colleague was laid off. Throw in a seasoning of other emotions after a lunch meeting discussing my latest manuscript with a generous children’s publishing mentor.

Driving solo into the sunset was a chance to listen to my choice of music (no kids’ demands) and enjoy being back in the bush. West of Colac, the landscape changes. It’s almost like travelling through the windswept heath-lands of the Bronte stories. I felt enlivened. The country boy in me clearly needs to get away from the city to defrag.

My brief for the college visit was to “inspire the kids in their writing” and lead practical sessions with seven Year 9 classes. Hmmmm. I’ve done plenty of public speaking over the years but workshops are still reasonably new for me. Year 9’s can be a tough bunch, too. Not quite ready to morph into Year 10 seriousness but often flexing their muscles after finally escaping junior school. My personal Year 9 recollections feature plenty of detentions, usually following over-exuberant smart-mouthed quips. (There was clearly no speed-limiter on my mouth back then… Some might argue it still fails me today.)

Anyway, first up was a talk to the entire year level. I guess I treated it as a chance to establish my bona fides pre-workshops – and hopefully show where a passion for reading and writing can take you. Some of the gags fell flat but maybe it’s tough to warm an audience at 9am on a frosty morning. I certainly don’t have the comedy training of an Andy Griffiths.

My workshops aimed to show that by applying a little forethought and planning to the basics of fiction (characters, voice, setting, plot), it becomes much easier to write a story. They seemed to work.

The students were great. Good listeners with a healthy serving of sass once the ice was broken. They came up with some sensational story sketches. I enjoyed watching their ideas emerge.

I don’t know what they learned or whether they approach writing or reading any differently now. I do know I’ll approach Year 9s differently. They reminded me that 15 is a fun age, even with the occasional detention. Thanks.