Tag Archives: reading

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

Warriors, worriers and the winding road

Japanese New Year traditions include the purchase of blank-eyed papier mache Daruma dolls. The recipient fills in one eye when they make a wish. Then, whenever they see the one-eyed doll, they are reminded to persevere, to fight on towards personal goals.

If the goal is achieved, the second eye is added. At the end of the year, whether goals are achieved or otherwise, the dolls are taken back to the temple they were purchased from, thanked for their service and burned.

My Daruma doll will finish 2014 with only one eye but that doesn’t mean it failed me. Maybe its lesson was to remind me to keep believing, keep working and focus on small steps towards the main goal. As the sign on the bakery wall said, ‘Look at the doughnut, not the hole.’

One eyed Daruma doll
One eyed Daruma doll

As the Thunder Road twists towards 2015 it’s a good time to review the year gone by. I’ve written a lot this year, probably more than I’ve ever managed before. I’ve spent many hours in schools, hopefully lodging a splinter or two of storytelling wisdom. I have a manuscript that’s teetering out into the world like a toddler taking its first steps. And another manuscript with a publisher, waiting to see if it slots into the complex 3D jigsaw that is a publishing schedule.

I’ve also made a return to journalism for the immediate future. Two employers came calling the day before an opportunity I’d been waiting on as an author evaporated. The universe can be less than subtle at times.

Over summer, I’ve set myself another goal, not quite the equivalent of NANORIMO but not unrelated, either. I’m writing quickly, as often as possible, about characters that danced into my consciousness and started talking. Listening to their banter has been great fun. Depending on how the story takes shape, and reactions from my intended crash-test dummies in the caravan park, I might even blog the chapters next year.

In the meantime, here are some of my reading, viewing and listening highlights for 2014:

Reading: I’ve spent countless hours in Westeros these past few years and can only doff my cap to Mr George RR Martin for his epic and detailed imagination. I’d been waiting to finish A Dance with Dragons before tackling Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North but ultimately couldn’t wait. I’m glad I didn’t. The Man Booker prize winner is visceral and confronting and worthy of multiple readings. I also finished Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy. Amazing stuff.

Watching: Am loving True Detective and The Walking Dead. At the cinemas I enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow and The Fault in our Stars, both of which had their origins in YA novels.

Listening: Chet Faker’s Built on Glass; Coldplay’s Ghost Stories; new CW Stoneking and official recordings of the Springsteen concert I attended.

Thank you to everyone has read my work, listened to and hosted me at schools and libraries, and stocked my books this year. Those who have attended my workshops will know I rave on a bit about the importance of spell-check and proof-reading so I’ll sign off with my favourite typographical errors of the year, sourced from entries in a short story competition I judged in October:

  • “We were being pursued by Mongolian worriers.”
  • “The uninhibited backyard was overgrown with weeds.”
  • “Mum and Dad scarified themselves for me.” (Ouch!)
  • “I must be imaging things.”

There’s already a meme out and about but, inspired by these latest errors, perhaps I should adopt it for 2015: ‘Be a warrior, not a worrier.’

 

Increments & inspirations

8765 hours, give or take. That’s how long it’s been since my 2012 Wrap. A year isn’t long when you think of it that way.

But context matters. Imagine if you were an asylum seeker detained in an Australian detention centre. Each arduously dull hour would become a feat of survival, not that you’d savour the achievement. Indefinite detention would slowly decay your soul, second by horrible second. Time would be torturously slow.

In a hospital the opposite can occur. There are wards where time is languid but there are theatres, cubicles and trollies where it gushes uncontrollably and is gone all too fast. Minutes or seconds can make the difference between life and death, miracle and misery.

Yes, I’ve had an unusual year. There were slow hours, express ones and some that went missing. There were sleepless nights, minutes that felt like hours and moments to savour.

I started 2013 as an editor within an enormous entity, perhaps the megalomaniac bull cousin of Patricia Piccinini’s incredible Skywhale. I departed with the nerves of a father and provider and the relief of a teenager who had just finished their exams.

I finish 2013 as an author, speaker and tutor. I’m deep into a YA speculative fiction manuscript that may be the first book in a series and certainly looks to be the longest work in my career to date. At present, and I take nothing for granted, the story feels strong and my confidence is unusually resilient. The story gains colour and vigour every day. Several other projects are unfurling like green shoots in our vegetable garden.

I’m also about to take my family on an international adventure and research mission. We’ll swap three weeks of summer for a foreign winter but the trip will add flavour to the recipe I’m mixing in my manuscript. I can’t wait.

So, with a plane to catch in a matter of days, I need to tidy up. Thunder Road tradition requires that I end the year listing favourite moments from books, television, music and film for 2013. Here are some highlights:

Art (new category): Having developed a keen interest in street art appearing around my city, I helped one enigmatic artist by pasting their work around town. Maybe 2014 will see me paste some of my own ideas! I also greatly enjoyed exhibitions by Meredith Squires, Ghostpatrol and TwoOne.

Film: I recommend Gravity (especially in 3D), Rust and Bone and Zero Dark Thirty. Aussie western Mystery Road also deserves a mention for the atmosphere it invoked.

Music: Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Hanging Rock was one of the absolute high points of the year. Chet Faker has been on regular rotation in my car, along with Lana Del Ray and Johnny Cash. Watching Vika Bull play Etta James was excellent, too.

Reading: As per my previous post, I’m still immersed in George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. I’m late to the party on Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series but the voice(s) and concepts in book 1 were brilliant. Fiona Wood’s Wildlife, Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective and Chris Ware’s Building Stories were great. The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi, made me gasp. Wonder by RJ Palacio, made me cry.

Television: Breaking Bad (no spoilers, please, I’m still going); Broadchurch; Gruen (various series); Game of Thrones.

That’s pushing it for my already addled memory. Thank you to everyone who has shared the peaks, troughs and rollers of 2013. May your festive season be fun-filled and your new year deliver on hopes and dreams.

NB: Vale to Nelson Mandela today and Valeria, some weeks back. R.I.P.

It's been that sort of year.
It’s been that sort of year.

Say it isn’t so

Is this why kids are struggling with reading?
Is this why kids are struggling with reading?

My maternal grandfather loved newspapers. When I visited the farm, he would have snippets ready to read aloud – items that had caught his eye or columns that made him laugh. Maybe that’s when the newsprint leaked into my veins. Pa Ern also indulged in the Readers Digest word quizzes and actively strove to improve the household vocabulary.

Fast forward several decades and I’m spending a day with Yr 8 students, explaining how a newspaper is put together. I cover where news stories come from, who crafts them and how they end up on the page. In her preface to these sessions their teacher says that many students have no real understanding of what a newspaper is. They don’t read newspapers and are clueless when it comes to locating traditional elements such as obituaries or editorials. The few families that still subscribe to papers often receive them electronically with the effect that they tend to be seen and consumed solely by adults. Given that I started out in newsrooms before we had Internet or email access and mobile phones were a misnomer, I feel like a complete fossil…

I’ve also been working tutoring a VCE English student. In Year 12 a substantial portion of the English mark is derived from ‘language analysis’ tasks. Students need to read a linked trio of media items (for example an opinion piece, a letter to the editor and a cartoon) and ascertain how language and imagery manipulates their thinking on an issue. Let me condemn myself to the age of the dinosaurs forever; if your principal source of ‘news’ is Facebook and your curiosity about current affairs is limited to who is snogging on Big Brother, you can take it as read that language analysis is going to be arduous.

Lastly, my wife and I have a business where we help children hone their literacy and numeracy skills. After their work is complete, students wait for their parents in a foyer area, surrounded by books. Many of them ignore our library or, if coaxed, pick up a book and flick through it without actually reading. I find that the only way to engage them in a story is to read it to them. I wonder if this happens in their homes.

And so to the graphic that kicked off this post, an Alan Kohler special from the 7pm ABC News recently. If we want young people engaged with the world and able to prosecute their opinions and causes, we need to turn this tragic chart around. Books and newspapers need to be back in front of our kids, crammed with stories that make them gasp, laugh and cry. Maybe we need to switch screens off for an hour a day, just to give tree books a chance.