Tag Archives: reading

Spasmodic blogging

Yes, Thunder Road has been beckoning… but being drowned out amid the clamour of other goings on.

Firstly, the floods. As with the February 2009 bushfires, I’ve found it difficult to focus on other tasks with this disaster going on. The vast areas underwater in Queensland, New South Wales and now Victoria are almost impossible to comprehend. Lives and landscapes are being rewritten. The repercussions will be substantial and ongoing, long after the stories fade from front pages and current affairs bulletins.

I followed the flooding on Twitter, where citizen reporting came to the fore. As a journo, I know that covering a flood is exceedingly difficult. Once roads are closed you need air transport – and then it’s not always possible to find a safe landing site. Water takes out power supplies and telephone lines. Mobile phones have limited battery time. Making contact with witnesses (and newsrooms) becomes nigh on impossible. In this instance, Tweeting made everyone with a charged phone or web access a reporter. There were constant updates with the #qldfloods hashtag when media organisations couldn’t tell the whole story. It was compelling to watch.

I follow various authors on Twitter, several of whom are Queensland based. I watched as authors began auctioning their books, services or company for flood-charities and I’ve jumped on board the Queensland Writers’ Centre initiative, Writers on Rafts, to offer any support I can. It’s brilliant to see the writing community pitching in this way and a lesson in how things could have been done after the fires. (I know of several authors who did unpaid book tours after the fires but there was no co-ordinated charity effort like this that I know of.)

Shifting from floods, I’m on the cusp of entering a minimum six-month project at the website where I work as content manager. I’m reviewing job applications and doing other preparatory work and wondering if I’ll get to be an author at all in coming months.

That’s a bit of a bummer as the ideas have been coming thick and fast lately and I have several projects under way in one form or another. Maybe I need a renaissance-style patron to keep the wolves from the door. With a new year under way I do feel the (self-imposed) pressure to finish a new book. Realistically, that’s a long way off. And Five Parts Dead isn’t even six months old yet. Chillax, Tim.

For those of you that follow the saga of Mr Bump on these pages, the good news is that he’s still in one piece – touch wood – with one public holiday on the near horizon. Hmmmm. Better assume a crash-landing position.

Hopefully 2011 will find its rhythm and semi-regular blogging will resume soon.

Reading: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Listening to: The Jezabels, Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and The Promise
Watching: Mad Men series 1, Man Vs Wild re-runs, Modern Family re-runs.
Mood: Pensive.

Book Week questions

Here’s a belated sample of the questions I answered during Book Week – and my answers, as best as I can recall.

Q: Who are my heroes?
A: Corny as it will sound, my heroes are the folks out there helping people, not for fame or money, but because they can and want to.

There are many authors I admire (generally influenced by what I’m reading) but a stand-out in recent years is Markus Zusak who uses words and tells stories in such unexpected ways (and sells oodles of books doing so).

I also admire His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embraced the role assigned to him as an infant and became a true world leader, emphasising the importance of tolerance, empathy, compassion and arguing for the independence of the Tibetan people.

My Dad deserves a shout-out here, too. He’s a selfless man of peace who has followed his beliefs for a lifetime.

Q: Which superhero do you think would be funniest to write a spoof story about?
A: Now that’s my kind of question. I’d have to say the Hulk because he’s green and only has superpowers when he’s chucking a tantrum.

Q: How can I improve my vocabulary?
A: Wow. Read widely, then read some more. Use a dictionary when you find a word you don’t recognise or understand. And listen to people, too. Listening to how people speak is a great way of learning A) new words* and B) how to write dialogue. (*You probably won’t need everything you hear.)

Q: How do I make a short story longer?
A: For starters, short isn’t necessarily bad. I don’t believe in ‘padding’ – writing extra words just to meet a word count. Your story should determine the number of words you require. If you’ve written something that isn’t important to the story, define and delete it. If in doubt, cut it out.

However, if you want to enhance your story, rather than pad it, think about the characters? What do they want? What’s stopping them getting what they want? This should open up new ideas to explore.

Q: Do I ever feel embarrassed writing about myself/putting my own life into stories?
A: (Smiling) I’ve never deliberately set out to write about myself although bits of me and my life do creep into stories. In Game as Ned the story settings were based on places I had lived, worked or visited on holiday.

In Five Parts Dead the lighthouse setting was inspired by a family holiday and the five near-death experiences were built from things that actually happened to me. I think authors are like bowerbirds. We shamelessly take/borrow/pilfer bright and shiny ideas from all around us and use them in stories. Some of those things might just be from our own lives.

Q: Do I believe in ghosts?
A: I’m not entirely sure. I do believe in places where a sense of history lingers close to the present, so we can almost feel the people that lived before us. I’ve also had people tell me ghostly tales of things they have seen, things I can’t explain. I used a couple of these spooky stories in Five Parts Dead.

Pretty good questions, all of them. Thanks to the students who were brave enough to pick my brain or approach me for a chat.

Little victories

Sometimes you need to savour life’s little victories, rather than sweating the targets you’re yet to hit. Here are a couple of snapshots from recent days:

  • I finish a school visit encouraging boys to read more, having recommended specific titles from the library shelves and my own collection. One of the students approaches me and asks if he can borrow one of those books right away. (For the record, that was Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, featuring hackers, Xbox, surveillance, torture, teen romance…) That felt like a win to me.
  • As I’m speaking to the main group, there’s an older student off to one side, enjoying a free study period. I notice he’s tuning in and nodding as I speak (thankfully not nodding off). Turns out he’s endorsing the list of books I’m suggesting. Nice one.
  • The Little Dragon (Grade 3) has successfully campaigned to have his teacher read the first of Sandy Fussell’s excellent Samurai Kids books to his class. He tells me the class is loving it, no surprise there, but he’s not enjoying it as much “because Dad read it better” during bedtime stories.
  • A student comes up to me after one of my school sessions and says he never really considered journalism as a career path but now wants to put it high up his list because “it’s a lot more interesting than I realised”.
  • During one of my writing workshops this week a student whips up an evocative story sketch and I end up awarding him a prize. I later learn he’d begged to attend my workshop because he was too unwell to attend a previous author’s visit. The subject of his true story? Being diagnosed with leukaemia. Serendipity?
  • The super-duper bike lights I ordered online make it across two states in time for me to fit and charge them before my next night ride.

If you want to celebrate your life’s little victories and feed some brain fodder to a cartoonist, check out Keith Knight’s website.

Turning to books

Someone told me this week that as the global depression-downturn-recession takes effect, book sales are rising. I’ve no idea as to the veracity of this statement but I guess it makes sense. Reading is cheaper than going to the movies, ten-pin bowling, getting the latest games console, attending sports stadiums … and most other ‘discretionary’* activities. (If book sales are up, library patronage must be going nuts.)

But perhaps there’s something extra going on. Something more profound. Maybe in tough times we turn to stories to make sense of our lives and show us the common threads that link all human beings. Maybe books offer comfort, meaning AND entertainment. Without the need to plug anything in first.

More on this topic tomorrow.

*Stuff we don’t need to do to survive.