Tag Archives: school visits

Book Week: Hits & memories

When students ask about my ‘writing process’, I sometimes tell them about spending three months in a shed to finish the manuscript for Game as Ned. No Internet, no email, no music. Phone switched off. Very quiet. Very productive.

When I describe this regime, I see teen audience members recoil. ‘That must have been torture’, their frowns say to me. ‘Why would you put yourself through anything so gruelling?’ Social media deprivation would appear to be more dastardly than water-boarding.

Truth be told, many an author would beg shamelessly for regular access to a quiet space with minimal distractions and the chance to listen, uninterrupted, to the voices in their head. These moments are golden. Silence is when the imagination is best able to flex its muscles.

That’s why there’s an element of relief when the peak public speaking period of the year is over and normal writing routines can be resumed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an excellent month sharing in Book Week and other literacy events. Getting out and talking about writing and the power of story is an important part of my job. But when I’m immersed in a manuscript and nearing the end, part of me just wants to lock myself away and get the job done.

Assuming the planets align, the cat is not having a bad fur day and those ninja assassins don’t uncover my whereabouts, my plan for tomorrow is to plunge back into my fictitious universe. That’s why I need to report back to you all now – before I return to the bunker.

Book Week (Month) throws up all sorts of incidents but I’ll leave you with three that made an impression on me:

1. I watched as a boy was suspended indefinitely from a school after being caught wielding a knife at another student. I didn’t see the incident, only the aftermath. But, studying the face of the alleged offender, I couldn’t help wondering what led to him taking a weapon to school. My gut feeling is that his back story would be very powerful indeed.

2. A student who had been studying Game as Ned was asked to write an epilogue or extra chapter for classwork. She shared it with me after a writing workshop and it was fantastic. I was blown away by the life she’d given characters after the story I gave them ended. Kudos, big time.

3. Schools are complicated, sometimes chaotic places and the bane of the teacher and public speaker has to be the regular mid-class public announcements along the lines of, ‘Excuse me, staff and students, would George Thessaloniki please attend the office at recess because his mum has dropped off his cardigan’ or, ‘Would the following students attend the vice principal’s office immediately for post-camp tattoo removal.’

My favourite PA interjection of the month went as follows: “Attention staff and students! I apologise for the following interruption.”

And that was it. No news bulletin. No fire drill. Just a random, but polite, interruption. Job done. You’ve got to laugh.

Many thanks to all the librarians, English teachers and students who have hosted me, not just in the past month but throughout this year. I’ve had great fun.


Back online

I recently learned Thunder Road has been offline for a while and that, sadly, data was lost during this period.

If you subscribed to my feed prior to May 2014, chances are that you may need to do so again. I apologise for this inconvenience.

If you’re browsing the site you might also find broken links and missing images. If you do, feel free to let me know. I’ll be plastering up the cracks as I find them.

On the upside, the enforced makeover has given me new incentive to keep a watchful eye on the site and keep the content ticking over.

The period of down time was particularly inconvenient as I’ve just enjoyed a very busy period of school visits and public speaking. To all those who hosted me, listened to my stories, laughed at my jokes, asked questions or came up for a chat, thank you – I was fortunate to spend time with you.


On wolves and March hares

The March hare and friends. Image from 1865 by John Tenniel, now in the public domain.
The March hare and friends. Image from 1865 by John Tenniel, now in the public domain.

This time last year I was recovering from surgery and nervously adjusting to life without permanent employment. The goals for the year were to regain full health (check), help develop my wife’s business (ongoing) and finish at least one other writing project.

The writing didn’t go entirely as planned. I did finish 2013 with two unpublished picture book manuscripts, a detailed plot for a junior fiction novel, a proposal for a multimedia documentary series and substantial inroads into the YA/crossover project I’ve been working on for a while. Hopefully at least one of these will find its way to publication in the near future.

Over the course of the year I also found myself teaching pre-schoolers how to read (very fertile minds!) and delivering one-on-one tutoring to a Year 12 English student. Now, while I regularly lead creative writing workshops in schools, I haven’t formally tutored anyone since my university days. I felt rusty and out of touch. Starting with a student in April and boosting her confidence by October seemed ridiculously ambitious.

Without breaching confidences, I can say this much. It was tough going. Assessments would come in and rarely meet my aspirations. Improvements seemed incremental at best. Practice exams in late September did not go well. We regrouped. Changed tactics. I encouraged, encouraged, encouraged.

Come VCE results day, I was almost as anxious as when I was 18. Much to my delight my student performed better than she had all year. She exceeded her stated goal. Most importantly, she qualified for a tertiary course she is happy about. Cue massive sigh of relief.

On to 2014. Being an author is a great gig but the income is, shall we say, piecemeal. The wolves are back at the door. Suddenly my former boss, who put up with my irregular hours and random authorly escapades, seems like a rare beast indeed.

Without actively seeking students I find myself with a couple already and the possibility of several more. I’m not a qualified teacher but after 20+ years of writing and storytelling I’m confident I can help most kids express their thoughts more clearly – enhancing their ability to perform in essays and exams. However I absolutely salute teachers who do this daily, searching for their students’ unique strengths and strategising how to coax the best out of each individual. If one child is a challenge, an entire classroom is a mountain.

Which brings me to the hare. March sees me preparing for the aforementioned students, booked for an intense writer’s residency, researching for the doco, hammering away at the YA WiP and ineptly attempting book-keeping and front-of-house duties for my wife’s venture. Unexpected approaches may see me leap vertically like a loopy Lepus. Forewarned is forearmed. 🙂

Book Week and beyond

Farts are funny. Comedy gold. Unless, perhaps, you’re mid-way through a speech to a Year 9 assembly…

I aim for my talks to hit a range of notes, to have highs and lows. It was during a sombre moment, a pause for dramatic effect, that a student let one rip.

To their credit, most of his peers kept it together. The hall did not erupt into riotous laughter. If the flatulent one was intending anarchy, I score his bold bid a fail.

Up at the lectern, I considered a wisecrack response but a) didn’t find a retort quickly enough and b) figured it was better not to acknowledge the eruption. I chose to stay the course and chalk it up to another Book Week moment.

For those of us who write for young people, Book Week can be the busiest five-days of the year. In my city Book Week blends into the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, prolonging the bookish buzz.

Authors and illustrators are out and about everywhere. If you spot a pale-skinned individual blinking in the city sunlight, there’s a fair chance you are watching a wordsmith newly emerged from solitary confinement in front of a computer screen.

In my case, Book Week morphed into three solid weeks of public speaking and conducting writing workshops in schools. There were plenty of memorable moments but one stands out. It reminds me why I write YA fiction.

My second novel, Five Parts Dead, is studied by Yr 10 students at an excellent school in Melbourne’s west. For the past few years I have worked with each class as they studied my story – an experience that tends to be as instructive for me as the young readers.

I’ve known for a while that my first novel, Game as Ned, is studied at a couple of schools. However, I haven’t ever had an invitation to visit and converse with the students. That changed this week.
I spoke to a Yr 8 assembly and tackled a wide range of no-holds-barred questions.

I was particularly chuffed to have teachers tell me that Game as Ned is “a joy to teach” because the students enjoy reading it. But the best piece of feedback came as I headed to the staffroom for a cuppa.

A teacher took me aside to tell me that one of her most reluctant readers had been caught out reading Game as Ned – in a History class, with the book hidden under his desk. Asked why he was reading his English text in History, he said it was because he couldn’t wait to find out what happens next. I call that a win.