Tag Archives: schools

Work in progress

  
One of the writing exercises I sometimes ask of students is for them to pen me a six-word novel. This is harder many people think. It’s an exercise in synthesis, in communicating an idea or emotion without wasting a word.  Keeping it raw and visceral.

Over the years I’ve been speaking in schools, I’ve read six-word novels that tore at my heart, tickled my funny bone and silenced classrooms. One standout, to paraphrase, read something like, ‘Mum in psych ward. Social stigma.’ Tell me you couldn’t find an entire YA novel in that effort.

I’m reminded of this exercise today because the book that gave me the idea for the six-word novel activity features another powerful story. I don’t have it with me today but it is similar to: ‘Not quite what I had expected.’ And that’s sort of my story of 2015.

Or, ‘Took full time job. Manuscript stalled.’

Perhaps that’s doing myself an injustice. While working two jobs this year, and speaking in schools now and again, I did manage another draft of my long-term project.

A friend recently read the manuscript and had good things to say. But the clincher was that I could do specific parts of the story better. The friend even named an author (way out of my league) and challenged me to aim higher. That’s the task for me for 2016; take the best parts of my manuscript and make every other part reach just as high.

I’m already on a third or fourth draft but I’m going to define, delete and cull big time on on the next one. That’s writing. A story can always be improved.

Speaking of which, every year brings stories of pain, hope and resilience but 2015 delivered several that still echo inside me. My Christmas prayers go to families dealing with mental illness, addiction, chronic illness, grief and disharmony. Good news stories are out there, people. We do overcome all sorts of challenges. Racism, hate and sickness can be defeated.

Enough sermonising. I usually throw in a list or two to my end of year post, partly to remind myself of highlights from page, stage & screen. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Listening: Meet the Eels – Essential Eels (1996-2006);  The Decemberists’ What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World; Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams; Oz by Missy Higgins; Tame Impala – Currents; the Blade Runner soundtrack; Gon’ Boogaloo by CW Stoneking.

Reading (highlights): American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Summers of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell; Born to Run by Christopher McDougall; The Walking Dead graphic novels.*

Watching: The Walking Dead; X-Files reruns! (Very excited Scully and Mulder are coming back!)

Lastly, I was very chuffed to have a football story included in The Footy Almanac 2015 and *I’m loving reading the work of other authors within. The Almanac would make a great Christmas present – perfect for beach reading. You can whack in an order here: http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/

To all the readers who have stuck with me, thank you. I hope your 2016 brings good health and good times.

Book Week and the twin thing

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Book Week is fast approaching and my dance card is full. I’m truly grateful to the team at Booked Out given that a) I haven’t had a book published since 2010; b) I didn’t get a callback after my audition for the new Indiana Jones film; and, c) I’m not known for my dance moves. (Apparently I’m in good company, though.)

This week I begin a month-long (part-time) residency at one Melbourne school and have visits scheduled at seven others.  I’ll be sharing my highly secret tips for better creative writing; possibly pounding out a Bruce Willis-style Hollywood blockbuster plot (or two); and retracing the twisted path that led to my becoming an author. However, speaking for myself, the highlights usually flow from the unpredictable nature of students’ questions.

One of my favourite classroom moments so far in 2014 came during a residency with students studying Five Parts Dead. The main character in 5PD and his sister are twins. I’m often asked about this so it’s a good thing I did a decent amount of research into the bond between twin siblings.

Sometimes there will be twins in my classes and I’ll ask them if they share anything like the mystical connection between my characters, Dan and Mel. Usually the answer is a guarded, “not really” but this particular residency provided powerful evidence for the prosecution.

A staff member who is an identical twin said her link to her sister was so intense that, “I feel sorry for people who aren’t twins”. Then the piece de resistance. Two Year 10 male twins approached me and said I’d nailed the ‘twin thing’. They said they’d regularly been accused of plagiarism because their homework invariably, unconsciously ended up sounding the same.

They said that one of them might be humming a song at one of end of the house, then move to the kitchen and discover his twin singing the same line of the same song. That’s good enough for me. Dan & Mel were an exaggeration of the stories I found in my research but that’s the fun of fiction – we authors get to decide how far we push the boundaries in our stories.

Bring on Book Week and stay tuned for the best of my student questions.

 

 

Japan Journal #1

I’ve a long-held fascination with Japan. I studied Japanese for three years in secondary school where I was fortunate to be taught by a brilliant teacher. Mr Scott, thank you. Domo arigatoo gozaimasu.

I had to change schools for VCE due to a family move south and, unfortunately, Japanese wasn’t on the curriculum. I resumed my study of Japanese in first year university and was spectacularly unsuccessful, perhaps due to the two year hiatus, perhaps due to my initial tertiary education culture shock.

My first visit to Japan was a six-day sprint with a mate who had a stopover on the way to the US. We used the bullet trains and visited three cities in rapid-fire fashion. I loved it. It was also mighty surprising how much of Mr Scott’s teachings came back after twenty years in hibernation. And a beverage or two.

My family booked tickets to travel to Japan in 2011 but, after the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear catastrophe, being tourists in a devastated nation didn’t seem like a good thing. Our household’s love of Japanese culture (manga, Studio Ghibli and more) continued to grow though. When we received an invitation to spend Christmas 2013 with friends in Japan, we didn’t have to ponder over our answer for long.

We departed a week before Christmas and were away three weeks. I planned to post my impressions while we were away but issues with wifi stymied that. Instead I took notes for the novel I am currently working on (part set in Japan,) and even managed to write a few thousand words.

I’m now sitting with a view down my favourite coastline, about to stroll to the beach. The Japanese winter seems a distant memory. Work and the daily grind is approaching quicker than I’d prefer. What does this mean? It means I need to blog my Japanese impressions while they’re reasonably fresh. Please fasten your seatbelts for a series of Japanese posts over the next few weeks.

Happy new year to all my readers!

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And my heart breaks again

Being a parent seems to be a lifelong lesson from your children about the best and worst of yourself. Being a teacher, as best as I can tell, seems to guarantee an education from your students.

You also get an awareness of their stories, their truths and their unique world views. I recently posted about a gentle boy I know who has already seen way too much hurt. Last time I saw him he was worried that I’d be angry with him because he hadn’t done something I asked. I’d been trying to motivate him and ended up making him apprehensive. It wasn’t what I intended and so a new strategy is needed.

Now, after another week working with various students at a couple of venues, another story pulses like a siren in my mind. Another boy, of similar age but a radically different background. Literacy lessons. When you try to help kids learn to read, you tend to notice patterns. Mispronunciations. Reversal of particular consonants. Sounds that don’t seem to be heard the way that we need if we’re to decode words efficiently.

This particular pattern took me a while to decipher. There were two words he couldn’t seem to read. Then I understood. It wasn’t couldn’t. It was wouldn’t. They were words he doesn’t intend to say out loud. Ever.

‘Dad’ and ‘father’.