Tag Archives: schools

Practising vs preaching

Not many authors are lucky enough to work full time at their writing. Most of us need part time jobs or take every opportunity that arises to visit schools, lead workshops, judge writing competitions and so on. That’s the reality for any artist who hasn’t hit the big time.

In my case, I work four days a week editing a website, speak at schools and libraries thanks to the fantastic team at Booked Out and fit in writing in my ‘spare’ time.

Understandably, peak time for public speaking and writing workshops tends to be around the release of a new book. It helps marketing (and, hopefully, sales) and you’re more likely to have something fresh to talk about when there’s a sparkling new title in bookstores.

Five Parts Dead is nearly two years old now. Between this and my coming to grips with new management at the ‘real job’, I have been doing less public speaking than usual. Perhaps that’s why I had somewhat of an epiphany during a recent set of workshops with Year 8 students.

I keep things simple in my writing workshops. (Perhaps I let the students off too easy.) I tell stories, explain how my brain works when seeking inspiration and explore how to get inside characters’ heads. Lately I’ve also been focusing on writing with all your senses, not just being visual. Now that I think about it, the current workshop could be called Jump Start Your Imagination.

Time for a secret. In past workshops I’ve been the classic example of, ‘do what I say, not what I do’. While I preach, ‘plan, plan, plan’, my writing is often substantially organic and seat-of-the-pants-ish. When the muse is singing, I’ll sit down and write/rewrite until I have a first draft. The poor prose and plot potholes can be sorted out during subsequent drafts.

On my current project, I’m practising what I preach. I’m sketching characters, writing scenes and building the story piece by piece. It’s slow going. It will be fascinating to see if the end result is different in any noticeable way.

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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.

Book Week, MWF-eve & reviews rolling in

Need. To. Catch. My. Breath.

Apologies for the apparent lack of action here on Thunder Road but it feels a bit like I’ve been running the wrong way along an escalator for the past two weeks. As in lose-a-car, visit-four-schools-in-five days, work-three-jobs, gain-a-car, school-council, launch-a-book, attend-Book-Week-functions and much, much more. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been great. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I stop making sense somewhere soon. Meerkats.

Whoops.

The launch night for Five Parts Dead was magnificent. Lots of friends, family and supporters I didn’t know I had. I was humbled by the crowd, the book sales, the smiles, the kind words from guest speaker Sally Rippin and, as the Working Dog team once wrote, “the general vibe of the thing”. The goodwill in the air was palpable.

The reviews rolling in have been similarly positive and here’s another magnificent example, courtesy of the Read Plus website. And another from Fairfieldbooks on Station.

I’ll post further details ASAP but better stop now. I’m speaking at two schools today and have Melbourne Writers’ Festival homework to complete.

If you’d like to catch up, you can find me signing books in Lancefield tomorrow, just under an hour north of the city.

I’ll be the guy hyperventilating in the corner.

What: Book signings of Five Parts Dead
Date: Saturday August 28
Time: 10am – Noon
Place: Red Door Books, 34 High Street, Lancefield.