Tag Archives: State Library

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.

On talking to readers, not at them

Regular travellers down Thunder Road will have noticed I’ve turned off and meandered along Michael Morpurgo Lane lately. (If there isn’t a mossy lane somewhere in the UK with this name, there should be.) I was just about to indicate and head back onto the highway when I had cause to flick through an old notebook while preparing for a media interview about Five Parts Dead.

And there, among my crypto-calligraphy, was a page of notes on the talk Mr Morpurgo did at the State Library in September 2007. After decoding, I can share some of what he had to say:

On targeting a specific age group when writing:
“What dictates the tone of the story is the story itself.”

On writing for children, not at children:
“If you are writing something for children because you think they could learn from it or that they would like it, you are probably patronising them.

“You don’t have the children in mind when you are writing , you have the story in mind.”

On protecting children from topics such as death and grief – don’t do it:
“Children have always had to deal with pain … At some stage they are going to have to deal with the loss of a grandparent.”

On character arcs:
“I like the idea of redemption … but not if I have to work too hard to get it in there.”

On where to find stories:
“I had a teacher who used to say, ‘Use your imagination, Michael’. What she should have said was, ‘Use your eyes and use your ears’, because that’s where your imagination begins.”

I particularly like that last quote because it’s essentially what I tell students when conducting writing workshops.

Mr Morpurgo also spoke of how he uses poems, songs, nursery rhymes and folk tales to flesh out and give structure to his books, stating that ancient tales still speak to us all as human beings:
“We survive, as long as our stories survive.”

Amen to that.

Re Tweeting

Twitter is the online equivalent of a pack of licorice all-sorts. There are tweets that trigger a frenzy – replies, follows, retweets, click throughs, outrage, excitement and more. These are those aniseedy jelly blobs covered in 100s and 1000s sprinkles that are snatched first from the lolly bowl.

There are tweeters that are consistently insightful, informative and fun – the dependable striped cubes from the allsorts pack. Good value in sensible quantities.

And there are those that serve up the plain licorice chunks that are always left in the bowl until they go green and leathery. Twisted and you’ll wish you didn’t indulge.

I embraced Twitter reluctantly but quickly became a convert. There’s a poetry to many snapshot tweets and often an honesty that comes with paring yourself to 140 characters. By following specific groups I feel part of those communities. I get updates and insights into the lives of other authors, journos, artists and more – including some that show me the super successful struggle with and/or celebrate the same things as me.

For instance, Neil Gaiman posted this as I was drafting this post:

@neilhimself: If there is a feeling better than that strange moment when a stalled story unsticks and becomes inevitable, I do not know what it could be.

Neil Gaiman has written novels for adults and children, comic books, screenplays, picture books and more. I attended an event at the State Library when fans waited three hours for his autograph. Yet he and I have something in common. I have sat and waited with a story I’m working on. Waited for the pieces of the plot to fall into place. Waited for closure.

The moment when understanding arrives is probably short of rapture but it feels mighty fine.

Other Twitter moments that struck a chord with me follow. I might add to this list as suitable tweets occur.

@parisreview: “The good thing about writing books is that you can dream while you are awake.” – Murakami (Interviews Vol. 4 http://bit.ly/3zPzeV)

@parisreview: “Writing is making sense of life.” -Nadine Gordimer http://bit.ly/4DHqMl

@parisreview: Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer — he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. -E.B. White

@tomwaits: Writing songs is like capturing birds w/o killing them. Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers.

@tomwaits: I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy. http://www.tomwaits.com

And

@PaulSherwen: Good African Proverb for today: If you get chased up a tree by a buffalo – enjoy the view.

Mad March update

Hello again, as indicated in the previous post, I expect my progress down the Thunder Road to be spasmodic at best this month.

That said, I can provide a quick update on some of the activities keeping me busy.

– The 90km Benalla bike ride had a real chatty, community feel for the first hour. One cyclist described it to me as “speed dating on wheels”. Once we hit the main hill climb the superstars took off and the bunch splintered. I rode the final 40km solo into a head wind. By the end I felt like I hadn’t ridden at all – just had my buttocks smashed by a meat tenderizer for three hours. Turns out the bitumen is a bit bumpier in the bush compared to the city.

Booktalkers was a thoroughly fun night. It’s always interesting hearing how other authors come up with their ideas. The only bummer was that John Marsden got stuck behind a fallen tree and couldn’t join us on stage. You can read my report on the night, here.

– And yes, as is evident from that last link, I’m now blogging at insideadog and really enjoying it.

– The Coldplay concert was brilliant. All the hits and almost every song from the Viva La Vida album. Acoustic numbers, piano solos, electronica remixes, singalongs and bona fide stadium rock. All without the usual posturing. Superstars without super-egos. Fantastic.

– No news on my manuscript at present.

Will post other updates here as time permits.