Tag Archives: Stephenie Meyer

Best in show

I’ve been judging the secondary schools short story competition for the Whittlesea Show for half a decade (or longer). There have been some brilliant stories over the years and it was fantastic to hear that the student I awarded Best in Show to in 2009 went on to win more prestigious competitions.

Some of the students write on topics set by their teachers and this year “outside the square” seemed to have been prescribed by at least two schools. Thankfully, it was a starting point that allowed plenty of latitude and generated fun stories.

The range of topics covered is always a taste of teen zeitgeist. As I blogged in 2008, the subjects can be very dark. This year was no different.

Horror x 11*
Dystopia x 7
Travel/adventure x 7
Dreams/fantasy x 6
Love/friendship x 5
Military x 4
Murder/death/kill x 4 (*The death toll in horror is high, but the setting and characters are different.)
Refugees x 3
Environment x 3
Sport x 3
Stalkers x 3
Tragedy/medical x 3

Other topics included music/talent quests, agriculture, humour, philosophy and child abuse.

I’m thinking the Twilight phenomenon might have been an influence this year, along with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series.

Other observations:
– At least two entries this year were plagiarised. Unless teachers have asked you to do so (and there’s no way I can know this), rewriting other people’s stories doesn’t count as your own work.
– Homophones cause a lot of kids trouble. Maybe this reflects poor use of software spell-checks – students often use words that sound correct but have the wrong meaning, with unintentionally comic results. I’m tempted to cite some appalling examples this year but will stick with one from years past, where a student used ‘delicates’ instead of ‘delegates’. Ouch.
– Using a big word backfires if you don’t know what it means. An example this year was “incendiary” which is a great word but was so, so wrong in the context it was employed.
– Fancy fonts are a bad idea.
– Proof read your work. Read it aloud and see if it makes sense to you. If you get tongue-tied or confused, you can guarantee the judge will, too.
– Younger writers seem to embrace story-telling risks more than senior students. I wonder if this is because the older students are being funnelled into the VCE machine where results might count more than imagination. I hope not.

Congratulations to the 2010 entrants. I was impressed by the quality, particular in the Yr 7 to 10 age-groups. To sign off, here’s a clip that’s nothing to do with short stories and everything to do with good writing. It’s from the dog fanciers flick, Best in Show.

Adult Readers, YA Books

This article in Louisville, Kentucky’s, Courier Journal was tweeted to me recently. It discusses the growing numbers of adult readers consuming so-called Young Adult fiction.

I don’t think it’s a new thing. I do think it’s a good thing and not just for the obvious, self-interested reason. As I wrote in one of my first ever blog posts a good story is a good story. It should contain truths for readers of all ages, especially the young-adult-at-heart.

When I complete a manuscript for my novels I shop it around to friends and family for feedback. My oldest test reader is almost 100 so it’s an incredible effort for her to read an A4 manuscript. She doesn’t care that the protagonists are teens. She’s all about the story.

For Five Parts Dead my other test readers included a Tarot-reading friend with experience in matters spiritual and paranormal, two obliging teenagers, two or three Kangaroo Island locals, a secondary teacher, a crime-fiction addicted masseuse, my parents and my Tarot-reading wife. Everyone brought different experiences and opinions to their reading and the finished product will be better for their input.

I’m getting off the track. There are lots of pros and not too many cons to being a YA author. Here are a few:

– There’s a certain snobbery out there. Writing for adults seems to be considered more prestigious than writing for children or teenagers.

– Australia has numerous fantastic YA authors yet, as multi-award-winning YA wordsmith Simmone Howell has pointed out, we don’t see them on the tele. John Marsden might be the exception to that rule and even with that exposure few Australians appreciate the international superstar John is.

– The YA aisle tends to be tucked away in the back of bookstores so adult readers are less likely to browse or even enter the teen zone unless they know what they’re looking for.

– I suspect adult fiction attracts better advance$ than YA. Guess I won’t really know until I write a grown up book.

– Hey, everyone says teens are reluctant readers. The teens I talk to aren’t. Whatever the case, I’m rapt if I can get any reader to persevere from the front to back cover of my stories – but uber-impressed when I hear from a teenager who says “your book is the first I ever read”.

– As Cory Doctorow says, it’s an honour to be telling stories for and about young people during such a formative part of their lives. There are books I read as a teenager that have had an indelible impact on the person I am today.

– Writing for YA readers helps preserve the Peter Pan in my mind.

– I get to visit schools and work with fantastically creative young minds before the adult world pummels them into jaded and world-weary submissiveness.

– It’s a great time to be writing YA fiction thanks to JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Lian Hearn, Markus Zusak and countless other “crossover” authors.

I could go on. I won’t. I’m chuffed to be a YA author… or stoked, as some might say.

Next time you’re out to buy a book, please give the YA shelves a gander, regardless of the date on your birth certificate.

Ambassadorial moments

Much to my surprise, I was asked to be an ambassador for the Premier’s Reading Challenge this year. Last week was Education Week and I found myself speaking at three schools to audiences comprising three Grade 5/6 classes, one Grade 6 class and a Year 8 class.

I don’t plug Game as Ned to primary school kids (because it contains some non-graphic violence and sexual references). I do talk about reporting for newspapers and other creative writing projects I’m tackling, including two YA stories and an idea for a children’s picture book. Without fail, the highlight for the kids is when I read to them Kate Stone’s Glasses, which I wrote back in Grade 4.

It’s not a great story but kids love it. I’m guessing that’s because it’s not that different to what they’re writing – and possibly shows that if they keep on reading and writing they could end up an author too. (Or perhaps I’m over-romanticising and it’s just they prefer something I wrote more than 30 years ago to what I’m doing now… which doesn’t really bear thinking about.)

Anyway, here are some of the exchanges from the previous week:

Grade 5/6-er: “I think you should have the magic glasses story published.”
Another Grade 5/6-er: “I think you should merge your (children’s book) idea with the magic glasses story. That would be better.”

Me to a classroom of grade 5/6s: “I can’t really recommend Game as Ned to you because it contains … some violence.”
Response from the front row: “Ohhhhh. But we love violence!”

Comment from a Grade 6 student: “I think you were destined to become an author when you wrote that story in Grade 4.”
Me: “Wow… Thanks.”

Me to Yr 8 students: “How many of you have read a book from the Twilight series?” Half the students in the auditorium stick their hands up.
Me: “OK. I’m going to set some homework. When you get home I want you to take those books and put them in the bin…” (the other half cheer raucously,) “and then read books by Australian authors instead.” (More cheers.)
Me: “OK, OK, I’m joking. As an ambassador I’m glad you’re reading. Read whatever you like. Books help us understand what we have in common beneath our skin – even if it is vampire blood.”

Thank you speech from a Grade 6 student: “I thank you for visiting and contributing.”

Good fun.