Tag Archives: superheroes

Book Week questions

Here’s a belated sample of the questions I answered during Book Week – and my answers, as best as I can recall.

Q: Who are my heroes?
A: Corny as it will sound, my heroes are the folks out there helping people, not for fame or money, but because they can and want to.

There are many authors I admire (generally influenced by what I’m reading) but a stand-out in recent years is Markus Zusak who uses words and tells stories in such unexpected ways (and sells oodles of books doing so).

I also admire His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embraced the role assigned to him as an infant and became a true world leader, emphasising the importance of tolerance, empathy, compassion and arguing for the independence of the Tibetan people.

My Dad deserves a shout-out here, too. He’s a selfless man of peace who has followed his beliefs for a lifetime.

Q: Which superhero do you think would be funniest to write a spoof story about?
A: Now that’s my kind of question. I’d have to say the Hulk because he’s green and only has superpowers when he’s chucking a tantrum.

Q: How can I improve my vocabulary?
A: Wow. Read widely, then read some more. Use a dictionary when you find a word you don’t recognise or understand. And listen to people, too. Listening to how people speak is a great way of learning A) new words* and B) how to write dialogue. (*You probably won’t need everything you hear.)

Q: How do I make a short story longer?
A: For starters, short isn’t necessarily bad. I don’t believe in ‘padding’ – writing extra words just to meet a word count. Your story should determine the number of words you require. If you’ve written something that isn’t important to the story, define and delete it. If in doubt, cut it out.

However, if you want to enhance your story, rather than pad it, think about the characters? What do they want? What’s stopping them getting what they want? This should open up new ideas to explore.

Q: Do I ever feel embarrassed writing about myself/putting my own life into stories?
A: (Smiling) I’ve never deliberately set out to write about myself although bits of me and my life do creep into stories. In Game as Ned the story settings were based on places I had lived, worked or visited on holiday.

In Five Parts Dead the lighthouse setting was inspired by a family holiday and the five near-death experiences were built from things that actually happened to me. I think authors are like bowerbirds. We shamelessly take/borrow/pilfer bright and shiny ideas from all around us and use them in stories. Some of those things might just be from our own lives.

Q: Do I believe in ghosts?
A: I’m not entirely sure. I do believe in places where a sense of history lingers close to the present, so we can almost feel the people that lived before us. I’ve also had people tell me ghostly tales of things they have seen, things I can’t explain. I used a couple of these spooky stories in Five Parts Dead.

Pretty good questions, all of them. Thanks to the students who were brave enough to pick my brain or approach me for a chat.

Old-fashioned adventure

I sometimes worry that the current generation of kids don’t get enough imagination-powered play. All too often their games seem to be pre-franchised – acting out roles as mass-marketed characters from TV and film. I don’t see play-acting as the latest superhero or TV character as a bad thing per se – I certainly imagined myself as Aquaman or Luke Skywalker at various times during my imaginary play.

But what seems to be missing is the generic, no-name-brand play where the child is a detective or explorer or racer of their own invention. This kind of play is important because it’s unconstrained. They’re not limited by peers or product awareness telling them “Ben 10 (or Bob the Builder or Barbie…) can’t do that”. They can make their own rules and plot twists.

On the same token, an adventure might mean a theme park ride rather than going exploring without adults. I did lots of dangerous stuff without adults when I was kid – possibly because I lived in country towns and had lots of opportunities to do so. The absence of computers, video recorders and electronic games also made me more inclined to get outside and actively make mischief.

I explored underground drains, sailed a rusty dinghy out into a farmer’s dam (without permission), fossicked around old mines, climbed trees, rode my bike all over town, made hideouts and did lots more… Today, as a city-based parent, I understand the concerns about child safety – but also worry that kids need opportunities to explore and make their own adventures. And learn how to appraise risk.

Anyway, when we visited my wife’s family on the Gold Coast back in March this year there had just been some massive storms. The banks of the river where we sometimes swim were crammed with all sorts of wonderful flotsam and jetsam. People had been building huts and bonfires and various other objects from the loose timber. Working with my kids, we decided to do something a bit different – build a shipwreck that looked like it had been washed ashore years earlier. The picture below shows the result of our exercise in imagination:

Beached wreck