Tag Archives: Twilight

Patience, padawan

With a new book about to land in bookstores, I’ve been nervously casting an eye about to see what other titles are hitting the market at the same time. As a non-established author, I’d obviously prefer not to find my novel up against a new Harry Potter or Twilight-style juggernaut.

One of the August YA releases that will land about the same time as Five Parts Dead is Kirsty Murray’s latest, India Dark. I’m quite keen to read India Dark, partly because I spent time working on the subcontinent in the mid ’90s and partly because Kirsty begins with the ripper opening line, “Daisy opened her mouth and lies flew out.” What a great way to kick off a yarn.

By my count, this is Kirsty’s fourth YA novel in four years (certainly the second in two years) – a remarkable achievement. In realising this I experienced a flash of impatience and envy, wondering what my output might have been if I was a fulltime author too.

Anyway, I was reading Kirsty’s blog and was struck by this post in which she speaks about her frustrations at combining motherhood with writing. I take some comfort in the advice given to Kirsty by the late Peter Porter, that there’s time for many words, poems and stories in an ordinary life and that everything happens in its own time.

It’s another reminder that we should savor the now rather than getting anxious about what might be. So, here I go. I’m excited to have another story on its way out into the world. I hope my ideas and work strike a chord with readers and the leap of faith by my publisher is rewarded.

And I wish the lovely Ms Murray all the best for her new book too.

Vexed on sex

Back in May I attended a hypothetical session entitled “So you want to be a YA writer?” Run by the State Centre for Youth Literature as part of their annual Reading Matters convention, it was a fun night.

The hypothetical YA manuscript up for discussion included a bodice-ripping lesbian sex scene, prompting the question ‘How far do you go in relating sexual encounters in YA fiction?’

One of the author panellists was lost for words. Another, New Zealand’s Bernard Beckett, essentially said “Go for it. It’s important. It’s on the minds of teens.”

A representative of the Penguin marketing team cited the Twilight series and said the safest bet is to go for URST (unresolved sexual tension) rather than explicit encounters.

I like the URST option, partly because writing these scenes without sounding cliched, crude or gynaecological is tough. URST is also a reason to keep reading. We all want to know whether the “unresolved” ever loses the prefix.

Alternatively, I introduce the idea, tease a little and then drop the curtain. Sometimes the reader’s imagination is the author’s best friend.

John Marsden writes about adolescent sexuality matter of factly in his Tomorrow series. Scot Gardner does it really well in his Wayne books (One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming). There’s nudity, desire, humour, anxiety and absurdity. It’s utterly believable and never crass.

Then there’s Tim Winton’s Breath. I highly recommend this book to male readers because the narrator lives and breathes that phase of adolescence when immortality (seemingly) applies and risk is appraised differently from any other stage of life.

My reservation in recommending the book is in one of the ways the risk-taking manifests. As a journo, I’m aware of stories of teenagers experimenting with erotic asphyxiation – and justified police alarm at the numbers of deaths and near-fatalities. We’re all aware of the celebrity cases that went tragically awry.

In recommending Breath, which is a terrific read, do I risk a teenager absorbing the novel and then doing some experimenting at home? If so, how culpable am I if things go terribly wrong?

I guess the same reader could admire the surfing scenes and then drown searching for the perfect break. Would I feel responsible then too?

Here’s part of what Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan had to say about Breath on July 13:

“Winton does not simply exploit erotic asphyxiation for dramatic purpose; he tries to understand why people, like the extreme surfers in his novel, go to the edge of oblivion for pleasure:

It’s like you come back pouring into yourself. Like you’ve exploded and all the pieces of you are reassembling themselves. You’re new. Shimmering. Alive. Unless you’re dead.

“The mainstreaming of erotic asphyxiation in this novel is another element in the process of mainstreaming the values that have exploded out of the largely hidden margins of society thanks to the advent of the internet. The porn industry, more than any other, has been able to export some of its sensibilities into schools and homes, to the point of social conformity among the young.”

I rarely find myself agreeing with Paul Sheehan. I do find myself worrying about the social conformity he refers to. Young people are exposed to sexual material much earlier now. (My five-year-old daughter just requested Lily Allen’s catchy It’s Not Fair on her playlist, prompted by her older brother’s preferred choice of radio stations. I refused.)

As authors, do we write more sexually explicit stories because our readers have greater awareness? Because kids are trying more stuff? I suspect that the answer is yes. Fiction strives to be contemporary.

Should we write more sexualised stories? That’s trickier.

As Bernard Beckett said, sex is on the mind of teenagers. Believable characters will think about it and talk/brag about it. Some of them will actually do it.

So where should an author draw the line? I’m going to sit on the fence and say the plot will determine how explicit the story needs to be.

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.

Books for Boys update

I’ve managed to attach a website traffic monitor doo-hickey to this site so I know the posts here that are attracting the most eyeballs.

Books for Boys and Books for Boys 2 are the most-read posts on this site by a country mile. Judging by the search keywords, there are parents and teachers out there desperate for titles that might tempt young males to turn off the PlayStation and turn over some pages.

So, I’ll keep posting lists of books I reckon boys will enjoy. Here are a few titles I’ve read recently that I think boys might tackle willing – and hopefully get hooked by.

Little Brother – Cory Doctorow (15+) – An exciting, contemporary spin on surveillance, hacking and George Orwell’s 1984. Can get a bit mired in techno-babble at times but otherwise this is a gripping, alarming yarn. One for the web-heads and X-Boxers in your household.

The Story of Tom Brennan – JC Burke (15+) – Rugby, testosterone, drink driving and living with guilt and grief. Should be compulsory reading for every teen male who ever wants to drive. There’s a reason why car insurance is so expensive for blokes under 30.

Ten Mile River – Paul Griffin (14+) – Homeless boys trying to survive in New York. There’s a constant sense of dread about what might happen to these kids next.

Jackdaw Summer – David Almond (14+) – This story, about resisting growing up and entering a seemingly crappy adult world, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s violence, bullying, running away and an enigmatic girl. I found it utterly persuasive.

Breath – Tim Winton (17+) – This is a story about the addictive, adrenaline-charging nature of risk. It’s a ripsnorter … but might need a “don’t try this at home” label.

Before I Die – Jenny Downham (15+) – A knockout. Yes, I know, the narrator is a teenage girl but trust me and keep on reading guys. I couldn’t put this down.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing With Fire – Derek Landy (10+) – Funnier and bloodier than the first book. Currently reading this to my 8.5 yo son for a bedtime story and he is completely entranced.

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (12+) – Growing up with ghosts. Literally.

For the record, I haven’t read the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer but noted these titles on the desks of Year 7 (13 yo) boys at some workshops I did earlier this year. That was at a boys’ school. At a co-ed school more recently, the Year 9 lads (15 yo) said there was no way they’d be seen dead reading this phenomenally successful series. (Just about every girl had though.) Not sure what to read into that observation but I won’t recommend a book unless I’ve read it. And for some reason, (professional jealousy?) I’m reluctant to go there.

Anyway, if you click on the Books for Boys tag in the left hand column on this page, you’ll get all the articles I’ve tagged as being relevant to boys and reading. Have fun turning those pages.