Thursday, December 30, 2010

Advice and a Blessing for the Coming Year

If 'Phsician, heal thyself' is the best advice one can give to a doctor, then 'Writer, know thyself' might well be the best advice one can give to an author. Research may take you far and wide, but the heart of your story will be found within. It is through insight into yourself and your own experiences that you will find something of value to share with others.

May you have the imagination and playfulness to create great stories, the courage to look within to discover their meaning, the perseverence to shape and perfect them and the generosity to share them with the world. May your courage and generosity return to you a thousand-fold.

Friday, December 24, 2010

To all my blog followers, fellow bloggers and facebook friends

Thanks for your interest, comments and ongoing support. I wish you joy, peace, health and love in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Writing Class: A question of timing

When should information be revealed? How much? How soon?

I have in my head an image of a man bending over a prostrate body of a woman. The man is wearing a mask and carrying a knife. The woman is bleeding, unconscious. Undeterred, the man plunges the knife into her flesh…

Can you picture the scene? What are you thinking? What is happening here? Have you understood that the man is a criminal, the woman his victim?

Imagine a story that begins this way.

Now imagine that as you continue reading, further details are revealed. It slowly becomes apparent that in fact, the man is not a criminal, but a surgeon. The mask is a surgical one. The knife is not a weapon but a scalpel. The man is not a murderer killing an innocent woman. He is a heroic doctor saving a life.

This is an example of withholding information as a plot device – the writer playing with, and deliberately misleading, the reader.

More commonly, information is withheld to create suspense or maintain tension. In a Whodunit, for instance, you won’t find out who ‘done’ it till the very end.

However, certain information should be given upfront; it forms part of the set-up. This includes all aspects of characterisation. (For a review of the difference between character and characterisation, see an earlier post.)

If your character has a stutter, a limp, wears glasses or is bald, this information should be given as soon as the character is introduced. It won’t do to let the reader know halfway through the novel that the protagonist has black hair. If you want to provide this information, do it before the reader has begun to picture him as a blond or a redhead.

Don’t wait till page 200 to tell the reader that your hero has blue eyes (unless it’s a plot device and you were deliberately misleading the reader into thinking he had brown ones when in fact he was wearing contact lenses all this time…)

Likewise, if you tell the reader in Chapter 2 that the protagonist has a sister called Mary and a brother called Jo, don’t wait till Chapter 6 to mention Alex (that is, unless you have a specific reason for doing so), since the reader will assume a three-sibling family.

In short, check your timing. Always be conscious of how much information you provide, when, and why.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking for some great YA reads for the summer? I recently read and recommend:

Letters to Leonardo by Dee White – so moving! This book begins with fifteen-year-old Matt Hudson receiving a letter from the mother he thought was dead. Determined to find out the truth behind the lie, he seeks her out – and discovers far more than he bargained for. If you like a tearjerker, this one’s for you, but have a box of tissues handy – I haven’t cried so much in ages.

Angel Fish by Lili Wilkinson – a vividly imagined account of the Children’s Crusade narrated by one of its fictional participants, the na├»ve and sensitive Gabriel. This is a beautifully-written novel that is as thought-provoking as it is insightful. It has a timeless relevance.

Six by Karen Tayleur – a well-plotted, well-written novel about a group of teenagers who share a horrifying secret. One of them dies in a car accident, but we don’t know who. This quick and easy read is a suspenseful page-turner with a mix of distinctive characters and a clever ending.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Writing Class: The function of subplots

A single plot, otherwise known as ‘the major plot’, generally isn’t enough to sustain a novel. Even if the major plot is strong, it will tend to fizzle out if not supported by one or more subplots.

Subplots perform an important role when it comes to pacing the novel. Interspersing the major plot with a subplot slows down the novel and increases tension. When you want to make the reader wait to find out what happens next in the major plot, you can simply move to the subplot.

The subplot must relate to the major plot in a critical way. While this relationship may not be obvious at the start of the novel, it must be apparent by the end. Subplots aren’t merely digressions into other, unrelated stories. They must be linked in some way to the major plot. The best subplots are those that are also thematically related to the major plot, perhaps highlighting another aspect of the theme, or approaching it from a different angle.

Subplots usually tell the stories of the secondary characters. Like the major plot, each subplot must be a complete story in itself, with a beginning, middle and end and an arc of its own.

When recognizing that their novel needs further development, novice writers sometimes make the mistake of adding more characters and too many subplots. This results in too many under-developed stories, and weakens rather than strengthens the novel as a whole.

It is therefore best to limit your subplots to two or three, and don’t add characters just to flesh out your story. Rather, develop your characters and their stories, and always make sure your subplots complement your major story.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More gems from one of my favourite blogs, Glass Cases...

Click here to be inspired by Sarah's small tribute to John Lennon and what he had to say about writing.

Writing Class: The Plot Thickens - or if it doesn't, it should...

When first attempting a novel, many writers have a great idea. They know how to begin their story. They may know how they want it to end. It’s just the middle that is problematic – the 200 or so pages that take the reader from start to finish.

Most writers know they need a conflict, for conflict is the fuel of story. There is a character with a want or need, and an obstacle preventing that character from fulfilling that want or need.

Some common examples:

· Girl wants boy, but she is shy, and boy doesn’t know she even exists.

· Boy wants girl and is about to ask her out when he loses his job, and no longer thinks he’s worthy of her.

· A piece of jewellery is stolen from a woman who wants to find the thief and get it back, even though this may be dangerous.

· An athlete has his heart set on winning a particular race even though he’s lost months of training due to an illness, and his odds aren’t good.

So far, all this information is contained in the set-up. But what happens next? To keep the reader hooked, you’ll generally need to complicate the plot – to heighten the conflict and increase the stakes. The above examples may look like this:

· The more shy girl sees of boy who doesn’t know she exists, the more interested in him she becomes. She keeps her feelings to herself, not even confiding in her best friend, Jane. Increasingly aware of his positive qualities, she decides to overcome her shyness and approach him but just then Jane tells her that she’s noticed this guy (same guy, of course) she thinks is cute, and has decided she’s going to ask him out. Girl secretly hopes that boy will refuse, but pretty soon he and Jane are an item…

· Boy loses his job just before he asks girl out. Landlord puts his rent up so not only is he jobless, he is also in debt. A slump in the economy makes finding another job particularly difficult. Girl appears more beautiful every time he sees her. Meanwhile, he knows for a fact that lots of wealthy guys are asking her out. A chance encounter with her reveals that she is even kinder, sweeter and more understanding than he’d ever imagined, and she takes up permanent residence in his head, but his debt is rising…

· The woman whose ring has been stolen is determined to get it back because it was given to her by her grandmother, and has a great deal of sentimental value. During the course of tracking the thief, she discovers that he is not only a thief; he is also wanted for murder. In the meantime, she finds out that the ring is actually worth a great deal of money…

· The athlete trains with persistence and determination and feels he just might be getting somewhere. But then he has a relapse and another precious week of training is lost. Meanwhile, he discovers that winning the race will mean a scholarship to a university, and is his only chance at tertiary education. He’s hopeful that with renewed perseverance he might have a hope. Then he finds out that he will be racing against the formidable X, who has never ever lost a race…

In short, the obstacles become greater, the stakes higher, so that much is to be gained if the characters achieve their goals, and a great deal to be lost if they do not.

Of course, not every novel will look like this, but most popular, commercially successful novels will. Generally speaking, giving your main characters a hard time will elicit sympathy from the reader and generate respect when your characters finally overcome seemingly impossible obstacles to achieve their goals.

If you're editing a first draft, make sure you've complicated your plot, increased the obstacles, and raised the stakes. A good question to ask yourself is this: Have I made things as difficult for my character as I possibly could?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Recently read and highly recommend...

Adult non-fiction: Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander - a witty and wonderful book about how years of 'theological abuse' left this author scarred for life. So insightful, entertaining and brilliantly written.

Young Adult: Hush by Eishes Chayil - had to read this one because of its similarities to Dancing in the Dark. It too is set in a haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, though it's much darker, as it deals with incest and sexual abuse. Desptie the gravity of its subject matter, it's a very easy and compelling read.

Young Adult: Mice by Gordon Reece - a powerful, thought-provoking psychological thriller about what happens when a teenage girl and her mother retreat to a house in the country to escape further bullying by culprits who got away scott free. A real page-turner!

Young Adult: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell - as beautiful as its title suggests, with flawed, relatable and endearing characters you'll always remember.

Children's Fiction: Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch - adorable, clever, delightful, and beautifully written. This is a book full of heart. It's one of those rare gems that remind you why you liked reading in the first place. 

What have you read lately? And what do you recommend for the approaching holidays?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Writing/Editing Class - pacing your manuscript, beginning with the very first chapter

Problems with pacing generally fall into one of two categories:

1) the story is too fast
2) the story is not fast enough

When the story is too fast, too much is revealed too soon. Often, this will detract from the steady build-up of tension that stories require.

When the story is too slow, you will probably lose your readers well before they finish the novel.

When checking your manuscript for problems of pace, bear in mind that you need to pay special attention to your opening chapters, and in particular Chapter One because: a) this is the chapter that will determine whether your reader will read on, and b) mistakes made in Chapter One are often indicative of mistakes made throughout the manuscript.

The first chapter needs to hook the reader, and in order to do this, it’s important to raise questions that won’t be answered right away. Common hooks include:

· the arrival of a letter – what portentous information does it contain?
· the discovery of a dead body – who dunnit, how and why?
· a stranger’s arrival in a close-knit town – how will the dynamics of the community change
· anything that is out of the ordinary, that will effect a change in the status quo.

Whatever your hook, make sure your story doesn’t give away too much too soon. You want to keep your reader invested – guessing, wondering…

Yet while delayed gratification is crucial, it’s important to plunge your reader straight into the story. Too many would-be writers make the mistake of delaying the start of the story until after they’ve completed a lengthy set-up, including detailed descriptions of the characters and their backstories. This is not only unnecessary but counter-productive. Characters and the world they inhabit should be revealed as the story unfolds. Readers don’t want a character study; they want a story. And you don’t have a story unless something happens.

So when reading over Chapter One, ask yourself the following questions:
What happens in this chapter? (Something must.)
What is the hook?
Are readers left with unanswered questions? (They certainly should be.)

If you are satisfied that Chapter One is working, keep reading. Check the pace of the entire manuscript. If it feels too fast, it could be that there is:

a) not enough description
b) insufficient character development, or
c) insufficiently developed sub-plot/s.

If this is the case, your readers will probably feel dissatisfied, though they may not know why.

To slow the story down, increase tension, and provide a more satisfying reading experience, you may wish to:

a) add description
b) develop the characters, or
c) develop the subplots.

On the other hand, your story, or parts of it, may feel too slow. In this case, the culprits could be:

a) repetition
b) long-winded description
c) lengthy dialogue
d) too many sub-plots
e) overindulging in internal monologue
f) digressions into tangents that are not essential to the story you’re telling.

For all the above, the solution is the same: cut, cut and cut some more.

The beginning of a novel is a promise to the reader. Make sure you deliver, but slowly, so that your promise is not entirely fulfilled until the final sentence.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Moving From the First Draft to the Second

Congratulations to all who completed NaNoWriMo and now have a first draft ready for editing. Throughout the month of December I’ll be posting titbits on what to look for when going through that first draft, and how to improve it. I’ll be giving tips on pacing, story, major plots and sub-plots, voice, character, point of view, etc., though not necessarily in that order.

To start with, here is a link to K.M. Weiland’s 7 tips for editing – well worth reading whether or not you’ve already begun the editing process.

Good luck writers, and hope to see you back here soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gems from the lips of Odo Hirsch

On Tuesday I had the great fortune to meet the highly acclaimed and prolific children’s and YA writer Odo Hirsch. The Melbourne-born writer lives in London, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to hear him speak.

Odo’s first novel for children, Antonio S and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, was published in 1997 and is still in print. Since then, he has published twenty books, and is still producing quality fiction at an impressive rate.

He began his talk by explaining that ‘Odo Hirsch’ is his pen name, and he chose it because he thought it sounded quirky yet believable. His real name is David Kausman, and he was still a practising doctor when he started writing. He wanted to keep his two careers completely separate; hence the pseudonym.

As he rarely speaks to groups about his writing, he said he hoped we would interrupt him with questions as often as possible; that way he’d tell us things we wanted to know. Here are some of the questions people asked him, along with his answers:

When you want to write a new novel, where do you start?
Sometimes I start with a character, sometimes with a concept or an idea. Regardless of where you start, you must have a sympathetic character with whom readers can identify… It’s the resonance that creates the affection. Readers must care about the character, and for that to happen they need be able to imagine themselves in the character’s position… You can have an anti-hero as the main character, but it’s much harder to do.

The Hazel Green books started with the character. You need an endearing and consistent character. But sometimes I start with a theme. One theme that is very important to me is exploration. So I create a world in which the character can explore.

What’s the hardest part of the book to write?
The beginning. You have to know where you’re going to go, because the beginning is the set up and lays the groundwork. When you’re just starting, it can be hard to know where the story will take you.

Why do you write?
Stories are a way of trying to work out something in your own life. Writing is a kind of wish fulfilment.

Do you have any advice to writers?
Write something you really believe in, something that is meaningful to you.

Where do you get your ideas?
You have lots of ideas, but you end up writing about the ones that really grab you and maintain your interest over time.

Do your novels have common themes?
Yes. Some of my books are quite similar on the surface, but if you look deeper, you’ll find they are really quite different. There may be themes that overlap, but each book will also have something that makes it unique.

How do you structure your day?
I just sit down and do it. People who want to write sometimes ask me for tips, and I tell them to create a space. That’s what you need. A quiet space where you can shut the door and immerse yourself into the world you’ve created. Your characters live there, so that place really has to be there in your head.

What makes a writer?
It’s all about creating that space. Everyone can write one book – no, that’s not true, you need a certain command of language and mastery of craft – but everyone has a story in them. It’s when you can write more than one that you make the transition from someone with an interesting story to someone who’s a writer.

Is it difficult?
I don’t regard it as work, but it is – it’s very hard work. But it’s a wonderful feeling when it all comes together in the end.

Do you read a lot?
Yes, but I don’t read much fiction. I read mostly history and politics, and that’s where I get most of my ideas. People are often surprised when I say that, but it’s true.

How do you decide what age you’ll write for?
Your ideas naturally gravitate towards a certain age group.

Some books are really easy to read, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, where the language is very, very simple, and every kid can read it, but yours are not. Do you have a particular type of child in mind?
No, I write for children generally, but the child has to be reader.

Has this proven problematic with publishers?
Only when I was first trying to get my work seen by a publisher. Sometimes people in the publishing industry love to put you down. An agent who read my first book sent the manuscript back with the comment: "No child would read this book unless they were physically restrained." But the first publisher who saw it wanted it.

Courses in writing for children teach that the main character should be 2 or 3 years older than the target reader, but I read one of your children’s book where the main character was an old man. How did you get away with that? Was it because you were already successful and respected in the field?
The book you’re referring to is Pincus Corbett’s Strange Adventure, and it worked because the main character, the old man, was actually very childlike and childish, so children could identify with him. But yes, you do have more leverage once you’ve already had some success.

Could you comment on what it’s like working with an editor?
The editor always comes up with something worthwhile. You do have to be discriminating in what you accept because the editor doesn’t have your vision of the book, but a good editor really does improve the book. A good editor identifies problems and inconsistencies, but they have to ‘get’ the book; they have to understand your vision.

Do you have any advice on self-editing?
The age-old “Murder your darlings” really is the best advice. You need to keep the big picture in mind. It’s the big picture stuff that really matters. If you find yourself insisting on a particular sentence, or detail, that’s probably the bit that will have to go. Also, you never really finish. Your book is not a final product – it's a snapshot – a frozen picture of where it was at the time it had to go to print – and at that point you let it go.

How does your own personality impact on your writing?
I’m very analytical, and this is not necessarily a strength. If you’re too analytical, your writing can become quite dry. There has to be an emotional, intuitive element to writing, so I have to be careful not to over-analyse.

You’ve won a lot of awards. What effect does winning an award have?
It increases sales.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing a sequel to Darius Bell.

Would you ever consider writing for adults?
Yes, I have considered it, and I think at some point I probably will.

And that’s it, folks. Hope you found something useful in what this wonderful and successful writer had to say.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Did you Know

that the highly acclaimed children's author, Oddo Hirsch, will be speaking at Sunflower Bookshop tomorrow (Tuesday November 23rd) at 4.45 pm for a 5.00 pm start? Entry is free (and includes wine and cheese) but you must phone to reserve a place. Sunflower Bookshop is located at 434 Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick. Phone: (03) 9523 6405. I'm looking forward to hearing what this very accomplished writer has to say.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Writing Class - On Character

Do you know the difference between characterization and character? The former concerns itself with outward appearances – physical attributes such as height, build, hair colour or complexion. It also encompasses physical idiosyncrasies, which may or may not be indicative of a mental state. Perhaps your character has a nervous tic, or twitch, or walks with a limp.

Beginning writers often mistake characterization for character, but characterization alone is never enough. Aristotle said that character is revealed in the way a person acts when under pressure. If you want to understand your characters, ask yourself what motivates your characters. What are their deepest desires and greatest fears?

It is only through understanding the inner workings of their psyches that you’ll manage to create characters that ‘leap off the page’ and live on in the reader’s imagination long after the story itself has ended.

If you want to write an uplifting story, you’ll want your characters to change over time. Allow them to overcome their demons in the end.

In the interests of consistency, some writers make the mistake of showing the same character trait over and over, in different ways, so that the story becomes repetitive, and the character is denied a chance to grow. They mistake repetition for character development.

You may, of course, decide that your particular story demands a character who doesn’t change, doesn’t learn, doesn’t develop – and that’s okay if it’s done deliberately to serve your story.

Generally speaking, though, it’s only through allowing your characters to develop that you’ll create the kinds of characters with whom readers will want to identify. Readers want to struggle alongside the characters. They want to experience the fear, the courage, and the triumph.

If you allow them to do this, they’ll think back fondly on these flawed but inspiring characters, and remember them as wonderful friends they have come to know.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Need of a Blog Doctor

My blog is feeling poorly, and as a result you may find yourself unable to post a comment. A huge thankyou to Jen Storer for alerting me to the fact that there's a problem. I was going to suggest that you email your comments to me and I'd post them for you. However, I've just discovered that I too am unable to post a comment - and on my own blog!

If any of you technological whizz kids out there think you know what the problem might be, and how I might solve it, I'll be eternally grateful if you let me know. (Megs, are you listening?) I trust that in the near future I'll locate a blog doctor who can give my blog some TLC and nurse it back to health. In the meantime, I hope you continue to read and enjoy my posts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

You don't have to like my book...

but please be honest about your objections. An article in this week's Australian Jewish News quotes Rabbi Kennard as saying that my book "bases its presentation of religious Jewish life on inaccuracies and distortions (and) celebrates dishonesty...( that it' s full of)
misrepresentations, one-sided depictions and polemical arguments."
Yet he is unable to point to a specific inaccuracy, distortion, or misrepresentation. The fact is, words such as these can't be applied to the portrayal of fictional characters. The characters in my novel are just that - characters - and the way they behave is well within the realm of possibility. Just because he personally doesn't know any haredi people like those I've portrayed (or claims he doesn't), doesn't mean they don't exist.

As for the accusation that Dancing in the Dark celebrates dishonesty - that's simply absurd. The protagonist is extremely tortured and conflicted over the fact that she deceives her parents, and does so only because there is no other way she can achieve her dream.

But fellow writers, know that there will always be people who don't like what you write. There will even be people who object to the fact that you write. Why else are there so many articles and posts drifting around the blogosphere lately that bag the whole concept of National Novel Writing Month, telling people not to bother?

Laura Miller has written a post about why NaNoWriMo is such a bad idea, and Carolyn Kellog has written a beautiful one about why she's wrong. Veronica Roth writes sensibly about why
not writing is an important part of writing itself.

My own view? There may be times when a challenge like NaNoWriMo will be just what you need. There may be times when you'll need to stop and think. Rewrite. Edit. Think some more.

The publishing industry is full of people who will try to discourage you. A few years ago I did work experience at a publishing house that had just decided not to accept any more unsolicited manuscripts. The publisher - a woman who had been at the helm of that company for many years - told me that there were enough writers as it was. And when I asked her whether she thought that perhaps newcomers should be given a chance, she said, quite simply: 'They shouldn't be writing.'

Imagine what wonderful books we'd be missing out on if all new writers took that advice. Don't let the publishing industry put you down. If you want to write, then persevere. There will certainly be those who don't like what you write, but they don't have to. Why not write to please yourself? And if you do manage to write something you really love, chances are someone else will love it too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

3 Ms - Me, Megs and Morton.

Today, at Megan Burke's suggestion, I went to hear Kate Morton at the Weeler Centre. First met up with Megs at Mr Tullk where we had cake for lunch (don't be fooled by the euphemistic "banana 'bread'") and discussed... what else?...writing and books.

 We talked about the need for story to determine the structure, and not the other way around (it's never a good idea to first impose a structure and then try to make the story fit) and interestingly, Kate mentioned, and agreed with, that very point.
She also talked about how she weaves together different timelines because her interest is not in history as such, but in how the past impacts upon the present.

Interestingly, she said that the 'contemporary' timeline in her latest book takes place in 1992, because it's easier for a writer not to have to take into account emails, mobile phones, and all the latest technology. To me this indicates a major difference between YA and general fiction. In YA fiction, 1992 would virtually be considered history, and 'contemporary' means right now, this minute, today. Publishers of YA fiction are concerned their books do not seem dated (unless they are intended as historical fiction).

Kate also read an extract from her latest book. It was beautifully written, beautifully imagined, and left the reader (or in this case, listener) wanting more. Over 3,000,000 copies of her books have been sold throughout the world, and though I haven't yet read any of them, I'm planning to now.

The controversy over Book Censorship at Mount Scopus College is still raging, with the article appearing as one of the four most popular articles on the online magazine. 76 comments so far, (including some very nasty ones about me) and the number is rising. Apparently, 94 people have posted it on their facebook page.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ouch! I'm under attack!

Much as I was rearing to get back to working on my novel, it's a little hard to concentrate when I feel as though I'm dodging bullets. Don't know if any of you saw a tiny article in the Heckler (back page of The Age) on Sunday (October 31), revealing the fact that Dancing in the Dark has been banned from the library at Mount Scopus College. (You must be getting sick of hearing about it.)

The article did not go unnoticed by the editors of Galus Australis, an online 'forum for discussion and debate about Australian Jewish life'. Similarly, my session at the Melbourne Jewish Book Festival heightened the controversy. Galus Australis asked me for an account of what had happened, and also asked Rabbi James Kennard for his perspective on the issue.

In just 2 days, the issue has attracted nearly 50 comments. To read about, or contribute to, the debate, click here.

I haven't responded to any of the comments - I think the novel speaks for itself, and fortunately, a lot of people are arguing the case against censorship far more eloquently than I ever could.

I'll end this post with a question: Do you think censorship is ever justified, and if so, under what circumstances? Opinions welcome!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Done and Dusted, and That Second Novel...

Have finally completed all requirements towards my MA, which is a huge relief as I like to finish what I start. More importantly, I am now free to work on my novel. It was great getting back to my own writing after not having time to touch it for several weeks.

Writing novel Number 2 comes with its own set of problems - not so much in the writing itself as in the expectations, or percieved expectations, of the author. No one considered me a 'real' writer until my first novel was published. I knew I had it in me to write a novel, but as no one else knew it, no one expected anything of me.

It's quite different now. People regularly ask me when the second one will be ready, and how it's coming along. Given that the reviews of Dancing and Dark were overwhelmingly positive, I can't help wondering whether my second novel will 'live up to' the first.

I started about 4 different 'second' novels before settling on the one I chose. They all had potential, but with anything I write, I start out by exploring various story ideas, and it takes a while to find out which ones will 'stick'. I have to love the story. It has to be engaging enough to capture my attention for a number of years. I need a story with themes I can see myself discussing well into the future.

A question that presents itself is this: How similar to the first novel should the second one be? There are obvious problems if it's too similar - it will feel repetitive and not worth reading. But readers who've loved the first novel will want a degree of similarity - after all, there's a reason they're looking for another novel by the same author.

I once looked for another novel by an author who'd written a novel I'd loved - one of those wonderful British contemporary novels. I found one, but it turned out to be a spy novel I didn't enjoy, and failed to finish. It was so unlike the first novel that I thought it must be by a different author with the same name, but research revealed that it wasn't. It was the same author. Different genre.

Some writers (Sonya Hartnett comes to mind) switch markets and genres with remarkable ease, and every novel is a masterpiece. Others carve out a niche for themselves in a very specific market, and each book is a bit like reading more of the same. Most fall somewhere in between.

I'm hoping I'll get the balance right, and that readers will enjoy my second novel. (And sorry, I won't tell you what it's about until I have a completed draft and a signed contract.) In the meantime, I'm not going to worry too much about whether my second novel is too similar to the first or not similar enough. I'll just have to trust myself, and hope that I can come up with a second novel that I'll enjoy reading, and that others will too.

If you're a writer who's found that second novel problematic, I'd love to hear from you. If you're a reader with strong opinions about second novels, I'd love to hear from you, too. And if you have any idea why the bottom half of this post shows highlighted lines behind the text, please enlighten me. I'm still a blogging novice, especially as far as anything technical is concernd.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wrap-up of the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Book Festival

On Monday night I heard Raphael Aron speak about Cults, Terror and Mind Control. Very interesting. He said that cults and terrorist organisations both use similar methods to recruit people and to control their thinking, essentially undermining their ability to think independently.

While such organisations often exploit those at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives, no particular personality type stands out as being more vulnerable than another. Intelligence and emotional stability are no guarantee you won't be sucked in; nor is socio-economic background a relevant factor. Scary or what!

Raphael suggests that the solution lies in the government introducing programs into schools to educate kids about the existence of such institutions and the dangers involved. If kids are made aware of the methods used and taught to identify early signs of recruitment, they will be better equipped to resist. The problem, Raphael says, is that while innocent people still have the time and the ability to get out, they don't yet know enough about the organisation that is luring them in to want to get out, and by the time they know enough, it's too late.

Programs educating kids to be aware of stranger danger etc. have been very successful. So Raphael is petitioning the government to approach the issue of cults and terror organisations in a similar way. It doesn't help that many people no longer see terrorist organisations for what they are - seeing phenomena such as suicide bombing as a legitimate means of fighting a battle, and labeling terrorists 'freedom fighters' - and fail to understand that they are cults bent on destruction, with no regard for human life.

On Tuesday I heard Jon Faine speak at The Sunflower Bookshop. Jon's book From Here to There was recently released. In his session, Jon talked about the road trip with his son that inspired the book. They spent six months driving through non-Western countries, most of them ending with 'stan'. The main insights he gained during this time were a renewed perspective on all that we have in the West and take for granted, and an understanding that the world's poorest people are also the most generous.

John was entertaining, personable and inspiring.

And last but not least, the last night of the festival (last night, in fact) began with my own session, a conversation about the controversy Dancing in the Dark has given rise to in the Jewish community. Michelle Prawer gave a dramatic reading from the book, then asked me why it was so controversial. I explained that it had been banned at Mount Scopus College - although five copies were purchased, the principal refused to allow them to placed on the library shelves. She then asked me whether I thought censorship was ever justified.

In fact, I do. I think it's justified to censor material that incites hatred of, or violence towards, other people. I don't think it's justified to censor a book simply because it presents an alternate viewpoint.

The event was well attended, the overwhelming majority agreeing with what I had to say. One orthodox rabbi took the principal's side, claiming that I had written a truly sad story about a girl who gave up her religion and her community in order to dance, and that instead of portraying this as something tragic, I had portrayed it as a triumph, and her as heroic.

I agree that it's sad. Not because she chose autonomy over a restrictive religious lifestyle, but because she lost her family in the process. It's sad that her family couldn't love and accept her for who she was. And yes, she was heroic. It takes great courage to stand up for your convictions, and great determination to pursue a dream against such difficult odds.

My session was followed by Esther Takac talking about her book: Genesis: The Book with Seventy Faces. Esther began by pointing out that our sessions were thematically linked in that both dealt with the idea of respecting and valuing other viewpoints.  Her book tells the stories of the book of Genesis and provides many different interpretations for each of them, including liberal and feminist interpretations as well as orthodox ones.

All in all, a stimulating, thought-provoking and successful festival.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Correcting an Error

Sorry, made a mistake. Thanks for pointing it out. National Novel Writing Month ends at the end of November, not the end of October. So tips for working on the second draft will be posted in December. Enjoy your month of unrestrained and hectic writing...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hello my friends, it's been a busy time...

Have been working hard to finish off my MA (the dreaded exegesis has been completed - cue enormous sigh of relief - and have one more assignment due Nov 1st). Have been missing my blogger friends. How are you all?

The radio program last week went smoothly but don't know if anyone actually listened - none of my friends could find the station, or else they forgot. Nevertheless, the Melbourne Jewish Book Festival is underway. Just got back from it about half an hour ago.

Tonight was a very interesting and entertaining session called My Son/Daughter the Doctor: Doctors as Writers. It was about being a doctor and a writer and on the panel were writer/doctors Serge Liberman, Leah Kaminsky and Howard Goldenberg. Serge spoke quite seriously, Howard read out a very entertaining story he'd written, and Leah related a heart-warming anecdote about a ninety-plus-year-old patient who entered the seniour Olympics and won a gold medal. Her delivery was so engaging that it prompted me to ask her afterwards whether she had studied drama. (She hasn't, but says she is a natural drama queen.)

There was an interval during which a supper of goodies and drinks was served in an adjoining room, and after that a sneak peak at The Pen and the Stethescope, a book of short stories  all written by doctors who are also highly acclaimed authors, including both Australian and international doctor/writers. Some are internationally renowned; others are not, but all are outstanding writers. The Pen and the Stethescope will be launched at Readings Hawthorn on Wednesay November 17 at 6.00 for 6.30 pm. and is open to the public. All welcome.

I'll be back later this week to blog about other events at the Jewish Book Festival, including Raphael Aron's session tomorrow night on Cults, Terror and Mind Control, Jon Faine's session on Tuesday 26 (day after tomorrow) on his new book about travelling with his son, and my own session on Wednesday about the censorship of Dancing in the Dark and the controversy that has ensued.

As of next week, I hope to be back to blogging more regularly. Since NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming to a close and writers the world over will have unpublishable first drafts on their hands, I will devote several posts to tips for assessing that first draft and improving on it with the second one.

If I've been remiss in commenting on your posts lately, it's only because I haven't had time to read them. But that too will change...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not This Monday, After All...

For anyone planning to tune in to Lion FM on Monday 11th October for the program about the Melbourne Jewish Book Festival, I just found out that the 11th is only the pre-recording. The show will actually be going to air on Monday 18th of October, at 5.00 pm.

Good luck to all of you bloggers out there who are taking part in NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. It's a fabulous idea and a great way to get a new novel underway.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


A competition is underway and you can win a pass to the Jewish Book Festival, which will take place every evening from October 23-27 inclusive. Competition closes Monday October 18. Click here to find out more.

Tune in on Monday

This Monday, October11th, as part of the lead up to the Jewish Book Festival, I'll be interviewed radio Lion FM96.1  Feel free to tune in. The program is called Jewish Life Matters, and will begin at 7.00 pm. I'll be discussing Dancing in the Dark and the fact that it has been banned from certain Jewish schools.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Exegesis Looming

Apologies for having been absent so long. My course (Master of Creative Media/Creative Writing) is nearing completion and I find myself with a great deal of work to do and little time in which to do it. I've finished my major project - an adaptation of my novel as a screenplay, or at least a draft of it - but now I must write my exegis - a report on the research undertaken to assist in my project. If I fail to complete the exegesis on time, the entire two years will be have in vain. So forgive me if I don't write many posts over the next few weeks.

Part of the reason I left it so long was that the more I heard on the subject, the more confusing it became. This could be due to the fact that the class on exegesis writing is given to a cross-section of creative practititioners, so that writers are studying alongside photographers, musicians, etc. And for all the explanations of what was required, we were never shown specific examples.

A huge thanks to Jacinta Halloran, a writer who was in my novel-writing class in Prof. Writing & Editing several years ago, and who sent me a copy of the exegesis she completed a couple of years ago. Thanks to Jacinta's fabulous example, I have a much better idea of what's required.
Jacinta is the author of Dissection, a wonderful, literary novel about a female doctor who is sued for negligence after making an error in judgement. Short-listed for the Victorian Premier's Award, the novel reveals how a single mistake can ruin lives.

Doctors are particularly vulnerable. Years of excellent diagnoses count for nothing if a single serious error is made. This is something every parent can relate to. A mother turns her back for a single second and a child drowns. She is deemed a 'bad' mother. People are so quick to judge, blame and criticise. The one second counts for everything. The hours, days and years she has been a wonderful mother count for nothing.

I remember when my kids were small, how I'd sigh with relief at having made it through another day. It's a feeling that never leaves you, the sheer relief and gratitude that they are alive and well. Equally memorable is the anguish when they are unwell or unhappy. When something happens to someone else's child through a moment of negligence, you think: There but for the grace of God go I.

For those of you who are already parents, be thankful for those acts of grace but give yourselves a pat on the back for all the things you've done right, for the hours, days, weeks, months and years of sheer devotion to your children. And for those of you who haven't had kids yet but secretly think you'll be perfect parents, be warned: There's no such thing. Parenthood may be rewarding but no other job demands such constant vigilence, strength and commitment. Parenthood is the definition of responsibility.

So why worry about an exegesis? If I write it poorly, no one will die, no one will be seriously injured, no lives will be ruined. And how glad I am to have that in perspective! Compared to being a parent, writing an exegesis has got to be a piece of cake!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

I was fooled into thinking the lovely weekend weather was here to stay. Sigh! The upside of a grey and miserable Monday is how wonderful it feels to get home at the end of the day.So shed those sodden clothes and snuggle into a pair of cosy pajamas.  Then treat yourself to a mug of hot chocolate or a bowl of soup and curl up on the couch, book in hand.  Go on, you deserve it.

Some of my happiest moments are spent doing just that. Isn't it great that reading's not just for the rich and famous, the thin or the beautiful? I love the idea that you can borrow a book from your local library without paying a cent, that one of life's greatest pleasures and simplest luxuries is free for all... Do take advantage of it.

And now I'm off to take my own advice. Rainy Mondays have a silver lining, after all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Writing Class: Single Sentence Synopsis

When people ask what your novel is about, they generally want to know the ‘what happens’ of the story. And they want you to tell them as quickly and succinctly as possible.

Eg. Dancing in the Dark is about a girl raised in an ultra-orthodox home who, when forbidden by her strictly religious parents to have ballet lessons, starts to dance in secret.

Stating what your novel is about in just one sentence might seem like an easy thing to do, but many would-be novelists find it hard. Instead, when asked what their novels are about, they ramble. They begin to tell the entire story. They are often so immersed in minor details that they fail to notice their audience yawning.

Knowing how to describe your novel in a sentence is essential – and not just to enable you to pitch it to a time-poor agent or publisher in a thirty-second window of opportunity. It’s essential because it helps you focus your story.

A good story has a strong and definite direction, and summing your novel up in a single sentence is a great way to keep on top of your story and give it direction. After all, you can’t expect to reach your destination if you have no idea where you’re headed. (Which isn’t to say you need to know every detail of your story before you write it, or how it ends; you don’t).

Do you know where you’re headed? Can you write a sentence that sums up your story?

Monday, September 20, 2010

On Lies and Literature

I have a friend who doesn’t read fiction. It’s not that he isn’t a reader – he’s heavily into history, autobiography, and memoir – but he doesn’t see the point in reading ‘a made-up story’. Interestingly, he reads reviews of fiction (since they are not fiction), but he won’t read fiction, regardless of how glowing those reviews might be. He wants ‘the truth’.

As a lover of fiction, I have always believed that fiction has the edge over non-fiction when it comes to conveying emotional truths. That’s why I love it. That’s why I read it. But I have just finished reading Justine Larbalastier’s Liar, and whether deliberately or not, she has challenged that view.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read Liar and are planning to, STOP HERE; I might just give the plot away.

Liar is narrated by protagonist Micah, a self-confessed liar. I began reading with the belief that, like with most fiction, by the end of the novel I would know ‘the truth’ of the story, that despite the narrator being a liar, I would be able to sift the truth from the lies.

This did not happen. As the novel develops, the narrator simply admits to more and more lies, until at the end you’re left wondering whether she made the whole thing up. Especially since she constantly reminds us that she is a liar.

At the first mention of the word ‘werewolf’, I was tempted to put the novel down, though admittedly I’d also been tempted to put it down when told that Micah was born ‘covered in fur’. It’s not that I don’t like reading books about freaks or werewolves or people who aren’t wholly human; it’s just that I want to know what kind of book I’m about to read before I begin.

Nevertheless, I did continue reading, and when I finished the book, I was left wondering (though not actually caring), whether Micah was human or werewolf, whether there even was a murder in the first place, and whether there was any point in trying to figure it out.

We all know that fiction consists of ‘made-up’ stories, but generally there’s an unspoken pact between writer and reader. The writer promises to make the story as believable as possible, at least for the duration of the reading experience. The reader agrees to suspend disbelief. Liar breaks this pact, and I can't help wondering whether this undermines the very purpose of fiction.

It’s not that I dislike or disapprove of unreliable narrators. On the contrary – they can be wonderful both as a device and as characters, and can enrich stories immeasurably. But usually the author enables the reader, eventually, to get to the truth of the novel, to the emotional heart of it. With Liar, I couldn’t help thinking: If I still don’t know what part of the story, if any, was supposed to be ‘true’, why did I bother? If Micah is such a pathological liar, then send her to a shrink and leave me out of it.

I guess the fact that I could think in these terms means the author must have done something right – she created a character I ‘kind of’ believed in. And there is no doubt that she is a highly skilled writer. What she has done in Liar has been done deliberately and masterfully.

Perhaps the point of the novel wasn’t to enable the reader to solve a puzzle, but simply to explore the concept of lying. Even so, I’d have liked to be persuaded that what I was reading was somehow true. When I read fiction, I want to suspend my disbelief.

I like verisimilitude in literature, not outright lies. How about you?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Writing Class: Do you know what your character really wants?

Fiction is fuelled by conflict, and writers generate conflict by asking themselves two basic questions:
1. What does my character want?
2. What is preventing my character from achieving that goal?
Almost every creative writing class will teach aspiring writers to ask, and answer, these two questions.

But there is a 'surface want', and there is a 'deeper want'. The 'surface want' is usually clear to both writer and reader. The 'deeper want' is another matter. You may not know your character's 'deeper want' when you start your story. You might have to dig deeper to find out.

Stories that don't look beyond the 'surface want' generally won't get published, and if they do, they'll fail to satisfy. It's the 'deeper want' that will give your story substance and meaning.

When the 'deeper want' is understood by the character, and fulfilled, the 'surface want' can then be realized. (This is usually the case, though occasionally the 'surface want' becomes unmportant, and is therefore abandoned.)

Think of one of your favourite novels. What is the main character's 'surface want'? What is the 'deeper want'? Think about the book you're writing. What does your character want? And what does your character really want?

Feel free to share your answers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Question of Genre

Hannah Moskowitz has written a really interesting post about the differences between MG (Middle Grade) fiction and YA fiction, the first which she defines as being for ages 11-14 and the latter for ages 15-18. She says that MG fiction is more of a protagonist-against-the-world  situation, where the main character is trying to fit in, whereas YA fiction gives us protagonists dealing with personal problems focusing on very specific relationships, and the group is less important. (This is a very brief summary; for a more comprehensive analysis, read her post.)

Personally, I feel the differences she describes relate more to genre than to age, and that both kinds of books can be found for readers ranging from the very young to those who no longer count their birthdays. What do you think?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is it about love stories?

Adele at Persnickety Snark doesn't quite buy the idea of love at first sight, and thinks YA literature is suffering from unrealistic ideas about love. As for me, I'm a sucker for a good love story. There has to be a reason that romance sells, and some of the best contemporary YA literature combines good writing with quirky characters falling in love.

That said, the characters aren't always the obvious 'hotties'. The last 3 books I read were: Beatle Meets Destiny, Six Impossible Things and Graffiti Moon. They're all great books, and they're all love stories. But they're not just love stories. The characters must also deal with other issues. And though these teenagers are modest, likeable and endearing, their flaws are revealed as well as their strengths.

It's the combination of characterisation, real-life problems, and fabulous writing that makes for a book you want to read.

Of course we want love to triumph in the end, but it triumphs only when the characters admit their mistakes, and become stronger, better people as a result of doing so.

Unrealistic? It may be, but is there something wrong with a bit of escapism in fiction? And isn't it good for our souls to believe in love?

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Blogging and Reviews

A number of posts have been floating around the YA blogosphere raising questions about reviews. It has been noted that sometimes little cliques of bloggers write reviews to promote their friends, and as a result the reviews are less than honest. I must admit, sometimes I rush out to buy a certain book after reading rave reviews, only to be greatly disappointed.

Megan Burke asked: What are authors and publishers looking for in a blog review? Clearly, publishers and writers want their books promoted and praised, but surely the point of a review is to give the reader an idea of what to expect. While opinions are obviously subjective, I do feel bloggers should be writing honest reviews.

When Megs helped me set up my own blog, we discussed the issue of reviews, and it was actually she who pointed out the need to be honest. I’d been thinking of using my blog to write reviews, but on reflection, quickly realised I wouldn’t be able to write anything negative about another writer’s work. You see, I know how much goes into it, and I can honestly say that completing a book is a huge accomplishment. So unless the writer was guilty of racism, sexism or any other kind of unsavoury ism, I’d be loath to criticise. (Strangely, I wouldn’t feel quite the same way if asked to write a review for a professional magazine, such as Viewpoint or Reading Time. Somehow, I see the Blogosphere more as a friendly than a professional space.)

Tye Cattanache of The Book Gryffin is also averse to the idea of writing negative reviews. Her solution is to review only the books she likes. If she thinks a book doesn’t merit a positive review, she simply won’t review it at all.

But while there’s something a little distasteful (to me) about the idea of writers posting negative reviews, I don’t mind the idea of bloggers doing it. Bloggers who aren't published writers (as in, don’t have a book in print) wouldn’t necessarily have the same sense of loyalty as published authors to support their peers.

Having said that, what if your status changes? I wonder how blogger extraordinaire Steph Bowe of Hey, Teenager of the Year will manage the transition. Now that she’s a published (and very famous) author (of a book I'm looking forward to reading), will it change the way she writes reviews? Will she even continue to do so?

(I should have said in a previous post that I met a number of wonderful authors up in Brisbane, and she was among them. And yes, she looks every bit as gorgeous in real life as she does on her blog. I chatted with her and her lovely mum at Festival First Night, and sat next to her for a few minutes at the signing table, where we signed scraps of paper and the occasional book.)

So, should writers post reviews of other authors' books? And if they do, is their obligation to their readers or their peers? What do you think?

It’s a sticky issue; hence my decision not to use my blog to write reviews. However, if I read a YA book and love it, I might just mention it... On that note, I'll finish by saying that in the past month, I’ve read and loved: Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams and Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood. I’m currently reading and loving Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.

That’s all, folks. Comments welcome!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Home, Sweet Home and No, I'm really not interested in becoming a Christian...

Arrived back in Melbourne earlier this evening after almost a week away. It's always nice to come back home. Loved Brisbane. It's a really pretty city, and it's built around a river so you can zip across one part of the city to another by ferry. Went on to Mooloolaba (hubby came too), and spent two nights and a day walking, eating, and reading Fiona Wood's Six Impossible Things, which I finished on the plane. It's delightful, charming, witty... well worth your time.

Didn't have Internet access in Mooloolaba, which is why I couldn't fill you in on my last day of the BWF until now...

Friday's session was called 'Let's Talk About Religion' and it was chaired by Belinda Jeffrey, who wrote an excellent book called Brown Skin Blue. She's also just published another one - literally just out - called Big River, Little Fish which I haven't yet had a chance to read. Anyway, the session took place in the Breezeway, which is basically a big red tent set up outdoors between the State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art (where my other sessions were) and it went really well. Not only do I love talking about my book, I also love talking about religion...

Anyway, after the session ended I headed over to the designated author-signing area - has anyone else noticed that school kids rarely line up with the actual book in hand, but with bookmarks, notebooks or scraps of paper to be signed instead? Some just want a bit of a chat, or to ask a question they didn't have a chance to ask during the session. And sometimes it's not the kids, but their teachers, who have comments or questions.

Most of the comments and questions are the sort of thing you might expect, but on Friday after my session something rather bizarre happened. An elderly teacher from a Christian school thought this might be an appropriate time to try to convert me. She wanted to know whether I had considered Christianity, whether I had read the New Testament (assuring me that everything would fall into place if I did), and whether I had delved into what Jesus had to say...

Moving on...

I absolutely loved every moment of my experience both at the MWF (too short) and the BWF, and hope I'll be asked to attend again.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Brisbane Writers Festival contd. and Why teens think bigger than adults

The Festival was buzzing today, as a steady stream of both adults and kids flowed through the various venues. My sessions went well. The online session was a first for me. What a great way of involving kids from regional schools!

Simone Howell posted a link to an article by Jason Steiger about the session at the MWF on why teens think bigger than adults. Apparently, the writers featured spoke of the sense of wonder kids have, and how important it is to maintain that sense of wonder in order to view the world with the fresh eyes of a curious child.

I think another reason teens think bigger than adults is that their prejudices have not yet set in. Where some adults' opinions are so firmly set that nothing can possibly change their minds, teens are more open to to other viewpoints. And unlike younger kids who tend to buy into whatever it is their parents are selling, teens are at a time in their lives when they're ready to challenge previously unexamined ideas and beliefs.

Books help them to do that. They also help keep alive that sense of wonder Lia Hills and Jostein Gaardner spoke of, and give them (albeit vicariously) experiences they might not otherwise have.

Can you think of any other reasons teens think bigger than adults? Please let me know.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My First Writers Festivals… uh, as a writer, that is…

Yesterday morning I left my luggage in a locker at Southern Cross Station and continued on to Fed Square for my session, Family Matters. By the time I found the Green Room I was much later than I’d anticipated, but luckily, I did make it to my session on time. I hope I managed to appear cool, calm and collected by the time the kids filed in.

Amra looked striking in a brightly coloured dress and bright red coat, in contrast to my purple and black. Ruby is tall and slim and is the sort of person who looks elegant even in jeans, and she chaired the session with grace and professionalism. She gave a (brief) bio about us both, then asked each of us to tell the audience about our books and read an extract.

We discussed, among other things, the degree to which our work was informed by our own lives, how people have reacted to our novels, and to what extent they recognise themselves in our stories. We also talked about the fact that what kids grow up believing is so much a result of their upbringing and the families who raise them, and that there comes a time when they themselves begin to realise this.

The audience were terrific – very interested and attentive. I’m not sure exactly which schools were represented, but I did recognize the uniforms of The King David School (Year 9 was there) and Xavier College – it was great to know that boys too are reading my book despite the ballerina on the cover.

After the session I got to meet Kirsty Murray (yay!) – she’d come to see Ruby, her daughter, who did her proud – and we had a nice chat.

Brisbane greeted me last night with lovely warm weather. I arrived too late to attend the Qld Premier's Literary Awards, though I was chuffed to be invited. This morning I met Fiona Wood and we  had breakfast together. Just bought her book, Six Impossible Things, and am looking forward to reading it. Also met Dave Hackett and Rebecca Sparrow.

My session went well. I was introduced and interviewed by Joy Lawn, longstanding member of the
CBCA and current judge of the fiction award for younger readers. She's really gentle and softly spoken.

The kids were fabulous. They were really engaged, and their questions were intelligent and thoughtful. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's all happening tomorrow...

...and the nerves have officially kicked in. I'll be going by train to Southern Cross station so I can put my luggage in a locker, then onto Fed square for my session with Amra. Later I'll collect my suitcase before taking the sky bus to Tullamarine, and then it's on to Brisbane. I keep worrying that I'll forget to pack something crucial, or that I'll dress too warmly tomorrow, or not warmly enough (what is the temperature like inside ACMI 1?), and that my clothes will arrive in Brisbane all crushed and creased (ironing is something I never got the hang of so I no longer try, but most clothes don't need it if you put them on a hanger straight out of the wash).

I'm new at this. Wish me luck!!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Countdown to my sessions at the writers festivals...

Never been on a panel at a writer's festival before and this week will be jam-packed. For me, the excitement begins the day after tomorrow. I'll be speaking at a session with Amra Pajalic, chaired by Ruby Murray, at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and then I'll be flying to Brisbane (that very same day)for the rest of the week.

Never been to Brisbane before, and am so looking forward to it. I've heard it's a really lovely city and can't wait for a spot of warmer weather. My flight arrives at 6.15 pm on Tuesday, so I won't quite make it to the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, but was chuffed to be invited. Congratulations to all the short-listed authors.

I do plan to attend the official opening of the BWF and the party afterwards on Wednesday the 1st, and I'm looking forward to meeting lots of wonderful writers, and having lots of chats about books. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Visit to Mount Scopus College and a Chat with the Rabbi

Back in June, the librarian at Mount Scopus College asked me to come to the school during Book Week to discuss Dancing in the Dark with the Year 9 students. Since the book is about a Jewish girl who rejects an orthodox lifestyle in order to pursue a career as a dancer,  when James Kennard, the school principal and himself an orthodox rabbi, found out about the scheduled visit, he had 'some concerns'. Reluctant to promote the book, he suggested I talk to the students about my writing, but 'not mention the book'. The librarian told him that wouldn't work, since the book was the reason she'd invited me in the first place, and instead proposed that she facilitate a discussion between him and me about the book. He agreed, and the discussion took place this morning.

To those of you who wanted to listen in,  I did try to have the session recorded, but Rabbi Kennard didn't allow it. Basically, he was extremely critical of the book (I'd been warned he would be), and made it clear that its message was contrary to the values and beliefs of orthodox Judaism. In that he was correct, since one of the tenets of orthodox Judaism is that the orthodox lifestyle is the only 'right' way for Jews to live. My book, on the other hand, promotes the idea of individual choice in matters of religion, and rejects the one size-fits-all approach.

He also claimed that the book was full of 'inaccuracies' in its portrayal of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, and that religion was at all times conveyed in a purely negative light. I strongly disagreed with both these claims, and ended the session by suggesting that the students read the book and make up their own minds.

All in all, I think it went well, and was an interesting and valuable discussion, as a lot of hands went up for the Q&A session at the end. It was just a shame that we only had 45 minutes - another 15 would have enriched the discussion further.

I also had the privelege of running a writing workshop for a selected group of Year 9 students - once again, far too short, but the kids managed some terrific writing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Celebrating with the CBCA Victorian Branch

Today, the Victorian Branch of the CBCA (Children's Book Council of Australia) celebrated the announcement of the CBCA awards. While the national announcement of the winners and Honour Books took place in Queensland, the Victorian branch made their own local announcement at Manor Lakes P-12 Specialist College. As a local author, I had the privelege of receiving an invitation to this special event, and was able to meet, among others, authors, illustrators and long-term members of the CBCA.

The CBCA is a not-for-profit organization that supports and promotes reading and offers annual awards in 6 categories - from early childhood to young adult. Its members work on a purely voluntary basis to share their love of books with children throughout Australia.

Manor Lakes P-12 Specialist College is a new school in Wyndham. Their librarian is the lovely and dedicated Tye Cattanache best known for her blog, The Book Gryffin. Tye reviews only the books she likes; her opinions and recommendations are well-considered.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Penguin Visit Revisited and Gearing up for the Melbourne Writers Festival

Megs wanted to know why my visit to Penguin yesterday was so interesting, so here goes:

Penny Tangey, who is a comedian as well as a writer, spoke about her book, Loving Richard Feynman. Though the book is ostensibly an epistolary novel, the protagonist doesn't actually intend sending the letters to the long-deceased Richard Feynman but is really writing to herself, so the letters in fact constitute a personal diary. Penny was inspired by her own journals and diaries, which she has kept since childhood. She read out excerpts - extremely amusing. She has this really dry sense of humour, all the funnier for her dead-pan delivery.

Then came Kate McCaffrey, author of Beautiful Monster. Kate started off by saying she didn't know she'd have to follow a comedian, and wouldn't be as funny - and yet, she was. Though her books aren't funny - she's the queen of 'teen angst' - she's a really entertaining speaker.

I was next - decidedly unfunny, but hopefully interesting and informative. I spoke a bit about what my book was about, and how I hope it will be taken into the classroom. I mentioned the difference between what teachers/librarians want kids to read and what kids themselves want to read, and how I aimed to bridge this gap by writing a book that would be accessible to reluctant readers yet thematically complex enough to be thought-provoking even for the most sophisticated readers. I also spoke of how, while Dancing in the Dark is an obvious choice for girls' schools, a number of teachers in co-ed schools have said that they always put books with boy appeal on the syllabus, because "girls will read a boys' book, but boys won't read a girls' book." To me, this seems very unfair, so I suggested that teachers consider putting two books on the syllabus - one 'girls' book and one 'boys' one, and give students a choice.

Then came Gabrielle Wang who talked about the fact that the protagonist in Little Paradise was based on her own mother, and the problems she encountered in the writing process as a result. An evocative and courageous love story, it's quite a lovely one.

Last but not least, Oliver Phommavanh spoke about Thai-riffic. Like Penny, he's a comedian as well as a writer, and it's evident the minute he opens his mouth. He hopes his novel will get the reader chuckling as it explores the migrant's experience in Australia.

And on to this morning, when I met up with Amra Pajalic (The Good Daughter), who will be my co-panelist at the MWF on Tuesday 31st August, and Ruby Murray, who will chair the session. It turns out that Ruby Murray is the daughter of the well-known YA writer, Kirsty Murray. (Ruby is also a budding author, currently at work on her first YA novel.)

It was lovely meeting Amra and Ruby, and chatting about our novels (mine and Amra's), which deal with similar themes. I'm looking forward to what should be a really interesting session at the MWF. If you'd like to come along, please do. I always think the sessions in the Schools Program are the best value for money. Tix only $6.00.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Visit to Penguin

Had an interesting time at  Penguin in Camberwell this afternoon talking to teachers about my book. Also had the pleasure of hearing Penny Tangey, Kate McCaffrey, Gabrielle Wang and Oliver Phommavanh talk about theirs.

Do We Need a Definition for YA Literature?

When I read Meg's post this morning, I was reminded of a concern that arises quite frequently for me when I read 'YA' literature. Megs described a book that was so full of violence and abuse that she couldn't imagine recommending it to anyone younger than at least 16.

As a mother of 3, I can't help but take issue at such books being labelled YA. My own son, now nearly 23, was a precocious reader, and when he was in his tweens and early teens I had no idea what he was reading, except that it was found in the YA section of the library, thereby guaranteeing its 'suitability'.

However, when he was in his late teens he told me that, though he had not wanted to admit it at the time, he now realised that many of those books had been not only challenging and confronting, but actually damaging.

I don't believe there is any issue that should in itself be taboo for children or teens. But the more confronting the subject, the greater the need for sensitivity when writing about it for school-age readers.

I think part of the problem is that there doesn't appear to be a strict definition of what YA literature actually is. Sometimes it's considered literature that is suitable for readers aged 12-18, and at other times it can seem to target readers anywhere from 8-25.

While I dislike the idea of restricting books to particular age groups, I do feel guidelines need to be more specific if they are to be genuinely useful.  What do you think?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Another Talmudic Offering

This one's for Lila. The Talmud suggests a person should wear a metaphorical coat with 2 pockets - in one pocket the maxim: I am as insignificant as the dust of the earth, and in the other: The entire world was created for me.

It's a way of balancing pride and humility, and while the first pocket allows you to take a philosophical view of the world and achieve perspective, the second is a reminder of the Torah view that every person is an entire universe:  If you take a life, it's as if you have destroyed an entire world, and when you save a life, it's as if you have saved an entire world.

Perhaps that's why fiction is so compelling, even when it deals with only a few main characters. In reading about individuals, (fictional or otherwise), it's as if we're reading about entire worlds.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Advice from the Talmud

According to the Talmud (the great compilation of Jewish learning comprising the written and oral law, and detailed explanations and commentaries upon them, including differences of opinion), a person should do three things for posterity:

1. Plant a tree
2. Have a child
3. Write a book

What do you think of this advice?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Puffin Turns 70!

Yesterday evening I had the privelege of attending Puffin's 70th birthday, which was warm, friendly and fabulous. An exhibition of Puffin Books tracing a timeline from Puffin's inception to the present day, and featuring original artwork, provided a pleasant and nostalgic trip down memory lane. There were speeches, 'Happy Birthday' was sung to a large stuffed Puffin on display in the centre of the room, and there was a real sense of shared purpose and reward.

Older people who had worked with Puffin Books for twenty or thirty years and have now retired celebrated alongside the newest and youngest members of the staff, and there was an impressive turn-out of well-known and fantastic authors and illustrators. I'm so glad I had the chance to attend.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Joanne Fedler on Hunger and Megs to the Rescue Once Again

Just got back from the Sunflower Bookshop where Joanne Fedler spoke about her latest book, When Hungry, Eat. What an inspirational woman! She spoke about our tendency to judge our experiences, rather than allow them to speak to us and teach us what we need to know.

Nearing her 40th birthday, Joanne was shocked by an unflattering photo of herself in a bikini, and vowing to shed unwanted kilos, went to see a dietician who told her, among other things, to 'make friends with hunger'. The idea of hunger had such negative connotations for her that at first she was reluctant to follow the dietician's advice. But eventually she did, tutoring herself first to recognize hunger - she had never experienced it before - and then coming to realise that her physical hunger mirrored a spiritual hunger for all she had lost through leaving South Africa and immigrating to Australia.

Joanne talked of the need to discover just what it is we're hungry for, and how we can ultimately allow that hunger to teach, guide and inspire us. She learned that the best way to feed one's own hunger is to help others assuage theirs.

In the course of her journey, Joanne found out that everyone is hungry for something. She signed my copy of her book with the blessing: 'May all your hunger become your friends.' Amen to that, and may it be so for all of you!

Now that I have the idea of gratitude firmly in my mind (thanks to Joanne), I must thank Megan Burke  who once again gave up her time to continue my blogging education, even though she was feeling unwell and had a million other things to do. Thankyou, Megs!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Word 'Protagonist' Disputed

Did you know that the word 'protagonist' has Greek origins and literally means 'first contestant' or 'first character'?

Accordingly, there can only be one protagonist in a play or story, and it is the character who first appears. Therefore, when a novel is related in the first person, the protagonist is always the narrator, even if he/she is not the main character.

'Protagonist' has come to mean 'main character', and people often refer to multiple 'protagonists'. But if 'protagonist' is simply a major character, what name do we give to the character who first appears? Does it even matter?

It's nitpicking, I know, but the stickler in me wants a distinction. Do you?

Friday, August 6, 2010

For the Girl in Me

I wanted to begin this blog with a picture - I found the perfect one, of a teenage girl reading, but you may have noticed that I'm new to blogging an haven't quite mastered the tecchy aspects of it yet, so bear with me. It might take a little while till I get the hang of it.
In the meantime, imagine a picture of a young girl reading, and read on...
Did you know that in a 7-year period every single cell in your body replaces itself? Well, it's true - and it raises an interesting question: If you're made up of cells, all of which individually die long before you do, then what makes you you? Are you the same you you once were, and if not, then who are you?
Consider this: People suffering from Alzheimer's get disoriented and literally lose their sense of self because they lose their memory. Even more confusing - memory is said to reside in each and every cell in our body, rather than a single specific area in the brain. So it exists at a cellular level as well as at a mental level, and it would seem that new cells come complete with ready-made memories. All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that you are the sum of your experiences, and memory is what gives you your sense of self.
My point? Simply that who you are now consists almost entirely of who you have been. Once you have experienced something it's with you forever.
I have been many things. I was once a baby, then a child, then a young adult, then a young mum etc. etc. And my point is, in some level I am still all those people. They are all an integral part of me.
Writing is a wonderful way to process your memories - to understand more about who you are, and who you have been. So when I write YA, I'm writing for the teenage girl who lives within me. Who do you write for?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Do Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth?

One of the things I like about writing is that I can do it alone. I've always been suspicious of books that have two authors and I tend to avoid them. But when I read a review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I just had to read it. Arguably my favourite book of 2010, the dual authorship in this case makes so much sense. The book is written in the first person but from two different characters' points of view, each narrating alternate chapters. Now, usually, when a book is narrated in the first person from multiple viewpoints, there's a problem of voice. If two characters are narrating, they have to sound different, and it's a rare writer indeed who can truly manage to pull this off. But when two different writers are at work, each narrating a single voice, the problem disappears. So it's a clever solution - apart from which, I loved the book. There's the straight Will Grayson and the gay Will Grayson, who don't know of each other's existence at the start of the book but end up as friends. And there's a fabulous, larger-than-life character called Tiny, who is physically, emotionally and spiritually huge. It's a wonderful, life affirming book, and I loved its message of love and tolerance, for oneself and others.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Experience versus Imagination

I was chatting with Megan Burke yesterday ( about life versus imagination. Fantasy aside, do you need to experience the things you write about? My view - not really. You don't need to commit suicide in order to write about a character who does. You do need to imagine - try to get inside that character's skin. Megs thought that not having a lot of life experiences could be a drawback for a writer. It could be; on the other hand, from the minute we're born (and probably even before) we are in fact experiencing life. It's not experience that makes us writers, but the way we reflect upon those experiences. Every living breathing minute is fodder for story - at least, that's my opinion. What's yours?