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?