November 7

How to write – Richard Harland

richardAt a Creative Writers’ camp recently, Richard Harland worked with students to demonstrate ways in which they might create and build a story. He drew on examples from some of his most popular stories, Worldshaker and Song of the Slums to inspire students to investigate the feelings and emotions of the characters, and how they might develop these ideas in their own writing.

One of the things he emphasised was that writing requires you to draw on your own experiences. However, he assured us that even if you haven’t actually experienced the particulars of an event, it is possible to transfer emotions from a similar event to develop an idea. So we then had a few “have you ever…?” moments to inspire ideas and discussion.

Early on, Richard spoke of his own writer’s block – his first fully published success was at the age of 45 even though he has written all his life! Discovery of your own writing style and talents is thus important, he stated. He encouraged students to seek comment from others – both positive and negative – so that they might work out what they write best.

Another idea he demonstrated in the workshop was that writers are all unique, drawing from different experiences and lifestyles to create their stories. As we shared our ideas, this was clearly  obvious, with many different scenarios developed around the group. “Ransack your memories…

The finale was when Richard demonstrated his SteamPunk guitar, which he encouraged a friend to create from his own imagination.

guitar

“Put yourself in the character’s shoes, and imagine how s/he would be feeling.”

In weeks to come, there should be some reviews or comments from those on the camp who purchased his book, Song of the Slums, so check back soon.

September 13

Congratulations, Jackie French!

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Source: SMH, September 12 2013

Accolades once again to Jackie French’s writing talents! She has been awarded the Young People’s History Prize at NSW Premier’s History Award for 2013.

Extraordinarily, Jackie had 2 chances to win, as 2 of her books were shortlisted for the prize – Pennies for Hilter and Dingo: The Dog Who Conquered a Continent. A third book, What are the Mysteries of Lake Mungo? by Timothy Gurry and Robert Lewis, made up the shortlist for this section of the History awards.

Jackie is well reknowned for her writing – especially historical fiction; and has won many awards over the years as children’s author. As a prolific researcher and writer, she collects her inspiration from around her, including comments from fan-mail. Pennies for Hitler is a fine example of this:

After reading French’s first book on the fraught topic, Hitler’s Daughter, the boy was moved to write his first note, observing: “I have learnt to be wary of anyone who makes you angry”.

French says: “I had been wondering how did Hitler do it. How did he get people to believe that people because of their race and religion should be exterminated? And a 14-year-old boy gave me the answer. Anger is contagious.” From SMH article below.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/jackie-frenchs-pennies-for-hitler-wins-young-people-prize-at-nsw-premiers-history-award-20130912-2tmnd.html#ixzz2eizC2ZWU

# Also see our previous review on Pennies for Hitler. Congratulations once again, Jackie!

May 22

Who am I? ‘Red’ by Libby Gleeson

She rouses herself, caked in mud, covered in debris. Where is she? what has happened? Better still, who is she?

In a daze, her eyes finally focus on a boy ‘sitting on a kitchen table in a muddy pool’. As she babbles incoherently, he slaps her hard across the face – not a very auspicious beginning to a friendship. However, they do becomes friends, as Peri is a person she has to rely on, while the girl struggles to remember who she is and how she got there.

‘Red’ is set in Sydney, following the events created when a cyclone devastates the eastern suburbs. In survival mode, Red and Peri team up. Glimpses of memory return as they move about finding food and shelter amongst the devastation. Red, though she cannot remember, is sure she has a family who could be searching for her, and so they skirt around the shelters set up to help those impacted by the cyclone’s destruction.

Peri was a street kid before the disaster, and so his skills protect them. They want to avoid the authorities taking charge of them – a decision which comes mainly from Peri, though his reasons are unclear. Red accepts this, and together they move about in survival mode, until a discovery makes their anonymity even more important.

Libby Gleeson has successfully created a mystery which unravels slowly as ‘Red’ recovers her memory, bit by bit. A friend from the past fills some gaps, though lost contact between Jazz and Red leave an absent period in Red’s life. Objects and places they encounter jog her memory also – but only to suggest to her that she is in great danger.

There are some interesting devices in Libby Gleeson’s story:

1. I love that a safe haven for Red and Peri is the school library

2. Red carries a picture book from that library with her – the story of which brings hope and colour into her thoughts. (#Trying to guess which one – think this may be similar to a recent publication?)

3. The disaster hits Sydney with an impact that recalls our shock about the Queensland floods, while we were still able to carry on our daily lives here in NSW – in the story life carries on in the suburb of Burwood, and areas outside of the eastern suburbs seaboard.

There are also others that I won’t mention, as they may be spoilers, but needless to say, Libby Gleeson has created a tale which reflects the chaos caused by natural disasters and the inner resilience of people, woven into a thriller which has you guessing ‘what next?’.

As an extremely successful author, an advocate for quality children’s literature and a passionate teacher of her art, Libby’s talents provide another great read for enthusiasts from senior primary to lower secondary school – certainly one to promote interest and discussion.

Here’s a book trailer, released by to introduce ‘Red’ and a link to Libby’s website for more great writing:

June 23

Richard shakes our world

worldshaker2It was a privilege for our students to have a visit from the author of ‘Worldshaker’, Richard Harland, to our school this week. With his visit, he brought an understanding of the steampunk genre, tips for writers, and inspiration from his workshops with small groups of our writers.

‘Worldshaker’ has had worldwide success, being published in many different languages, and has now been followed by a sequel, ‘Liberator’. It tells the tale of Colbert Porpentine, as he embarks on a journey towards becoming the next Supreme Commander of the juggernaut, Worldshaker.  In a divided world, he lives on the upper deck in a state of privilege (rising from his family inheritance), while down many levels below, a contrasting state exists for the ‘filthies’.

As Col moves toward learning about his future role, he also learns of the world below which he had surprisingly little awareness of. Through his unexpected exposure to an escaped ‘filthy’, Riff, his understanding of life is challenged and impacts on his developing education for his future leadership role.

By examining his book, which many of students had read earlier, Richard was able to focus on some of the elements needed to create a great story. One of his strongest messages was to write from your own experiences rather than from what you have read or seen in movies. ‘Use and adapt your own experiences’: demonstrated, as students worked through episodes in the story, vividly creating their own descriptions.

The enthusiasm displayed by students in the writers’ group reflected inspiration from an enthusiastic and successful writer. Not only were they informed of the workings of the Steampunk genre, but of the rigour required for a solid body of work, the ways to capture the imagination of the reader, and methods for beginning the writing journey. Who knows what works were inspired by this visit.

Richard also spoke about his involvement in a collaboration with other fantasy writers, developed by Isobelle Carmody, in the book ‘The Wilful Eye: Tales From The Tower’ – a collection of retold fairytales. This enabled writers to consider, in a workshop exercise, aspects like where to begin a short story, how to reveal important details and from whose perspective the story might be told. Lots of food for thought for aspiring writers.

As several people also bought copies of ‘Liberator’, I’d also be interested in hearing reviews of the next in the series – any comments? Or any comments about how an author visit impacted on you…

September 13

Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!

dahlSeptember 13 is a time to remember one of the most inventive children’s authors, Roald Dahl. (Dahl was born on September 13, 1916.)

Though the current generation of children will think more about Johnny Depp starring in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, there have been many more who have grown up reading about  ‘Matilda’, ‘the BFG’ and practising speaking ‘gobblefunk’ (a language invented by Dahl). In a wonderful world of escapism, Dahl captured the imagination of many young readers, and remains available to avid readers today.

Did you ever…

Did you ever wonder if Matilda would escape her monotonous homelife? Or how would she overcome the awful Trunchbull?

What about ‘the Witches’? Did you see them in your mind in the same way as they were portayed in the movie, ‘the Witches’? Could you handle the descriptions of them better as a book description, than what you saw in a film? (I wouldn’t let my young children watch the movie even though they’d read the book…)

Did you ever want to take off away from your troubles? Well, James does in the form of a giant peach! This is the imagination of Roald Dahl – as he delves into issues of being an unwanted orphan, who is desperate friends. Thus, James has to discover friends instead, in a band of rag-tag anthropomorphic insects; insects transformed by the magic of the green crystals which have grown his peach to giant proportions.

james_peach

Such are the worlds created by Dahl. Where almost nothing is impossible, and almost all his stories are told from the perspective of a child – and often with some moral to the tale. Gluttony and greed are frowned upon, as is the mistreatment of children. Surprisingly though, some of his books have been censored and/or banned –  ‘the Witches’, ‘James and the Giant Peach’, and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ to name a few.

Banned books!

The first was banned because it gave children an unrealistic or false idea of the way the world works. (Surprise, surprise! it did focus on a witches convention!) ‘James’ was in trouble because he disobeyed his abusive aunts and escaped in a ‘too magical’ peach. And ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ struck trouble, even  before publication, because the original Oompa Loompas were created as black pygmies, who worked only for chocolate and no pay. Thankfully, Dahl bowed to censorship, and changed the offensive racist elements.

As noted by those who have witnessed Dahl’ s popularity: 

“The very controversy caused by Roald Dahl’s works for early adolescents has drawn millions of teens to his books and, subsequently, encouraged them to enjoy reading. These young people found in Roald Dahl something that they could not find anywhere else: an author with a view of society that was essentially identical to their own–distrustful of authority figures and firm in the belief that good will triumph.” Sharon E. Royer in the Alan Review

Maybe we should let students know how Dahl was censored and banned and wait for the rush? Come and visit the display set up for his birthday, take the quiz challenge and read the trivia fact sheet – all thanks to RandomHouse as they too celebrate for 2010. How much do you know about Roald Dahl?

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August 29

Writers on writing – Sonya Hartnett

sonya_hartnettSonya Hartnett has been writing since she was very young and had her first book published at the age of 15. She has been recognised by many awards in her writing career, so it was interesting to hear her interviewed for the 702 Bookclub recently, where she told some interesting tales about when and how she writes.

As a successful author, Sonya has many books to her name – one of the most recent being ‘Butterfly’ (reviewed earlier). In this interview, she talks about how she takes on the voice of a teenaged girl in ‘Butterfly’, and tells about how and when she writes each day. Listen to the interview by clicking here.

Since 1995, Sonya has received many accolades for her writing, including awards from the Children’s Book Council of Australia, NSW Premier’s Children’s Award, the Guardian Children’s Award and the Miles Franklin Award. Some of her books have been received with controversy as well (‘Sleeping Dogs’ and ‘All My Dangerous Friends’ among these).

Sonya’s books include (see CMIS Focus on Fiction for more details and titles):

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    • the Silver Donkey
    • the Ghost’s Child
    • Thursday’s Child
    • Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf
    • And my personal favourite, Forest.

Why not leave a comment about any of Sonya’s books you have enjoyed, or what you think of her writing style and method? Click on (Comments in the title bar)

July 29

Anonymity Jones by James Roy

anonAnonymity is not happy. Her sister is off exploring Europe, her dad is going through a mid-life crisis, and her mum has a strange new boyfriend. And no-one (not even the other three musketeers) understands why she is worried about all this.

The problems all started, it seems, when her parents had a blazing row which culminated in their separation – enter John, Corinne’s boyfriend, after Anonymity’s dad left home in disgrace. Anonymity is not comfortable with ‘try-hard’ John, but her mother is in denial and her friends are pre-occupied by other interests like new boyfriends.

James Roy has a talent for writing from the point of view of young people – and, as an observant father of adolescent daughters, has created realistic female characters. 

He knows about shopping, the dream of the European holiday, the fantasies about the ‘perfect’ boyfriend, and the reality of the times when friends let you down – just when you really need them. He also captures the awkward positions that teens sometimes find themselves in; the times when they are powerless to speak up, afraid they are perceiving things differently to reality. Because of this, he has the reader of this tale questioning the motives of some of the characters, and worrying about the situations Anonymity faces in these awkward times.

Anonymity wants her life back – back to the times when her parents were together and happy. But as her friends explain – times change, and “sometimes you just have to take what you get, and be happy for that.” Whether Anonymity accepts this idea, and how she deals with the things life throws at her, reflect a lot of things we can all identify with. This is the power of a good book – one which get the reader involved, one which is believable and one with believable characters.

The places Anonymity finds herself in, as a consequence of what life throws at her, are well worth considering – how they might have been avoided, prevented or warned against. Makes you wonder why James called her ‘Anonymity’ in the first place?

What do you think?

May 22

Where The Streets Had A Name: Randa Abdel-Fattah

randaI recall listening to Randa Abdel-Fattah decrying the fact that many books about other cultures are written by those outside the culture. How authentic could such novels be, she asked? She also seemed to indicate that this lead to an urge for her to be the provider of the authentic experience – writing from her heritage from the things she herself knew and understood – as an Australian Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage.

‘Where the Streets had a name’ certainly meets the criteria Randa has set for authenticity. It reflects her high interest in Palestinian human rights and introduces the average Australian young adult reader to situations of dispossession, the daily struggles of people living with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and life under military occupation.

Hayaat, as a young but determined teenager, centres the story, after introducing her family situation and daily events – which can include curfews, rationing and disruptions to normal routines. As her grandmother, Sitti Zeynab  is ailing/dying, she longs for the homeland she knew – before her family was dispossessed and moved to a foreign place. Hayaat commits to bringing to her grandmother, soil from her homeland. While this homeland is physically only a short distance  away, there are many barriers to Hayaat’s mission due to political restraints. But she goes nonetheless, with her Christian friend, Samy, in tow.

To the average Australian teenager such a journey may seem incomprehensible, given the political situation, but with the humour and the silly optimism of Hayaat, Samy and their various encounters, there is much to be considered. And it provides an insight into life in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem – life in ‘an open-air prison’.

As an ‘Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian’, Randa Abdel-Fattah lives in many worlds. She has always been passionate about Palestinian human rights campaigns due to her heritage. Her work as a lawyer is intricately combined with her authorship, and she is often called upon to talk about all of these things. A visit to father’s birthplace, Palestine, in 2000 inspired this book, as the tale of her grandmother’s own dispossession became clearer to her. 

There is lots to be learnt from this tale, as Randa grounds it in her in own life story. In her (first) book dedication, she states:

To my Grandmother Sitti Jamilah, who passed away on 24th April, 2008, aged 98. I had hoped that you would live to see this book and that you would be allowed to touch the soil of your homeland again. It is my consolation that you died surrounded by my father and family and friends who cherished you. May you rest in peace. And to my father-May you see a free Palestine in your lifetime.

While this indicates the heart with which Randa has written the book, it also gives hint to the urge she has to present realistic  reflection of life as a Muslim in the global  world today. One reviewer hoped that it would help young readers to:

‘grasp the seemingly endless turmoil of the occupied West Bank and Israel’ and ‘help adults grasp the ridiculous realities of insult constantly faced by residents of occupied Palestine’.  Naomi Shihab Nye, Wisdom and laughter in a child’s view of Palestine.The Electronic Intifada, 10 December 2008 Sourced from: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10011.shtml

For more about what inspired Randa Abdel-Fattah to write this and her previous books, ‘Does My Head Look Big in this?’ and ‘Ten Things I Hate About Me’, visit her web site FAQ page: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/faqs.html

Do you think it is important for people to write what they really know? or can an author complete a certain amount of research to write an authetic novel?

April 30

Short and Scary

short_scaryWant to be a writer? Have you ever dreamed of having your stories published? What about being published alongside well-known authors like Carole Wilkinson, Shaun Tan, James Roy, Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton, James Moloney, Sally Odgers, Susanne Gervay or Gabrielle Wang? well, it can be done!

Just ask Ben, Jared, Joshua, Kelsey and Stewart. After lots of hard work, creating, pondering and editing, they were fortunate enough to have their stories and illustration included in the newly released ‘Short and Scary’ anthology, published by Black Dog Books this April.  They are now published authors!

‘Short and Scary’ is a collection of short stories, poems and illustrations designed to have you wondering, peeking carefully around the next corner, and wondering about all things creepy and chilling.

‘Short and Scary’ follows on from a previous book from Black Dog Books – ‘Short’, which also included stories from well known Australian childrens’ authors and contribtions from students. Authors for both books receive no royalties, which actually go to support Big Brothers Big Sisters , mentoring program – the honour for our students, of course, was being published in the same book as recognised authors!

See comments on other websites on ‘Short and Scary’:

http://www.gabriellewang.com/archives/short-and-scary/

http://chrismiles.com.au/2010/03/29/new-short-fiction-in-black-dog-books-anthology/

So please check it out from the school library – or buy your own copy from most book stores, to get it signed by our authors. You may have a momento of a famous author one day!

October 24

Award for Markus Zusak (another one…)

markus-book-theifThe creative genius of Markus Zusak has again received acclaim for ‘the Book Thief’  – this time in his mother’s homeland, Germany. Alongside another Aussie, Shaun Tan, Markus was awarded a prize by winning in a major category at the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, Germany’s most prestigious awards for children’s and YA books.

That he should receive such acclaim for a book written about the (fictional) experience of Liesel Meminger, a child in Nazi Germany, is quite a triumph. But not one we are surprised by however, given the extraordinary tale Markus has woven; one recognised by many awards since its publication in 2005.

According to Markus, The Book Thief is a small story. (With 584 pages, I wonder how he might tell a large story?) Though it covers many pages, it is masterful and intriguing to read – so you regret when it finishes. It is an emotional ride, as Liesel navigates childhood years amid the experience of WWII, which makes the adult world even more mystifying than usual.

What she has to do to find enough to eat, to make sense of the treatment of Jews and to remain human in the frenetic world of bombing raids and persecution describe the tale. Unique friendships and creative ways to survive, bring connections through the book, as Liesel brings people together using books; stolen and shared as they huddle from the outside world in the safety of a basement.

While often referred to as Zusak’s first adult book, ‘the Book Thief’ also has great appeal for the mature young adult reader – especially those with an  interest in WWII perspectives from a child’s point of view. That the tale is narrated by Death may be offputting to some, but it enables an interesting and unique way of judging mankind.

In the opinion of German judges in the abovementioned awards:

‘many individual stories of the experience of youth in the Second World War have been written, but none match up to the narrative of this book.’

Many older reviews are available online, which recommend that both adults and young adults read ‘the Book Thief’, so can you argue with that? Have you read ‘the Book Thief’? What did think of it?

Reviews:

Ardagh, Philip. January 6, 2007.  It’s a Steal, the Guardian. ‘Unsettling, thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. It is an important piece of work, but also a wonderful page-turner. I cannot recommend it highly enough.’

Green, John. May 14, 2005. Fighting for their Lives. New York Times. ‘Many teenagers will find the story too slow to get going… But it’s the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, “The Book Thief” offers us a believable, hard-won hope.’

Pierce, Peter. September 10, 2005. The Book Thief. The Age. ‘A prize-winning children’s author, Zusak has made a daring debut as an author of adult fiction.’

N.B. We are eagerly await Markus’ next book, ‘Bridge of Clay’ (due for release in November 2009)… We’ll keep you posted.