Monday, 10 August 2015

Word crush

I have a confession, I have a word crush. You see last year at the Bendigo Writers Festival I attended the session 'Talk Right, Write Better' and listened to the persuasive tones of David Astle (and others I should note, they were all fantastic). 

The session was entertaining, and above all a game change. See I was all high and mighty - firmly in the camp that everyone should always use correct spelling and grammer. Anything less was just wrong.

Jonathon Ridnell took the aforementioned Astle as well as Nicole Hayes, Matt Blackwood and Fiona Scott-Norman through an almost debate style presentation, each putting forth their ideas for why correct grammar was important, or not.

There were two moments that were the game changer. Astle saying "English has booby-traps, have empathy" was the first. Have empathy. I'd been wrong all this time. This was particularly disturbing seeing as I have been caught by these booby-traps from time to time. The second moment was Scott-Norman retelling how her mother wouldn't write to her when she was a child, which understandably upset her, but it was all because her mother could not read or write well. Game, set, match. Because it's better to write poorly than not at it, isn't it?

Why discuss this now? Firstly I'm not sure why I didn't blog about it last year, perhaps I could not find the words. Secondly because, well, Astle attended the festival this year and once again I thoroughly enjoyed every single one of his sessions.

Photo: Helen Konstan

He, quite understandably, has a way with words. I suppose he's easy on the eye too, or so I heard from listening to other attendees ;) It's the words that get me though.

I had many opportunities to have a chat with David, but my old friends nervousness and fear got in the way. You see I was afraid I'd have nothing intelligent to say. Horrifying!

Our WiA in-house photographer had better ideas though, and upon me mentioning that I wished I'd plucked up the courage at the writers drinks night promptly introduced us, and took this lovely snap.

Maybe next year I'll have a full wordly conversation. Maybe I'll come prepared to ensure that I don't sound silly.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

I accidentally sat next to Bruce Whatley

How does someone 'accidently' sit next to Bruce Whatley? Well, simple, I was too busy chatting with last years Writer in Action and Bendigo Writers Festival offical photographer Helen Konstan. I should probably also say that I was one chair removed from being next to Mr Whatley, but close enough.
It wasn't until Gena McLean, also a WiAer from last year and the person who actually did accidently sit next to Bruce, pointed out to me who he was that I realised. Whoops.

Last night was the Welcome dinner for the Text Marks the Spot guests, and what an amazing night. Being on Bruce's table for a good chunk of the night was so much fun. He is a very funny fellow, and generously shared stories, but importantly seemed genuinly interested in us ordinary folk on the table. Special. We spoke illustration, life and even spirituality and sceptic! (But that folks is a post for another day).

I also got to sit at a table with childrens author Adam Wallace, who is a very funny man. I hadn't come across his books before, but I get the feeling after meeting him that it is a must do - plus my 10 year old will love him too. On this table we discussed winking at Irish waiters to get preferred treatment, talking like a pirate, pop up playgrounds and puppetry.

Not your average dinner out. It is a real privelege to be invited to events such as this and despite my natural shyness I had an amazing time again. I even pushed myself this year to have a chat with the authors, which was my big regret last year. Tick that one off the bucket list!

Friday, 24 July 2015

The words to come

I'm writing an essay. Well, I have been researching and writing a little, and I'm going to get back to it soon.

But while I was formulating what wanted to be written I got to thinking about my writing process. 

I tend to worry a bit over the words, teasing them apart, willing them into existence. While sometimes the words come easy at other times I fret over them far too much. Quite silly really, and I say this because once they are written the words sit there proudly on the page. They flow well, they make sense and they mean something.

Hopefully the time will come when I can just give myself over to the words, and take the advice that I give to others when they think they don't know what to write.

Relax, the words will come. They are there, they just haven't been written yet.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Of course everything is easy. When you know how.

With two new batches of Writers in Action about to start wrting the festival there has been a lot of discussion on 'how to' blog.

It all seems rather easy now - just write.

Of course it if I stretch my mind back to just over a year ago I was feeling just the same as these students, and I know my class mates were too.

It can be difficult to know where to start. After all, there are many things we could write about. That's what is most paralysing when it comes to writing - how do you begin when you don't know where to start?

These days a post comes from one of two areas - because I have been given a task, or inspiration has struck and I can just write

Like any piece of writing it takes planning to write. A blog post is no different than writing an article or an assignment. It has a beginning, a middle and an end.

I put some thoughts down, word after word. Sometimes the words just flow, and sometimes they take some cobbling together. It also helps to let the words sleep. Let them rest, and come back to them with fresh eyes.

Writing takes practice, and the more practice you get the easier it becomes. A bit like riding a bike really.

So, for WiA of 2015, start off with small posts, even if they are only 100 words. Get a feel for it. Try different styles, keep practicing until you find your voice. Read each others blogs and see what makes each other tick. The words will come, your voice will get louder, and before you know it you will have a blog.

What is hard becomes easy. When you know how. All it takes is practice.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Charles Jenkins "How to write a song"

Writing a song can't be that hard right?  Even if you cannot play an instrument or read music you can write lyrics, hum a tune.  After all thousands of people do it all the time.

Of course this isn't the case, and writing for listening can be just as challenging as other forms.

"It takes an enormous amount of effort to make something seem effortless", Charles says during this workshop, but he also says that "the way to start writing songs is to start writing songs.  Don't wait for inspiration".

Got it.  Just write, there's that advice again, deceptively simple.

Involved in this workshop were primary and secondary students, some local, some travelling from a couple of hours away, as well as the WiA 'kids', and all there were in for a real treat.  Not only was it a fun interactive experience, it was a real treat to see a man break down the barriers of communication.  I am not sure that I have ever seen a more engaged group of students, who enthusiastically got involved in what was asked.

Jenkins broke the ice by telling the audience of his own journey as a musician and writer, with a few chuckles to start it all off.  Then the crowd was into it - writing a song.  Each audience member needed to contribute just one word and Jenkins would write a song.  There were a few curly words, a lot of laughter, but the result was a nonsensical and fun jingle.

Next was more difficult, groups providing rhyming couplets, but everyone once again got involved and there were some pearlers provided to make up the song.  And it was a fun little song.

Of course Jenkins still made it look all so easy, but reminded everyone that to be a good songwriter takes time.  To master writing lyrics one must read lots, and to master a melody one must listen lots.  And maybe learn an instrument or two.  And when you are struggling to finish a song you have started?

"The answer to your song is in our song".


As Stars Fall, by Chrisite Nieman- a review

As Stars Fall centres around three teenagers, perhaps typically angst-y, but from untypical circumstances.  Robin, a bird nerd who moves to the city from the Victorian country after a devastating bush fire and the separation of her parents.  Delia, a book nerd, unpopular, intrigued by new girl Robin with her fascination with birds, and who is reeling from the death of her mother. Seth, Delia's brother who is hurting after the loss of his mother.

Nieman writes of the collision of humans against humans, humans against nature, and nature against nature. She weaves into the narrative the voices of the characters with the voices of the birds and the nature that they all occupy.  Using a distinctly Australian voice Nieman discusses the fragility of life and nature, of young adulthood, of parenthood and adulthood.  She switches between the narrative of each character with apparent ease, giving just enough story from each perspective to feed into the next, making you want to keep on reading to find out more.

"Feeling safe enough to feel vulnerable is a really good combination of feelings."

The storyline is at times unexpected, from a perspective that may even shock some readers, but I for one enjoyed reading the story from this perspective.  It glued the story together rather neatly.

   "There were no more falling embers, the fire in our paddock was out, and the big fire in the hills turned back on itself and died right down.  The smoke cleared and the moon came out."

The story manages to capture the depths of despair one can experience just by being a teenager, entwining it with the effects of the tradgedies that bring these characters together, and yet still manages to keep a sense of light throughout, finishing in a satisfying way.  A lovely read.


Until I went to do this exercise I hadn't realised what reviewing really entailed.  I was excited that I recieved a book to read, and I knew that I had to write some words about it.  But what words?  I did some research on how to write a review...crap.  This could be a bit harder than I thought. Certainly more difficult than just read-then-write.  There is an amount of responsibility - to the author, to the readers of the review and then the potential readers of the book.

It is important to not give the plot away, but discuss the book in an honest manner that perhaps will get someone to read it.  Even if you don't particularly like the book it doesn't mean that it should be trashed.  If you love the book you shouldn't be too complimentary, that's not really fair to potential readers either.  Golly.  Talk about the book without talking of the book.  Sheesh.  It's more than regurgitating the blurb.

I read the book, and as I opened to the first pages there was some trepidation of the task, and still not really knowing what I would write about.  I really enjoyed the book, I couldn't put it down, it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and evening.  

Overwhelmingly I thought to discussions on ABC Radio National at the Writers Festival with Kirsten Krauth and Jenny Valentish.  Both marketed as Young Adult writers, both saying "Why does it need to be only YA?".  Reading 'As stars fall' I get that now.  I would have loved this book as a young adult, but I think it would have been on a different level to my enjoyment as a 30-something.  And as a 30-something I feel quite qualified to say that this is book that would hold an attraction for a greater age range than only YA.

I have to admit that I have been reticent to pick up YA books as I got older - because they are not meant for me are they?  I have decided that's rubbish though.  Just because it may have characters that are younger, facing situations that I may or may not have already faced - does that mean I shouldn't enjoy reading about it? Of course not.  A well written book is a well written book, and sure it's nice too capture a particular audience, but please publishers, don't dismiss the rest of us.  We like to read good books too - and this is a good book. For any age.  Thanks Christie for writing this.  

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Power of Books

Listening to Jackie French speak, as I did three times over the writers festival, it is easy to get caught up in her enthusiasm for books, reading and literacy. Jackie as a speaker is generous, animated, and inspiring.
It all began for Jackie from a young life rich in stories - oral story telling from family, then the magic of discovering Socrates and The Magic Pudding at age seven. This is when she discovered that you didn't need to be "trapped in a box of here and now" and that you can live a thousand lives through books and stories.  Now that is a statement that must resonate with any person who has a love for reading.  Who among us with this love for reading hasn't had an experience of a book 'hangover' from reading something that truly grabs us?

Jackie's theory on what books we should 'allow' our children to read is an interesting one, and one I think could be explored further.  Allow them to read what ever they want - don't limit them to 'childrens books', allow them to extend their reading beyond their 'limitations'.  Why?  Because this is another way we learn, and Jackie's point is most important, this is how we learn about adulthood.  

"Stories are where you can tell the truth to youth" Jackie said.

Telling youth the truth in print, and in a format they can digest, for they will often only take out what they can understand. An enjoyable preparation for the years to come I should think.

"Every child deserves to read," said Jackie "and every child has a magic book".

Just what is that, a magic book?  It is the book that opens the world of reading up, even to a person who thought they would never enjoy reading.  Of course finding that magic book is the challenge, and one way to do that is through libraries.

"Libraries are places of power".

A powerful place full of worlds yet to be explored, stories to discover, and rediscover, and we all should have access to them, and make sure that we do.
I must admit Jackie's talks resonated with me on a personal level as I had had discussions with a number of my son's teachers who didn't like that I allowed him to read books meant for older readers.  When I asked "Why not?" I was told it was because he should read at only his level, that he wasn't 'ready' for those other books.  I disagreed with that on many levels - he loved to read but not his school reader because they were 'boring' and not challenging for him; I felt that his reading and comprehension improved from reading more challenging books and I knew this because we discuss his reading; and most importantly he consumes books, he loves them, and I was sure as anything not going to take that away from him!  To hear that my own personal feelings and observations were backed up by an author of Jackie's calibre and children's laureate, well let's just say that is satisfying.
Jackie sums it up the best -  "there is nothing more powerful than a book".