Posted in Books, cyber bullying, cyber bullying resources, Cyber Cop, Ivanhoe Grammar School, literary appearances, Michael Carr-Gregg, Susan MacLean, Uncategorized, writing

Return from Ivanhoe

No it’s not the sequel to Destroying Avalon, it’s what I’ve been up to lately. The musings have been quiet because I have been in Melbourne! Late last year as I innocently googled the title of my book (a past time all authors assure me they engage in- except the likes of JK and Stephen King!) I came across a review, on a WordPress blog. Destroying Avalon had only been released in September and this review was written in about October. Intrigued, I read it and was rewarded with praise and glowing recommendations! I returned fire (friendly of course) thanked the anonymous reviewer and addressed several of the questions that had been raised. Pressed send, end of story.

Not quite. When I came home that day there in my Inbox was a reply to my comment. The reviewer was none other than the Head of Ivanhoe Grammar in Melbourne. What developed then was months of corresponding and co-ordinating my trip as Writer-in-Residence to their school.

What a school! On my last night there I attended a Parent Forum- for the launch of Ivanhoe’s Cyber bullying policy and when I spoke I made the point that if I lived in Melbourne I’d send my kids to Ivanhoe. I sincerely mean it! Firstly, Graeme Harder- the head of Ivanhoe Plenty, is a forward thinking man, he seized on Destroying Avalon at its release and began organising cyber bullying forums and sessions immediately. To my mind this is a man with his finger on the pulse! The school is lovely, and the students brilliant.

I had sessions with each year group- engaging and polite kids. I also had a writer’s workshop with the Talented and Gifted Writers’ Group- wow, impressive people. These students are SO smart, and lovely too. We could have extended the time from two hours to four and probably would have needed more. The head of secondary Renata Rowe was a wonderful host, organising and accommodating us (my sister-agent flew over with me) and Chris Norwood (of the library) was wonderful too. It was a fantastic time.

The trip concluded with the parent forum which was lead by Adolescent Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg and Victoria’s Cyber Cop Susan MacLean. Talk about authorities on the subject. Together these two make a formidable duo- armed with all the latest imformation on cyber bullying and teenage depression. They are fantastic speakers to have in a school and also have resources to help schools tackle cyber bullying. Michael Carr Gregg’s website is certainly worth checking out.

I hope to stay in touch with the kids from Ivanhoe- via this blog (some have already commented) or through my email at jn-arts@bigpond.net.au. One day I’d love to go back- who knows In Ecstasy is out next year- maybe then!!

Posted in Books, cyber bullying, cyber bullying resources, writing

Cyber bullying is 24/7- “We’re Watching You”

More on cyber bullying….

Early this year ABC Radio National did a ‘Street Stories’ production titled “We’re Watching You”. For those of you who’ve read Destroying Avalon you’ll know that is one of the text messages Avalon is sent. For those of you who’ve heard me publicly speak you’ll know it is also the title my publisher suggested for Destroying Avalon– back when it was A Person of Interest (that’s another post!!). Anywho- the ABC story is about cyber bullying and went to air on the 18th February 2007. It was produced by Annie Thomson and it is a fantastic resource for a discussion on cyberbullying.

I was listening to it again, I have it as a podcast- ahhh the wonders of technology (if only it was used for good- not evil) and Annie Thomson has created an amazing documentary. She interviewed me, a school teacher, a victim of cyber bullying and her mother, and two girls who were caught cyber bullying. We were all interviewed separately, and, as is the producer’s job, Annie pieced the stories together, linked with some lovely readings from Destroying Avalon.

What struck me as I listened to it was the ‘sameness’ of what we all said. Remember we were interviewed separately. But Annie used one person to lead into the next, if I stated something I’d researched, the victim of cyber bullying was later heard illustrating that point. I guess the sad thing is research reflects true stories- this kid (whose name was changed to protect her) is a living example of how damaging cyber bullying is. And coupled with that we hear the voices of the perpetrators. For me it was interesting to hear the dynamic between them. The ‘minion’ was remorseful and in a way it was heartening to hear her breakdown- she cried when she told of how she was punished for her part- mostly by the other girls at her school. She even showed evolution when she stated how she’d learnt from the experience. But the ringleader! Shudder- she was remorseless. Her attitude was still “So what?” But then underneath it you heard a very lonely and rejected kid- she made reference several times to the fact she was a boarder and ‘wasn’t close to her parents’.

I think the success of this production lay in the clever juxtapositioning of victim and bullies. Even the fact it was one against two-  symbolic of the nature of bullying. Even though these kids weren’t linked (the 2 girls weren’t this particular victim’s bullies) the similarity of their stories was chilling! To hear the voice behind nastiness and then the deeply affected voice of the victim is something I think all kids should hear.

Maybe it will teach them empathy? At the least understanding?

It’s a fantastic resource that should be used in schools.

Congratulations Annie Thomson.

(If you look in My Pages- I’ve created a page with links to this story- but I don’t know if the audio is still available via the Net. You may have to contact ABC directly. It’s worth it though, promise!!)

UPDATE:

I was sent this address-

http://www.podfeed.net/episodes.asp?id=1894&ct=1

 try it, they seem to carry quite an archive of Street Stories- scroll down to 2/17/2007 We’re Watching You and download for your listening pleasure!!!

Posted in Books, cyber bullying, literary appearances, writing

All Saints’ Festival Over For Another Year!

WOW! That was exhausting! A lot more exhausting than I ever imagined. For those of you who have never attended this Gala event it is a Children’s Literature Festival run every year on the grounds of All Saints’ College in Bull Creek WA. What an amazing experience! As a presenter, the festival organiser (Kris Williams) ensures your every need is met. The whole operation is seamless and professional, for each session a student is assigned to take you (the presenter) to and from your venue. These venues range from theatres in the school (and there are a few), to gigantic air-conditioned marquees. The student introduces you to your audience and concludes the session for you, along with offering you water and coffee (like I said your every need is met) and food. The school puts on amazing food- including a wonderful coffee shop erected for the occasion- great coffee, thanks guys!

Between sessions we get to kick back and talk to other authors, illustrators and people in the industry. A great sharing experience, I learnt a lot of ways to present a ‘meet the author’ session in the future (courtesy of Julia Lawrinson and JC Burke) and heard some amazing stories of other author’s roads to publication (thanks Barry Heard).

The most rewarding aspect of the whole experience is meeting the readers of your book face-to-face and getting feedback from them. In one of my sessions a group of kids, who had read Destroying Avalon as a class sat in the front rows and bombarded me with questions. Hello students from Tranby (Baldivis WA). You guys were fantastic- I loved the opinions and the ideas that you had. I especially loved the fact that all of the feedback about Marshall was so positive. I love that Marshall is finally being accepted.

Would I do it again?

It’s a long way- I get on the freeway at Joondalup, drive through peak hour traffic to exit at the Leach Highway. It’s mentally draining- standing in front of a crowd of people, who may or may not have read your book, ranging from 80 – 300 and talking constantly for 45 minutes. It requires a lot of organisation (I still have 2 children who attend school and extra-curricular activities and a partner who sometimes would like to spend time with me). But it’s so rewarding.

So YES! I would and I think the school -All Saints and Kris (in particular- along with Adam and there were other key people whose names I’ve forgotten- sorry) deserve a pat on the back for creating such a festival and providing West Australian students with a terrific opportunity to meet with living authors!

And for those of you who attended I hope you found it as rewarding as I did!

Well done!

Posted in Books, censorship, cyber bullying, writing

Teaching Young Adult Readers to Swear

My mum always said if we don’t put boundaries on our language, it’s difficult to put boundaries on anything. I guess, in a way, she meant that language is our first attempt at self-censoring. If we are able to speak in a polite and respectful way- even when we are faced with abuse (think road rage) it in turn manages to control the rest of our behaviour. This sounds like a sermon. It’s not. It’s about the power of language and its place in YA lit.

Language is able to bring down empires and destroy lives. All you have to do is cast your mind back to Hitler’s Germany. He created a frenzy in people through rhetoric alone. Slurs and insults are difficult to shrug off- even for the more self-assured and confident of us. “Ignore it” we say, which of course is what we should all do- but it’s difficult. Negativity seems to outlast positive comments. Marshall writes, “Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you- bullshit- they do hurt.” 

In Destroying Avalon language is critical. Words are powerful, as Avalon and her friends realise. The internet and mobile phone allow the quick transmission of these words, where their damaging effects then take hold. Interestingly enough Avalon comes from a home where “obscene language is a capital offence, along with murder,” and it is the result of her use of that f-word that brings the novel to its climax.

Not being as computer savvy as her has meant she has managed to hide the cyberbullying from them, but her breakdown, in front of her father, is what alerts her parents to the constant harassment she has been experiencing. Comments about this book often focus on the ‘colourful language’ (I’m thinking red and yellow and pink and blue) and it was something I knew would create strong reactions. I’m not advocating swearing, but I think we have to be real. If we want teenagers to read this book, empathise with the characters and make decisions about how they want to live their lives we have to talk to them. Not down to them.

Young adults are discerning readers. Let’s give them a bit of credit. They know that reading swearing doesn’t give them permission to swear. They know about audience and moderation, like we do. If I face a room of students I carefully chose the language that’s appropriate (not the language I might use on a Friday evening at the pub!!) And I think Destroying Avalon uses language to clearly demonstrate the power of words. That in itself is cause for lively discussion!

Posted in Books, censorship, cyber bullying, literary appearances, teacher librarians, writing

All Saints’ Literature Festival 2007 is coming!!

Yep, it’s not far away! We kick off this Wednesday 21st March at All Saints’ College for three fun filled days of author talks and book signing. Truthfully, like any other engagement I’ve been a part of, I don’t really know what to expect! I’m trying to organise how these “Meet the Author” sessions will go. But if you could see inside my head (quell horreur!!) you would see the disorganised chaos!!

I’m in the process of negotiating an inter-state trip to Melbourne mid-year to discuss Destroying Avalon and cyber bullying. Watch this space for further details!

And just for the record, I love teacher librarians! With the recent furore over Destroying Avalon– its language and sexual connotations- the teacher librarians of WA have proven how open and accepting they are! So to all of you who defend Destroying Avalon and believe it has a position on the shelf of your library I thank you.

Thank you all!

Posted in awards, Books, censorship, cyber bullying, teacher librarians, writing

Destroying Avalon Embroiled in Controversy

Today a friend forwarded me some of the discussion librarians are having about Destroying Avalon and its WAYRBA nomination. Well, pardon me if lil ole Avalon aint caused a bit of a ruckus!! Apparently it has been withdrawn from the shelves at a Catholic SHS for its language and ‘sexual connotation’. I didn’t think there was any sexual connotation! But there you go- there were issues with sexuality- but that wouldn’t cause a book to be banned. Would it?

In this discussion a librarian (who I think must have heard me speak at something lately) defended the 11 appearances of the notorious ‘F-word’, I think there were only 7 (but I’ll check that and report back) and also made mention of how I’d reduced it from 144! So there- tis true! I was a very foul- mouthed author before the good people at FACP made me moderate my language!! But let’s discuss language and censorship at another time!!!

Thankfully it’s being embraced by the masses (pardon the pun) with that lovely old “it’s the best book I’ve ever read” being bandied around! I love it, I do!! So thank you kind readers and defenders of Avalon! If we could look past some naughty four letter words to the great messages beneath!!!

Posted in Books, literary appearances, writing

Publicity and kudos

Back to the mentioned literary appearances- they all went well. Particularly the WAYRBA guest speaker spot where I was allowed to bang on, uninterrupted for twenty minutes- or a lot more. The audience was fantastic- politely smiling (or secretly thinking I was demented!!) But upshot- the President of WAYRBA asked if I would be a guest speaker at their Presentation Ceremony in September. Hmmm, I said, let me consult my diary!! Yeah right! Of course, I said, abso- fantastica-lutely!!!!

The CBC Night of Stars was great. Met a lot of other FACP writers- who all are working on some pretty interesting stuff. Upshot of that night- there is a talented bunch of people in the old WA (as evidenced in the Music industry too). I can proudly proclaim to be a West Australian writer- for after all ,aren’t we the Cultural Centre of Australia now?????

Posted in Books, Getting published, writing

Forget Ego- You’re a Published Writer!

The signed contract! It is a thing of beauty, and something you imagined, longed for, knew one day would happen, and unbelievably here you are now with it in your hands. Of course, as a first time novelist you accept whatever the conditions- as long as they meet acceptable standards- which you can access from the ASA website.

The road to publication begins. You meet your new bestfriend (editor) and enter a new phase of work . We’ll look at all that later. For now we’re jumping ahead to after the launch, your baby’s in the book shops, and now it’s being read by people you don’t even know!

Did you ever think about that? Maybe you considered friends, colleagues, acquaintances reading your book, people who might murmur encouragingly, or avoid eye-contact altogether. But what about strangers? And that other breed of person you’ll just begin to familiarise yourself with. The critic.

Some writers say “I pay no attention at all to reviews- whether they’re good or bad.” How? I ask you that? How is anyone able to pay no attention. For then we can’t accept all the good things. All the wonderful reviews about how well crafted your story is, the tremendous impact it has, how it MUST be COMPULSORY reading. We’d have to ignore the comments from highly intelligent people, who are, like you, on the cutting edge of Australian literature- who really know where the pulse is. Disregard their opinion? I think not!

 Sure, we can happily ignore the nasty ramblings of the failed writer-turned critic, who can only criticise what the book isn’t instead of what it is. Who are so far jammed up their own ivory tower they wouldn’t know what current reading trends are. Who attack even the writer- with such nastiness one has to ask- do I know you? Have I offended you in some way? Maybe I slept with your partner once?

But here’s another interesting thing- a friend of mine once pointed out that I could quote word for word the more negative comments and only summarise the positive ones! So there- the bad reviews stick with you a lot longer and hit a lot harder than the positive ones (cause yeah- that’s what you thought too!!) How do you handle it then? Take pleasure in the fact it’s your title that graces the bookshelves. You have achieved a nigh-on difficult task. To become an author. And remember you can’t please all the people all the time. And those you can’t please are obviously morons anyway!

And don’t forget the mail you receive from readers. Those readers who take the time to thank you for the story. THAT is the best review any writer can have!

Posted in Getting published, writing

So you want to be a published writer?

As mentioned previously the road to publication (as we know) is tricky- but possible. Don’t you just stare, mouth agape at the report in the literary pages telling of the fourteen year old who has signed a three book deal with an advance of a million dollars?? A million dollars!!! What the…?

Let’s get real-these are the stats (and I know YOU’RE the one who’ll defy them!):

-getting published is harder than making the Olympic team

– an advance is between $500 and $5000 for a first book deal

AND

-the average first time novelist will sell between 3000 and 5000 copies of their novel.

Now is the time to ask yourself this:

Why do I want to be a published writer? If it’s to make millions- I say go for it, but be prepared that the road is looooong before you get the kind of acknowledge you may crave- if you’re really unlucky you could be like Van Gogh  or Bon Scott- rich after death. At least your relatives will be happy!

If it’s to see your work in print, to admire it upon the shelves of a bookstore, to receive emails from readers telling you its the best book they’ve ever read- then you won’t be disappointed in the slightest. For me, that has made the whole process worthwhile (of course I wouldn’t sneeze at the big bucks either!!!)

If it’s because you HAVE to write, you can’t go a day without acknowledging someone’s personality trait, or a story they’ve told you or how well you could describe that setting then what are you doing wasting your time reading this? You should be writing damnit! We write because we have to. We want to see our work in print because the nature of writer is that of storyteller. We want others to read our stories. It’s a form of pass it forward. We love to share the stories that touch us. And as writers we think all the stories we create are worth sharing and very touching!!

Publication is validation. It means that the time we spend tapping it out on the keyboard isn’t wasted. That the neglect of our children and laundry, and general state of cleanliness is for a worthwhile cause. We are not poor deluded souls with inflated ideas of grandeur (most of us!) because when we are given a contract to sign it means someone else is acknowledging what we thought all along. Our stories are worth hearing!

 Which leads into the next post- critics and reviews!! (and poor old ego!)

Posted in Books, Getting published, writing

Getting published in Australia

I wanted to put in a piece about the world of publishing because I think that is what first started me as a blog-reader (apart from the research I did for Destroying Avalon). I wanted to read about Aussies who’d got a deal, recently, in Australia. I wanted to know WHAT to do, HOW to do it and what was the likelihood of success?

Let’s wind the clock back…..

It’s 1997, I finish my first manuscript (about 45 000 words YA Lit) and looked into getting published.

To my horror I discovered MOST publishing houses won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. To have a solicited manuscript you must have a publishing history, or an agent. To get an agent you must have a publishing history or a contract. To get a contract you must have a publishing house accept your manuscript. Most publishing houses won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts…..

Looks futile doesn’t it? But read that first sentence again- it says MOST. There still are publishing houses who will read your manuscript, you need to get online and carefully read their submission guidelines and prepare yourself for rejection. (I know YOU think you’re different- you’re the one who’ll defy statistics and get plucked from that first slush pile and given a three book deal. And you SHOULD think that way- because DETERMINATION is the key to the publisher’s door!!!)

Anyway, send off the first three chapters (or whatever they ask for), synopsis, covering letter- check out Miss Snark’s blog if you need some direction in what NOT to put in a query letter!!! If you get a rejection letter keep it in a file so you can laugh at it later when you’re richer than JK, but remember this- if the publisher takes the time to address you personally (instead of the standard proforma) take encouragement from that. Not all rejection letters are bad. Some (and it’s not often) come with a bit of critique- know this- you got that little bit closer.

The other way in is to win a competition! Enter everything you can (afford to)- short stories, essays etc. Not only do you stand the chance of winning, and learning to write to a deadline, but you can also create a publication record too. Contact your State Literature Centre  http://www.writerswritingwa.org/ and join a local writer’s group. That way you get notified of upcoming competitions and Writer’s groups often offer mentorships and workshops. If you’re serious, take on anything you can that will give you an insight into what’s going on in Australian literature and how to be a part of it.

 In most states there is an award for an unpublished manuscript with the prize being money (handy??) and publication (the golden snitch!!) In WA it is the TAG Hungerford Award http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/ – which was just won by Alice Nelson. Of course if you’re still under 35 there is the Australian Vogel Prize http://www.allen-unwin.com.au/Vogel/entry.asp – this country’s richest award for an unpublished manuscript- and you don’t even have to win to make publication. Some of the runners up have gone onto successful literary careers. Also if you get noticed you can be invited to join a workshop (I think they still run that- it’s a Masterclass). It’s all acknowledgement and development of you as a writer.

Join the Australian Society of Authors  http://www.asauthors.org/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=ASP0016/ccms.r (you don’t have to be published) and enter their Mentorship program. Look up Varuna http://www.varuna.com.au/ and see what they’ve got to offer writers at the moment. But know this. Publishers DO want new work, exciting writing, fresh talent, it still is possible to crack into the world. If you keep refining your craft, and keep writing, and keep submitting you will get the acknowledgement you deserve. Be prepared to toughen up, accept criticism, be open-minded- maybe this story isn’t very good, or that suggestion might make it better. But whatever you do persevere.

Someone once said to me “writing is 1% insipiration and 99% perspiration!”