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All posts for the month June, 2012

3 Drops of Kickass

Published June 26, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Sitting in “Snow White and the Huntsman” earlier in the week I had to ask myself “How are we supposed not to love Bella Swan?”

If you think about it, we girls and women have been conditioned to need rescuing. For generations we have been raised on a diet of imprisoned and sleeping princesses who can only be rescued by princes who we really know nothing about. If you want more for your daughters here are some princesses (and a queen) you can really sink your teeth into:

Elizabeth (The Paper Bag Princess)

Quintana (Froi of the Exiles)

Jatta (Jatta)

Snow White (Snow White and the Huntsman)

Merida (Brave)

Boudicca (Tacitus)

Isabeau and Isuelt (Witches of Eileanan Series)

Cassandra (The Ranger’s Apprentice Series)

Poppy (The Forgotten Pearl, not a “real princess”, but still totally awesome)

I’ve managed to quickly assemble quite an impressive list of complex female characters for mothers and daughters to enjoy from picture books through to adult.

What fun girls can have, and even occasionally indulge in harmless whimsies of helpless lamb-iness.

Hurrah for kickass girls!

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Why Students Don’t Read the Set Text

Published June 23, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

It could also have something to do with the dry way in which reading is presented. Modern teachers don’t have the advantage of the cane or diplomatically suggesting a career in “trades”. This means they must be creative and interesting in order to engage their students. High school teachers think I’m bonkers when I suggest music, drama and art to help get their kids interested, but believe me it works. We teach children to READ visual literacy in primary school, so why wouldn’t they be able to do it in high school.
Why not compare 2 pre-Raphaelite pictures and discuss which is the best representation of a Shakespearean tragedy – maybe in groups students could choose which tragedy – watch a couple of versions of the movie, a couple of you-tube spoofs (Have you seen the Jane Austin Fight Club?) and use that as a basis for real literary discussion in the classroom. Too much?

None More Greyer

Published June 14, 2012 by electricbluegaloo


So what is the future for eBooks?

This topic was discussed at the recent Forest For the Trees Seminar (#SWF2012, @writersNSW). One panelist predicted that

“Anyone who thinks ebooks will be around in 5 years is in for a rude surprise”.

Not what I would have predicted but, but what does this statement mean?

It has always been my assertion that the stories themselves don’t change, but the vessel does. To quote the statement which inspired the post title the current status of eBooks is not very exciting – “dark grey on light grey”, consumers accept the “ok” presentation of eBooks because that’s where the technology is today, but will it always be so?

Apparently not. Publishers are currently developing much more interactive, interesting and exciting digital narrative devices such as embedded videos, contrived blog and social media posts. Now that sounds contemporary and engaging.

Of course there must be a place for the grey on grey. Information literacy expert James Herring suggested (Herring, 2004) that high school students needed explicit instruction on the skills of skimming and scanning for information. But a lot has changed in the intervening 8 years. If my own experience and that of panelist _____ (Name escapes me and evil internet won’t let me access #Forrestfortrees program to double check) is anything to go by not skimming and scanning is the current challenge. _____ said that when she reads an eBook she skims, but if the same text is presented in hardcopy she will engage more deeply with what is on the page.

It is hard to see through the mists of time to the future and industry insiders are making all sorts of predictions about everything to do with eBooks and the future of publishing. Let’s think about book covers themselves. We might even call them traditional book covers, but for how long have the loud, brash book covers of today been the norm. Kyle Zenchyson pondered the cover conundrum on a recent blog post from a not completely grey on grey skewed perspective, but still assuming that the artwork is the outside of the book, a sort of digital dust cover if you will..

I think the relevance of the book cover debate is in a point made by Catherine Keenan in her 2011 SMH article When Fiction Becomes a Work of Art

Before the late 19th century, no-one bothered much with book covers. Dust jackets were simply a way of keeping the dirt off during transportation, and while printers might have written on them basic information about a book, it was thought vulgar to include anything else. To the educated mind, a book spoke for itself.

”Keeping the jacket on a book,” Alan Powers wrote in Great Book Jacket and Cover Design, was like ”storing clothes in the carrier bag from the shop where they had been bought.”

But how different the visual appearance of books today, and what an industry has grown to supply the lovely covers we have today. I can’t imagine that in our visual world we will go back to letting the book speak for itself. There are simply too many of them around for that to be a feasible option.

I have just finished reading 9 fantasy novels (ie reasonably large books) back to back and this leads me to reflect on my earlier comment about skimming v deep reading. I was completely mesmerised by the words on the page which engaged my brain in active imagination and image building. Would I have had the same experience if I was given the option of reading the same story, discovering the same characters witnessing the same events in a multi-level digital edition. Perhaps in the future I will get that opportunity.

During the #Forestforthetrees seminar the question was raised as to why do eBooks still cost as much as traditional books. Basically the answer is that they cost customers the same because they cost publishers the same. The most popular ebook to have been sold in Australia at the time of the 2012 Sydney Writer’s Festival was John Howard’s Lazaras Rising.


Well, that answers the question of who is currently reading eBooks and why grey-on-grey is acceptable. But the point is, this book only sold 9000 eCopies. Not quite enough to run off to the Bahamas with. And why would we buy more eBooks when basically they are just the same as paperbacks, but weigh less and can honestly be a total pain in the butt to download?

I believe that the answer must lie in the multi-level factor. However, one articulate #Forestforthetrees panellist described our expectations as movie style effects on a book budget. That’s a big obstacle to get around. Books can’t become movies, movies are movies. Books are already pretty good, but with this technology that is constantly developing we all agree there has to be something in between, and it can’t just be “bovies”. I like vegemite. I like ice-cream. I don’t like vegemite-flavoured ice-cream.

Here’s another little analogy. I have moved house quite a number of times in my life, each time the new house was a completely different size and shape. I was always so keen to put everything away and call myself settled in, pretending I wouldn’t be moving again for a very long time. The time before last that I moved I had 2 very small children so I adopted a new philosophy. Let my stuff settle itself. The hardest thing about unpacking into a new house is the constant shuffling and re-shuffling that continues for months, or in my experience, until I move house again. By allowing my stuff to self-settle I discovered how it organically and practically fitted into the new environment, what was unnecessary, and what more needed to be purchased.

So here is my advice to all ye digitali – let your storytelling settle itself amongst the new media environment. Elements will find their natural relationship to each other. Focus always on the story and use new media authentically.

For more information about creating digital stories come along to the NSW Writers’ Centre’s Storytelling in the Digital Age
When: Thursday 26 July, 6:30 – 9:30pm

References

Herring, J. (2004). The Internet and Information Skills: A Guide For Teachers and School Librarians. London: Facet Publishing.

On My To-Read List

Published June 13, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Today I finished the exceptionally brilliant Heart of Stars by Kate Forsyth. Normally the conclusion to a fantastic series fills me with a melancholy akin to farewelling a friend you probably won’t every see again, or a fantastic holiday that must end. However, for two reasons the as I drew nearer and nearer the final pages I managed a quiet excitement. Firstly, it is a very talented fantasy novelist indeed whom the reader can trust to actually wrap the series up – not drag it out endlessly promising this will really, really be the last one. One of the masterful aspects of Kate’s writing is her pace. Reading the blurbs I sometimes wonder how all that can fit in one book – which are standard size, not overly large, the genre. There is a genuine satisfaction that comes from having all the important questions answered.

The second reason I am not in a mope is my to-read shelf. My excitement over the books I plan to read is a great antidote to the end of great series, so I will share them now. The only dilemma I have now is the order in which I should read them.

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell

This is a time slip novel by the author of The Locket of Dreams and The Ruby Talisman. Belinda Murrell has proved her talent as a thoroughly entertaining reader with a gift for description and the easy appreciation of pace which distinguishes her sister, Kate Forsyth. I’d like to read this as I enjoyed the Ruby Talisman so much and I really enjoy finding the recurring themes in the stories by Kate and Belinda. Another appealing aspect is that it is not part of a series – I am just not ready for that level of commitment again so soon. I didn’t really appreciate “time slip” when I first came across the genre through Jackie French, but having read a few of them now I am really looking forward to the mix of historical fiction and social realism.

The Invaders by John Flanagan 

I absolutely loved the first series , The Ranger’s Apprentice, and have had this book on my shelf for months while I ploughed through The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride . There’s a lot to love about this series too. I had been thinking “maybe not just yet” because it is a little too similar the Kate Forsyth books of which I have read 9 in a row (with a brief pause between series to read The Ruby Talisman). However the major differences are a) the obvious age difference of the intended audience, b) Flanagan “writes for boys” while Forsyth has very strong female leads and c) there is a greater percentage of wry humour in Flanagan than the more occasional comic relief in the aforementioned Forsyth series/s.

Punchlines by Oliver Phommavahn

Now this is definitely a funny book for boys, and I would have read it ages ago if I hadn’t locked myself in for a nine book deal. A definite juxtaposition to my recent reading habits, but am I still too wrapped in the world of magic and sorceresses to appreciate Phommavahns contemporary references? Hmm, I think I’ll read this second.

Ok, need to help daddy with the post bath naked “Running of the Babes” so a snap decision

Pearl, Punchlines, Invaders! Good one.

Unlearning What You Were Taught About Writing at School, by Nansi Kunze

Published June 13, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

This is the sad truth about literature teaching in all the schools I visit. I think a major part of the problem is that Creative writing PD is delivered, if ever, by literacy experts, rather than those involved in authentic writing. It is delivered from an “educational” perspective rather than a literary pooint of view, aware of contemprary trends. You should see the “descriptive writing marking matrixes” we use. I honestly believe what I was taught at school has been the major obstacle to my successful literary career.

Writing Teen Novels

Some years ago, during my first parent-teacher night as a high school teacher, the father of one of my students cheerfully told me that he thought it was a shame corporal punishment had been abolished. ‘They used to give me the strap all the time,’ he said. ‘It never done me no harm.’ Quite apart from the fact that being thrashed on a regular basis clearly hadn’t managed to improve his grammar skills, I was appalled by this statement. It was, I felt, right up there with that classic question: ‘Don’t they teach you anything in school these days?’

A decade and a half later, I’ve decided that people are taught lots of great things in school. But some of them may not be helpful if you plan to become a novelist. No, no – I don’t mean how to calculate the angles of a rhombus, or what the principal…

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Stories by the digital fireside

Published June 9, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

I have not written a post since . . .  a really long time.  Just like all good habits writing every day is easy to fall out of, and really really difficult to get back in to.  Last week I tried to pick it up again and this is as far as I got:

One of the most poingent comments from the recent Forest For the Trees Seminar (#SWF2012, @writersNSW) was that “Social media is putting writers across the campfire from readers”.

This simple comment has immense ramifications and beautifully expresses the crossroads at which modern readers, authors and other industry professionals find themselves.

Being completely rusty, I hit publish instead of draft, then hasitly deleted it – hence the 404 some readers may have seen.

So I’m trying again.  But this time I really need some inspiration.  I was going to do a warm up post called “What Would Kate Do?” along similar lines to my first ever post “I Got the Moves Like Kate Forsyth” when I realised this is at the heart of what I wanted to talk about in the original post.

I am the kind of person who really thrives on inspiration, and am an avid reader.  I can remember so clearly the day that my childhood author hero, Road Dahl, died.  I was late to school, as usual and everyone else had heard the news, too.  When I got to class everyone asked if I was late because I was so sad he had died. Much as I love his storytelling the reason I was late (almost every day) was just that my mum’s never been much of a “morning person”.

As a run of the mill school kid from Armidale, NSW, I had no inclination that I might ever meet Mr Dahl, so the fact that this was now confirmed came as nothing new.  Let’s face it, even in 1989 there would have been enough good books around to keep me fairly well entertained for the rest of my life.

But consider the stament above.  The situation for authors and their adoring fans has changed dramtically. Across the virtual fireside from the artists, the fans now have a greater opportunity to interact with their heroes.  And in my case, be inspired by the writer, not just the filtered and edited, published work. The stories of the writers themselves are often quite amazing, and it’s incredible to be able to “follow” them via Twitter etc in real time rather than reading stuffy old biographies (actually, I quite like a good bio).

I also love this image of “by the fireside” because I love to point out to ludites and Twit-ophobes that good storytelling has existed since the days of cavemen, it is merely the vessel that has changed.  It is sincerely comforting to picture the community as a fireside conversation rather than the cool and remote myth of antisocial geeks who one rules the digital realm.

This is a comforting thought as we sit pondering the future.  Granny might think the future is here but as far as e-books are concerened it’s just “dark grey on light grey”.

I’d like to think this new-old relationship has benefits for the authors aswell.  In 2009 Mal Peet jokingly told the audience at the CBCA NSW International Connections dinner that he became an author so he could sit in his room all day and not have to talk to anyone, and yet on that day alone he had had 6 different speaking engagements. Perhaps the new environement is demanding more of our authors, but it also gives.  Melana Marchetta said that inspiration for the “voice” of Froi (Finnikin of the Rock) came from a message left on her website from a teenage fan (paraphrased because it’s almost midnight and my dog eared copy of that CBCA News and Views is not where it should be) “Don’t know if you give a shit, but I just cried my eyes out reading your book.”

I always imagined the aim of writing an amazing novel was not just  for the author to make a Rowling-like fortune, but really to improve the life of each individual reader, eve if it is just by making them giggle at a phrase like  “brain fart” (Loathing Lola, by William Kostakis).

At the “Forest For the Trees” there was a lot of conjecture about the digital (bloody) revolution and how different book publishing is from music publishing.  While authors may not be able to put their stuff on-line for free and “live off ticket and T-shirt sales” I believe there must be a future for our storytellers, and by the fireside, behloden to their audience, interacting with their audience, is perhaps the key.  From anaedotal conversations I have had with authors I think they are perhaps paying their bills largely through appearance fees.  At that same CBCA NSW Interational Connections dinner, we had flyers which promote the fact that CBCA NSW members receive a 10% discount from associated bookshops.  Mal Peet also urged the crowd to buy books, citing that the authors would also get 10% of the sales.

OK, that’s me back on the wagon.  TTFN

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