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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


3 Keys to Getting Lost in Austen

Published January 29, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

I had to read Austen for high school English, and I totally did not get it.  I watched all the films: Sense and Sensibility with what’s her name and Hugh Thingo, the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice mini-series, Clueless, and some other dreadful one about Something and Somethingelse, but I was still  . . . clueless.

And then many years later I watched another little BBC oddity entitled “Lost in Austen” and it just clicked.  The first key. This is the power of literature sans frontieres. Once you take the book off the page you open up so many possibilities.  I hope you will be lucky enough to come across “Lost in Austen” yourself so I won’t even bother to review or summarise it here.

The second key that unlocked my secret garden of the first lady of early 19th Century literature was the movie “The Jane Austen Book Club”. This fictionalised book chat show really opened my eyes to why women today love Jane Austen.  It gave just enough summary of the book without overdoing it, characters’ interpretations of the stories and a modern context.

The third key, the one that really got me was a comment made by the interminably irritating Merike Hardie on the Tuesday Night Book Club.  The only useful comment she ever made was “I wish I’d read Austen when it was contemporary.” That hit me like a slap on the face.  We are so privileged to live in a world where Jane Austen had the courage to write and guts to publish what these days seems so tame in comparison to the who we are today.  It is incredible to think of life before someone put their tounge in their cheek and wrote

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife

But fortunately my daughters and I do live in that world, and I have finally managed to download Pride and Prejudice  onto my new eReader.  Is it true that Elizabeth sees Darcy in a wet shirt, clinging to his manly chest?  I wonder how that will compare to Jacob Black and his shirt tearing antics.  Can’t wait to find out . . . .

eBooks or eeek-Books

Published January 25, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Some time ago I was listening to an interview on the wireless in which a publisher compared reading articles on the net to reading the slush pile. A perhaps cruel, but sadly accurate comparison.
So it was with some horror that I learned that there is a growing trend with schools purging their libraries of hardcopy factual texts in favour of online resources*. Let me share with you my top three ways that this is terrifying.
1: Quite a number of online resources are poorly fact checked, and when they’re wrong they stay wrong and accessable forever
2: Quite a number of online resources are poorly copy edited. How can we expect high standards from our students when their models are such a mess?
3: It can be really hard to monitor what students are actually looking at online, especially if the teacher is good but not as technically savvy as their students.
While these are real concerns faced by educators I suddenly realized that just be because the students are not using paper they could still be using well researched and thoroughly checked texts. Traditional publishing houses are rising to the digital dawn and incorporating eBooks into their catalogues. Also, it’s a great teaching opportunity. Students must be taught to be critical in this age of digitally enhanced photographs and news papers completely devoid of scruples. And if teachers are worried that they can’t monitor children’s reading as easily there are technological safeguards available – turn off the Internet connection and allow only catalogued eBooks or electronic resources. We have to bare in mind that electronic resources encompass so much more than just the written word and perhaps these pioneering teacher librarians are to commended for their bravery. This is as giant a leap as from the cave wall to the papyrus scroll. I predict that within the period that my own daughters attend school this will become common place in the developed world. If teachers are still intimidated by the technology they must remember the reason they rose to their calling – which was to inspire the next generation to become inquisitive life long learners. Maybe the eeeeekBooks aren’t so scary after all.

* See comment on the CBCA NSW Facebook page dated 17 December, 2011.

Broken Hill ALOUD Dinner Speech 2010

Published December 7, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

This speech was written in 2010 for the CBCA NSW ALOUD Children’s Literary Festival (Broken Hill)

Welcome Gatekeepers and thank you for coming to our little literary festival dinner.

This festival dinner and the activities which have taken place over the past 2 days have been brought to the community of Broken Hill thanks to the work of volunteers with the Children’s Book council of Australia, NSW Branch and through funding from Arts NSW and ASLA NSW.

So who are the Children’s Book Council of Australia and what do they do? Well, the annual CBCA Awards and Children’s Book Week are the two most well known aspects of the national organisation, but there is so much more happening at a state and regional level.

I wonder how many of you here tonight can tell me what the slogan for the Children’s Book Council of Australia is?

The slogan is “Engaging the community with literature for young Australians”.

Whenever I’m at an event people ask me “So, what do the CBCA do?” and to me the slogan really sums it up. We engage the community, young and old, with literature for Young Australians”.

Throughout the year we provide opportunities for children and adults to meet and work with real live authors celebrating the wealth of amazing Australian children’s literature that many of us take for granted.

In NSW alone, our programs include writing masterclasses, author afternoon teas, a glitzy film award ceremony, celebratory dinners, annual mini-conferences, Frustrated Writer’s Mentorship Programs and of course travelling to a whole different time zone to make sure as many members of the community as possible are engaged with literature.

This word “engaged” stands out to me in particular after reading John Cohen’s editorial in the August 2010 Reading Time. In this editorial he lamented the browsing approach to reading that has developed through the use of internet and computer games. To quote John:

We live in a world of sound and reading bites that never challenge the reader to think in any depth. The information glut results in a demand for the quick summary of news items that rarely ask for any discrimination on the part of the reader, viewer or listener.

His suggestion that readers are lacking not only the skills, but also the opportunity to discriminate and to delve deeply into text is a concern.

Fortunately this ailment in society can be cured in the most enjoyable way.

By engaging in literature!

By engaging in literature we find we are not the only ones who think, feel and act a certain way. By engaging in literature we are challenged in the way we think, feel and act. By engaging in literature we learn that there are many ways to think, feel and act.

But the key here is the act of engaging with literature. Sure, I read every Babysitter’s Club book there was, and I believe there is a role for those pink fairy books as fodder for emerging readers who are developing fluency.

But don’t you remember those books that changed your life? Books like Letters From the Inside, Possum Magic, Amy and Louis and I Came Back to Tell You I could Fly? These are stories that really engage Young Australians.

These are stories that capture you and make you use a torch under the bedsheets because you couldn’t bear it if mum made you stop reading before the end. These are books that took us away, far across the storybridge. We can still remember what it was like living in that world, even for the briefest of times.

As a mother of two small children I am now looking at children’s literature from a new perspective. I am amazed at the way even the simplest of text and illustrations prepare children for the challenges that lie ahead.

Take for example Cheeky Monkey written by Andrew Daddo and Emma Quay. This was the first proper, paper-page book my daughter didn’t eat. For her this was a life changer, and the change came here: “Not how you like it, grizzly grump”. She realised she was not the only one in the world who hates having her hair brushed.

My daughter doesn’t know what the word literature means, but she doesn’t need to. She’s already engaging with it.

Along with “engage” and “literature” there is another word in the CBCA slogan that really stands out and that word is community. Without community what is the point of engaging in literature?

So I thank you again, gatekeepers, for coming along tonight because you are the ones who provide those all important Young Australians with access to the literature which will change their lives, and by helping them engage they will develop the skills to question and challenge the soundbites they are fed.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce our guests, authors Libby Gleeson and Oliver Phommavanh.

Oliver will speak first tonight.

I first met Oliver about 2 years ago at a writing workshop. Our teacher, Robin Morrow, told us to write a story or story-outline for an object we had brought along with us. Oliver had brought, sorry to say this, a rather scruffy looking blue Care Bear pencil case. When he stood up at the front of the group to share his story-outline about the pencil case whose belches disturbed the whole class he literally had the rest of us in stitches.

And over the past 2 days Oliver has used a whole collection of soft toys, from the famous care-bear Grumpy to Mario, and even super-water-bottle-woman with the power to quench thirst, to delight, entertain and inspire Broken Hill children in their creative writing.

Oliver’s debut novel was launched in June this year, and it is a Thai-riffic read. He is a man of many talents, including stand up comedian, so I knew the book would be funny, but I should have also known it would be thoughtful, smart and very moving.

Having met Oliver as an unpublished author I feel an enormous pride and privilege to have attended his book launch and to be working with him as a professional writer.

I now hand over to Oliver Phommavahn, children’s author.

(Oliver’s Speech)

As preparation for this visit I have researched everything I could about “Libby Gleeson”, and I have come to two conclusions.

  1. Firstly, Libby is completely fabulous as an author, advocate for children’s literature, Indigenous literacy and literature, a voice for refugees, women, girls, Australians. She is a voice for freedom, empowerment, belief and most importantly a voice for children who cannot put into words the bittersweet beauty of having a best, best, best friend who lives on the other side of the world.
  2. The second conclusion I have come to is that Libby is far too modest. Libby is embarrassed when I probe her about her amazing achievements. But I am not the only one who recognises Libby’s outstanding talent as a storyteller and for her services to children’s literacy and literature.

So please indulge me just a moment longer as I very briefly list some of Libby’s achievements. Libby has been writing for 35 years and has 35 books published. The first of these, Eleanor Elizabeth, won the Angus and Robertson Writers for the Young Fellowship. Eleanor Elizabeth was also Highly Commended Australian CBC Awards, 1985 and Short listed South Australian Literature Award, 1985. She has been shortlisted or won state, national and international awards ever since, including being shortlisted 13 times for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards . Among the most prestigious of these is the Bolonga Razzi Award in 2000 for her incredibly powerful picture book The Great Bear (recently reprinted). Libby was the first Australian to win this award.

She has also been honoured for her services to children’s literature – receiving the CBCA Lady Cutler Award in 1997 and an Order of Australia medal more recently.

As I say, this is just a summary of Libby’s achievements so please do as I have and google Libby Gleeson, and ofcourse read as many of her books as you can.

Please welcome, Libby Gleeson, AM.

(Libby’s Speech)

To see and hear excerpts from both Libby and Oliver’s speeches join the CBCA NSW facebook group.  Apologies for the poor sound quality.

Jessica Francis, October, 2010

For a more recent discussion of Libby Gleeson’s groundbreaking work with Armin Greder please take a look at this link 

To typo or not to typo

Published December 1, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

I absolutely love the post I read this week about typos, and it is so relevant as I have been asking myself about that very same thing since I began this blog. One of the first people to read my blog was a teacher librarian friend of mine whom (or who, I’m not sure) I adore, but she has this comic book super hero ability to spot typos at 50 paces.

I thanked her kindly for pointing them all out to me, and was left wondering if she’d found anything I said even vaguely interesting (fortunately Kate Forsyth did so that was something really special).

Obviously my TL BFF is way out of date, and so am I having only just come across the post – Penelope Trunk wrote this  in 2008! A cyber-century ago.  Were iPads even around then? When I tried to re-find the post I discovered 14,400,000 results for typos.  And ebay was even trying to sell them to me.

However, if I learned anything from my time with the Children’s Book Council it is that there are people out there who love to make a meal of the details. And these are people in positions of power within the world of children’s literature.

I have to side with the let-typos-be-in-blogs camp. I am a working mother of two preschool aged children and I am about to start studying for a Master’s Degree.  As if that wasn’t enough I have also started a frikking fantastic blog which requires 500-1000 words of inspiration per day.  I read blogs, and I notice that there are quite a few typos that make it through, but I am sure that there are plenty that I never even notice. 

The ones I do notice are the grammatical mistakes. 

I’m sorry to say this, but maybe you and I need to slow down a bit, and read lovingly what we expect others to lovingly read.  It does bother me when I see mistakes, and the ones that show you have barely glanced at your own work are the ones that irk me. 

And this is a good time to bring up something that has been bothering me quite substantially.  If you have read my earlier posts you will know that Oliver Phommavahn is someone I consider a master of the written and spoken word. However, and I take a deep breath before I say this because I actually know Oliver and think he is wonderful . . . HOWEVER . . .  I almost stopped reading his latest book Con-Nerd at page . . . I can’t findwhich page it was and I have to finish this and get ready for school tomorrow so you’ll just have to accept that it was right at the start . . . because there were already two grammatical mistakes!  This was in a published book.  I can, and do, accept it in a blog, but not in a book, you naughty little bird.  Penguin, pull your finger out.  There.  I said it.  And I feel so much better.

While blogs and self published ebooks can get away with it, I don’t think publishers should.

I am glad I finished Con-Nerd.  There were only three glaring errors I came across, and the book was more than worth it in the end.

I also recommend you check out Oliver’s website in the links to the right.

If there are any typos, spellos or grammos in this or any other post on ELECTRICBLUEGALOO etc please address your complaints to the gremlins in my computer.

Interview with a teenage reader

Published November 29, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

So you know I took 14 year old James to The Australian Poetry Slam finals for the fourth year in a row and he loved it. Great, a teenage boy who loves the language arts, and he does, but this is how the interview started:

ELECTRICBLUEGAL: Hey, can I interview you for my blog?
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: Ok. So, are you reading anything at the moment?
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: How do you choose a book to read?
JAMES: I dunno. Look at the cover and see if it looks interesting.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: So what makes a cover interesting?
JAMES: I dunno. Hey, why does this thing say it’s recording?

Fortunately he opened up a bit after two and a half hours of lyrical magic at the Slam.

ELECTRICBLUEGAL: What makes you want to stop reading a book?
JAMES: If it gets boring.
JAMES: Like, Harry Potter. Man, that book was boring.
(I have to point out here that I never would have read Harry Potter if it wasn’t for James loving the movie at the age of 5, which I personally think is too young to watch it.)
JAMES: I gave up, I just couldn’t believe there was 300 pages where nuh-thing happened. And I gave up in the same place when I watched the movie.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: (shocked) but have you seen it all now?
JAMES: yeah, my friends said it was good, but just really boring. But I don’t agree.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: That it was boring?
JAMES: That it was good. I mean the whole of The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. . . when they’re in the forest was so boring.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: I’ve heard people say that, but for me one of the bits when they’re in the forest was the most compelling. And in the book too. When the werewolves walk past with the body if the little boy I got goosebumps, and I wasn’t even a mum when I read it.
JAMES: I guess they just did the best with the material they had. The book was just so boring.
ELECTRICBLUEGAL: But what else could she have done? I know some bits were a bit tedious, but I think they were necessary. What would you have had here leave out?
JAMES: The whole first half of the book.

And there you have it, folks, from the mouths of babes: Apparently, Harry Potter is boring.
He did, however, recommend one book. Gone. What’s it about? People who go. Sounds riveting.

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