Reading Matters

I’m just now surfacing after a fantastic weekend at Reading Matters Conference. This conference is held every second year and is an initiative of Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Literature. The focus is works for young adults, which includes everything from Libby Gleeson/Armin Greder picture books to crossover novels that could equally be read by young adults and …well…all other adults.

I didn’t take many notes as I was too busy listening but here are a few of the bits that spoke to me…

John Green, author of Paper Towns talked about being an individual around whom the world spins. He said that perspective sometimes changes as we age…but sometimes not. He reported being sure that everyone around him was alien and sneaking out after bedtime to catch his parents out of ‘human costume’ but they were always too fast.

Teenagers like to read about themselves, AND about ‘other’. He also said he often knew his characters much better than he knew even close friends.

Alison Goodman (The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and Isabelle Carmody (The Stone Key) shared a conversation about their writing processes and more.
Isabelle reads non fantasy as inspiration…more for style than content. For her landscape comes from character emotion…bog might indicate depression, a mountain might indicate character is feeling better. For Alison, landscape was setting. Isabelle takes no notes but continues to ‘gather’ ideas until she has enough to begin writing. Alison reported being much more of a planner.

Reimagining History was the title of a session with MT Anderson (The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing), Bernard Beckett (Genesis) and Michelle Cooper (A Brief History of Montmaray).

MT Anderson talked about novels being ‘alienation from what you know so you can reapproach what you know’

and all talked about their wish to explore the strangeness of the time they wrote about. Each would be keen to visit the worlds about which they wrote…provided they could first be vaccinated!

Several writers read from their novels including Adrian Stirling (Broken Glass), Tristan Banks (Mac Slater: Cool Hunter), Cathy Cassidy (Angel Cake), Mo Johnson (Boofheads.

Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder discussed their collaboration through six books so far.

Other speakers included Anthony Eaton, Mal Peet, James Roy, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Amra Pajalic and (a jet-lagged but you wouldn’t have known it)Tim Flannery.

Add in fantastic food, plenty of opportunities to mix with librarians, teachers, publishers, editors and fellow creators and you have the recipe for an exhilarating but exhausting weekend.

I have still to go through my collection of contacts and cards (and yes, even one set of details on a cocktail napkin) but that will all wait for a day or two.

Tomorrow I’m off to Melbourne’s south east to do some workshops with Year 9’s. Really looking forward to it to.

A Star is born…

This gorgeous verse novel, written by Lorraine Marwood is released today by Walker Books. Ruby lives on a dairy farm and times are tough. But there is always room for hope.

I asked Lorraine a few questions…

Why Star Jumps as a title?

I love titles- this one just came, it encapsulated in one word the hope that the three children felt for their future. And it’s a sort of symbol of jumping above one’s problems. Whereas the title for Ratwhiskers came after many tries, many tries.

This is your second verse novel. How did the experience of writing it compare to writing Ratwhiskers?

Ah, ‘Ratwhiskers’ broke new writing ground for me and it combined years of interest and research into gold mining history. ‘Star Jumps’ was initially a challenge- how to write a second book in the same style without becoming ‘samey’. For me it’s the tone, the first line, the first stanza that sets the whole atmosphere for the book. And I loved how Ruby and a different setting came swiftly to my rescue.

This book evolved from years of dairy farming life. I’ve always lived on a farm, until the last few years. I often came across stereotyped ideas of what farm life was like, I wanted to re-create one season in a dairy farming calendar and have Ruby showing the readers a slice of her life. So her voice was crucial to the writing. If I got Ruby right then the rest flowed, well sometimes it meandered and stalled but the essence was there.

Star Jumps has its origins in your own farm experiences. Was that a difficult thing to do?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to write a farm story. It is based loosely on activities my own children did on the dairy farm, an intimate knowledge of the workings of a dairy farm and my own childhood response to drought.

But because I always wanted to be a farmer and we’d made the decision to sell the farm, this experience was a leave taking, a tear jerker, and nearly every line was written with tears. When I had my May Gibbs residency in Adelaide it was only a few weeks before, that I’d lost my father in-law and he was a dairy farmer too. So it’s to the farming families who work so hard and so closely together, that this book is written.

Do you start at the start and end at the end or do you write bits and then join them together?

This one is easy- I start at the beginning and continue on, bit by bit each day.

I had a recent ‘conversation’ with Dale Harcombe about setting. How do you create your settings? Do you find settings easy or difficult to conjure?

Settings for me are based on visited physical settings or am amalgamations of them. Star Jumps is clearly our farm- the flat vista, the calving pen of marshmallow weed, the echo of noise along the flat main raod in the distance, the frost, the glorious sun rises, the cows chewing their cuds and then choosing the middle of a stormy night to calve. Setting is also sensory for me as a poet, it has to have a foreshadowing of emotion too. But I can see the setting- its open expanse and then the singling to a room or shed or corner.

I have to have walk or visited the setting first- Ratwhiskers was set on the old gold mines of my child hood- I knew the bush, the area. But this is part of the research first to pick the setting like a camp iste for its best features, most conducive to the flow of the story. It’s not hard it just takes time for me.

Was it hard to get into the head of the main character? How did you do that?

Ruby had a voice of her own as the youngest in the family she was allowed to be naive but still light that flare of hope that steadily burns through the whole book. While not directly modelled on one of my daughters she had some traits and actually grew of her own accord, even to claiming some of the things I tried to do as a child when I first saw the effects of drought on out little farm. Ruby is one of my most fully rounded and independent characters. I wish she could speak for me at my upcoming book launch.

What’s next for you?

Writing more poems, another verse novel- I need to research that- I’ve found a topic I’m passionate about and that is the starter point for me- passion. And strangely enough the passion for the topic might overflow into another genre I’ve always wanted to do: historical fiction with a smidgeon of romance and definitely a rip roaring adventure. This might silence those comments, ‘…but have you written a novel???…’ A poem is often a rare and concentrated novel in a few stanzas.

There are more details about Star Jumps here