Books

Friday, July 24, 2015

On Track by Kathryn Apel Review


Review for Kathryn Apel's On Track, by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

On Track by Kathryn Apel is a beautifully written new Australian verse novel. Everyone says you couldn’t get two brothers more different than Shaun and Toby. Shaun excels at everything he puts his mind to - straight As, lots of friends and, most importantly, he's a rising sports star. Toby lives in his older brother’s shadow. He has lots of smart ideas, but can’t write them down. He loves to run, but his ‘fumbly, bumbly body’ always lets him down. Sports Day is only eight weeks away and Shaun and Toby both want to compete but how can they perform their best when the attention is always on the other brother? Told from the split perspective of Shaun and Toby, this novel explores the tender balance of sibling rivalry and sibling love, showing that maybe Shaun and Toby aren’t so different after all.

On Track is for anyone who loves sports, loves their siblings (or hates them) and who wants to escape into a world other than their own. This is a fast-paced story that every Australian kid can relate to on some level. Whether or not you like poetry this book will capture your heart and imagination, leaving with you with two new friends, Shaun and Toby.

Age Recommendation: 10+

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two Wolves Vision Board


Pre-visualisation has always been my favourite part of the storytelling process. It's all about imagining the possibilities for the story. You gather visual references and build a look and feel and you discover the best way to tell the story. It forces you to rely on emotion and instinct. At first you don't know what you want but when you see it you know it's right.

I learnt to pre-visualise by making projects for film and television but it's very useful in the novel-writing process, too. Here are some of the visual and aural references that I gathered while writing my book Two Wolves. (Apologies to copyright-holders in these images. Please let me know if it's yours and I can credit you!)

This post is the second in a series on that book in the lead-up to Children's Book Week. Here is last week's post: 5 Things I Learned While Writing Two Wolves.

These images capture the mood and tone of the story for me, even though the kid in the image is younger than Ben Silver.

I think this is from an Xbox or Playstation campaign and the fear and secrecy and loneliness in the kid's eyes really captured something of the predicament facing my characters in Two Wolves.
My wolves are metaphorical but the stillness and honesty in this wolf's face is what I wanted to capture in my approach to telling the story.
I loved making movies with friends as a teenager. This is an image of Stephen Spielberg on the set of one of his teen films. Ben Silver in Two Wolves, is on the run with his parents who have committed a crime, a highly unusual situation, so making Ben a filmmaker gave me a 'way in' to him and allowed me to write him as honestly as I could.

This is the rough plan for one of our dodgy films as teens. I gave the title Within the Woods to the film that Ben Silver is making in Two Wolves. The sketch above gave me the idea for the plot of the scene that Ben is working on when his life is turned upside down.
Stand By Me is one of my favourite films of all-time. It's based on Stephen King's The Body. This image, for me, captures the melancholy mood of Two Wolves and the loneliness, possibility and adventure in the story.

This album was my constant companion throughout the writing process. I will blog the entire book soundtrack in coming weeks. I like the timelessness of this image and the music.

This is Band of Horses. I can't grow a beard this thick and I do not have an impressive, long-legged bird on the roof of my pickup truck (nor do I have a pickup truck) but the earthiness of these guys, the honesty of their music, dared me to be more honest. Plus, the guy at the front looks like he'd make an excellent cup of coffee.
Keane is another band I listened to throughout the writing period. This song dropped me right down into the feeling of Two Wolves and it has an energy that would get me going on days when I just didn't feel like writing.

I gather images off the Web when I'm vision-boarding / pre-visualising, but I also take shots on my phone. This was a cabin I found in the bush in the Blue Mountains and it became the model for the cabin that Ben and his little sister Olive are taken to in Two Wolves (I made a few modifications).

As well as visual and aural materials, an outline emerges and evolves as the book grows. I write first, outline later, then write another draft. It's a messier, juicier way to write for me, rather than outlining up-front. The first step outline for Two Wolves happened around draft three.
I first jotted the idea for Two Wolves after watching news stories about kids who had actually been taken on the run by their criminal parents and I tried to make the story feel as real as I possibly could. When I made the book trailer I decided to take the story full-circle and return to the TV news format.



Here is the Story Scrapbook for Two Wolves, created after the book was published but using some of the images and maps and music that inspired the writing. You can explore and click and swipe and play with the elements in the Scrapbook and you can use our site www.storyscrapbook.com as a pre-visualisation tool for your own story.


Next week, I'll dive into another aspect of the story. And here is a post with my views on Creativity, published today on Damien Madden's blog.

Cheers. Love to hear your thoughts on pre-visualisation and vision-boarding in comments below. :)

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Bad Guys, Episode 1, Review


Review for Aaron Blabey's The Bad Guys, Episode 1, by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.


Master story-teller and illustrator Aaron Blabey has a wonderful new story for middle primary kids. If you think Mr Wolf, Mr Snake, Mr Piranha and Mr Shark are bad guys, think again. Mr Wolf has a plan to show that he and his friends are really good guys, in an aptly named gang ‘The Good Guys’. These friends are sick of being labelled ‘bad’ and are out to prove just how good their intentions are.

How, you ask? Step one is to rescue a kitten from a tree. Step two is a little more risky. They are going to free puppies from being locked up in the pound. But will their terrifying appearances get in the way of these daring rescues? And more importantly, will Mr Wolf ever stop hugging everybody? 

You’ll have to read it to find out. Funny and quirky, this book will have you in stitches as you follow the adventures of ‘The Good (definitely not bad) Guys’. This is the first instalment of what is sure to be a great series so watch out for the next one. 

Age Recommendation: 7+

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Monday, July 13, 2015

5 Things I Learned While Writing Two Wolves

Excerpt from Two Wolves. Calligraphy & photography by Claire Atkins, words by me. Excerpt initially featured in 'Slow'.
My book Two Wolves is shortlisted for the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award to be announced in coming weeks. I thought I'd take this chance to reflect on the story, characters and process in a series of short blog posts. Here are five key things that writing this book taught me:


1. Be Afraid
It felt good to be out of my depth, to write something that I didn't know if I was good enough to write. This is what drove me to keep going with Two Wolves through its five-year development period. The not-knowing created Flow for me. It was a a challenging project that kept me engaged and fully absorbed but not so overwhelming that I wanted to give up.


These three images were key to me understanding what the story was about.

2. Wake Early
My sons would wake at 6.00am and I could never get back to sleep, so rather than toss and turn for an hour I would begrudgingly get up and write. I accidentally discovered that waking early was the best way to engage my unconscious mind. In that half-sleep state the most interesting, raw and surprising ideas would occur.

I wrote the book in dozens of different locations but the feeling of the story travelled with me. Pic by Amber Melody.
3. 'The Best Thing You Can Do is Write a Stunning Manuscript.'
This was a piece of advice from my agent Catherine Drayton. I cut and pasted it at the front of my manuscript and read it regularly. I'm not sure I wrote a 'stunning' manuscript but I wrote the best book that I was able to write at that time. I didn't abandon it when it was just good enough. I kept going and going and wrote nine or ten drafts instead of my usual six or seven.

Writing outdoors made me write more honestly. Nature doesn't seem to lie.
4. Tone is Everything
Once I knew the tone of the story it started to write itself. Some writers say that they need to hear the voice of the narrator and then the story writes itself. I discovered the musical key that my story needed to be played in by finding songs, visual images, movies and other books that resonated with me. I started to understand the posture and smell and feel of it, which made the writing come more easily.

Gotye's album Making Mirrors  was vital to me finding Ben Silver's loneliness and growing sense of self-awareness.

5. Make it Yours
I wasn't abducted by my own parents and taken on the run when I was a kid, which is a shame because it would have made writing the book a whole lot easier. But I always knew that this story was about me somehow. Ben Silver's life is very different to mine but I know exactly how he feels. It  takes a long time to find an authentic personal connection to a character but I think you owe it to the reader and yourself to make the journey.



You can read the first three chapters here :)

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

How Do You Get Kids Interested in Reading?



As a follow up to last week's blog post, 10 Ways to Inspire Kids to Read, I spoke to Rebecca Levingston on ABC Radio. We chatted about audiobooks, hanging out in bookstores and libraries and ways to help a child find that next great book.

It might be a rainy school holidays so the perfect time to get down to the library or bookstore or download an audiobook and hunker down inside.

Feel free to leave comments below with your own ideas on inspiring kid and teen readers. (And adult readers, for that matter!)
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