Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: May 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Booklist and School Library Journal Reviews

A couple of positive US reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal for my book of short stories, My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up.

School Library Journal
Gr 3-6–Tom Weekly warns readers right up front: this book might be only partially true, but the important thing is that he’s the hero no matter what. His accounts of his daily life in these short stories are equal parts absurd and raucous, and sometimes a little gross. There are dog kisses on the mouth, granny fights, bloody magpie attacks, and even a toe that gets bitten clean off. It’s a laugh-out-loud look at a boy’s imagination with all of the bravado and cringe-worthy moments that readers might expect. The short, easy-to-read entries are punctuated with Tom’s drawings, making this a good choice for reluctant readers. Additionally, the hybrid format, a chapter book filled with cartoon illustrations, and the humorous take on one boy’s life, make it another pick for readers looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Abrams, 2007) read-alikes.
BANCKS, Tristan. My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up. illus. by Gus Gordon. 194p. Random Australia, dist. by IPG.2012. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-8647-1817-1.

A sort of Aussie tall-tale version of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007), Bancks’ latest features stories with a high-level gross-out factor. Narrated by young Tom Weekly, they follow his life as a son, friend, and student, though the most notable story has to be “My Nan’s Tougher,” in which Tom’s grandmother fights his best friend’s grandmother. Yes, the vignette about eating 67 hot dogs in 10 minutes with the help of a substance containing cat vomit is wonderfully stomach churning, but nothing tops the moment when Nan’s colostomy bag explodes all over her elderly foe. Gordon’s cartoon illustrations match the absurdities of these stories, which occasionally step into supernatural territory (a brief visit from a dead grandfather, a day when all objects hover inches or feet above the ground) but are mostly based in humdrum reality. A good choice for kids drawn to the upside down and out-and-out disgusting, and they will also learn a bit about Australian culture along the way.
Bancks, Tristan (Author) , Gordon, Gus (Illustrator)
Apr 2012. 208 p. IPG/Trafalgar Square, paperback, $9.99. (9781864718171).


Friday, May 25, 2012

Sydney Writers Festival Primary School Days

Writers Festivals are such a stark contrast to the day-to-day life of being a writer. At the end of a festival part of you dreads returning to the mundane world of making your own breakfast, feeding the dog, putting bins out and facing the blank page in the winter of each 6am wakeup. The other part of you knows that a cushioned world is no place to find stories. Only other people's.

Primary School Days at Sydney Writers Fest this week has been such a treat. Oliver Phommavanh, Emily Rodda and Oliver Jeffers were my fellow partners in crime. Hotel in the city. Mornings spent writing in the sunshine. Incredible 800-strong audiences of kids giddy with excitement about books, stories and creativity. It is an amazing organisational feat by a really warm, wonderful team of people at SWF. I have loved every bit of it. Here are some pics from the week...

Setting up at Sydney's beautiful Town Hall.

On stage at Sydney Town Hall.
The audience at Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay.

Kids gave me lots of tips on great books to read.
My view of my signing buddy, author / illustrator / artist, Oliver Jeffers.
I promise my head isn't that much bigger than Oliver's. I'm standing slightly in front of him. Seriously.
The kids at Parramatta Riverside Theatre were heaps of fun and lots of big readers!
Quite difficult signing on the curve.
Spent mornings walking and writing around the Harbour's edge, searching for
solutions to the end of my current book.

Chandelier being lowered into place ahead of Vivid Festival.

My morning writing safaris took me around the Opera House and into the Botanic Gardens. The noise from ferries and construction and people walking by somehow helped me focus on the story.

With Oliver Jeffers and the lovely Eve from HarperCollins.
And the version where I thought everybody was pulling a face.
Now, home. Write book. Enjoy stillness. Read. Hopefully do the above all over again sometime soon.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Trailers

I have spent the past two weeks running LitVids book-trailer talks and workshops via Skype for Mackay Libraries, paying virtual visits to the schools in the area. I'll be announcing the winner of the LitVids trailer-making competition at this year's Whitsunday Voices Literature Fest.

Here, I'd like to share some pics from the sessions and some of my favourite trailers that I stumbled across while researching the project.

The group of trailer-makers at today's 5-hour book-trailer-making workshop at Central Queensland University. I was there on Skype, watching trailers, researching images, sounds and music and giving feedback. In five hours almost every participant completed their book trailer.
Captain Congo book trailer by Greg Holfeld

Marcel the Shell with Shoes on trailer by Dean Fleischer-Camp. The trailer came before the book deal and now the trailer has had almost 18 million Youtube views. This was a favourite in the trailer talks and workshops.

Chloe and the Lion trailer.

And I also screened a couple of my trailers for Nit Boy and My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. You can learn how the 3D-animated Nit Boy trailer was made and also how to make claymation on the SLQ Summer Reading Club blog here: 

Nit Boy book trailer.

BIG thanks to Mackay Libraries, Donna, Kath and Steve Pace for running the LitVids competition and believeing in the value of kids' and YA literature.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Paul Collins, Children's and YA Author, in The Writer's Studio

Paul Collins is a multi-award-winning publisher and author, well-known for series' like The Quentaris Chronicles and The Jelindl Chronicles. He is a black belt in taekwondo and jujitsu (so you better like his books) and, to my mind, bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Redford. Here, Paul takes us behind-the-scenes on his writing process and into his creative space..

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
Mole Hunt was written here at home in my studio. I know a lot of authors write notes for themselves wherever they are, and take their laptops interstate or to the local cafe, but I really do need to be here in the studio with all my familiar things around me. Like my kelpie, Jack, for example (pictured below). There are two trailers for Mole Hunt, one featuring Molly, the heeler, helping me promote the book: and a more serious one at:

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
I try to, but each character is so different because I write across the board, from picture books such as The Glasshouse through to Mole Hunt. One is about a girl who lives in her own ivory tower thinking all is well with the world, totally oblivious to the plight of those around her, while the other is about a psychotic killer with ambitions of ruling the universe lol.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I owned bookshops most of my life and would type my novels and short stories in the various shops. Needless to say my customers weren't well looked after. But having said that, I've always believed that customers should be left to their own devices unless they actually want assistance. So yes, from public places to private places. I much prefer the latter. Until the Yarra Council poisoned my Peace rose when spraying "weeds", I looked out at a beautiful towering rose -- it was at least five metres tall and had beautiful roses when in bloom. I still look out the window, though.

Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
I pretty much write when I can these days. As the publisher at Ford Street Publishing, I publish about eight novels a year, so that keeps me busy. Running the speakers agency Creative Net also keeps me on my toes.

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
I guess I do have a ritual. I take Molly and Jack for a 40 minute run every morning. I feed them, the chooks, the cat, the fish, then read The Age newspaper. Four times a week I train in the gym and on the boxing bag the other three days. I have a shower, have breakfast, and then get behind the desk and in front of the computer around 10 am. Every day is different. If there's nothing urgent to do, I might work on my own writing, or not. When you work from home, you never leave work. So although people might think I have it easy starting work at such a late hour, I actually do this seven days a week, and can be found at the computer after dinner till around 11 most nights. Luckily I enjoy doing what I do!

Thanks Paul. Check back next week for another children's writer in The Writer's Studio.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Story Scrapbook Video

Ben Train, developer of our brand new free multimedia story brainstorming app, Story Scrapbook, has just sent through a 2-minute video showing how the app works. I'd love you to watch it and, if you like, share the good times around!

About the app:
Story Scrapbook is a contemporary story tool, great for kids and teens. It lets you bring together images, video, music, text and web grabs on virtual pages, bringing the writing process alive for people who think visually, interactively and aurally, as well as textually.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Story Scrapbook, Digital Storytelling App

We Want You
... to be part of the Beta test on our brand new multimedia story brainstorming app, Story Scrapbook

I have been developing the app for a couple of years with a brilliant new media developer Ben Train as part of the World-Building on a book we are co-writing.

This app is free. It's for Mac and PC (not iPhone / iPad yet) and it lets you bring together images, video, music, text and web grabs on virtual pages, bringing the writing process alive for people who think visually, interactively and aurally, as well as textually.

(Any trouble installing – get the latest version of Adobe Air first! Leave a comment below if you're still having issues.)
Story Scrapbook is a contemporary story tool, great for kids and teens, and I would love you to take it for a spin and let me know what you think by leaving a comment at the bottom of the Story Scrapbook page. We want to build a community around the app and improve it based on your ideas and feedback.

Click here to download the pdf for the Quickstart guide. Or just start playing.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creating Characters

This article first appeared in WQ, the magazine of the Queensland Writer's Centre. My workshop
'Character Building' takes place at QWC this Saturday. Pics are from my most recent beach-writing safari.

‘One important thing about characters is that they’re not the same as people. People are in life: characters are in fiction.’ 
- Kate Grenville 

‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.’
- Ernest Hemingway. 

Character building is one of the slipperiest and most mysterious aspects of the writer’s work. Advice on the subject from writers is often contradictory, highlighting the fact that it is a very personal process. Some writers cannot begin until the characters are fully formed. Others start with a situation and let the characters evolve. Some let the characters take on a life of their own, while others tightly control them in the service of story and plot. Here, I will attempt to de-mystify some aspects of characterisation by sharing my own character-building tools as an author of children’s and young adult novels.

When beginning a new story I find it difficult to know a character because they have not yet faced challenges or made choices. My characters, to begin with, are wafer-thin and they only become three-dimensional in the rough and tumble of the drafting process as I provoke and test them. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, spurns the notion of character breakdowns or notes. He says, ‘I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free.’ In a 1983 Playboy interview he said, ‘Story must be paramount. . . . All other considerations are secondary – theme, mood, even characterisation and language.’ For King, the drafting process reveals the character while young adult novelist John Marsden, in his book Everything I know About Writing, says that he must hear the characters before the drafting begins: ‘For me, the single most important thing is to get the voice of the characters. Once I’ve got that I can usually start writing the book… I might have only the vaguest idea of the plot… but if I can hear their voice, I’m ready to hit the word-processor.’

Your Life and Other Stuff You Made Up
What are characters made of? Are they found objects, gently extracted using delicate tools? Or are they built and developed, consciously, from the ground up? How do we let characters evolve truthfully without forcing them to be inauthentic in the service of plot?

On reflection, my characters appear to be a fusion of four elements – myself, the people I know, my imagination and a reaction to the events of the story. All of my characters are ‘me’ in some way. Even the head lice in my Nit Boy books, about a child with the worst case of nits in world history, are me. I must find some aspect of myself in the character in order to create a ‘way in’. It is too easy to keep characters, antagonists in particular, at arm’s length throughout the process. I need to get inside the character’s skin in some way and empathise with them, even if I would not make the same choices.
Tools of Character Creation
No matter how many drafts you write, no matter what you throw at them, some characters will not show their cards to you. They will still seem alien and one-dimensional even after four or five drafts. These characters need to be taken aside in a separate file and questioned. I tend to write character breakdowns only after a few drafts, once I have heard the characters speak and let them make some decisions on the fly as I freewrite scenes and chapters. When I eventually do interview my characters I particularly like to use Lajos Egri’s ‘Tridimensional Bone Structure’ in his book The Art of Dramatic Writing. It looks at the character from physiological, sociological and psychological perspectives and asks 8-10 questions on each. Sometimes this is the only way for me to truly find the character and to give them space to ‘speak’ without the story’s dominant characters squeezing them out of scenes and forcing them into silence.

Visual references are very important to me in the characterisation process. I scour Google Images, Flickr, Getty Images and Tumblr. I import photographs, illustrations and paintings that suggest something about the character into Scrivener, a word processing application that allows me to pin the images onto a virtual corkboard. I might scan 500 images to find a single picture that suggests the attitude or tone of a particular character. Each character ends up with a file of ten or twenty images that says something about them.

I have recently been working on characters using Story Scrapbook, a multimedia story and character brainstorming app that I have developed with Brisbane-based interactive media developer, Ben Train. It allows the user to bring together sound, image, video and text on a ‘scrapbook’ page to build character and story. Choosing the elements is a visceral and engaging process and the character evolves in an instinctive way as I sift through material. Ben and I are currently co-writing a book and the app evolved as a visual, interactive way for us to work together. (The app is now free to download from my website.)
I come from a background as an actor and I find improvisation an interesting way to discover character. The writer can either improvise scenes with others or workshop with a small group of actors while taking notes. I recently worked with a group of eight teenagers, giving them scenarios from my book My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. They improvised scenes, wrote short scripts based on the improvisations, developed their characters and found simple objectives, before we filmed the scenes. All in four hours. Observing others’ interpretation of a character is an enlightening experience for the writer, bringing the characters alive in exciting ways.

Drawing is also a powerful development tool (whether you ‘can’ draw or not!). I shadowed Australian screenwriter and director Matt Saville (Cloudstreet, Noise, The Slap) on a TV production and watched him draw intricate storyboards of every scene. He did not do this in order to refer to the drawings on set but to buy himself time to think about the characters and story, to spend time with them while sketching. I have seen stop-motion animators and puppeteers work in similar ways, spending hours sitting with the characters, physically working with them and building them three-dimensionally, trying out voices and playing with them. I try to learn from creators in other mediums in order to avoid feeling that text is my only tool. Clay and the camera and the web and music and many other non-text tools can richly enhance the character creation process.

By experimenting with various tools and approaches and spending time with my characters I have created my own characterisation toolkit and you can create and expand yours, too. I will be running a hands-on workshop ‘Pleased To Meet You - Character Building’ on 12 May 2012 at QLD Writer’s Centre. We will be playing with these and many more tools.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sydney Writers Festival Young Adult Literature Events

If you're into Young Adult / teen literature and you're in Sydney next week, don't miss these awesome events with some extraordinary YA writers at Sydney Writers Festival ... I am definitely heading along to some on 20 May ahead of Primary School Days.

Unexploded Diagrams with Mal Peet
May 19, 1:30pm-4:30pm State Library of NSW, Jean Garling Ante Room International YA superstar Mal Peet leads a discussion on the craft of writing fiction for young adults. Workshop three pages of your manuscript with Mal and the class. Supported by Pantera Press. $85/$75

Talkin’ Bout My Generation
May 20, 2:30pm-3:30pm Bangarra Mezzanine Immerse yourself in the 1960s with coming-of-age stories from two top writers for young adults. Mal Peet and Ursula Dubosarsky talk to Joy Lawn about treading the line between autobiography and fiction. Free, no bookings

A Neverending Story: Fantasy Worlds
May 20, 11:30am-12:30pm Sydney Dance 4 Three authors who create imagined worlds explore our enduring fascination with fantasy and unpick the complexities of the genre. Isobelle Carmody, Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier talk to Joy Lawn. Free, no bookings

Islands of the Imagination
May 20, 2:30pm-3:30pm Sydney Dance 4 Fairytale, folklore and fantasy combine to create otherworldly island creations in Margo Lanagan and Mette Jakobsen's latest work. They explore how to feed and release the imagination in fiction. With Judith Ridge. Presented with UNSW. Free, no bookings

Masterclass: Ursula Dubosarsky on YA
May 16, 10:00am-4:30pm State Library of NSW, Jean Garling Room An exclusive Masterclass in writing for YA with Ursula Dubosarsky open to unpublished authors seeking feedback on their manuscript and tips for improving their writing for publication. Participation is by application only. To download further information and an application form go to Presented in association with the NSW Writers’ Centre. Presented in association with the NSW Writers’ Centre. Supported by Pantera Press. $210/$200 Bookings 9555 9757

A Greyhound of a Girl
May 20, 2:30pm-3:30pm Sydney Dance 2 The pages of A Greyhound of a Girl are filled with love, laughter and Roddy Doyle’s unmistakable Irish brogue. Not to mention the most brilliant ghost ever. He talks to Cath Keenan about his writing for children. Free, no bookings

Her Dark Materials
May 20, 11:30am-12:30pm Bangarra Theatre Is anything out of bounds in young-adult fiction? Margo Lanagan, Lucy Christopher and Kirsty Eagar are not afraid to address controversial subjects. They tell Hilary Rogers where to draw the line. Free, no bookings


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Los Angeles Book Tour

In LA last week, touring schools and doing LA Times Festival of Books, I had that eyes-wide-open feeling you get when you hit a new city. Driving on the wrong side of the road, different accents and ideas and ways of being. I could not approach life in my everyday way. Travel makes me feel like a child again, using every sense to gather information about the world and I love it.
Magnolia Elementary School with the Sierra Nevada looming in the b/g.
With the kids at Magnolia. A great day organised by Annie and Andrea at Mrs Nelson's Books.
Signing kids' hands in San Dimas, outside LA.
I was waiting for the principal to eject me from school grounds for defacing students' skin.
A kid stamping his forehead with my stamp.
I got to eat a proper American school lunch. Livin' the dream.
I get excited about yellow school buses, too. I blame A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Yogurtland in Claremont, CA. Sweet justice.
Spectacular flavours.
I think I paid $1.87 for this goodness.
Downtown LA's Frank Gehry designed Disney Concert Hall.
I went up to the Getty Museum in West LA and perused the Monets, Manets, Sisleys and other impressionist works. The architecture at the Getty is as impressive as the artwork the museum holds.
With my IT'S YR LIFE co-writer and sometime acting buddy Tempany Deckert and her dog Cosmo on one of LA's many canyon walks.
Gopher hole. It kept poking its head out and I kept missing it.
Downtown LA where I got lost one night with Paul from Simon & Schuster.
I received the red carpet (or red paper) treatment at Andersen Elementary School in Newport Beach.
Mucking around with librarian Lori Osawa at Alderwood Elementary in Irvine, CA.
Scarring books with my signature.
Mac Slater Hunts the Cool
With the lovely Alex from Whale of a Tale, a really fantastic kids' and YA bookshop in Irvine. 
Alex found a penny and put it in her shoe for good luck. She didn't want me photographing her sock but I insisted that I capture this interesting American custom (or does it cross borders?).
My book haul at Whale of a Tale. Looking forward to reading Jack Gantos who I saw at LA Times Book Fest
I call this piece, 'Vegemite Toast'. 
Sunset Boulevarde, West Hollywood, the afternoon that I heard my grandmother had passed away.
A reunion with Damon Herriman and Rupert Reid, my friends and the actors from SOAR, a short film I directed a while back. (You can watch it on Sydney Morning Herald TV here: )
And here we are, nine years ago, on the Fox Studios 747 plane set where we shot the film.
A plane soaring low overhead on the night I left LA.
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