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

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012 Highlights

Here are the highlights from my 2012 adventures in the world of Children's and Young Adult literature. Certainly, the day I awoke to discover I was half man, half dog will stay with me for some time.

While not as life-changing as the dog thing, leading a group of brilliant
young writers on a beach story safari was fun.
Wandering the USC grounds at LA Times Festival of Books was good.
(NB: That's not me. They wouldn't let me on the plane with my sword.)
Seeing sessions with Judy Blume, Jack Gantos, John Green, Dame Julie Andrews, Jeff Kinney (pictured)
and other kid and YA lit legends.

Catching up with my it's yr life co-writer Tempany Deckert
who lives in the LA and has a fine canine companion named Cosmo.
I spent lots of time with hardworking, energetic, dedicated and kooky librarians.
Eating a real-life American school lunch on a tray was memorable.
Not the taste of it so much as the lifelong dream realised.
I loved seeing our Story Scrapbook beta app launched and watching kids everywhere
experimenting with it and giving lots of useful feedback for its development. 

Touring Tasmanian schools and visiting Hobart's MONA gallery, one of the best in the world. (This is a waterfall dropping watery words gathered from the Web.)

Somerset Festival of Literature with high-energy audiences and authors like
James Roy, Oliver Phommavanh and Jacquie Harvey. 
Writing workshops have evolved!
Getting our short film, Soar, out there on SMH TV. It'll be at the end of its distribution run in Jan
and we'll make it available on Youtube.
Discovering new technique of freewriting first draft material in Notes on
phone or a notepad while I walk on the beach. Doesn't feel like work, but is.
And prevents my early death from being seated eight hours a day in front of a laptop.
Sydney Writers Festival Primary School Days was a wild week.
Big audiences, some excellent authors to work alongside, great festival team, kids excited about
books and lots of time to write each morning.

Seeing Jane Austen take on a Dalek.
Spending two weeks in Armidale on a residency, visiting schools, university
and being in a fresh place to write.
Notepads. Filling notepads. I enjoyed my writing this year more than ever, I think.
Absolute highlight of 2012 for me was making a 3-minute video with this class that
inspired kids all over Australia to raise $20,000 to build a library in Cambodia through
Room to Read. I'm brainstorming ideas for 2013. Hope you can help!
Thanks to everyone I worked with this year – authors, kids, librarians, teachers, readers, co-writers, festival and publishing folk. I feel like a very lucky man to do this work. I hope you have a peaceful, creative and adventurous 2013.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top 5 Books 2012 - Children's, Teen, Adult

It's been a good reading year for me. A couple of times I was on a run of seven or eight brilliant books in a row and I would start to wonder if there was a book, anywhere, that I would not love. Here are my Top 5 Children's, Teen and Adult books that I read in 2012, the National Year of Reading. They are in no particular order. Most are not 2012 releases. Some are re-reads, some older, some new.

There are not enough Australian books, something I hope to remedy in 2013 starting with Michael Gerard Bauer's fave YA booklist and the First Tuesday Book Club Top 50 Australian books.

All of the books below come highly recommended for adults as well as kids / teens.

Top 5 Children's / Middle-Grade
The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick
Hatchet - Gary Paulsen
Joey Pigza Loses Control - Jack Gantos
Once series - Morris Gleitzman
Okay For Now - Gary D. Schmidt

Top 5 Teen / Young Adult
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - Mark Haddon
The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
Town - James Roy
Don't Call Me Ishmael - Michael Gerard Bauer

Top 5 Adult / Classics
Zen Mind Beginner's Mind - Shunryu Suzuki
The Old Man & the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
White Fang - Jack London
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Monday, December 17, 2012

Summer Reading Club - State Library of Queensland

I'm Untangling Creativity this summer over at the State Library of Queensland's Summer Reading Club blog. I'm sharing lots of tips on creating your own stories and making it a fun ride this summer holidays. You can check out the posts here.

There is lots of other fairy-tale inspired creative inspiration at the Summer Reading Club site from children's authors and illustrators like Deborah Abela, Hilary Badger, Martin Chatterton, Kerry Brown, Lucia MasciulloPeter Carnavas, Christian Bocquee, Julie Fisan, Jennifer PoulterTerry Denton and Wendy Orr.

Merrrrrrrry Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Writer's Notebook #4: Relaxation the Key to Creativity

'On the dragon there are many scales. 
Everyone of them says ‘Thou Shalt.’ 
 Kill the dragon ‘Thou Shalt’. 
When one has killed that dragon, 
one has become The Child.'
- Joseph Campbell 
in 'Reflections on the Art of Living'

I barely remember doing my best work. It happened in a state of Flow. My books that really connect with readers are the books that I barely remember writing. The books that were hard to write, that had to be forced, that became a chore, they have not been my better stories.


It was the same when I used to make short films. I would bleed for one film and enjoy the process on another and guess which one would connect with audiences? Earnestness, trying too hard, can strangle the life out of a thing. Zen buddhists say that new practitioners often feel dissatisfied because they come at Zen too enthusiastically, with too much fervour, trying to 'master' something.

Actors say it about auditions. They never get the roles they really want but when they walk into the audition room for a role they couldn't care less about, they get a callback. A big part of it is feeling relaxed, loose, creative, playful.

For me, Creativity happens wandering along a beach, slumped in a chair with paper and pencil, travelling, driving, mowing the lawn or sitting at the dining table. When I'm not trying.

The challenge for writers and makers and creators of things is to relax more. Easy for kids. Seemingly difficult for adults. It takes guts to turn away from the world, navel-gaze and find that still, creative space, the birthplace of ideas. 

Here's to finding it more often.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Writer's Notebook #3 : My First Notebook

This is the first notebook I remember owning. (It inspired the cover and a lot of the content for my book My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up.

I was given the book when I was seven or eight years-old. It was a templated notebook where you filled in the answers. Even at that age, there was something satisfying about trying to understand the world using the written word. I would download ideas and wrestle with the big questions like 'Who will I marry?' (below). That response underwent a few drafts. 

Interestingly, and I only realised this a moment ago, I predicted that I would get married at age 20 and have two children. And I did. And I do. Their names, however, are not the forecasted 'Jimmy' or 'Anastasia'. 

The page above inspired Tom Weekly's list of girls he likes most in his class. (Illustration & My Life book cover by Gus Gordon.)

Kids need notebooks. Some kids do. My life is littered with notebooks, most of which will never be read again. The process of laying the words down is enough. Writing in a blank notebook is the purest thing I know. From the gut, no audience and a plot that is truer to life than any story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Simon Higgins, Children's Author, in The Writer's Studio

Simon Higgins is an ex-police officer and private investigator turned Children's and Young Adult author. He shares his love of martial arts with kids around the world through his extraordinary characters and dynamic live presentations. He is the 50th author or illustrator in The Writer's Studio. Read on to discover how and where this passionate man creates.

Where do you create?
Lots of different places! I like to use a laptop with a long life battery and work in ever-changing locations: on the veranda at home, out in the garden, when I'm on a plane, even when I'm overseas -which is usually somewhere in Asia – amid stimulating energy and sights. I've had the honour of travelling, researching and either training or competing in martial arts in both China and Japan. Hence my last book, Moonshadow: The Twilight War, was about the world of the shinobi, or ninja, many of whom that we know about from history were teenagers. Being so interested in other cultures, I've had to learn to create on the move.

Simon Higgins shuriken-throwing in Japan.

How important to you is the space in which you create?
When I first started writing professionally in 1998, a designated space was very important but, over the years, I have learned to take a certain head-space with me everywhere I go. Traditional martial arts has gradually taught me how to focus and concentrate, and how to either take everything around you in when you need to be alert, or to shut virtually everything out when necessary, which is ideal for writing.

Do you transform your space in any way for each project?
After studying my research material, notes, photographs and so on, I make myself comfortable in a chair, or kneel in the traditional Japanese seating pose called Seiza (back straight, legs folded, sitting on your heels on the floor) then set up my laptop on some stable surface so I can touch type quickly without it rocking. Then I get in the zone mentally, often with some slow breathing, and away I go.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began illustrating and writing books?
My writing locations have included hotels, aircraft, trains, railway stations, temple gardens, high-rise buildings in Chinese cities and, of course, my own rather large 'back yard'. I am privileged to live in Northern New South Wales near the mountain named Wollumbin ('the cloud catcher') by its traditional owners, so I find that, weather permitting, outdoors is a beautiful and calming place to create. The photograph you see that includes a rainbow is actually a view from my veranda, taken during a coffee break from writing. I grew up in a city, and now, I feel deeply grateful to live among such beauty.

Simon Higgins competing in Japan.

What time of day are you most creative?
I tend to write in long bursts that can happen at any time of the day or evening. Mid afternoon and sometimes late at night I can really break into some fast streaks, getting a lot of stuff down quite quickly.

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for illustrating and writing?
I often still my mind using martial art forms (or kata, as some call them) which are a kind of moving meditation, not unlike Tai Chi. I learned to use a samurai sword in Japan, and also to throw real ninja shuriken (iron circular throwing stars) so I could write the Tomodachi and Moonshadow books respectfully - and accurately. Doing an unarmed kung fu or sword form really readies my mind for work, but I hasten to add, I don't play with shuriken in Australia. It's legal in Japan, but not in Oz, so I didn't try to bring any home with me. Besides, where I live, sudden attack by ninja seems unlikely. :) I have, however, been suddenly confronted, while writing, by brush turkeys, goannas, wallabies, two eagles, and the odd very long, scarily thick python. Lucky I love animals and know how to stay very still. :)

This piece first appeared in Northerly, the magazine of the Northern Rivers Writer's Centre.
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