1st December 2015: Alice Pung…Room to Read…books and hope….

I launched a novel a couple of weeks back called Laurinda by Alice Pung.  Alice is the writer of two memoirs including the award-winning, Polished Gem, as well as a copious amount of published essays. This is her first novel.

laurinda I loved this book. I loved the  protagonist, Lucy Lam. Great character. Great sense of humour. Laurinda has drawn comparisons to the feature film, “Mean Girls, but I think Tina Fey would have written a much more powerful film if Lucy Lam, and not the Lindsay Lohan character was the new girl.

Lucy Lam’s home life was a joy to read. (Can I say that I crave novels that reflect our cultural diversity and I despair that our literature, film and television has failed to do this. But that’s for another post). It’s strange to say a joy when the character’s father is the only surviving member of his family as a result of the Vietnam war.  That family history is there in the psyche of the novel, but ultimately, Alice wrote a funny and thought-provoking novel full of heart and backbone, and this one made me a tad envious as a fellow writer.

I have a few connections to Alice. The most important is that we have a mutual friend in Jennie Orchard who works for Room to Read, an international non-profit organization founded by John Wood focusing on literacy and the education of girls in developing countries.  I try not to dabble in stats because I know people’s eyes glaze over, but Jennie drew my attention to the article below and this particular fact wedged itself into my brain:   57 million children will never start primary school (http://www.bbc.com/news/education-26947829)

Room to Read is challenging that statistic.  “If every child received an education, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty”. More to the point –  World change starts with educated children.

This is part of what Jennie had to say.

“Room to Read has now educated more than 28,000 girls, providing them not only with academic and material support but also health education and life skills such as critical thinking and communication, understanding their rights. I have remained involved with Room to Read because I am passionate about its twin ‘pillars of emphasis’, literacy and girls’ education…Room to Read is making it possible for children in the most inaccessible and impoverished communities to learn to read, empowering them to break the cycle of poverty that has imposed such limitations upon their parents and grandparents. It is so exciting to witness the transformative power of education for individuals, for families and for whole communities….

Don’t be put off by the sentiment that first world aid is patronising. Room to Read is emphatic about locals teaching and building these schools. It’s not a case of middle class white people coming in and taking over. Dare I quote Evanjalin from Finnikin of the Rock, ‘It’s against the rules of human nature to believe there is nothing we can do.”

Alice Pung is an ambassadors for Room to Read, as are many other Australian writers.   (And I’m sure there are international writers attached to their own country’s Room to Read branch).  Australian Children’s writer, Tristan Bancks, for example,  initiated the “change the world” campaign in 2014. With the help of school kids and organisation across the country, Tristan raised over $20,000 to build a school library in Cambodia. I know he’s planning something bigger and better in 2015 so please find a way to get involved, especially if you’re connected to a school. (http://www.tristanbancks.com/p/change-world.html).

One last thing. I was at a library yesterday as part of Sydney Writer’s Festival and I heard a volunteer telling a story about one of the kids at a primary school in her area.  I can’t go into details about how horrific the story began, but it ended with this particular boy being given a box of second-hand books and his emotional reaction to it.  Those of us listening to the story were a bit weepy. Many kids at that primary school are from a low socio-economic background or are children of refugees.  Many have never owned their own book.

It disturbs me to hear stories like that for more than one reason. My daughter received seven Frozen dolls for her birthday, yet there are kids living not even ten miles away from us who don’t even own a book.   So if you’re in the Sydney area, or even interstate, and have a picture book or chapter book or anything for primary aged kids (mostly picture books because a large amount of the kids don’t speak English)  please feel free to contact Sue on (02) 9632 9709. She’s the librarian at that primary school and will advise you where to send the book. In a conversation with her today,  she mentioned that her greatest wish would be for every kid at that school to have their own book sitting on their desk on the first day of Term 1 in 2015. That’s quite amazing when you hear schools vowing that every kid in their school will have an iPad on their desk by 2015, and even more sobering when the Unesco prediction in 1990 was that by the year 2000 there’d be primary education for all, and that was shuffled forward to 2015 and now there’s talk that it could happen in 2030.

Jennie  reminded me of the words of the youngest noble prize winner,  Malala.

 . . . ‘let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.’

(Below is Jennie Orchard’s complete interview about her work with Room to Read)
It is now getting on for 10 years since I first heard about Room to Read, a global non-profit which is committed to literacy and gender equality through education. I first became interested because I had strong connections with a number of the countries where Room to Read works – my husband had lived and worked in Laos and we had married there; my father had lived for a while in India; and we had travelled with our sons in Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam.
 My first responsibility as a volunteer was to co-chair the Students Helping Students program in Hong Kong, where we were living at the time. This role gave me the opportunity to learn more about the organisation and, a couple of years later, when we were returning to live in Sydney, I was asked to think about establishing the fundraising presence in Australia. This turned out to be a far greater responsibility than I had envisaged and for the next four or five years, I invested very long hours, working with a team of volunteers to launch Room to Read’s Sydney chapter, later helping to build other chapters around the country and in New Zealand, eventually becoming the inaugural Development Director Australasia. In mid-2012, we returned to live in Hong Kong and I resigned from this position. I now focus on building connections with writers, publishers, literary festivals and conferences. We have around 25 writers and journalists promoting the organisation in various ways in Australia and we are starting to build this initiative across Room to Read’s global chapter network. There are volunteer chapters in more than 50 cities around the world.
 I have remained involved with Room to Read because I am passionate about its twin ‘pillars of emphasis’, literacy and girls’ education. Having a publishing background myself, I have always understood the importance of books and reading. Room to Read is making it possible for children in the most inaccessible and impoverished communities to learn to read, empowering them to break the cycle of poverty that has imposed such limitations upon their parents and grandparents. It is so exciting to witness the transformative power of education for individuals, for families and for whole communities. As Malala has said . . . ‘let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. On child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.’
 Gender equality is also vitally important in today’s world. Girls’ education has been described by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, as the most effective tool for development. Room to Read has now educated more than 28,000 girls, providing them not only with academic and material support but also health education and life skills such as critical thinking and communication, understanding their rights.
 Room to Read is working in 10 developing countries in Asia and Africa, building schools, establishing libraries, publishing children’s books in local languages, developing and delivering literacy programs, and educating girls. Founded in 2000, the results over the past 15 years have been quite phenomenal. In 2015 the organisation will reach its 10 millionth child, this being the goal that was originally set for 2020. John Wood and Erin Ganju, the Founders of Room to Read, both come from high-flying corporate backgrounds and apply their exceptional business acumen to every aspect of the organisation.  The results have attracted extensive support from corporates and individuals around the globe.
 Room to Read has been extremely well-received in Australia, with around $10m raised in the first five years of operation. Even though we’re not running programs in Australia, people understand the importance of educating young people in developing countries, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region. This also makes economic sense, given that the populations of countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are potential customers for Australian goods. There is also a strong connection between education and global security.
We are always looking for more support – for donors, obviously, but also volunteers to become involved with our chapters in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Perth. If people are interested in learning more about Room to Read, I suggest subscribing to the newsletter for global updates (https://www.roomtoread.org/joinus). For local information, take a look at the information about Room to Read in Australia (http://www.roomtoread.org/Australasia) and get in touch with your local chapter. You can also follow the organisation on Twitter or Facebook.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

30th November 2014: Jellicoe (Again)

 

I’m going to blog more than once this week, and I thought I’d start with Jellicoe because my work as the script writer is now complete.

Readers have told me again and again that Jellicoe, the novel, is magic for them. Always flattering and always at the back of my head as a bench mark for the next novel and the next.  This year has been about finding the magic in the script. When I say that I’ve finished working on the Jellicoe script again, it doesn’t mean re-writes per se. I tend to think of the Jellicoe editing as  “enhancement’.  Remember, that the story itself isn’t what attracted many people to the novel.  It was also Taylor’s narrative voice and the structure. In adaptation, the narrative voice is the first to go so it’s been hard work tracking Taylor’s emotional journey without the aid of voice over. But the challenge has been satisfying. I loved writing this prickly angry tough fragile girl in the script as much as I loved writing her in the novel.

One of the more important changes I’ve introduced has revolved around the Boarders.  In the novel, all the Boarders are part of Taylor’s faction, but in the script the story takes place during the school holidays and revolves around the thirty or so Boarders who are state wards and are left behind, year after year, because they have nowhere else to go. It establishes a yearning amongst them to win at something for the first time in their lives. They are the perpetual losers in the wars and in life. None of that is said, of course.  But it is visually there on their faces when their school mate are picked up by parents. It’s interesting how a scene like that can change the psyche of the script without really having to change much elsewhere.

So this is what happens now. In the New Year, the script gets sent to the funding bodies and distributors.  It’s never been so tough to make a film in this country as now,  so I’ve been told often enough that this draft has to be close to perfect. No pressure there. And then it’s not just about the script.  Films are hard to finance without a big international name.  You can’t really blame those who fund films for asking, because then you’ll have to ask yourself when was the last time you went to see a film that didn’t have a big name or when was the last time you paid to see a film with unknown Aussie actors.  I’d love to make a great film with unknown Aussie actors because I have seen so much remarkable young talent in the auditions.  I’d also love to make a great film with an international name although young international names are hard to get because they have a team of people looking after them and it’s difficult to get a script into their hands. It’ doesn’t mean we won’t try to and it doesn’t mean we’ll go for an a-lister, because sometimes an up-and-coming actor is as important and just as talented (think Jennifer Lawrence for those of you who, like me, went to see Winter’s Bone and realized she was an up and coming actor.  Very few film goers knew who she was when she was cast as Katniss).

So I haven’t lost faith in Jellicoe being made in 2015. And  watch this space early in the year because there will be some interesting stuff online to get the momentum going.

On a much more personal note, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday yesterday. It’s been exactly a year since she came to live with me.  It’s interesting that so many people have asked me whether the subject material in my writing has been influenced by having her in my life this year.  The novel I’ve completed is a thriller set in London revolving around two bombings, thirteen years apart, and the impact it has on the family of the accused. So no influence at all, but a fair enough question.

Next year I’ll speak more about the novel, but for now I’ll share this image of the birthday girl.

website

 

 

Jonah Griggs’ favourite Footy team has made the Grand Finals

In honour of South Sydney making the NRL finals for the first time since 1971 (I shouted myself hoarse on Friday night at a pub in Jonah Griggs’ territory) I thought I’d share mention of them in my work.

They are a true working class underdog’s footy team. My friends, Ben and Patrick, who came along on the Jellicoe research road trip back in 2005 are so fanatical that we’re not allowed to reference the colours as merely red and green, but cardinal red and myrtle green.

south-sydney-rabbitohs-logo-14yf1rq

***

On the Jellicoe Road (the novel) Taylor’s discussing one of the few times Jonah Griggs is out of Cadet uniform.

He’s wearing boxer shorts and a long-sleeved South Sydney football T-Shirt)

***

(On the Jellicoe Road the filmscript – Cadet laundry day

BEN
Unless you can identify his bloody underwear, we haven’t got a hope of knowing where his tent is.

TAYLOR
Red and green, third from the left, sixth row….Know thy enemy. He’s a Rabbitoh’s supporter.

***

Tom Mackee to Mohsin the Ignorer  in The PIper’s Son

So what. We lost a few games, Big deal.  Souths have been losing game after game for years and their fans don’t give up on them.”

Spotlight on Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective

Girl Defective has been one of my favourites of the year. Unique voice and characters and a strong sense of place. Not to mention two amazing covers. I’m a bit obsessed with novels at the moment where the setting is one of the main characters. This year was the first time I couldn’t travel for research. I don’t regret setting my manuscript on the other side of the world because I feel that it couldn’t have been set anywhere else, but reading Girl Defective reminded me that I need to get it right.

Below, Simmone answers a few questions about her work and research. Directly below is the Australian cover, published last year. The other is the US cover, published this month.

Girl Defective

When did you first get the idea for Girl Defective, and was the music always central to it?

Sometime around 2008, in the middle of another novel which I subsequently didn’t finish, I had a scene in my mind of two girls on a rooftop in St Kilda watching and commenting on all the people passing by. Then I decided it was going to be a swift romantic thing – a record shop romance. I wanted a girls’ version of High Fidelity. Having worked in record shops you get used it as a male-dominated landscape, I wanted to turn that around. When I was a teenager music was so important to me – it still is – but back then it was like my lifeblood. I was very specific about the kind of music I wanted as Sky’s soundtrack and I also wanted it to be a bit of a musical treasure hunt. The song Wishing Well by the Millionaires, which is the book’s ‘golden object’ was introduced to me by my husband. It’s a deeply strange song. I must have listened to it a thousand times while I was writing. It supplied me with an ‘outsider’ theme that eventually took over the novel

Did much change from your original vision? Any examples?

 The character of Nancy was fun to write but in the original version she didn’t have a very happy end. She was inspired by beautiful girls that hang around rock music scenes – who I always found more fascinating than the actual bands – the Anita Pallenbergs and Bebe Buells. In the novel Sky likens Nancy to Ruby Tuesday and that line: ‘She would never say where she came from…’ was a definite starting point. But she proved to interesting for me to do away with. In a way it was like she was Scherezading me, dropping crumbs from her past so I’d keep her around. I don’t think she’s a bad friend, particularly. But not someone who Sky can rely on -unless you count the fact that she can reliably get Sky into trouble.

girl-defective-9781442497627_hr

How did you keep track of the different story threads in Girl Defective? Did you outline?

I went through so many different versions. I tried writing with a plan but then the characters would hijack it. In the end I think I was just writing to a theme and the theme was innocence to experience. The working title for Girl Defective for the longest time was Girl in the Water. I had written a (grim) short story about a modern Ophelia, a groupie girl recounting her sad demise from the bottom of a well. In the novel, the name of Sky’s parents’ band is Little Omie. This came from an old folk ballad called Omie Wise. This was another song that hung around while I was writing. This song inspired Sky’s dreams about Mia Casey, ‘The Crying Girl’. When I write it’s like all the things I’ve ever been interested start knocking against it other and it can be hard to know which things to keep. I love that about writing though, that every story has its ghosts and layers. I think about Virginia Woolf: Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms …*

To me, the challenge of writing a novel, any novel, is to be able to shape the impressions so that they serve the story, and the story itself must come from the character. I don’t always feel that I’m successful at this, but it’s the thing I work towards.

*This is from The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf

22nd September 2014: Misc

I do love a High Tea, so am looking forwarding to being the guest of honour at this event at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown.

When: 15th November 2014 at 3pm.  Bookings essential. Below is the link.

http://www.betterreadevents.com/#!product/prd15/2526200751/young-adult-high-tea-with-melina-marchetta

Also, The Lumatere Chronicles have been re-jacketed in Australia. Very exciting because Froi and Quintana will be coming out in paperback. I’m loving a short haired Quintana. They will be out in late January 2015, although I think Finnikin will be making his appearance this year.

Don’t hold me to it, but I’ve recently had a bit of a re-read of the novels because apparently Lady Celie of the Flatllands thinks she knows where Jehr of Yutlind Sud is.  So perhaps another story. What I’m hoping is that one day I will have four separate but linked stories featuring Lady Celie and Banyon, all in one volume. The first one, Ferragost, appeared here: http://reviewofaustralianfiction.com/issues/volume-3-issue/

Finnikin FCA_SAMSFroi FCA_SAMS Quintana FCA_SAMS

18th of June: A work in progress

I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t blogged since the end of March, so I’ll start by saying that I’ve been trying to write a novel this past year.

It’s not YA and it’s not fantasy and it’s not set in Australia and it’s not set in America and it’s not set in a fictitious country. I’m saying all that because it means I’m writing something that doesn’t belong to my regular publishers. Scary and exciting at the same time. It’s almost like starting from scratch (not the writing, but the publishing experience).

And the one thing that I will state from this moment on is that writing an adult novel is not harder than writing a YA novel, and one day if it gets published, reading my adult novel will not be harder than reading my YA novels. I remember when The Piper’s Son came out, a journalist asked if I found it harder to write because it was about an older age group and honestly, comparing it with the rest of my work, how could I have found it harder than Jellicoe or the four hundred thousand words of the Lumatere Chronicles?

What I am finding difficult about this novel is that it’s set overseas. Although I did my research last July at the beginning of my process, I’m finding it hard not being able to go for a drive in my neighbourhood to describe the neighbourhood of my characters. What I can say at this early stage is that most times I write novels about young people, where the older generation plays such an important role in their journey. This time it’s about adults where the younger generation plays such an important role in their journey. And that I started off thinking it was a thriller of some sort, but of course, who cares about what happens. It’s the relationships and characters and their journey and their blended histories that I’ve become obsessed with. I think I’m good at that, so whether I’m writing YA or Adult or whatever someone labels my work, I stick to what I’m good at, and what I enjoy reading myself, and after a year of stops and starts, I think I finally almost have a first draft of a novel on my hands.

And I’m a bit in love with every single character.