Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

A literary desert? Ecology meets creativity at the NT Writers' Festival, Alice Springs

Tasmanian writer, Nicole Gill, provides a snapshot of significant moments during her recent participation in a writers’ festival based in Alice Springs where the allure of the outback is evocatively captured. Certainly some desert inspiration is evident!

Last month, I was lucky enough to be a participating author at the Northern Territory Writers' Festival. The festival is held annually, with Darwin and Alice Springs taking turns, and this year, the event was centred around the lovely Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, to the east of the main Alice township.

The festival featured writers from all over the country, with strong representation from local and visiting indigenous writers, historians, artists, songwomen and storytellers. In Arrernte, the local Indigenous language, iwerre-atherre means two roads meeting, neither blocking nor erasing the other; two-way learning or travelling together. This was the theme of this year’s festival.

I was fortunate enough to travel together, and learn with, local ecologists, wildlife experts, students and teachers from the Centralian Middle School, in my role as a coordinator on a workshop that combined ecology with creative writing. High school students were challenged to look closely at some of the region’s local animals, and then to design their own animals, and to describe their adaptations in a creative writing exercise.


On the Wednesday night, we gathered at the Alice Springs Desert Park to observe nocturnal desert animals. In the heat of the day, many of the region’s animals snooze in caves or burrows, but at night, they come to life. The Desert Park is home to hundreds of native marsupials, and they are at such densities within the fenced enclosure that they require supplementary feeding on a nightly basis. This makes for an intimate wildlife experience, and gave the students the chance to observe the animals up close. By red-torch light,
they met delicate mala; a small desert wallaby thought to be extinct in the wild, as well as some pushy, very spiky echidnas, clambering up the guide’s legs to get at the bucket of ‘ant smoothie’ he carried for their dinner. As we walked through the enclosure, trying not to tread on overfriendly bettongs or emboldened bandicoots, we spoke with the students about what adaptations and behaviours allow these animals to survive in the harsh desert environment. The students took notes, both by hand, and also using their iPads as cameras, for use the following day.

Back at school the next day, students chose from a range of printed images of Australian animals, and created collages of their ultimate desert beast. Using the information they’d gained the previous night, and with scissors and glue, they created their Franken-beasts of the desert, and then worked to label their drawings, describing how the different adaptations of the creatures they’d created helped them survive in a desert environment. The collages allowed varying literacy levels to be accommodated - less confident writers could write short, simple descriptions, while more proficient scribes could write lengthy tracts on exactly why their beast was the most feared predator of the desert!

I also ran a festival workshop for adults with local ecologist and poet Meg Mooney, called Nature Town, which focused on nature writing within urban environments. Alice Springs is a lot like Hobart in that the boundaries between the town and the bush seem very porous – in fact, this is the first literary festival I’ve ever been to which has seen areas cordoned off due to the presence of snakes!

Next year’s Northern Territory Writers Festival will be held in Darwin in May 2018.  Judging by the excellent program this year, it’ll be well worth getting along to – and an excellent excuse to get a final blast of sunshine before the Tasmanian winter begins!

Nicole Gill

Nicole is a Tasmanian author, whose writings on the environment, humans and other animals have The Monthly, Island, The Guardian and The Best Australian Science Writing. She was a shortlistee for the 2016 Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing, and her first book for children, Animal Eco-Warriors was published through CSIRO Publishing in June 2017. You can find Nicole on
Twitter: @tasbiophiliac
and occasionally, on her author site on
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nicgillauthor/

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Lian Tanner: What Writers Need

Johanna Baker-Dowdell reports on a writing session conducted by Tasmanian author Lian Tanner as she provided important advice on writing to a spellbound audience of primary students.

I’ve been a storyteller for my whole life: from pulling apart films in great detail to share with those who did not have the experience, to writing Anne of Green Gables fan fiction before I even knew there was such a thing. By the time I left high school I was writing a column for my local newspaper and had dreams of being the next Murphy Brown.

Lian Tanner
As I approach the second year of mentoring grade 5 and 6 students in creative writing for The Write Road, I thought it relevant to reflect on children’s author Lian Tanner’s advice for writers.

Lian spoke at the Writer’s Cafe that concluded The Write Road program last year and shared some salient tips on what writers need with her audience of primary school students, their parents and teachers.

She told the almost 50 aspiring authors they were now part of a “great and honourable tradition of writers who started off as children who loved stories”.

And Lian followed those words with these four tips on what all writers need to do to get the creative juices flowing:
  • to daydream, as daydreaming is one of the most important things a writer can do,
  • take risks, because being creative is all about taking risks,
  • live life deeply and passionately, because we need to notice everything around us – and inside us,
  • go out and have adventures.
And of course Lian is right. Like everything that is worth doing, writing takes time to develop. First there’s the watching what is happening in the playground outside, or how our friends respond when they disagree, or even the different ways people walk. Then comes the kernels of ideas, that just form out of those musings and develop into full-blown ideas if we give them time and attention – and are willing to write them down.

The risk is something more difficult to embrace, but the rewards are worth it. You never know what you’re capable of if you keep doing the same. But, if you take a risk, like Lian advises, you can discover more about yourself and those around you than you thought possible.
A popular, highly successful series that Lian Tanner has written.

While these young writers have not felt the full scope of emotions that present themselves throughout life’s triumphs and challenges, they will soon enough. These students need to take note of how they feel each and every time their hearts swell or break, because it will become something they draw on in their writing time and time again.

And the most important tip of all: have adventures, because to have adventures is to live.

May they all keep writing throughout school and choose careers where stories are important.

Johanna is a journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.


Editors' note: Lian Tanner demonstrates this passion for writing through the extensive range of exciting fiction she has crafted. Read of some of her own inspirational strategies on her website.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Steampunk



Are you a steampunk fan? Or is this post an introduction to the genre? Leanne Rands introduces this fascinating, challenging and engaging genre by looking at a classic series: The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.


Recently l was introduced to steampunk novels which is an eclectic subgenre of speculative fiction combining fantasy, horror and science fiction, set in a Victorian or quasi-Victorian historical setting. Steampunk has been described as; "What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner" (Kankuro (2004) in Urbandictionary).

While steampunk novels are set in an era when steam power is predominantly used as the main energy source, there are also fictional technological inventions similar to those found in the novels of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. Inventions such as H.G. Wells’ Time Machine (1895) and Jules Verne’s Nautilus submarine in Twenty thousand leagues under the sea (1870) are creatively adapted and combined with modern computer technology to provide intriguing machines. Many titles include intricate diagrams and illustrations of the inventions to add to reading experience. 

The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is set in an alternate World War I. The German Central Powers (Clankers) using mechanized war machines are at war with the British Entente Powers (Darwinists) who use genetically fabricated creatures as weapons. The teenage heroes are Aleksander, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Deryn, Scottish girl with dreams of joining the British Air Service with her brother. The trilogy tells the story of their around the world adventures.


The series also has a manual that provides comprehensive background information that is informative, imaginative and intriguing.  The Leviathan Trilogy by Robert Westerfeld is suitable for older readers and has engaging characters, astonishing technology, and exciting plots.

The Leviathan (2009)

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. They meet in an unexpected way, and begin a worldwide adventure on board the Leviathan 

Behemoth (2010)
The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy that can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. On board the airship Leviathan the heroes Deryn and Alek continue their fight to bring the war to an end.

Goliath (2011)
Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end the war and reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria when they fall in love. Their quest is being thwarted as their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown).

The Manual of Aeronautics (2012)
This manual is the decoder that unlocks the mysteries and explains the inner workings of the Darwinist and Clanker powers. There are detailed descriptions of the Darwinist beasties and Clanker walkers, weapons, transport, and uniforms. The manual also highlights the international powers that Deryn and Alek encounter throughout their adventures.

Leanne Rands
President of CBCA Tasmanian Branch

Editor’s note: Steampunk fans love to dress for the occasion. If you live in northern Tasmania, why not attend the Steampunk Festival in George Town on 24 June -  you will be amazed!! Feel free to add a comment to share information on other great steampunk titles. I will make a start with Alex Woolf’s Iron Sky books – Dread Eagle and Call of the Phoenix.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Getting Graphic

Join Tasmanian author, Christina Booth, as she opens a window into her creative world and tells a tale of a story written and a story in the making.
Thank you once again for inviting me to contribute to the CBCA Tasmania blog.
I write to you from ‘The Burrow’, the apartment set up for Australian children’s authors and illustrators in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood by the May Gibb’s Children’s Literature Trust. I am currently here undertaking a one month creative fellowship supported by the trust, who offer a home away from home to focus on a project that would benefit from being away from home distractions and other pressing commitments. Something I am very grateful for.
What am I doing here and why? This sounds like the big question of life and beyond, but I will offer you just a snippet.
Last year I applied for a grant from Arts Tasmania and I also applied, in hope of receiving one, for a Fellowship opportunity through the Trust. To my delight, I received both and as I had applied to do the same project for both, it seemed a confirmation that this story was meant to be.
Many of you will be familiar with my picture book from 2010, Potato Music (Omnibus/Scholastic, illustrated by Pete Groves). If not, go and find a copy now and read it. The journey of writing that story was a long one. As I explained to the students of Adelaide’s Scotch College  during the first week of my visit, it took seven years to write, including those long periods of rest and re-thinking as it slept in the deep dark recesses of my stories file on my computer.
It took this long because it was a story very close to my heart. Often, when we first start writing stories, we wreck our brains wondering what to include but the best way to write a story, be it long or short, is working out what not to put in, for that is more important. Potato Music was a career changing story for me. It was like an amazing, tough and effective apprenticeship, where I learnt more about the craft of storytelling than through any other journey or book I have written. I have to acknowledge and say thank you to one tough and amazing publisher and my then agent for guiding me through that process, Dyan Blacklock and Nanette Halliday. It was the story when things really began to click. How to edit, how to use words in a strong and powerful way. The writing of Potato Music set me up for every other picture book I have written and will write.
As you may have noticed, I did not illustrate Potato Music. This was also a difficult pill to take. I had my heart set on it and, had I have illustrated it, it would have looked very, very different. In her wisdom, my publisher felt I was again, too close to the story to be able to step back and see other possibilities for the illustrations, so, hesitantly, I let it go. Pete Groves, an artist from Adelaide (I should look him up while I’m here) was contracted to create the beautiful and ethereal images that accompany my text. It was another journey of learning and growing. It changed me as an illustrator because I now know what it is like to trust someone else with my story. It helped me to become a better illustrator, being able to empathise with the authors I illustrate for.
So why is it I am discussing these things and not the project I am here in Adelaide to work on and, indeed, the year with my grant?
Potato Music is my project. After seven years, I am hungry to be able to retell the story. In its many evolutions before becoming a picture book, Potato Music was attempted as a novel, a short story, numerous variations of picture book texts and chapter books, back to a novel and then, left to rest until reignited by a publisher’s interest. The picture book story so many of you know, is a very condensed and timeless glimpse at a much larger story. It is one I have been itching to tell and also have the opportunity to illustrate myself.
After reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus a few years ago and loving Raymond Briggs’ Ethel and Ernest, I immediately knew what I needed to do next with my story. I have always loved visual forms of narrative and grew up with Tintin, Asterix and Mad Comics. I continue to love them and appreciated seeing the complex art of storytelling in graphic novel form. Working on telling Potato Music as a graphic novel seemed the right step in its evolution.
So, I find myself in Adelaide at the May Gibb’s Children’s Literature Trust burrow, writing away at scripts and time lines and potential story lines. Again, I am plagued with what should I include, what should I leave out, how do I respect this family story and yet make it universal. Slowly, as my head begins to sit comfortably with this style of writing, I’m beginning to see pictures and possible directions. Every now and then I reach a T-junction or a cross road and need to decide which way to travel, but my confidence as a writer has grown since my early days of writing my original story of Potato Music, and I have learnt to leave my pebble trail so I can explore all options and maybe draw them together, or, if I must, remove them from the picture.
It is an exciting journey, slightly sad as it is about war and loss, but also with hope as I bring all of the elements together to celebrate survival and the future.
Even though the graphic novel market in Australia is still comparatively young and there is still a long way to go with convincing publishers to take the risk, I am hopeful of having this work considered and, with any luck, published. It is an exciting new arena to delve into and it seems right for me to combine my love of words and visual story telling into this format. It isn’t new, but it is an exciting journey to be travelling on. I am so lucky to have my peers encourage me and support me and to have the invaluable support of Arts Tasmania and the May Gibbs’ Literature Trust to help me on my way.
If you are new to the idea of reading graphic novels or perhaps think they are for teenagers, young children and are simple, comic strip plots about superheroes, fantastical creatures or Manga then I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and explore the broad genres represented from the collections of graphic novels. They have been around for a very long time and suite all readers. My recommendations to you are Maus, by Art Spiegelman; Ethel and Ernest, When the Wind Blows, and Gentleman Jim, by Raymond Briggs; Kid Glovz, by our own Julie Hunt and illustrator Dale Newman; and look up your favourite classics and contemporary novels to see if they have been ‘translated’ into a strip style narration. I have Sense and Sensibility, The Magicians Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children, and a few of Neil Gaiman’s books on my bookshelf along with numerous other examples of wonderful tales told using the graphic novel form. And we must not forget to include our all time favourite Australian example, stepping out of the traditional concept of graphic novels, Shaun Tan’s, The Arrival.

Maybe you have been enjoying graphic novels for years and didn’t even know it.
So, from my desk in Adelaide, in my unit amongst the suburban autumn leaves and quiet surrounds, happy reading. Make sure a graphic novel is on your bookshelf.
All the best,
Christina Booth
Author and illustrator

www.christinabooth.com
@ChristinaBooth