YA Reading Matters

NonaI’m just back from Melbourne for the second time in a month. Despite busy May in the book world, this was my long-awaited chance to attend ‘Reading Matters’ conference, which is organised by the Centre for Youth Literature (CYL) and focuses on YA literature and storytelling. Presenters aimed their content at librarians and teacher librarians; and aspiring or other authors would also have benefited from the program. The overall theme of diversity is hot on the heels of a US movement.

Before the conference began, delegates were invited to the Text Publishing party where the winner of the 2015 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing was awarded to Kimberley Starr, author of The Book of Whispers. Her book sounds like an original historical fantasy set during the Crusades in a world of demons. I wonder if it will be a cross between Catherine Jinks’s Pagan stories and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy?

This is ShynessThe Text party was one of the weekend’s highlights, particularly because I met one of the Text Prize’s former winners, Leanne Hall. Her first YA novel, This is Shyness, is one of my all-time top three YA books. I can’t wait for her novel for younger readers, to be published in 2016.

The Reading Matters conference started with a panel of three teen readers, overtly selected for their physical diversity. Male rep, Chris, began by praising The Sky So Heavy, which was fantastic because author Claire Zorn had been incognito in the audience until then. He also clarified that ‘YA lit’ is a category, not a genre. There are genres such as speculative fiction and historical fiction within YA. The three panellists agreed that upcoming books should cut the romance – they’re over love triangles and insta-love/lust (instant attraction) and forget the suicide books. They simply don’t want to read them.

Authors on other panels didn’t necessarily agree about the teens’ views on romance although Will Kostakis was instructed by his editor of The First Third to write a big kiss scene. Will told us that he writes ‘awkwardness’ and ‘embarrassing’ well so that is where he took his scene. Will also wants his readers to experience the emotional side, rather than just the mechanics, of relationships.First Third

Along with other panellists, Will made some good points in a panel called ‘Hashtag Teen: Engaging teens and YA advocacy’. He turned a reluctant writing class around by running a whole lesson on Twitter. He also recommended  PTA (Penguin Teen Australia) where there’s a weekly chat. Authors such as Amie Kaufman (The Starbound trilogy) even drop in.

These Broken Stars

Hip-hop, today’s spoken poetry, raised its head unexpectedly and powerfully twice. Year 12 student, Jayden Pinn from Creative Rebellion Youth performed two lyrical, metaphorical, hard-hitting pieces. And founder of CRY, formerly illiterate Sudanese refugee and now awarded performance poet, Abe Nouk encouraged us to feel, not always think; say a prayer; deliver a service – smile; use a comma, not a full stop (don’t end, keep going); be kind and gracious; invest in people; and do not be afraid to reveal your insecurities to your pen. Abe credited hip-hop with changing his life.

Tom Taylor, Australian creator of the current Iron Man and other international comics urged us to recognise comics. His comic for young readers, The Deep, deserves a wide readership.

Clare Atkins made some important points in her sessions, particularly about consulting with someone from a different background or group you are writing about. She did this with an Aboriginal friend in Nona and Me . (See my review here.) Authors shouldn’t avoid writing about other ethnic groups if they consult respectfully.

On a Small Island‘Literary Landscapes’ was another of my favourite sessions because it took an interesting perspective by exploring the landscape behind books by Clare Atkins (Arnhem Land), Sean Williams and Kyle Hughes-Odgers.

Jaclyn Moriarty and Sean Williams’s debate on ‘Science Vs Magic’ was fresh, articulate and intelligent. Jaclyn challenged Sean with two wands but he retaliated with a laser. Jaclyn Moriarty is a lyrical speaker and delegates later mentioned that they ‘could listen to her all day’ – exactly what I was thinking. She and Sean had a feisty, ultimately gracious, battle.

Keynote international authors, Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory) and Sally Gardner (I, Coriander; The Door That Led to Where) both had horrible childhoods. Laurie told us that she writes ‘Resilience Literature’ and explained that good stories teach you about the world; about falling down and how to get up.I Coriander

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was discovering authors hidden in the audience such as Melissa Keil (The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl), Claire Zorn (The Protected), Margo Lanagan (Red Spikes) and Karen Tayleur (Six).

Media tie-in books

Tied InMedia tie-in books are those that are in some way associated with a film, television series or game. I’m interested in these types of books both as a reader and a writer. I recently read a book about tie-in writing — Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing. So tie-in writing is the subject of today’s post.

Official tie-in writing, licensed by the owners of the property, can be divided into three areas — novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction. Novelisations are straight adaptations of existing films or television episodes. Many major films will have these and so will some tv shows. Original fiction tie-ins are, as the name suggests, new stories about the characters and world of a television series, film or game. And non-fiction is… well… stuff written about a tv show, film or game. Of course, there’s also the unofficial tie-in writing. In terms of fiction, this means fan fic, published on the Internet or in fanzines at no profit. In terms of non-fiction, this means professional books and magazines of critique/reviews, as well as fan commentary.

My first encounter with tie-in writing, as a reader, was with the Doctor Who novelisations. Target Books published well over a hundred of these back in the 1970s and 80s. Next, there was the novelisation of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and the sequel novel E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, both by William Kotzwinkle. Since then I’ve gone on to read lots of novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction based on things like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

As you can see from the above, my tie-in leanings are towards science fiction. But there’s tie-in fiction for all sorts of films and tv shows. The novelisations of the Dance Academy series have been particularly popular in recent times. And I’m sure I’ve seen Home and Away books in many a discount bin. 🙂

My experience as a reader has shown me there is a great deal of variation in quality. There are some pretty awful tie-in books out there… but there’s also some real gold. For many years there was a great deal of stigma attached to writing tie-in material. It was seem by many as the domain of hacks and writers incapable of getting original material published. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just take a look at the Doctor Who and Star Wars books of recent years. Names such as Michael Moorcock, Sean Williams and Stephen Baxter jump out. So don’t be too quick to judge a tie-in book!


I’m particularly excited that my friend Trudi Canavan, author of The Black Magician Trilogy and many other great books, is writing a Doctor Who novella for a series of BBC eBooks (see her blog post “Time Tripping with Doctor Who”). Her experience has been fun for me, as I’ve gotten to wade through my DVD collection, choosing appropriate episodes to lend her for research; and I’ve been a pseudo-consultant, answering some nerdy fanboy Doctor Who questions for her. Now, I can’t wait to read her story.

As a writer, tie-in material holds a great deal of fascination for me, particularly as I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie. So I’ve actively pursued it. I wrote for the Behind the News magazine and I wrote one of the tie-in books. I was also lucky enough to write a Doctor Who story for the anthology Short Trips: Defining Patterns. And I’ve done a few essays for some unlicensed books about Doctor Who. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed a great deal and would love to do more of. (See my blog posts: “I Love Doctor Who” and “Writing about Doctor Who“)

Which brings me back to Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing, edited by Lee Goldberg and published by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Aside from a few  typos, this book is a great read. To any writers out there who are keen on getting into the tie-in market, this book is an excellent resource. It gives you the facts of working in the industry and a run down of what you can expect from working in that area. To readers of tie-in material, this book is a wonderful history of and insight into the industry. Highly recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

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Green DeathCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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HOLIDAY READING – Inter-dimensional travel adventures by Sean Williams

Welcome back to Kids’ Book Capers. Happy New Year to everyone and hope that 2011 brings health, happiness and lots of great reading for you.

To kick off the new year, I thought we’d go on an inter-dimensional journey – after all, a new year is for being bold, trying new things and experiences.

So today, we’re looking at the first two books in Sean William’s The Fixers series about Oliver Jolson and his inter-galactic adventures.

The Fixers – Book One – Castle of the Zombies

In Castle of the Zombies, Ollie Jolson hates his new home. Nothing is quite right with it and the streets are always full of people fixing things (the Fixers). But when Ollie goes to the door in the dead of night to ask the Fixers what they are up to, he crosses the threshold into completely unfamiliar territory.

Author, Sean Williams uses all of the senses to give the reader a vivid picture that things just aren’t quite right in Ollie’s new world. Across the threshold is a place where the walls really do have ears. They also have eyes, brains and stomachs as well.

It doesn’t take long for Ollie to wish he had never got out of bed to check out the Fixer at the front door. Not only is Ollie now in a world he can’t return from, but he’s also faced with the despicable Lord Wight who has an evil plan to take over everything and everyone.

Ollie finds himself in a dungeon; weaponless, without his mobile phone and still in his pyjamas.  He’s going to need to stay calm to get himself out of this mess. But danger is everywhere – even the ceiling of the castle is leaking something deadly. The only upside to the whole experience is that Ollie is not alone. A boy called Niff has also been captured and he seems to know a lot more about this new world.

Ollie and his new friend Niff need to find the castle’s brain and destroy it if they are to stop Lord Wight and the castle from taking over the entire world.

Castle of Zombies has plenty of action to keep young readers engaged and Ollie is a resourceful and likeable character.

The Fixers – Book 2 – Planet of the Cyborgs

In Planet of the Cyborgs, Ollie is still lost in a space-time continuum and the trip home hasn’t quite worked out the way he thought it would. In fact, he has ended up in the wrong universe and come face to face with his double.

When he goes through another inter-dimensional portal to escape the Fixers, he finds himself in space fighting pirates who are more machines than humans.

He also meets a talking cat called Pixel, a computer called Boots and a girl called Bea.

After his tussle with the pirates he tries to return to his own universe only to discover that things still aren’t quite right – in fact now he has a screaming baby sister.

The Fixers series, by Sean Williams is great for kids who love action, humour, gadgets and inter-galactic adventures. Striking black and white illustrations by Nial O’Connor break up the text and make for easy reading.

2011 Sydney Writers’ Festival Program School Days

The Sydney Writers’ Festival has just announced the 2011 School Days Program.

For the second year in a row, the program features five primary school days held across Sydney, Parramatta and Penrith, with a day offered for free to NSW priority schools at Sydney Town Hall.

The line-up for the primary school days features Deborah Abela, Morris Gleitzman, Richard Newsome, Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

Secondary schools will have programs held at the Sydney Theatre and Riverside theatres, Parramatta, featuring Belinda Jeffrey, Michael Pryor, Bernard Becket and Cassandra Clare.

To see the full School Days program and for ticketing info, click here.

Sean Williams talks Star Wars Part 2

Last time around Sean Williams told us a little about writing novels set within the Star Wars universe. Today, he’s back for Part 2 of the interview…

How much freedom do you get in writing a Star Wars novel?

A surprising amount, I’ve found, within certain restrictions. Obviously you have to write something appropriate for the Star Wars publishing line–so graphic sex and violence are out. And it has to fit into the universe as given. But as long as you’re prepared to toe those lines, you’ll be fine. (If you didn’t, why would you want to write a Star Wars novel?) You’ve got the whole ‘Galaxy Far, Far Away’ to play in, and as I keep saying, it’s a big place.

Of course, the nature of the story you’re hired to write does dictate precisely what freedoms you’ll have. The Force Unleashed was a tightly-constrained, close-focus account of two characters at one critical point in history. It was also the novelization of an action computer game, based largely on the game’s script. To invest the novel with too much history, philosophy, backstory, etc, would be to rob the book of the momentum it needed to feel representational of the game–so there were less freedoms with this book, in that sense. I was, however, freed up to explore the psychology of the characters, to really dig deep into their emotional cores, and I think that at least partly explains the book’s ongoing popularity.

Writing in The Old Republic presents a whole different sort of challenge, because it’s an MMORPG [http://www.mmorpg.com/]—there are dozens of stories spread across many characters and character classes. There are decades of history behind it, and thousands of hours of gameplay. Where do you even start? The hard thing here was finding a single scenario, a series of converging stories, that accurately represented the world of the game without giving anything away about the game. It sets things up, while at the same time standing alone. It’s very important to me that all my game novelizations works as novels in their own right, because there are plenty of people who will just read the book. And I write novels, of course, not cheat manuals.

What’s the hardest thing about writing Star Wars?

I think I was just touching on it, there: the need to satisfy a large number of often contradictory imperatives coming at you from all sides. Everyone involved in a Star Wars project—and there are a lot when you’re writing a game tie-in—have an investment in the finished product, as they should. And sometimes the timelines are very tight. There’s nothing more intense than writing a novel in a month with a dozen people looking over your shoulder. It’s like the universe is waiting for you to fail. But you don’t—or at least I hope I haven’t. You rise to the challenge and you give it your all, and then a bit more. There is no try, as the little green man himself said. You just do it.

The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance is your latest Star Wars book. Will there be more?

We’ll see. The book is doing very well, and getting good reviews, and I certainly enjoyed writing it. I suspect The Old Republic is huge enough for dozens of novels, and I like to the think that the characters I created for Fatal Alliance are interesting enough to hear more from. It’s not up to me, though. Time will tell.

Would you ever consider writing for another franchise, like Star Trek or Doctor Who?

Ah, well, that’s an easy one, because I have already written for Doctor Who—just one Third Doctor short story for Big Finish, that’s all, but I was very pleased when it was picked for their “best of” anthology, Re:Collections, as my love of SF really began with that franchise. I wouldn’t write for Star Trek because I’ve never been a huge fan (all apologies to those who are; vive la difference etc) but I have gone after Battlestar Galactica a couple of times, and I might have done something there if my timing hadn’t been consistently out. I came close to a Firefly novel once, which would have been fun, and since The Force Unleashed did so well, I have been offered other franchises that would have been fun and high profile, but always it’s a juggle between original work and tie-ins. I don’t want to do one at the expense of the other. I want to have my cake and eat someone else’s too.

My thanks to Sean Williams for dropping by Literary Clutter to chat about writing in the Star Wars universe. To find out more about Sean and his writing, check out his website.

Sean will be attending Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fictions Convention, which starts tomorrow (2 Sept) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. I’ll also be there… so Literary Clutter will return after it’s all over, with a report on the convention.

Catch ya later,  George

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Sean Williams talks Star Wars Part 1

Sean Williams has written over 20 novels, including the four-book Astropolis series and the Evergence trilogy co-authored with Shane Dix. In addition to all these original novels, he’s also written a number of Star Wars novels. I invited Sean to stop by Literary Clutter and answer a few questions about writing in the Star Wars extended universe…

How did your first Star Wars book come about?

I’m asked that a lot, for obvious reasons: a lot of people would like to write for Star Wars. Sad to say, it wasn’t from writing fan fiction. The mighty Richard Curtis, my hardworking agent at the time, looked at the work I was doing then with Shane Dix and noticed a similarity between it and the Star Wars extended universe. Not surprising, really, since Shane and I wrote the Evergence series with the intention of making something that fans of both Star Wars and Blakes 7 would love. Richard kept in Del Rey’s face about us until an opening finally came along–a trilogy towards the end of the epic New Jedi Order series—and of course we leapt at it. Both Shane and I had been Star Wars fans since we were little folk, so it wasn’t an entirely commercial decision—although the money was something of a boon at the time. (My half of the check enabled me to write full-time for the first time ever.) Neither of us could believe our good fortune. To be writing lines for Leia, Luke, Han, etc seemed like a dream come true, or, at the very least, a return to our roots. By working hard and pursuing our own dreams, we’d come back to a story we had loved for most of our lives. There was a pleasing symmetry to how things worked out.

What attracted you to write in the Star Wars universe and what sustains your interest in it?

I love a good space opera adventure story. There’s no point in hiding it, and no shame in admitting it. Star Wars gives me a chance to play with a bunch of wonderful toys without having to worry too much about how it all works. (There is part of me that always wants to sneak a bit of real science in, just to keep it relatively grounded, but I am very aware that this not what Star Wars is all about, as opposed to, say, the Doctor Who I also loved as a kid, which is very much about hammering home the scientific method, if hidden behind a lot of hand-waving.) So preposterous plots, huge set-pieces, iconic characters, humor, romance–Star Wars has it all. Brilliant.

One of the things I love perhaps a bit too much about working in the extended universe is just how large and baroque the EU has become. A lot of it remains internally consistent and rigorous–amazingly so, in fact–but there are nonetheless so many threads that haven’t been tied off, so many places and beings that have been mentioned only once, that I can’t help but want to come to their aid, to lift them out of obscurity, to remind readers that this is a rich and varied galaxy full of wonders and terrors both. Sometimes I get into trouble with my editors for being too obscure, but I figure it’s a risk worth taking. And always, among the millions of fans of the EU, there’s at least one who appreciates the effort.

The extended Star Wars universe (books, comics, video games, animated series, etc) is quite large. As a Star Wars author, do you need to keep up with all of it? Are you, for instance, reading all the books as they come out?

That would be a feat, one I certainly don’t have time for. I only read the books directly related to the projects I’m working on, and I rely on the various encyclopedic references to fill in the gaps. Wookieepedia is an immensely valuable fan-created tool (as a fan I am often getting lost in there, letting idle curiosity lead me hither and yon) and of course there is the invaluable Leland Chee at Lucasfilm who maintains the Holochron database. He is the guy who keeps it all together. Without him, any Star Wars author would be completely lost.

That’s all we’ve got space for this time… but fear not, Sean will be back next post to tell us about the freedoms and restriction of writing in the Star Wars universe. To find out more about Sean and his writing, check out his website.

And tune in next time for part 2 of this interview.

Catch ya later,  George

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