Writing with the kids of Maryborough

I headed out to the Vic­to­rian Gold­fields last week, not to look for gold for I was 160 years too late for that, but to visit grades four, five and six stu­dents from Mary­bor­ough Edu­ca­tion Cen­tre. The kids from MEC hung out with me at the Mary­bor­ough Library and lis­tened as I told sob sto­ries about my child­hood (my pri­mary school crushes were never ful­filled) and explained how I turned my sob sto­ries into a novel (turns out mis­ery makes for good stories).

They were an enthu­si­as­tic bunch of kids who treated me very well and were keen to do some quick group writ­ing too. Together we came up with a cou­ple of short sto­ries involv­ing giant tacos, foot­ball and luu­urve! You can check them out below. And to the kids, librar­i­ans and teach­ers of Mary­bor­ough — thanks for hav­ing me! *waves from Melbourne*

My crappy bullet point review of Tina Fey’s Bossypants

I’m fairly sure that when­ever an author, musi­cian or other creative-type sites some­one as being a great influ­ence, they’re legally oblig­ated to make some kind of ‘offi­cial com­ment’ when said influ­ence releases a new book, album or creative-type-thing. And hav­ing pre­vi­ously men­tioned Tina Fey in my author bios as being one of my idols, I now feel com­pelled (legally and not-in-any-way-legally) to review her mem­oir Bossy­pants.

But being the under­whelm­ing kind of per­son I’ve never quite man­aged to be, my review shall be a crappy, bul­let point review. Which is even crap­pier than I intended as bul­let points don’t work with my Word­Press theme (blog­ger FAIL). So play­ing the role of bul­let points today will be — aster­isks! Please make them feel welcome.

ME REVIEWING BOSSYPANTS, CRAPPILY

* Tina Fey really can memoir-write, just as well as she can sitcom-write and movie-write.

* I’m not usu­ally a laugh-out-loud-while-I’m-reading kind of guy but Bossy­pants had me audi­bly LOLing.

* Bossy­pants is a lot fun­nier than some of the later sea­sons of 30 Rock (think 30 Rock S01E10 to S02E15 and you’re close to what Bossy­pants is like).

* There’s barely a men­tion of Mean Girls (or Lind­say Lohan), which is just odd.

* Her insights on mod­el­ing and Pho­to­shop are fan­tas­tic (“Isn’t it bet­ter to have a com­puter do it to your pic­ture than to have a doc­tor do it to you face?”)

* As are her rec­ol­lec­tions of the Sarah Palin imper­son­ations, which hilar­i­ously cut between the con­cur­rently unfold­ing dra­mas of the Palin stuff, Oprah’s appear­ance on 30 Rock and the prepa­ra­tions for Fey’s young daughter’s Peter Pan-themed birth­day party.

* Any more bul­let points-asterisks and I’d be under­cut­ting my own claim to be doing a crappy review, so I’m cut­ting myself off here. Suf­fice to say, it’s an ace read. Nine out of ten.

How To Get Women Interested In Books Again?

Sad times, guys. Sad times. It turns out that the book world – an indus­try I had always pre­sumed to be dom­i­nated by women writ­ers, women read­ers and women work­ers – has fallen vic­tim to gen­der prej­u­dices and sex­ism. Women hardly ever seem to be short­listed for book awards any­more, they rarely write book reviews and the books that are reviewed are usu­ally books by men. This leads me to only one con­clu­sion: women have aban­doned books. At some point, they must have stopped writ­ing them, stopped read­ing them, sold their Ikea shelv­ing and left the lit­er­ary community.

It is dis­heart­en­ing to think about book­shops full of fel­las perus­ing the book­shelves with­out being able to peruse female perusers. Or to think of all the male employ­ees left in pub­lish­ing houses, con­demned to work only with col­leagues of their own gen­der (if only women knew how that felt). Or to think of all the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that will now need to be ghostwritten.

When I think back to the times my own mother used to sit on the edge of my bed and read to me, I find I can no longer recall my mother actu­ally being there. No doubt this too is a sign of the times and is in no way related to what my ther­a­pist calls ‘aban­don­ment issues’.

But men (and women, if you’re read­ing this, although I’m lead to believe you don’t do that any­more) we must not delay. It’s a known fact that women make up some of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and I pro­pose that women could be a key read­ing demo­graphic for book­sellers and pub­lish­ers again.

But how to bring them back into the fold? There is lit­tle doubt that hav­ing given up on books, women have now been seduced by the other dis­trac­tions of the mod­ern world. Dis­trac­tions such as the inter­net, video games, social net­work­ing, The Social Net­work, other movies, play­ing ball on a string and play­ing ball on a string on the inter­net. It is becom­ing tougher and tougher to get peo­ple read­ing in gen­eral (let alone women). Rival medi­ums such as movies, tele­vi­sion and ebooks dom­i­nate in a world where read­ing has become old-fashioned.

So how do we get women off these dis­trac­tions and into books? Now that we know women, like teenagers, are addicted to any type of enter­tain­ment except for books, we sim­ply need to make books less like books and more like all of the above. That way, we’ll trick women back into books. We’ll put books on iPads, include some illus­tra­tions, ani­mate page cor­ners and add a few ready-to-play sounds to dif­fer­ent parts of the touch­screen tablet. We’ll just have to be care­ful that any text we include doesn’t dis­tract the reader from the fact that they’re read­ing a book.

Or we could organ­ise some kind of for­mal col­lec­tive of women, which joins together and con­nects socially through the prism of one inter­change­able book on, say, a monthly basis. We could even give it a snazzy name like For­mal Book Col­lec­tive. Or any other name that we come up with.

The book indus­try itself will need an injec­tion of women at grass­roots lev­els. So let’s try talk­ing to some women we know to see if they’d be inter­ested in pub­lish­ing books, staffing libraries, teach­ing at pri­mary schools or edit­ing lit­er­ary jour­nals. Now I can hear you say­ing already, Andrew, I just can’t imag­ine women dom­i­nat­ing so many thank­less posi­tions in the com­mu­nity. But I believe we can do. Because if there’s some­thing men know how to do, it’s try to get a woman to come back even when she really, truly doesn’t want to. We’ll try and try until the restrain­ing order comes and then we’ll start call­ing her friends. And that’s exactly the kind of ded­i­ca­tion we’ll need.

Finally, there are the women writ­ers. How to get them writ­ing books again, so that we might again see women nom­i­nated for book awards and reviewed in our news­pa­pers? This is pos­si­bly the hard­est ques­tion to answer. After all, you can­not eas­ily coax a woman into hav­ing an idea of her own that she slaves over for eight years and finally sub­mits to a pub­lish­ing house, before being under-compensated, over-hyped, pub­lished, not reviewed in favour of a review by a man for a man’s book and ignored by a panel of book award judges who…

Oh. I get it. Women are still writ­ing books. They’re just not being recog­nised by the gate­keep­ers. They’re prob­a­bly still read­ing and work­ing in books too. Oh, I’m sorry, lit­er­ary ladies. My bad. It’s just that I hadn’t heard about you for a while, and then I stopped think­ing about you and I didn’t see you pop up on Face­book and…well, any­way, I apol­o­gise. I will pay bet­ter atten­tion from now on. As soon as I fin­ish play­ing this crazy Alice in Won­der­land book on my iPad.

Thoughts on being a Cleo Bachelor of the Year

I was hol­i­day­ing in South Amer­ica a cou­ple of weeks ago when the inter­net announced my inclu­sion among the fifty Cleo Bach­e­lor of the Year final­ists. Twit­ter and Face­book start­ing flut­ter­ing about all the 2011 bach­e­lors imme­di­ately and some of posters were even kind enough to flut­ter about me. At the exact same time I was in a bath­room in Men­doza, Argentina invol­un­tar­ily emp­ty­ing my body of its insides. I had eaten a bad and con­gealy Creamy Pasta ear­lier in the day (I was later told one should never order foods with adjec­tives in the title – Thick Shake, Hot Dog, etc) and was cramped over a toi­let bowl work­ing my damned hard­est to switch effi­ciently between my mouth and my back­side. We’ve all had to do this at one stage of life or another. It’s hor­ri­ble. You want to die. I did it for hours while folks at home clicked ‘Vote’ next to my soft-focus face. It was hor­ri­ble. I wanted to die.

Hav­ing said that, I’m totally flat­tered I was asked to be one of this year’s bach­e­lors. I think it’s great that Cleo looks to writ­ers when form­ing their annual pool of eli­gi­ble dudes. Last year the super-talented Craig Sil­vey was a Cleo bach­e­lor. This year Nam Le and Jon Bauer must have missed the call and not checked their voice­mails. Not me though. I always check my voice­mail. Oth­er­wise I’d never hear from my extended fam­ily. Or my publicist.

It’s obvi­ously a pretty strange thing being a Cleo bach­e­lor. My mum says she’s become quite the celebrity at work. And when peo­ple try to talk to me about it I find myself either guf­faw­ing all over their shoes or deny­ing the fact completely. And then there’s the age-old ques­tion: are all the bach­e­lors really bach­e­lors? Let’s just say that it’s sim­i­lar to the Miss Uni­verse beauty pageant in that Miss Uni­verse is never actu­ally a mem­ber of the fam­ily Universe.

So far all I’ve done in the name of Cleo bach­e­lor­ship has been rock up to a photo shoot and vote for Paul Ver­ho­even. Although the Cleo bach­e­lor party hap­pens in Syd­ney soon, which I am sure will be a Life Expe­ri­ence like I’ve not had before. I’m look­ing for­ward to it. The only other thing I’ve done in my Cleo bach­e­lor duties has been to answer a long list of Get­ting To Know You ques­tions that they send to all the bach­e­lors. A few of my answers to these ques­tions were pub­lished online and in the mag­a­zine, but I thought I’d share the entire list with you here. If noth­ing else, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see what a Cleo bach­e­lor gets asked.

Name?
Andrew McDon­ald

Age?
28

Where did you grow up?
Melbourne

What do you do?
Children’s book author.

A day at work involves …
Think­ing about and mak­ing plans for whichever project I’m meant to be writ­ing that day. Then com­pletely self-doubting myself about the worth of said project. Then lunch. After which, a mild melt­down involv­ing tears and fin­gers run­ning through hair. Fol­lowed by a pro­cras­ti­na­tory hour of blog­ging. And then a good hour or so of qual­ity writ­ing before din­ner. A lot of peo­ple say that writ­ers are tor­tured and dra­matic crea­tures but I per­son­ally can’t see it.

You dream of work­ing with …
Pixar. I don’t think there’s many children’s authors (or authors in gen­eral) who don’t wor­ship the com­pany and envy the amaz­ing sto­ry­telling that takes place in every sin­gle film they seem to put out.

How would your best friend describe you?
Down to earth, friendly and very tal­ented – with only occa­sional bursts of megalomania.

Your child­hood nick­name?
Macca. And that was the clos­est I ever got to being on the foot­ball team.

Who’s your hero?
I think Buffy cre­ator and movie/TV guru Joss Whe­don is pretty fan­tas­tic. If I could cre­ate the com­plex uni­verses and char­ac­ters he has I’d be happy with myself.

The fic­tional char­ac­ter you most resem­ble?
Phys­i­cally I’m Willy Wonka (colour­ful dresser), emo­tion­ally I’m Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox (erratic and mis­chie­vous) and men­tally I’m Matilda (I like to think I have super powers).

Your motto is …
All sto­ries must have a begin­ning and a mid­dle. (It’s a motto-in-progress).

The last lie you told?
“No, Mum, just because I’m hav­ing left­overs of the left­overs from the week­end for din­ner, doesn’t mean I’m a strug­gling writer.” I was and I am.

The last text you received?
You missed a call from 0407 *** ***. You have one new voice mes­sage. (The vibrate but­ton on my phone has been dis­as­trous for my social life.)

Any unusual tal­ents?
I do an impres­sive karaoke ren­di­tion of the Jack­son 5’s ABC.

Your most embar­rass­ing moment?
How about putting pho­tos of myself on the inter­net, in the form of a silly blog post called ‘A Pic­to­r­ial Guide to Avoid­ing Cam­era Loss’, and hav­ing all man­ner of strangers, ex-girlfriends and dis­tant fam­ily mem­bers get in touch after it went viral.

What gets on your nerves?
Ants on the kitchen bench. Freak­ing infuriating.

What makes you ner­vous?
Show­ing a new piece of writ­ing to some­one for the first time. Not that I’m a sucker for approval, but it’s scary giv­ing some­thing you’ve been work­ing on alone for a long time over to some­one who is not you.

When were you hap­pi­est?
I had a par­tic­u­larly big amount of fun around the age of ten. Pretty much every­thing was a good time back then. Which no doubt is why my book The Great­est Blog­ger in the World is set dur­ing that time of life. I was reliv­ing the good ol’ days.

We’d never catch you …
…read­ing my own book on the train. Or any­where. *Cringe*

Best/worst dat­ing advice you’ve ever received?
That old say­ing about the body lan­guage of feet has mis­led me on more than one occa­sion. Appar­ently, if someone’s shoes are point­ing towards you it either means they like you OR they’re just stand­ing near you, com­pletely pheromone­less. Like I said, misleading.

Best/worst date expe­ri­ence?
Romp­ing about New York City for a week with a (then new) spe­cial some­one would prob­a­bly be the best week­long date I’ve been on. And the worst is always when you realise, half-way through the date, that it’ll be the last date. From there: downhill.

Your fave chick flick?
Thelma and Louise.

A sure-fire way to your heart is …
…a good book rec­om­men­da­tion. I’m com­pletely trusting/loving of any­one who puts me onto books I’m going to adore.

Cra­zi­est thing you’ve done for a girl?
In pri­mary school I had a rather large crush on a girl in my class, so every day after school I would climb a tall tree near her house and watch her walk­ing home. On reflec­tion that does sound more creepy than crazy, but we didn’t have Face­book back then so peo­ple were forced to stalk IRL.

Your trick to impress­ing her mother?
I do a lot of name-dropping. My mum this, my mum that. Some­times the brief men­tion of a grand­mother. Girl­friends’ moth­ers like to know that you’re friends with your own mother. So lots of allu­sions to moth­er­li­ness are good. Although I avoid ref­er­ences to MILFs and Mofos.

How do you deal with break-ups?
I usu­ally jump on my lappy and spend some time delet­ing all of the ‘us’ songs from my iTunes. Then won­der how every Radio­head track became our ‘us’ song in the first place. Then won­der even more how I’m going to deal with a break-up sans Radiohead.

Your great­est asset?
My col­lec­tion of Tintin books. It’s exhaus­tive and dear to my heart and is the one thing I’ve been col­lect­ing all my life.

Your great­est weak­ness?
Gar­lic. I loves it! It’s the strong, over­stinky­ness of gar­lic which becomes my weak­ness when I try to rec­on­cile it with a love life. The gar­lic always wins. Love lives always lose.

What/who are you obsessed with right now?
Bored To Death – the lat­est HBO com­edy – is a cracker. It stars Jason Schwartz­man, Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis and Ted Dan­son and fol­lows a strug­gling writer who makes ends meet by becom­ing an unli­censed pri­vate detec­tive in NYC. Hilarious.

Film/book/album that changed your life?
The old (and in parts ter­ri­fy­ing) Dis­ney film Sleep­ing Beauty taught me to fear as a boy, Arthur Miller’s The Cru­cible opened my eyes to the world as a teenager and Radiohead’s Kid A (whilst not their best album) showed me that sui­ci­dal cre­ative pur­suits can some­times make money.

You don’t under­stand why women …
…read so many more books than men. As soon as you leave pri­mary school the read­ing gen­der scales tip dra­mat­i­cally towards women. I find it some­what inex­plic­a­ble. C’mon guys! Don’t you know books are cool and ‘nerd’ is the new ‘buff’.

Your per­sonal sound­track?
I love me a com­mu­nity radio sta­tion. In Mel­bourne, Triple R and SYN are the win­ning back­ground sound­tracks to my day.

What word/phrase do you overuse?
I overuse ‘sud­denly’ a lot when I’m writ­ing. It’s a cheap and nasty way to tell the reader to have a height­ened sense of expec­ta­tion. Which doesn’t mean I don’t still use it.

Twit­ter or Face­book?
Twitter

If your life were a TV show, it’d be …
…can­celled after the pilot and lucky to even war­rant a Wikipedia entry.

Your style icon?
I like the way Tina Fey plays up the slob/dag angle to the point that it becomes allur­ing. I’d like to get there one day. As soon as I get past the slob/dag stage.

Your favourite websites/blogs?
The Guardian for news, Spike – the Mean­jin blog for Aus­tralian lit­er­ary stuff and awkwardfamilyphotos.com for laffs.

Sat­ur­day night’s alright for …
…con­vic­tion. Either you’re Par­ty­ing, Work­ing, Relax­ing or Endur­ing A Fam­ily Gath­er­ing. As long as you dive head-first into what­ever it is and don’t dilly-dally about every­thing will be alright.

The woman you’d like to be for a day?
Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. Peo­ple are always say­ing they’d like to invite her to the ulti­mate fan­tasy din­ner party. And I do enjoy din­ner par­ties. Plus I’d love to meet the other din­ner guests like Jesus, Abra­ham Lin­coln, etc.

Best thing about being a bach­e­lor is …
…sub­sti­tut­ing the word ‘pad’ for ‘apart­ment’ in con­ver­sa­tions. Some­times I’d even invite peo­ple back to my BP. Although that line stopped work­ing after the oil spill last year. It really was a public-relations disaster.

You’re look­ing for­ward to …
…releas­ing a new book in 2012. As well as the gen­eral excite­ment of hav­ing a new book out, it’s refresh­ing to do school vis­its to talk about said new book. Vis­it­ing ‘the kids’ is def­i­nitely the coolest and loveli­est part of being a children’s author.

Next thing on your plate?
Fin­ish­ing off the new book and start­ing work on the one after that. A writer’s work is never done, just end­lessly redrafted.

Your Bach­e­lor cam­paign slo­gan?
Children’s authors aren’t just for children.

Why Can’t We All Just Be Friends (on Facebook)?

So today is Safer Inter­net Day. And no, that doesn’t mean you should pull out your ergonomic mouse pad and read eBay seller feed­back before bid­ding. Safer Inter­net Day is all about edu­cat­ing kids and teenagers about social net­work­ing web­sites. The tag line of the cam­paign is ‘It’s more than a game, it’s your life’, which is a big improve­ment on last year’s ‘Think B4 U Post’. What is it about text message-language that just doesn’t work when gov­ern­ment bod­ies adopt it?

You can check out all the edu­ca­tional good­ness of the cam­paign here.

It’s one of the bet­ter pro­mo­tions for online safety I’ve come across. So many of those Dos and Don’ts guides read like they were dic­tated by a strict school prin­ci­pal in the 50s, faxed through to the edu­ca­tion depart­ment in the 80s and even­tu­ally tran­scribed in the 90s. But this cam­paign mostly avoids the con­de­scen­sion and yes­ter­year vibe. Best of all it encour­ages par­ents to join the same social net­work­ing sites as their children:

Set up your own account, ask to join your child’s ‘friends’ list and see for your­self what they’re doing. It can be a fun expe­ri­ence for you too!

OK so a bit of con­de­scen­sion at the end there, but I agree whole­heart­edly with the mes­sage: kids and par­ents should be Face­book friends.

Aus­tralian YA author (and cur­rent 17-year-old) Steph Bowe recently blogged about why teenagers should be Face­book friends with their par­ents. Steph rebuts ‘advice’ columns in mag­a­zines that are trad­ing on the per­cep­tion that Face­book and other social net­work­ing sites are places where par­ents – if they must be on such sites at all – should not be mix­ing with their children.

Of course pri­vacy encom­passes someone’s right to not be online friends with their par­ents. It’s not really all that sur­pris­ing that teenagers might think it weird or creepy to be Face­book friends with their par­ents. My 15-year-old self would have been appalled had my father also been chat­ting on MSN Instant Mes­sen­ger back then. But I think that’s a cul­ture thing. I was also appalled when I first heard of friends’ par­ents join­ing Face­book. Now I wish mine would, so they were in the loop a bit more. Even if you’re Face­book friends with your chil­dren and they unfriend you dur­ing their rebel­lious teenage years, at least you were and are part of the same system.

I’ve noticed a marked increase in the num­ber of kids join­ing Face­book over the past cou­ple of years. When I first started vis­it­ing pri­mary schools to talk about my middle-grade novel The Great­est Blog­ger in the World, I would ask the kids if they, or maybe their par­ents or an older brother or sis­ter, were into blog­ging or Face­book or MySpace. Usu­ally only a cou­ple of kids put their hands up. Blogs and social net­work­ing sites were only on the periph­ery of the web for them.

A year later, it was a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion — every child I came across (for the most part, stu­dents in grades 4, 5 and 6) seemed to have a Face­book account. It didn’t seem to mat­ter that most of them were under the age limit to join Face­book (which is thir­teen and about as pre­ven­ta­tive as an Are You Over 18? Tick Yes Or No ques­tion­naire on the entrance to an adult web­site). What’s more, they under­stood what Face­book was about and they were excited to be part of it.

The fact is there are no spe­cial age-based fil­ters or clas­si­fi­ca­tions built into Face­book. No way of shield­ing kids from cer­tain types of con­tent or infor­ma­tion. Installing Net Nanny isn’t going to solve this one.

I got a shock myself last year when a nine-year-old rel­a­tive added me on Face­book. At first I ignored her friend request. After all, I wasn’t friends with any other kids on Face­book. And some­times I posted things on my wall that were risqué. Like YouTube videos con­tain­ing swear­ing or sex­ual ref­er­ences or Bon Jovi. Then I dis­cov­ered that she’d sought me out online after read­ing my book, and I felt bad. After all, she was a fam­ily mem­ber whom I had pre­vi­ously met more than once. Had she been ten years older, I would have accepted her request straight away.

I’d been wrong to dis­crim­i­nate, to think that because of her age she and I couldn’t walk in the same online world. And why shouldn’t all chil­dren – once they’re old enough – have the right to move and play and socialise online? The objec­tions that peo­ple have to being friends with chil­dren on Face­book are usu­ally along the lines of, But I upload pho­tos that aren’t child-appropriate and I want to say what­ever I want on my Face­book wall. These are fair enough objec­tions, but there are ways around things. Facebook’s pri­vacy set­tings allow you to block cer­tain ele­ments (pho­tos, friend lists, etc) from cer­tain friends, with­out hav­ing to unfriend them alto­gether. A good guide to these pri­vacy set­tings was posted on Mash­able this week.

The Safer Inter­net Day peo­ple are right to encour­age par­ents and kids to be friends online and to edu­cate all par­ties about the pros, cons and pri­vacy ills of sites like Face­book. Because the open nature of the web means the best form of pro­tect­ing chil­dren is to join them, not ban them.

There is plenty to be said for sit­ting with chil­dren while they’re online and talk­ing to them about the inter­net, but actu­ally being their Face­book friend, watch­ing them socially net­work and par­tic­i­pat­ing in their lives – both offline and online – is the most con­struc­tive man­ner in which kids can learn the ways of the web.

I don’t have chil­dren myself but I find it incred­i­bly frus­trat­ing meet­ing and hear­ing about kids who are on Face­book and sim­i­lar sites with­out the knowl­edge or par­tic­i­pa­tion of their par­ents or teach­ers. Thank­fully this is rapidly chang­ing and while there’s lots more kids on Face­book now than there were a year ago, a lot more par­ents and teach­ers are aware of it now. And I take some com­fort in Safer Inter­net Day, because the num­ber of kids on Face­book is sure to con­tinue soaring.

There comes a cer­tain time in a child’s life when they no longer want to sit at the kids’ table. They want to sit at the adults’ table for a bit. Try a sip of wine and decide they don’t like it. See how the grown-ups talk to each other, before Bed Time is announced and it’s time to brush teeth. It’s an impor­tant part of grow­ing into a social world. And includ­ing kids in the online equiv­a­lent is just as important.

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