Friday, August 31, 2012


I have fallen into the provoking habit of leaving insistent little comments on my sister's blog telling her to do a "blupdate". But I've stumbled into the pit that I have dug, for now she's turned the comment back on me. To prove that I'm listening, Andrea, two posts in one evening. How's that for obedience?

It's a weird season -- incredibly full with occasional startling blank moments when it feels as though the sky is about to crumble. September comes tomorrow, bringing with it Spring, and extended stays with houseguests (some of whom are already here), and a series of local workshops that my wee little writing group has pulled together, and the end of my first postgrad semester, and maybe even a new niece or nephew. Boy, September, you be crazy.

In between all that, I'm thinking about lots of things -- the promises of Scripture, how I need to be writing in my journal more, the greatness of Him in us so much greater than just plain us, and my awful tendency to discuss absolutely everything that enters my head. I am writing imaginary letters and thank you notes while I'm brushing my teeth. I am buying too many gifts for Andrea's thirtieth birthday (am I allowed to talk about your age on my blog, A?). I am saying no to things I need to say no to, but it still isn't easy. I am feeling deeply affectionate and appreciative of the little Bible study group I'm part of. I'm thinking my mother should be beatified. I'm reading bits of good books here and there. I'm grieving for friends walking hard and dark roads. I'm clinging, tired, hoping, crying, laughing, praying, biting my lip, and marvelling at cloudless skies.

How about you?

[Conversations on hold while things are busy, and there might be more pictures than thoughts for a wee while. I'll reply to your words directly in the comments section.]

Wreck This Journal Redux

I haven't written much here about my teaching work, a one-day-a-week job trying to infuse some English and history into the lives of four local tweens and teens. Since there's only so much reading and writing three non-bookish guys can handle, I try to stick to about four hours of formalised schoolwork, and then some more relaxed projects -- or even a trip to the skate park.

For ten-year-old F though, my lone bookish girl buddy, no amount of work is too much. So I've been sharing with her my copy of Wreck This Journal (introduced here and here) and we've used it as a launching pad to create our own wrecked journals in cheap, endearing composition books. It's a non-compulsory part of the school experience, so at first F was the only one to really take the bait. "Wreck a journal?" she said, her eyes huge and gleaming. But when we flipped open to a random page and attempted to follow its instructions ("Give this page to a friend. Ask them to do something destructive to it. Don't watch"), the boys were intrigued -- and more than willing to assist us in our destruction. Although only one of the boys has succumbed to the temptation and insisted on his own journal, it's become a process that the others are actively interested in. They actually fight to pick a page from the source book and challenge us to obey whatever it says.

One of the best parts of all is the fact that there are no rules, which means we have to scour our imaginations for our own creative interpretation of the instructions. When I brought along a recent copy of Frankie to cut up and use in collages, F was aghast. "I can't cut up your beautiful magazine!" she said, "That'll ruin it!" I assured her that this was exactly the idea. Even cooler, the fact that we aren't striving for a certain standard of perfection means that no page is "right" or "wrong". If this was a worldview, it'd be dangerous. In learning to boldly try new things with paper and paint, however, it's just fun and a grand challenge.

[Brilliance of brilliance: the folks at Penguin have released a teacher's guide for exploring Wreck This Journal. You can find the downloadable pdf at author Keri Smith's blog.]

Edit: boo! The pictures are all pixely! I don't know how to fix this, but if you click on the images, you can see them in all their hi-res glory.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quality children's literature no longer exists.

That's something I heard someone announce, quite vehemently, at a writer's event I attended a few weeks back.

"There's just no such thing as good children's literature anymore," a woman said sadly, and a little angrily. "It was so much better when we were kids." A bunch of attendees nodded vigorously and murmured their assent. I sat wriggling in my seat. I wanted to leap to my feet and shout THERE IS SO MUCH AWESOME KIDS' LIT OUT THERE WHAT ARE YOU CRAZY YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY LOOKING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES. Yes, just like that, with no punctuation or any sense of social etiquette. But it was a panel and lots of people were talking and I'm not really given to violent public outburts anyway, so instead I just sat and listened while there was a general bemoaning of great books for children.

So you understand by now that my post title is a lie -- or at least you understand that I believe quite the opposite to be true: there is so much great children's literature out there. And "the olden days" don't hold the monopoly on quality. There was fluff published then just as there is fluff published now. The reason we don't read much of the fluff from yesteryear is because fluff doesn't endure. It doesn't keep being reprinted and issued in fresh covers with new illustrations by contemporary artists.

The same may be said of our season now in fifty years or so, when the good stuff is still being read. Honestly, there probably isn't time enough in a life to read all the great books people have written for kids (though we can try). But like most things worth seeing/doing/experiencing/appreciating, the best children's books take a little more effort in seeking out. It's not enough to go into the nearest bookstore franchise, KMart, or discount warehouse and scan the shelves. Often, you'll find row upon row of inflated series books about horses or vampires or bodily functions*. These stories are good sellers but can often be fluff; what is appealing to the masses is not always of the highest quality**.

For a better chance at discovering some gems, head a little further afield and hunt out an independent bookstore. Indie bookstores are usually run by people who care deeply about the written word, and the stock is hand-picked by staff and owners. I can often browse in chain bookstores and walk out empty-handed, but in independent stores, it's usually impossible for me to stick with just one purchase.

To guide your hunt for great kids' lit, keep track of award winners. The 2012 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year winners were announced three days ago, showcasing the latest and the best of Australian kids' and YA lit:

The book of the year for older readers is The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner, with Bill Condon's A Straight Line to my Heart and Robert Newton's When We Were Two claiming the Honour titles. For younger readers, the winning title is Kate Constable's Crow Country, with Honour books Nanberry: Black Brother White (Jackie French) and The Truth About Verity Sparks (Susan Green). Winners in the early childhood category are Nick Bland's The Runaway Hug (book of the year), and Sonya Hartnett's Come Down, Cat! and Elizabeth Honey's That's Not a Daffodil (honour books).

The picture book of the year (not necessarily for younger children) went to Bob Graham's A Bus Called Heaven and honour awards to Ron Brooks' and Margaret Wild's The Dream of the Thylacine and Bruce Whatley and Jackie French's Flood. Finally, the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books went to Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch's One Small Island: the Story of Macquarie Island with Anh and Suzanne Do's The Little Refugee taking out the honour title.

The fact that a book has won an award doesn't make it an automatic fit for your child; parents and guardians should actively join kids in the reading process and make informed decisions about which titles are appropriate for which kids. But when a book has received an award such as this one, you are already part of the way there, knowing that there is a quality to the craft and creation of this piece of literature.

If one list of award-winning Australian books isn't enough, check out the shortlist for the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards, which was released today. Or check out the list of Newbery Medal-winning books, which spans ninety years of quality American children's literature.

One of the fabulous things about award-winning books is that they are often very quickly added to library catalogues, making them locally accessible for free. So since it's Children's Book Week here in Australia, your mission -- should you choose to accept it -- is to head out to a bookstore or library and find one new really great children's book. A gold star if you report back to me with your findings!

*which is not to say people can't write well about horses, vampires, or bodily functions, either.
**though sometimes it is. This isn't a rule!

* * * * *


Meaghan -- I wish you could come to my Capitol Party, too! Although considering my current rate of organisation, maybe it won't have happened by the time you get here!

Rachael -- I'm glad you liked the post. Your little emoticon made me happy.

Laura Elizabeth -- it's hard for me to believe you hate the sound of your voice recorded because I think you have a lovely, lovely voice -- feminine and clear and not a touch of bogan! (and I'm so looking forward to our Bourne-date!)

Staish -- I wasn't blogging from my iPad, but I was videoing from it!

Andrea -- occasionally there are these spurts of bravery, lol.

Joy -- you'll be getting some mail from me soon!

Jessica -- glad you liked the video :)

harri -- I can't promise I'll do more videos, but if I work up my courage again, maybe I will.

Anon -- you are very sweet. Like I said to Harri, if I get injected with a fresh dose of braveness, maybe I'll do more videos. Mostly I wimp out.

Asea -- you are FAMOUS! You are on videos! And you're like the awesome girly one amidst a group of guys. AND you have a really cute voice. Please tell me more about what you're doing in the vid and how this came about.

Samantha -- and YOU are lovely.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Birthdays and prizes, oh my!

My birthday has been (in truly lovely fashion) and gone (too quickly) which means that I am now officially about, oh, eleven years older than I actually feel. It also means that it's time to announce the prizewinners of my little writing giveaway!

First, a few random notes:
  1. I love that so many of you shared writing links. I look forward to checking those out over the next little while. And of course, sharing the links gave you an extra entry into the contest.
  2. Some of you wanted to enter but realised that the Australian Writer's Marketplace might not be applicable to you (either you already had a copy or felt it wouldn't be useful to you in your home country). Rather than cutting you out of the competition altogether, I marked your entries with an asterisk and determined that if I drew an asterisked winner, I'd split the prize -- journal and pens for the first winner, and the Writer's Marketplace for a second winner to be drawn afterwards.
  3. I explained all of this in a video which I recorded as I drew out the prize winners. It was all very exciting, but I have discovered something about myself today: videos of me are terrifying. Not only is there the whole ridiculous question of how to talk like an actual human being while talking to a screen, but there is also the gamut of horrendous realisations that video-making creates: "I kind of have a lisp? What? Surely not!" Also: "I knew my face was assymetrical, but really! This resembles a Picasso!" Needless to say, I am not posting the video I made. I am, however, taking my courage in both hands and sharing a tiny clip I filmed after the prize drawing. Asea requested a picture of the hat I used for the prize drawing, so I filmed that. It's pointless me even trying to express my insecurity about sharing a video (I believe I wailed at my mum, "But the internet is MEAN!"). Vloggers, are you only courageous because you are all beautiful funny people with cool accents? You have my respect.
Enough about that. Onto the winners...

The first name to be pulled from the hat is Joy, who sure enough has an asterisk next to her name. Congratulations, Joy! The sweet journal by Paper Boat Press, along with the Pilot Fineliner pens, are yours!

Since Joy already has a copy of the Australian Writer's Marketplace, I drew a second winner: Laura, of Life Is Beautiful! Congratulations, Laura! Email me your address (daniellecentral at gmail dot com) and I'll ship your awesome writing resource book off to you.

Peace out, babies. I promise the next giveaway will be for everyone, not just writers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A writerly giveaway:

It's my birthday week! To celebrate, I want to give you a present. Well, one of you, anyway. Writers need excellent and lovely tools, and this little giveaway bundle is made up of three things I think are particularly handy:
  • a brand new edition of the current Australian Writer's Marketplace. This hefty volume, worth $49.95 from the Queensland Writers Centre, contains pages and pages of listings of Australian and New Zealand writing markets, publishing houses, writer's organisations, and writing competitions. There's also a bunch of info on writing and selling your work. John Marsden says, "First, buy a pen. Second, a dictionary... then, The Australian Writer’s Marketplace. That’s the hard work done. Now, just write your book!" So there you go.
  • a beautiful little blank journal from Brisbane artisan, Paper Boat Press. To me, there's nothing quite like the allure of the blank page, and pretty pretty notebooks like this one basically cry out to be filled with both brilliant and banal thoughts in scrappy wild handwriting (keep it on your bedside table for those moments of midnight inspiration).
  • two Pilot Fineliner pens in black. These are my current favourite writing tools -- so smooth and fine, and they actually make my hideous handwriting look a little neater (or at least more arty).
To be in the running for this prize pack, simply leave a comment on this post. Obviously, this giveaway is biased in favour of writerly types (sorry!) but you're welcome to enter even if you just like a writerly type. Tying a bow around a fat writing book is the perfect way to earn brownie points with your favourite wordsmith person. Or maybe winning this prize will turn you into a writerly type. So have at it. Oh and here's a bonus: if you leave a cool writerly link, resource, or quote, I'll throw your name in the hat twice.

Leave your name and a contact email address before 2.02am August 11th (birth minute!) AEST and I'll draw a winner after next Saturday. Joy!

* * * * *


Laura Elizabeth -- you should know you have launched me on a Nerd renaissance now. I am blaming you.

Sarah -- thank you so much for your lovely congratulations! How's your world of study going?

Andrea -- yay! I'm glad I was your first tagger :). Thanks for the excellent phone call tonight, too! x

Staish -- eee! I'm excited you'll be joining us.

Hannah Joy -- I hope you found some yummy nerds to munch on. Seriously, their colour is part of the delight!

Carla -- it's a Nerds Rope. Find one and eat it immediately!! Plz start practicing gymnastics so you can fit in Meaghan's luggage. Thx.

Amanda -- :D

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Six things on a Saturday:

Over a month ago, Rachael tagged me to participate in her meme. But because I am lame and forgetful, I'm only just responding now, even though I love to be tagged in these fun pass-it-ons. The idea is to post five things I'm excited about or looking forward to, but because it's Saturday and because alliteration is cool, I'm going to post six. In order of chronology (mostly), I present to you:

Six things I'm looking forward to --

1. Dinner tonight with some of my Thursday night Bible study people. I predict there will be nice food, laughing, and dorky in-jokes.

2. Mid-semester break, and feeling less rushed, and maybe finishing some of the several dozen books I'm partway through. June and July were fairly pathetic months for me in the reading deparment. I read lots of things, but only a few whole books from start to finish. I miss stories!

3. The release of The Hunger Games dvd on August 13th. I love this story and especially Jennifer Lawrence's embodiment of Katniss. She did a brilliant job. Oh and Cinna of course. And Rue! And Haymitch!! Also, I'm really really hoping to have a Capitol party. Capitol fashion, hair, and makeup, yo!

4. Visits from excellent people. This week I've especially been thinking lots about my precious friend Meaghan's visit, planned for October, and my sister's delayed 30th birthday visit spectacular in December. It's all gonna be so much fuuuun!

5. A new little niece or nephew sometime early in October (we hope early, anyway! The waiting is too painful). I keep imagining a nephew but I suspect that no matter whether he or she, it'll be a happy surprise. A whole new little person to love and squish and adore!

6. Posting a little pre-birthday giveaway here at the blog sometime this weekend. Not to be exclusive or anything, but it's mostly aimed at writer-types. Stay tuned for that and don't go anywhere. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Hey Mum, Andrea, Lauren, Laura, Bloss, and Staish, wanna play along? Tag -- you're it!

* * * * *


Andrea -- I didn't know they were Amelia's little pants. That is pretty cute to think that there's a hand-me-down exchange in action in our family. We're all growing up!

Katie -- it really was. I'm quite a fan of Mondays, even though it's sort of uncool :).

Mini Cooper -- I will definitely attempt to do picture stories more often :). My analysis of The Hunger Games: well, I am a huge fan. I started reading them before they were the next big thing, and I'm happy about that because otherwise I may well have avoided them like the plague. I don't think they are literary masterpieces, but I do think they are excellent stories told compellingly and well. There is something really captivating (and slightly terrifying) about Katniss's story, and I just think it appeared on the scene at precisely the right time. It's far enough from reality to have that element of fantasy, but close enough to reality to make you stop and think. In short: loved the series, even though (or maybe because) it wrung my emotions dry.

Mothercare -- I'm glad too :).

Bloss -- yes, it's hard to always have one mind on deadlines, but it's fascinating and fun enough to keep me coming back for more, too. I'm just a nerd! Aw, and thank you for your lovely congratulations! *hearts and flowers*

Amanda -- we have so many different imprints of The Hunger Games over here now! There's a much nicer edition than mine; it's just black with the mockingjay silhouette and it looks so much cooler.

Brenda Wilkerson -- yes, my studies are focussed on really cool stuff. I'm loving it (just not always doing enough of my homework :P).

Staish -- :D I read your comment completely in your voice, with all your inflections.

Carla and Alastair -- that was actually pretty chilled compared to some days lately. Whew! And yes, I do mostly go to bed that late. I'm working on improving this situation as it's positively shameful! PS. Someday you'll be up here, too, joining the chaos. I believe it!

Abbie -- you are welcome :).

Rebecca Simon -- yes, I've taught music since I was fifteen -- piano! And yes, Lauren definitely makes pregnancy look good.

Asea -- your soon-to-be Mondays look chaotic but also really cool. The student life is pretty fun, even if it gets a little crazy at times. And you're teaching AND studying!

Laura Elizabeth -- Friends for liiiiiife! Also I'm pretty thrilled you did a blog post. Heading right over to check it out! (PS. You can say you love my family as much as you want because I will always agree with you :D).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just another manic Monday:

Sometimes it's fun to document a day in pictures and just see what happens. Last Monday I decided to do exactly that. I chose Monday because it's my standard 'normal' day each week. No music students, no English students; the goal is study and errands. I attempted to take a photo an hour, but sometimes I forgot or was late. This is the result! Above, about 8am, I think.

After breakfast, I duck next door into my Mum's kitchen to say hi.

Then I'm into homework -- a project analysing the print serial market in Australia, particularly special-interest publications focussed on writing, editing, and publishing. It was a big job, due the following Friday. And you did not really need to know all those boring details.

Final undergrad results are in which means I've officially completed my Bachelor degree. Wahoo!

Snaaaack time!

A phone call from my sister Andrea, who was reading The Hunger Games -- which we desperately needed to discuss with one another, of course.

An errand trip into town with the little bro. Tain took this photo and I think it's pretty cool. I've never really noticed how insistent that row of pedestrian crossing signs is. And look at that Queensland winter sun!

A library study date.

Here, have a photo of a fourteen-year-old eating a ham-and-cheese toastie with his mouth open. Relatedly, how cool is my local library?

Back home again (now sometime around 3 or 4) and back into the books.

I head into the family home to say hi to my sister Lauren, who has unexpectedly dropped by while James goes off fishing.

Abby's pretty excited about hunting down the cat.

At about 6pm, it's a dinner production line!

Spontaneous sister/mother/daughter time (plus Tain) means watching the season final of Downton Abbey together. Abby is amused.

I discover that I can't watch tv guilt-free when I have a hefty critical book review due in a week. I read some Dickens with one eye on the tv and one ear on the conversation.

James returns a little after 7.30.

More study!

And my wee kitchen needs some attention. I usually wash up about 11pm, which is kind of a dreadful habit.

Downtime -- with ugg boots.

Ablutions. I took a self-portrait brushing teeth, but I decided to protect Laura's anti-teeth-brushing sensitivities and post this shot instead.

Bible and bed at 12.40am. 'Night!

What's a Monday look like for you?

* * * * *


Andrea -- :D

Staish -- I'm not cut out to be a plumber, though. There was gagging involved.

Asea -- mesh covers sound super smart!

Carla and Alastair -- I suspect that the reason you've never thought to write a letter to your vanity drain is because you're normal.

Katie -- huzzah indeed!

Domesticwarriorgoddess -- your comment made my day! Thank you for enjoying my weirdness :).

Rebecca Simon -- haha, you're lovely!

Jess Axelby -- HARD TIMES foreverrrrr! I have to confess I'd forgotten how it ended though. I wasn't ready for the sadness :'(.

Meaghan -- I DID gag. *shudder*
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