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Writing for todays teens.

Reading Time exchanges with a small number of overseas journals that are devoted to children's and YA books, such as Nous Voulons Lire from France. This magazine covers the same territory as Reading Time with its feature articles about authors, illustrators and thematic concerns and its pithy reviews. At the other end of the spectrum is The Reading Teacher produced by the International Reading Association based in the USA. This journal, while containing current popular books for young readers is focused, in particular, on issues relating to decoding, comprehension and writing. The extraordinary weaving of many threads of the literary process has often made me wonder if there should be any limit to our own endeavours. From time-to-time I've toyed with the idea of opening up the journal to more work by graphic novelists, non print material and the many literacies that impinge on our daily lives. Should we be concerned with the reading process, other curriculum areas that demand attention, the electronic media and so on. The danger of so doing is that we lose our emphasis on the book.

The book, as such, has had a long and honorable history with its heart firmly placed on the story that reveals so much about human experience in its many manifestations. Although from time-to-time doomsayers declare that the book has had its day more people are reading books now than ever before. The need to find meaning in a chaotic universe while enjoying the pleasure of gaining information and enjoyment will ensure that the book will be with us for many years to come. It is for this reason that we continue to encourage those of new generations to discover for themselves what we have found. It is for this reason that the Children's Book Council of Australia and its counterparts throughout the world will have a place in the education and social world of all who are concerned with the young.

Penny Tangey

My book, Loving Richard Feynman, is about a girl called Catherine, who writes letters to Richard Feynman, a Nobel prizewinning physicist. Catherine feels like he's the perfect guy: intelligent, witty, and he loves maths and science as much as she does. The only problem is that he's dead.


It might seem a bit weird for a fourteen-year-old-girl to be writing to a dead physicist but Feynman was a very impressive person. He is often cited as second only to Einstein amongst the physicists of the 20th century. Feynman's work had a huge impact on physics and continues to be relevant to fundamental research today, for example in particle physics, a field that he helped found. Feynman's ideas are also being applied in new fields, such as quantum simulation, which did not blossom until after his death. Feynman was passionate about explaining complex scientific ideas to the public. For this reason, twenty years after his death he is still considered an icon by many people. There are many popular-science books featuring Feynman's writing, interviews and lectures.

Although Feynman was certainly a genius and had a remarkable life, what interests me most about him, is not what he did during his life, or his scientific legacy, but how people reacted to him. In researching Feynman's life, it was clear to me that his intelligence and force of personality had a profound impact on those who met him. skill as a science communicator also meant that his popularity spread far beyond his immediate colleagues and friends. Many scientists I know say that Feynman is their hero and get over-excited when they talk about him. So, in becoming obsessed with Feynman, Catherine is treading a well-worn path of adulation.

I had quite a strong reaction to Feynman when I first began reading about him. On the one hand, I found his intelligence and exuberance to be admirable and exciting. But I also found myself annoyed by some of his opinions and actions. I felt disappointed when I discovered things about him that clashed with my beliefs and my assumptions about him, particularly in relation to his attitudes to women. In Loving Richard Feynman Catherine goes through the same feelings that I had, in an exaggerated way.

Not that Feynman would give a damn what we think. He cultivated an air of doing whatever he liked and not caring about other people's opinions. Of course he didn't always succeed in not caring, but he was often cavalier about social conventions. This attitude could sometimes be seen as inconsiderate towards other people's feelings. Knowing how much to care about how we are perceived by others is something that most people struggle with, often as teenagers, but also in adult life. In Loving Richard Feynman Catherine finds that the scientific method will only take her so far when it comes to making friends and getting along with people. Although she initially takes on Feynman's slogan, 'What do you care what other people think?', she begins to learn the difference between not caring about what people think and not caring about them.


I enjoyed researching Feynman's life for this book. I read a lot about him and thought a lot about him. Sometimes, it's tempting to wonder what he would think about featuring in a young adult book. But I try not to care. (Review p33)

Shane Thamm on My Private Pectus

To describe why I wrote My Private Pectus, a novel for teenagers, I have to start with describing what I regard as one of the finest days of my life. I was with a friend at the Russell River south of Cairns. It was pouring, and with our white water kayaks balanced precariously on our shoulders, we delved into the jungle, making our way to the put-in. We slogged for forty minutes through mud, creek crossings, and prickly wait-a-whiles. We repelled leeches with salt sprinkled on our sandals and in our pants.


Beneath the steep slopes of Mount Bellenden Ker, where more than eight metres of rain fall each year, the downpour continued for the entire hike. I had never kayaked the river before; my friend had once, but only in its sleepy low water mood. We broke through the jungle to find the river swirling and swollen; the rain danced on the dark green surface. My adrenaline rose. We were about to ride the back of a restless monster.

The initial rapids were fast, but playful, nothing that required a scout. Then, before a right hand bend, the river powered between two black rocks and rooster tailed like at the spillway of a dam. As experienced paddlers we saw no extreme danger: no rock sieves or recirculating water that would suck our boats back in like a cork. We drew deep, then powered at the chute and shot the rooster tail amid shouts of joy.

Around the comer came a meaner beast: a steep boulder garden of granite, where the river cascaded and boiled for 100 metres or more. At the bottom, where the water was fastest, it pillowed against an ominous boulder that stood like an enormous black tombstone.

The rain kept falling. We descended the cascading staircase. Confused currents toyed with our boats, rocks gnawed at our paddles, our kayaks shuddered as we descended steep drops. The tombstone loomed before us, holding firm against the swollen force of the river. Full of bravado, we paddled hard for the rock, rode the cresting edge of the pillow, and were spat sideways into the safety of an eddy. Testosterone infused, we reached the pullout. We grinned, we talked, we puffed our chests. And despite the driving rain and the river turning wild, we shouldered our kayaks and made for the jungle. Another descent!

So what does this adventure have to do with My Private Pectus, a story about an insecure 17-year-old boy with a secret chest deformity called Pectus Excavatum, or Sunken Chest Syndrome? It's the impression that, for a guy, the defining moments of his life must be filled with adrenaline, chest thumping, physical adventures. It's the thought that conquest--economic, physical or sexual--is central to what it means to be a man.

Yet this adventure of mine, no matter how much I loved it, was not a life defining moment. I am not a better father, husband or work colleague because of it. It didn't guarantee my happiness. However, many Australian men (and teenage boys) are unwitting players to this misconception. They assess themselves by their 'ranking' on the masculine ladder.

In My Private Pectus, this act of assessment only heightens the insecurity of the protagonist Jack McDermott. Like thousands of Australian teenage boys, he goes to school unsure about himself, uncomfortable about how he looks, and in fear of the moments when his masculinity might be tested. Conscious of his sunken chest, Jack thinks that his manhood has been stripped away, and he perceives himself as inferior to the boys around him. However, despite his insecurities, he also believes that the only way to overcome his inferiority is to climb the male social ladder. He plays footy, which he hates, he drinks, he bullies, and of course, he must get laid.


My Private Pectus follows Jack's desires and journey towards adulthood, a journey that departs the path he would hope it to take: he falls for a girl his peers despise; and he can't live up to his dad's archaic perceptions of manhood. Jack's life becomes complex, it keeps slipping in and out of what he thinks it means to be a man.

With My Private Pectus, I set out to write a story about a teenager facing a dilemma of identity, of having a real sense of where he stands on the masculine pecking order, and wanting to find ways to move up it. However, it is not a didactic proposal of how Jack (and boys like him) could become a better man, or what type of masculinity should be revered in preference to the form that dictates the status quo. It is (I hope) an honest reflection of a teenage dilemma, but one that does not glorify the controversial moments of teen experiences, such as alcohol abuse, drugs, or sex.

For Jack, he comes to realise that in order to be happy, he must learn to be comfortable in his own skin. In some ways, his life is like a game of cards: he can only move on when his hand is laid out, when his deepest secret is finally revealed. (Review p33)

Gerry Bobsien--Surf Ache

At the heart of Surf Ache, lies an Enthusiast. I love doing stuff and Surf Ache is a kind of testimony to the dervish created once I get my teeth into something. As my number one all-time favourite thing to do, surfing provided a natural platform to write a story about girls doing things. This complete immersion in doing something you love is an important part of this book. It is an antidote to celebrity. The characters in this book are incredibly active in their own lives. They are not passively consumers of the lives of others. They are too busy enjoying their own.


This fascination with a wide range of interests is reflected in my strange looking bio that I sometimes self-edit to hide the obvious flighty nature of the thing. I've worked for some time in the visual arts including roles in a large regional art gallery to my current position as director of the Lock-Up Cultural Centre in Newcastle. I've worked as a blacksmith in an industrial forge in Melbourne and had various roles as a curator, librarian, copy-writer, legislative editor, media advisor and very briefly, but with much enthusiasm, as a fly-fishing reporter on a sports radio station. I used to get embarrassed by all this resume madness, but now I'm grateful that this hearty mix of creative projects can fuel my writing.

When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist and took myself off to the University of Technology, Sydney where I was completely distracted by rock and roll and art and a list of other things all conspiring to make me anything but a journalist. The creative writing component of the degree provided the most spark for me but I got itchy hands and wanted to make things with them. I ended up doing a trade course in industrial blacksmithing which put a fire in my belly for many years (and still does), my husband is a blacksmith and for several years we had our own business, Fe 26, making large-scale architectural works. This act of making is important to me and my writing is now an extension of this. The set of intricate internal gates I made for a church in Prahran is just as important to me as my first book.


Some time ago, I introduced the artist Ben Quilty to a packed room of eager art students. For over an hour in a stifling gallery, Quilty spoke about why he makes art and how he came about using paint in such a wild way. This particular talk was the by far the best writing workshop I've ever attended and one that informed the process for writing, Surf Ache. Quilty reinforced the idea of an artist constantly mindful of a viewer and it is this concept of a generous artist that stayed with me. Often, the best art is made with a viewer placed firmly at the centre of the work and so when I wrote Surf Ache, I knew I was not writing for myself but for a young reader who sat with me hovering over the process with a mindfulness that made me so much more considered about who I was talking to and why. I wanted to connect with young readers with a cluster of interesting characters I knew would be fun to hang out with and I wanted to write about a family bursting with love and warmth but not without their own particular idiosyncrasies. I also set out very consciously to create a character that was almost a throw-back to the aspirational young women I read about when I was a teenager. For this reason, Ella is almost too perfect. This particular quality she has is generated partly by natural talent and partly by discipline, focus and a tenacious drive to take on new challenges. We know she's almost too good to be real but in the current storytelling universe where the supernatural rules the pages, I think young girls could suspend their disbelief for a moment longer.

Surf Ache sits in a classic tradition of sports drama and I knew this would be a solid framework to build a story. I love the way sports drama can bring out extraordinary levels of emotion drawn from conflict, joy, terror, setback and adversity. Just like sitting back to watch Bull Durham with no real knowledge of American baseball, you don't have to know anything about surfing to enjoy Surf Ache. (Review p27)


2 special books have crossed our desk and are worth mentioning in the lead up to ANZAC 2010. The first is Somme Mud. An Australian Teenager in the First World War by Private Edward Lynch and edited by Will Davies. This is a well presented abridged edition of the memoir of a young soldier on the First World War's Western Front--his vivid account of the nightmarish realities of trench warfare from an ordinary infantryman's point of view. His candour and down-to-earth wit make it a great read, an evoctive record of the language and attitudes of early C20 Australia and a compelling story of humanity and mateship. It includes lots of detailed photos, maps and added commentary from Davies explaining the location and Lynch's frame of mind. (Random House $18.95 pbk ISBN 9781741664522)



The second is Angel of Kokoda by Mark Wilson--the beautifully illustrated story of a young boy, Kari, and how his life is violently disrupted by the bombing of the village of Kokoda. With a mixture of clippings, sketches and vivid paintings of the jungle, we are shown both the beauty and danger of that exotic landscape. Dedicated to the PNG people and sections of the Australian Defence Force, it is a moving account of one boy's interaction with some soldiers introducing todays readers to an important historical eve $24.99 1SBN9780734411280)
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Author:Cohen, John
Publication:Reading Time
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2010
Previous Article:Sequels.
Next Article:From the west--the WAARDA series.

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