May 31, 2011

Reading Matters 2011

Last Friday and Saturday I went to my first-ever writing conference: Reading Matters, the SLV Centre for Youth Literature's biennial youth literature conference. Heading in on Friday felt a bit like the first day of school: would I know anyone?, would I have to eat lunch alone? I needn't have worried. Not only did I know a few faces in the crowd, but everyone I met over the two days was extraordinarily lovely and welcoming and generous.

My notes from the sessions are scant, and many are also unintelligible*, so if you want a proper wrap-up I suggest you head to My Girl Friday, where Steph has written an amazing four-part summary of day 1, and Literary Life, where Megan has summed up day 2.

My personal highlights:
  • meeting people I'd previously only known via their blogs and Twitter (like Steph and Megan and Adele), and authors I have admired from afar, and some really interesting librarians
  • catching up with the lovely folks from Walker Books
  • sneak-preview readings from upcoming books by Markus Zusak, Cassandra Clare and Karen Healey
  • hearing about other people's writing and research processes - Cassie Clare almost got Holly Black arrested while she was scoping out a disused smallpox hospital in NY; Ursula Dubosarsky studied Charles Blackman's paintings of schoolgirls; JC Burke gutted a pig...
  • Brenton McKenna describing his distress when he realised as a kid that comics were not diaries written by superheroes, and his tales of his superhero-in-her-own-right gran
  • Oliver Phommavanh, who warned us that his session with Richard Newsome would be LOUD, and delivered on his promise
  • the Love and Other Bruises panel - some of my fave Aussie contemporary YA authors discussing writing believable love stories (and moderated with aplomb by Kate)**
Most of all, Reading Matters was an incredible opportunity to immerse myself in (other people's) books and writing for a couple of days, from which I emerged invigorated and inspired. Roll on RM13!

* I'm sure whatever prompted me to jot down 'hot feet on a cool patch' made perfect sense at the time, but three days later, notsomuch.
** My only complaint was that this session was way too short - more swoon next time, please!

May 30, 2011

Star picks

I don't know if it was the convergent timing of Reading Matters, the Emerging Writers' Festival and BEA, but I seem to have starred more posts in my google reader feed over the past seven days than I have in the last month! I'll save the RM ones for a separate post, but here's a selection of other stuff that I read when I should have been writing particularly enjoyed:
  • Kate Constable very kindly shared how she's taken her 250 word trick to a new, advanced level. I'm going to give it a go!
  • The New York Times report that ebooks were the buzz of BEA made me think, yet again, that it's something Australian publishers and authors really need to get our heads around.*
  • Jennifer Hubbard performed manuscript surgery.
  • I learned how to spot a psychopath, courtesy of an extract from Jon Ronson's new book.** Like Malcolm Gladwell, Ronson has a tremendous talent for narrative non-fiction; I read this article with the same kind of fascination-slash-revulsion that I felt when Jane Burke showed her pig-gutting Pig Boy research photos at Reading Matters.
  • Write4Kids's YA blogger reflected on the overabundance of 'perfect' characters in YA, and why they don't make for interesting reading.
  • Mental Floss told me way more than I ever wanted to know about Hello Kitty (except I kind of  did want to know it all). (And if I ever get sick in Korea I am going to demand to be treated in the Hello Kitty hospital!)
  • And I leave you otter who knows how to appeal to its audience:
* After chatting with a number of people - particularly librarians - about ebooks at Reading Matters, I've realised that I have some pretty strong opinions on this topic!
** And I challenge you to read the checklist of psychopathic 'symptoms' and not find yourself thinking of at least one person you know!

May 24, 2011

What's orange and sits in a box?

In reality, I suspect he just wanted to get out of a draught, but I like to think the Ginger Menace was paying tribute to our favourite box-loving cat, who turns four today. Happy birthday, Maru!

Tales from the Fantapants archive: 24 May 1982

In which we look back at the start of one of Mr Fantapants's enduring hobbies: coin collecting.
 Now, as someone whose own hobbies include sewing, knitting and various misadventures with Modge Podge in the name of 'craft', I'm not really in a position to comment on how nerdy coin collecting is. Suffice to say, Mr F's coin album is referred to as The Precious...

May 23, 2011

Star picks

Last week Google reader delivered me a selection of thought-provoking blog posts, including:
  • author Sarah Ockler's reaction to a New York Times review of two YA books that claimed that the 'purpose' of YA is often to 'to send a message, usually in the form of a much-needed lesson'. Yep, because young people don't have enough people in their lives telling them what to do/think/be. Sarah's post was timely for me: since Little Sister was released I've been asked by a couple of journalists whether I wrote the book out of a feeling of 'responsibility' to address bullying and homophobia, to which my reply is always the same: as a writer of fiction, my only responsibility is to write a book that people want to read.
  • The Rumpus's gorgeous San Francisco Public Library in its own words reminded me once again how much more our libraries do than just loan books, and why they're so important to communities. (via The Centred Librarian)
  • Meg Rosoff commenting on 'factory books' and their toll on publishing (and readers).
  • V. Rossi sharing her conference commandments, timed for the US writing conference season, but equally applicable to Reading Matters in Melbourne this week, I think.
  • John Green's stirring vlog about the value of studying both maths and literature. (I agree with him in theory, but, as someone who struggles with the most simple maths problems, I can't help thinking that you can only be as enthusiastic about this as John is if you actually understand both mathematical and literary theory.)

May 20, 2011

Writing what you don't know

We’ve all heard the old saying ‘write what you know’, but sometimes as a writer you need to step outside your areas of expertise. I know quite a bit about some subjects (British pop music of the mid-1980s, for example), a little bit about quite a few subjects (well, enough to get by in Trivial Pursuit, long as I don't land on sport or geography), and not much about a whole lot of things. I think that's a pretty normal range of knowledge to have but, somehow, each of my novels has required research on a topic that is key to one or more subplots, about which I know very little (stage lighting for Finding Freia Lockhart, genetics, lactose intolerance and soccer, among other things, for Little Sister).

On Monday, I finally started writing Book3* and already, less than 10,000 words in, I've got a heap of research queries. That's not unusual but I noticed that my methodology has been significantly streamlined since I randomly typed "what is a fader" into Google all those years ago. So, in the interests of sharing, here's what I’ve learned about doing research for books:
  1. Start at your local library. It might seem strange to begin offline when Google can bring so much info about every conceivable topic to you without leaving the house, but narrowing your choices can be a good thing. If you Google ‘genetics’ you will be faced with a choice of ‘About 42,500,000’ results; at my library I had a choice of five books, including Genetics for Dummies and the book that was more useful than the 100+ genetics websites I eventually visited: 50 Genetics Ideas You Really Need to Know by Mark Henderson.
  2. When you have an idea of the specifics of a topic that you want to investigate further, hit Google (or whichever search engine you prefer) and be as precise as possible. Searching for ‘soccer fouls’ rather than ‘soccer rules’ brought me the info I needed for the book (what does a player have to do to get sent off the field?) without having to wade through reams of irrelevant info about starting positions and equipment regulations.
  3. 3. Don’t use research as an excuse to procrastinate. It’s very easy to convince yourself that you need to know and understand every aspect of a topic before you can write about it. When that week of research translates into three paragraphs in your novel you will realise that you don’t.
  4. When in doubt, keep it vague. I spent two days ‘researching’ and attempting to write a scene in which a soccer player is given a penalty for an offside foul before admitting to myself that I – along with millions of others – was never going to understand the offside rule, and just stating that the player got a foul. I don’t think the book loses anything for it. (That said, if soccer was a focus of the book, I couldn’t have gotten off so easily.) (That said, if I attempted to write a book with soccer as its focus I think my publisher would laugh me out of the building.)
  5. If you really can’t get your head around something, make it a topic your character doesn’t understand either. It’s no coincidence that Al, the main character in Little Sister, struggles with genotypes and phenotypes and alleles!
* It turned out that all the motivation I needed to get started was to publicly admit I'd procrastinated over it for a year. Must try that at the three-month point next time!

May 17, 2011

Friends who Love2Read

I'm very chuffed to have become an official 'friend' the 2012 National Year of Reading, aka Love2Read. It's going to be a year devoted to 'discovering and rediscovering the joy of reading' - supercool idea, eh?

You can keep up with all the Love2Read news on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for their newsletter.

It's going to be a great year!

May 16, 2011

Star picks

Starred posts in my google reader last week included:

* Started today! Using Scrivener for Windows writing software and understanding why all those Mac-toting writers have been raving about it for so long!
** I'll take giant cats over giant bugs any day.

May 15, 2011

All launched out

It's been a very exciting couple of weeks since Little Sister was released. I've been interviewed by two local papers and the Star Observer, I had an 'official' book launch at Surry Hills Library in Sydney, and yesterday marked the final event in the Little Sister calendar: a not-a-launch celebration hosted by the lovely Younger Sun Bookshop.

We had bubbly and lemon squash (which was also bubbly) and cake, and it was superfun! Big thanks to everyone who braved the cold, wet weather to come along; I was especially chuffed to meet a couple of members of the Younger Sun book club.

Me and Kate from the Younger Sun
(you can see more photos on Facebook)

Now that the celebrating is done, it's time to get writing again!

May 10, 2011

Guest post: Twenty10's Rebecca Reynolds on Little Sister

WARNING: Rebecca's post contains spoilers. If you want Little Sister's action to be a total surprise STOP reading now.

Still here? Excellent! Twenty10 is an organisation I first came across many years ago, when I was working on a government website for young people. I was struck then by how valuable their work is, and was pleased to be able to tell Rebecca, Twenty10's managing director, this in person when I met her last year.

When I was invited to launch Little Sister in Sydney, I immediately asked Rebecca if she would speak at the event. Unfortunately she wasn't able to attend on the night but she very kindly sent a message of support, which is so lovely that I asked if I could put it on my blog as a guest post.

It has been a pleasure reading Little Sister. I work and live in a community where I see homophobia and bullying at its very worst, and Aimee has treated the issues that this brings up with a respect that indicates her understanding. This book also brings a lightness, however, and is true to life in that when life often feels like it is at its worst, then you meet and find some of the most amazing people, friendships and things of beauty. Congratulations Aimee. Your words have found a way to tell the stories of so many people, and to hopefully let many more truly see that they are not alone in their worlds.

Rebecca Reynolds, Managing Director - The Twenty Ten Association

Twenty10 We all need a place to feel safe. A place to be welcomed and supported. A place to be ourselves. Twenty10 aims to create and nurture such places for young people, their families and communities. Twenty 10 is a community-based, non-profit statewide organisation. We work with and support young people of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities, their families and friends. We aim to be a beacon of strength and acceptance - supporting young people to build resilience and achieve their potential.

Nice, huh?!

May 9, 2011

Star picks: Little Sister edition

Last week my Google reader app delivered me a swag of lovely Little Sister-related links! Even though I knew most of the posts were coming because they were part of my blog tour, it was still a thrill to open my blog list and see the name of my book. There were also some very kind reviews, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting.*

Here's a recap:

Mr Fantapants and I spent the weekend in Sydney (where we grew up) for the 'official' launch of Little Sister. It was fantastic to share the occasion with my family and old friends (as well as a few lovely readers who braved the crowd to say hello and have a chat about books and writing), and to be able to thank in person all the amazing people at Walker Books Australia. You can check out the pics on Facebook, if you feel so inclined.

The celebrating isn't over yet! My not-a-launch part-ay for Melbourne reader friends is this Saturday, hosted by the lovelylovely Younger Sun bookstore. I'd love to see you there!

* Because all of my blog hosts have very clear review policies that state that they will give their honest opinion of books sent for review.

Little Sister blog tour, day 5

** Why is this post three days late? Because I thought I was being a cleverclogs scheduling it to publish while I was away in Sydney but it didn’t work. That'll teach me :\ **

It's the last day of the Little Sister blog tour. Today I'm visiting The Younger Sun to reveal what Al, the book's main character, and I have in common.

Not only is The Younger Sun my fave local independent bookstore, they're also hosting the Melbourne celebration for Little Sister next Saturday, 14 May. (Are you coming? Don't forget to RSVP if you are!)

In case you missed a stop, here's the full itinerary for the tour:
My Girl Friday
Literary Life
In The Good Books
The Younger Sun

I'd like to thank all the bloggers who've hosted me this week. It's been a real honour to appear on some of my favourite blogs!

May 5, 2011

Little Sister blog tour, day 4

The fourth stop on my blog tour is a visit to In The Good Books, where you can read my guest post on bullying and Skye's review of the Little Sister.

Even though she's doing her final year of high school, Skye still manages to read and review prolifically - I really need to get some productivity/anti-procrastination tips from her... (And possibly some tutoring if more science creeps into my next book.)

Previous blog tour stops:
My Girl Friday
Literary Life

Last stop, tomorrow:
The Younger Sun

May 4, 2011

Little Sister blog tour, day 3

Head over to Literary Life today to read Megan's review of Little Sister. Megan also kindly let me guest post last week about 10 things I learnt while I was writing the book.

Megan is a prolific writer, reader and reading-related-event attender - I'm in awe of her energy and enthusiasm!

Previous blog tour stops:
My Girl Friday

Coming up:
In The Good Books
The Younger Sun

May 3, 2011

Little Sister blog tour, day 2

Today I'm hanging out with My Girl Friday, talking about the challenges of writing about social media in fiction.

It's a special honour for me to be a guest on Steph's blog because not only was Finding Freia Lockhart the very first book she reviewed on her blog, but she was the very first person to comment on mine! As well as being a very fine reviewer (you can read her review of Little Sister here), Steph is a movie buff and Polyvore maven.

Yesterday's blog stop: Inkcrush.

May 2, 2011

Little Sister blog tour, day 1

It's the first day of the Little Sister blog tour! Today I'm visiting Inkcrush* to answer some probing questions about the book. (While you're there, make sure you enter the Inkcrush blogoversary giveaway - open till 10 May.) Thanks for having me on your blog, Naomi!

* where I get a lot of my best reading recommendations from - Naomi's reviews are spot-on.

May 1, 2011

Little Sister blog tour

Today is the official publication date of Little Sister! To celebrate, some of my favourite YA bloggers have kindly agreed to let me visit them for a mini blog tour, starting tomorrow. Here's the schedule:
It's a busy week chez Fantapants. As well as the blog tour, we're going to see Meg Rosoff at the Wheeler Centre* on Wednesday, and then it's off to Sydney for the Little Sister launch on Friday.** All too exciting! I feel a bit like these guys:

* Hopefully if I get a chance to meet her I won't turn into a blathering fangirl - she's one of my absolute fave writers and bloggers.
** Are you coming to the official launch in Sydney or to the Melbourne not-a-launch par-tay on Saturday 14 May? If you are, don't forget to RSVP so we know how many people to cater for - I'd hate to run out of cake!