Feast on writing – MWF16

You could hear the pens scratching in the air. It’s the Melbourne Writers Festival 2016. There is a mix of writers; professional, emerging and students.

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Oliver, Year 12, shares his notes on Adam Curley, writer and musician:

The world of music magazines is filled with people interested in writing and music, but also gives you an opportunity to be published, and get feedback.

Song lyrics sit in a strange place – harder to study with less of a history – less a form of writing, differing styles between different writers. Began as storytelling, branches out.

For Adam, he is a vocalist, and lyricist, collaborating with his band Gold Class to write songs collectively.

Usually starts with a catalyst, a beat or rhythm in what his band members are writing – always has a notebook or his phone ready writing ideas, words, phrases, that could be used.

Melody can craft lyrics, and lyrics and melody. Inspiration – can be found anywhere! For his inspiration, Adam tends to look inside for his inspiration, taking from his feelings on issues, world or personal. However, other writers he knows write third person narratives, long abstract phrases, really it can be anything.

Style – impressionistic language surrounding a key idea or feeling.

Songs don’t have to follow on line by line, don’t have to be linear narratives.

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Reagan, Year 11, reflects on Meg Rosoff:

“Creating Great Characters” conducted by Meg Rosoff was perhaps the highlight of the Writers Festival. When entering the presentation, most of us witnessed Meg lounging about comfortably on the couch with her interviewer, giving little hint of the brilliant personality that lurked beneath. Excited chatter gave way to enraptured silence, broken only by the open laughter which greeted every deprecating remark she made of herself.

Meg spent the entire workshop detailing her own troubles with writing and rowdy dogs, her anecdote of the years she spent bluffing a book to her editor reducing the audience to a laughing wreck. Throughout the workshop, there was never a dull moment, the presentation being refreshing in that she genuinely downplayed all of her own achievements and awards. Meeting her afterwards, I could not help but purchase one of her books simply for a chance to meet her. Throughout her question session, she never made a single attempt to promote her works, but her warm and sincere thanks when I brought the book to be signed revealed more than a witty and humorous speaker, it exposed her as a writer with a true connection to her readers.

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Ayush, Year 9, shares his thoughts:

At the Melbourne Writers Festival 2016 we had the chance to see and listen to many writers and authors. One in particular stood out. Meg Rosoff, the author of How I Live Now, was a particularly interesting and entertaining person to listen to. She was a very funny person and her thoughts and ideas always caused the audience to chuckle. She was very fun and open as well which always kept the audiences attention. She was also very willing to talk about herself with a group of relative strangers which helped us understand her and her books in greater depth. Out of all the authors we watched and listened to this was, in my opinion, the best as she had intriguing ideas and stories and wasn’t afraid to put herself out there.

Noah, Year 11, writes:

One of the highlights of our day at the Melbourne Writers Festival was hearing author Meg Rossof talk about her writing process and how she worked on characters. Hearing her reminisce about her friend helping her with crucial plot points, how the characters got away from her with minds of their own at times, and how her story about characterising animals went off onto a long tangent about her own dog were all delightful, and her dry sense of humour punctuated every piece of advice or story, making it all the more enjoyable. I am certainly looking forward to reading some of her work, and I’ll be taking her advice on characters to heart. I must say, her admission that she often didn’t know where the book was going to go when she sat down took a weight off, and contrasted with the over-planning toted by many other writers. I would recommend the Writers Festival to anyone, especially with panels like this one!

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Frank, Year 11, writes:

At the Writers Festival is where I met Meg Rosoff, an accomplished author winning both the Guardian Prize as well as the Printz Award. She was one of the most inspiring writers, possessing great wit and was always charming. Yet despite winning prestigious awards, she was charming and incredibly down to earth.

She began the workshop of ‘Creating Great Characters’, by professing her love of dogs. She told us that “writers don’t have a sociable lives, that’s why I love dogs.” In her book Jonathan Unleashed (2016), all of the central character’s many problems, are all curiously resolved through two dogs. Although she laughingly admitted that dogs seldom solve the problems we experience in real life, “Dogs make good characters in books because you can make them into whatever you like.”

She then proceeded to give insight into the often-enigmatic writing process of an author. For one, there is no one definite way of writing, and that writing habits tend to differ from person to person. For Meg, she uses her ‘unconscious mind’, where a lot of the writing comes from the place in the brain responsible for dreaming. Where the conscious mind is compared to as a horse rider, the unconscious is mind is the horse itself, and sometimes, it may be better to let the horse lead for a change.

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the day, her unique advice in combination with her wonderful sense of humour really inspired us, hopefully, to take step towards a future filled with a little bit of creativity, and a little bit of writing.

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Daniel, Year 9, captures John Marsden’s creative writing session:

“In fourteen words we wrote our story. Without one vowel we described our view.”

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 Our pens will certainly be writing furiously following these inspiring sessions.

 

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Our year 9s workshop with Mark Wilson – endangered species, Vietnam war, comics and looking for the shapes in things

Mark Wilson visited our year 9s today. His most recent book, Beth: the story of a child convict, has almost sold out even though it isn’t officially released until May 30.

Mark kept 2 classes of year 9 transfixed talking about his 2 main interests – our natural environment and endangered species, and his experiences of the Vietnam war. The combination of his passion and talent for storytelling was followed by a hands-on workshop where he focused on identifying shapes in things as a drawing tool. Mark fired drawing prompts at the boys while he demonstrated how it was done on the whiteboard.

“It’s all about movement”. – Mark Wilson (who grew up on comics and learned by studying how comics were drawn.

Thank you, Mark, for a very entertaining, informative and inspiring session which I’m sure our boys will remember for a long time. Whether in terms of awareness of our environment or endangered species, issues associated with war, or drawing techniques, our students’ understanding and appreciation for these things has been broadened. Thank you to Marie for organising the workshop, and to Suelyn and Mihaela for their support. It was also great to have the opportunity to collaborate with Stonnington Libraries.

2014 Dromkeen Librarian’s Award – Pam Saunders

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Recently our head of library, Pam Saunders, was awarded the Dromkeen Librarian’s Award which

is presented to a teacher, a teacher librarian or a children’s librarian, working within or outside the education system, in recognition of the important role played by this person in introducing young people to literature and encouraging an enjoyment and love of reading.

The award is presented to a person who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to children’s literature.

Pam’s experience in libraries and schools is broad: she has worked in a variety of settings – primary and secondary schools, public libraries and the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria. She has worked with babies in arms, with their parents, with young and older children and teenagers.

At the centre of Pam’s passion for libraries and their patrons is her love of reading.

Books are a place of pleasure and a beautiful way to de-stress. I also believe books and stories are the best way to walk in someone’s shoes.

The empathy a reader fosters from reading is invaluable; reading is much more than decoding of words.

 I asked Pam to share some of her observations of the reading culture at Melbourne High School since she took up the position of head of library at the beginning of the year.

Here at Melbourne High School many of our boys read. Science Fiction and Fantasy are continually popular and need little promotion. Many of the boys also read and enjoy the classics, and there is an expectation within the school community that reading the classics is ‘a good thing’. As the students progress into higher levels of study, reading for pleasure  can fall but we work hard to make sure they still find time to de-stress with a book, matching the right title to the right student. Somewhere in amongst all the academic rigour I hope that the joy for reading remains.

To what does she attribute her passion for reading?

I was fortunate to have become a reader on the lap of my father as he read to me. I  remember walking as a very young child to the shop to buy the new magazine Playhour and then my father reading it to me, especially the comics. This was further fostered by a dynamic school librarian, Mrs Cecilia Stubbs, who ran the library at Burnie High School in the 1970s. She encouraged students to use the library, to be involved and, best of all, she challenged my reading, pushing me to read titles which I would not have discovered myself. Titles like Black like me by John Griffin. I hope I have emulated her as a librarian.

We congratulate Pam on her prestigious award, and we are proud to have her nurture our reading culture at Melbourne High School.

The Dromkeen Medal and Dromkeen Librarian’s Award have a distinguished history of over 32 years, with previous Medal recipients including well-known children’s book illustrators and authors such as Shaun Tan, Bronwyn Bancroft, Roland Harvey, Ruth Park and Graeme Base (MHS Old Boy!) Similarly distinguished names grace the list of past winners of the Librarian’s Award.

Have you googled ‘blue’ lately?

Our library has been coloured blue. That is to say, we have blue books displayed in various parts of the library. Random, you say? I call it serendipitous.

How valuable can serendipity be? Let’s explore a ‘blue’ search on Google. A simple Google search (which, as we know, will filter results differently for each person) retrieved the top result of a Wikipedia definition of ‘blue’: Blue is the colour of the clear sky and the deep sea.[2][3] It is located between violet and green on the optical spectrum.[4]

Surveys in the U.S. and Europe show that blue is the colour most commonly associated with harmony, faithfulness, confidence, distance, infinity, the imagination, cold, and sometimes with sadness.[5] In U.S. and European public opinion polls it is overwhelmingly the most popular colour, chosen by almost half of both men and women as their favourite colour.

I wonder if there have been any Australian studies.

Search results for ‘blue’ selecting the ‘maps’ option gave me a map highlighting all the places with ‘blue’ in their title close to Melbourne High School – which is where I am at the moment.

The top result for ‘blue’ filtering for ‘Australia’ was a link to the Beyond Blue, the Australian organisation ‘working to increase understanding and of anxiety and depression in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma’. Three million Australians are living with anxiety and depression according to the website. I would think that is a conservative number. I assume that the Google search retrieved this website because we are currently in Mental Health Week.

A Google Search for ‘blue’ using the filters ‘news’ and  ‘past week’ retrieved news of the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics.

The 2014 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to a trio of scientists in Japan and the US for the invention of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs).

Professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura made the first blue LEDs in the early 1990s.

I thought I’d put Google through the hoops and set the search filters for ‘blue’ to ‘Australia’ and ’20th century’. There was one result (hard to believe) and it was the Australian Zoo.

Blue has turned out to be quite interesting, don’t you think?

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This is a small book with big questions. You can borrow it from our library if you are drawn to the big questions in maths. Thanks to Catherine Morton for the blue displays.

Celebrating the freedom to read – gearing up for Banned Books Week

We’re gearing up for Banned Books Week next week when we celebrate the freedom to read, and the freedom for all people to access information, by highlighting books which have been (or are) banned in different parts of the world. Basically, it’s a time to collectively insist on the free expression and exchange of ideas.

We have a designated area for people who wish to be photographed reading a banned book. Don’t miss out on your turn to make yourself comfortable on our royal chair (replete with velvet seat and gold-painted arm rests) to read (or pretend to read) the banned book of your choice.

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Four literary dystopias by Zachary Sunter

We have all heard of and read 1984, but George Orwell’s acclaimed novel is merely the tip of the iceberg for renowned dystopias in literature. For centuries, writers have provided perspective on what they envision a dystopian future to look like; typically in terms of an oppressive government that restricts individual freedoms and suppresses human rights. However, every dystopia is unique and different from another, even if grounded in the same violation of basic principles that we take to be common rights in our modern society.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is easily one of the most famous dystopian novels after George Orwell’s 1984, precisely because the reader is able to recognise the immoral and distorted facets of the society while being able to empathise with the majority of characters who simply do not know any better. Huxley takes the utilitarian stance of attempting to obtain maximum happiness for as many people as possible to extremes, in terms of rampant drug use and promiscuity. The ‘brave new world’ that Huxley envisions is a world that defies our moral and ethical conventions yet is able to appeal to the primitive human psyche, where faithfulness and intellectual stimulation are secondary to happiness and pleasure.
Huxley’s Brave New World portrays a world that reinforces societal class boundaries with biological ones, deciding the future jobs of every human through genetic engineering. Furthermore, every individual is psychologically conditioned to respond positively and negatively to certain stimuli, leading the reader to question what defines each person as individuals when their feelings, thoughts and fears have been manipulated by someone else.

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is perhaps best known for its adaptation into one of the best horror films by arguably one of the best directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick. However, Burgess’ novel is, in itself, a masterpiece that probes into the boundaries a government is willing to stretch in order to maintain power. A Clockwork Orange is simultaneously simple and complex, using words mostly borrowed from Russian to simulate a language used by the youth of the future, while telling a story of the rehabilitation rebellious youth – Alex – who enjoys rape, pillage and slaughter.
Burgess draws upon the concept of conditioning, similar to Huxley, imbuing the futuristic super-state with a capacity for evil by extending this concept from electric shocks to visceral film footage of murder and carnage. To an extent, the experimental technique involving exceedingly violent images used on Alex is a kind of brainwashing, with the objective of forcing him to reevaluate his personal beliefs about his actions. The method achieves some success, causing Alex to feel nauseous even when considering the act of murder. However, the reader is forced to question the ethics and morality methods employed by the political regime that push social and scientific boundaries in pacifying dissidents and maintaining power.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is simple and funny, yet clever, self-aware and powerful, a book about a future in which books are censored by a totalitarian regime. Where Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange are centred around the attempts of a government to control individual freedom and liberties, Fahrenheit deals more directly with the censorship of information and knowledge and the profound effects that this change has on human civilisation. Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman – he burns the books inside houses instead of putting out fires. However, when he a girl named Clarisse, he acquires a new perspective on his job and reconsiders the harm that he is causing to society. Bradbury argues that books are integral to an educated and fully-functioning society, and Fahrenheit is a scary image of what is to come if we prevent the circulation of information due to censorship.
Ray Bradbury’s greatest fear in Fahrenheit 451 is society’s eventual lack of interest in books, a fear that is becoming more relevant in our modern age as the mediums of TV and movies become increasingly popular. This is exemplified through the character Captain Beatty, who arguably is of greater symbolic significance than Guy Montag himself. Beatty grew up as a child enthralled with books, but is unable to find the answers that he truly desires within them as he grows older, and begins to develop a hatred for one of the things that he once loved. Beatty becomes a captain of the fire brigade, willingly burning books that contain countless amounts of information, stories, poetry because he despises the act of reading. Perhaps, Bradbury’s fear will soon be realised, as we continue to progress away from books towards digital media.

Feed – M.T. Anderson

 

Feed stands out on this shortlist as a modern young-adult novel compared with the three other older dystopian novels focused towards older audiences. However, Feed has a specific power, and that power is much like A Clockwork Orange – language. Anderson uses language typical of the youth of the current generation – superfluous ‘like’s and so on, but also introduces words like ‘mal’ (bad) which are unfamiliar to signify a linguistic transformation in parallel to a time-based and societal one. Unlike Clockwork Orange, the words are more easily inferred by context, and forces you to concentrate on what Titus is attempting to say without being swamped by incomprehensive and needing to use look up the words online. Anderson flawlessly implements a language that is very similar to our own, yet has its subtle differences, and it is these differences that prompt us to the realisation that the world he has created is different from our own.
Anderson’s use of language is what truly allows the reader to visualise a future in which people have become so integrated into the digital world that it literally exists as a physical part of their body. The ‘feed’ is a chip planted into your brain; a full-body implementation of what we currently have as laptops, smartphones and TVs. It allows you to listen to music, what ‘feedcasts’ (the equivalent of TV shows) and access information wherever you are. However, the feed is a business-motivated initiative, and allows advertisers to promote their products at all stages of your life, and waters down individual preference and taste to a single monoculture. By attempting to promote goods and services that promote to a wide audience, individuality is collectively reduced to form a society that is seemingly similar to our own, but without true individual expression or freedom. Feed is perhaps more terrifying than the other books I have listed because the future it portrays is easily imaginable and seemingly not that far away, a distant possibility that can occur when capitalism is permitted to literally invade our bodies and control our thoughts and decisions.

Posted by Zachary Sunter

Experience the power of a bookbook

Ikea takes off Apple advertising to make us laugh. This is a worthy tribute to books in general in this age of e-everything. By the way, we have plenty of these things in the library. Come up and browse – they’re getting restless. Thanks to all who have shared this gem on social media.