Saturday, March 12, 2016

NZ Festival blog

I've just had a wonderful weekend in Wellington attending many of the Writers Week talks. Please read-on to hear about the sessions ...

The kids are all right
Chair: Mandy Hager; Speakers: Sally Gardner, Cornelia Funke, Ted Dawe

All three writers have written controversial books. Most New Zealanders would be familiar with the 'Into the River' saga. The judging panel who gave Ted Dawe the YA book award were told to reconsider, but they stood by their decision. If it had not won a prize, Ted believes it would not have got so much attention. An age restriction was put on it (14 years upwards), which resulted in all his books being removed from the library shelves. Then a religious party managed to get the book banned from book shelves and it was illegal to read the book!

Cornelia Funke and Sally Gardner have had censor problems with their books, too. Mandy Hager asked questions that looked into why adults want to censor children's books and whether they should be.

Mandy first asked why the writers wrote for young adults. Cornelia Funke – writes for teenagers and adults. “We are children dressed up as grown-ups. We are all storytellers.”  Ted Dawe – Wanted to engage his male students at high school. He tried to get them to read novels. They wanted to read the newspaper and sport magazines – this persuaded him to write stories. He writes mostly with a narrator giving him orders. Sally Gardner – "With YA the 'Y' is why, 'a' is the answer. Adult books just have the answer, whereas, YA books investigate the why, too."

Sally talked about one of her books that publishers tried to censor. She said she had written it quickly, and thought it would never see the light of day. She had crossed the line three times: One is let a teacher kill a student. Another is have two boys kiss but not make it all about gay love, and thirdly, she included a lot of swearing. First publisher said no unless she took out whole segments. Second publisher said yes. Only one country didn’t want the 'boy kiss' in the book and that was United Arab Emirates. The book went on to win two awards. Sally found it quite amusing that it also won the French prize for imagination.

Cornelia told us how her book Inkheart had two lines from a Holocaust poem. Critics told her she was making light of the Holocaust. Last year she had a situation with her US and UK publishers. Both publishers wanted her to make changes. She called it commercial censoring. They wanted her to tailor it to the market. She published the book herself and it has been very successful.

Sally said we're in a climate of 'Versace' publishing. Publishers want authors to write about witches and vampires. She says she refuses to write what is the latest trend. She said writers write from the heart not to make publisher’s money.

Morag said it was interesting that the ‘Into the River’ debate was called the ‘morality’ debate. Ted said he doesn't think about writing morals. He says publishers want to make it shiny, a little bit like Harry Potter. Ted says he is a social realist writer, making comments about life.

Sally said she is a guardian of children, and loves her audience. She finds that parents sometimes complain about the ‘f’ word in her books. Yet parents will let their kids watch war, swearing, sex scenes on TV and then wonder why their kids are traumatised. She said writers are aware they are guardians and approach their writing responsibly.

Ted said his book was not about sex or swearing it was about bullying. Cornelia and Sally said the censors were the bullies, they didn’t want to bring attention to the bullying message.

Mandy asked the writers about the power of fiction on people. Sally said fiction has the the power to allow you to dream and helps you get out of your situation. "We are all story led; we want to hear people’s stories.  They change people’s lives."

Ted said young people are like birds fluttering around a room but when they are reading they are engaged. "A novel can liberate that bird. Fantasy is escapism. Who is against escaping – only the jailor."

Mandy asked if the writers had any concerns for young adults. Sally said Facebook and Twitter bullying worried her. She is alarmed that young children are allowed social media tools. It is mental torture. She can tell by one glance who is being bullied. "We live looking into a machine. Why do we allow children of six or seven to use social media? We hardly know our telephone numbers, we rely totally on plastic. What happens when they go blank. What happens when all the pictures are gone.”

Cornelia sees social media as a way to communicate with her readers. She has only seen the good side of media. She tries to answer all her fan mail. So far it hasn't been a bad thing. She’s communicating with a community of book nerds.  If she worries about something: she worries they don’t live. School takes up all their life. Kids come out at 4-5pm and then they do homework.

Ted said while teaching he dealt with a lot of bullying at school. They stamped out physical bullying but harassment stepped up and took its place. It was relentless, heartless, and impossible to stop. Once a kid got on the receiving end of harassment they would go insane.

The writers talked about authors still believing in hope and wanting to stand up for the weak and bullied.  Cornelia said the difference between adult and children writers was that children writers like their audience. "If we reach millions of young minds, and give them shelter and hope, we need to hear the storm in the shelter and talk about it. It is incredibly powerful as a storyteller. When writers start out they don't know about that responsibility." She had heard from soldiers, and dying children.  "Writers can change things even if we only give comfort. It makes us stronger."

Ted said that kids have asked him before what is the difference between writing for children and adults. He once heard David Hill answer, "We can’t write boring books". Kids are more open to influence so it is a big responsibility. Mandy said she always ends on a form of hope for her audience but also for herself. Sally said she thinks about ending on ‘hope’. Ted said he is not always strong on hope. He does for his younger readers but not for YA because that is often not reality. Sally said she wants authors to be honest.

Paul Beavis talk: Crunch, Munch and Chew!

To a mixed audience of young children and adults Paul talked about his early life. He showed his artistic growth in writing and art on a PowerPoint screen. To keep his young restless group engaged he then gave instructions on how to draw a monster. He asked his young audience, “Who can draw a potato?”, “Can you draw lines and dots?” Kids answered affirmatively. “Then you can draw a monster,” he said. Paul drew a potato and asked children what he should draw next. He broke down the skills of how to draw a monster. Legs were a triangle with pebbles for toes. Step by step he took them through the process. He made each feature familiar calling them triangles, potatoes, lines. The audience watched as he drew Mrs Mo.

Next, he took us through the process of making a picture book. He told us how in his first draft the monster ate Mrs Mo. Near the end the monster vomits her up. Publishers told him that children read stories at bedtime and this story would most likely cause nightmares. They suggested he change it. He ignored their advice and put it away in a drawer. Seven years later he revisited it. He planned the story out on dummy books. This time he made the monster smaller, and changed the story to be about organising a birthday party. The publishers said no again. One publisher suggested he only have one monster and shorten the story. Again he sent it off to publishers, and again he received lots of rejections except for one. Gecko publisher Julia Marshall said they’d like to publish it. He advised aspiring writers not to give up.

Paul next asked his audience to stand up and repeat some monster sounds. He then read the story with the audience participating with monster noises and actions. This thoroughly appealed to the toddlers who jumped up and down, and growled and yowled.

Not an easy audience, appealing to the young and old at the same time. If he'd just asked his audience to just make monster noises and read the story the adults would have fled. If he'd just talked to his PowerPoint the kids would have drowned out his presentation. Paul, however, cleverly changed his pace, medium, and encouraged the audience to interact with him. I take my hat off to him.

Mariko Tamaki: Drawing on life
Chair: Kate de Goldi

I have to confess I thought Mariko was Maori - she looks a little Maori and her name could be Maori. So with that ignorance I listened to her talk about her Canadian upbringing.

Mariko told us there is nothing better than a painful childhood to give material to writers.  She has intense memories, as she was constantly grabbing onto things that happened to her. She never let anything go. She was a loner who wasn’t distracted by other things. While other people were living their lives she was going over intense experiences. Kate asked if she was interpreting it.

Mariko began writing about her life through poetry and always had a diary. She always wrote everything by longhand. She said a lot of people throw things at social media, but she would rather intensively share about her life in a private diary.

Kate asked if she felt like an outsider. Mariko said she was a fat hairy lesbian and mixed race. Surprisingly she didn’t know she was Japanese for a long time. “Identity is as much an outside thing as an inside thing.”  It wasn’t until kids told she was Japanese, that her mother admitted that yes her father was Japanese and she was half Japanese. She felt her heritage had not influenced her writing, though, other elements of herself did.

When all her friends became obsessed with guys she was left behind. Kate wondered if she mirrored her experiences in  ‘Skim’. Mariko said she was never funny at High School like the main character in 'Skim'. Her friends never got her jokes. It wasn’t until she went to University and met other lesbians that she found she had the same sense of humour as them.

Mariko said she only writes for unpopular girls. "There are enough books for popular girls. It is part of their culture that says the way you get power in this world is pushing someone down the stairs." She doesn't want to write those sort of stories. 
Her second book “Emiko Superstar” is about discovering yourself through performance art. At University she started performing at the Rocky Horror Picture Show. She wanted to talk about cultural awakening in a teenager. She said she is also obsessed about the act of being a teenager is becoming the person you’re going to be. "You draw on things around you. You pull on different clothes to further yourself. Performance is a perfect metaphor for that."

Kate then asked about her novel “This One Summer”. Mariko had observed that teenagers intensively study adults, looking ahead to try and figure out how to be this older person. She said she is also hyper-sensitive of mothers. There was a generation of woman who could not complain or ask for what they want. She depicts that in her novel.
Lastly, Kate asked Mariko how she and her cousin Jillian collaborate. Mariko writes a script (she comes from a theatre background so she writes in acts and scenes), dialogue and narration. She sends it to her cousin and she illustrates it. Jillian also asked her questions. They talked on Skype about the story. They needed to be completely in sync. "When you both understand the story you can take the baton." Mariko said she comes from a communal story background.

I then had to dash out - for lunch with other writers - but I heard they had a lively question and answer session.

Sally Gardner “Maggot Moon”
Anna Mackenzie chairing
Anna began the talk asking Sally Gardner  to talk about writing ‘Maggot Moon’. Sally told us she was writing a novel and waiting to hear from a publisher. She typed into her computer ‘What if …’ and just kept writing. She wasn’t sure where the wriggly worm inside her was going to take her.
Sally said  the main character Standish was based on herself. She wanted her readers to see how a dyslexic looks at the world. Standish uses visual images all the time. 

Anna said Maggot Moon has a moral core, and asked how important was that. Sally said the ‘selfie’ sums up this generation. ‘Me that matters most.’  She thought about people sacrificing themselves for love. "That is the truth of us." She wanted to show that. The character’s bravery comes from deep love.
Anna asked if history fascinated her. Sally said a lot of dystopia novels create boring worlds - they don't have enough gravitas. Whereas Sally loves the richness of history. “It is the map of our past and indicates how we got to this future.” It saddens her that we don’t teach history. “Only the 2nd world war – let’s get over this and look more at the past.”

Sally talked about her journey as a writer, next. She thought she couldn’t be a writer because she couldn’t spell. The catalyst was her husband leaving her with three children to bring her up on her own.  Her publisher said they better publish all those stories she had been writing and hiding in her drawers. She  now had to earn a living for her three children.
Anna spoke about the lilting language in 'I Coriander'. Sally shared that she was a novice  when she wrote that book and used a lot of similes. In later stories she pared back her writing. “The words should paint pictures”. Anna wondered if she saw words as music. Sally recounted one time when her editor asked what her new story was about. At that stage she knew the cadence of the story but not the words. She 'dum-dee-dahed' the cadence. Her editor took the story on that.

Sally uses a typist to write her stories. Her dyslexia is so severe she cannot write a clean manuscript. "It is like car sickness; words wobble and merge together." She said she never plots anything. The characters tell her the story. She writes her stories simply but often about dark subjects.

Anna and Sally talked for a while about how schools could better deal with dyslexia. Sally feels education needs more diversity of minds. "At the moment we are educating rows of conifer trees. We should be celebrating the varieties and differences. It would help academic and non-academic people. At the moment, the two areas you find most people with dyslexia are art schools and prisons." The Blind Foundation in the UK now recognise dyslexia as an eyesight problem and she is working with them to re-publish some of her stories for dyslexic readers.
Cornelia Funke Talk
Chair: Jo Randerson
Cornelia has authored 60 books and nine films, and has also illustrated picture books and digital apps (the Mirror world app). She comes from Germany but has been living in America for the last 10 years. She said America is a real contrast to where she came from and she loves that.
Cornelia talked about when she was 17 years old. Her parents wanted her to be an artist – she wanted to change the world. She became a social worker. When she was working with disadvantaged kids she was constantly writing and illustrating with them. She realised she couldn't ignore her talent any longer. She went to illustration school but afterwards was bored with the stories she was asked to illustrate so she started writing.  Her advice to artists and writer: "Don’t let anyone tell you should go the straight road. Take the crooked road.”
Cornelia found when she read stories to under-privileged children that there is always one book that speaks to them. When she hears of children that are grabbed by her book it thrills her. She wants to write for ‘book-eaters’ and also for the ones that hate reading.  She feels for kids who hate reading. When she wrote the ghost hunter stories she made sure it was thin and targeted boys who don’t like reading. She also wrote short stories for the app. Her editor said ‘that is her form’. She recommends that to emerging writers. "Please don’t start writing a trilogy. It’s like a runner starting with a marathon. Write a short story, polish it, and make it shine." Astrid Lindgren would explore a theme in a short story and then she would write it longer.
Jo asked about stories for children that grapple with issues. Cornelia felt that children don’t put on a mask, they’re not sure who they are - they are shape-shifters. "Children still ask the big questions. The older we get, we hide from those questions. Hopefully when we get older we come back to that." Cornelia said she never went past teenage age. However, she would not let her child watch a war report about Syria. There are some children who want to watch the dark parts of life. Children play with fear, they are practising with that in a book. They can close the book when they get too scared. Children love the Harry Potter series because it explores darkness. “Everyone has to explore the storm at some time.”
Cornelia feels every fantasy writer should realise that fantasy is created from reality. "It is a mirror of what we experience. It can try to instil the good out of what we know." Fantasy is very powerful when it talks about our lives. She found ‘Alice in Wonderful’ very frightening and dark in places. "We think we look for shelter but what we are really looking for is an interpretation of life. "
Jo asked is there a universal issue that children grapple with. Cornelia said it is ‘hope’ – a feeling you can save the world. Cornelia still wants to believe that. She brings it into her ‘Dragon Rider’ series. She thinks one of the real threats is that children don’t know about nature any more. They live in an environment where children don’t come across nature. They fear little things such as geckos when they see them for the first time. Cornelia doesn’t believe we should discard technology either. “People think too much in boxes.”
In the question and answer session someone asked how she coped with sad times in her life and how she got back to her writing afterwards. Cornelia shared that she learned the most about herself during dark and painful times. "We need to focus on those times – you see the world much cleaner. We learn by pain. We never learn better and faster. I am only happy because I’ve learnt from the sad times. When you start hiding from the pain, grief, or loss – then it becomes dangerous because it will knock at your door and you won’t be prepared. The only way is to practise – be open for change. I have the feeling that each time I feel sad time I am better prepared and more aware.”
Chris White, Weta Digital: The Scorch Trials 

There was a completely different  audience for this talk. Young adults streamed into the theatre to see the latest film being developed by Weta Digital. I went because I enjoyed the Maze Runner books and wanted to see how they recreated the world.

Chris stood behind a microphone and flicked scenes from the film and photo references to illustrate what he was talking about. He said Weta was brought in to work on the second book. It was first  converted into a script and then filmed. He believes visual effects help tell a story.

Within the series there are different themes carried out through the film. For this book it was loneliness and going through different trials and tribulations. Also a sense of going from a small world into a bigger world that is out there waiting. There is also a sense of travel; travelling from one area into the next. The visual effect artists need to know this before they start on the film.

Chris then broke down the work that goes on before they start creating scenes. They firstly collect reference images to get an idea of what they are trying to achieve. They looked at different images of cities going into decay. He said there’s a life to things, to objects, - they go through this process – of telling a story.

He showed us pictures of decaying buildings, with floors collapsed. They didn’t just focus on one building at a time. The city had to make sense and to do that they looked at the city of Detroit. They also looked at crumbling cities. For the dystopia city in the film the director wanted to show that the sand had come in and taken over the city. They found a city in Libya, where the diamonds had run out, and the sand was taking over a once thriving village. They found great imagery.

Next, they begin creating artwork. They look at it from a director’s point of view. They had to figure out how space worked, and how they travelled through it. They used 3D animation to create space. They had to put in debris, and light coming through the vacant building. They also had to consider how external structure would look like. They started with the city of Chicago because it had a good sense of shape and scale. They wanted to give a sense of what the city was like before.

They looked at different building styles and simulated debris. They developed software that would allow a building to fall. They pinned objects so they would drop, hang onto things, sometimes swing. They ran a physics engine so it was done properly. They didn't just crumble a single building but the whole city. "They are all connected together. All these things influenced each other." To help the city not look so static they draped fabric from the buildings so they could sway with the wind.
They created their own weathering animation system. It mapped weathering, decay and crumbling. He applied this system to the whole city they were creating. They also animated sand accumulating on the city. They looked at the shapes that sand dunes formed. He wanted to get a sweeping motion in the dunes. They modelled the dunes, then brought in dynamics such as wind blowing the sand, and then they had to get the ripples correct.

When looking at skies – they had to have access to a library of sky pictures. "Skies can create moods." He showed us a scene from the film with different skies. You could definitely see which sky images were completely wrong. They used skies from Wellington with a lot of wind, but had to change it because it was not desert type skies. They had to find more options.

When creating cranks (monsters) – they started with drawings. The virus had to grow out of them.  They ended up with digitally created characters. They looked at different diseases and used some of those effects. Part of the challenge was how their clothes looked on them.
The virus was one of the most difficult things they had to create. It had to look alien but not extra-terrestrial. They looked at roots, webbing, but it didn’t look different enough. So they modelled different shapes. Then they put a hair dryer over a plastic bag and that helped create the effect they wanted. That all came together with interesting back-lighting.

 I then had to race off to catch a plane back to Auckland so missed the last session with Joy Cowley. The lovely Maureen Crisp took my place and here are her notes:

Joy Cowley - 80 Years Young

The final session of Writers Week was a celebration of Joy Cowley- A Joy filled life.

Joy was interviewed by John Allen about events in her life that shaped her and her passionate advocacy for New Zealand children.

John started off with a descriptive comment from a friend of Joy’s who described her as like Yoda. Old, wise, strong, serene, been everywhere and done everything.

Joy responded by saying she felt like a big container filled with stuff from other people and places. ‘I want to create meaning and something new. I relate to the world as a mother.’

This she thought stemmed from her experiences at an early age where she assumed responsibility for the household from a very young age. She moved around a lot as a child attending 5 schools before she was 7 so she wasn’t a good reader until she came across the picture book PING which she loved and discovered that the story was the same every time she read it. She has discovered ‘the joy of the constancy of print.’

 At home she told stories to her sisters every night –always stories about powerful children. This is very important she says, ‘Children must be empowered in children’s fiction.’

 Joy described herself as a naughty child always involved in grease and motorbikes. She was one of the first women to hold a private pilot’s license, and described the joy of flying a Tiger Moth up to 5000 feet stalling it and spinning. The top speed of a Tiger Moth is 48 miles an hour. ‘My motorbike went faster than the Tiger Moth.’

"I felt old as a child I didn’t know who I was with the weight of responsibility. When my own children and grandchildren came along I was tired of being good and responsible so I played with them - having mud fights and going to restaurants and only ordering dessert. We are very close my daughters and I- we all have the same dreams."

Joy talked about writing and the concern she feels when she see’s young writers focusing on bleak stories. ‘Writing is a form of meditation and scum sometimes comes up. That sort of writing is therapy writing. It should be in a journal, not in a book for children. You must write with Empathy not Sympathy. ‘

 She read a new story featuring Snake and Lizard which is part of a 3rd volume of stories being published in 2017 and talked about her friendship with Terry her husband. ‘Terry is the Snake and I’m the Lizard. We complete each other.’

 Spirituality is a very important part of Joy Cowley’s life. She feels that other world religions are on parallel paths. ‘The spiritual world is all around us. We all have a path which takes us deeper to a greater reality. Religion is the map – Life Experience is the journey.’

 She finished the hour reading a psalm from her internationally acclaimed Aotearoa Psalms. The hour flew by and the length of the signing line was a wonderful testament to the joy she has given us through her writing, which shows no sign of slowing down yet.


1 comment:

KC said...

If anyone wants to listen to sessions from the 2016 New Zealand Festival Writers Week, many of them were recorded and are now available online here: