Friday, April 18, 2014

Newcastle Writers Festival - Part 1: Children's Friday

On the Friday of the Writer's Festival, my nephew, Mr 11, and I took the day off work and school to go to some of the workshops for children.
We headed to Newcastle Library for a look around before our first session. In the children's section we found the Sensory Zone with all these fabulous Seussical inspired pieces by Bliss. I had already bought the kids (and myself) one of her touch lights for Christmas so it was great for Mr 11 to see some of her larger designs...but he wasn't so keen to pose for me.  We had managed an Egg Head in Civic Park earlier so I guess that was that!

After a while we headed up to look at the Canoe Pool exhibition they had in their Local History area, loads of great old photos to look at. Mr 11 particularly liked the photo with kids his age wearing "really weird swimmers", no way you'd get him into a pair he muttered. Then we looked at the Shaun Tan exhibit, which was gorgeous as you would imagine.

From there we waited to go into the Tristan Bancks session, Writing for Boys.
The session was a fully loaded 90 minutes of work and fun. A group of about 27 young, (mostly) introverted boys sat on large cushions on the floor, and it was a glorious thing to behold. I had intended to stay a little while, go for a walk and come back, but the session was so interesting, I stayed the entire time! As the kids were a mostly shy bunch, poor Tristan had his work cut out for him, but he managed it effortlessly.
The session was well put together with lots of short videos and information from Tristan about his childhood, writing, books, television appearances etc. But it was the writing exercises scattered throughout that were the most fascinating. He set a range of 5 minute exercises, set his phone and timed them in fact. His instructions for each exercise were mostly, just write, don't worry about what you write, write what words come into your head. He further explained that in creative writing 90% of what you come up with is not that good, it's the 10% you get the gold from and often you never know where it comes from, so by writing everything down that's how you find the gold. (or something to that point, which I thought was gold indeed!!!)

Some of the exercises included first thoughts (whatever enters your head or what you see, write it down) best done first thing in the morning, I remember when (using memory as a device), listening to instrumental music for inspiration, reading sections of his book and asking them to jot down what they thought happened next and so on. 
Tristan also read a lot from his series of short stories, My Life and Other Stuff. These are funny stories based around a kid the boys age and other characters he knows from school and family. He asked the kids to brainstorm some ideas for his third book of these stories. He wrote all the kids ideas up on a whiteboard and named it after the session, he said if he included it in the book, he would acknowledge them in the book. I thought that was very cool, you could tell the kids did too.
Afterwards, we bought a few of his books and Mr 11 lined up for Tristan to sign them, which was pretty exciting.

We indulged in Coco Mondo for lunch and then hit Civic Park for a stretch and read. Mr 11 has been, like most boys his age, a reluctant reader, so for him to suggest we sit on a park bench and read was a heart warming moment.
Our other session was with comedian, Oliver Phommavanh. Oliver was a whirlwind and proved a hard object to photograph he moved that fast. Growing up Thai in Australia has left him with hilarious tales which he uses in his books, his stand up background makes him a dynamic performer and he had everyone in stitches. He collects toys - from films, video games, television, comics and the like - and uses them to tell his stories. It showed the kids that make believe was fun AND you might just get a good story from it. He told all sort of inappropriate jokes and was very into audience participation, but the kids loved it, even if the odd teacher raised an eyebrow.

Days like this are so important for our young readers and writers, especially those that may be reluctant or bullied because of their supposed nerdiness.

We were both exhausted at the end of the day, but excited and inspired, which is all you can really ask for.

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