Robots in Disguise

Remember Transformers? Robots in disguise. More than meets the eye. Toys. Animated television series. More toys. Animated feature film. Even more toys. Series of a live-action blockbusters. And the toys keep on coming.

As a teenager in the 1980s, when Transformers first crossed my radar, I dismissed them as silly and childish to my friends, while secretly wishing they had been around a few years earlier when I was younger… because… well… they were incredibly cool! I mean, who wouldn’t want a toy car that transformed into a robot? But I was a teenager, at that awkward in-between age where toys are dismissed as childish because one hasn’t yet come to the realization that there is no age limit on playing. So, although I enviously glanced at the toys from the corner of my eye, I did not pick them up, I did not watch the cartoon series about them, and I certain didn’t go to see the animated feature film.

Many years later, when I was in my twenties, I became friends with a family of Transformers fans. They were shocked and stunned that I had never seen the film. They told me I should. I didn’t. They continued to pester.

In 2007 a live-action Transformers film was released. I watched it. Cool effects. Daft story. Kinda fun. But hardly Earth shattering. I didn’t bother with the sequels.

My friends continued their crusade to get me to watch the animated film.

And finally, after many years, last week, me and my family sat down and watched it with them.

Wow! I don’t know what I was expecting. But this was not it. It’s a clichéd, OTT, logic-defying advertisement for toys, masquerading as a film. There is little plot, no character development and it’s basically an extended chase with battles sequences thrown in.

But…

The animation is 80s retro cool! There is an awesome rock soundtrack. It guest stars the vocal talents of Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Eric Idle and Orson Wells. It also has some of the greatest regular voice actors around, including Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Paul Eiding (Ben 10), Casey Kasem (Scooby Doo) and Frank Welker (Scooby Doo).

It’s chock full of unexpected dialogue…

“Would you like to beg for your lives? It sometimes helps… but not often.”

“Nobody would follow an uncharismatic bore like you!”

“Your bargaining posture is highly dubious.”

“I remember the dust was so thick on Beta 4, you had to use windshield wipers on your optic sensors.”

“Their defenses are broken, let the slaughter begin!”

“Spare me this mockery of justice.”

“Yes friends, act now, destroy Unicron! Kill the Grand Poobah! Eliminate even the toughest stains!”

“A ginormous weird lookin’ planet just showed up in the suburbs of Cybertron.”

Because we watched the special edition, there is also that unexpected little swear word that apparently snuck into the original cinematic release (before being quickly excised): “It isn’t even dented! Oh sh*t! What are we going to do now?”

And then things get a bit trippy. By far my favourite scene in the film is the bizarre Transformers dance party, with Eric Idle boogieing away to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare to be Stupid”. One can’t help but wonder what the creators were on when they came up with that little slice of surreality.

To top it all off… the whole thing is apparently set in 2005!

The verdict?

My wife had a bit of a nap through it.

When asked if she liked it, my 13-year-old shrugged and said “Kinda”.

My 7-year-old responded enthusiastically: “It was good. But there were lots of parts that were boring.”

Me? I really enjoyed it! The film succeeded as a film in that I was entertained. And it also succeeded as a toy commercial, in that I immediate made a grab for the nearest Transformers toys. After all, I am now of the age to know that you are NEVER too old to play with toys.  :-)

But the coolest part of watching the film with my Transformer-fan friends was being able to tell them… I hung out with the voice of Perceptor, Paul Eiding, at a pop culture expo and he’s really cool. [See gratuitous fanboy photographic evidence below.]

And finally, to bring this all back to my own writing… You Choose: City of Robots includes a scene inspired by Transformers, in which robots disguise themselves as a sport car, a motorcycle and a pram. Yes… a pram. But what unexpectedly happens when they transform back into robots? Well, you’ll have to go and read the book to find out. ;-)

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Kellogg’s Free Book Promotion

I’m part of a breakfast cereal promotion! Well… my books are. Which is pretty cool.

Kellogg’s are running a book promotion with some of their breakfast cereals from 1 January to the 8 April 2017 in Australia and New Zealand. Buy two specially marked boxes of cereal and you can get a free book. There are 30 titles to choose from, including two of my YOU CHOOSE books — The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove and Mayhem at Magic School.

Other authors with books in this promotion include Andrew Weldon, Jacqueline Harvey, Tania Ingram, Belinda Murrell, Frank Woodley, Rebecca Johnson, Christina Miesen, R. A. Spratt, Felice Arena, Sofie Laguna, Lucia Masciullo, David Metzenthen, Rick Riordan, Lisa Gibbs, Bernadette Hellard, Melina Marchetta, Zoe Foster, Barbara Hannay, Grace West, Fiona Palmer and Morris Gleitzman. What an incredible lineup to be a part of.

To find out more about this promotion, check out https://www.freebooks.kelloggs.com

There you have it… my breakfast cereal promotion participation. Thankfully my face doesn’t actually appear on the cereal packets – we wouldn’t want to put people off their food. ;-)

So get thee to a supermarket, fill up your breakfast bowl and start reading!

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New Year Publication Day

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! What better way is there to celebrate than with the release of two new YOU CHOOSE books? Books 11 and 12 hit the shelves today. Rather than celebrating with cake, which is what I usually do, today I’m working my way through leftover German Christmas biscuits and chocolates. :-)

And I also thought I might share a couple of photos to go with the books. Book 1, Creepy Crawly Chaos, is all about bugs and spiders, so here’s a pic of me with a Whistling Tarantula I met in Mackay last year (Don’t worry… not only is it dead, it’s frozen!). Book 12, City of Robots, features giant robots stomping through a city, so here’s a pic of me and my family with a giant robot at the Ghibli Museum in Japan, back in 2008.

I am overjoyed that the YOU CHOOSE series has come this far. Many thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed these books – your continued enthusiasm for them is what has enabled me to keep writing them. Much appreciated!

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Family. Friends. Food. The three Fs. These are the things I think of at Christmas as I go into a cooking frenzy. This year I made 2 puddings, a double batch of shortbread biscuits (decorated in chocolate by my daughters), egg nog, vanilla bean ice-cream (to go with the pudding), lemon sorbet (because my daughters prefer this to the ice-cream), caramel fudge and dark chocolate Scotch whisky fudge (using Tslisker). I set one of the puddings alight this evening. The other is for tomorrow.

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Goulburn Reader Writer Festival 2016

It’s hard to separate a festival from its location. And really, in this case, why would you want to? Goulburn is such a pretty town, filled with wonderful old buildings (one of them being the Mandelson’s Hotel, where I stayed), excellent cafes and a giant concrete Marino nicknamed Rambo. And the Goulburn Reader Writer Festival was as warm, friendly and engaging as the town.

Over the course of two days (Sat 12-Sun 13 Nov), I met established writers, aspiring writers, illustrators, teachers and readers of all ages. The enthusiasm for and love of books was overwhelming. The audiences at each session were engaged, enthused, receptive and welcoming. This event was so well organised, even though it was the Goulburn Mulwaree Library’s first go at putting together a full-on literary festival. Rather impressive!

I had the privilege of being on two panels hosted by eminent political cartoonist and author Warren Brown – a man who has harbored a desire to be a children’s author since, at the age of 16, he created a book with meticulously hand-written text and beautiful illustrations. He shared his little blast from the past with the audience of “The Magic of Reading to Children”, a panel which included author/illustrator Tania McCartney and illustrator Danielle McDonald. Then there was “The Digital/Paper Divide: is it real or imaginary”, a pithy discussion which featured author Jenny Bond, author/digital marketing strategist Patrick Lenton and politician/author/train enthusiast Tim Fischer AC. It was some pretty amazing company to be in!

I also had two solo sessions – a story structure workshop and a presentation titled “Becoming a Children’s Author”. Although the workshop was aimed at young people, the grown-ups outnumbered the kids. But any worries I had about this were quickly dispelled, as audience members of all ages eagerly participated in the interactive session. And the presentation went so well, with so many questions at the end, that we ran 15mins overtime (it was the last event of the day, so we were able to do so without encroaching on anyone else’s time).

For me, things finished up with the Literary Lunch on Sunday before I had to head for the airport. This event was a highlight! I had the chance to meet Costa from Gardening Australia (who was presenting at the festival later that day), see the Lieder Theatre Company in action with excerpts from plays by local writers, and hear Tim Fischer wryly comment on networking, political and literary:

It’s all about protocol, vitriol, alcohol, and after a hard day, Panadol.

And then there was the food – it just kept on coming! Seriously, I waddled out of the Council Chambers where the lunch was held.

Oh, and there was a rather spectacular “Fire Show” in the park on Saturday night.

The Goulburn Reader Writer Festival was a wonderfully enjoyable event and the Goulburn Mulwaree Library should be very proud of its achievement. I hope the future holds many more such events for Goulburn.

My sincere thanks to the festival organisers for inviting me. And many thanks also to the wonderful Hazel Edwards for recommending me to them.

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KOALA Honour Award

On Thursday 3 November, You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars got an Honour Award at the KOALAs, NSW’s annual children’s choice awards, in the Fiction for Younger Readers category. How cool is that?

Even cooler… the other Honour Award went to Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice Miranda at Camp. I feel very privileged to be in such great company.

Sadly, I was not able to attend the awards ceremony, so the organisers asked me for a short video acceptance to play on the day. Of course, I couldn’t just record an ordinary thank you speech. Instead, I took inspiration from my book’s title and created a tacky alien invasion vid. Hope you enjoy it…

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Flying Doctors Publication Day

My first picture book, Meet… the Flying Doctors, illustrated by the talented Ben Wood, hits bookstores across Australia today. I’m celebrating with some baklava. :-)

This is a non-fiction, historical picture book that tells the story of Rev John Flynn and the formation of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. On a recent trip to Alice Springs, I made sure to stop by Flynn’s memorial, situated at the foot of Mount Gillen.

To find out more about John Flynn and the Flying Doctors, visiting the RFDS website.

 

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RFDS education

The Royal Flying Doctor Service saves many lives, but medical assistance and outback rescues are not all they do. They also educate. They visit schools and kindergartens, and talk to kids.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting RFDS educator, Tom Ryan and sitting in on his session at Olympic Avenue Kindergarten. He had the kids enthralled with his talk and pictures… and then he took them out to the Aeromedical Simulator — a full-sized replica of an RFDS plane fuselage. The wide-eyed and excited kids got to climb aboard and see, first hand, how patients are looked after in the air.

I also had the chance to talk to these kids about the writing of Meet… the Flying Doctors, which tells the story of John Flynn and the formation of the RFDS. And I read them the book, two weeks before its official release. A wonderful experience!

To find out more about Aeromedical Simulator school incursions, check out the RFDS educational website.

 

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RFDS in the news

The Advocate, Alice Springs – Friday 7 October 2016

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My top 6 reasons for playing Pokémon Go

Or… why it’s good for this 48-year-old children’s author to play a game that involves exploring and collecting.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Pokémon Go, the hottest augmented reality game for mobile phones. It’s the game that lots of people play. It’s also the game that lots of people seem to be complaining about. It involves going around real locations and catching virtual creatures. There is also the option to train your Pokémon and battle them against others.

I’ve been playing it since its release earlier this year. And here are my top six reasons for doing so…

Reason 6: Going outside
It’s not a passive game. You actually need to physically move and leave your place of residence. Different Pokémon inhabit different areas, so the more places you go, the better it is. As a writer, spending too much time at home in front of my computer is an occupational hazard. Anything that gets me out and about is a good thing.

Reason 5: Collecting
I have a bit of a collecting mentality (my wife refers to it as hording). I collect books, DVDs and sonic screwdriver toys (it’s a Doctor Who thing). In the past I’ve collected cinema cups, bubblegum cards, stickers, cigar boxes and film lobby cards. These items cost money and take up lots of space. And the lure of collecting other things always hangs over me. Pokémon Go satisfies my collecting desire without any financial outlay or the taking up of space.

Reason 4: Exploring
As a writer, I love interesting places. Exploring can lead to stories. And Pokémon Go leads you to interesting places. PokéStops (where you pick up extra Pokéballs and other items of use) and PokéGyms (where you train and battle your Pokémon) tend to be located at places of interest — from landmarks to playgrounds; from museums to public art; from memorials to cemeteries. I’ve discovered some fascinating places while playing. It’s particularly good when on holiday or in places you haven’t been before.

Reason 3: Cross-generational common ground
As a kids’ writer, it’s good for me to stay in touch with the interests of young people… and Pokémon Go is a BIG DEAL! It gives me common ground when speaking to my readers. And it gives me common ground with my own kids. I’ve had a lovely time bonding with my eldest daughter while out hunting Pokémon.

Reason 2: Social situations
Pokémon Go is the perfect solution to awkward social situations…
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I’d love to continue this conversation but I need to evolve my Bulbasaur and power up my Jigglypuff.”

Reason 1: FUN!
Above all else… Pokémon Go is heaps of FUN!

So, to fellow Pokémon Go players, may I say: Go Team Instinct!

To the detractors I say: Dislike it if you must, but give those of us who do like it, the respect to like what we like.

And to the undecided: Give it a go! You’ve got nothing to lose and you may just evolve an interest (See what I did there?). :-)

My current stats…
Name: FanboyGeorge
Team: Instinct
Buddy: Bulbasaur
Level: 16
XP: 121580
Pokedex: 65
Highest CP: Vaporeon, CP983

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Cover Reveal – YOU CHOOSE 11 & 12

Time to unveil the AWESOME covers for the upcoming You Choose books – Creepy Crawly Chaos and City of Robots. As always, thank you to the talented James Hart.

These books will hit the stores on 3 January 2017!

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Belated Book Week and MWF post

It’s been an insanely busy couple of months. Book Week is always a busy time of year for children’s authors, but this year things extended well into the preceding and following weeks. I was also presenting on the children’s program of the Melbourne Writers Festival, which was the week after Book Week. Plus, in the middle of all this, I had to finish off You Choose Book 12, while also going through editorial feedback on You Choose Book 11 and doing re-writes.

As I said… insanely busy!

I’ve finally handed in Book 12 to my publisher. So now I’m catching up on things. Like this blog post. :-)

Book Week was extraordinary this year. I had more bookings than ever before. Five schools and sixteen sessions during the actual week, with a further six schools and twenty-four sessions in the surrounding weeks (+ a week-long residency 3 weeks prior).

The big thing I noticed this year was a jump in recognition. I’ve spent many years as an author, writing away in relative obscurity. I would show up to school visits, with only a few of the kids knowing my books. That’s been slowly changing over the last few years thanks to the popularity of the You Choose series and the Royal Flying Doctor Service books. But there was a noticeable leap this year, with most kids at least having heard of my books. That was pretty cool!

I managed to get a cold just before Book Week and ended up straining my voice on the first day. Subsequent sessions were considerably more softly spoken than what I’m used to doing. I had to forego my motto of “Microphone? I don’t need no stinking microphone!” But I managed to adapt.

Book Week highlights included…

  • Visiting my old school. Always a pleasure!
  • Getting freaked out by a giant poster of my face in a library window.
  • Having in-depth discussions with kids about how awesome Doctor Who is and why everyone should be playing Pokemon Go.
  • Grossing out high school kids by reading the opening scene from my story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas. (It’s about stolen eyeballs.)
  • Giving some excited kids a preview of You Choose Book 11.
  • Wearing my TARDIS jacket and carrying my favourite Doctor Who book (Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth) in a school book parade.

And then there was the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. My first time as a presenter. Mega exciting! I did a sold out session on how to write interactive fiction. The response from the kids was extraordinary, with a whole bunch of them following me down to the festival bookstore for a signing after it was over.

My one regret about the festival was not being able to attend more of it as an audience member. I had an artists pass but couldn’t use it as much as I would have liked. On the day I presented, I attended as many sessions as I could. And I came in briefly on a couple of other days. But beyond that, I had to miss out because of post-Book Week school visits and deadlines. :-(

Festival highlights included…

  • Illuminae authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff talking about dying in space and weird dreams and personal spaceship designers and a Disney princess with a gun shooting holes in their book and… a lack of pants.
  • Game Changers authors Leena van Deventer and Dan Golding talking about computer games. Writing one of these looks like a similar process to writing a You Choose book… just way more complicated.
  • Hunting Pokemon around Federation Square.
  • The Artists Party. OMG… the food! OMG… the cocktails! OMG… the view from the 35th floor of the Sofitel!

My sincere thanks to all the schools that booked me for visits, and to the organisers of the MWF for inviting me along this year. Despite my crazed schedule, vocal limitations and lack of spare time… I had an absolute ball! I can only hope that future years will be as much fun.

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Upcoming anthologies

As a reader, I love short stories. They give me the ability to experience a complete tale in one sitting, when I have limited time up my sleeve.

As a writer, I love short stories. They give me the chance to experiment. And I love the challenge of getting a story, characters and setting across in a limited number of words.

Five anthologies containing some of my writing are scheduled for publication before the end of 2016 – four short stories and one piece of creative non-fiction. So here’s a bit of a preview and cover reveal.

“Many Dogs, One Bone”

This story will be featured in Dog Stories, to be published by Penguin Random House in November. This is a kids’ science fiction story about a little robot dog on wheels, some vicious robot Dobermans that are after it, and a boy in a wheelchair.

Alex had never been able to walk or run. He had spent most of his life in a wheelchair, getting around by turning the wheels with his hands. He was pretty good at it. In fact, he was GREAT at it. He was the fastest kid on his wheelchair basketball team.

“Guardian of Tears”

This story will be featured in Cat Stories, to be published by Penguin Random House in November. This is a kids’ fantasy about a young girl upset by her classmates’ reaction to her new short hair cut, and a very special cat that helps her come to terms with the situation.

‘All cats are guardians of one sort or another. Some are guardians of ordinary things. They protect homes against rats and mice. But some are special. They guard our dreams, our happiness, our secrets.’ She looked down at the black cat. ‘This one is the Guardian of Tears.’

“Pudding Prize”

This story will be featured in A Toy Christmas, to be published by Christmas Press in November. This is a kids’ story about the contents of a Christmas pudding and a young girl’s relationship with her great grandmother.

Great-Gran’s gaze took on a far-away look. ‘Many years ago, when I was young, I was given a matryoshka by my great-grandmother. She lived in Russia and I never met her, but she had it made especially for me and she sent it to me. It was very beautiful and I loved it very much. But then my parents gave me a younger brother and he lost it.’ She shrugged, a twinkle in her eye. ‘Family.’

“An Eye For an Eye”

This story will be featured in The X-Files: Secret Agendas, an officially licensed book based on the television series The X-Files, to be published by IDW Publishing in September. In this story, Scully and Mulder investigate a bizarre series of assaults that leave victims with a missing eyeball and memory loss.

‘Mulder,’ said Scully, dropping the papers onto the desk, the tiniest bit of frustration creeping into her otherwise smooth voice. ‘There are no reported UFO sightings even remotely connected with this case. No one saw any lights in the sky. No one heard any strange noises. You are clutching at straws. This is just a case of missing eyeballs.’

Mulder smiled. ‘You say that as if missing eyeball cases are run of the mill.’

“Life is Not a Dream”

This is not a short story. It’s piece of creative non-fiction that will be featured in Outside In: Boldly Goes, a collection of essays about classic Star Trek, to be published by ATB Publishing in November. My essay evaluates the musical contribution of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, in the guise of a proposal for a new musical production of Star Trek.

If you look beyond the tired performances, the poor visual effects, the appalling dialogue and the pedestrian direction, you’ll find a hidden gem — a musical gem.

I am eagerly anticipating the publication of each of these anthologies. And I am looking forward to contributing to more in the future. I really do love short stories!

Short Story Markets

If you’re interested in writing, I reckon that short stories are a great way of honing your skills and getting those initial publications. There are lots of great short story markets out there.

If you like writing for children, you really can’t go past the NSW Department of Education’s School Magazine. There are four different mags, aimed at different age groups, and they publish heaps of fiction.

If you’re into science fiction and fantasy, then take a look at Aurealis. This mag regularly publishes short stories.

Publishers often also open up anthologies for submissions. It’s worth doing a regular Google search to see what’s around at any given time.

So get writing!

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Footy newb no more

Last Saturday I went to my first ever AFL game. But why in the world would a committed non-sports person like me go to a footy match?

I’ve never followed the AFL. I’ve never barracked for any team. I’ve never had any interest in watching sports of any kind. Frankly, I’ve never really had much interest in playing them either.

It was the writing of You Choose 7: Super Sports Spectacular that first led me to broaden my horizons. I decided to write this book because fans were asking for it. Whenever I did school visits, kids would ask me when I was going to write a sports themed You Choose book. Knowing very little about sports, I had to do a lot of research for this book. Aside from looking up the rules of each sport featured in the book, I also watched lots of YouTube vids of various sporting highlights. Watching all those slam-dunks, volley kicks and speckies was fun.

After the book was published, it occurred to me that I had never been to an AFL match. Footy is such a quintessentially Aussie thing and I, born and bred in this wonderful country, had never been to an AFL match. I decided it was time to rectify this. After all, even if I didn’t enjoy watching the game, it would still make an interesting cultural experience — Straylin culcha, mate!

So, when friends asked if I’d like to go to the footy with them, I said YES!

Neither my wife nor two daughters have any interest in football either, but we decided to throw ourselves into the experience. We were going with North Melbourne supports… so we made sure to get decked out in their colours. I donned a jersey, beanie and feather boa in the blue and white of the mighty Roos and, after an explanation of the rules by friend Michael McGoldrick, set out (in a crowded train full of footy fans) for Etihad Stadium.

North Melbourne played St Kilda… and won! Yay team!

Despite my lack of investment in a team (even though I was dressed in North Melbourne colours, I really didn’t care who won), I found myself being sucked into the game and carried away with the excitement of it all .

My eldest daughter was thriled to discover multiple PokeStops (with lure after lure being set off) within the stadium and lots of Pokemon to be caught. So I spent the first half of the game with divided attention, catching Pokemon between kicks. For those of you into Pokemon Go, I was astonished to see so many water Pokemon in a sports stadium — particularly flabbergasted by the Magikarp. :-)

Aside from the game itself and the Pokemon, I was also entertained by the crowd. Watching people’s reactions to the game was fascinating.  Spectators are obviously extremely invested in the performance of their team. Excited! Loud! Emotional! Often a little over-the-top. Sometimes a little unhinged (one could argue).

I was amazed by how unforgiving some of the fans were of their own team — yelling abuse at players who were doing their best under great pressure. Being human, they sometimes made mistakes. They were not making those mistakes on purpose. Yet so many fans seemed to take those mistakes as a personal affront, cutting no slack, forgetting the brilliant play that same player may have made just minutes before.

Being detached gave me an advantage. I could appreciate the skills of both sides. I spent a lot of time wondering what goes through the players’ minds as they make their split-second decisions… pass or kick, run or feint, keep the ball or get rid of it. Some observations…

  • The North Melbourne dude with the wild hair (Ben something-or-other) was the standout player.
  • The Saints were a lot more ‘on player’ in style.
  • The Roos were way better kickers.
  • There seemed to be quite a sense of team spirit amongst the players from both teams. It was actually quite touching when one North Melbourne player handed over a free kick to Brent Harvey, just so he could score a goal in his historic 427th match.

I felt sorry for the umpires — their job is so dependant on judgment calls. Such a tough job, but no mercy from the crowd. They are the vital participants who, no matter what, just cannot win — abuse constantly being hurled at them for their decisions. But I cheered for them… ‘cause there wouldn’t be a game without them. Yay umpires!

All of this now begs the question — have I been converted? Am I now a footy fan?

No! Despite enjoying the experience, I am not suddenly going to start watching the footy each week. I feel no great desire to pick a team to barrack for. But…

I don’t think that I will ever again be quite so dismissive of another person’s sporting interests as I may have been in the past. This was such an exciting and upbeat experience for me as a non-fan; so I can now understand and respect how much more exciting and meaningful an experience it would be for a sports fan.

And I would not be adverse to attending another game. :-)

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Whitsunday Voices 2016

Whitsunday Anglican School in Mackay certainly knows how to host one heck of a great Youth Literature Festival. Two days of presentations and workshops with fifteen authors and illustrators, attended by thousands of students from schools all over the region.

As one of the speakers, I spent two days feeling like a rock star, speaking to packed theatres and signing autographs for long lines of kids (and some grown-ups). I don’t think I would have made it through without the student minders who looked after me. They made sure I was where I was supposed to be at all times, insured that I was fed and watered, and even went to retrieve things that I kept leaving all about the place.


I had a pretty packed schedule, but I did manage to see a couple of presentations from other authors. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff did a joint talk about their Illuminae books, which kept an entire marquee full of teenagers completely entranced. ‘Twas a very educational presentation, in which I learned all about crashing spaceships and how to die in a vacuum. I will be forever scarred by the mental image of moisture boiling away on the surface of a human eyeball. Thanks guys!

I also got to hear poet Harry Laing presenting a professional development session for teachers, about getting kids writing poetry. Passionate and engaging, he had an entire lecture theatre of teachers eagerly taking notes. I was particularly captivated by the idea of verb poems, and the examples he read out, that had been written by young students, were truly inspiring. I came away from his presentation thinking that maybe even I could write poetry.

Everything finished up on the Friday night with what has to be the most glamorous literary dinner I have ever attended. As the doors to the Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre opened, we were greeted by an image straight out of a fairytale – all glittering lights and stacked Champagne glasses. There was magic in the air and a buzz amongst attendees.

Entertainment included an extraordinary poetic, beat-boxing, rapping, Shakespearian performance by Matthew Caffoe (Mashed Theatre); and a thoughtful and engaging address by ABC radio presenter, author and former Doug Anthony Allstar, Richard Fidler. I went a little bit fan-boy on Richard and had a selfie taken with him.

As one of the many people currently obsessed with playing Pokémon Go, I was VERY pleased to be alerted to the fact that there three PokéStops within the dining room by PokéMaster and fellow-author Oliver Phommavanh. I managed to catch a few Pokémon over the course of the dinner, including a Spearow in my Champagne. :-)

Thank you to the organisers of the festival for giving Mackay such a wonderful event. And for inviting me to be a part of it all. You people ROCK!

I also got the chance to spend a little extra tine in Mackay, hanging with friends, being a Show & Tell exhibit for my friend Darcy and her grade 4 class at Mackay West State School, meeting a whistling tarantula (it was dead… thank goodness) and hunting for more Pokémon. Good times!

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Totally Awesome ZOMBIE Experience!

Wow! I just had the most mind-blowing experience. I spent this morning fighting zombies! And it was AWESOME!

Zero Latency is a company that’s running the world’s first multiplayer free-roam Virtual Reality (VR) experience… and it’s in Melbourne. So I got together with some friends for a group booking, zombie-killing experience.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the story involves you and your team having to fight your way through zombies and rebels to a drop ship which will take you to safety. There are multiple levels to get through in this first-person-shooter style game, and it is a high-octane, thrill-ride of an experience.

I’m not up on the tech aspects of it all. So in layman’s terms… you get kitted out with a backpack, VR goggles, headphones and a BIG gun; and then put in a warehouse space so you don’t bang into any walls (there are also safety measures to make sure you don’t hit into anything real). The immersion is surprisingly real. The graphics and sound are amazing. There are even some physical effects. Let me tell you, when I had to cross a narrow bridge over a sheer drop (there are fans set up so you feel like you are caught in a crosswind), my heart was genuinely pounding with fear.

It costs $88 per person per session (about 45-50 minutes in game) and you have to be at least 13 years old to play. You can book a group of six (max), or you can book individually. I would highly recommend getting a group of friends together. Playing together as a team was a big part of the experience.

My friends and I don’t do things my halves. We all dressed up for the occasion and took lots of pics. This is our team…




And as a last resort, if your teammates are all dead and you’re cornered by the advancing zombie hordes, it helps to have a vortex manipulator…

Let me say this one more time – this was a totally AWESOME experience! I will definitely be doing it again.

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