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.
My current stats…
Highest CP: Vaporeon, CP983
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.’
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.’
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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…
Let me say this one more time – this was a totally AWESOME experience! I will definitely be doing it again.
Time for cake and Champagne! I’ve hit 100 published books!
Today is Publication Day for my latest You Choose books — You Choose 9: Extreme Machine Challenge and You Choose 10: In the Realm of Dragons.
In the Realm of Dragons is officially my 100th published book. I cannot describe just how excited I am by this. It is definitely cause for celebration. So in addition to the usual Publication Day cake with which I mark the occasion of a newly released book (made a New York Baked Cheesecake), today I also have a special bottle of Champagne.
A good bottle of Champagne is best shared. And who better to share it with than family. My wife Kerri has been instrumental in my writing career. She has read and commented on each of those 100 books (as well as those that never saw the light of day) – proof read, made insightful suggestions and saved me from some pretty embarrassing mistakes. My parents have encouraged and supported my writing career every step of the way, and always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be.
The grand total of books is in great part due to my writing for the education market. Of my 100 books, 82 are educational publications: school readers, non-fiction books and fiction tied to the Australian curriculum. These books are not generally found in bookstores, as they are marketed directly to schools and libraries. People rarely take notice of the individual authors, as they tend to be published as sets, with multiple authors working on any one series. You certainly don’t get famous by writing for the education market. But these books are so important to young readers, helping them to learn and practice their reading, introducing them to new ideas and concepts, taking what they are learning in the classroom and putting it into a wider context. I am very proud of my contribution to this area of publishing.
And I am elated at hitting 100 books.
There are, of course, more books on the way. So here’s to the next 100!
With books 9 and 10 in the You Choose series due for release very soon, it is with much excitement that I begin work on books 11 and 12.
11! AND! 12!
I’m still pinching myself just to make sure it’s not all a dream.
Although it all begins with scribbles in a notebook, things really kick off with a wonderfully unencumbered surface for me to plan on. What others may see as a blank, empty whiteboard, I see as a world of possibilities… just waiting for me to fill in the details.
But I’m not the only one who loves the blank whiteboard. My youngest daughter, Lexi, usually fills the board with drawings before I start, leaving me to position my plans around the artwork until I eventually have to begin deleting it… bit by bit.
The detailed planning is now underway for book 11, which has the working title of Creepy Crawly Chaos. Rather appropriately, Lexi drew a spider.
Book 12 is only in the preliminary planning stages… that is, a bunch of not all together comprehensible rough notes. But I can promise that there will be gigantic rampaging robots.
The books are tentatively scheduled for publication early next year.
I love my job!
This long weekend I’ll be attending Continuum 12 in Melbourne. An annual fan run speculative fiction and pop culture convention, Continuum is always a BLAST! I’ll be speaking on four different panels as well as hosting The Great Debate (Topic: Magic can cure all ours ills) and Whose Monologue is it Anyway? (a game show style event in which contestants try to guess the origin of film/tv monologues as performed by a group of ‘actors’). Should be lots a fun!
For those of you who are interested, I’ll be speaking on the following panels…
- Australian TV (Fri, 5pm)
- Books That Changed My Life (Sat, 10am)
- Children’s Books (Mon, 11am)
- Cross-Generational Appeal (Mon, 12noon)
Guests of honour for the event are author Kylie Chan (Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle trilogies) and graphic novel author/illustrator Queenie Chan (The Dreaming and Fabled Kingdom). I’m very much looking forward to hearing them speak.
Continuum 12 is being held at the Jasper Hotel in Melbourne from Friday 10 – Monday 13 June. Check out the website for more details.
Informative and inspiring! Last week I attended my first ever Children’s Book Council of Australia conference. It was such an amazing experience. With a theme of READ: MYRIAD POSSIBILITIES, it was held in Sydney over two days (20-21 May). Authors, illustrators, publishers and teacher-librarians came together to discuss the topic closest to their hearts — books for young people.
I was privileged to speak on the “Myriad Possibilities to Hook Young Readers” panel with Deborah Abela and Jack Health, chaired by the eminently entertaining James Roy. We talked about our inspiration, how we go about engaging young readers and some less relevant things, including Jack’s attempts to make nachos with corn flakes when he ran out of corn chips. Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that the conversation eventually turned to Doctor Who and my sonic screwdriver collection. People seemed rather entertained to discover that I carry a sonic screwdriver toy around with me; and amused by it falling apart when I grabbed it out of my bag. Much Tweeting ensued over the fact that I had a second with which to ‘repair’ the first.
I enjoyed the experience of being a speaker at the conference and getting the opportunity to meet and talk with so many wonderful teacher-librarians. But I also got a lot out of being an attendee, listening to the other speakers discussing the myriad possibilities of reading. There was such a diversity and depth to the programming. I’ve come away from the conference filled with inspiration. I want to write more! I want to spend more time talking with kids in schools! I want to spread the word about reading and just what an important, life-enhancing, empathy-building, mind-expanding, joy it is!
There were so many highlights.
- The announcement of this year’s awards shortlist. Check it out!
- Meeting Graeme Base.
- Hanging out at the bar with other authors.
- Listening to Melissa Keil, Gabrielle Tozer, Ellie Marney and Will Kostakis discuss “Myriad Possibilities for YA Readers” left me wanting to read all their books and pick up a pen to start writing some YA (it’s been a while).
- After hearing Julie Hunt and Dale Newman talk about their graphic novel Kidglovz, I literally ran down to the conference bookshop to purchase a copy.
- Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro had me in fits of laugher as they discussed their picture book collaboration process. These two need to put together a stand-up routine for the next Comedy Festival.
And then there was Leigh Hobbs. The amazing author/illustrator, Leigh Hobbs. Australian Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs. He really struck a cord with me, speaking about some of his experiences, which were both humorous and emotional. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when he related the story of the autistic boy who discovered joy in drawing. The perfect speech!
As a side note, conference organiser Margaret Hamilton used to be a publisher. Way back in 1999 she published my very first book, a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention. Finding a print-out of the book cover, she brought it along to the conference for me. What a wonderful blast from the past! Thank you, Margaret, for publishing that book and for setting me on the path to my writing career.
Many thanks to the CBCA for a brilliant conference. And for inviting me to be a speaker.
While in Sydney, I took to the opportunity to do a bit of touristy stuff, attend the “Science Fiction meets Science Fact” session at the Sydney Writers Festival (presented by author Sean Williams and astronomer Fred Watson) and have a meeting with my publisher (Exciting times ahead!).
But now I’m back in Melbourne. And it’s back to writing.
I love picture books. I have read LOTS of them to my daughters over the years and I’ve also read LOTS of them for my own pleasure. There is something about the story telling power of words and pictures combined that is utterly magical.
I have long harbored an ambition to write picture books. After many years of trying, I finally have one being published! And I can reveal the cover…
Meet… The Flying Doctors is part of a series of historical picture books published by Random House. The other titles are:
- Meet… Ned Kelly, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Matt Adams
- Meet… Mary MacKillop, written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Sonia Martinez
- Meet… Captain Cook, written by Rae Murdie and illustrated by Chris Nixon
- Meet… Nancy Bird Walton, written by Grace Atwood and illustrated by Harry Slaghekke
- Meet… Douglas Mawson, written by Mike Dumbleton and illustrated by Snip Green
- Meet… the ANZACs, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Max Berry
- Meet… Don Bradman, written by Coral Vass & illustrated by Brad Howe
- Meet… Sidney Nolan, written by Yvonne Mes & illustrated by Sandra Eterovic
- Meet… Banjo Paterson, written by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock
- Meet… Nellie Melba, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Claire Murphy
- Meet… Weary Dunlop, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Jeremy Lord
I am so pleased and excited to be in such esteemed company.
I am also over-the-moon about the illustrations in my volume, by Ben Wood. Ben is an amazing artist with lots of books to his credit. Check out his website.
Meet… The Flying Doctors was a joy to research and write, and I await its publication in October with much excited anticipation.
Books 3 and 4 in my RFDS series hit the shelves today – Medical Mission and Fast Flight. I’m celebrating, as always, with cake (it’s my little Publication Day tradition). A LOT OF CAKE! I have a Russian background (you’d never guess with a name like Ivanoff), and this past weekend was Russian Easter… so I’ve got lots of my mum’s Easter cakes to get through.