Thursday, 17 July 2014

Myth & Magic - Conference Reflections Part 2

We had two further keynote speakers: fantasy author Michael Pryor and New Zealand Children's Book of the Year winner Ted Dawe. These two speakers were as diverse as Joe Bennett and Dame Fiona Kidman, but of course in entirely different ways. Michael spoke of five kinds of magic and Ted of the round about way he discovered writing.

Michael Pryor

Michael spent the whole week with us in Rotorua as he had traveled all the way from Melbourne. He arrived two nights before the conference began and joined us for dinner after 12 hours of travel. It was immediately apparent that he is charming, kind and sincere - his popularity was instant!
Michael spoke of discovering magic in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew and I was immediately hooked. When I first read the novel, Polly was the first character with my name who didn't do silly things like sitting in cinders or eating crackers.
What engaged me the most was when Michael spoke of world building in fantasy writing. I had never considered the investment needed to fully flesh out a new world before delving in. Michael mentioned one writer friend who had spent years creating a huge map of his fictional world before he even began to write about it - this of course put me in mind of George R. R. Martin who is clearly adept at world building. Listening to Michael speak about world building - climate, currency, units of measurement, fashion, diet - put me in mind of Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and Sheryl Jordan. It made me appreciate their adroit world-building even more deeply as I can still picture Mr Tumnus' burrow down to the rocking chair by the fire, the detailing of Iorek Byrnison's sky-iron armour and Elsha's firestones all these years later - and that is truly magical.

Ted Dawe

Ted was much more a man of mystery. He arrived in time for our conference dinner and after delivering a workshop and his keynote swooped out of the auditorium like Bond himself.
As I said above, Ted came to writing unexpectedly. While living in the UK he wrote regularly to his grandmother. At first his letters were stilted and dull, but soon he found himself writing screes back home to New Zealand. When he returned home and visited his grandmother he discovered she had bound all his letters into a book proudly placed on the coffee table. Once again, not a dry eye on the building.
What I really appreciated about Ted was his no-nonsense approach to writing. After frustration with boys in his classroom who did not want to read, Ted took it upon himself to write something for them, even coercing them into reading chapters in order to gain valuable feedback about swear-words, among other things. This resulted in the very successful Thunder Road. And who buys it most? Teachers and librarians. He writes to fill a niche, address a lack, and it works.
Ted is perhaps infamous more than famous as a result of his last novel, Into the River, which has been controversially classified as R14. While you might think 'that won't stop students from reading it' do bear it mind that it definitely discourages librarians and teachers from buying class-sets. I am yet to read the novel myself but have just bought it and will write about it here when I have finished it. And would you believe the classification office also reviewed Fifty Shades of Grey and did not place it under any restrictions?

All four speakers were edifying, thought-provoking and gracious. Joe Bennett even wrote about his conference experience in his latest column. Capital Letters 2015 have already confirmed three of their keynotes: Glenn Colquhoun, Bernard Beckett and Karen Melhuish Spencer - who I've never heard about but her blog is entitled Disrupt and Transform, sounds promising!

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain


Ms Wilson said...

Have used 'Thunder Road' with a class. Keen to have a look at his latest offering.

Polly Hamilton said...

I have to be honest - I've never read Thunder Road. The story about the cover was interesting to me because it was actually the cover that put me off. But I do know we have a class set so I will pilfer from the resource room on Monday!

Did you find it successful? What kind of students did you use it with?