Suddenly I’m spending time with teens, but they’re not my own two, and I’m talking about writing. Working with the year 12s this past month, and my usual third year university students, I’ve seen close-up what the soon-to-be school leavers will emerge into, just 3 years later when they’re in their early 20s. Bright, with attitude, alert, smart-as. They’re a gen-group that gets bagged a lot for this that and the other, but I say, basically, we’re all pretty similar. Lack of concentration? tick Sometimes selfish? tick Love their gadgets like over 30s city dwellers love small fluffy dogs? tick Love to consume? Who started that bad habit, hey? tick Worried about the state of the environment, and war, and pretty-eyed species going extinct? tick Remember how in the 80s there was so much talk about youth (me back then) being ‘apathetic’. It was the big A all the way then with us. Apparently.
My big challenge this past month has been how to say something really useful about how to write, in 30 minutes, twice, to students who’ve grown up with the larger-than-life characters of film, tele, youtube, phones. It’s been like doing a TEDx, only longer (TEDs speakers have 18 mins max.) The first session was a very well organised Big Day Out for English. In my second presention I focussed on Ways in to Writing Imaginatively. It was with Year 11 and 12 classes from rural NSW, via a live classroom webinar (thanks NBN), and organised by Bridges to Higher Education. It’s open access now, via Bridges’ Youtube channel.
Bridges is a consortium of five universities which provides teaching resources online and in schools, to high schools located in low socio-economic areas. The aim is to assist the students get to university.
I finished up with 3 great writing challenges, which I’ve posted here in the Writing Workshop area. The students’ questions during the Q&A were a hoot. I was even asked to invent a story that I’d write if I had 30 seconds left in an exam. In the less than 30 seconds that I had, I came up with…something about blood, a motorcycle and the importance of plausibility.
Presenters from other universities in the group gave webinars on Responding to, and Writing About, Literature While Finding Your Own ‘Voice’ (Karen Lamb, Australian Catholic University),and Poetry as a Prompt to Think and Feel through Sounds (Tom Lee, University of Western Sydney). Definitely worth viewing, even if you’re long gone from high school.
Lastly, a final question was about favourite writers. Favourite books now, is what I answered with. The tour de force that is Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (Pullitzer Fiction Prize 2011) and young Hannah Kent’s icy, evocative Burial Rites, a true-fiction set in Iceland in the mid 1800s. Egan’s novel starts in a hotel bathroom in New York when a young woman with a compulsive habit nicks another woman’s wallet, then gives it back.
Egan tests and teases so many ‘rules’ about novel writing, with a myriad of characters whose lives intersect in a complex equal to LA highway overpasses on a stormy night in a moody thriller, multiple locations, & chapters shifting forward and backward in time. It’s serious and funny and completely contemporary though most of it is set in the 80s. If you loved Franzen’s The Corrections, you’ll probably love Goon.