Today, I attended an Author Appreciation event, held annually since 2011 by Mentone Public Library, an anachronism in the modern world of libraries but a valued community asset in existence for over 90 years.
(Along with others in Mordialloc Writers’ Group I helped them celebrate their 90th birthday!)
Julia Reichstein (Media & Events Officer) and Tony Brooker (President), the dynamic volunteer duo keep the library relevant in the 21st century (the books are not computerised and operate on the Dewey system with many bought by request of registered members and therefore perhaps considered dated or not popular). They revived interest in the library by encouraging local authors to speak, promote their books, and talk about their writing process.
JM Yates, the author of The Vine Bleeds, a story about the consequences and survival of domestic violence returned to receive her appreciation award.
as did Danae Andrea Harwood author of The Writers Runway, who I snapped sitting with ex-mayor and councillor, and longtime Mentone Library and local writers’ supporter, Bill Nixon.
The opportunity to buy signed copies of author books also a popular aspect of the morning.
Before George began his presentation we heard from two talented emerging writers who have presented over the years and let us share in their writing journey from high school: Joe Bosa and Jessi Hooper.
Murray Thomson MLA introduced the day by suggesting the collective noun for the writers, readers, and historians present may be ‘an exultation’. He quoted classical poet Horace – “My memorial is done: it will outlast bronze” and added that indeed monuments like the pyramids may eventually be reduced to sand but words can last thousands of years.
Murray had researched Jessi and Joe to give the audience a sense of who they were and their inspiration for writing. He asked for their favourite quotes.
Jessi quoted Anne Frank:
Whoever is happy will make others happy too… those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery.
Joe’s quote from George R.R. Martin’s, A Dance with Dragons:
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.
The future of local writing is in great hands!
Jessi read a short prose poem entitled Trapped Under Water and Joe read from a revised manuscript of a fantasy novel written in Year 11 about a magical high school.
When George was introduced to talk about his latest series, including his 100th published book, he commented on how his life has been interwoven with Joe and Jessi (six degrees of separation): Joe attended his old school and Jessi attends the same school as George’s oldest daughter.
Pointing out these connections important, as we learnt later in his presentation!
George is an entertaining presenter – he engages with his audience, is generous with his writing tips, reads his work with enthusiasm and shares his love of all things literary whether it is children’s books, young adult novels or his fascination with pop culture, particularly Dr Who!
His latest series is about the iconic Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service – books that reflect our country’s history and allow readers to live the adventure.
The RFDS has a rich and vibrant history, starting with the dream of a Presbyterian minister, Reverend John Flynn. Ordained in 1911, Flynn initially worked in rural and remote Australia setting up hostels and bush hospitals for pastoralists, miners, road workers, railwaymen and other settlers. He witnessed the daily struggle of pioneers living in remote areas and his vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for people of the bush.
On 15 May 1928, his dream became a reality when a long time supporter, H.V. McKay, left a large bequest for ‘an aerial experiment’. This enabled Flynn to open the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service in Cloncurry, Queensland (later to be renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service).
George was also commissioned to write a factual picture storybook in a historical series Meet … he had to write about the RFDS in a way to connect with young readers.
We were lucky he had brought that book along too. He read a snippet to tease us but also to explain how he had to discover a ‘through line’ to connect the beginning and end of the story, a technique he uses for all his writing.
He has the main character, a young boy state at the beginning about Dr Flynn ‘he saved my life…’ An explanation of Dr Flynn and the historical context follows and the book ends with the child explaining the how and why his life was saved because of the RFDS!
George is an author and stay-at-home dad and in his own words 2016 ‘has been a great productive year’. He has a new series on the horizon and the theme of his talk today was Connection. (I told you all would be revealed!)
Connections with stories, to real life experiences and how his writing comes about. The RFDS series was his publisher’s idea. He had mentioned to Random House that he was interested in doing licence writing – he loves pop culture and has been influenced by X-Files – and he thought of TV and Movies.
However, his publisher did a deal with RFDS for four books. These would be different from George’s usual interactive You Choose Adventure books, which are totally imaginative and not realism.
The RFDS would have to be factually accurate regarding medical matters and locations, involving a lot of research. Fortunately, George and his family had a holiday already planned to drive to Uluru and so he was able to do research along the way. Publishers do not pay for research trips!
The tales of his holiday, research, and inspiration were very entertaining and insightful. We were engrossed – in fact, spellbound – especially of the process of exploring aviation plus medicine and its impact on rural Australians and turning it into an adventure series!
The books each have a main medical ’emergency/adventure’: broken leg plus concussion in one, appendicitis and complications in another, premature birth and a snake bite in the third book and a rare genetic liver condition in the last book.
Too much research and finding out all things medical can be confronting – George confessed how glad he was not knowing the dangers of a burst appendix when his oldest daughter had appendicitis, but now lives in dread his youngest daughter or even himself will suffer appendicitis!
Meanwhile, the holiday road trip, which turned into a research trip, gave George a lot of storylines and great ideas. He showed us holiday snaps he’d enlarged and explained how he’d been inspired.
At Port Augusta in South Australia, he was able to visit the RFDS base at 8.00am on a Sunday. He chatted with staff, sat on a plane, lay on one of the beds, got the feel of being a pilot, doctor, passenger, patient…
He had flown in light aircraft before, knew they had smoother landings and take-offs than jets but these planes had passenger seats replaced by a mini-hospital. The series taught him how valuable it is to experience what you write about like visiting outback locations and sitting on the planes.
At Leigh Creek, South Australia, George was fascinated by signs and unusual relics from the past. The sign on the male toilet ‘decapitated’, the KISS ice block in the freezer (who knows how long that had been there!), and the chalked sign outside the Leigh Creek Tavern with a quote from Dr Who, “Care for a jellybean?”Even the name of the cafe ‘Open Cut’.
All interesting prompts to trigger story ideas – especially the Dr Who quote – George admitted that one of his writing quirks is to include a Dr Who reference in all his stories. (Now there’s a challenge for pop culture nerds – you have a hundred books to get through!)
The town has suffered from the closure of the mine and dwindling population and the SA Tourist Association is keen to revive its fortunes. They flew George and his publisher into the town to launch the book at the school. Inspired by the location, they hope the book will lift the profile of Leigh Creek.
It certainly had the feel of the last place of civilisation, yet ironically, the only part of the town to feature in the book was the airport – a spot George didn’t visit – and it showed. His research of the airport relied on Google maps and he put a vending machine in the storyline where no vending machine exists! Oops!
(He discovered the blooper when they flew in for the book launch!)
The next stop for a location was Farina and George held up more photos, including the inevitable selfie. Farina is a ghost town and the ideal setting for numerous stories. The minute they arrived, George knew a story must be set in the town among deserted, crumbling buildings.
They camped in a nearby campsite but when he explored he had the town to himself. The first building being what is left of the Transcontinental Hotel. In one disintegrating room, the drop into a cellar is dangerous. There are no signs, the town is out of mobile range, deserted – if something happened in this dangerous, isolated place…?
When his daughters accompanied him, he spent the time saying ‘be careful’as they played chasie in and out crumbling structures. The story came to him of an accident in the town, but not of children being hurt – the book would be too short if an adult was on hand.
Instead, he thought about the adult getting hurt (falling and snapping a leg) and the children having to work out a rescue plan. Story writing is all about tension and building the reader’s anticipation.
The dry ground between the town and campsite baked and cracked – like walking on a sponge. There was an old abandoned car. He loves walking at night and so returned to the town at night and it was oppressively dark because of hardly any moonlight. He included his wander as a scene in the book – a connection with real life again! One of his characters likes to walk at night.
The family continued on their holiday and the plots for the book series continued to form. The notorious Oodnadatta Track attempted without a four wheel drive. Three flat tyres later George knew he had to give characters the experience of flat tyres!
At last, they arrived at Coober Pedy famous for opals and underground homes and hotels. George wanted to set a story in this internationally famous town, especially when he discovered there was a drive-in cinema still operating and nearby in a carpark was an abandoned spaceship, disintegrating but still recognisable and huge!
(In the photo above George is the tiny black figure on the left.)
He discovered the spaceship was a prop left behind several years ago when a sci-fi movie was made. There are a lot of films and TV shows made in and around Coober Pedy, the landscape is interesting and intriguing. One side of the road there are stones with reflective minerals (mica?) embedded that sparkle in the sunlight. On the other side of the road, the soil is dull. It is a town of surprises and contrasts.
George set the book in the drive-in theatre and chose to make the story about a film event rather than opals and mining, which most of the stories set in Coober Pedy are about.
George read an extract, set at night, with characters scared at what seemed to be a haunted drive-in. Inexplicably, the string of Christmas lights behind him started to flash. We laughed – how spooky! Was he channelling the ghost town, Farina, or Coober Pedy?
Jokes aside, the point made by George important for writers – do your own research through experience if you can. Whether history, characters or location, it will enrich your imagination. If he had relied solely on the tourist information available, he would have written another opal mining story.
The third book is set in WA in a town George visited in the past but his memory is hazy on details so he didn’t make the town a character.
The final book is based on a real-life story about a boy born with a rare genetic disease. The research involved many conversations on the phone with the boy’s father. George allowed him to read the first draft to ensure he’d got facts right.
The boy had to be flown by the RFDS from Adelaide to Melbourne for a life-saving liver transplant. The book focuses on the lightbox treatment the boy needed to stay alive; his exposure to UV rays for 6-8 hours a day up until puberty when that treatment loses its effectiveness and a transplant is the only option.
The through-line linking the beginning and end of this story is a time travel reference. In the beginning, while he is in the lightbox, the son wishes he could time travel like the character in a book from the library. The father mentions this at the end of the story.
In the book about rescue from the ghost town, the family returns at the end to ‘lay ghosts of the accident to rest’.
In another book, the young girl stares into the eyes of the surgeon trying to work out who the eyes belong to and at the beginning of the story there is mention of the colour of eyes.
Links, connections, research hints and then George gave us a glimpse into his next 4 book series where the characters will travel through doorways into other worlds.
An entertaining and enlightening morning. George Ivanoff once again gave generously of his time and writing craft practice.
Julia announced that the local author events will resume in May next year – keep a look out on the library’s website – for what I am sure will be a great line-up.
Each year Julia writes and performs an amusing song about the ‘literary’ year. Accompanied by Tony on the ukelele, today was no exception.
Julia also handwrites her author appreciation notes – below is the kind message on mine.
On behalf of local authors, I expressed OUR appreciation – well done Julia and Tony –
here’s to a great 2017!