Sometimes I experience things that I reckon could easily be worked into a story to add a laugh or pump it with authenticity. I duly store them away in a file, then struggle like anything to find their niche. And fail utterly. I'll share them with the lucky readers of my blog, and I'm more than happy to let people adopt them.
1. A friend came back from her travels and shared her tales and photos. The highlight had been a scenic helipcoper joy ride. "It was really scary - the helicopter had no doors!" The other listeners "ooohed", but I looked blank. "So how'd you get in if it had no doors?" (imagining a hatch underneath). She gave me a pitying look and explained that the cabin was permanently open on one side, to the amusement of the others.
2. It was a joint birthday party - the father was turning 40 and the son 4. The house was full! There were mountains of food. The littlies congregated around the adult table, eating sushi, pesto olives and other delicacies. The blokes hung around the kids' table and munched on chips and franks.
3. When my cat doesn't think I'm watchng, she's good buddies with the cat from next door. They sun themselves on the paving in the backyard, side by side, ocassionally rolling over to toast the other side (it's a tough life). But when I step outside, she immediately takes a swipe towards the other cat's nose. The other cat looks annoyed, but doesn't move. My cat duly lifts herself up and chases the other cat, who looks as if she's thinking "whatever" and saunters away. My cat looks pleased with herself. Clearly, it's her job to keep the yard free of other cats.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I’m the proud auntie of five wonderful nieces and three fabulous nephews. And if you add the three nieces I gained from marrying, then you can see that’s a lot of birthday presents each year!
I mention these people because (good aunt that I am) I’ve just returned from my nieces’ dance concert. Miss 3 and Miss 5 (nearly 6!) were proud to display their ballet skills. With their glittery hair and swishy dresses, they both looked like little princesses – and they knew it. These concerts are a riot, because the very little ones simply have no idea what they are doing. Some have the rabbit-in-headlight look on stage, others overperform. Many just struggle to remember what the heck they are supposed to be doing, and require a gentle prompt from an assistant to twirl or do the next move. At the end of the number, there’s always one kid frozen on stage when the others are thumping off, and the older girl pretends its part of the act as she pirouettes towards the recalcitrant one and shepherds her off. The Awww factor was High!
There were probably eighty or so kids in total, from about 12 classes. Two of whom were boys, and both of whom were the brothers of girls who were regular troupers. The Billy Elliots looked preschool age, and unlikely to have learnt that boys who dance rarely get looked on favourably at school.
My two younger sons came to the concert, as there was no way that Mr 9 was going to watch ballet. Mr 7 thoroughly enjoyed it, he loves music and rhythm and appreciated the story that each of the acts told. He was given the option to leave as soon as his cousin’s piece had finished, but chose to stay to the end (Mr 5 started to nod-off half way). But when I asked Mr 7 if he wanted to learn dance, he responded with a horrified “no way!”. And, yes, there was some relief on my part.
My boys learn Tae Kwan Do. The moves they learn are probably as demanding as the ballet steps, and as rhythmical (but sadly, no music is involved). Both sports are great exercises, build strength and flexibility, and challenge them to learn self-discipline and body awareness. Both provide kids with the opportunity to build self-esteem as a result of mastering a centuries-old discipline.
There’s a minority of girls in the Tae Kwan Do class, probably a third, and I think it’s great that girls are being encouraged to learn to defend themselves. I wish I’d had a chance as a child. But on reflection about what my son and I had discussed, I felt uncomfortable. Martial arts are about asserting yourself. Ballet is about pleasing others. It’s ok for girls to take ownership of their bodies through self-defence, but not ok for boys to view their bodies as a means of self expression.
Before I had kids, I imagined that I would minimize sexual stereotyping in my own children, but I realise that has not happened. And my own stereotypical views are more ingrained than I thought. As a result, my gentle, artistic 7 year old boy has well and truly internalised the cultural messages about gender role. Nobody had to tell him “ballet is for girls”, he learnt that all by himself.
Subtle messages are directed at children daily. As a wannabe writer for kids, I need to scrutinise what I am saying in my narratives – or showing. Am I colluding with societal expectations, or am I challenging them? Are there better ways to challenge stereotypes than with a “Sally Soccer Star” type story with an overt message?
Is this something other kids’ writers worry about?
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Sector C by Phoenix Sullivan. Available through Amazon and the usual outlets.
Sector C is a skilfully crafted narrative, a medical thriller. Set a few years into the future, Sector C takes us into a territory that the recent Swine Flu and Bird flu epidemics threatened to but did not did not – a fully blown, species jumping, fast acting pandemic. But instead of being the inevitable outcome of fast mutating viruses, this one was the accidental by-product of genetic engineering by humans.
The story follows Donna and Mike, a vet and an epidemiological investigator brought together when their respective investigations into unusual illnesses merged, and suggested the source of an outbreak. On a ranch with the probable “Patient Zero” they uncover the machinations of a profit-hungry company.
My benchmark for a good story is not just sympathetic main characters – and Sector C has two of those – but three dimensional antagonists. Ms Sullivan has created a gem with Walt Thurman, a man unapologetically prepared to capitalise on the devastation he has inadvertently unleashed, and in Dr Volkov, the geneticist whose research work was directly responsible for the pandemic. I applaud Sullivan for her portrayal of the scientist with a God-complex, simultaneously compassionate and ruthlessly self-interested; devoted to finding a cure, yet prepared to withhold it from those most at need.
Sullivan deftly weaves her story between the personal accounts of families and ranchers devastated by the pandemic; a company in “damage control” (trying to contain the damage to their bottom line, not the population) and the two heroes who find themselves needing to dodge some unexpected creatures. She also paints a frightening picture of a world where no animal or food source can be trusted.
Overall, Sector C is a seamless balance of science and action. Sullivan has a knack of making scientific concepts easily accessible throughout the narrative without bogging the pace or sounding like a text book. Well done!