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Reading, Wellington, and whatever else – teenblog@wcl.govt.nz

Category: Writing Page 3 of 4

A Comprehensive History of Film Dialogue from the past 30 years

It is what the title says it is!

So when you write your first (?) film be sure to mention the title in the script.

New Books

Here are this week’s new books. Further to the First Sentence idea we have added an arbitrary rating of hooks (based on how well the first sentence hooks you in (you see)). The hook looks like this – fishhook. So there’s one fishhook for a pretty meh first line, and fishhookfishhookfishhookfishhookfishhook for the sentence that makes you want to keep reading.

Fire on High, by David Hill (127 pages) – Jonno wins a trip to South America to watch a solar eclipse. While there he becomes alarmed at the increasing civil unrest, and is keen to return home. His return flight, however, is hijacked …

First line: ‘At exactly 10.43 a.m., the sun started to turn black.’

Deathwatch, by Nicola Morgan (279 pages) – Cat McPherson’s revealed a little too much information about herself online, and now someone’s watching her. Does she realise she’s being stalked? A psychological thriller!

First line: ‘In the hooded darkness, he watches from a high window.’

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith (275 pages) – 1940s Louisiana, and Ida Mae Jones wants to fly. She’s black, so it’s going to be tough. The opportunity to fly presents itself, but she has to pass herself off as a white girl to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and she soon realises that it’s difficult to escape who she really is.

First line: ‘It’s Sunday afternoon, and the phonograph player is jumping like a clown in a parade the way Jolene and I are dancing.

Secret Keeper, by Mitali Perkins (225 pages) – In 1974 when her father leaves New Delhi, India, to seek a job in New York, Asha, a tomboy at the advanced age of sixteen, feels thwarted in the home of her extended family in Calcutta where she, her mother, and sister must stay, and when her father dies before he can send for them, they must remain with their relatives and observe the old-fashioned traditions that Asha hates. [Catalogue description]

First line: ‘Asha and Reet held their father’s hands through the open window.

L. A. Candy : A Novel, by Lauren  Conrad (326 pages) – This book is a semi-autobiographical account of a girl whose internship in L. A. leads to a role in a major reality show. Fame and fortune follow! And perhaps some soul-searching. The book’s author was in The Hills.

First line: ‘Jane Roberts leaned against her dresser, studying the way her white silk nightie looked against her sun-kissed skin.

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater (392 pages) – A supernatural romance with (I think) a werewolf. A possible Twilight substitute, Grimm reckons. A sequel, Linger, is due out in 2010. Also, the entire book is printed in blue ink.

First line: ‘I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

Andromeda Klein : A Novel, by Frank Portman (424 pages) – High school sophomore Andromeda, an outcast because she studies the occult and has a hearing impairment and other disabilities, overcomes grief over terrible losses by enlisting others’ help in her plan to save library books–and finds a kindred spirit along the way. [Library catalogue]. Saving library books is something we can all get behind, I say.

First line: ‘The Universe is huge.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (391 pages) – This is the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy. It’s incredibly popular, so you’d better reserve it now if you haven’t. It‘s set in a post-apocalyptic future where a new, authoritarian government pits teens against one another on television. The third book is due out next year, and a film is in the works.

First line: ‘I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.

Watch The Skies : Daniel X, by James Patterson and Ned Rust (251 pages) – Daniel’s parents were killed by an alien, and he now hunts alien monsters using his uber-powers, which include super-speed and the ability to create anything out of nothing (handy in a pinch).

First line: ‘It was a pretty regular early-summer night at 72 Little Lane.

Dull Boy, by Sarah Cross (308 pages) – Avery has superpowers, but in an attempt to remain anonymous he’ll pretend to be as dull and normal as possible. Of course, every superhero has a villain to deal with …

First line: ‘It’s Friday – another afternoon spent pounding the pavement in search of crimes to stop and people to help.

Blue Moon, by Alyson Noel (289 pages) – This is the second book in the Immortals series (the first one was Evermore). Ever travels to another dimension in an effort to save Damen; she soon must choose between his life, and going back into the past and saving her parents’ lives. Quite a toss-up.

First lines: ‘“Close your eyes and picture it. Can you see it?

Also in!

A Student Writing Guide : How to Plan and Write Successful Essays, by Gordon Taylor (266 pages) – This book would be ideal for anyone at any level who wishes to write a cracking good essay. I recommend it!


If you’re 13 to 19 and a bit of a writer, we have the perfect competition for you : “Re-Draft” – which is run by the Christchurch School for Young Writers.  The best entries each year are published in the school’s annual publication ‘Re-Draft’, and your work might be chosen as the title of the book. That’s right your words, in bright bold colours on the front of the book…

This competition is open to all, and you can enter up to three pieces of work on any subject matter, poems or stories. Jump onto their website for info on the competition and details on how to enter.

Markus Zusak from his Deck Chair

Markus Zusak, who wrote The Book Thief (one of our Most Wanted books for, like, ages), was recently at the Hay Festival in the United Kingdom (which seems to be a celebration of books and chairs, from what I can tell), where he was interviewed while relaxing in a comfortable-looking deck chair. He talks about how he works, what inspired him to write The Book Thief, what it means to have death as a narrator, and a few other bits and pieces. The interview is here (from the Guardian website).

Incidentally, if you’re interested in strange narrators and you liked How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff make sure you read Just In Case, which is narrated by fate – it would make a very interesting point of comparison.

Creative Writing Workshop

If you’re into creative writing you might be interested in this:

There are two special school holiday creative writing workshops happening next Wednesday 22 April at Katherine Mansfield Birthplace (25 Tinakori Road, Thorndon).

Run by award-winning author Janice Marriott, the workshops are a great chance for secondary school students aged 13–15 to develop their skills and ideas in creative writing.

Workshop 1: 9.30–12.30am
Workshop 2 (repeat): 1.30–4.30pm
Cost: $25 per student

Spaces are limited so bookings are essential. To book, call 473 7268 or email kmbirthplace@xtra.co.nz.

Write our content for us

Have you read a book lately that you think other people should read? Or maybe you’ve read a book that you don’t think anyone would want to read? You can review them here, on our newly created and simple-to-use review form.

We will publish all the good reviews (and good bad reviews) that we get.

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is the author of the recent award-winning YA book, The Knife of Never Letting Go (his latest book, The Ask and the Answer, is on order). He is also the first ‘online writer in residence’ for the British charity, Booktrust. Normally a writer in residence gets a house in a nice part of the world to live in and write for a year, a la the Katherine Mansfield prize. An online writer in residence doesn’t get all that, sadly, but Patrick Ness has a very nice blog going. You may also want to check out his tips for new writers.

Just write right

Just Write is a writing programme with a difference. Each year Just Write supports ten young writers around the country to develop their writing and media literacy skills and increase their understanding of global issues, such as poverty, human rights and sustainability. We offer a programme of training and support, including writing workshops and one to one mentoring from a local media professional.

There are lots of benefits to being in this programme. To be eligible you must be between 14 and 18, and live in New Zealand. You can download the application form here (.pdf) by 5pm, Monday, the 16th of February. Which is, oh, only two weeks away.

Writers’ Blogs Part 2: read them for random insights

Last year I did a post about authors who blog (regularly). I’ve dredged up some more, which are rather enlightening (to varying degrees).

John Green, author of Paper Towns, published last year (which we quite liked), writes in a chirpy, humorous, self-deprecating fashion, and even reads comments and comments on them.

Megan McCafferty of Sloppy Firsts fame, has an interesting take on blogging. She’s called hers a (retro)blog, and she includes writing assignments and essays she produced in school (going back to the 1980s). You’ll also find articles she’s written on the Twilight saga, containing a hint that Marcus Flutie (from Sloppy Firsts, not Twilight) is based on a real person (or persons).

Susan Beth Pfeffer, author of the horribly harrowing (really, really) stories about what happens to the earth when the moon is knocked out of orbit by an asteroid (The Dead and the Gone, and Life As We Knew It).

Brent Hartinger updates his regularly (the key to keeping a good blog, that). 

Robin McKinley, author of Beauty and Sunshine (for those vampire fans). I love what she’s called her blog.

Ysabeau S Wilce, author of two of the coolest-titled books ever. Her website is pretty flash, too.

William Kostakis, who kindly responded to our questions last year.

And for those Bear Grylls fans, keep up with what the Bear is up to: http://beargrylls.blogspot.com/ 

Incidentally, the wonderful Neil Gaiman is going to win the 2008 Weblog Best Literature Blog Award, unless people start voting for Samuel Pepys (actually, I find Samuel rather dull).

Teen Blog Competition: One Week to Go

Short Short Story CompetitionSick of swans, forks and carpets yet?

You’ve got almost exactly one week to get your short stories into us! Remember that the close off time is 12pm on Wednesday the 24th of December.

Some things to remember: make sure you include the following things (exactly); “forks”, “a swan” and “red carpet”. Make sure your story is no more than 350 words long too. And don’t forget to include your name and  your library card number with your entry.

See all the rules here.

By the way, you can enter more than one story, but remember that we’re not pulling names out of a hat; you’re just as likely to win with one entry as with ten, so make sure it’s as good as you can get it.

Young Writers’ Society

The Young Writers Society is a website for writers aged between 13 and 25. It has a forum and a very nice blog, all geared to assist young writers hone their craft:

By promoting creative writing as a past time, the site seeks to encourage creative thinking, proper grammar, and better writing.

Today, the Young Writers Society is proud to boast well over 3,000 members, over 10,000 poems and stories, and a review to story/poem ratio of nearly 6 to 1. The average age on the site is 17.5, and the site receives over 400 posts per day on average. There is no other site for young writers on the web that even comes close.

Great stuff! 

S.S.S.C. prize pack

Here’s the prize pack for the Short Short Story Competition. There is a copy of the book (the movie cover version), the soundtrack to the film (featuring a track by the sparkling Robert Pattinson), and a sixteen-month calendar (I’m unsure what that means). The total value is $90 or thereabouts – I’m no mathematician.

Check out the competition’s rules etc. here, or click on the competition logo to the left.

Laconic Writing y’all

It can be difficult writing a short story, essay or whatever, when there is a limit to the number of words you can write. But sometimes it’s fun to challenge yourself and embrace the difficulty. Drabbles, for examples, are short stories that have exactly 100 words. This post is a drabble, and so is this Christmas story by Neil Gaiman.

One sentence stories are perhaps harder to write (though it’s amazing how much meaning can be jammed into only a few words); see also these ten-word reviews of just about anything. Do you think you can write one yourself?


Teen Blog Competition ’08: win Twilight stuff

Short Short StoryCan you write a good short story? To celebrate the end of the year, and to thank our readers, we’ve got a Twilight pack (including the Twilight soundtrack and more) to give away to the best short short story. It’s a most excellent prize – a must for any Twilight fan and very useful for trading if you’re not. We will also have internationally-acclaimed illustrator Gavin Mouldey illustrate the winning story!

So what do you have to do? Just write a short story, not more than 350 words (it can be as short as you like), that includes each of the following three words or phrases (exactly as written – think outside the box: is the word a noun only, or can it be used as a verb/describing word?):

  1. forks¹
  2. a swan
  3. red carpet

¹note that this is a small f, so we’re not looking for place names.

Your story can be about anything. We will be particularly impressed if:

  1. the story is well written and grammatical and all that
  2. the three things listed above are well concealed in the story
  3. the story has a clever twist or point of interest.

Send your stories to teenblog@wcl.govt.nz before 12pm on 24 December 2008. Please include your name and your library card number (very important!). The winner will be announced soon as in the new year (so you can get the most out of your calendar).

Small print:
You must be aged between 13 and 18 to enter. You must also be a Wellington City Library member. Judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into etc etc., although we do like getting emails and comments. The winning story and any others that are particularly special will be published on the teen blog, so if you send a story in be prepared for it to be published.

Good luck! Tell your friends to enter too, to make the competition more worth your while (healthy competition is a good thing)!

What’s in a sentence? Part Two

Last sentences this time. Stopping is harder than it looks, believe me. Some writers apply the brakes slowly (very slowly), others come screeching to a halt. Personally, I like both (although neither if they’re badly written).

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights: again, I had to learn this for an exam. I inserted it precariously in my short term memory: in my mind it goes: “I lingered blah, blah, blah and wondered how anyone blah blah unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

How it actually goes: “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

George Orwell, 1984: “He loved Big Brother.” Awesome.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick: after such a calamitous time is had by all, the last sentence swallows all the tragedy up, spits it out, dusts itself off and carries on like nothing has happened: “Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

book coverDodie Smith, I Capture the Castle: memorably and mushily, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Then from some soon-to-be-classics:

Philip Pullman, Northern Lights: “So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.” There’s a certain symmetry to the first and last sentences of Northern Lights which is extremely pleasing. We like this.

book coverJ K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Not quite so much success here (never mind that the whole last chapter is horrid). The last sentence reads, “All was well.” The penultimate sentence is, “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years.” Bring back the Dursleys!

Stephenie Meyer, Twilight: (didn’t want to ruin things by sticking in the last sentence of Breaking Dawn, you understand) “And he leaned down to press his cold lips once more to my throat.” ‘Oh,’ the reader thinks, ‘does he bite her?’ and, ‘when can I read the next one to find out?’

book coverMarcus Sedgwick, My Swordhand is Singing: “Wait! I’m coming with you!” Incidentally, if you like badass vampire books and you’re sick of the romantic sap then read this one; it’s of the more chilling variety.

Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now: “And that’s how I live now.” Well, that’s one way to finish, with the title. Actually, that reads badly on its own (a bit like an old granny sitting with her quilting, with her glasses perched on the tip of her nose, saying, “and that, gentle listener, is how I live now.”). It’s better in context.

Scott Westerfeld, Peeps: “We’ve got your back.” Nice. Another less mushy vampire one, btw.

Laura Whitcomb, A Certain Slant of Light: “And when we kissed, the garden rocked, floating upstream.” Ah, lovely. A ghostly romance. For the record the first sentence reads, “Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.”

So, my fifty cents’ worth for writers: short or long last (and first) sentence; it doesn’t really matter, as long as you can justify every word, and it reads well on the page (and also out loud).

What’s in a sentence?

There have been some classic first sentences in literature:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” I studied Pride and Prejudice at school: all my classmates were in love with Mr Darcy (it was a Catholic girls’ school). I didn’t understand (this was before Colin Firth and the jumping in muddy puddles scene – although I don’t understand that one either). I did however memorise the first sentence of the book and the only thing I’ve forgotten is where to put the commas.

1984 by George Orwell has an opening sentence that is memorable too: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” You immediately know that something’s up.

I also memorised (triumphantly) the opening sentence of Moby Dick – “Call me Ishmael”. Yes I know it’s the second shortest sentence ever, but Herman Melville’s clever introducing his narrator’s character in just three words: vague, detached, orphan-like.

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness,” written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Paul Clifford) is widely regarded as the worst first sentence ever written*. The library doesn’t have a copy.

First sentences are all about first impressions and are therefore important. So are first sentences up to scratch in popular books at the moment? Let’s see.

book coverGossip Girl (number one): “Ever wondered what the lives of the chosen ones are really like?” I guess that just about covers it, so, not too bad.

Twilight: “My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.” (Yes I know, I’ll get back to you about the Preface when I can get my hands on a copy of the book!) This highlights one of the things I don’t like about Stephenie Meyer’s writing style: she’s taking a while to get to the point (which is the difference between Phoenix (sunny) and the Olympic Peninsula (not)). The book(s) could have been shorter if she took less time to get to the point. What do you think?

Eldest: “The songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living.” Hm. He’s a serious-minded chap, is Christopher Paolini (and Eragon, I guess).

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: “Dad had Uncle Eddie around so naturally they had to come and see what I was up to.” The word “naturally” is what makes this sentence (and possibly also “had to”). This suggests sarcasm (or irony, if you’re being kind) and that you’re a mate she’s confiding in.

book coverHow I Live Now: “My name is Elizabeth but no one’s ever called me that.” Quite punchy, that one.

Northern Lights: “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” ‘Lyra and her daemon are up to no good’, you think, and, ‘what’s a daemon then?’

Finally: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) I’m very glad that the first Harry Potter sentence ever introduces the wonderful Dursleys! (And rather well.)

Nothing’s really knocking me over though. Is the first sentence a lost art? I’m going to go on a hunt for excellent first sentences. I’ll get back to you.

* So bad, in fact, that there’s a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. You get some money if you win even (plus a lot of kudos).

Fluff, embellishments & reality TV: an interview with William Kostakis

William Kostakis is an Australian writer, whose book Loathing Lola is in the library now. He very kindly agreed to be interviewed for the Teen Blog, and we asked a few probing questions about writing …

1. At what age did you begin writing? How old were you when you first had something published?

I guess I started in Year One. I always loved story-writing tasks. At the end of the year, I won the award for ‘excellence in creative writing’. How anyone can judge ‘excellence’ in a seven-year-old creative writer is beyond me, I’d call it ‘the ability to string four maybe five words together on a page coherently’, but hey, excellence or not, labelling it like that must have gone straight to my head. Early in Year Three, I first had something published, I was a finalist in a cinquain competition for a kids magazine called the Starfish Generation. I remember it off by heart:

Bite people.
Stay away okay?
Dogs are very vicious.

… It isn’t very good.

2. Do you write professionally, or do you need to work a regular day-job? And does it interfere with your writing?

I’m a full-time student at Sydney University studying Media and Communications, and I’m also a private suite attendant at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Sydney Football Stadium, so writing’s what I do when I have nothing to do. I guess I’m used to it, though. I grew up balancing writing with high school and a horrible job at McDonald’s… if I just wrote, I don’t think I’d know what to do with all that spare time.

3. Where do you get your ideas for writing from?

More often than not, I base my work on personal experiences. Obviously, I embellish and the stories end up completely different to what I based them off, but my personal experiences are my starting points, usually. Take Loathing Lola for instance. It’s about a teenage girl who stars in her own TV show… which has absolutely nothing to do with my life. But if you look at what it started as – a story about someone grieving the death of a loved one – you can see how my personal experience has marked the story (a close friend passed away as I was writing the book). When I’m not writing from personal experience, I’m usually writing to make fun of something (which is where the whole anti-reality TV message came from). For example, when I won Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year in 2005, one of my stories, ‘Bing Me’, was written solely as a way to pay out a friend who was in an internet “relationship”.

4. Who are your favourite authors?

Hmmm… Terry Pratchett’s amazing – in one sentence, he can make you laugh at and care for the same character. Chuck Palahniuk’s good in small doses. But really, I’m not that big a reader. Like most teens, I’m more of a TV and movies kind of guy.

5. We really like haiku – can you summarise Loathing Lola in haiku form?

I’ve never written a haiku before, so don’t judge, but…

Fun in funeral
and the smart in smart-arses
Loathing Lola rocks.

From blogs to books

If you’re a blogger and an aspiring author then this article might interest you. Lim May Zhee is a Malaysian teenager whose popular blog has been instrumental in her publishing two novels (her blog is here – warning: it’s rather pink). Not bad for a 17 year old.

We were thinking if she can do it, then so can you! All you need is some talent, perserverance and a willingness to spend a large amount of time at your computer (remembering ergonomics and the importance of micropauses (and other things like NCEA we suppose)).

If you’re a blogger leave a comment about your blog so we can check it out.

Teens and the City

Two books (“The Carrie Diaries“) detailing Carrie Bradshaw’s teenage years are to be written by her creator, Candace Bushnell. The first won’t be released until 2010, unfortunately (although that’s not too far off in book years). They will be set in New York and Carrie’s school, and will give readers an “inside look at Carrie’s friendships, romances, and how she realized her dream of becoming a writer.” They are intended to be read by teens. I guess it would be like Gossip Girl, but set in the 70s ..? Early 80s?

Do ye blog me hearties?

Post Part One:
It had to happen: novels in email form are so last year. Something to Blog About* by Shana Norris is about Libby Fawcett, who starts a secret blog to vent her frustrations after her life gets complicated and annoying and embarrassing. Libby’s blog entries are interspersed with her first-person narration throughout the book, so you get two perspectives from the same person. See what you think.

Post Part Two:
And on the subject of blogging and writing… do you like writing? Are you interested in being a guest contributor on the teen blog? If you’re keen to have a go at writing about book, library, internet-related topics then email us at teenblog@wcl.govt.nz to begin discussions.

 * I’m guessing the title is inspired by the country song ‘Something to Talk About’ by Bonnie Raitt.

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