Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Marsden

John Marsden is an author of popular Australian young adult novels. I've read one or two books from his tomorrow series. I want to say it was two. But maybe I read one and read ABOUT another. I'm not sure.

I know a little about Marsden already. He's from Victoria, and he has his own school.

I think he'll be an interesting person to read about.

 I hope!

Lord Wiki says he was born on 27 September 1950. You know, I don't think I personally know anyone who has a late September birthday. Every September birthday person, I know, has their birthday in the early days of September.

Birthday Website Time!

Marsden is a Libra and a 6.

I picture this person being a romantic family man; the ideal husband.

Does Marsden fit this description? I have no idea.

Lord Wiki says baby John was born in Victoria. I was right about that.

He spent most of his early childhood in rural Australia.

He lived in Kyneton Victoria for awhile. That's about an hour north of Melbourne.

He also lived in Devonport Tasmania. How far is that from where we were visiting (Launceston)?

Let's look at the map......

It's only about an hour away....a little to the west and a little to the north.

Devenport is where the ferry comes in from Melbourne. We had thought of driving to Melbourne from Sydney and then taking the ferry. But it's a long trip, and we didn't want to do a long trip after the long plane ride. And it doesn't save you much money.  If any.

When Marsden was ten, his family moved to Sydney.

He went to the King's School in Parramatta. Lord Wiki says this school is known for having an overbearing military style of education. I wonder if the school really has that reputation; or was that just Marsden's perspective?

Well, the school doesn't seem to advertise itself as being overbearing. They do say that in the 1970's the royal family of Thailand sent their son there.

Lord Wiki has a description of the school itself and I can't find any information about it being overbearing. I admit that I'm skimming a bit and might be missing something. But I'm thinking it might be Marsden himself who feels the school was like that. I'm sure though that there were other students who agreed with him.

Students are going to have different opinions about a school. Some will have a very positive experience, and some will have a negative one. It's the same with families. In one household you can have one child who feels supported and nurtured, and another who feels hurt and unloved.

Marsden went to the University of Sydney and got a degree in law and arts.

He had some interesting jobs before going into teaching and writing.

He worked in a mortuary. Wow.

He worked in a sideshow. I hope to find more information about that.

He worked as a security guard.  Interesting but not as interesting as the ones above.

For nine years, Marsden worked at Geelong Grammar school. Did someone, I recently researched, go to that school? I have to go look.

I found it! John Gorton went there, and also....Missy Higgins.

He became the head of the English department at the Timbertop Campus. I'm thinking this is one of those outdoor nature experiences.

Yep. In year nine, all the students go to live in the Victorian Alps. That sounds so cool.

Marsden spent a night in prison for protesting about the Franklin Dam.

The protesting worked.

The dam was never built. I think what helped though is that the people didn't just protest. They blocked the roads and river. Marsden was one of thousands. Greens leader Bob Brown was there too. Well, of course!

Marsden's first book (So Much to Tell You) was published in 1987. That was the year before one of my very bad years.

I actually own that book. It was one of gifts I got from my Secret Santa for Chanukah. I haven't read it yet though.

Lord Wiki says Marsden's Tomorrow Series is the most popular young adult series ever written in Australia.

It's about Australia being invaded by a foreign force. But you never find out who the villains are. I think that was wise of Marsden to do this; avoid adolescents forming prejudice towards a particular country. But I did find it incredibly frustrating.

For those who read the book, who did you imagine the force to be? Or did you imagine one? Lord Wiki says no real country fits what Marsden writes about.

All right. The book I read was the sixth in the series. The Night is For Hunting. It's the one where they find the young children.

Okay, and I DID read a book in the new series; The Ellie Chronicles. I read While I Live. I remember it now. Thanks to Lord Wiki for jogging my memory.

Outside Australia the series has found some success. It's very popular in Sweden. Australia and Sweden have some kind of cultural exchange thing going on. Australians get ABBA and IKEA. The Swedish get The Tomorrow Series. Wouldn't it be ironic if it were the Swedish who were the invaders in the story. I mean we think they're all innocent and peaceful, with their awesome paid parental leave and all that. But maybe Marsden knows the truth. Maybe the Swedish are fooling us all.

The book hasn't found much popularity in North America. It IS in my local public library though . That's where I got my hands on a copy.

Lord Wiki mentions Marsden's school. It's called Candlebark, and it's near Romsey Victoria. Romsey is about an hour north of Melbourne. Hopefully I'll find out more about the school elsewhere.

I'm done with Lord Wiki.

Now I shall look at Marsden's official site.

It has some biographical information.

His teachers in year four and six encouraged him to write. He decided he wanted to be a writer at the age of nine. I think I received the most encouragement for my writing in seventh and twelfth grade. In seventh grade the teacher gave each student a special individual award. I won best short short story writer. That made me feel great. The last time I had gotten one of those everyone-gets-one awards, it was for my long brown hair. It's so much nicer getting an award for something you do, or a talent you have, rather than a physical attribute.

Marsden went to the King School for seven years.

He dropped out of college because he found law boring. He did odd jobs; made just enough to support himself. I think that's awesome.

He started his teaching career at age twenty-eight.

In 1998 he bought a place called The Tye Estate. He used it to hold writing conferences. Then eventually he turned it into his school. Marsden describes the school as being a cross between Steiner and The Simpsons. Interesting.....

He has a blog/newsletter on his site. It's cute. It's done in a way that makes it looks handwritten with pen. He talks about the Melbourne Cup. He bet on a horse that came in fifth.

Oops. I just realized his biography stuff goes on much longer. I missed that. I should read the rest.

Let's see.....

His great great uncle was Samuel Marsden. This Marsden's nickname was the hanging Marsden. Yikes. He's also credited with bringing Christianity to New Zealand.

Marsden's grandfather was an opera singer. His father was a bank executive who fought in World War II.

As a child, Marsden liked the typical activities of childhood....playing marbles, riding bikes, reading comics and books, and going to movies.

His favorite books included Robinson Crusoe, books by Nan Chauncy, and The Children of the Cherry Tree Farm by Enid Blyton.

The website says Marsden had a hard time fitting into the King School. He didn't quietly suffer though. Marsden got into trouble a lot, and spent many hours in detention.

He became a very fast reader.  He was able to read three books in a day. Wow. That IS fast. And I thought I was a fast reader. I don't think I could read three novels in a day. Well, I guess it would depend on the book. I could probably read three young adult books in a day--as long as I didn't have any other responsibilities or activities.

Marsden had a hard time in college. I guess I'm not the only one with problems.  

He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

That makes me feel better. Although I haven't been admitted to a hospital...yet.

Marsden says there were some positive aspects of the hospital experience.

I'm not sure if going to the hospital would SOLVE my problems, but it might at least give me something interesting to write about.

Marsden's first teaching job was at All Saints College in Bathurst NSW. The ironic thing is Marsden was known as being one of the worst Rugby players in high school. And what kind of teaching job did the school give him? P.E.

It was at Timbertop that he decided to try writing for teenagers.

His first novel took three weeks to write.

That's about how long it took me to write my novels; usually between about three-six weeks.

I'm finding I have a lot in common with this guy. We're both horrible at P.E. We both had teaching careers. We both read fast (but he's faster). We both have family and emotional problems. We both write fast.

The big difference is he gets to live in Australia and so far I don't. Also, he has a successful writing career. I haven't--at least not in the financial sense.

Now I'm reading the FAQs on his site.

He says he doesn't provide an email address because he feels too obligated to write back. And returning the emails took too much of his time.

I think that's a hard thing to deal with.

I think it's really nice when famous people respond to their fans. Judy Blume wrote back to me and Jack. I'm guessing she's a very busy woman. But I can imagine it would be hard to respond to so many emails. And how do you pick which ones to respond to and which ones to ignore?

Oh! He says he does have a contact form on the website, but warns people they may not get a reply back. That's probably a good way to handle things.

There's talk of the Tomorrow Series becoming a movie. I guess we shall see about that.

He doesn't plan to write any more books about Ellie (the main girl in The Tomorrow Series).

I'm going to look at the Candlebark website now.

There are only eighty-seven students. But from what I read, this is not because the school isn't popular. It's because Marsden wants it to be a small school. I think that's wise.

The school has no uniform.

The students and teachers are on a first name basis. I like that.

When I worked in New York City, the kids called us by our first name. Then I moved to Texas. At the first school I worked at, I was Miss Dina. I think that's okay, but kind of creepy. Worse though was the next school I worked at; the prestigious one. The children called us by our last name. I'm not a big fan of that for any age group of students, but especially not for three-five-olds. The weirdest thing is even the teachers called each other, and referred to each other, by last name. To this day, when I think of the teachers I worked with I often think of their last names instead of their first. What was really awkward was when we went to events outside of the school. We were so used of calling each other by our last names. It was weird suddenly having to use first names.

There were other odd things about the school. We had these word rules. The students were referred to as friends. We weren't supposed to say Kids, line up. We said. Friends, it's time to line up. I hate the overuse of the word friend. There's something so forced and phony about it.

We weren't supposed to say things like play and toys. Instead we were to say work. It's time to do your work with the blocks! Why the hell is play a dirty word? Although I guess it was somewhat accepted because my job title was Creative Play teacher. I initially thought the school was fairly decent because it provided the children with an hour a day in the creative play room. In NYC, I had been taught that play is the most important way for children to learn. That's common sense though. Isn't it? I mean especially for preschoolers.

Then the director later told me WHY she had started the creative play program. When the children were doing their math and reading lessons, they started being imaginative with toys instead of learning their numbers and letters. So the director gifted the kids with an hour of imaginative play. From what she said, it seems she didn't think play is important for children. It's more like she wanted to get it out of their systems.

Why can't kids have time to be kids?

I think even adults should have time to be kids!

Instead we're pushing kids to be like adults.

The Candlebark website has information about their educational approach.

Nothing really shouts out to me as being amazing or horrible.

Their religious statement is interesting: We unapologetically recognise Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and we acknowledge that Easter is the time when the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are honoured by Christians. We are non-denominational. We respect the belief systems of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hindu, and we aim to give students a good understanding of world religions.

I think that's fair.

They stress that they are not a free school--kind of in a way that I find to be somewhat sarcastic and demeaning.

We are not a school without rules, a free school, a hippie school. We expect students to be on time for lessons, with the right equipment, and ready to learn.
We are not a new age school. We don’t read tea-leaves, and ouija boards are not on the curriculum.
I personally like free schools. If I was going to send Jack to one, that's where I'd prefer he go.
Are there any free schools in Victoria?

Yes! There are. The funny thing is Lord Wiki lists Marsden schools as one of them. Maybe that's why they explicitly point out that they're not this type of school. I guess I can excuse them for sounding a bit defensive.

I don't like this statement. It reminds me too much of the Fort Worth preschool. “Fun” is not a word that we use very often. People looking for fun might be better advised to consult the Yellow Pages under the heading “Clowns”. On the other hand, we know how powerfully motivation affects learning. Enjoyment of an activity can of course significantly improve learning capacity, but other motivations can be powerful too. For example, understanding that an activity is important can be highly motivating. Recognising that there is a greater purpose to an activity can be highly motivating.

There's just something blah about that. I don't think life always has to be fun. But I think learning usually can and should be. Of course I'm coming from an unschooling viewpoint. I'm sitting here with my child who CHOOSES to learn, and always has fun doing so. When he's not having enough fun, he quits and finds something else to learn. The few times I force him to learn something, he acts bored and tortured. And I doubt, during those times, he's learning that much.

When I do my research for these posts, I'm usually having fun. If I'm not enjoying myself it's because the subject matter is boring to me. I may read, and I may spit out the information. But I doubt I'm actually learning that much. You can force someone to learn something, telling them that it doesn't matter if they enjoy it or not. They need to know it so they can pass a test. And they might learn it for the test. But I bet they'll forget most of the information soon after the test.

I have to say I'm not too impressed with Marsden's school. It might not be awful. It's just not too impressive to me. I don't see anything that different or exciting about it.

I'll read the rest of the website though.

They have tips for students.

Don't talk about yourself all the time.

Oops. I fail there. Although I don't think I talk as much about myself outside of this blog. I think I'm more of a listener than a talker. Maybe? Slightly? The exception is if I'm mad about something and need to vent. Then I'll blab on and on about my problems--not just current ones but also any ones from the past.

Don’t say anything bad about someone until you’ve run out of all the good things you can say about them.

Well, that's a pretty good rule. I should try it. I'll do it for our rude Thanksgiving guests. Mrs. Rude-Thanksgiving-Guest is very well organized. She has a lovely sense of humor. She has a cute smile. She's creative. She makes good cupcakes.

There! That was kind of fun. It's more fun to bitch about her though.

Give the teachers chocolate.

Well, it shows the school has a little bit of a sense of humor. I'm not laughing enough to pee in my pants though.

If you make a mess, we’ll help you clean it up, but ultimately it is your responsibility.

I like that rule. I try to do it with Jack, but I probably help him clean more than I help him be responsible. I've always helped him clean up his mess; my feeling being that I want him to have the idea that we help each other with our problems. But I'm really not good at making him help clean up my messes. I should do that.

Your teacher is not a jukebox. You don’t press a button and get the lesson you want. Trust the teacher to know what he or she is doing.

I don't believe in telling children to just simply trust an adult. Not all adults are trustworthy. And there are a LOT of bad teachers in this world who DON'T know what they're doing.

That's a very foolish rule in my opinion.

Okay and now the website gives advice on how to have a decent conversation. There's something very condescending about it. At least I think so.

I'm sorry to say. I really don't like this school; at least from what I've seen on the website.

On this page, they talk more about the school. Maybe there will be something I like.

They say, We encourage an active engagement with the world. That includes using public transport to explore Melbourne, playing in the school’s extensive gardens and 1100 acres of bush, riding bikes, climbing trees, going on many camps and trips.

That sounds lovely and I don't argue that the school has a beautiful setting. But having a beautiful setting doesn't equal having a good school.

According to our assessment of students’ maturity and abilities, we may teach them to use axes, log splitters and chainsaws.

I think that's good. The graduate school I worked at believed in letting children use real tools. I believe in that to a point.

We comfort students who are upset, we hug, we’re tactile. We may play rambunctious roughhousing games like British Bulldog, Animal Ball or spotlight.

I like this. Inappropriate touching is very harmful, but no-touching can also be bad.

The schedule looks okay. The kids have thirty minutes of recess. That's not bad. They also have an hour for lunch. Wow. Is that typical? The day ends with thirty minutes of clean up. The students and teachers clean the school. That sounds good to me.

I DO like how the school describes math. They describe it as a positive part of everyday normal life, rather than something we have to learn in order to pass university entrance exams.

Ah! I found something I like. In their science section they say, All lessons in science must be based on a solid foundation of humanity and integrity, and this must be explicit and implicit from the earliest years. For example, it is not ethical for science students to kill creatures in order to study them.

I'll give an amen to that!

All right. I'm ready to move onto another website.

Oh good! There's an Andrew Denton interview!

I like what Marsden says here. Denton asks why he signs his books with Take Risks. Marsden says, Because I guess in modern society the emphasis is so much on taking care that I think we're going to end up with a generation of frightened people, but also people who are emotionally and spiritually stunted by being so careful that they never get out there and try anything adventurous.

I think there's a lot of truth to that.

Marsden says, Well, I was pretty obnoxious in some ways, and I did challenge a lot. I did question a lot and criticise a lot. And I got fairly - oh, I don't know - antagonistic towards the whole structure of school.

All right. He says that, but then on his school's website he asks student to simply trust their teachers. I think that's a bit hypocritical. It's like he has this idea that he's created the perfect school and everyone who goes there should be satisfied with it. But what about the King School that he attended as a teen? I bet those adults also assumed they had created the perfect school.

There's also this defensiveness on the Candlebark website; a kind of if you don't like this school, don't complain. Just don't come here. It's like love it or leave it. I guess they can say that though, since they want less than a hundred students and they have a huge waiting list.

Marsden was clinically depressed and suicidal when he went to the psychiatric hospital.

Marsden was strong though. He says, Well, I started seeing a psychiatrist off my own bat because I knew I was close to killing myself. And I thought maybe I should not do that until I'd exhausted all the possibilities.

I wonder though how many people who succeed in suicide also sought out help? How many pleas of help are ignored?

Marsden was in the hospital for two months.

I like what he says here,
There was no use pretending anymore because you wouldn't be there if your life was in good shape. And so there was a kind of honesty there, which I found really powerful, and that, I think, more than anything, gave me a different perspective on life.

Maybe blogging is kind of like a mental hospital. A lot of blogs do have that raw honesty. Not all of them do. Some of them talk about recipes, gardening, and crafts.

Marsden says he once took a group of twenty-eight students to a place where animals are killed. Three became vegetarian on the spot. Only three were able to finish the tour. Interesting. That means twenty-two students were not able to watch the animals being killed, but they were able to continue eating meat. It's kind of scary. It's easier to put our heads in the sand than actually make a positive difference in the world.

Here Marsden is very honest. He says, For every teacher there are students you can't reach. And there are students I positively harmed, and that's something I have found great difficulty living with.
I think that's the sadly true. No matter how hard we try to be good, each one of us is going to end up hurting someone. We all make mistakes. I think the difference between better people and worse people is this. Better people (and I am vain enough to include myself in this group) feel sick when we remember the hurt we have caused others. Worse people forget or pretend it never happened.

Marsden belted students. Wow! I didn't expect that.

Marsden doesn't have kids of his own. He seems somewhat self-righteous about parenting; not rare for those who don't have kids. Although I do have friends without kids that are NOT like that. It's pretty refreshing.

Marsden survived a heart attack. That's good. I mean I'm glad he survived.

I'm gonna end this soon because we need to clean up the mess upstairs, and then I want to go swimming.

But let's see if anyone is talking about Marsden on Twitter.

Oh never mind. Twitter is down for maintenance. So, we'll skip that.

I'm going to look at Marsden's books instead; see if there's anything that looks interesting to me.

Hey! I didn't know this. You can get book info from Google. I'm going to skip the Tomorrow Series stuff. I think I've read all I want from that.

So Much to Tell You sounds really good. Google says, Sent to a hospital by her mother, Marina, a disfigured Australian girl who refuses to speak, reveals her thoughts and feelings in a diary.

I wonder what her disfigurement is. I'm often fascinated by stuff like that. Maybe disfigured is a bad term though. I think we should say something like awesome-figured. Although some conditions can include pain and fatalities. That aspect of it all isn't so good.

Letters from the Inside sounds really good to me. Through the mail, Mandy and Tracey become fast friends. They share news about their boyfriends, their siblings, and pets. they trade stories about school and home. they confide their every hope and fear. Or do they? What are the secrets hidden between the lines of their cheerful letters?

I'm all for secrets between the lines. I'm not at all for outright lying. There was uproar recently because a blogger confessed to inventing all the tragedies in her life. That's a really awful thing to do. Why? Because it's important for all of us bloggers to be able to trust each other. Once one person lies, we start becoming paranoid about everyone else lying.

If someone has a cooking blog, I don' t think they're obligated to tell us they spent ten years in a mental institution. That's their business. They can share it if they want, or they can keep it quiet.

But I think it's awful for someone to lie and say they spent ten years in a mental hospital simply because they want attention.

Maybe society is partly too blame. We too often ignore people who call out for empathy.

Shit. It's a really hard balance. I see children who cry hysterically at the smallest injury. It might be because their parents give them too much comfort when they're hurt. They overdramatize the situation. But then some parents don't give enough comfort. The child learns that the only way to get attention is to be extremely hurt. They learn to exaggerate. Or they purposely put themselves in dangerous situations.

Maybe if we comforted a young woman who was just dumped by her boyfriend, she wouldn't have to make up lies about having incurable cancer and being abused.

I refuse to put all the blame on society though. I sometimes feel I don't receive enough empathy for my problems. But I don't invent stories to get more attention. I want sympathy for Real-Dina, not sympathy for Pretend-Dina.

The Rabbits sounds really good. It's an allegory about colonization. I think I'd like that.

Winter sounds interesting. For twelve years Winter has been haunted. Her past, her memories, her feelings, will not leave her alone. And now, at sixteen, the time has come for her to act. She must head back to her old home, where a pair of family tragedies forever altered her life. What she discovers is powerful and shocking -- but must be dealt with in order for life to go on. It sounds a little melodramatic, but I'd probably like it. I'm curious what the family tragedies are.

Well, I'm going to end now.....

NOTE: A few days after writing this post, I read So Much to Tell You. I may not be in love with the idea of Marsden's school, but I'm in love with his book. It's one of the best young adult novels I've ever read. It's beautiful. I want to say more, but I'm afraid I'd give stuff away. I'll just say I HIGHLY recommend reading it if you haven't read it before.