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Thursday, June 21, 2012


After a long day at work, finishing reports to free me up today, I made my way to the  beautiful, hundred-year-old Atheneum theatre in Melbourne, where the Melbourne Writer’s festival was hosting an event in the Schools program.
I didn’t have time to stop for a meal, as I reached the city at 5.30 p.m. and the event was due to start at six, so I bought and gulped down a vegetable pasty from a stall at Flinders Street Station, promising myself a real meal afterwards, and caught a tram to Collins Street, where the theatre is located.
There was a crowd waiting in the foyer when I got there, many children and teens with their parents and some adult fans as well. I have to admit I have only been reading Eragon since I decided to buy a ticket. The books are very popular in my library, but oddly enough I couldn’t find students interested in going, not even Kristen, who is a major fan of the series and has read and re-read it; possibly she didn’t want to risk being disappointed. She needn’t have worried, as you will see presently, but she missed out. Luckily, the author was interviewed on Radio National this morning on Books and Arts Daily and the ABC prepares podcasts. And what he said on radio was very similar to what he said last night, even to the wording, so that’s okay. People tend to ask the same questions, and he does a lot of touring, so he has no doubt prepared a script to help him along. I would probably do the same.
It was fascinating standing there on my own, listening to conversations around me. Two boys were discussing Tom Sawyer. One declared it was “crap” while his brother said, “Actually, if you read it till the end, the last six chapters are not too bad. The bit where they go to the caves and get lost...”
Amusing to hear Mark Twain’s classic book about childhood discussed in that way. Is it even meant for children or is it for adults who have a sentimental view of their own childhoods? I suspect Mark Twain would have laughed if he’d heard the conversation.
A little after six we were allowed to enter the auditorium in groups. They asked us to sit near the front and fill that up before the back. That was fine with me, although a lady next to me said she’d rather sit near the back where it was warmer. With so many people all going in at once, though, they glanced at our printed-out tickets and didn’t bother to scan them.
It was ten past six by the time Mike Shuttleworth, who used to run the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature and is now doing the MWF program, came out to introduce the guest speaker. He said that there would be a draw afterwards for a special framed poster for anyone who bought a book. I had no intention of staying for the signing; I have the first one on e-book and the rest in the school library if i want to read the sequels, so thought it might be better to make my way home and let the real fans have their fun. For that reason I also didn’t put up my hand to ask any questions, not wanting to take away the pleasure from any child fan who was waiting to ask.
Finally, he came out on stage, the young man who wrote a novel in his teens and ended up selling millions of copies, translated in to forty-nine languages.
I have to say I was impressed. Yes, the audience was full of fans who wanted to enjoy his talk, but I think he would have engaged even non-fans. Hell, he engaged this cynical old teacher-librarian! So many writers can tear your heart out with their writing, but can’t get up and speak to a room full of strangers. And then there are those who are so arrogant when they’re up there that you want to kick them in the behind. 
Not this lad. 
He told the audience about his life as a home-schooled boy who graduated high school at the age of fifteen and then was bored after two weeks of not having to do anything, to the extent that he dug a hole in the ground and built a mediaeval mead-hall in his back yard. Then he decided to write a book of the sort he would like to read, as we all do - why else would you write a book? He threw in all the elements he loved about fantasy - wizards and rescues of princesses and dragons and battles - and actually planned out his entire series before even getting started on the book. So all these books were planned by a fifteen year old boy. The first draft, as he says, was awful, so he edited it and cut stuff like a unicorn.
The hero’s name was originally Kevin, but you don’t sell many copies of an epic fantasy with a hero called Kevin, so he took the word “dragon” and changed a letter. I had suspected this from the first time I saw the book, so nodded to myself in satisfaction. 
The family self-published the book (I bet you could get a fortune on eBay for one of those first editions!) which was discovered by the YA writer Carl Hiaasen, who bought a copy for his twelve-year-old nephew and brought the book to the attention of Random House and the rest is history.
He told some amusing stories about that first tour he and his family took (and imagine having parents who were willing and able to take you on tour after publishing your book! How wonderful is that? My own parents would have been more than willing, but not able). He had never been inside a high school before, given that he’d been home schooled and you can imagine the reaction he got to his mediaeval costume! 
The herbalist Angela is based on his own sister Angela, who luckily has a sense of humour, and the werecats were her idea.
The cover art is by John Jule Palencar, an artist he admires so much he named a valley in the book after him, but the fact that he did the art was pure coincidence; the publishers didn’t know he was a fan.
The books in the series are full of references to various TV shows - Doctor Who especially, but also Babylon Five, Deep Space Nine and others - damn! Now I will HAVE  to read the rest! I wished I hadn’t decided not to ask any questions, because one influence/reference he didn’t mention was Star Wars, though he is a fan( and told a story of being beaten on an online Star Wars game by someone who went under the name of Eragon). So far, I have found the first novel to be something I would describe as Star Wars with dragons, but will keep my full thoughts on this for another post once I have finished.
He really knew how to engage his audience. A nice touch was to invite people to lend him their copies of each of the novels to read from. Of course, people waved their books at him and he had no trouble getting a copy of each.
He answered questions, asking people not to do spoilers, knowing that there might be people out there who hadn’t actually read the whole series. That was a really good touch, I thought; so many writers would have assumed, arrogantly, that everyone had, of course, read all their works, or why were they there?

Of course, there was a question about his future plans, now that the series was over, and he said he had planned out a lot of books in many different genres, and his next book would be science fiction. But yes, he had already planned out a fifth book in this universe.
There were plenty more things last night, but this is all I have time to describe for now. Stand by for another post when i have finished the novel.
I ended the evening with dinner at Young and Jackson’s pub, where they do a really nice warm salmon salad, so I didn’t have to cook once I got home.

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