Author John Marsden talks taking risks with language

King of young adult fiction in the Mountains: Best-selling author John Marsden giving out advice at Korowal School.
King of young adult fiction in the Mountains: Best-selling author John Marsden giving out advice at Korowal School.
King of young adult fiction in the Mountains: Best-selling author John Marsden giving out advice at Korowal School.

King of young adult fiction in the Mountains: Best-selling author John Marsden giving out advice at Korowal School.

Skyrocketing from a D grade English student to one regularly scoring Bs seems like a momentous task to master.

But one of Australia's most successful young adult fiction writers, John Marsden, travelled from regional Victoria to Hazelbrook in the Blue Mountains to reveal those tricks for impressing high school English teachers and much more.

"They laughed at some of my jokes," Mr Marsden told the Gazette afterwards when asked about the success of the one hour information session at Korowal School that finished with students high-fiving him on their way out.

Best known for his book Tomorrow When the War Began, which became a blockbuster film, Mr Marsden told the students authors like J.K Rowling overused adjectives "especially in the later books. It's a pity, they do diminish from her writing, I wish she wouldn't," he said.

The students were warned against "overusing boring, stale, cliches ... and that's tautology," the 64-year-old added. And he told them the hero element to a good story was characters with unique voices, who changed their status and used active, unexpected verbs.

"Steer away from the predictable and the obvious".

Mr Marsden, 64, practises that ethos in his own life as principal and founder of an alternative school in Victoria called Candlebark. In his fifties, he married one of the parents from the school, a mother of six boys.

"I went from writing two books every three years to two every 10," he said of late life parenting.

Twenty Katoomba High School students sat in on the session with about 70 Korowal students from Years 8-10.

Korowal's Joely Osfield, 14, said she would work on applying some of the techniques and "new vocabulary".

Other students like Cal Ryan, 15, said he would "stray away from using cliches" and Ajuna Faria, also 15, said she struggled with writing characters "and I think this might help".

And as for the key to boosting your English marks, it all relies on dumping words like "went" for more interesting verbs and being more specific about locations and people to make your writing more real to a reader.

"You can make language do triple somersaults ... Sadly we are given different messages, that language is the boss."

Mr Marsden's visit was hosted by Korowal School in partnership with the Blue Mountains Creative Industries Symposium held in late May.

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