Female Leads – And High School Musical

Here’s the thing.

I love nail polish. Make up. perfume. I am like… obsessed with beauty secrets, and skin care tips. I buy like… way too much make up and clothes. But the other day I was reading through some students work and I was like…

OH.

MY.

GOSH!

See I’m no feminist adamantly against deemed ‘girly girl’ things but I was genuinely startled by the stereotyping of the female leads within the stories that had been written.

You learn a lot when reading kids’ work, and this is because they sort of just write what they think. They aren’t pretentious, they don’t have secret agendas they just write what they think.

It was for this reason I was hugely shocked at the female characters in particular a ground of girls had created as it displayed an undertow of unhealthy behavior traits.

I had girls who were petrified of breaking nails, absolutely had to do their make up perfectly – and when they realized it wasn’t perfect they ran screaming into a toilet – they fainted, they were afraid of stuff and fought with their finger nails scratching at the enemy… the list goes on and on. And this wasn’t just ONE character. This was every single one of them.

As I read I grew more and more astounded. How could girls really think that these were how female characters ought to behave?

In one story a previously weird and awkward girl was super annoying through the entire book… until she got hit on the head and remembered that she was actually super attractive and awesome and then she married the Prince. In a way being suddenly attractive made her romance with a prince justified?

In saying this a year or so ago I had the same sort of realization when I read some more work by some slightly older students.

Their female leads were angry.

Violent. would slam doors, punch people, yell, swear, hate their parents – not to mention EVERYONE else – They were stoic, unemotional, and (to be entirely honest) hideous characters.

There was nothing about them that inspired me, connected with me, or invited me into the story.

In essence they were extreme versions of Katniss from the Hunger Games.

Here’s the thing. We need to inspire young people – and in particular girls – to craft female leads who are worth writing about.

Not super girly girls who prance about the storyline nattering about make up.

Not shouting, macho, archer-Katniss-Copy-Cats who have to earn their respect in the story by trying to act masculine.

The problem is that at the end of the day writers have this tendency to stereotype their female characters into one of the five female leads in High School Musical.

You have Gabriella: the beautiful, smart, talented all rounder who forms the generic centre piece of the story. Smart but also perfect. Usually gets the guy in the end and because she’s so perfect but also smart we feel as though she deserves him. You’ll find several of these characters, they are littered through Disney Movies and a half a dozen bargain bin novels.

You have Kelsie: The shy, alternative arty girl. She hides behind brilliance and stumbles about the place learning to embrace who she is. OH and she’ll get some shy awkward boy (Ryan) at the end who will open her heart and encourage her to be more confident.

Or perhaps Taylor?: The power hungry, I-Am-Just-As-Good-As-A-Boy smart girl who is all talk, all business and an over achiever. She will of course be tamed by some generic boy character who will bring the girly out of her.

Maybe you have a Sharpay!?: Nasty, up her self snobby girl who is super high maintenance and obviously has to learn her lesson through the story. Of course she eventually will once she realizes that while she wants to… she can’t have everything.

Lastly perhaps you have a Martha: Nice girl who is talented and an all rounder (sort of like Gabriella) but has one thing about her that makes her ‘not perfect’ in the case of Martha this is that she is slightly curvier than most of the other girls in the cast.

I am not trying to make huge social statements or anything. What I am saying is that perhaps we have to take a look at the ‘heroes’ or should I say, ‘heroines’ our girls are admiring? Encourage young writers to script goo strong female leads rather than fitting into one of these five High School Musical personalities.

 

Hmmmm…?

 

 

My Bookshelf: The Early Years

I am determined that the books I enjoyed as a kid will never be forgotten.

It was for this reason that a little while ago I began this nearly Indiana-Jones-Like Hunt for all of my very favorite books from my childhood.

Today I thought I’d take you on a small tour of my bookshelf looking at six of those books.

My Book Shelf

The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald – by Clifford B Hicks.

My mum read this story to me as a kid. I loved it because there is this character in it, The Pest, (otherwise known as Daphne). The Pest is Alvin’s younger sister who is a bit of a tomboy and just runs around after her brother. I have an older brother, and I felt as though I understood the Pest, as I used to trail around after my brother and his friends too.

Angels Unlimited (Series) – by Annie Dalton

I brought this book in Boarders when it was on Queen Street. I remember it took my an eternity to pick the book I wanted to read and I eventually settled with this one because it was HUGE and I wanted something that would last me a while. These stories are about a girl (Mel) who dies very young and finds herself attending an angel academy learning to go into the past and save historical situations. I absolutely adored them and they remind me of summer because I spent a number of consecutive hot days inside buried in this book. I now own the ENTIRE series…

Sophie’s Further Adventures – by Dick King Smith

Before I traveled to Belfast in the year 2000, I was hunting for a book that would last me the whole of the time I was overseas (one month) I had twenty dollars to spend so I decided on this story. It harks back to those times when kids’ books were jam packed with small situation stories, and little nooks filled with tiny adventures. I loved Sophie because she was rugged and a little awkward, but she loved all the same things I did. Animals, the Beach, undertaking strange activities (such as doing a walk-a-thon around her garden to raise money). For anyone who has a little girl between the ages of 6-10, she will LOVE being read these stories, and Sophie is such a great female character.

Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds – by Holly Beth Walker

I used to have this neighbour, Kitty, who was old and lived in the house in front of ours. She and my nana were friends and she had all these books on her bookshelf that at one stage she just decided to give to me. Here’s the thing. It was about a girl who saved mysteries with her cat. I was sold in a heartbeat. It also had this old school charm to it that reminded me of far simpler times when everyone and everything was at worst… PG rated. The other stories in the series are amazing FYI but this one is my favorite

Treasures in the Snow – by Patricia St John

I had this amazing teacher in year 6, Mrs Redstone who unfortunately has passed away recently. She was one of the most influential people in my life in terms of encouraging me to write. She was pretty much the Mrs Frizzle of real life, not even kidding… our classroom was wild with frees and umbrellas and stuff it was awesome. Anyway she read this story to us as a class and I absolutely adored it. I loved the setting in the alps and how a lot of the events surrounded Christmas which is the best ever time of year. It’s a sweet story about change and forgiveness. Read it, you will not regret it.

A Winter’s Tale – by Jenny Dale

I loved animal books as a kid. This was one of my favorite of the 90s animal series books. It is about a family who own a dog shelter, and this story details one of the children getting a new puppy. It is set in a small village in England and had that cozy vibe that you sort of hanker after given you’re living in the pacific ocean on an island… The whole series is awesome, and for someone like me who LOVES animals it was the BEST. Highly recommend for any animal lovers you have out there.

 

So that’s the first of the posts exploring my bookshelf, keep your eyes peeled because I will be posted a few more collections like this having a look at some of my other favorite titles.

Enjoy!

 

Vikings are the Authors of Some Awesome Words

I really, really like stuff with Vikings in it!

It is for this reason I have totally seen How to Train Your Dragon 2 twice already… and I could seriously go back for thirds.

Even my last name (Ragg) is Viking, which is pretty cool and yes… it does mean exactly what it sounds like.

Anyway, I was watching this documentary on Vikings and they were talking about how to the word ‘Skirt’ is actually one of Norse origin.

In light of that, here’s some other great words brought to you by Vikings.

Awe: to be in total terror

Awkward: literally means to turn something backwards

Berserk: a frenzied battle

Blunder: to shut your eyes

Bug: the name of insects which lived in tree trunks

Die: to pass away

Egg: derived from the name of a kind of duck

Fog: how they described a snow drift

Glitter: sparkly things

Gun: from a longer Viking word which means war and battle

Happy: chance and good luck

Ill: bad luck

Loft: the sky

Muck: cow dung (hugely vital obviously)

Muggy: to have misty drizzle

Oaf: elf

Outlaw: bad guy, awesome!

Race: to rush somewhere

Ransack: to search your house

Saga: a story or tale

Scrap: a little trifle

Skirt: shirt (Whaaaaat???)

Sky: cloud

Steak: to fry

Want: to be lacking

Window: wind eye

Wrong: crooked

Anyway, so thanks Vikings!

 

Don’t Live Passive

There is one choice that we face more than any other absolutely every day of our lives.

As a matter of fact, we encounter this choice in nearly every single decision we make from morning until evening, and more often than not we are not even aware of it.

It is the choice between living passive, or living active.

I think about this sometimes because a lot of the stuff that I want to do in life requires consistent effort all the time which is exhausting, and several, several defeats and ‘no’s’ and a having to pick yourself up again and say, ‘Do I REALLY want to do this? Yes. Okay. Let’s go again.’

More often than not we live life in this swinging back and forth between being absolutely consumed with passion for something or not caring one little bit.

Sometimes I think I’m one of those people who could be termed as intense. I hate that word as well, by the way. ‘Intense.’ like… a really, really strong perfume. Or that weird person who loves cats and has pictures of cats. I catch myself thinking… ‘geez, maybe I need to tone down a little?’ or ‘am I coming on too strong?’ when it’s a situation around the simplest thing like nail polish or coffee or whatever.

When it comes to my writing, or Gideon, I find myself thinking the same questions.

‘Geez, maybe I need to down it down a little?’

‘Am I coming on too strong?’

I’ve been trying to catch myself out for this recently. The thing, I have learnt that the people who truly, truly make it in life… to do that thing, you know that thing? The thing they want to do most of all ever? They are the people who are intense, passionate, always thinking about it, working on it, submerged in it.

They live it.

Breathe it.

And it’s not just this fear of being deemed as intense that can turn you into a passive person, it’s also this awful wet blanket known as settling.

Settling. When you shrug your shoulders and go, ‘Yeah, well, ah.’

This is probably the most dangerous thing which will turn you from someone who is active into passive.

Settling is spawned from questions and dead ends.

‘Can I really do this?’

‘Where do I go from here?’

‘What now?’

‘I don’t know how to do this…’

‘What if I don’t make it.’

or worst of all…

‘Do I really want this?’

I think from the get go in life you have to decide if you really, genuinely want that thing that you think you want.

Do I want to be an author? Yes.

Do I want to change the lives of young people by giving them not only a awesome super fun, super cheap hobby but also a useful life skill? HECK Yes!

So I challenge myself, don’t you DARE be passive.

Active gets you up in the morning thinking about that thing that you strive for.

Active turns dead ends into way forwards.

Active gets on the phone to make that call you don’t want to.

Active grits it’s teeth and charges headlong into whatever it is you have to do.

Active fights for what it wants.

Active isn’t afraid of how you are perceived but by what you are and what you have to offer the world.

Active is life on fire.

I’m probably more so speaking to myself here but I challenge you, just as I challenge myself today to live life more intentional. Not afraid, but willing to undertake whatever you have to, to keep moving forward.

Wait.

That’s from a super awesome movie.

 

 

Books We Need to Not Lose.

When I was fourteen or so I decided to take on a pretty hefty book-reading-challenge.
Inspired by X-Men 2 (don’t ask…) I made a commitment to read The Once and Future King.
For those who don’t know what that is, it is all volumes of T. H. White’s Arthurian Legends all in the one book.

It was super awesome. It was super awesome because as many people note on the internet, The Once And Future King, or the Sword and the Stone or The Queen of Air and Darkness or whatever other element of this book is the epitome of fantasy stories. It follows this cool little punk kid who goes onto to become this really awesome King, and T.H. White puts us all to shame with his character development.

Anyway, so seeing as it had been ten years since I’d read this book I decided; ‘Hey! I’m going to go and buy the Once and Future King, and read it!’

This is where I made a super sad discovery. The Once and Future King, the best of the best of fantasy in the entire world, the most well known story of King Arthur, which also frames basically the whole of Disney’s The Sword and the Stone is one of those books.

One of those books you CAN’T buy in a New Zealand bookstore off the shelf.
Sure I can order it online and it will take a million years aka: 5-9 days to ship then postage time, to come in.
Sure I can get it on Trademe shipped from the Australian warehouse (which again will take a million years)

A number of years back I had a pretty heated conversation with someone in a lecture about how tragic it was that Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit were fading out of kids’ awareness these days. My mum’s a teacher and she had been telling me how the majority of her new entrant (5 year old) class had absolutely no idea who Peter Rabbit or Winnie the Pooh were.
To me this was a tragedy.
Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit are iconic! The authors are brilliant, and the stories have this old-age-loveliness to them. The person I was arguing with had a massive whine and told me that he didn’t want his children reading about ‘a naughty rabbit who doesn’t do what his parents told him to do.’
But here’s the thing. There’s gazillions of books out there today. Some end up in bargain bins, others on our shelves forever and ever. I am convinced however, that we need to make a conscious effort to remember and pass on the books that we feel are worth remembering.
I made a decision a while ago, that I would purchase every single book that I loved as child, to keep so what when I have children I can ensure that they too get to enjoy those stories.
Some of the books I have collected along the way are things like:
- The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald, by Clifford B. Hicks
- Angles Unlimited Series, by Annie Dalton
- The Roman Mysteries Series by Caroline Lawrence
- The Adventurous Four series by Enid Blyton
- The Naughtiest Girl in School series by Enid Bltyon
- Every single book I can get my hands on by William Joyce
- Biggles by Captain W.E. Johns
- Emile and the Detectives and Emile and the Three Twins by Erich Kästner
- Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streffield
- Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anyway I want to encourage you to create your own list of ‘classics’ those books that you remember being worthwhile and worth keeping. The problem as we go on and on into a digital age is that all the methods of getting stuff are often trawled by people who decide what needs to remain and what doesn’t. This is why I committed to hunting these books to keep to hold in my own hand, and pass on.

Do you have any books that are your own ‘Personal Classics?’ I’d totally love to hear them

Why I Am Drawn To B Grade Stories.

I have this secret.

I love B Grade Stories.

Like… not always (because sometimes it is actually good to have something genuinely worthwhile to read/watch) but every now and then I just want something cheesy, stupid, full of plot holes and easy to swallow.

Some prime examples of this are:

- Pacific Rim (‘Today, we’re cancelling the apocalypse!’ – like, who says that!?)

- The Annie Dalton ‘Angels Academy’ series. Oh. My. Goodness. I have every one of the books because I want my children to appreciate it years and years from now.

Or my absolute personal favorite:

- Journey To The Centre of the Earth/ Journey 2 (staring that shorter guy from Hunger Games) is just… wow. New level of bad-but-good movieness.

As a matter of fact I am hugely excited for the release of the movie Pompeii. Someone was describing it to me a while back in a ‘totally-don’t-go-see-that-movie’ kind of way but I was standing there thinking: holy moly this sounds amazingly awful!

I don’t know about you, but when a bad story hits a sweet spot of badness, it becomes this other thing.

Oh! That’s right. Entertaining.

But there’s this balance, you know? This balance between: ‘Oh-My-Goodness-This-Is-Super-Lame-But-So-Addictive’ and ‘This-Is-So-Bad…-I-Have-Just-Wasted-(Insert Time Spent)-Hours-Of-My-Life’.

Some examples of the latter are:

- Alpha and Omega (the movie about wolves but sort of Romeo and Juliet? Oh No.)

- The ‘Iron Fey’ (midsummer night’s dream… stupid people who say Faery rather than Fairy. Stop it.)

- The ‘Gallagher Girls’ series (when Americans need to stop writing variant spy stories which are sort of like Harry Potter… it is just not genuine!)

I guess really average B- Grade stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but for me, in a world of serious, and editing, and working with kids to write really great things, sometimes finding something almost laughably entertaining is awesome.

So I am going on holiday to Rotorua on Friday, and I wanted something B-Grade to enjoy while away. After a little hunting I have found my recent Holy-Moly-How-Was-This-Ever-Published-It-Is-So-Bad-But-So-Cheesy-It-Is-Some-What-Enjoyable.

It is called ‘The Selection’ by Kiera Cass.

Thing… big brother house, meets hunger gamesish… meets girl who has to compete on reality TV to make a Prince fall in love with her in a somewhat dystopian society.

Major Cheese.

I’ll let you know how it gets on, but so far it is just so, so, so lame but so, so, so good.

But as I said, there’s a line between Good Bad, and Bad Bad.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite B Grade awesomenesses so post below!

Seriously though…

Image

Over Correction – Creating Characters

I just get really stressed out about coming up with characters.

Is that bad for an author to say?

I’m not kidding though. All of a sudden this super-sweet-oh-my-gosh-how-cool-is-this idea will pop into my head and I’ll get super pumped but then… I will freak out entirely because I’m like.

OH NO.

I have to come up with characters.

Here’s the thing, and you can probably sympathies with ‘the thing.’ We all have ‘types’.

Like the base ingredients to the characters that we create. A handful of personality traits that we are like ‘wow that’s cool and I can work with that.’ I totally have a type. The problem is when you come up with a new idea… I completely stress out because I know I have a type… so I think of the main characters I have created previously and instead of thinking like a rational person and creating some very genuine characters… I freak out and just make the total opposite to what I’ve made before.

Like in How I Met Your Mother – the Over-Correction.

When you’ve done one thing, so to avoid that thing again to take a HUGE dive sideways rather than just being sensible about it.

Kind of like JK Rowling and the whole Harry Potter VS. Casual Vacancy thing… (no offense if Casual Vacancy is your jam…)

Anyway, so I was kind of in that place recently. I was like ‘oh yeah, I have a great idea for a story… now how do I make a cast of unique characters… I KNOW! I’ll just make them totally opposite to everything I’ve ever done!’

Then – thankfully – I stopped and chilled-the-heck-out.

Characters are hugely important. Far too important to use to make a point about how ‘different’ you are as a writer.

It is for this reason that you must genuinely seek out the personalities which will be at play in whatever super-sweet storyline you’ve just imagined.

For me, it’s taking a long, hard look at the story and asking the question: ‘what would work/seem natural here?’ and allowing the character to grow rather than picking a one-size-fits-all opposite of what you’ve done previously.

My dream is that the characters I create will be allowed to mature and grow and form in a way that is unique, natural and consistent so they lead the story rather than me.

I was watching the Gilmore Girls recently. Whatever your opinion about the Gilmore Girls no one can deny that there is a cast of well crafted characters within the series. To me, that’s the dream. To invent a cast that’s real, genuine, a little quirky, perfect for the setting and that people will care about.

 

gilmore girls. ha love it

Top Seven Songs I Listen To When Writing

I cannot write without music, like… at all ever.

I don’t know if everyone is like this, but I use music as a tool when writing. I find it’s a really useful way to anchor yourself to a feeling or state of mind without forcing yourself to mirror or imitate the emotional circumstance of the specific piece you’re crafting.

Anyway, I am always on the lookout for really good songs to stir the imagination. These are my CURRENT top seven.

Image

There is a serious amount of Falling Up represented because their new albums are literally rock operas and just amazing. Anyone who hasn’t listened to Aeva and the Waving World is SERIOUSLY missing out

In saying this… the latest Owl City EP comes out Friday so… this top seven may change.

 

Do you write with music? I would be super keen to know you’re top songs!