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Acclaimed author teaches teenage boys art of reading

TRISTAN Bazant has dreams of writing for the stage and screen when he finishes school, but his main challenge right now is learning to read regularly.

The St Mary’s College senior was one of hundreds of students to learn handy tips on creative writing and recreational reading habits from James Phelan, one of Australia’s most popular young adult authors.

Mr Phelan, who regularly addresses schools in Australia and the United States, provided Year 11 and 12 students with helpful advice for writing as well as how to make time for reading in their week.

Tristan said he has never been a consistent reader, a trait shared by plenty of his friends.

“It’s very hard to get boys to read – I didn’t start reading recreationally until the age of 12 and I’ve read very few books in my lifetime,” he said.

“I will start reading (James’) new series.

“Eventually I want to become a scriptwriter and a story writer, so for me getting those tips it has enhanced my ability to perform in the future.

“All his tips were great – he was actually really friendly and funny with his speech and I think he really connected with the boys and helped all of us, not just those looking to do creative writing.”

Author, James Phelan conducts workshops at St Mary's College. July 2017
Author, James Phelan conducts workshops at St Mary’s College. July 2017 Bev Lacey

Mr Phelan, who has won critical acclaim for his action-adventure books series like Alone and the Lachlan Fox thriller novels, said the key to appealing to boys was to mix entertainment with education.

“You get used to the different age groups and what jokes will land,” he said.

“If I’m talking to full year level rather than an entire school, I just try to be as entertaining as possible.

“There are things that we’ll come across that I liken to slipping a pill into the dog food – they don’t know it’s good for them but it’s in there and they’re going to learn something.

“You just try to make it as enjoyable as you can, because… it’s more about those reluctant readers and getting them engaged.”

Mr Phelan said the struggle to get more teenage boys into reading was made worse by what he saw as a reduced emphasis on library resources in schools.

“In a way it’s not hard, and it’s actually easier than ever because there’s so much young adult material, which wasn’t around when I was a kid,” he said.

“For anyone who hasn’t developed a love for reading, it’s all about finding the right book at the right time.

“So many schools across Australia and in the United States are getting rid of their librarians and their libraries.

“It’s all just going downhill, because if it’s not STEM (science and mathematics), schools don’t believe it has worth.”

St Mary’s library technician Cathy Collins said Mr Phelan was an ideal choice for the school because of his broad appeal.

“He’s probably one of the most popular authors in our library at the moment,” she said.

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Acclaimed author teaches teenage boys art of reading