Mapping the world with words

AUTHOR John Heffernan lives on a farm in Walcha, but his books map stories from around the world.

INSPIRING: Author John Heffernan is visiting Inverell next week to talk to students and writers of all ages.

INSPIRING: Author John Heffernan is visiting Inverell next week to talk to students and writers of all ages.

John will be visiting Inverell for a week beginning May 12 to share his latest novel, NAVEED with young and adult readers. The visit will include a road trip of schools across the region discussing the book and writing and an adult writing workshop on May 13.

Inverell’s Dust Jacket book shop owner, Josh McPhee, has been key organiser of the week with John.

“We’re going as far as Emmaville, Tenterfield, Glen Innes, in town. It’s been a huge project,” Josh said.

The book tour for NAVEED has taken John to all the major capitals, and with a week spare, he phoned Josh to see if there was a chance to visit the area.

“I’ve been a few times to Inverell. Inverell is one of my really, really favourite towns, It’s a lovely town to talk to the students of the various schools there.” 

He said when it comes to travelling, he prefers making time to share his insights as a write rather than spruiking for his latest book.

“Writing workshops, es-pecially with older students, and with adults, are just really a big eye-opener about life.”

NAVEED is about an Afghan teenager who assumes the role as man of the house after his father’s death in a lifetime of war. John felt this novel ranks among the most important books he’s written.

“The major books I’ve written over the years, I think about eight of the 50 or so I’ve written I consider major, major books, I’ve dealt with ordinary people placed in big situations, like the big canvas of natural disaster or war, or anything like that.”

He believed his book My Dog, about war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina, promoted publisher Allen & Unwin to contact him. 

“So Allen & Unwin called me up and said they’re picking from around the world to write about a conflict zone through the eyes of a young person.”

John was excited because he already laid the groundwork for a story with research on Afghanistan. The only thing that had stopped him was the emotions governing such a tragic situation.

“I kept finding it so depressing and I wanted to write a positive story, which is sounds a bit ridiculous to write a positive story about war, but it can be done.”

John said he didn’t cast a glow over the often harsh reality of Afghanistan for his readers.

“My research allowed me to look beyond the blinding fog of war that enshrouds Afghanistan to the personal stories of real men, women and especially children.”

Adults have read John’s book, but his target readership is between years 6 and 10. 

“I would hope that those young people would take away from this, first of all that people in Afghanistan, kids in Afghanistan, like this young boy, the young Naveed, he’s just like us; and he just wants the joys and thrills, he actually wants a childhood, but he’s not allowed to have a childhood cause he’s the man of the house.”

“His father’s died and he has to look after his mother, he has to work, he can’t go to school. He would love to go to school more than anything and he’s a relatively educated boy off his own bat.” 

“I would hope it would open people’s eyes to how amazingly different the world is in different places. That’s why we travel. That’s why we do things like that and you can have those experiences through a book. 

“To me, I’ve been to Afghanistan a few times, and I want to get across a feeling for this-an amazing place that it is. 

“Maybe transport the reader there and transport them to a life in a way they could live themselves, if they just happened to have been born in a different place.”

Within the workshops, John stresses opening the mind and explores an interesting concept in collecting ideas.

“I try make the people who are doing the workshop realise that in many ways your mind is like a dog; like when you take a dog for a walk. You have to let the dog, the mind, you have to let it off the leash, you have to let it go, and have to let it look everywhere and find everything, and every now and then, you have to bring it back. “You have to put it on the leash and say ‘Right, this is what we’re writing’.

He explained that life presents a vast array of tales to tell.

“You have to get this idea that the world is full of stories, everywhere you go. Every person that you talk to is a story. Every skid mark on a road-a story; the old lady walking down the road-she’s a story. 

“There’s stuff there that’s just amazing if you want to follow it.”

The adult writing workshop with John Heffernan is Tuesday, May 13 from 6 to 8.30 pm at the Inverell Public Library. Tickets are $35 and available through The Dust Jacket. For more information, contact the shop on 6722 4444. To learn more about John, his web site is www.spudplus.com.

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