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A journey of self-discovery and healing with author John Marsden. The man who invented the 'Tomorrow' series reveals why it's education that's his life's work. This Program is Captioned Live by CSI Australia Hello and welcome to One Plus One. I'm Jane Hutcheon. John Marsden is the best-selling author of fiction for teenagers including the 'Tomorrow' series about the imaginary invasion The series
and occupation of Australia. The series also inspired a film. John is also the founder and principal of an alternative school called Candlebark outside Melbourne. His love for books and writing started at an early age but clarity came after a spell of mental illness. John's latest book is his first work of fiction for John
adults, 'South of Darkness'. Plus
John Marsden, welcome to One Plus One.Thank you.You spent the ages I think between 6 and 10 living on the top floor of a bank building in the middle of a country town. Was that when your love affair with books started? I guess it was. It was a very isolated life looking back. I didn't think of it that way at the time. But we were in the middle of the CBD of Devonport, Tasmania and the have
nearest friends I had would have been blocks and blocks away. So every night the CBD in Devonport, you can imagine, was very quiet and there was a kind of silence came over the whole area. I spent most of those years immersed in books. I hardly lifted my nose out of a book I think for four years.Did you have brothers and sisters? Two sisters and a brother. We had an active family life but in those days an active family life was pretty different to today. There weren't a lot of ex kurtions and trips because, firstly in Tasmania, there is not a lot of places to go. But the way cars were, the availability of fuel, you didn't think of driving a thousand k's from Sydney to Melbourne, for example. It wasn't something that people would readily do. When we did drive to Sydney in 1960, our car, because it had Tasmanian numberplates, was the object of absolute fascination. Crowds would gather.You're kidding? Absolutely. They would be astonished to see a car from Tasmania. It was just - we felt like celebrities.Did you feel very different when you arrived in Sydney? Yeah, I just didn't - it took a long time to find my feet, I suppose, and to work out how it all worked. I attracted some derision from - we stayed at a private hotel in Mosman for some months while my parents were house hunting and I was fascinated by bus tickets because I had never seen them before. I collected them. I thought they were the most pristine and extraordinary things. I had the hotel room lined with rows and rows of bus tickets carefully arranged. Now I'd probably be diagnosed as having autism for doing that but I just liked these exotic tickets to unknown destinations.Your dad was a Bank executive but he also fought in the war. Did that as far
have any kind of impact on him, as far as you were aware, as a child? Not as a child. I think as an adult I started to realise how profoundly it had affected him but he surprised me in the last couple of years of his life and he came to my school to talk about his war experience. One of the kids said "What was it really like?". He took a deep breath and said "It was the greatest it
adventure of my life". He said it with such feeling. I was startled. I hadn't thought of it that way. But if you survived it and didn't have too many horrific experiences, it had a boy's own adventure quality to it.Was there harmony in the house? My father was prone to long silences. He certainly had problems with his anger and I think the boys felt that more than the girls. He didn't really start talking, like so many veterans, about the war until he was probably in his 50s I'd say. Then he couldn't stop talking about it. For the last 20 or 30 years of his he was
life, it was not obsessive but he was very, very keen to talk about it and was very active in keeping in contact with people who he had been in the regiment with.When you moved to Sydney, you also changed schools obviously and you went to the King's School in Parramatta which you describe as a 'Deeply conservative paramilitary institution'. That's quite tough. 'With strict standards and a culture of rugby and rowing".Mmmm.What was your rebellion? It was an ongoing rebellion, really. It wept for a good - went for a good four years and consisted of passive aggressive behaviour, I suppose. A lot of the time I was so bored that I felt I would go crazy. I sat in class feeling this desperation to escape because the lessons were so boring, the teachers were so boring. I remember watching the minute hand on the clock just ticking and ticking and ticking and just longing for that bell. The form of my rebellion was in being cheeky, breaking rules, being defiant, not doing the things I was expected to do and doing the things that were forbidden. That was like a guerilla warfare for four years.Do you think episode at school, at the King's School, sowed the seeds for you wanting to establish your own school? Definitely. I remember at 15, sitting in class and thinking about the school that I would run and how different it would be and looking at all these practices they followed at King's and thinking "Why do they do
they do it that way? Why don't they do it this way?". It all seemed so obvious. It was. My arguments were quite reasonable, I wasn't asking for 50m swimming pools and sort of servants fanning us with giant fans. I just wanted some better relationships with teachers and a more humane atmosphere and more - less oppressive and repressive regime. I wasn't dreaming of the impossible but I think there was a great fear of students and the idea that teachers would lose control of a class. That was always the great driving force in the way people taught. This fear of losing control of the class meant that they would be ridiculously repressive and often physically very violent and I kept arguing, as I got older, with teachers saying "You would get more respect and better results if you adopted a more humane and human approach".Were you pretty sure you were going to go into teacher education at the time? were
Because your early years at uni were not the best, were they? which
No. I started doing arts law which was really just - I liked law a lot but I think my motivation for going into that course was pretty vague . I'd watched Perry Mason on TV and he'd won every case that he defended so that was inspiring. I had no thought of going into teaching. In fact, I had been encouraged to despise teaching and to consider it a low-value, low-status profession. It was the last thing on my mind. But I got to the point where I dropped out of university so many times that I had a very polite letter from the university suggesting maybe I should give more thought to what courses I enrolled in before I signed up again. I took the hint and didn't go back for a while. Then eventually decided I'd give teaching a go and see if I liked it. From the first day I loved it, so that was lucky.You had a estimate in a psychiatric - stint in a psychiatric hospital. Was that a sudden event or had there that was
been some build-up of something that was going on inside you? There had been a long build-up but not one that I recognised in any sort of conscious or intelligent way. It was just this sense of despair and confusion and chaos and a feeling that I didn't know what was going wrong but I knew something was terribly wrong and that everything was kind of slipping away from me and I had going
no understanding of what was going on and no sense of safety or security. I ended up becoming quite suicidal and I remember having this very rational thought which was "Before I kill myself, I should at least exhaust all the possible avenues or remedies that are there". I hadn't been to a psychiatrist or a doctor or counsellor or anything like that, I had some contempt for those professions but I thought I'd be silly to kill myself before at least attempting that kind of approach. So I made an appointment with a psychiatrist and he admitted me pretty much straightaway. Within about 20 horror in
minutes I found myself, to my horror in hospital - 20 minutes is an exaggeration but a couple of hours.What was the diagnosis? They never told me but I guess depression. I was told I would be in there six weeks because they had a belief if they gave you a fixed date of departure, that would give you something to work towards and avoid a perpetual state of It was
melancholy. That worked for me. It was a profound change in my point
life. Probably the turning point of my life.Turning point in the sense you came out and realised you could manage some of the feelings of despair and hopelessness or in a different way? Pretty much. I didn't come out of it totally cured and bound away and start a career or whatever but I did come out of it with a sense that I had found support, that I'd found sympathetic understanding, that I'd found possible future. There was a sense that life wasn't hopeless and that there were ways forward. Then I continued seeing a therapist who eventually became a psycho-analytical psychotherapist and, on and off for many years, I continued better
that treatment, for want of a better word, which I found very sustaining, very helpful and really enabled me to be here here
today. I don't think I'd be that right?
here if it wasn't for that.Is that right? Mmm.You have said the Black Dog is always outside the door, never far away. Are you talking about even these days? Yeah. I can still get easily depressed, frustrated or despairing. It usually takes me a while to get that glimmer of light and start to figure out how things can improve. But, I have, having said that, I have become much more used to
solutions-orientated than I used to be. If a problem presents itself, I'm thinking in terms of solutions much more immediately than I used to. That certainly helps in running there
a school, for example, where there are problems every day, minor and major. One of my Harry Truman
front mantra s is a thing of Harry Truman which he had on his desk which said "Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions". I liked that approach.Your serious writing, depends what
when did that start? It depends what you call writing. I started writing in Grade 4, Grade 6, right through high school. When I was 20, I wrote a novel which was long but I suspected it wasn't very good and I sent it to one publisher who rejected it and that was enough. I was already pretty sure it was unpublishable. I was 37 when my first book was published and that was 'So Much instant
To Tell You'.That was an instant success, wasn't it? I couldn't believe it . It just took off. I think it was in the very early days of teenage fiction, the genre had just been invented. There were very few Australian novels in that category. I kind of got in idea
early, I guess. Yeah, I had no idea it would change my life as profoundly as it did.You were always teaching as well as being a writer? Yep. I kept teaching until I had six books published, then took some time off.Your 'Tomorrow' series, which was equally successful,lo is about a group of teenagers. For me the overriding them is one of resilience. To what extent is your writing for teenagers really the story that goes through your life of the need to be resilient? Well, yeah. I think all my books are about the human spirit in some sense or other so it's about people trying to overcome obstacles which are often terrible obstacles and within
eventually finding something within them which enables them to move forwards with their life, or not. In a couple of cases, they don't. Yeah, that parallels with my own life. Some of the books are pretty flippant but most are quite serious. I guess the overriding message for want of a better word is there is something deep within human beings that enables us to keep going through adversity and come out the side if we don't give up. There is enough there for us to rebuild our lives even though they might be badly damaged.Is this a theme in your whole I
philosophy of education? Yes. I was very influenced by Ellis Miller, a psychotherapist from Switzerland who wrote a lot of books which I found moving. She talks about if you are badly damaged in infancy or childhood, you will never achieve a complete repair, you won't be fixed so the problems have completely disappeared and no longer have impact on you. I found that heartening rather than depressing because what she says is "You can still have a life but it will be affected by what has happened and no matter what work you do on yourself, no matter how far you move forwards, you will still never escape entirely those shadows". I felt that was my situation. It is good to know I can still have a life, even though it might be shaky at times, you can still make it work.With the kids at your school, obviously a lot of parents these days are driven by outcomes. The success, academic success of the school, what those kids come out to be, what they then go on to be when they choose their careers. What is the best outcome you've had at your school and is that something you find yourself constantly having a conversation about with the parents? I think in general terms, what I want and the best outcome we can achieve is someone who can live life in a way that enables them to experience everything that happens in its purest form. When parents say to me "I just want my child to be happy", I don't tell them they're insane but I do suggest to them that's a ridiculous goal own kind of hopeless aspiration to have and useful
that it would be far more useful if they thought of their child being able to experience everything that comes along which means that, if something awful happens, as it will, that you can work your way through that and emerge from it and go on with your life but it also means that, if something joyful should be
happens, and it will, then you should be able to experience that to the fullest too because there are people who don't seem able to enjoy the good things of life just as there are people who seem to be constantly in a state of gloom and melancholy. Just that ability to live life to the fullest and experience all that happens to you in a meaningful way, I think that's the most we can hope for.I know at your school there isn't a huge emphasis on technology but kids these days are constantly connected. They are constantly online, constantly sending pictures of themselves. How do you build an element of resilience into the lives of kids in this modern age? Well, we banned electronic gadgetry -You ban them, do you? We ban the personal stuff like the iPhones and iPads so while they are at school they can't use them but they use computers for school projects and so on. Like most people watching this, I have seen so many horrifying situations, especially in restaurants, where - the other day, for example, my wife and I watched a baby who was too young to feed herself but playing a game on an iPad and the parents, invariably in these situations, are e immersed in their own conversation, or their electronic gadgets so there is no conversation, no relationship, no communication between parents and children. We see that now in every restaurant pretty much and it is an awful sight. We don't let our kids play with their apads in - iPads in the middle of a meal at a restaurant or at home. At school and home we are big on the idea people should communicate. At school, the emphasis is on first-hand experiences so rather than watching someone like Bear Grylls having experiences in his program on TV, you are actually out there getting your hands dirty, running up hills, rolling down them or sliding down them in the mud, playing stick wars or riding bikes or skateboards, going to gallery s and musims. - museums. We take kids to the WOMAD festival in SA every year, Mona gallery in Hobart, trips overseas. We want them to experience life at rather than
close quarters and to live it rather than get it through this kind of second-hand, third-hand, fourth-hand version.The school started in 2006, what do you notice is the difference between Candlebark kids and other kids? I think the biggest difference is they're good-natured and - their good natured and tolerant approach to life. They seem able to engage with all kinds of people, to manage all kinds of situations and they seem to have a very generous and open outlook. They certainly don't seem to be bothered by discrimination or to practise discrimination. They seem to be people who take their place in a world in a very open-minded and trusting way.You yourself, even though you have been surrounded by kids all your life, you had a family or you found yourself a family late in life. Does that add a completely different dimension to your life and your purpose, I suppose? Absolutely. I've gone from a monastic life to one that's teeming with life. We've got six boys and they range in age from 10 to 20 and they're hilarious, that's the they're
first thing I'd say about them, they're incredibly funny. I like that. But I now find myself doing all those things many parents would be familiar with, like endless driving to soccer games or cricket games or tennis games or whatever, parties, birthday parties, sleepovers. Just endless engagement with kind of mundane bowling
stuff like playing Monopoly or bowling cricket balls in the back yard or just watching TV together. I've come to the conclusion, which I always suspected anyway, that quantity of time is more important than quality of time. Those mundane hours spent doing these essentially meaningless activities are actually the most rewarding or the most effective ways parents can build relationships with children because I'm proud to say that the six stepchildren, I get on well with. It's a really good relationship with all of them which didn't come easily and didn't happen overnight but I think I can say with some confidence that it's pretty good.Have you changed? Yeah. I think I'm more tolerant and more - nothing much makes me angry anymore. But that's partly an outcome of therapy too I think. So I will get momentairely an - angry but it won't last. If a window gets broken, one of the kids beats up the other kid, I will tell them to stop or be irritated about the broken window but it is not something I will hang on to for hours or days and that's a change for me.I want to talk about your novel, 'South of Darkness'. It is for adults but it is still about a teenager who intentionally commits a crime and is transported to Australia. Why did you choose to keep a teenager, a child, in your story? I'm not sure really. It is such an intense period of life, childhood and adolescence. I remember meeting a bloke in Queensland who was about 90 and who was dying of skin cancer and mostly what he he
talked about was his year when he was captain of his primary school in Grade 6. I thought gosh, it's interesting that, after 80 more years of life, that's still what he treasures most, values most and what seems to be most important to him but it is true our childhoods do set the tone for our adult lives and those intense experiences of child #4d are so important - childhood are so important to us. I suppose that's why I'm attracted to writing about it because everything is experienced for the first time and so it has much more impact. You get more cynical I think as you get older and more experienced and that can be less interesting.John, I wonder, you've had several successful careers. Do you ever dwell on the meaning of success and what success means? Yeah, a little. I came to the awareness pretty early on that most of our definitions of success involve being loved by strangers, which is a meaningless concept because strangers can't love someone So
because they don't know them. So when people gush about my books, I am a bit dismissive of it inwardly because I think, well, it's nice that you like the book but I can't take any more away from the conversation than that. So success, I think running the school and being a good partner to my wife Chris and being a successful stepfather, they would be easily the most important things in my life.Really? So you mean selling more than 2 million copies of a book - a lot of authors couldn't support themselves in their careers, you wouldn't name multiple sales of your books in many countries as part of success? It's nice but it seems unreal. It just feels like it's too bizarre to really contemplate. I remember standing in a bookshop in Perth browsing through the shelves and I had been there for some minutes before I realised there was a above
huge poster of myself right above my head. I had been standing under it for about five minutes. I thought "God" and kind of scuttled away, It
couldn't get away fast enough. It was just embarrassing more than anything. I think one of the kids at home picked up the new book and on the front it says something about 'Australia's master story tellerser - teller'. He said "I don't know you were a master story teller". I said "I'm Australia's master story teller, get it right". That was such a dream when I was young that anyone could apply those words to me, what more could I ask for? I don't know if you remember the film 'Cool Runnings' about the Jamaican bobsled team, there is a great line "If you weren't enough before the gold medal, you won't be enough after the gold medal". I have come to realise if you are not enough before you get a book published or sell a few million books, you won't be enough after it. That alone will not transform your life or make you a better or happier person. It is nothing to do with external success.Your step kids as well as the kids in your school are constantly faced with a sense of comparison and success meaning you have to be wealthy when you get older. In your view, what are the real tools we should be giving kids to be resilient in the modern world? Yeah, it's interesting they not only equate success with that right?
money but also being on TV.Is that right? Yeah, if your face is in the public domain, whether it's in newspapers or TV or magazines, and/or if you are rich, they are the criteria for kids but that's a very immature approach as we both know. I think self-understanding, self-awareness which is always incomplete but the closer you can get to it, the better. I know in dealing with parents at the school, they almost fall into two groups. The ones who can hear uncomfortable statements about their children and the ones who can't. The ones who can't are extremely if you
difficult to deal with because if you say "We are not happy about the way your son has been treating other children or the way your daughter has been behaving on the bus" and they immediately become indignant or defensive, that's a long gruelling process. But if they say "I know he can be a little bugger or she can be unpleasant at times" I give an inward sigh of relief because I know there is a good chance we will work together to find a solution to the child's behaviour.Hopefully this won't happen any time soon, but will your school Candlebark endure after you? I hope so. I give that a lot of thought. I have thought about different options and worked out different ways forward but it's certainly something I'm very aware of because schools that are started by one individual have a pretty poor history of survival when that one individual is knocked over by the inevitable bus. I'm very committed to the idea of keeping it going and making sure it remains strong.Do you worry about that? Yeah, I do a lot.Shouldn't end on a downer but it has been very interesting. Marsden mar, thank - John Marsden, thank you for has
speaking with One Plus One.It has been a pleasure.One Plus One is available on iView, you can browse the archive or contact us through the website. Stay in touch or leave comments via Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter. I look forward to your company next time. From me, goodbye. time. From me, goodbye. This program is not captioned.

Today - New Zealand police confirm two dead climbers found near Mount Cook are Australians. This Program Is Captioned Live by CSI Australia Also ahead - a spear fisherman mauled by a shark off the central Queensland coast. Child care costs predicted to hit $200 a day in some major cities by 2017. Stephen O'Keefe set to make his home debut after being named to replace Peter Siddle for the third Test. Hello. You're watching ABC News. I'm Kathryn Robinson. A quick look at the weather for tomorrow: More Australian lives have