The Hot Breath of Humanity and The Art of Growing Up

The Hot Breath of Humanity and The Art of Growing Up

The Hot Breath of Humanity and The Art of Growing Up

The Hot Breath of Humanity and The Art of Growing Up

by Ponderings Radio

by Kirsten Macdonald

Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears…

 John Marsden has the knowledge, and he’s not afraid to use it.

 John wrote a book, and it comes with a warning tag because in case you haven’t yet heard, The Art of Growing Up is not for the faint of heart. With over 5 million books in circulation and a teaching career spanning more than 3 decades, is this bloke really an expert on young people and humanity? Let’s find out.

Are we going to wax lyrical because we have a fan base here in the Ponderings office? Not on your life. This work deserves more.

It’s a  book that will challenge and create bedlam. On purpose. With purpose.

From the angel brat to parents behaving badly, the educational insights of Bart Simpson to the hero complex; The Art of Growing Up will get you thinking.





First-hand accounts will have you gasping, they are frightening accounts if we are honest. 

He takes complex modelling and hypothesis and turns it into a manifesto, not just about parenting but humanity. It’s time for humans to grow up. 

Marie Berg’s description of the umbilical cord pulsating, and the journey of a mother learning her baby’s cries,  skin against skin may bring tears.

His unapologetic compassion for children and understanding with a “we”  and “us” tone gives rise to humour around adaptability and the playful mocking of his beloved dog for the lack of opposable thumbs.

One moment you are reeling from a statistic to visualising a Divi van being rocked from side to side.

Transported to a Dickens novel listening to John take off Mrs Jellybe in raucous female tones,  could leave you with violent belly laughs. (Tip- we couldn’t resist the author’s voice in the audiobook version.) John Marsden certainly has a voice for painting a picture, and he’s not mucking around. 

Exploring the paradox of being human is presented in visions of people carving their initials into beached whales, only to be years later showing compassion.

Does he think we are all idiots? Not quite. Well maybe…


Is change possible? Can public opinion be shifted?


The irreversible damage to children is likened to climate change and deforestation growing right alongside narcissism. The physical and emotional abuses to kids just needing to be kids may induce either a deeply saddened sigh or a clenched fist or both.


Is there hope?



John’s suggestion that it may be time to honour those with progressive views may be a warning siren at the eleventh hour, and we agree, more than band aids are needed.


I can’t help but feel this is a  teachable moment paradoxically intentional. For a moment, you feel like this mentor has lost faith in humanity, and let’s face it,  he would not be alone. The contempt for ignorance is not so subtle.


We are seasoned with the reassurance of the evidence of people working tirelessly for a better world and teaching children to defeat the forces of self-interest and ignorance. You get a distinct idea that public opinion can be reversed if not re-engineered.


What is the answer? Open minds? Committing Good Deeds?


You don’t have to agree with him, but that’s the thing with Progressive thinkers, they aren’t asking you to.


Scroll down to read the interview…


We interview John Marsden about his new book The Art of Growing Up

John Marsden writer Australian novelist The Art of Growing Up

KM: There are some ideas that say the way the current western world is organised is intentional to keep it turning economically for the powers to be. Russell Brand and Brene Brown talk about the intricate idea- the way to rule the world is clear- you invoke fear, give the masses of the middle class a bully to be fearful about and introduce whatever power you like to control and exhume power. It is quite interesting. Do you think the fear coming through from parents is a post response to this- the need to protect the young? 


JM: In general, I agree with Brand and Brown, although of course there are other factors at work, such as the insatiable ambition of sociopaths for power. But a desire to protect the young has been a trait of human parents since time immemorial, in most or all societies… it does, however, seem to be getting too obsessive, partly in response to the realistic fear that the havoc wreaked by humans has reached a stage where we are in considerable danger.


KM: So much of the baby boomer era is marked with abuse, the cane, the blackened eyes and physical abuse as well as kids not getting “too ahead of themselves” and the very colonial idea of knowing one’s place, do you think parents now have mistakenly overstepped the balance, going too far the opposite way in an attempt to be better at everything? 


JM: Yes, although emotional abuse has also been a factor in previous generations, and physical abuse is still happening today. But it does seem that many of today’s adults and parents are angry at the way they were raised by their parents and angry at the way they were educated by their schools and teachers. This does, almost inevitably, cause a strong swing in the opposite direction.


KM: Bravery has been the theme of many of our stories because you don’t just wake up and say I am going to be brave today- bravery is a response to a situation, and you make a choice. You are a brave person in our opinion because, in many instances, you have pushed head-on into the “establishment” for the benefit of children’s education and their fundamental right to be heard and respected. The Alice Miller school’s namesake really explains a lot. What was the tipping point for you when you thought- this needs to be written? 


JM: The choice to be brave is usually only possible for people whose lives are built upon strong foundations, although sometimes it can be a reflex response to danger. I’ve written The Art of Growing up because of a growing sense of urgency… my feeling that the lives of many young people nowadays are so lacking in first-hand experiences that solid foundations for adulthood are not being laid. If children know little else than their home, the school campus, the shopping mall and the barren local playground, they enter adult life so lacking in understanding, initiative and imagination that their prospects are about as good as those of a snail on the MCG in the middle of the Grand Final.


KM: Courage is not easy for many people because the need to be liked is stronger. How do you forge this tenacity and foster the strength to be true to your ideas?


JM: It’s the inner person who matters most. A child subjected to relentless criticism is as badly off as a child subjected to mindless lavish praise. Children who confront plenty of authentic challenges – not fake ones – and are supported to overcome those challenges using their own resources (such as intelligence, creativity and learned skills) are likely to be successful in navigating the challenges of adult life.


KM: Do you ever get scared about not being a good enough parent or a teacher? 


JM: Sure, of course! But I try to be thoughtful – to draw back from a situation and get as much perspective on it as I can. And I’ll use common sense, instincts and my own life experiences… when they seem to be ringing true notes.


KM: Have you witnessed the playing of Fortnite, and what are your thoughts on gaming socially?


JM: Yes, most of our boys at home got into Fortnite pretty avidly for a few months, but then they moved on. Gaming can be a very sociable activity, especially when two or more kids are at the computer and there is some collaboration happening (which could be one kid shouting advice and/or criticism at the other of course!). 

I’ve got no problems with people playing computer games quite regularly (I’m pretty good at Crossy Road!) but not every day, not compulsively, not to the detriment of other activities. Essentially, computer games are mindless most of the time and meaningless all the time – but so are a lot of other leisure activities.


KM: Do you believe teachers should have to achieve a higher ATAR to get into University to make sure we are getting passionate teachers that really want to teach? In Finland a Masters Degree is required, it’s impressive. Thoughts?


JM: In general, yes, we have to do a lot to raise the standards of teachers. Unfortunately, teachers often give their own profession a bad press! For example, they complain to their students about how hard and frustrating and rewarding their job can be. This can result in the best and brightest students – the ones whom we desperately need as teachers – choosing other careers! 


KM: What is your favourite part about being a teacher? 


JM: I guess two things – one is that it’s a very creative job. Creating a lesson, creating the materials for it, opening metaphorical doors to young people – it’s exhilarating. The other is the opportunity to help children or teenagers who are struggling with their lives. When you see them make some progress, perhaps after a long period of stagnation or worse, you do feel that you’re doing something useful.


KM: If you could choose any fictional character from your books to be Prime Minister who would it be? 


JM: I’ll give the obvious answer and say, Ellie Linton. I like that she is gutsy, thoughtful and honest. She can look at herself in the mirror and acknowledge that she makes mistakes and has flaws –like every other human in the history of the universe. My second choice would be Lee, who is a complex guy and a deep thinker.


KM: What do you think about Ponderings and the telling of stories with an authentic voice rather than “selling a tale that grabs eyes” journalism? 


JM: Anything which allows and even encourages the authentic search for understanding and avoids the glib, the superficial, the shouting of slogans: it’s great to see. The shopping recommendations look O.K. too.

The Art of Growing Up Is Available at all good book stores.

We highly recommend the audio book, but we can’t ignore a good traditional book too.

Click the Book of the month link to buy both.


Treehouses, Hogwarts and the Home for the Perpetually Bewildered

Treehouses, Hogwarts and the Home for the Perpetually Bewildered

When I was 12 years old my mother bought me a book. It was So Much to Tell You by John Marsden. It is the story of a young girl disfigured from an acid attack, trying to find her place and her voice. As a young girl also with a facial deformity (I was born without an eyelid- yup true story) her character struck a chord in my heart that ran very deep. The binge reading of my early teens started a journey into the works of John Marsden lasting 20+ years- this uncanny ability he has to connect with our inner teenager in a narrative that is relatable and real is extraordinary. His non-fiction work is equally as impressive, although I won’t rave TOO much as it makes him incredibly embarrassed. I have been most fortunate as a writer to have attended a number of John’s writing camps and retreats back when Tye Estate was in full gear.  It was on one of these retreats that I decided to take this writing gig seriously as it was the one perplexing, driving, creative and urgent force in my life. The condition of Not-Writing to me is like not drinking water, or eating food. So not giving it the attention and dedication it required seemed somewhat silly. It was also here that it dawned on me that one does not need to be a literary genius to be an author, but what is absolutely necessary is an authentic voice. It is John I have to thank for this realisation and discovery. I was super excited when the Candlebark principal and best-selling author agreed to be featured in our launch edition of Ponderings. I am going to admit to you now- I may have clapped my hands in excitement when he said I could ask anything and to keep it quirky. What came next was LOTS of fun.

K : So John, you have two doors in front of you, one door is blue, and it opens up to the Hogwarts Dining Hall, the other is green, and it opens to Arthur’s Round Table- both are in full swing of a dinner party. Which door? Blue or green and why?

JM: Always nice to start with an easy question! Obviously, Hogwarts! Arthur’s roundtable is so… so yesterday. I’m a great admirer of JK Rowling, and the world she created. For one thing, you could have a lot of fun at Hogwarts. There are no jokes in the King Arthur story…

K:  Cubby house or treehouse?

JM: This one’s tougher. Cubby houses have a bit of a “back to the womb” feeling, which is attractive, but I think I prefer the treehouse, for the view of the future.

K:  Who is your favourite Simpson’s character and why?

JM: Sigh. Harder and harder. I like Ned Flanders because I can laugh at him without feelings of guilt, and that’s a rare privilege in our society. (Suddenly Donald Trump comes to mind; can’t think why.) I like Bart because he’s the kind of kid I was. Maggie is awesome. Barney is a legend, and so is Mo…

K: What makes you belly laugh, the type where you almost snort and can’t stop?

JM: The Simpsons, definitely. My wife, who’s incredibly funny. Kitty Flanagan. Mick Molloy. What doesn’t make me laugh are practical jokes. In 68 years of life, I’ve never seen one that’s funny, because they always involve making someone else feel uncomfortable.

K: What is the best comeback line you have used and thought- “Wow, that was actually a good one.”

JM: I was supervising an all boys’ class who were meant to be working in silence. One boy had a Chupachup in his mouth (which, perhaps surprisingly, was allowed). But he kept talking to his neighbour. Finally, I said: “If you talk again I’ll shove that Chupachup so far down your throat you’ll end up with a third testicle”. The whole group collapsed in hysterical laughter, and I admit I had to struggle to keep the smirk off my face.

K: Have you ever had a moment where you thought you were going to quit but kept going? If so, what was the grit that got you to keep going?

JM: Oh God, every day. A strong sense of duty, instilled by my parents, keeps me going, as well as the strength I gained from many years of psychoanalysis with a great therapist.

K: Does country living inspire you to be creative? What draws you to it?

JM: I love country life, but I don’t think it inspires me to be creative. I’m at my most creative in a motel room where there is nothing to do but stare at the wall or watch TV. In other words, there are no distractions. I love the country because of the space, the greenery, the vast sky, the wonderful variety of natural smells.

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K: I will never forget the first time I met you, I was expecting this sort of professor type with polished shoes and a sniff, dripping with literary devices and a rounded vowel accent and instead the most normal and down to earth bloke pulled up on a four-wheel motorbike, with mud on his workbooks and a dog riding shotgun. You were a revelation of grounded No BS genius and friendliness. Given the industry you are in, how on earth do you deal with pretentiousness or literary snobbiness that can be found in the Arts space? Because sometimes intelligencia is used as a show car, and you aren’t a show car kind of man- what advice do you give young writers stepping into that space?

JM: Oh dear, how embarrassing! I suppose I’d say to them that the love of strangers is meaningless. People might love your books, which is nice, but they can’t say they love you because they don’t know you. The only people whose opinions matter are people who know you really well: your partner, your children, your parents, your siblings. And if a significant number of them don’t have a good opinion of you, then something may be wrong… You may need to “take a good hard look at yourself”, as the Coodabeen Champions would say.

K: What perplexes you the most and why?

JM: Life. People – all of them, including myself. Edna Everage sometimes mentioned that her mother was in a Home for the Perpetually Bewildered. That’s where I belong.

K: Who is someone you admire a lot and why?

JM: I admire the work of Bob Dylan. I don’t know a lot about him as a person, but what I do know, I like. I admire great educational leaders, like Winifred West, Dorothy Ross, Betty Archdale, Sir James Darling, Peter Gebhardt — all of them now dead, but they had the courage to blaze trails instead of following meekly behind society, like today’s school principals. I admire Jane Austen for her wit, perspicacity, and command of the English language.

K: Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart?

JM: Paul McCartney, definitely. When I was a teenager, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and JD Salinger changed the way I understood the world, and made me realise that people could strike out in new directions, could do things differently. I don’t think Rod Stewart has ever changed the way anyone understands the world.

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K: Do you have a recent song that gets stuck in your head?

JM: Apart from “Sons of the West”? Somewhat bizarrely, I’ve gone back to Gilbert and Sullivan, the forerunners of Monty Python and John Clarke. I keep playing their operas, especially Patience, Iolanthe, Trial by Jury, and HMS Pinafore.

K: What book are reading right now? How do you rate it?

JM: I’ve just finished two novellas by Nathanael West, an American writer killed in a car crash in 1940. They were good: clever and funny and stylish, especially A Cool Million, but I wouldn’t strongly recommend them. There are better books around!

K: When we both get a break, can I come over and make you and Kris a cup of tea and bring cakes with me?

JM: lol thanks, what a great offer!

K: Did you get to watch the explosion scenes in Tomorrow When the War Began movie and was it awesome?

JM: No, I didn’t. They used a model, which cost $60,000 to make, so when they filmed it they had to hope it worked perfectly, and that the cameras were all rolling from start to finish!

Time for this Ponderer to get baking…


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