TELLING TALES: Children's author Felice Arena is a master at storytelling.
TELLING TALES: Children's author Felice Arena is a master at storytelling. Penguin Random House Australia

It's all in the telling

THE benefits of reading have been widely espoused and there is no question it is an important skill but a recent encounter made me realise that oral storytelling is core to all tales.

But is it a craft we are losing the ability to use? Is it slowly being replaced with technology and the visual representation we crave?

Before the written word, all stories were spoken, passed from one generation to the next as part of oral traditions but over time books and recordings began to take the place of storytellers.

As part of his South East Queensland school tour to help launch his latest book, The Boy and the Spy, I had the pleasure of seeing children's author Felice Arena present his thoughts about reading to a room of Year 6 students. He's a natural at telling stories.

The space in the library was the perfect place for Mr Arena to speak about his experiences as a writer and share his love of books and the stories that inspired him to put pen to paper.

His childhood memory of purchasing his first paperback from the school book club and placing it in the obligatory drawstring library bag, lovingly made by his nonna, set the tone for his talk.

The former teacher, actor, and television presenter began writing while living in the United Kingdom.

Sparked by nostalgia of growing up in country Victoria and missing home, Felice's debut novel for children about a dolphin and a swimmer, set in Australia, was picked up by a UK publisher.

In his literary career spanning 20 years, the award-winning author has penned numerous best-sellers including the enormously successful Specky Magee series he co-write with his former school friend and AFL legend, Garry Lyon.

He used this plot as a way to engage his audience and get the students involved in the storytelling experience.

Specky Tom, one of the Year 6 students, re-enacted in slow motion the taking of a spectacular mark, cheered on by his classmates, the spectators in the scene.

This had everyone in the room hooked and emphasised Felice's message about bringing stories to life.

"A book is like a mirror that should reflect your world and imagination,” he said.

Surrounded by shelves filled with stories of science fiction, action and adventure, mystery, fantasy, comedy and drama, Felice Arena highlighted the importance of reading a wide range of genres.

He also provided the group with some useful tips on writing.

Felice played a couple of tracks of music and asked his charges to brainstorm a list of words evoked through listening.

He said: "Creating a bank of words in such a way helps with the writing and story telling process”.

Another idea is to draw on family stories.

It was this notion that helped him compose his recently released novel, The Boy and the Spy, published by Penguin Random House.

On a trip to his parent's homelands in Italy, Felice listened to family and locals recount stories of their way of life, giving him the background for The Boy and the Spy.

A thrilling Second World War adventure set in Sicily, where his mother grew up, this latest book heralds a new writing path for Felice.

The historical action adventure may be a step away from the usual genre he tackles but Felice stuck to his belief a good story should contain plenty of movement in telling the tale.

The humour and energy Felice used in his presentation was another example of how engaging a good story teller can be. As he read the first chapter of the book out loud, I became entranced in how mesmerising it is to hear the spoken word.

When asked what he enjoyed about speaking to students, Felice said: "Talking about my stories and meeting the audience I write for is energising and uplifting - it's the best.

"I always leave the sessions on a high. There's nothing better than a group of kids laughing and smiling, hanging on every word you say.”

For more information about Felice and his books, visit or follow him at or