When John Marsden talks to students he tells them: 'Bully language, don't let it bully you.' He worries that teachers are too strict about the rules and structures of the English language and that they force students to read boring material and ask them to plan too much when they do a piece of writing. In his view, this hinders creativity. 'Students need to have fun to be good writers,' he says. He should know what he is talking about. Marsden is Australia's most successful author of teenage fiction. His 32 titles have sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide and won many international awards. He has some good advice. 'To write a good story, simply ask the question 'What if?' For example, if you asked, 'What if David Beckham came and sat next to me on the bus on the way to school?' That could be the start of something fantastic,' he suggests. Marsden is in Hong Kong as the guest of booksellers Paddyfield. The visit has been arranged as part of this year's Literary Festival. He has given talks to teachers, parents and students. He likes what he sees. 'Hong Kong is a very dynamic place. It is an ideal place for authors,' he says. As a student, Marsden started and edited a school magazine and wrote stories for his friends. When he left school he went on to do a variety of jobs including working in abattoirs, hospitals, morgues and a haunted house. Marsden was 31 years old and a teacher when he began writing seriously. He was disturbed that the students in his class were not reading. 'It was really sad to see. There was nothing for their interests or for their age group,' he says. So he decided to write a book himself. During his three-week holiday in 1985 Marsden wrote his first novel called So Much to Tell You. His Year Nine students loved the book and one girl even cried when she read it. But it was not published immediately. Several publishers rejected his work. Eventually a friend helped him and he has been writing ever since. Although he stopped teaching full-time, Marsden never lost interest in helping young people to write. For several years he ran many residential workshops on his vast property near Melbourne, Australia. These were so successful he has now decided to open his own school for 50 students on the same site. 'At least one lesson will be outdoors every day. I want students in my school to be emotionally healthy and socially confident,' he explains. The school will open at the end of this month. His students will be encouraged to play with words. 'Words are very powerful. Good writers take risks and experiment. Instead of writing, for example, about a hairy caterpillar or an electric eel, why not write about an electric caterpillar or a hairy eel?' he says. Marsden's most recent book is called Incurable. It is the latest in a series that follows the adventures of Ellie Linton. Ellie is an Australian farm girl who has to survive in a hostile land after her country is invaded and torn apart by war. She and her friends have to fight for survival and have lots of adventures. Marsden thinks teenagers enjoy these books because they contain the message that young people sometimes find it difficult to be themselves when adults always seem to be telling them what to do. He says: 'Ellie is a good example of how [teenagers] have great depths of resourcefulness, motivation and maturity in the right circumstances.'