Richard Harland talks about his latest release, the mesmerising Worldshaker…

I loved writing Worldshaker—I think steampunk/Victoriana is the kind of fiction I was born to create! I suppose I’ve been heading towards this all through my previous fourteen books, and it’s certainly turning out my most successful book yet. It’s just added a UK contract with Templar to a US contract with Simon & Schuster—and the advance of the American contract alone is bigger than all advances on my previous novels added together.

Worldshaker is set in an alternative history, which has followed a different path ever since Napoleon dug his tunnel under the English Channel and invaded England. (In real history, there was a plan, but the tunnel was never dug.) Now mechanical iron juggernauts, as big as mountains, moving on rollers, gouge their way over the face of the earth – a hyper-development of steam-age technology.

The way of life on board the juggernauts is also a hyper-development, of Victorian society. What’s always fascinated me is the terribly respectable façade of 19th century society masking some very ugly realities beneath. On the juggernaut Worldshaker, Col Porpentine believes in Queen Victoria, duty, trade and the absolute rightness of the world he lives in. Even the unspeakable—unthinkable—Filthies who labour among the boilers and turbines Below—well, they’re no better than animals, and it’s only natural that the civilised inhabitants of the Upper Decks should treat them as such.

However, Col has to start thinking about Filthies when a girl Filthy, Riff, escapes from Below and tries to take refuge in his cabin. Of course he should turn her over to the authorities, of course he should avoid contamination, of course he should never ever listen to what she says—and yet, irrationally, he does.

Now he has a problem. Because, as the grandson of Sir Mormus Porpentine, he’s been nominated as successor to the position of Supreme Commander. If his guilty secret leaks out, he’ll not only lose his prospects, he’ll be shunned by his society forever. Unfortunately for him, Riff just won’t stay out of his life …

I knew this was going to be a special novel from the time I formed the first ideas, fifteen years ago. That’s why it took so long to plan and write—I had to get everything right. The world was only the start of it; I mulled over the characters for ages too, not to mention their names (Ebnolia Porpentine, Sir Wisley Squellingham, Mr Bartrim Gibber, Sephaltina Turbot …) Even when I began writing, I kept going back over my drafts, improving, tightening, intensifying. Three total re-writes over six years—I could never have done it if I didn’t have faith in the final result.

I’m sure it’s my best ever novel, and it also ties in with a growing steampunk trend that’s already a way of life in the US and just starting to take off in Australia. Good karma came into it too—because I took 4 months off from my own writing to produce a guide to writing fantasy and genre fiction, all 145 pages entirely free at www.writingtips.com.au. I’d just finished putting it up on the web when the US contract came along!


Pamela Wilson has an interview with Sonya Hartnett up on her blog that really makes for great reading. See below the excerpt for the link.

“My loyalty is to the book. Not to the reader, not to the librarian, not to the teacher, not even to me,” she says unapologetically. “If the story wants a theme or a word, or a sentence or an act, then the book will get it. I have no concern, whatsoever, as to how it might affect the reader.”

To read more, visit WriteSmart.

The Teen Reviewer

Steph Bowe, blogger extraordinaire returns to give her teenage perspective on two of the hottest new releases for kids. For more of her musings, click here.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Nina has been fifteen since 1973, when she was infected by a rogue vampire, but instead of the glamorous, superhuman life that television and Nina’s novels suggest, her life as a vampire has been boring and sickly so far.

Then Casimir, the vampire responsible for infecting half of the reformed vampire support group he’s a member of, is found dead in his coffin – staked and reduced to dust – and the boring life Nina loathes is suddenly threatened. With a vampire-slayer at large, the support group holes up at Nina’s house, in spite of her ageing mother’s protests, and the resulting quest to find and stop the killer (or at least convince him that they aren’t a menace to society), reveals the courage behind their reluctant, pallid exteriors.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group puts an original spin on a familiar concept. I deeply enjoyed this novel; the fact that it’s set in Sydney and distinctly Australian was refreshing, and the quirky humour and dry wit sprinkled throughout the novel sparkled. Nina, Dave and the rest of the support group, as well as the villains, were characters with personality and quirks, each with their own motivations.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group was deeply involving, and impossible to put down. The plot was extraordinary, but deftly handled by the author. It was simplistically but beautifully written. Next to other recent vampire novels I’ve read, The Reformed Vampire Support Group stands out for its originality. A novel well worth reading, and reading again – my new favourite.

Worldshaker by Richard Harland

Col lives on the Upper Decks of the juggernaut Worldshaker, a mobile city as big as a mountain. He has been chosen as next Supreme Commander – but then a girl Filthy escaped from Below appears in his cabin. ‘Don’t let ’em take me!’ she begs. Will he hand her over, or will he break all the rules? Col’s safe, elite world is about to fall apart.

Though I don’t usually read fantasy (I think Worldshaker classifies as ‘steampunk’, which is an incredibly irrelevant genre name that imparts absolutely no information about the novel, but sounds really awesome), I really enjoyed Worldshaker. I was slightly frustrated by Col’s naivety, but he was a character who was easy to empathise with the deeper I got into the novel. I found the plot believable, and the ending satisfying and conclusive.

The world within which Col lived on the juggernaut, separated into the Upper Decks and the Filthies Below, made for a fantastic setting – dark and a little bit sinister, and very alternative to our own world but at the same time with many similarities. The characters within Worldshaker fit very much with their surroundings, and there were many weird and wonderful personalities who you were never quite sure were on Col’s side or not.

Richard Harland spoke on the fantasy panel at the NSW Writer’s Centre Kids & YA Festival about the history in Worldshaker. It’s explained in the novel how it came about that everyone is living on juggernauts, and the Filthies are living below, and the world in Worldshaker’s history is very much the same as ours, until Napoleon made a different decision, and juggernauts slowly became possible in their world. I liked the thought of it being entirely possible that maybe we could be living on these ridiculously large earth-ship things, and I thought of it again when I read James Roy’s Sliding Doors post on my blog, and how different things would be if people in power had have made different decisions however many years ago (though it is very, very improbable, it’s an interesting thing to think about).

I also have to mention, I absolutely love the cover of Worldshaker. It has got to be one of my favourite book covers of all time.

The Water Dreamers: How Water and Silence Shaped Australia by Michael Cathcart

I’m glad for books like Michael Cathcart’s The Water Dreamers. In recent years, history has been reinvigorated by taking new slants on old narratives. Here, Cathcart traces the familiar narrative of Australian history by concentrating on water, namely a lack of it, in a dry ‘silent’ continent. What this approach allows is a kind of environmental, as well as economic, history to unfold as the new colony rapaciously moves outward, subsuming indigenous communities in search of scarce water resources. This is contrasted with the indigenous husbanding of the land and its water, and the deep knowledge and often ingenious systems devised to use water in concert with the land, rather than against it. Overlaying this is the larger cultural picture of Australia as a hostile place, with an enormous silence at its heart. In the European mind, the land is under-utilised, waiting for the civilising touch of resource exploitation and development. The question that constantly came to mind while reading was ‘How far have we come?’. As recent history has shown and Cathcart suggests, the answer is not far. This is a fascinating history that fits nicely into the larger picture of Australia, while exploring some of the things we take for granted in our national psyche.

Interview with DEBORAH ABELA

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be a speaker at the NSW Writers’ Centre’s 4th Annual Kids and YA Festival, able to rub shoulders and exchange quips with authors infinitely more famous than I. With all the events leading up to the main Saturday, I was bumping into authors at a frequency I’m not quite used to. One of those authors was Deborah Abela. I took the seventh time I ran into her in as many days as sign enough to pull her aside for a quick interview.

For those that don’t know, Deborah is the author of, among other things, the wildly successful Max Remy series, which only recently came to a close. Not long ago, she was being asked, “What’s next?” Well, now, she’s released it – a fun, quirky novel whose jacket illustration I’m secretly insanely jealous of, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen. I sat down with Deborah to discuss books past, present and future.

The Max Remy series spawned ten books… How hard was it to say goodbye to the franchise?
I knew the series was going to end at Max Remy Part 10: The Final Curtain. I had great fun writing it, but found that over the next few weeks, I felt despondent and irritable and wanted to crawl into corners to sleep or cry. Not being like this usually, I eventually worked out that I was grieving for my characters, especially Max and Linden, my two young superspies I’d sent all over the world to save it from multiple bad guys. I’m okay now, though.  
Which of the characters in the Max Remy universe was your favourite?
Max will always have a special place in my heart, because the idea for the series came from this young feisty but clumsy girl spy who is the hero of each book, but her cute spy partner Linden, who is calm, smart and funny, is my fav. I’ve had letters from readers wanting to be his girlfriend, so I guess other people feel like I do. 
In a sentence, pitch your new book, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.
Aurelie Bonhoffen adores living on a seaside pier amusement park with her family, but on her twelfth birthday, she discovers that some of them are ghosts.  

What’s the hardest thing about writing for children?
I love writing for kids! Apart from trying to find enough time to write, one of the hardest parts is getting the tone of the book right and finding the voices of the characters. This can be very fast as with my soccer legend, Jasper Zammit, but sometimes, as with Aurelie in The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, it can take its good sweet time.

What’s next for Deb Abela? Another Aurelie Book?
At the moment I am working on a book where a major city has flooded. Most people managed to escape but a group of kids were left behind and have to find new ways to survive in this world of floating building tops. There are sea monsters, flying machines and evil harbour lords. Its been soggy but lots of fun.
Sounds great. Of your books – which one has the best opening line?
I like the opening line from The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen:

The girl lay in her coffin with a faint smile on her powder-white face.

Its a quirky, comic novel by the way.
Who would you say were (and are) your biggest influences?
Children’s authors, books and the kids themselves. More and more I love hearing authors speak. There is so much to learn about writing. I also love getting kids excited about books by speaking to them during author visits and at festivals. Of course, I love reading and always get excited by a well-written, well-told kids story. 
If you could claim any other writer’s work as your own, whose would it be?
I think, perhaps in a previous life, I was Norman Hunter who wrote the Professor Branestawm book about a wacky, inventive professor whose inventions often went terribly wrong. Either that or we’re related. I loved those books as a kid. 
The last Australian book you read?
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. Very funny, twisted and seriously subversive as far as all those other vampire books go. 

What is the most valuable piece of advice you were never told?
The more you write sometimes the harder it gets, but oh how sweet it is when it all clicks into place. I was also never told how wonderful and generous and supportive kids’ book writers are… This has been an especially sweet discovery.

Historical Element

Was heightened awareness of water issues in Australia the spark for this book?

I starting thinking about this book in the early 1990s, long before the water crisis. I wanted to write a national history that focussed on a challenge which was common to all Australians. At the same time, I was preoccupied with two brilliant but very different books. The first was The Tyranny of the Distance in which Geoffrey Blainey showed how distance was the great challenge which had shaped both the pattern of Australian settlement and key Australian attitudes. I have tried to treat water in much the same way. The second book was Paul Carter’s elusive The Road to Botany Bay, which redefined the way historians think about exploration. In the 1990s, few people understood what I meant by ‘a history of water’. The subject sounded esoteric–as if I was writing a history of dirt. But today, water is the number-one challenge to our future–and everyone gets why it’s vital that we understand its history.


Is Australia still the ‘silent’ continent?

Colonial Australia was ‘the silent continent’ just as colonial Africa was ‘the dark continent’. The first colonists imagined that Australia was a brooding silent place covered by a vast and gloomy wood. Many of them thought of the Aborigines as a sort of shadow people who were living in a timeless limbo. These colonists believed that they were destined to bring Australia to life with the sounds of industry. They would sweep across the continent, cutting down trees and firing guns–shattering the silence and startling the continent into life. They would fill it with ‘the hum of industry’. But the continent had other plans. At its heart it remained stubbornly silent. The 19th-century explorers referred to this lethargy of the inland as a ‘death-like silence’. It was filled with foreboding. They experienced the inland as silent because it was dry. Today, I suspect that many of us experience the ‘silence’ of the outback as a spiritual experience. We think, not of death, but of eternity.


Do you think Australian history can be characterised as one of anxiety towards and alienation from the landscape?

By 1900, Australians were gripped by a fear that they have failed to occupy inland Australia.The symbol of this failure and disappointment was the vast salt lake, Lake Eyre. It was the withered remnant of the inland sea which ought to occupy the centre of Australia, but didn’t. Just as the whites had robbed the Aborigines, on the grounds that they never properly occupied the country, so the white feared that Asian hordes would descend and claim this still unoccupied land for themselves. Many whites believed that their sole hope of truly possessing this land lay in hydro-engineering. Through their own ingenuity, they would make the deserts bloom.


What can Australia learn from our history of mismanagement of scarce water resources?

For too long, white Australians thought of the bush and the outback as places where nature was absent or weird. They regarded engineering, not as a way of enhancing nature, but of compensating for the great void at the heart of Australia. The challenge today is to understand how nature and engineering can work together to produce a water system that is productive, sustainable and which nourishes the soul. But we should also celebrate the water systems which we have managed well. The most outstanding of these is the water supply for Melbourne. The vast closed catchments in the ranges northeast of the city have been managed by government authorities for over 100 years. The result is an affordable and reliable supply of the best urban water in the world.


What are your broader hopes for The Water Dreamers?

I have writtenThe Water Dreamers as book which speaks to all Australians. I hope that it challenges and changes the way we think about our past, and about who we are.


What are you working on next?

I have recently finished a TV documentary about the runaway convict William Buckley who lived with an Aboriginal tribe called the Wathaurong for over 30 years. I am now writing a book about him.

The Roy is back in Town

James Roy has more awards under his belt than you can count. Ben Beaton asks him about Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada, the first book in a new three-part series.

Where did the concept of Edsel Grizzler: Voyage to Verdada and all that it entails come from?
The first part of the story had been rattling around in my head for over 10 years– the idea of a quirky boy who discovers a mysterious inter-dimensional pod/portal. But that was as far as the story went. Then, in my usual way, I simply forced myself to launch into the story and ‘follow my nose’. What I ended up with was something of a classic three-act structure, but ironically, the first act, despite being set in the real world, felt too surreal, almost cartoonish. Whereas Verdada was a rather more austere, soulless kind of place, despite its pretense of being ‘A Place of Forever Fun’. So I had to make Edsel a rather more sad, lonely kind of individual than he’d originally been. I also think there’s a bit of a fable going on, speaking to this idea of reality and artificiality. There might even be a touch of humanism–I find the idea of people disregarding the wonder and joy of being in the present while they look for something better, quite sad. I don’t think life is a dress rehearsal.

Your hero Edsel Grizzler faces a difficult choice, and suffers the consequences. What messages are there for readers about signing up for a ‘sure thing’ before reading the fine print?
I find the word ‘message’ suggestive of some kind of agenda, which young readers despise. Having said that, if a kid were to read my book and, as a result, begin to think about how they can find joy in the everyday, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Voyage to Verdada sits comfortably alongside Alice in Wonderland, or even The Wizard of Oz, where the simple pleasures of home outweigh the excitement of the discovered world. Were you thinking of the ‘stranger in a strange land’ scenario when you wrote the novel?
I think that all good stories put characters in different ‘worlds’. Harry Potter and the Narnia books are obvious examples. But in some ways, ‘realistic’ books deal with this idea as well. One of my favourite books is Josh, by Ivan Southall, which is about a city kid who ends up in a country town where his pedigree dictates that he should fit in, but he doesn’t. But if I were looking for a real link to the ‘stranger in a strange land’ scenario, I’d probably look at the nine years I spent in PNG and Fiji as a missionary kid. Perhaps at some subconscious level I’m exploring my own questions of belonging. That’s what writers do, isn’t it?

What do you think teens are looking for from a good book in this digital age?
I don’t believe that what young people want from their entertainment has changed all that much. Basically a good story with strong, believable characters will do it every time. What has changed a little is how we access that story. The Sunday night TV movie has declined in popularity, because we now prefer to buy the DVD of a show we really like and watch several episodes in a row, rather than sitting down to watch it at a prescribed weekly time, interrupted by ad breaks. In the digital age the method of getting the story–audio book, digital reader, ebook, graphic novel, or conventional novel–is somewhat secondary to our universal desire for a strong story. We love stories. It’s actually very simple.

What are you working on next?
I’m really excited to be putting together some of the planning for City, a follow-up to Town, which was a collection of linked short stories I find short stories both challenging and liberating. And when City is done, it’ll be time to return to Edsel. I can’t wait..

TRISTAN BANCKS – Behind the scenes of the new NIT BOY trailer

As an author, I’m extremely interested in seeing how publishers use the Internet to promote books for children (and obviously, I’m making notes on what works and what doesn’t). Lots of publishers have tried to tackle Youtube trailers, and honestly, a lot of them involve a swirling book cover and a really horrible voiceover. After watching them, I feel less inclined to hunt down the book. That said, someone recently pointed me in the direction of the new Nit Boy trailer, and it is, hands down, the best original trailer for a book I’ve ever seen. It’s fun, it’s 3D. So, I tapped Tristan Bancks on the shoulder and invited him around to talk about how the trailer was put together.

Click here to visit his official site

I write quite visually. I see a movie unravelling in my head as I type, so I think book trailers are an amazing way to bring that motion picture alive for the audience.

The two books in the series, Lift Off and Bug Out tell the story of blood brothers – Lewis, a kid with the worst case of nits in world history, and Ned, a nit that lives on Lewis’s head. They’re a great way to have a laugh about our favourite blood-sucking mini-beasts. And there’s a nit quiz in the back of each book.

With the trailer I wanted to build on the work I’d done creating trailers for my Mac Slater, Coolhunter series.

I showed the animator, Peter Leary, the books’ amazing illustrations by Heath McKenzie.

I then wrote a script. The animator cut the script down, did a rough animatic (still pictures with a voiceover) and he began building the 3D characters (‘wire’ frames in a computer).

I gave Peter feedback on the characters and he created a rough version of the trailer and then a final. I was amazed by how much of the animation comes together in the final render. And, when it was done, it was even better than what I’d seen in my mind’s eye as I wrote the books.

A producer has now optioned the Nit Boy books for television and my next visual-literary adventure will be a live-action trailer for the US release of the first Mac Slater book in April next year. Wish me luck!

July Book Giveaway

Another month, another giveaway. July’s is Ashes-tinged and filled to the brim for cricket fans and avid readers alike, so be sure to register HERE for your chance to win copies of:

Cricket Kings by William McInnes  SIGNED
Step into the lives of a team of regular middle-aged men who meet each week to play cricket in their local park. With these characters William will make us laugh and cry. And never again will we think that someone is just a regular bloke – everyone can be a king or a queen in their own suburb.


Glenn McGrath: Line and Strength by Glen McGrath SIGNED
From working the land in Narromine to winning cricket’s World Cup three times, Glenn McGrath has always faced life with fierce determination and an unerring will to succeed despite the odds. Now, following his retirement from international cricket, McGrath shares the story of his life – in cricket and off the field.

The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh SIGNED
It was the end of cricket as we knew it – and the beginning of cricket as we know it. In May 1977, the cricket world woke to discover that a businessman called Kerry Packer had signed 35 elite international players for his own televised World Series Cricket. The Cricket War is the definitive account of the split that changed the game on the field and on the screen. In helmets, under lights, with white balls, and in coloured clothes, the outlaw armies of Ian Chappell, Toney Greig and Clive Lloyd fought a daily battle of survival. In boardrooms and courtrooms Packer and cricket’s rulers fought a bitter war of nerves. A compelling account of the top-class sporting life, The Cricket War also gives a unique insight into the motives and methods of Australia’s richest man.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas SIGNED
A novel about the relationships between children and adults, and the new Australian multicultural middle-class from the controversial cult author of Loaded and Dead Europe.




Starting An Online Business For Dummies by Melissa Norfolk
Turn your dreams into profitable reality with this straightforward guide to setting up and running an online business. Including strategies to help you identify your market, set up a website and promote your business online.

Just Macbeth by Andy Griffiths
Take one Shakespearean tragedy: Macbeth, add Andy, Danny and Lisa the Just trio, whose madcap exploits have already delighted hundreds of thousands of readers for the last ten years. Mix them all together to create one of the most hilarious, most dramatic, moving stories of love, Whizz Fizz, witches, murder and madness. Ages 9+.


Brief Encounters: Literary travellers in Australia 1836-1939 by Susannah Fullerton
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, countless distinguished writers made the long and arduous voyage across the seas to Australia. They came on lecture tours and to make money, to sort out difficult children sent here to be out of the way for health, for science, to escape demanding spouses back home, or simply to satisfy a sense of adventure. In 1890, for example, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, arrived at Circular Quay after a dramatic sea voyage only to be refused entry at the Victoria, one of Sydney’s most elegant hotels. Stevenson threw a tantrum, but was forced to go to a cheaper, less fussy establishment. Next day, the Victoria’s manager, recognising the famous author from a picture in the paper, rushed to find Stevenson and beg him to return. He did not. In Brief Encounters, Susannah Fullerton examines a diverse array of writers, including Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, HG Wells, Agatha Christie and Jack London, to discover what they did when they got here, what their opinion was of Australia and Australians, how the public and media reacted to them, and how their future works were shaped or influenced by this country.

Good Night & God Bless: Volume One by Trish Clark
This is the modern traveller’s bible. Travellers and pilgrims seeking a unique experience can now uncover the ancient secrets of convents and monasteries around Europe. We reveal these atmospheric and affordable places that accommodate tourists or those pursuing a pilgrimage or spiritual retreat. Convents, monasteries and abbeys have always been places which generously welcome weary travellers. That tradition continues today and Goodnight & God Bless takes you on a tour of religious hideaways offering tourist and pilgrimage accommodation throughout Europe. Suitable for the traveller, the pious and the curious alike, this user-friendly travel guide provides invaluable information, travel tit-bits and anecdotes against a fascinating backdrop of history and religion.

Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit SIGNED
Enchanted by Bella, the Fairy of Pure Heart, Prince Arthur follows her into the immortal world. Angered by this, the powerful dragon Nemesis captures Arthur. To rescue her prince, Bella must complete the Great Dragon’s Hunt, and collect five magical tokens. As Bella and her butterfly friend Teague carry out her quest, they meet many mystical creatures, including a witch and a werewolf, elfins and leprechauns, and two very forgetful goblins.

A big thanks to our friends at Allen and Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Hachette, Random House, Melbourne University Press, John Wiley & Sons, Dragon Publishing and Paratus Press for supporting our monthly giveaway.

To go into the draw to win this month’s prize, complete the entry form HERE. Entries close 31 July, 2009. Don’t forget, it’s a monthly giveaway, so be sure to favourite that link and keep visiting every month. Please note, entrants will be automatically subscribed to our fortnightly Boomerang Books Bulletin e-newsletter.

… A bonus for our Facebook Friends

Need an incentive to join one of Australia’s largest book group on Facebook? Well, we have a great pack of books to give away to one of our Facebook Group members this month, which includes copies of Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit (SIGNED), Mascot Madness! by Andy Griffiths and Good Night & God Bless: Volume One by Trish Clark.