Q&A: Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is the author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, which includes the award-winning The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), The Ask and the Answer (2009) and Monsters of Men (2010). Join him on Tuesday, March 9, 6-7.30pm for a unique FREE event at the University of Sydney. Seats are limited, bookings essential. Email your full name and contact number to marketingwba@walkerbooks.com.au

1. How did you first get the idea for the Chaos Walking books?

I always say they started with a serious idea and a stupid idea. The serious idea was about information overload, that the world is already pretty noisy with mobile phones, the internet, networking sites, etc. The next logical thought was, what if you couldn’t away at all? That’s where Noise came from. And the stupid idea is that I don’t like books about talking dogs because they never talk like an actual dog would talk. So I thought it’d be funny to write one the way I always thought my own dog growing up would talk. It was good fun. And from those two ideas, a story started to form.

2. Did you always intend for the Chaos Walking books to be aimed at a young adult audience, and what is appealing about writing for this demographic?

The story itself kind of told me it was for young adults rather than the other way around, which I think is probably how it should really go. I was as surprised as anyone. What’s appealing is that teenagers aren’t snobs! If you respect them and tell a good story, they’ll follow you anywhere. But you do have to tell that good story, so you’ve got to be on the ball all the time. It’s a great challenge, very liberating, too.

3. Who are some of your favourite young adult books and authors?

There are some excellent young adult writers around, aren’t there? People like Meg Rosoff, Marcus Sedgwick, Terry Pratchett, Siobhan Dowd, Mal Peet, I could go on…

4. I’m intrigued by Noise and how it affects the men of New World. Do they feel disempowered by it? Would New Elizabeth be a safe and happy place if it wasn’t for the Noise?

Well, I tried to show that there could be different reactions to Noise, with Prentisstown being the worst. But as they journey along, Todd and Viola see places like Farbranch where it’s not so bad or Carbonell Downs where it’s less good but plausible. And then there’s Haven, where things are complicated. It’s what you’d ask of any place, I think; safety and happiness are tenuous things that need to be worked for against our natural fears.

5. Mayor Prentiss came to New World as a settler. Were his intentions on setting out to wage war and dominate, or did he start out as a good man?

I suspect the answer’s messier than just one or the other. People never get to power by a single action or intention; there are opportunities along the way that you can take or not take and those build on each other. In fact, it’s the theme of The Ask and the Answer about how you can even take what seem to be a series of small right decisions and still end up possibly doing something terrible. I suppose it’s about how many compromises you’re willing to make before you lose your humanity. As for the Mayor, maybe he had a predisposition, but you still need the circumstances to help you along. I suppose the crux of it is that I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption. You have to have hope for everyone. Now, whether they want to be redeemed is a whole other question…

6. Is Todd the rightful president of New World?

Ah, well, is anyone the “rightful” president of anywhere? It’s that old axiom that wanting to be in power should automatically disqualify you from ever having it. Todd would probably be an excellent president of New World, but he’d never want to be it (which is probably what would make him an excellent president and so on around the circle…)

7. How would you describe the intense relationship between Todd and Viola?

They learn that they really have to rely on one another, in a way far beyond just a simple teen romance.  They’re lost people who found one another, and they may not being able to understand all the depths of that just yet, but I think they’re more than smart enough to know how important the other is to them.  And that’s because they’ve each earned it, through hard circumstance.

8. Your upcoming book tour includes stops in Australia. Have you been to Australia before, and do you have any favourite Australian authors?

My very favourite author of all time is Australian, Peter Carey, and I end up reviewing a lot of Australian fiction for UK newspapers because I’ve read so much of it, like Tim Winton and Murray Bail. I can even reference Patrick White with confidence! Peter Carey is fantastic, especially at implying a larger imagined universe than is just in the particular book. I love that. And I have been to Australia, way back in 1993 when I was a fresh-faced college lad. Can’t wait to get back there.

9. Briefly – what we can expect from Monsters of Men?

Hmmmmm: War, surprises and a killer ending. It may not be what you expect!
 
10. If there was one thing that you wanted your readers to take away from Chaos Walking, what would that be?

I always worry that if I start out thinking in terms like that then I end up writing a lesson rather than a story.  Hopefully, if I pay proper attention to what the story wants to be and try to make it the best story possible, then there will be things in there for the reader to take away anyway.  I think that’s the best way; that way you never preach.  Having said that, looking back on the books now, they’re probably most about how hope lies in the people we love, that if you can find someone to count on and who counts on you, then that’s probably the best meaning life is going to get.  A hopeful message.

BREAKING: Anthony Horowitz Tour Cancelled

Children’s author Anthony Horowitz has cancelled his upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand.
 
“I am very sorry that I am unable to come to Australia/New Zealand this year as I had originally planned. I have just had two television related projects land on my desk which will monopolise my time. Unfortunately I simply cannot meet all my writing deadlines whilst undertaking an international tour,” Anthony said.
 
“Once again, I apologise for not being able to make it for now but I want to pass on my heartfelt thanks for your ongoing support and enthusiasm for my books which means so much to me.”
 
2010 marks the tenth anniversary of Anthony’s wildly successful Alex Rider series.

Adele’s Best Of 2009: Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

I was overjoyed to get this in the mail yesterday, OVAH-JOYED. Thank you so much to Jenn for organising it’s journey across the ocean to this uber-grateful Aussie. Now Jenn’s act of kindness has nothing to do with the review I am about to give because I consider Jenn to be the drug of choice in YA-verse. I was already biased.

And she didn’t disappoint. I wasn’t sure upon reading the first chapter, I was wary of Meg. I wasn’t sure that I could relate or see the world through her eyes but I was oh so very wrong. Meg is a complex, strong, contradictory protagonist with boatloads of humour, snark and moxie. She’s tortured, yet exuberant. All her characteristics, her dialogue, her motivations and her decisions are all clear to understand and as such you are just plain sucked into her interplay with John After.

Why do I love Jenn Echols’ narrative?

“My knee radiated heat. As I watched him pull himself from the car and walk casually across the brightly lit parking lot, I thought dumb things: I will never wash my knee again. I will never wash those jeans again. I will cut the knees out of those jeans and sew a pillow to sleep on every night, just to have a molecule of him in bed with me.”

Echols writes a delightful mix of randomness, absurdity and truth. She doesn’t sugarcoat teen world but instead adds the right amount of sweet and sour. Meg and John are in a constant battle for the upper hand and their discussions ranged from barbed, snarky, humorous to doe- eyed. Their relationship is a like a mood swing, you never know when things are going to change up and how it might affect you. I loved the package though. John’s seeming calm is at direct contrast to the fire that is Meg. What we soon realise is John’s burning up too, for a multitude of reasons. I did at times want to know more about John but the quick pace swept away any reservations I may have possessed.

Echols has attempted a different kind of narrative with this novel. The world is more fully realised and the characters are greatly detailed. I devoured each page with a fervour I wasn’t sure I possessed and was fully immersed in each event of Meg and John’s lives. I am more hungry than ever to get my hands on future Jenn Echols works and want to congratulate her on a truly wonderful read that made me travel a gamut of emotions and invest in her tremendously real characters.

Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.

Adele’s Best Of 2009: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

This book has been calling my name for many months now and having finally got it in my hot little hands, I have inhaled it. It’s a darn good read but do I think it’s a great book? To be completely honest – yes….ish. On the tail of the fantastic The Hunger Games, Catching Fire has reintroduced many of the ideas that made its predecessor are roaring success. But it’s the reintroduction of the love triangle and the Quell (which I will remain vague on) are rewarding but slightly problematic.

Catching Fire has a much different pace to that of its predecessor. While all the events that occurred after the previous book are covered, we are constantly bouncing from Katniss’ recollections of many characters before we get back on track. It’s inconsistent and the pull isn’t as strong as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still engaging but there is a lost of an undefinable quality in the continuing storyline.

The first half of the novel starts off as a political examination of what happens to a dictatorship when rebellion arises; it’s much more exciting than it sounds. The tension and stakes are continually raised as those in District 12 suffer until tighter control and closer inspection. It’s a natural and thrilling continuation of what was glimpsed in The Hunger Games. The second half of the novel returns to what is familiar and in that way it’s a step back. Though some of the situations are tweaked, the characters mostly new and the pace sped up…I found myself a little disinterested, I wanted back to the political machinations. Having read Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series of late, I’ve had a quality template of how stakes can be raised within rehashing the past.

Collins is known for her cliff-hangers and unfortunately this novel had considerably less of them. Instead it’s much more of a psychological examination of how you survive a brutal experience and the choices you make afterward – sacrifice or survival? Or perhaps a little of both.

Peeta’s intelligence is highlighted well in this novel; he’s clearly much more cunning than Katniss previously gave him credit for. They are an interesting match that could have been explored more deeply than Katniss’ continual (and repetitive) dithering feelings for the poor kid. It’s here where Katniss’ effectiveness lost some of her shine with me. I cannot believe that this girl who is decisive and responsible would string two guys along like she has. Yes, Peeta and Katniss need to keep the premise going that they are in love but her interactions leave both guys in a state of limbo. I refuse to believe that she’s innocent in this – she can make a decision. The audience has been fortunate to witness the total of Katniss and Peeta’s interactions through recollections but we haven’t had that same opportunity with Gale and Katniss, nor do I want there to be. They both know she has somewhat feelings for another and it’s cruel what she puts them through, even if she is a puppet at the hands of the President. (Relationship specific SPOILER – highlight to read) At one point it seems considerably callous – Katniss wondering how she would have felt had Gale volunteered in his brother’s place, making friendly with another girl and not longer being “hers”. Once she thinks she’s soon-to-be dead, she kisses Peeta with abandon, while still on camera. Conflicted feelings aside, it made weakened her moral core for me and the effectiveness of her character. It’s understandable but she needs to make a freaking choice! Too much time of this novel felt like it was the boys handing her to one another as a baton, each having time with her and yet not really having her because she was too busy dithering. Sigh.

More characters are incorporated but most of their development is rather limited and can appear shallow. The opportunity to learn more of Haymitch’s history was exciting and probably could have been expanded. In the Quell, Collins has made more of an effort to provide people behind the many tributes up for the slaughter which I respect greatly. Mags made quite an impact, as did Finnick, but in my heart of hearts I want to know more of Gale, Haymitch, Effie and Cinna. Finnick was not as he seemed but I need considerable more exploration of this than his attachment to something at home.

Catching Fire was a fantastic read. It’s easy to be sucked back into the world of Panem and invest in these characters again. However the bar was set high with the first title and the second title didn’t seem to have a way to match it. Instead Collins opted for a most effective, split personality approach to the sequel. Ultimately a huge wave and some freaking monkeys don’t have anything on President Snow and his diabolical, puffy lipped, bloody breath scented nastiness. I say bring on book three with its political uprising, rebellion , District 13 and (I hope) the discovery of the true extent of the muttation experimentation. Fingers crossed the games are not re-entered as they’ve been adequately covered and that Katniss makes a choice between the men in her life.

Catching Fire is a great read with some reinvention of the wheel (or the games) but a thrilling bridge to what will surely be a rewarding trilogy.

Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.

Adele’s Best Of 2009: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I have had a continuous stream of tears running down my cheeks for the last few hours. Between Jenny Downham (Before I Die) and Gayle Foreman, I have cried a lifetime of tears this past week. My house mate asked ‘why do you put yourself through it?‘ I had to think about it, for a fraction of a second, before I answered ‘because every word is worth it’.

Simply, this book wouldn’t be the emotional cruncher it is without some superb writing from Forman. Without giving too much away, she makes all characters in this story extremely real. It starts off as many YA stories do, some froth and a lot of great dialogue between Mia and her family. Once that chapter is finished, the tone completely changes. Mia and her family are involved in an accident and Mia’s trapped in limbo, witnessing the lives of those who care for her, and those she cares for in return, without the power to do anything but watch.

Forman walks the line between Mia’s recollections and the present with ease. Too often a book similar in intent would be manipulative, but I didn’t feel this at all. I felt Forman’s love for each one of these people, as if they were her own. That Mia’s loss, was her loss. The empathy that courses through this book is both inspiring and astounding.

Despite the somewhat dark subject matter this is a story of hope, life affirmation and all that it brings. The relationship between Mia and Adam is honest, they might be in love but they have real problems and they aren’t all solved with a snap of their fingers. Kim is an amazing best friend, sarcastic and strong, her appearances in the book are bold and bursting with love. I particularly love an incident in the playground that was the inception of the girl’s friendship. Mia’s parents made a huge impression on me, they sounded familiar, as if I had met them but avoiding anything resembling a cliche. The hospital staff, particularly Nurse Ramirez with her biting wisdom and infinite care, also made an impression on me. How much did she really know? Mia’s grandparents melted my heart, I have always heard how outliving one’s child is the worst thing imaginable but these two transcend the situation with some honesty and hope. I was shocked by how quickly this story and girl sucked me in – as the tears would attest.

Music has a large role in this book but it’s never clunky or awkward. Mia is somewhat of a cello prodigy and her boyfriend, Adam fronts a band called the Shooting Star. Her father is a former punk and her mother was one of those feminist rock chicks, both parents still retain their rockinsensibilities. When reading the acknowledgements I wasn’t surprised to see that Forman had been listening to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s Falling Slowly‘ (from the movie Once) while writing this novel, you could feel the song’s influence throughout each page. I think that could be the best comparison for this novel, it is to the written word as ‘Falling Slowly’ is to your ears – emotive, heartwarming, stirring, powerful and memorable.

This novel is about love. Love for your family and the family you make for yourself. The strength to follow your passion, to love your parents unconditionally and they for you, to have belief in people, to embrace music and life. It is also about choice, when no two options are easy, what would you do?

I ask: how long will it take for you to get your hands on this book?

Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.

Adele’s Best Of 2009: The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness

The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness

This novel takes off with the speed of NASA spacecraft; the events of the previous title are picked up and tossed over the very able shoulders of Todd and Viola. Having successfully taken over Haven (now New Prentisstown), the noxious President Prentiss has decided to use our two industrious kids to further his political gain with those on the planet and those soon to arrive.

The Ask and the Answer proves that the second title in a trilogy can be a strong one, surpassing the first title in my eyes. The pace is thrilling, the events are breathtaking and the character development is supreme. As the opponents and supporters of Prentiss’ evil plans swell in numbers, it’s less of a good versus evil conflict but more about what one might do to retain a hold on their own morals, identity and life. What happens in New Prentisstown can be read on many levels but the political edge of this novel made this a fascinating read. The Answer, New Prentisstown’s guerrilla movement, could be seen as the French Resistance of this world with Prentiss himself treading the line between genuine horror and charm as the self-determined leader of the planet.

Viola and Todd are immediately separated as the events of The Knife of Never Letting Go take effect. Viola is whisked away to recover while Todd is held captive as he’s the one preventing citizens of Prentisstown (the original) from being whole. Ness has changed this novel up, having the perspective jump between Viola and Todd and it works fantastically. Their allegiance to one another allows the President to work each of them like puppets. While Todd survives by turning in on himself and taking on more responsibility with the Spackles, Viola is left anchorless, watching another tussle for control of the planet through less-than-noble means.

This book has many moments that are genuinely discomforting and horrifying – whether the annihilation of captives, the banding of citizens or the physical and psychological torture inflicted under the dictator’s control. Ness has a great way of making the page and its characters come alive through clear language and the deeper character study that is undertaken makes the world all the more richer. That being said there is a certain repetitiveness, perhaps as I have read both titles uninterrupted. Todd and Viola continue to take turns rescuing one another, calling out each other’s names and stupidly failing to realise they are being lied to over and over again (you would think they would catch on after the third time.) But the alternative perspectives ably assist in showing how different factions are dealing with occupation, assimilation and rebellion.

The Terminator-esque preacher has been done away with and as a result there is larger focus placed upon President Prentiss, his son and the depths people will plunge to in their need to live. The villains are all fantastically portrayed, not as evil incarnate (though that could be argued), but as individuals utter convinced they are doing what is best. Conviction makes the best kind of baddies and this novel has many to choose from. Of particular note, the relationship between Todd and Davy was one that evolved continually throughout the novel. Davy’s arc was one from two-dimensional villain to a friend by the end which boggles the mind and impresses the heck out of me. The characters, old and introduced, are what make this novel.

Terrorism, oppression and dishonesty are a large part of the narrative. Todd struggles to retain a sense of self while making his thoughts private as many take the cure for The Noise. Both Viola and Todd are seen as their self-appointed mentors as leaders and are regarded both respectfully and brutally in their “education” of those fighting for the survival of themselves and their ideals. This is what great dystopia should aim to be. An absolutely thought provoking, entrancing and thrilling read.

Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.

Boomerang congratulates: AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS 2009! [Part Two]

Here are the adult winners of the 2009 Aurealis Awards – some of Australia’s finest sci-fi/fantasy releases of 2009 have made the list!

Best Science Fiction Novel
Wonders of a Godless World by Andrew McGahan

On an unnamed island, in a Gothic hospital sitting in the shadow of a volcano, a wordless orphan girl works on the wards housing the insane and the incapable. When a silent, unmoving and unnerving new patient – a foreigner – arrives at the hospital, strange phenomena occur, bizarre murders take place, and the lives of the patients and the island’s inhabitants are thrown into turmoil. What happens between them is an extraordinary exploration of consciousness, reality and madness. Wonders of a Godless World, the new novel from Miles Franklin-winner Andrew McGahan, is a huge and dramatic beast of a book. It is a thought-provoking investigation into character and consciousness, a powerful cautionary tale, and a head-stretching fable about the earth, nature and the power of the mind.

Best Fantasy Novel
The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

Set hundreds of years before the events of The Magicians’ Guild, The Magician’s Apprentice is the new novel set in the world of Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician Trilogy. In the remote village of Mandryn, Tessia serves as assistant to her father, the village Healer. Her mother would rather she found a husband. But her life is about to take a very unexpected turn. When the advances of a visiting Sachakan mage get violent, Tessia unconsciously taps unknown reserves of magic to defend herself. Lord Dakon, the local magician, takes Tessia under his wing as an apprentice. The long hours of study and self-discipline also offer more opportunities than she had ever hoped for, and an exciting new world opens up to her. There are fine clothes and servants – and, to Tessia’s delight – regular trips to the great city of Imardin. But along with the excitement and privilege, Tessia is about to discover that her magical gifts bring with them a great deal of responsibility. For great danger looms on the horizon for Tessia and her world.

Best Horror Novel
Red Queen by Honey Brown

Shannon and Rohan Scott have retreated to their family’s cabin in the Australian bush to escape a virus-ravaged world. After months of isolation, Shannon imagines there’s nothing he doesn’t know about his older brother, or himself – until a stranger slips under their late-night watch and past their loaded guns. Reluctantly, the brothers take the young woman into their fold, and the dynamic within the cabin shifts. Possessiveness takes hold, loyalties are split, and trust is shattered. Before long, all three find themselves locked into a very different battle for survival.

Best Collection
Oceanic by Greg Egan

Synopsis of ‘Oceanic’ short story: The people of Covenant believe they are the descendants of immaterial “Angels” who were brought to the planet by the daughter of God to “repent their theft of immortality” and live and die as flesh once more.
Martin is a Freelander, raised on the ocean, and a personal experience as a child convinces him of the truth of this account. But when he becomes a biologist and begins to study the native life of Covenant, his work leads to revelations about the true history of the planet, and the nature of his own beliefs.

Boomerang congratulates: AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS 2009!

A big congratulations to the Aurealis Award-winners i nthe children’s categories for 2009!

Children’s Illustrated Work / Picture Book
Victor’s Challenge by Pamela Freeman and Kim Gamble

Prince Victor and Valerian want to get married. But Victor, in his own unusual way, must pass three seemingly impossible tests of bravery, endurance and cleverness. He must go back into the Dark Forest of Nevermore to battle a fiery man-eating dragon, retrieve an armband from the peak of a wizard’s glass mountain, and uncover a tail feather from the rarest bird in the world.

Children’s Novel
A Ghost In My Suitcase by Gabrielle Wang

Thirteen-year-old Isabelle has travelled alone to China to visit Por Por her grandmother, and to release her mother’s ashes. Here she meets Ting Ting, an orphan who has been taken in by Por Por, and learns that her grandmother is a ghost-catcher – a gift that she too has inherited…

Young Adult Novel
Leviathan Trilogy: Book One by Scott Westerfeld

It is the beginning of the 20th century, 80 years after Darwin established the foundations of modern biology. But in the world of Leviathan these discoveries changed history more dramatically than in our own. England and France have perfected the the techniques of species fabrication, resulting in a glorious age of Edwardian biotechnology. In this world, Prince Aleksandar is on the run from those who would deny him his inheritance.

Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel
Scarygirl by Nathan Jurevicius

Abandoned on a remote beach, Scarygirl doesn’t know who she is or where she’s come from. Blister, a kind and intelligent giant octopus, wants to keep her safe, but Scarygirl needs answers. Who is the strange man haunting her dreams? Will Bunniguru help her unlock the mysteries of her past? Can she trust the wily forest dwellers? Her journey takes her to the edge, and beyond…Welcome to the world of Scarygirl.

Haiti Relief

The images coming in from Haiti are truely devastating. The Red Cross is appealling for over $100 million in relief funds, and Boomerang Books is looking to do its part. For every order you make in January, we will be donating $1 to the Australian Red Cross Haiti Appeal.

The funds raised through this appeal will be used to:

• support emergency relief, rehabilitation and recovery activities for communities affected by the disaster in Haiti
 
• send specialist aid workers to assist in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement response

• support longer-term Red Cross programs of assistance in the affected areas.

Boys & Body Image: A Reflection On Shane’s Post

I think, as a twenty-year-old, I can still speak for this current teenage, male generation – even just a small, nerdy, poetry/novel-writing subsection of it.

Body image is everything.

I remember hearing once that boys feel the pressure more than girls, for two reasons: 1. for girls, it is accepted to have these issues, and 2. while girls have the ‘get slim’ clouding over them, boys are burdened with the ‘get slim, but also gain muscle’, which results in over-exercise and strain. Not to diminish the experience of girls battling body issues, I can only speak as a young male, but I remember that in the lead up to my novel’s release, I wasn’t busy writing a follow-up, I was consuming protein shakes, exercising five days a week, restricting calorie intake, feeling guilty for a beer or a soft drink – and it caught up with me, I slipped two discs in my lower back, and that’s an injury that will restrict me for the rest of my life. Because being a teenage author wasn’t enough. At least, in my mind it wasn’t.

And when men explore these body issues in articles or novels, the response is usually ‘oh, boo hoo, poor baby’, when that same exploration by a woman is lauded as brave. When more realistically-shaped women attack the Jennifer Hawkins ‘real woman’ nude, undoctored spread, they’re glorified. The pressures on women are front and centre, and condemned. Meanwhile, when I’m at the gym, and I see boys almost half my age lifting weights, nobody’s telling them to stop, to have a childhood, to let their bodies mature a little bit – nobody’s fighting for them because the image of the male as ripped, toned and sporty is socially accepted as ‘right’. It’s masculine. There’s no backlash. There’s nobody praising male curves, claiming they’re all natural.

And body issue problems for males are very, very secret. Because, outward feelings don’t mesh well with the image of masculinity – strong, stoic, emotionally stunted. And I mean, just look at this rant that has developed from what was supposed to be a two paragraph closer to Shane’s post – this is a big issue, at least, for me. Books like My Private Pectus are important. While they probably won’t change the world, I’m sure that for boys battling body expectations, it means a lot to know that 1. you’re not alone and 2. there’s someone fighting for you.

Ahem. Now I’m off to make up for this post with a 7km run.

EXCLUSIVE: Shane Thamm gets PRIVATE…

SHANE THAMM ON MY PRIVATE PECTUS AND BODY IMAGE

The other week on ABC radio I was discussing boys and body image when the compere asked me if I had ever shaved my chest.

“I did once,” I told him with great enthusiasm, which was actually an attempt to hide my embarrassment.

We were talking about boys and bodies in relation to my novel My Private Pectus, a story that deals with male teenage body image concerns.

The compere, it seemed, wasn’t convinced that body image was something that many boys were worried about.

So I put things into perspective: Australian youth rated body image alongside drugs and family conflict as their three issues of greatest concern in Mission Australia’s Survey of Young Australians in 2008. Twenty per cent of boys and one quarter of girls called body image a serious concern.

Given that backdrop, My Private Pectus and the story of its main character Sticks, is actually very common. Teenage boys, like girls, negotiate body image concerns, often fraught with doubt and despair.

But for Sticks, his life seems even more complicated than that. He lives with a father who wants to him to turn into what sounds like a robotic man. It’s about doing well at footy, and getting into the army. It’s about achievement at the expense of emotion or civility. Sure, Sticks would love to score the winning try (and of course the cute girl), as well as everything else a man’s meant to do, but whenever he tries, it just goes pear shaped.

He falls in love with a girl the boys all hate, he reverses his best mate’s car into a retaining wall, and he vomits on his Dad’s best friend’s Turkish rug. It couldn’t get worse. But of course, it does. He has a secret chest deformity. It’s called Pectus Excavatum, and it rears its ugly head during the teenage years. It causes the chest to concave at the sternum. Sticks keeps it hidden from everyone he can, including his Dad.

My Private Pectus is a rollicking ride about what a boy will do to turn into ‘man’. It evokes images of teenage boys as hormone-driven machines without the capacity to experience doubt, fear, or even love.

Yet these are the things Sticks seems to have too much of. He’s constantly trying to summon strengths that are emotional, not physical; and in moments of intimacy, he’s confronted with very real fears about what people might think about his chest.

My Private Pectus is stacked with those sticky moments that every teenager seems to find themselves in. Those moments we look back on in later life and laugh and cringe.

It is, I think, a great book for high schools, not only because it’s the only book that intimately deals with male body image concerns for teenagers, but because it raises a host of questions about alcohol, casual drug use and relationships.

A few weeks after that first ABC radio interview, I had another one with the ABC in Alice Springs, where I had spent much of my childhood.

The compere told me that My Private Pectus is like a Judy Blume novel but for teenage boys.

“What do you think of that?” she asked.

“Great,” I said, but with reservation. I was actually wondering, who the hell is Judy Blume? What am I agreeing to here?

Thinking the name sounded familiar, I went home and did my research. Considering I had studied literature at university I couldn’t believe I didn’t know this famous American novelist.

I sat back and thought, “Geez, I hope that she’s right.”

– Shane Thamm

USER REVIEW: Tithe by Holly Black

Kaye is merely sixteen years old and yet she hangs out in bars; watching her mother’s band whilst drinking, smoking and swearing.  She shoplifts and stays out as late as she wants and her mother doesn’t care. But they do love each other and they seem to be pretty good friends. Would you call this ‘good parenting’?  Personally I wouldn’t but that is Kaye’s life.  She doesn’t have it easy, and she definitely isn’t perfect and that is what sets this book apart from other Faerie stories at the moment, for example Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely.

Enter tall, hot, pewter haired faerie of the male variety.  This is when the chaos begins.  Between fights with friends, shocking surprises, death, new friendships, love and giving up smoking; Kaye gets busy!

This book really does contain quite a bit of swearing and this may put some people off.  To me though, it helps build the characters, it shows that they aren’t perfect little princesses.  Nor is it used out of context – these words are said by the characters, NOT used in descriptions by Black.

I can definitely see why people have been raving about this book.  Its dark grittiness sets it apart from other current faerie stories, and maybe even puts it ahead of them.  I think Holly Black is a great story-teller with such a well-written and compelling book.  The twists are mostly unexpected and are truly unique.

Overall, I loved this book and rate it at 4 stars out of 5.  I recommend it to teens and young adults aged 14 plus (because I’ve heard that the last book in the series, Valiant, contains explicit content) who are lovers of faerie stories, urban fantasy or just fantasy in general.

This review was written by Boomerang Books Member CMM, winner of last month’s $50 worth of Boomerang Bucks for Best Review. Submit a review for your chance to win!

EXCLUSIVE: Margo Lanagan talks TENDER

TENDER MORSELS AND JUICY BITS

Every story needs something to keep its author going.

For any story I’m writing, I need to have an object in mind, a point, a reference that, when I look at it or prod it, starts leaking story-juice, starts multiplying possibilities, starts re-igniting my interest.

For a short story, I only need the one interesting element. Often it’s the thing that sparked the story in the first place: the two odd objects that need to be brought together (the snipers and the clowns, maybe); the transformation that requires making (the girl into eagle, or the man into warlock).

For a novel, I need a number of these objects or events; it’s possible to write a juicy bit dry for a while, and I need other areas to focus on while it changes shape in response to what I’ve done, and plumps up again in my subconscious.

With Tender Morsels, the bears were such a thing. They were in the original stories I was ripping/riffing off, Caroline Stahl’s ‘The Ungrateful Dwarf’ and the Grimms’ makeover of the Stahl story, ‘Snow White and Rose Red’. In neither story did they make any sense in terms of story structure, so part of my project was to make them make sense. The split between man-nature and bear-nature suggested the split between the real- and the heaven-world, which became the crux of the story, my main area to explore.

The Ungrateful Dwarf from Stahl’s story was another element that never let me down. Collaby Dought leaped fully formed from the source material, snarking and snatching stuff for himself. The vision of him rising from the swamp water cloaked in his silver hair, his eyes blazing out but his mouth not yet free to rant, was a key that always worked, into the atmosphere and energy of the story.

The orphan witch Hotty/Muddy/Lady Annie, had a similar effect. She and Collaby compensated for the fact that my three heroines were passive and puzzled for a great deal of the story. Every time either dwarf or witch opened their mouth, something sly or smutty came out; they had senses of humour, which my heroines were sadly short of, and they lived large and lackadaisically, while Liga, Branza and Urdda were trapped in a tiny, if pleasant, world.

These three elements, the bears, the dwarf and the cheerfully incompetent witch, were what led me back into  Tender Morsels when I’d been away from it for a while. They brought it back alive for me, gave it breath and fur and body odour, and made it tower in the doorway of my writing room, growling and griping, demanding to be written.

– Margo Lanagan

Tender Morsels was recently selected as part of the 2010 Sakura Medal Reading List, was shortlisted for the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, won Best Novel at the Ditmar Awards 2009, and was (joint) winner of Best Novel at the World Fantasy Convention 2009 – it’s safe to say that it comes highly recommended.

January Book Giveaway

Happy 2010! As always, the new month brings with it two book giveaway, one for website members, and the other, for Facebook members.

Major Book Giveaway 

The Hawke Legacy by Gerry Bloustien, Barbara Comber and Alison Mackinnon

Bob Hawke was a popular and effective Prime Minister whose economic and social reforms are acknowledged to have shaped modern Australia. The book offers a timely look at the legacy of the Hawke era (1983–1991) by considering both the achievements of his ministry, and what remains as unfinished business. The Hawke Legacy includes interviews with Bob Hawke, with his former speechwriter Graeme Freudenberg and with former Senator Rosemary Crowley, contributions from two former members of the Hawke Government, and scholarly accounts from historical, poitical, economic, educational and Indigenous perspectives.

Surf Ache by Gerry Bobsien

A state of being where all one can think of is getting back onto the waves. ella’s world is turned upside down when her family moves interstate, leaving behind her best friend, boyfriend and dance school. Age 14+.

Read a review of Surf Ache here.

 

 

Gamer’s Quest by George Ivanoff

Tark and Zyra are teenaged thieves on a quest. In a world of magic and science, where dragons and mages exist alongside drones and lasers, they endeavour to reach the haven of Designers Paradise. But their world is not what it appears to be and their haven is about to come under threat of destruction. Can Tark and Zyra save Designers Paradise…and their own world?

Read George Ivanoff’s guest blog here.

 

State of South Australia: From Crisis to Prosperity? by John Spoehr

State of South Australia meets a need for considered analysis of the major social, economic, cultural and political trends and policy challenges facing South Australia. It brings together respected researchers and commentators concerned about ensuring prosperity for all in South Australia, edited by Associate Professor John Spoehr, Executive Director, Australian Institute for Social Research.

 

 Alice in Love and War by Ann Turnbull

1644 – Alice Newcombe, trapped and unhappy on her uncle’s farm, finds her life transformed when royalist soldiers are billeted there during the Civil War. Suddenly her days are filled with excitement – and love for one young soldier, Robin. When the regiment moves on, Alice persuades Robin to take her with him, and she joins the other army women on the baggage train. The road ahead is long and hard – will there be happiness at its end?

 
For a chance to win, all you need to do is become a member – it’s free and it takes only minutes to sign up. All Boomerang Books Members go into the draw at the end of each month to win the book giveaway.

A bonus for our Facebook Members…

Our Facebook Group is growing fast, we welcomed the new year with 1000 members… let’s double that in 2010! Now, we’re not the sort of group that floods your Inbox with advertisements, that’s never been our way (and those with lots of Facebook subscriptions know that we’re in the minority). Our Facebook Group is there to link mutually-minded people: booklovers… and to reward our customers. Just being a member puts you into the draw to win prizes! This month, members have a chance to win:

Battle Boy: Bloodaxe by Charlie Carter

Battle Boy: Destroy Troy by Charlie Carter

Gamer’s Quest by George Ivanoff

They Told Me I Had to Write This by Kim Miller

The Avenue of Eternal Tranquillity by K. Overman-Edmiston