War—What Is It Good For?

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate MeasuresWhile I’m rarely able to pick a ‘favourite’ book, nor even do more than draw a blank when I’m asked to recommend something, one of my hands-down favourites and one that I regularly buy as a gift for friends or thrust upon them as a loaner is Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures). Written by three United Nations (UN) workers—lawyer Kenneth Cain, social worker Heidi Postlewait, and almost-Aussie New Zealand-born doctor Andrew Thomson—it gives a warts-and-all insight not only into war but the international organisation tasked with managing its fallout.

The three were stationed in the likes of Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Somalia, the latter of which included them being there during the awfulness of Black Hawk Down. The revelations aren’t pretty and offer some fairly despairing examples of why the UN is referred to as a ‘toothless tiger’, but the book’s strangely inspiring too. In fact, despite cataloguing its flaws, the authors still work at the UN and still work to improve the world we live in. I’ve never more wanted to join the UN than I did after reading the book and apparently am not alone in my thinking.

I’m not going to dish details of the origins of the ‘emergency sex’ of the title—I recommend you read it to find out for yourself—but I will say that while it might be the gimmick that attracts you, there’s much more to the book than that. UN officials as high up as Kofi Annan tried to prevent the book from being published, but it was such in-text statements as the fact that if blue-helmeted UN officials turn up in your village purporting to be there to help you, you should run that were much more thought-provoking.

An Imperfect OfferingKeen to know more and to fill the post-good-book reading void after finishing Emergency Sex, I stumbled across Medecins Sans Frontieres president James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering: Dispatches from the Medical Frontline. Orbinski has spent years working in some pretty harrowing hotspots, but for me the most compelling aspect of the book was his account of his time spent in Rwanda. As one of the few foreigners who stayed in the country and who witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the genocide, which the world (including the UN) effectively watched unfold without intervening, his stories are harrowing and haunting.

By demonstrating the human cost of war, both books resoundingly show that war is much messier and less effective than the obfuscating ‘shock and awe’ and ‘smart bomb’ jargon would have us believe. They also demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit against the odds and give some very human insight into (for those of us who’ve grown up in safe environments) a very foreign experience. And while I’ve re-read and will continue to return to both books, the question I’m now faced with is, now that I’m again facing the good-book reading void, which insight-into-war book(s) should I read next?

REVIEW: Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Honestly, Patrick Ness couldn’t have ended the Chaos Walking trilogy in a more perfect way.

The first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, stand out for their inventiveness, their fierce pace, and their vivid characters. Monsters of Men meets the standard, then ups the stakes, then ups them again, and then again. There are a billion points in the story where I didn’t think Ness could ratchet up the tension any more – and then he does.

Avoid spoilers, if you can. I’m not giving anything away, so, vague summary ahead: Monsters of Men is about young people coming into power, guided by those who are in power (and who, in most cases, have been corrupted by it). Our heroes Todd and Viola are mostly back together again, in the sense that they share many more scenes than they did in The Ask and the Answer and find ways to communicate even when they’re apart, but they’re still constantly buffeted and battered by the competing forces of Mistress Coyle and Mayor Prentiss.

Who, by the way, is the strongest and most difficult character. Is he really the villain of this story, or is he its hero? Ness doesn’t answer that question (and nor should he), instead crafting a character who is at once charismatic, paternal, untrustworthy and chilling. Which is just the way it should be. Of all the characters in Chaos Walking, the Mayor will stay with me the longest.

(And maybe Manchee. Love that dog.)

Kudos to Ness for avoiding the drippy sentiment that often plagues finales (Deathly Hallows, anyone?), but he does cheat a few times: a lot of the support characters feel stand-in-ish, and a couple of the plot twists seem like they’ve been thrown in for shock value rather than to enhance the story. (Particularly the very final twist, which came this close to ruining the whole series for me. Ultimately, though, Ness turns it into a very satisfying conclusion.)

I’ve been lucky with the series: I only started reading it in the month leading up to Monster’s release, meaning I didn’t have to wait a year between instalments like everyone else. I literally read all three entries one after the other. So I’m not sure what the feeling is in the Chaos Walking fanbase – but I have a feeling they’ll like the final book as much as I did.

Sam Downing

Why I have not read Twilight

TwilightI have not read Twilight! I do not intend to read Twilight! I am content with this decision and I am sure that I will go on to have a happy and fulfilling life without it. But how did I come to this decision?

I had heard a lot about Twilight — both good and bad. It, and its follow-up books, had been getting a lot of publicity for quite some time. When the film was released on DVD, I decided that I should probably read the book before seeing the film and find out what all the fuss was about. So I borrowed a copy from a friend.

I was reading another book at the time, so my wife decided to read it first. For the next week I listened to her read the book. Yes, listened, as she tsk’ed with contempt, groaned with annoyance and snorted with derision… occasionally punctuated by, “OMG, just let me read you this bit…”. At the end of each chapter, I’d cop an earful of colourful rhetoric about how little the story had progressed, yet how much more annoying the characters had become. “Bella just spent an entire chapter whining and pining for Edward!” or “Edward just spent an entire chapter sparkling and being gazed at by a soppy-eyed Bella!” and “I’m dragging myself though this book, in the hopes that a story will actually happen at some point!” When she had finally finished, she turned to me and said: “Honey, don’t read it!”

My wife is probably the only person in the world who can say something like that to me, and have me follow the advice. Normally, being told not to do something just makes me want to do it more. But after 17 years, Kerri (that’s my wife) has come to know me pretty well, and knows my literary likes and dislikes. After years of recommending books to me, this is the first time she has ever recommended I not read a particular book… so I took the recommendation seriously.

That’s not to say that Kerri hated the book. She didn’t. She found it a frustrating but interesting read. Frustrating because there was very little plot and because she found the characters annoying. Interesting, because she said that as a 15-year-old girl she probably would have loved it. Here’s why:

“It pushes all the right buttons for a teenage girl. It’s as if the book were written by a committee of women with a checklist.”

Kerri did express some curiosity in seeing the film version. So we borrowed the DVD from our local video store and put aside an evening of our lives that we will sadly never be able to reclaim. I figured that if I liked the film, I’d make the effort to read the book. I did not like the film. In fact, I hated it! Aside from the fact that it was overacted and poorly directed, there was not all that much to the plot and the dialogue was clichéd and atrociously written. Granted, Kerri did say that the book was marginally better, but given how much I disliked the film, that was not much of an incentive.

Every now and then, someone will still suggest that I should give the book a go. And I toy with the possibility, purely on a curiosity level. But seriously folks, life is too short to be reading stuff that you don’t really want to read. There are HUGE numbers of books that I really do want to read — way too many for me to actually get through. I need to prioritise. And a mild curiosity simply is not enough to get me to put this book on my mile-high “must-get-around-to-reading-someday” stack, let alone my three metre tall “must-read-soon” pile.

So that, folks, is why I have not read Twilight. And that is why I am unlikely to read it. Not unless I get stranded on a desert island without any other reading material.

Now, having said all of the above, I do wish to point out that I have nothing against the people who do like the books and the films. Everyone is entitled to their own literary choices. I’m sure that some of the books I’ve chosen to read over the years would make many people cringe. And I haven’t always made sterling choices. But as I said earlier, I couldn’t possibly read everything that I want to read, so I do have to make choices.

Even though I have chosen not to read it, I believe it to be an important book. It seems to have mimicked Harry Potter’s success in getting people who don’t normally read, to pick up a book. And for that, I applaud it. For many people Twilight will be the beginning of a life-long romance with the written word. That’s a good thing.

Well… that’s it for vampires! On to other things. Tune in next time when Shirley Marr, author of the soon to be released YA novel Fury, drops in to tell us about her first publishing experience.

Catch ya later,  George

Potplants, red in tooth and claw

Yesterday I had to catch the train home from work with a Venus Fly Trap plant in my handbag. I’m blaming Sir David Attenborough. His voice may be soft, but his enthusiasm is contagious, and after watching the epic documentary Earth recently and re-reading my copy of the Life of Mammals, I was filled with wonder and fascination for all things for all things natural.

So, when I wandered by a gardening centre and discovered they had a special on carnivorous plants, I just couldn’t resist the tiny Venus Fly Trap, with its fringed green and red maws open and begging for treats. But in my enthusiasm I had forgotten I was catching the train home. I wasn’t sure what to do with the plant. Taking a bunch of flowers on the train is one thing, but a carnivorous plant? People would think I was nuts. Perhaps I should play to the crowd. I considered glaring at nearby passengers while stroking the plant saying “soon, my pretty, soon.”

Common sense triumphed, however, and I managed to stash it in my huge handbag (all the better to carry books with, my dear) and get it home, where it now has pride of place on the top of the bookcase. It likes heat and humidity and plenty of light, and I’ll need to catch flies for it to keep it happy and grow it. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

It will, unfortunately, probably end up in the potplant graveyard on the balcony. Along with the geraniums, some big leafy things and the apparently “indestructible” ivy that I killed in a record three weeks.

My love for pretty houseplants is completely unrequited. I don’t so much have green fingers as black thumbs. Need to defeat the Triffids? Make my living room the first stop on their world conquering itinerary and they’ll be dead in a week. I alternate between utterly ignoring my plants for weeks on end and then deciding to lavish them with enthused, but ineffective, love.

My Mum, who has just arrived over from Ireland, is horrified by the potplant graveyard and asked how I’ve been treating the plants. On hearing I never fed them and they’ve been in the same pot for the last three years she looked at me like I had said I keep small children in the attic and feed them buckets of fish heads once a week. She thrust half a bottle of fertiliser and some pots at me and made “I’m going to call the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Plants” noises until I started to pay them attention. So my plants have been potted and composted and fed and watered and are currently getting lots of attention. They’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Plants rarely survive in our house. We have bought several, but the only one to survive is some sort of potted stalky bamboo-y type thingy. (That’s the common name for it, of course. The Latin would be as Nescio Quis Abyssus, or the I Dunno What plant.) We ignore it apart from sporadic watering and occasional de-leaving when it goes brown, the tenacious thing continues to grow ever taller. Every few months it sprouts up another inch, and in the process puts out two improbably big leaves that quiver gently in the wind. All the leaves lower down have fallen off and now it resembles nothing so much as a tall skinny man wearing an absurdly large toupee. It hates attention. When we tried to move it to a better spot, it shed all its leaves. When we tried to repot it, it died for a few months. Basically, it finds my ministrations so abhorrent that it feigns death rather than put up with them.

Of course, if I don’t treat the Venus Flytrap right (Dionaea muscipula, which is actually its correct name), it is carnivorous. You have to wonder why they are having a special on these plants. Perhaps they eat the people who get it wrong. Perhaps the plants have sent something to extract vengeance for all their fallen kin on the balcony.

Or perhaps, this time, I should just pay the darn thing some attention and feed it before it eats me.

For the Love of the Chunkster

Dear Readers:

I have a confession to make. It is a confession that is so monstrous, so remarkably horrid, that your view of me will forever be marred.

*Takes deep breath*

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

[I know what you’re thinking: “and here she is, this imposter, purporting to be a FANTASY blogger, no less!”]

Before you pass too hasty a judgment, let it be known that I have watched the Peter Jackson movies and loved them to bits, over and over again. And I read The Hobbit, so really, I feel like I know Bilbo Baggins PRETTY well. It’s not the same, I know. But it’s a start.

On three separate attempts I have made it, at best, about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring. My excuse for not finishing it? It was TOO DARNED LONG. Too much valuable reading time had to be spent on the series, whereas I could read 15 or so smaller books in the same time bracket! But in my heart of hearts, I know this is a lie.
In truth, if you look at which books I love and have enjoyed the most, refusing to read a book because it is “too long” is laughable. For my very reading existence is almost completely dependent on my love for a particular type of book: for the love of the CHUNKSTER!

I define a chunkster as a book that has at least 500-600 pages, average size font.

Why do I love them? Well, there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a book that gives me the proper amount of time to immerse myself in the story, wallow about in its glorious filth. To know the characters through an intense description of a frock worn, to know a world as it is built, brick by brick around me. And, of course, I feel pretty awesome when I finish something that requires so much time and effort to get through.

Some of my fave chunksters:

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a magnificent choice in the chunkster realm. To understand the passion and architectural skill of building a Gothic cathedral, while all these people’s lives are carrying on around it, is just mesmerising to me. After reading that book, I felt like I had built the church myself – ’tis a great feeling of accomplishment;
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is 1000 pages or so of mind-numbing faerie Victoriana brilliance;
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, sends me into a spin just thinking about it;
And I have just read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and been absolutely blown away by its intricate content, its romantic Sci Fi, its literary awesomeness. No wonder it won the Booker Prize.

I am also super pleased to report that the fashion of the chunkster doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. The obsession with mass fantasy reads like Harry Potter and Twilight meant that each book in the series had to be larger than the last, to satisfy the starving fans. And you only have to look at 2009’s Booker shortlist to see that chunksters are still considered worthy literary reads (I’m currently digging my way through Wolf Hall with mounting enthusiasm). So, to come full circle – I don’t know why I can’t get through Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try again, mid-year, and let you know the results. As long as another chunkster doesn’t steal my attention… (here’s hoping!)

How do you feel about chunksters? To me, you’re in one of two camps: you adore the chunkster and all that it stands for, or you fear them to the depths of your soul and avoid them like the plague.

Which is it for you? Team Love? Or Team Fear?

Books: Just ‘Fodder For Digital Chatter’?

It seems reasonable to assume that the future of book reading is at least going to involve more social networking. The newest ebook readers make connectivity a selling point – the built-in ability to share your views or quotes from a book on Twitter or Facebook is the next logical step, if it hasn’t happened already. This will be the digital equivalent of the bookshelf; except you won’t need to invite people into your home to brag about what you’re reading. Is there a chance, however, as suggested in this article in the New York Times, that this will mean books become merely ‘fodder for digital chatter’?

In my last post I talked about the rise and risks of self-publishing, and received an interesting response from one of the commenters:

I think we’re going to see more and more titles gaining success without going through traditional publishers. With most books being bought online, access to physical outlets … will matter less and less … I think it will come down to author reputation and following. The real success stories will be people who can get their book in front of influential people who will recommend it.

In other words, the future of publishing forecast by this commenter is democratic. Readers, through the medium of Facebook newsfeed algorithms and John Mayer’s tweets, will decide what gets through to you – in just the same way you heard about that funny cat picture. While this might seem both sad and unrealistic to some people, it’s a very common view, especially on the internet. The internet, in fact, has turned us all into writers, musicians, actors and journalists. There are so many people out there creating content that the vast majority of it remains unseen – at least until a highschool student from Idaho mashes up the video/poem/blog post and turns it into a meme.

Books, for the most part, have been immune to this type of thing. This might be because they’re long and not very easy to cut up into small pieces, but it might also be that there isn’t all that much digital access just yet. As this changes, it’s likely we’re going to see more “OMG LOL did u here about Banquo? Mbeth totally pwned his ass”.

Is this a terrible thing? I’m certainly not at the point where I have to tweet every funny line of every book I’m reading, but I’ll often turn to the person next to me and share something that made me laugh. At other times I’ll be itching to tell a particular group of friends about something specific I’m reading. Is moving this behaviour onto social networking so very wrong? It certainly feels … weird. Like a transgression of some kind. But I’m not sure why. What do you think?

DIGGING UP DINOSAURS with Sheryl Gwyther

As part of our Dinosaur Week, we’re talking today to author Sheryl Gwyther about how she became a writer, and how she went to an actual dinosaur dig to research her book, Secrets of Eromanga.

Let’s start with your author’s journey, Sheryl.

I’d been crazy about reading books and writing bits and pieces since I was little, but other things got in the way – school, jobs, travel, university, art school. Then one day I knew what I should be doing with my life … writing books for young people.

You’re obviously dedicated to getting the research part right. Where was the dinosaur dig you went on?

It was on a sheep station near Winton, in western Queensland.

Sheryl on the fossil dig

Not only did I have fun digging up pieces of a huge sauropod dinosaur named Elliot, I uncovered the story lurking in my head. That story, with its two inter-weaving narratives, went on to become my first novel, Secrets of Eromanga, an adventure story for 9-12 year olds.

What’s Secrets of Eromanga about?

Twelve-year-old Ellie knows more about Australian dinosaur fossils than how to get friends. But she discovers more than friendship on an outback fossil dig site when she becomes entangled in a web of illegal fossil smuggling. She must find the courage and determination needed to save her friends.

fossilised dinosaur footprints

95 million years separate Ellie and a small ornithopod dinosaur that once lived beside the ancient inland waters of the Eromanga Sea. Both Ellie and the dinosaur face fears and uncertainty of their separate worlds. Time and fate binds them together. Neither can escape that fate.

Can you tell us something you learned about Australian dinosaurs when you were researching this book?

Everyone knows about T-Rex, Brontosaurus and Velociraptor.

Millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, we had the Aussie versions of Rex, Bronto and Raptor here in Australia.  But they were species unique to this land. They appear in my book.

Teachers’ Notes are available:

View an extract from Secrets of Eromanga at:

What did you enjoy most about writing Secrets of Eromanga?

I enjoy writing stories that are set in modern times but also linking back in the past somehow – like in Secrets of Eromanga. It’s exciting finding out things that weave the past and the present together.

What have you been working on since you finished digging up dinosaurs?

Even though I’m still thrilled at the thought of finding more dinosaur bones, I haven’t written any more about those magnificent creatures.

This year I have more books and a short story coming out. The short story, Corn dolly Dead is in black dog books, Short and Scary anthology.

My chapter book, Princess Clown is out in early May, with Blake Publishing. It’s a funny chapter book about a very determined princess who would much rather make people laugh.

The second book is out in August with Pearson Australia. I had lots of fun writing Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper. Check out this link for more on these stories:

Sheryl also has a new blog just for kids at

http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com

Thanks for dropping in for a chat later, Sheryl. Perhaps you might like to come back one day to talk more about how you did your research for Secrets of Eromanga.

Dee

Literary Feuds – Popular Authors at Dawn (or Twilight)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book in possession of popularity must be in want of literary merit. If it sells well, it must be lowbrow. And, when other popular writers are the ones to say this, it causes no end of fuss.

Last year Stephen King, the king of high-selling horror, took a pot shot at one of the biggest names out there, Stephenie Meyers. “Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people… The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a damn. She’s not very good.”

There was uproar. Not very good? Meyer’s star is currently at its peak, and her huge army of Twilight fans (or Twi-hards) were aghast on her behalf. According to some sources, they suggested drowning Stephen King in hate mail. (Bear in mind, Stephen King is a man in poor health in his sixties. You’d probably only need one small bag.)

Not very good? As of March 2010, the Twilight series has sold over 100 million copies and been translated into at least 38 different languages. It has inspired major movies, parodies and countless fan sites. How do you quantify “good” in something as subjective as writing if not by how many people like it, her fans asked? Meyers herself did not join the indignation. Some Twilight fans thought this might be because she was richer than the Queen and doesn’t care anymore. Perhaps Meyers was too busy drowning under cheques to respond to poor Stephen (who was, presumably, drowning in hate mail written on scented paper and in red ink)?

But, while it is true that the Twilight saga is selling by the bucketload, what the Twi-hards seem to miss is that popular authors taking a pop at each other is a time honoured tradition. And Stephen’s off the cuff insult was relatively mild compared to what some authors have had slung at them.

Jane Austen was the popular author of her day, but not everyone liked her. Fortunately didn’t live long enough to hear Mark Twain declare her so poor a writer he thought of desecrating her grave.

I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Mark Twain’s writing wasn’t so great either, according to William Faulkner. He believed the moustachioed Twain “[a] hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.” Likewise, Evelyn Waugh was unimpressed by French novelist, Marcel Proust. “I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

And acccording to James Dickey; “[if] it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes…”

It makes Stephen’s fit of pique look almost cute.

Meyer has not responded. Perhaps she recognises the clacking of typewritten literary insults for what they are – a membership card to the club of lucky authors whose books are popular enough to merit discussion by other authors. Perhaps she realises that Stephen King is, in his own snarky way, welcoming her onboard to the Big Boys club.

Or perhaps she’s still struggling under her royalty cheques.

For the record, I love King, like Austen, enjoy Twain and couldn’t get past Book 1 in the Twilight Saga. I haven’t read Faulker. He’s on the list of authors-I-swear-I-will-read-someday but keeps getting dumped for travelogues and chick lit. It’s a long list, full of very worthy books and authors, and probably a post for another day.

Kate Forsyth talks inspiration

I have a soft spot for Kate Forsyth. She was the first author I interviewed when I became a Boomerang Books blogger (click here). And now, it’s a new year, this is a new blog, and Kate has a new book, so it’s only fair I invite her around for a new feature (although, it looks like George may have gotten the scoop first – click here for her guest-blog over at Literary Clutter). Her buzzed-about new release, The Wildkin’s Curse is out now. Check back at the end of the week for coverage of the book launch, and details on how you can win yourself a copy.

KATE FORSYTH:
Seven Inspirations behind The Wildkin’s Curse

Like all writers, I’m asked all the time: ‘Where did you get your ideas from?’ This is always a really hard question to answer, because all books have lots and lots of different ideas in them, all woven together. However, here are just seven of the primary ideas and inspirations behind The Wildkin’s Curse.

Seven inspirations:

1)    The Princess Bride by William Goldman and other favourite books of mine from childhood, like the Narnia books, The Wizard of Earthsea and The Book of Three. I was given a copy of The Princess Bride  for my 13th birthday, and it immediately became one of my favourite books. I have always loved books filled with adventure, magic, romance, humour and pathos, stories set long, long ago and far, far away. When I set out to write the ‘Chronicles of Estelliana’, I wanted to recapture the feel of the books I had loved so much as a child.

2)    I have always had a deep love of fairytales and fairytale retellings. As well as the power to enchant and entertain, I believe that the old wonder tales can help us work through the deep internal conflicts that beset us all as we grow to adulthood. The books in the Chronicles of Estelliana consciously draw upon, and invert, fairytale motifs. In The Starthorn Tree, the Count of Estelliana lies in a deep, enchanted sleep as the result of tasting a poisoned apple and it is his sister who sets out to wake him. In The Wildkin’s Curse, there is a princess imprisoned in a tower but Rozalina does not wait passively to be rescued, like Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel. She wishes and prays and tells stories, and in the end, curses her captors.

3)    This book grew out of my own deeply-held belief that words and stories have power.  One of my favourite quotes is from Joseph Conrad who said: ‘My task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. That – and no more, and it is everything.’

4)    The idea of a princess imprisoned in a crystal tower was the very first spark for this book. When I was two years old, I was savaged by a dog and ended up with terrible head injuries that resulted in meningitis. As a result of this, I was in and out of hospital for the next six years. Many long days were spent lying in my hospital bed, staring out the window and imagining myself galloping away over the hill, on my way to marvellous adventures. As a result, people held captive in towers is a motif that appears again and again in my work.

5)    Early on in the writing of the book, I had assembled my three adventurers and given them their quest but I had no idea how they were to rescue my imprisoned princess. I didn’t want to have Zed, Merry and Liliana just wandering through the land having vague, fantasy-style adventures (i.e. attack by monster in lake, misadventure while eating stew in roadside inn). I believe a story is like a sword – it must have a point. So my books always have a deeper thematic structure to them. Each obstacle my characters overcome has some kind of symbolic significance, as well as a practical function. So I had been puzzling over this particular problem for some time, but had not yet worked out a solution. I went for my morning walk and strode along, thinking, ‘how can they rescue Rozalina? How?’ Suddenly a raven took to the air, right in front of me, and dropped a single black feather at my feet. I bent and picked up the feather, my mind racing with ideas. A feather … a cloak of feathers … a damaged cloak of feathers that is missing seven feathers, each one from a different bird … a raven, symbol of death and wisdom … a tragic battle scene … an eagle, symbol of power and royalty … a dangerous climb to the top of a cliff … a nightingale, symbol of true love … a tender romantic scene late in the book … I walked faster and faster and faster, my mind leaping from one idea to another, and by the time I got home I had my entire novel fully plotted out. It was one of those amazing serendipitous moments that make writing a novel such a joy.

6)    World building is an important part of a fantasy writer’s job, and this means thinking very deeply about the effects of certain social, political or geographical factors upon your world. In the world of Estelliana, the ruling starkin families have married among themselves for many generations. I had read long been interested in haemophilia, sometimes called ‘the Royal Disease’ because of its ravaging effects among the  descendants of Queen Victoria. Her eighth son died of the disease, despite every effort to keep him from injury, and at least nine of her grandsons and great-grandsons were also haemophiliac. It was whispered that the queen’s family had long ago been cursed by an unhappy monk, and certainly the disease works in such a strange way that it must have seemed like malignant magic. Only boys are affected, and there was little hope, in the olden days, of growing to be an adult. It would make my world much more interesting, I thought, to have Rozalina being blamed for cursing her father so that none of his sons would live beyond babyhood, making her … a scorned girl-child and a despised half-breed … the heir to the throne.

7)    At the heart of The Wildkin’s Curse is a prophecy, uttered by Merry’s father in The Starthorn Tree. It says: ‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’ I knew that I wanted this prophecy to have several layers of meaning. I’ve been interested in paganism since I was a child, and knew that Easter had its roots in the celebration of the spring equinox, which signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. For thousands and thousands of years, long beyond Christianity, the death of winter and birth of spring was celebrated in stories and rituals of a god or a man who died and was then reborn. This god has been given many names – Attis, Osiris, Orpheus, Dionysus, and Tammuz, to name a few. So I planned my novel to end on the night of the spring equinox, when one of my heroes must die …

– Kate Forsyth

Value Added: Is Traditional Publishing Obsolete?

A staggering 764,448 titles were produced in 2009 by self-publishers and micro-niche publishers, according to statistics released this morning by R.R. Bowker. The number of “nontraditional” titles dwarfed that of traditional books whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008. Taken together, total book output rose 87% last year, to over 1 million books.

– Publishers Weekly

The internet and print-on-demand technology has made possible a gigantic leap forward in self-publishing in the last couple of years. Services like Lulu.com produce thousands of books per year by budding authors. In this environment, where anybody with the patience to sit down and write 70,000 words can get ‘published’, it begs the question – what value does the traditional publishing industry add to books?

This is especially pertinent with the rise in ebooks, as publishers defend the value of their intellectual property over their access to print and distribution services. If the author writes the material, and the publisher is no longer printing or distributing it – then what is it they actually do?

Matthew Reilly’s Contest was self-published before being picked up by a major publishing house. Last Christmas he was the biggest selling Australian author. Original copies of the self-published edition sell for over a thousand dollars.

Quite a lot, actually. The road to publication, from acquisition, through editorial, marketing, publicity and ultimately sales and distribution is one that traditional publishers have been perfecting for decades. I have witnessed books being torn apart and put back together by committed editors. Publicists, sales people and marketers work tirelessly to promote an author in whom they passionately believe, but who may have sold hardly any copies. Publishers develop their authors, book by book, over a number of years before seeing any kind of success. In other words: authors are not born – they are made.

The proof of this is in the pudding. Although the internet is full of people complaining that publishers don’t actually do anything, this doesn’t translate to the books people buy. There are very few self-publishing success stories – the fact remains that in order for a writer to be read, their book needs to get picked up by a traditional publishing house.

What do you think? Have you ever bought a self-published book? Do you regularly read self-published books? Do you think traditional publishers are obsolete? In what ways have traditional publishers failed their readership? If you are a budding writer – is self-publishing a viable option for you?

Authors with bite

Vampires! Post number two in a series of three about the pointy-toothed blood-suckers we all love to read about.

This time around I have enlisted the help of two authors who have written vamp fic. I’ve asked each of them to share with us their favourite vampire book.

NarrelleFirst cab off the rank is Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life.

John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In is a superb vampire novel. It’s Swedish, but the English translation captures its setting of a bleak suburb in 1980s Stockholm perfectly. Oskar, who is viciously bullied at school, befriends strange newcomer, Eli. The fact that Eli is a vampire and a killer is contrasted with the idea that Eli is also an abused child. The line between victim and monster is blurred, here and elsewhere in the story. It’s a disturbing horror story, but also ultimately a gentle love story. It’s elegant, atmospheric and unlike any other vampire story I’ve ever read.

You can find out more about Narrelle and her writing on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter. And for those of you who’ve read The Opposite of Life, you can also follow her two lead characters, Gary (the vampire) and Lissa (the librarian), on Twitter.

FozNext up we have Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief.

I love the Evernight series by Claudia Gray. On starting the first book, I was aggressively sceptical, but once I reached the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down, while the sequel volumes, Stargazer and Hourglass, were mesmerising. Gray’s characters are vividly realistic; her plotlines pull no punches. The more the series develops, the more it becomes apparent that a skilful long game is in effect: the mythology is built with care, and there are no loose threads – only questions that haven’t been answered yet. The writing is sleek, the pace swift, and the tension perfectly orchestrated. Definitely worth reading!

You can find out more about Foz and her writing by checking out her blog.

My thanks to Narrelle and Foz for stopping by.

My last post mentioned the vampire books that I loved. But I have read others — from the good (Thirsty by MT Anderson) to the not-so-good (The House of Caine by Ken Eulo). And then, there’s the disappointing…

Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice. This is a book that lots of people have raved about. My first encounter with it was the film version. I really liked the film and so I thought to myself… most film adaptations are not as good as the original books, so I must go and read Interview With The Vampire. Which I did… Unfortunately. I found the characters annoying, the style dry and the whole thing long-winded and boring. After spouting my disappointment at anyone who would listen, an avid Anne Rice fan insisted that the second book in the series was much better and that I should give it a go. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve never read another Anne Rice book. Life is too short and there are way too many other books that I really want to read.

Which now brings me to the Twilight books.

Tune in next time as I tell you why I haven’t read Twilight.

Catch ya later,  George

Dinosaur Week at Kids’ Book Capers – DINOSAUR IN THE DARK AGES with Michael Bauer

Hope you enjoy our Dinosaur Week this week at Kids’ Book Capers. We’ll be talking with authors Michael Bauer and Sheryl Gwyther about their action packed adventure dinosaur books for kids.

TODAY – DINOSAUR IN THE DARK AGES

In Michael Bauer’s 2010 CBCA Notable book, Dinosaur Knights, a dinosaur ends up in the Dark Ages when a science experiment goes badly wrong.

Scientists in the future have developed technology  to reach back into the past and draw living things forward in time. They do this by locking onto ‘time fossils’ or ‘time prints’, impressions left by all living things on the fabric of time.

The scientists attempt to pull a dinosaur, Baryonyx Walkeri into their future for scientific research. When the dinosaur is lost during transportation, it turns up in Medieval England where two young brothers Roland and Oswald, and a girl Cristiana have their lives turned upside down.

Today, Michael Bauer is here  to talk about his book and how he wrote it.

Can you tell us about the characters in your story?

Twins Roland and Oswald, and a girl Cristiana are around 13.  Roland, a boy of action and adventure, but few words, longs to be a Knight. His brother Oswald wants to follow in their father’s footsteps and becoming a physician. He doesn’t take life quite as seriously as his brother. Cristiana is the feisty daughter of a local Lord. Against her will she is being made to marry a wealthy landowner almost her father’s age. The dinosaur’s arrival changes everything, particularly for the boys. The local Sheriff is found dead in the nearby forest and the boys’ father is convicted of his murder by corrupt officials. Oswald and Roland along with Cristiana set out to confront the monstrous ‘dragon’ and somehow prove that it is the real culprit.

What do you like about these characters?

They are all different, and even though they have their flaws and weaknesses they show great spirit and courage in tackling the challenges and dangers they must face.

Michael, is it true that you ‘borrowed’ your son’s old Jurassic park T-Rex figurine and his Action Men figures to help you write this book?

Yes it helped me to visualise some of the scenes where Oswald, Roland and Cristiana do battle with the dinosaur. That was fun!

Michael has published five books including Dinosaur Knights (Michael’s other books include The Running Man, Don’t Call Me Ishmael, Ishmael and the Return of the Dugong and You Turkeys). Your books are all quite different from each other. Do they have any common themes?

I think one theme shared by my books is the idea that everyone is different and unique, and that this is a good thing and should be celebrated.

Another one is how we think we know other people but we often judge them mainly on appearance or make assumptions about them with very little evidence or real understanding of them.

I love it when my characters show a side of their character or reveal something about themselves that takes the readers or other characters by surprise and makes them reassess their judgments.

Teacher’s notes for Dinosaur Knights are available at  http://www.scholastic.com.au/schools/curriculum/

pdf/Dinosaur_Knights.pdf

Teacher’s notes for all Michael’s books can be found at http://www.scholastic.com.au/schools/curriculum/

Thanks for dropping in, Michael. I can’t wait to read the new Ishmael Book you’re working on, and your next book, Just a Dog (due out September 2010).

Dee

On Wednesday, author Sheryl Gwyther will tell us how she went on a dinosaur dig to research her book, Secrets of Eromanga.

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 2)

“Some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis.

You might (or might not) be surprised to learn that the beloved fairy tale was originally meant for adults as well as kidlets.

Storytellers such as Perrault had Rapunzel pregnant by her hair-climbing paramore; the story of Snow White is said to be the historical real-life story of a girl poisoned by the Queen when the poor girl caught the eye of the King. Truly delightful stuff.

My love affair with the fairy tale goes further back than my swiss-cheese memory can account for. I can’t remember the first time I read Grimms’ version of Cinderella, where her ugly stepsisters cut their heels and toes off to fit the famed glass slipper, or when I first learned that the price to pay for loving a prince is your tongue cut out and an eventual suicide (a la Anderson’s The Little Mermaid).

Eventually I graduated to that masterpiece Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, but it wasn’t until Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, by Jamie Rix, that I was taught some valuable and thoroughly modern lessons in life. Thrills and chills ran down my spine at the mere thought of The Spaghetti Man, who would turn children into macaroni, penne, or even the dreaded linguine! If children’s picture books help us to identify colours and language, fairy tales further develop a burgeoning imagination and a sense of reason. At the time, I lost countless nights of sleep to that burgeoning imagination, but it did have some positive effects for my parents: I forever after gobbled my spaghetti to the last limp noodle, for fear I should hear the scrape of those uncooked spaghetti fingers dragging along the floor towards me…

As for modern fairytales that are less ‘child’s play’, more ‘adults only’:

The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly, is similar in story to Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous film, Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s a truly chilling read. After reading this book I needed some serious Disney movie therapy, to stop me thinking about Little Red Riding Hood spawning werewolves after laying with the Wolf. Nice. And if you haven’t read Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red) then you are missing out on some seriously beautifully-crafted language.

To finish off – a Mr. Chesterton (poet, essayist, novelist) once said:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

So you’ve had a rough day at work – your boss has been an absolute dragon, and your mother-in-law can’t resist telling you (for the thirtieth time) how to raise your kids. Now imagine slaying that dragon, or watching a witch with your mother-in-law’s face dancing over red-hot coals – ouch! I don’t know about you, but when I perform that cathartic little exercise, my day feels a helluva lot brighter.

[Disclaimer: In no way am I condoning real-life violence… but gosh, when you really need it to get through a crappy day, isn’t the imagination a marvellous thing?]

The Goldilocks Guide To Good Reading

ZeitounRecommending books is often more miss than hit, so I feel a little nervous when I’m asked to suggest ‘a good book’ to read. After all, one person’s ‘good’ is another person’s ‘awful’. Add into the ‘good’ book request mix an immediate under-pressure terror to recommend something suitable for people who otherwise might not be avid readers and I, well, draw a blank. How are you supposed to narrow down the books you read to pick a ‘favourite’? How are you supposed to then select one that might become someone else’s favourite too?

I understand why people look for recommendations—in fact, more often than not I look for them too. We’re time poor and books require a not insignificant time and financial investment, so we want to get it right the first time, every time. But if you’ve ever been a member of a bookclub, you’ll know that reaching consensus on whether a book is good is nigh on impossible. I’ve never been so outraged and so willing to shake someone as I was the night my bookclub did Dave EggersZeitoun, an exceptional, simple, hauntingly-good non-fiction book about a New Orleans businessman who stayed behind to help during Hurricane Katrina.

One guy who shall remain nameless went against the consensus grain that Eggers had crafted a masterpiece and that the American legal system (and, arguably, psyche) is deeply flawed. Without ruining the story for those of you who haven’t yet read it (you should—it’s excellent; and yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m recommending a book when I’ve just said it’s incredibly difficult to do so), he argued that Zeitoun well and truly deserved what he got. How that guy got out of there alive that night I’ll never know. And anyone who says bookclubs are for the meek and mild should spend a night at ours.

These days I tend to think of reading experiences not as one-size-fits-all book selection, but as being more akin to that of the Goldilocks fairytale—the protagonist tries out things that are too big, too small, too hot, and too cold until they find things that are, for them and them alone, ‘just right’. Which I why I’ll no longer recommend a single book. Instead I apply a kind of Goldilocks Guide to Good Reading and recommend something big, something small, something hot, and something cold to given them a broad and varied selection. My hope is that they find something in the mix that they consider ‘good’ or even ‘great’.

Books with bite

Vampires seem to be the in thing at the moment. Almost everyone is going ga-ga over the Twilight books and there is now a glut of teen vamp fic. Hollywood is, of course, cashing in on this, with numerous pointy teeth films and tv shows gracing our screens. For a bit of a laugh, check out the trailer for I Kissed a Vampire, a musical web series.

DraculaVampire fiction has been around for a long time. The first vampire book I ever read was Stephen King’s Salom’s Lot. It remains one of my favourites. Since then, I’ve read the occasional bit of vamp fic, including the granddaddy of them all, Dracula (which is well worth a read, even if you’re not into vampires). The one that really sticks in my mind, even though I read is about 13 years ago, is Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls. She has an interesting take on the vampire mythology. Her vamps are a separate species and breeding with humans results in each successive generation being less vampiric. The oldest vampire in the book can eat or drink nothing but blood, has pointy teeth and can be harmed by sunlight. The youngest is a bit of a goth — sunlight won’t hurt him but prefers to go out at night; his teeth aren’t pointy and although he doesn’t need to drink blood to live, he does come to develop a taste for it. There’s a lot more to it, but I’m working from memory here.

I’ve always thought that what this world really needed was some good vampire books set in Australia, preferable Melbourne (my home city). A number of years ago I read Vampire Cities by d’ettut (yes, d’ettut is the name of the author… pseudonym perhaps?), which was partly set in Australia. I remember thinking it was a weird, arty sort of book and that vampires weren’t actually the focus. It mustn’t have made much of an impression on me as I can remember nothing of the story.

More recently, I read Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life, which is set in Melbourne. I LOVED this book. It’s got lots of blood, dead bodies and pointy teeth and yet it’s a very atypical vampire story. The heroes are a geeky librarian and a slightly podgy, daggy vampire who wears loud Hawaiian shirts.  The book makes marvellous use of its Melbourne locale and is worth a read for that alone. Harris is writing a sequel… I can’t wait. Check out my review of The Opposite of Life.

Solace & GriefI also recently read Solace & Grief by Foz Meadows. The author calls the book an “urban fantasy” rather than a vampire novel. The main character is a vamp, as is the main villain, but there are other supernatural characters as well. It’s a young adult novel set in Sydney (not as good as Melbourne, but hey, at least it’s in Australia) and it’s got quite a different feel to it from any other vampire book I’ve read. It’s been getting some great reviews and with good reason – it’s a really good read. It is the first book of a trilogy called The Rare. Book 2 is currently in the works… definitely one to look out for.

There are probably other Australian vampire books out there. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made a point of searching them out. The ones I’ve read were those that I happened across. So if anyone out there has any recommendations, I’m all ears… um… err… teeth?

Tune in next time for another vampire post, this time with the assistance of authors Foz Meadows and Narrelle M Harris.

Catch ya later,  George

A Life in Words – Bianca Nogrady on collaborative writing

The traditional image of a writer is an eccentric eking out a lone living on a typewriter in the attic (fingerless mittens optional but encouraged). Indeed, for many aspiring artists labouring in office jobs, the lack of constant human contact and interference is a perk of the job.

But for some writers, and particularly writers of non-fiction, it’s a more social affair. When freelance science journalist Bianca Nogrady was offered to a chance to collaborate to collaborate with James Bradfield Moody (Executive Director, Development at CSIRO and a regular panellist on the ABC television show ‘The New Inventors’) on a concept for a new book, the Sixth Wave, did having two writers double the fun or the trouble?

What was your initial reaction when James suggested collaborating?

I was flattered that he thought so highly of me as a journalist! Then, once my ego settled down, I became very excited about the whole idea of the book. It’s a positive, exciting look at the next 30 years of humanity, which makes such a refreshing change from all the doom-and-gloom.

How did it work in practice?

We had a few face-to-face and over-the-phone brainstorms to work out the structure of the book. Then, with each chapter, James would map out the skeleton – sometimes it was a loose sketch, other times he would write out the entire chapter – then he would pass it to me.

I would research, interview and ‘sprinkle fairy dust’ – turn it into something that I like to think is readable, understandable and entertaining. Each chapter would go back and forward several times with each of us tweaking, reworking, adding and editing, before it was finished.

What was the biggest advantage of collaborating? And the biggest argument?

I believe everyone has a book in them, but I’m yet to find mine, so it was great to have someone else come to me with their idea, particularly someone as intelligent and full of good ideas as James is. We both brought so much to the table, and complemented each other’s skill sets and knowledge base. We had the same vision for the book so it was rare for us to disagree on something and when we did, we were always able to negotiate a compromise.

And while I like to think of myself as having some degree of fame and notoriety, James’ celebrity and networks far eclipse mine. He has contacts I can only dream of, which opened some very impressive doors, not the least of which those at Random House Australia.

The only significant downside is that instead of one person trying to meet a deadline, there are two, so things inevitably take longer than you think they will!

The Sixth Wave is your first book. Would you do another the same way?

I would definitely do this again. I think we were lucky in that we worked well together and found our working groove fairly quickly. We both knew our strengths and were happy to play to those rather than either of us trying to dominate the process.

And what advice would you give people on making co-operative writing work?

You have to get on with the person you’re working with! It might sound obvious, but I don’t think The Sixth Wave would have worked nearly as well if James and I had personality clashes.

Work out what you each can bring to the table in terms of skills and strengths. I’m a science journalist, not an economist or innovation theorist, so while I was confident to research and write about the science and technology, and confident in my skills as a writer, I was very happy to defer to James’ expertise when it came to the big picture, the economics, the theory etc.

Have a clear action plan and timeline. We worked chapter by chapter, which suited us, but we did end up with a last minute panic (that lasted about 3 months!). I remember one night where I was so stressed about getting it done that I ended up on the computer at 2am in the morning research carbon trading schemes. At the time my bub Nina was waking up every 1-2 hrs at night so I figured there wasn’t much point in lying in bed freaking out and waiting for her to wake up.

My other advice would be don’t try to conduct interviews with a baby around. I had one horrendous phone interview with a bloke in the UK, while Nina was doing her 100 decibel Bon Scott imitation from her cot in the next room. Does wonders for the concentration.

Finally, what advice would you give aspiring non-fiction writers?

I write about science because I find it fascinating, and I like to think that makes me a better writer, researcher and interviewer. I would say write about something that interests you, or find something interesting in what you write about. It’s very well to want to be a writer, but for me the more important question is ‘what do you want to write about?’.

Bianca Nogrady is a freelance science journalist and broadcaster who has written for publications such as Scientific American, The Australian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation science and health websites. Bianca lives in the Blue Mountains with her husband and daughter.

Throughout modern history, the tide of innovation and progress has ebbed and flowed but a clear pattern exists – five waves of innovation, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, have each transformed society, economies and industry. The fifth wave was dominated by information and communications technology but a new, brighter star is emerging. The sixth wave of innovation will be about resources – natural resources, human resources and information. THE SIXTH WAVE is a business book, a motivational book, a bold prediction and a roadmap to the future, for anyone interested in understanding how the next wave of innovation will change our lives, and how to succeed in a resource-limited world.

Why Amazon May Not Take Over The World After All

The comprehensive article by Ken Auletta over at the New Yorker this week about the Amazon vs Apple vs Google ebook free-for-all has prompted me to consider how close Amazon came to dominating the publishing industry – particularly when it comes to ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to point fingers or choose sides here. I believe that almost any company in the unique position Amazon has been in for the last few years would have done the same. But there’s a very good argument that what Amazon was trying to do was at least a little bit evil.

Amazon made a tactical error when it remotely wiped copies of 1984 from its customers’ Kindles. This did not prove to anybody that they were not evil.

Basically the story is this: Amazon had a virtual monopoly on the sale of ebooks with the Kindle. And to an extent, they still do. Although there are plenty of other ebook stores, none have the reach, connections, range, consumer trust and reliability that Amazon does. Amazon was trying to set the standard price of ebooks at $9.99. They did this by taking a loss on almost every ebook they sold. But Amazon has deep pockets, and the Kindle to sell, so it was worth it to them to try and grow the industry.

Unfortunately, looking forward, publishers the world over could see that this price point was unsustainable. They feared that as Amazon gained more power over the ebook market, they would force the wholesale price of books down. To quote from the New Yorker piece:

Traditionally, publishers have sold books to stores, with the wholesale price for hardcovers set at fifty per cent of the cover price. Authors are paid royalties at a rate of about fifteen per cent of the cover price. On a twenty-six-dollar book, the publisher receives thirteen dollars, out of which it pays all the costs of making the book. The author gets $3.90 in royalties. Bookstores return about forty per cent of the hardcovers they buy; this accounts for $5.20 per book. Another $3 goes to overhead costs and the price of producing and shipping the book—leaving, in the best case, about a dollar of profit per book.

Obviously these aren’t the exact same margins as in Australia, but they’re very similar, and illustrate my point. What the argument ultimately came down to was this – what is a book really worth? When you take away the cost of printing, which ebooks don’t incur, what should you reasonably pay for a book, and – perhaps more importantly – what does the industry need to receive in order to remain profitable and be able to keep producing books?

The number the industry came up with was $US14.99. They forced Amazon to accept this with the help of Apple and a liberal dose of chutzpah. Google, when it gets into the ebook selling game in the next little while, will help solidify this higher price point.

So, industry saved, right? Right? What do you think? Do you pay too much for books? Would cheaper prices lure you into buying ebooks? Is $AU16 too much for an ebook?

Three Wakefield Press books nominated for Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards

The biennial, international food and wine festival “Tasting Australia”, is coming up here in Adelaide in a few weeks time. It is a week long “foodie-fest” which also involves some industry events, including the awarding of the Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards. This year South Australia’s own Wakefield Press has had three of their publications nominated for the prestigious awards – “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook“, by Liz Harfull has been nominated for Best Hard Cover Recipe Book (under 35 Euro) and Lolo Hobein’s “One Magic Square” and John Barlow’s “Everything But the Squeal” have both been nominated for Best Food Book.  The nominations come from a jury of over 50 international food industry professionals looking at the best the world has to offer in the field of food media and Wakefield Press have every reason to be deeply chuffed for scooping three nominations in such a competitive arena!

Liz Harfull’s “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook” is a joy to look at and thumb through with the format a credit to the book designer.  It is the first book to pay tribute to the – mostly country – cooks who enter the agricultural and horticultural shows of South Australia.  Inspired by a book of artwork from US State Fair posters and recipes,  Harfull, who is originally from the South East but now lives in the Adelaide hills, spent over  seven months researching and writing, attending the country shows and visiting the prize-winning cooks out of show time.  The book features a story on a prizewinning cook from each of the area shows, with one of their winning recipes.  This isn’t haute cuisine, but the kind of food a lot of us were brought up on – or wish we were – so if you are looking for a completely reliable recipe for lemon slice or homemade pasties, I’d suggest that you start here!  Each entry is accompanied by plenty of full colour photo’s of the cooks and their food, the shows and a wealth of archival photo’s, some dating back to the beginning of the last century.

Lolo Hobien is another denizen of the Adelaide hills, having emigrated with her husband and children to Australia from  Holland in 1958.  She is no stranger to nominations, with “One Magic Square” winning a Gourmand World Cookbook award for Best Innovative Cookbook in 2008 and the Bicentennial/ABC Fiction Award for her earlier novel, “Walk a Barefoot Road”.  In “One Magic Square” she shows how it is possible to have a productive food garden in as little as a single square metre.  With many well-intentioned veggie patches failing because of ambitious beginnings, she suggests designs, planting tips and pointers on soil maintenance which should put home grown produce within the reach of all of us.  Easily accessible for the novice gardener, this book also offers  suggestions for the more experienced gardeners – and I know some – who enjoy dipping in and out at random.

Everything But the Squeal” is written by Englishman John Barlow, who now lives in Spain with his wife and son.  In it, he documents his year of traveling around Galicia to fulfill his goal of eating every bit of the pig which is the dominant meat in that damp, green north-western corner of Spain.  To achieve this he determinedly makes his way through astonishing amounts of rich, fatty, but frequently very tasty piles of pork in every possible incarnation.  In the process he both observes and takes part in many of the cultural celebrations of Galicia, some of them dating back to pagan times, including one called “Dirty Day” which I cannot even begin to describe!   He meets up with some surprising locals and becomes familiar with a breed of pig that was considered extinct up until less than 20 years ago, but is now making it’s way onto the plates of gourmets around the world.  This is really a very affectionate homage to both pork and the people of Galicia and a very amusing read.  Having said that, I did read most of it in one sitting, subsequently dreaming of pork all night and, on waking, felt ever so slightly queasy.

Amanda McInerney is a book and food lover from the Adelaide Hills.  She writes her own foodie blog at: http://lambsearsandhoney.com/

Pet Peeves

“I don’t have pet peeves, I have major, psychotic hatreds.”

– George Carlin

I had expected to be writing Part 2 of ‘The Myth of The Children’s Book’ for this post, but I had a little experience on the weekend that got me thinking about something else.

It was my birthday recently, and those who know me best gave me money for books, books themselves or book vouchers. Armed with the money and the vouchers, I traipsed into one well-known bookstore (that-which-cannot-be-named) and proceeded to the science fiction/fantasy section, as I had a particular book in mind – Heart’s Blood, by Juliet Marillier.

I like to think Australia has pretty much adopted Marillier, even though she was born in the picturesque Dunedin, New Zealand. I don’t know myself whether she refers to herself as a New Zealander, or an Australian, or perhaps a hybrid of the two nationalities. Either way, growing up in such a landscape appears to have a profound effect on one’s imagination, and the books of hers I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing so far (well, singular book: Cybele’s Secret) have such a wonderful ‘otherworldliness’ to them. Suffice to say I was looking forward to holding the much-anticipated novel in my grubby paws, and losing myself to adventure!

Except…it wasn’t on the shelf with all the other Marillier books.

My heart skipped a beat.

“Don’t panic yet”, I told myself, and quickly made my way to the nearest computer help. The title search yielded: “One copy, in store, Sci Fi/ Fantasy”. At this point an assistant happened to pipe up behind me and offer to help in the treasure hunt. We retraced my steps back to the shelf and scanned again. No luck.

“Sooorrry,” said the assistant (I felt he clearly was NOT sorry), and he finished with a smirk, “It obviously hasn’t been bought yet. Maybe it’s in [insert name of ubiquitous coffee shop that accompanies bookstore]”. And off he went.

Call it my inner capitalist, but I get this irritated little itch when I see a person ‘browsing’ through a book for a moment too long and then leaving the store without the book packaged and paid for. It’s the same feeling I get when I view a person flipping through a magazine at the checkout, only to put it back in the stand once their groceries start filing through. So you can imagine my distaste at this answer. No, not distaste – more like this intense fireball of rage that begins in the pit of my stomach and threatens to consume me and ALL IN ITS PATH – Dr Jekyll’s Mr Hyde ain’t got nothin’ on me.

My rage-addled brain was suddenly filled with visions of coffee slopped over pages 49-75, lovesick crumbs of friand cuddling together in the spine, forgotten flakes of filo pastry obscuring the author’s afterword. And worst of all, after the reader had finished his/her little dalliance, the book would lay on its back in the chair, discarded like an old rag.

My senses aligned with superhuman sensitivity, I sniffed my way to the coffee shop area. There he was: Edward Cullen-esque hair, a brooding temperament a la Heathcliff, poised over the coveted Heart’s Blood, lost in thought, pausing only to scribble furiously on the paper next to him. And there was coffee on the table. And a half-eaten sandwich! I was chomping at the bit by this time, ready to pounce. But then, all of a sudden, he stopped scribbling. Got out of his chair, brushed the invisible crumbs off his pant leg, and carried Heart’s Blood to the counter with all the gentle fondness and excitement of a green bridesgroom carrying his new bride across the threshold.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Oh readers, what a prince he was! It dawned on me that I didn’t care if there were sandwich crumbs inside the cover, and I didn’t care if he had ripped the pages with wild abandon to see what was going to happen next. All I cared about, was the fact that the book had found a home, and wasn’t abandoned. Unloved.

I was enlightened! I wasn’t some tyrranical book beast with a capitalist soul, I was a do-gooder for printed media!! It was a great day. We both went our separate ways – the prince and I – happy with our newly acquired purchases (I managed to find other books that interested me, once I had calmed down) and I was safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there, a Marillier book was being cherished.

So what have I learned from this little experience? That my irritation has limitations? Probably. That I can get help for my problem? Probably not. That I’m the Mother Theresa of the bookworld? Definitely.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I should have quashed my impatience and simply bought it online from the Boomerang Books website *exaggerated wink*.

Despite the fact that I am now revered in my own mind as a book goddess, there must be plenty more of you out there who feel guilty over your petty pet peeves. Well, no more, my friends! Revel in your pettiness. And know that sometimes, no matter how irrational the irritation, certain ‘unsavoury’ book attitudes can irk even the most patient of booklovers.

So, what book no-nos bring out your Mr Hyde?

THE JOURNEY OF PENNI RUSSON’S “LITTLE BIRD”

On Monday, we spoke to author Penni Russon about how she became an author. Today she is going to tell us all about the inspiration behind her award winning book, Little Bird.

Little Bird tells the story of teenager, Ruby-lee who falls in love with the baby she is looking after.

Congratulations Penni on receiving a 2010 CBCA Notable for Little Bird. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this book came from?

I worked in childcare the year after I left school, then as a babysitter all through uni. I had that experience of working with a particular baby who I fell for. It was a physical, almost biological, love (not icky!), which I recognised when I held my own babies years later.

I’d recently done a week of regional touring where I talked to lots of girls who didn’t read. So Ruby-lee lives in an ex-council estate outer suburb of Hobart, and is a non-reader and at one stage her teacher says something along the lines of ‘why are girls like you so determined to oppress yourselves?’, reflecting my own frustration.

Are any of the characters based on real people?

The character of Spence (baby Maisy’s estranged father and a teacher at Ruby-lee’s school) is based on a real person – I was interested in the idea of a teacher who falls for a student, exploring him not as a social pariah or even a dirty old man, but as someone a bit sad and pathetic, though not irredeemable.

Having worked in childcare, you obviously knew a lot about it. Was there any reason you wanted to feature childcare in your book?

I wanted to write about a girl who wants to be a childcarer in recognition of the fantastic young women I worked with, and also the young men and women who have looked after my own kids.

Childcare is a terribly undervalued and underpaid industry, but it also offers amazing opportunities for young women to move up quickly through the ranks, and to travel and support themselves.

Can you tell us about your main character, Ruby-lee?

I love Ruby-lee. I think I love her the most of all my characters. She is flawed – she lets herself be pushed around by big personalities, is too easily impressed, and she has a lazy streak. But though she’s grown up in a culture of not reading (she used to read in primary school but fell out of the habit), she is quick witted and reflective and she actually expresses herself eloquently – she has all this possibility lurking beneath her surface. And she has a really heightened sense of right and wrong, and in the end she starts making decisions that shows she’s in control of her future, she is not just the sum of her past.

How have you used the ‘little bird’ motif in your story?

I wove a thread all the way through the manuscript. In the end the bird represents both Maisy, the baby bird that Ruby-lee must protect, but also Ruby-lee herself, a bird about to spread her wings and leave the nest. It gave the novel a poetic strand it was missing, that delicately wove all the emotional threads of the story and I was very proud of the end result.

It’s always great for readers to find out how their favourite books have been created. Thanks Penni for for sharing the story of Little Bird with us.

Dee

www.pennirusson.com
www.eglantinescake.blogspot.com

An embarrassing cook-up

There were undoubtedly some red faces at Penguin Group Australia yesterday when they announced they were reprinting 7,000 cookbooks over a recipe for pasta.  The “Pasta Bible” recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto was supposed to call for black pepper but due to a “silly mistake” by a proofreader, it specified a decidedly more macabre ingredient be used – “freshly ground black people”.

Penguin were quick to issue a statement and apologise to anyone offended.

“Misprints are always unfortunate and they are doubly unfortunate when they carry an unintended meaning. As the Pasta Bible is a cookbook, there was obviously no intent behind this mistake – it was simply a regrettable error. […] In this case it is clear that a spell-check error crept in, the recipe incorrectly suggesting the addition of salt and freshly ground black people instead of freshly ground black pepper. Normally such an error would be picked up by proof readers, but they would have been concentrating on checking quantities, a common source of error in cookbooks.”

7,000 copies of the Pasta Bible were immediately quarantined in Penguin’s warehouse and pulped, and revised edition of the Pasta Bible will be available from late May 2010. The recall will cost Penguin $20,000, according to the head of publishing, Bob Sessions,  in the Sydney Morning Herald . ”In one particular recipe [a] misprint occurs which obviously came from a spellchecker. When it comes to the proofreader, of course they should have picked it up, but proofreading a cookbook is an extremely difficult task. I find that quite forgivable.

As someone who tends to be a little slapdash with my keyboard and skim rather than re-read carefully, I’m sympathetic. I have sent out a few corkers in my time. Probably the most embarrassing was an e-mail I sent to several members of management in a company I had just started work with, cancelling a meeting and apologising for “any incontinence caused”.

I can tell you, when that meeting was rescheduled, no one wanted to sit next to me.

Still, Penguin aren’t the first publishers to have this problem. Printers’ errors are fairly common, and calling a book a Bible seems to be an invitation for trouble. In addition to occasional heavy-handed translation, the Good Book has an impressive history of errors and bloopers. Like the Pasta Bible, The Fools Bible of 1763 contained an expensive misprint; Psalm 14:1 reads “the fool hath said in his heart there is a God”, rather than “…there is no God”. The printers were fined three thousand pounds and all copies ordered destroyed.

Less expensive, but probably more embarrassing at family parties was the Lions Bible where Kings 8:19 reads “thy son that shall come forth out of thy lions”, rather than “loins”. Let’s not bring them to the zoo, shall we?

Some of the Bibles advocate unorthodox approaches to morality. The Unrighteous Bible or “Wicked Bible” published in 1653 by Cambridge Press omitted a “not” before the word “inherit”, making Corinthians 6:9 read “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?” and the Sin On Bible of 1716 exhorts readers to “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more”.

My favourite is the “Printers Bible”, of 1702 where Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without cause.” The first word was changed, possibly by a disgruntled typesetter, from “Princes”.

I suspect that poor proofreader at Penguin Books knows exactly what they mean.

It’s Time To Go … Dust Covers And Hard Covers.

Clothbound Penguin Classics SpinesInnovate or die is the philosophy underpinning all manner of technology. Buy a new computer or TV and it’s just about obsolete before you take it out of its box. Strangely, though, such innovation rules haven’t applied to books and reading. Sure, audio books and e-books are on the horizon, but they’re the first major change in book formats for aeons—and even now the old styles seem to be hanging on. I’m talking dust covers and hard covers—two aspects of book formats that should have been allowed to die an undignified death long ago.

As a former bookseller, it took all my effort not to roll my eyes when some pretentious parent affecting a too-proper accent would sneer at paperbacks and request books for their child only in matching, hard cover-replete-with-dust-cover box set formats. Whether the child wouldn’t bother reading such books because they’d be forced to wear white gloves and sit quietly in the corner in the antithesis of book reading enjoyment, or whether—worse—they’d be precocious twats who most likely weren’t liked by their classmates and probably put others off reading, varied. Either way, hard covers and dust covers did—and do—reading a disservice.

Books are meant to be read, enjoyed, taken with you, slotted into hand- or man-bags, pulled out on the bus or train or at the beach, and read at every available opportunity. In fact, books go hand in hand with verbs: read, devour, discuss, debate, analyse, critique. Hard covers and dust covers? They get in the way of the action, literally and figuratively. Their very names connote a lack of action and instead imply books sitting stationary on shelves, unread and gathering dust.

Then there’s their cumbersomeness and fragility. As far as I’m concerned, anything that detracts or distracts from the reading process—by falling off, flapping around, getting in the way physically, or through forcing you to worry about whether it might, through normal use, be too heavy to carry or too fragile to survive the journey—has to go. Indeed, I think dust covers are like wrapping paper—they’re meant to be torn off in eager anticipation of discovering and enjoying the present underneath.

Dust covers first appeared in the 19th century when some clever dick came up with the idea of using them for advertising. Innovative at the time, but it’s no longer, with the advent of much better ways to advertise your product, the case. So why haven’t hard covers and dust covers gone the way of the idea dodo? They’re expensive to produce and purchase, fragile to ship, display, and handle while reading and, if advertising really was the underlying premise, no longer effective, as the first thing many of us do is remove the dust cover and ignore it. Who even still has the dust cover wrapped, intact, around the book by the time they’ve finished it? Who just about gets bedsores or aching arm drop off trying to read too-heavy hard covers in bed?

Clothbound Penguin Classics Spines

The only hard covers that might win me over these days have done away with the dust cover (hooray!) and applied some design innovation. You know the ones. The oh-so-cute, at-once-timeless, clothbound Penguin Classics, which include pink flamingo-adorned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, peacock feather-like decorated The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the delicate flowers of Sense and Sensibility. Contrary to run-of-the-mill hard covers and dust covers, which put you off an otherwise good book, these covers make you want to read, buy, and physically touch (yep, verbs again) these classics.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that these new takes on old books have come from the same company that brings us good reads at budget prices courtesy of such orange-covered modern classic titles as In Cold Blood, The Secret History, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the reason both these new clothbound classics and the old budget reads are so popular: Penguin understands that reading is the key and, instead of turning off readers through cumbersome design and prohibitive pricing, they’re turning on readers with good design and affordable prices. In short, they’re making the wrapping paper appealing, but know that it’s the present under that paper that’s the key.

Adele Walsh on movie adaptations

I’m not the only perpetual adolescent in the world, and the plan is for this blog to feature a range of ‘adolescent’ voices, from young-adult authors, to young-adult readers. Adele Walsh, or as you may know her, Persnickety Snark, is one of the, if not the name in Australian young-adult blogging. Of course, if you said this to her, she’d humbly point out five or six bloggers she thinks are far better – but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m right :-). Every month, thousands flock to her review/commentary website for their young-adult book fix, and we’re excited to announce that she’ll be dropping by this blog every so often, to share her always-relevant two cents.

ADELE WALSH:
Please, don’t rob me of my childhood

The two Ms had a huge part in my love of the Australian young adult literature scene – a Ms Marchetta and a Mr Marsden.  Both were teachers that never taught me in the classroom, instead they influenced me on the page.  Both created two conflicted and strong female protagonists that really spoke to me as an Australian kid. Before that, I had thought of Australian books as whatever came from Mem Fox’s brain. It sounds narrow minded and doesn’t reflect my fantastic school librarians influence at all, but that’s what I thought as a mild-mannered tween book nerd. Hush was great and all but until Josie (Looking for Alibrandi) and Ellie (Tomorrow, When the War Began) came along, I hadn’t really seen myself, or more importantly, who I wanted to be, in the books that I was reading.

The convoluted machinations of the Alibrandi family and the depiction of Sydney allowed me to see myself and my country in startling clarity.  I was twelve and I felt as though my world had opened up. Ellie came along three years later and I embraced her with fiery pride. These girls might have been struck with embarrassing crushes like me but they were strong, smart and impressively verbal. They weren’t perfect but neither was I. Melina Marchetta and John Marsden’s characters are forever ingrained in my memories of my teen years as a result.

You might be wondering at this point why I’m rambling on. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you. With the release of the film adaptation trailer of Tomorrow, When the War Began this month, I was struck with a familiar fear.  One I had exactly a decade ago when the adaptation of Looking for Alibrandi was released in theatres. 

In 2000, I had just entered university and was finally in the same age range that Josie Alibrandi and Ellie Linton were when their lives turned upside down. Childhood passions are curious creatures, we hold tight, protecting them from our adult existences. I always used to chuckle when I heard claims that a director ruined a person’s childhood. While it might be melodramatic in some cases, revisiting a childhood landmark or bringing a book into the celluloid can often do just that. It shatters the golden memories that we have of that time in our lives when discovery was joyous.

I exited the cinema in 2000 sorely disappointed in Looking for Alibrandi. I was the only one amongst many of my friends to feel that way. It took me a year to realise I was being ridiculous. Cinema is a vastly different medium than a novel. Nothing was ever going to meet the internal movie that I had relived in my imagination for many years. It didn’t matter that Carly and Ivy were merged into one heinous teenage girl or that the passage of time seemed so much more compact. (That being said, I was devastated that Josie’s cousin, Robert, didn’t feature more heavily but with time I understood that it would have tampered with the narrative flow.) The essence of the novel was there.  In great part this was due to Marchetta’s role as screenwriter. The movie didn’t ruin my childhood image of Josie, Nonna Katia and their family history; it just gave me a deeper appreciation for the novel.

In the ten years since Looking for Alibrandi’s release I have seen other representations of my childhood remade… badly. I have to admit that I refuse to see the adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are due to the fact that it is perfect in my mind and I don’t wish to tamper with that image. I might be robbing myself of reliving that adventure in a different medium, but I am satisfied with the memories I already possess.

The Tomorrow, When the War Began movie went into production in late 2009 under the direction of experienced film maker, Stuart Beattie. With the current Internet age, I was well aware of the progress of producing from scripts to casting to the start of filming. I have been much more aware of the process of recreating a vivid childhood adventure than I was in the case of Marchetta’s novel. I also had an avenue (my blog) to moan about certain developments and share my concerns. When local soapie actors were hired to fill two of the eight central roles, I was outraged. A pin up girl as Ellie? My strong, wilful, intelligent Ellie was going to be depicted by an actress who readily showed off too much cleavage at the Logies? I was quite bereft. I was similarly peeved when a British actress was hired to play one of the teens – they couldn’t find someone good enough with an actual Australian accent? The actor playing Homer doesn’t have a big enough nose! I was scraping the bottom of the complaints barrel and didn’t care. Ellie and Homer were mine and they needed to be perfect.

With some time, some distance and the release of the teaser trailer, I am less concerned. The trailer has managed to depict some ordinary Aussie teens in an impossible situation. It doesn’t look cheap (and nor should it, the budget is around the $20 million mark), the English actress’ accent isn’t half bad and they scuffed the pin up girl up. I don’t know what I loved more – the sight of the jets flying over the camp, Homer getting sacked or Kevin flying through the air as flames chased his back. I have faith that the movie adaptation Tomorrow, When the War Began won’t besmirch my beloved teenage reading experience. And should it go the other way, I know I can accuse it of robbing me of my childhood…

Adele Walsh, Persnickety Snark

VIDEO POST: Joanne Harris reads from ‘Blue Eyed Boy’

Blue Eyed Boy by Joanne Harris
A gripping psychological thriller played out in cyberspace, from the bestselling author of Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes. “Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child, timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer.” Blueyedboy is the brilliant new novel from Joanne Harris: a dark and intricately plotted tale of a poisonously dysfunctional family, a blind child prodigy, and a serial murderer who is not who he seems. Told through posts on badguysrock@webjournal.com, this is a thriller that makes creative use of all the disguise, deception and mind games that are offered by playing out one’s life on the internet.

VIDEO POST: ‘Let The Dead Lie’ trailer

Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn
Cooper is forced to resign when re-classified as mixed-race. Now in the tough coastal town of Durban he mixes labouring with some surveillance for his old boss. One night he stumbles upon the body of a young white boy and when two more bodies are found in his boarding house unwittingly becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder case.

The Star and Felicity Marshall

Last Tuesday I went along to the launch of Felicity Marshall’s picture book, The Star, which I reviewed a couple of posts back. Port Melbourne Prints and Framing (276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne) was a terrific location for the launch, which also doubled as the opening of an exhibition of artwork from the book. In my review, I mentioned how beautiful the artwork in the book was… well… seeing the original artwork up close blew me away. It is stunning! The exhibition is open until 27 April. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend popping in to see it.

The launch was packed with people, food and wine – and Felicity spent quite some time trapped at the autograph table. With her successful launch now behind her, Felicity has dropped in at Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about The Star.

What came first, the pictures or the words?

The idea of a story about fame came first – in a mixture of pictures and words. Because I write AND illustrate, I find it quite natural to think in both images and words when developing the genesis of a story. I cannot honestly say one came before the other. I think most author/illustrators do this – jumping back and forth. However I did fine tune the text before the finished illustrations were all done.

What inspired you to tell this story?

It may well have all started in a doctor’s waiting room, looking at one of those magazines full of trivia and trash about the lives of fleeting stars. And yes, I realised I too can be a voyeur when flipping through page after page of articles about who has been dumped, who has bad dress sense, who is too fat, too thin, too old, or is now on the scrap heap. The celebrity culture is in our face – on radio, television, and in print. It affects young people profoundly. In many school visits I have done, and conversations I have had with young people (from age 3 to adolescents) I was struck by how often the question “What do you want to be when you grow up/leave school?” received the response “I want to be famous” or less often “I want to be rich”. Not even “I want to be a famous movie star / footballer / ballerina / astronaut / detective / fireman”. Fame, in their minds, was no longer attached to excellence in performance or human endeavour, but was now an entity in itself. Then I thought a lot about the famous Andy Warhol quote,  “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. I looked at those trashy magazines again. I decided we had a new phenomenon that I call pseudo-fame. The story of The Star grew from there.

What has been your biggest brush with fame?

My biggest brush with fame was when I shook the hand of Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut who walked on the moon.

My biggest brush with pseudo fame occurred when I (unknowingly) was in the presence of someone from Big Brother. I can’t remember his name…

I think that The Star really has the potential to appeal to grown-ups as well as kids. Did you deliberately aim to do this?

I don’t think I consciously have done that. But I do believe that any good story for children will also appeal to adults, who may see a deeper layer of meaning. Not just in my books, but in all children’s books/stories, and for centuries.  There are many “children’s” books that are much loved by adults, and often adults overlook how profound children’s books can be.

Tell us about your favourite picture book?

Oh dear, I have so, so, many favourites, I can’t narrow it down to one. I will go for three – and this is a hard task you understand.

For very young children, I think The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one of my all time favourites. Simple illustrations and a beautiful story about the change from caterpillar to butterfly.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is another favourite for all the fun and naughty rebellion that Babette does so well. Quirky, expressive drawings and a deliciously satisfying story. Especially appeals to my inner girl defying adult constraints!

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a truly beautiful masterpiece of fine drawing and a universal tale told without any words.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about The Star?

Lots! But I would rather they read the book themselves. I will say, however, that there will be more about the story of Marion, Harley and Polka in the future.

Many thanks to Felicity for taking the time to visit Literary Clutter.

Tune in next time for the first in a series of posts about vampires.

Catch ya later, George

AN AUTHOR’S JOURNEY – Penni Russon Shares Her Story

Penni Russon has written seven books including Little Bird for which she has received a 2010 CBCA Notable award. We’re going to feature Little Bird on Kids’ Writing Capers on Wednesday, but today we’re going to talk about Penni, the author.

Penni grew up in Tasmania and says she still considers herself to be a Tasmanian writer.

Penni, can you tell us how your writing career started?

Writing was always something that existed at the periphery of my being, though as a primary school kid I wanted to be a clown, and then an actor.

By the time I started uni it was archaeology that I was interested in.

But really when you connect all those things up what they have in common is storytelling and, for clowning and acting, playfulness.

It also shows I didn’t ever want to be a proper grown up with an office job. I fell out of love with archaeology when I realised it was less about dreaming up stories than it was about verifiable facts. Along the way I always wrote – mostly poetry until my mid twenties when I discovered that I knew how to think in novels.

Was it hard converting storytelling to writing?

The actual becoming a writer seems easy. I finished my BA, thought ‘now what?’ and found the diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. I vaguely thought there might be a job in it for me. I developed my writing and rewriting and workshopping skills (alongside some pretty fabulous peers, including one the Alllen & Unwin editor who edited my book, Little Bird.

I also did a work experience placement at Allen & Unwin and when I finished they kept giving me freelance editing work. Then my friend, writer Kirsty Murray, told me ‘they don’t want another editor, they’re waiting for you to write a book.’ So I did. I am very obedient.

What did working as an editor teach you about writing?

Working as a structural editor (reading books and writing big reports on what was working and what wasn’t, highlighting inconsistencies in the plot, or characterisation, asking questions like ‘what’s at stake for the main character?’) had been like an apprenticeship in being a writer, though I learned a lot by writing and rewriting my early novels too.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations?

Birds come up a bit, the sea is a big motif for me (growing up on an island). My first three books were set in Tasmania, which I came back to for Little Bird. I am interested in that age where girls come into their power, sexually, but also in terms of understanding their effect on the world around them, their autonomy, their strength… I felt that I mishandled that transition, hurting people in the process. Perhaps that’s why I am so interested in exploring how different girls deal with it.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Penni. On Wednesday, Penni is coming back to tell us about how she wrote her award winning Little Bird and where the inspiration come from.

Hope you can join us then.

Dee

Why The Customer Isn’t Always Right

Reading the open letter posted up on Teleread this week made me realise something. When it comes to new technology, the customer isn’t always right. This open letter, addressed to ‘publishers’, covered ebook issues as varied as sales tax and ebook pricing, formatting of books and ebook reader firmware. Why Joanne, the author, believed she would achieve anything at all with this meaningless plea to the internet is beyond me.

Snip:

… I know a fair amount about being a customer, and I know it shouldn’t be this hard … Why does it have to be this hard?

It is understandable that consumers are frustrated with the publishing industry’s speed of change. I am too. But the process cannot and will not be hurried along by gnashing of teeth, stamping of feet, and throwing your toys out of the pram. The reason things aren’t all working perfectly at the moment cannot be chalked up to one organisation, person or even one industry. Nobody has the power to enact the changes Joanne wants to bring about, let alone bring them about right now. To expect any different makes you little better than the archetypal ‘consumer’ described below by the brilliant author William Gibson:

Something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It’s covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.

Why is it that arguments like Joanne’s are cropping up more and more in the blogosphere? My theory is that digital books, unlike dead tree books, are unique in that the process of getting recommendations, acquiring books and reading them are all achieved in one place. With a dead tree book, a friend might talk about a book, or perhaps you’ll read about it in a newspaper. Then you go into a bookstore, ask someone where you might find that book and then buy it. Then you take it home and read it. The process of finding out about a book, buying it and reading it – when it comes to ebooks – can all happen from your lap, perhaps even from one device. This is not conducive to a nuanced understanding of the industry.

So what are your other options? Read a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Find out who’s really to blame, and for what exactly. But most of all? Have a little bit of patience. Those of us reading ebooks right now are early adopters. Try to keep in mind that we’re not living in the future.

What are your chief complaints about ebooks – regardless of whether you read them? Ask me a question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future post.

Time tripping with Kate Forsyth

George’s little intro

Last time around, I waffled on a bit about a few time travel books that I’ve read. For today’s post, author Kate Forsyth has stopped by to tell us about her favourite time travel books. Kate is the author of The Puzzle Ring (an excellent time travel fantasy for kids and teens) as well as numerous other novels. To find out more about Kate and her writing, check out her website.

“My top 5 time travel books”
by Kate Forsyth

The past is a mysterious and dangerous place, so very different from our own that it could indeed be another world. The idea of travelling back in time has always fascinated me, and so I have always wanted to write a time travel adventure like the ones I used to love reading as a child.

Part of the joy of writing The Puzzle Ring was reading all those time travel stories again. Many of them had been books from my school library, so I had to hunt for copies on the Internet, buying them from second-hand and antiquarian bookshops all over the world.

Here are my five favourites:

1908 – Edith Nesbit, The House of Arden

The House of Arden has always been my favourite Nesbit novel. It’s about a boy called Edred who inherits a crumbling old castle when he is close to his tenth birthday but to his consternation he will only be able to keep it if he can find the lost Arden fortune before his birthday. Edred, his twin sister Elfrida, and the temperamental Mouldiwarp, a magical talking creature, travel through time searching for the treasure. The twins visit a number of different periods of English history, meeting witches and highwaymen and rebels and having exciting adventures. This book was definitely a very strong influence on me, particularly when I first began to conceive the story of The Puzzle Ring, and certainly the idea of being heir to an ancient castle and a treasure lie at the heart of my book too.

1939 – Alison Uttley, A Traveller In Time

This book tells the story of Penelope, who slips back and forth between her own time (1930s England) and Elizabethan times. Her adventures start when she goes to stay at an old, old farmhouse called Thackers in the countryside. Thackers was once owned by the Babington family, who famously tried and failed to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots while she was imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I, and so this novel was one of the things which first began my fascination with the tragic Scottish queen. It’s an absolute classic and a must read for anyone interested in time travel stories.

1954 – Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe

I loved this book as a child, and loved it just as much when I read it again while writing The Puzzle Ring. It tells the story of young Tolly who goes to stay with his great-grandmother, Mrs Oldknowe. Her house, Greenknowe, is old and mysterious and filled with stories of the past – stories that begin to come alive for Tolly. The house and its beautiful garden were based on Lucy Boston’s own house, The Manor, in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire, which was built in the 1130s and lays claim to the oldest continually inhabited house in the UK. Lucy Boston once wrote: “I believe children, even the youngest, love good language, and that they see, feel, understand and communicate more, not less, than grownups. Therefore I never write down to them, but try to evoke that new brilliant awareness that is the world.’

This is what I try and do too.

Tom’s Midnight Garden1958 – Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden

Tom’s Midnight Garden won the Carnegie Medal in 1958, and is considered one of the great classics of English children’s literature. I think it is utterly enchanting, and perfect in every way. It’s one of those books that stay with you forever after.

Tom is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in a boarding house when his brother gets measles. Bored to tears, he has nothing to do and wishes the old house had a garden in which he could play. That night he hears the old grandfather clock in the hallway downstairs strike thirteen, and runs downstairs to investigate. He finds the hallway opening on to the most wonderful garden, and explores it in absolute delight. Soon he meets a girl called Hattie, who he discovers lived there in the 19th century. She thinks Tom is a ghost, while he thinks she is – they argue about it and it makes Tom uneasy. As the days pass, Hattie grows up while Tom stays the same. The time comes for Tom to go home, but he doesn’t want to go – the midnight garden has become more real, more important to him than his real life. The ending is one of the most perfectly executed and moving moments in children’s literature – I feel the catch of breath, the sting of tears, every time I read it.

An amusing anecdote: when Philippa Pierce went to Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE, the Queen asked her, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ To which, Phillipa Pierce replied ‘Harrods.’ I just love that.

1988 – Jane Yolen, The Devil’s Arithmetic

A beautiful and moving novel about the Holocaust, The Devil’s Arithmetic tells the story of Hannah who, embarrassed by her grandparents’ enduring grief over their past, finds herself transported back to a village in Poland in the 1940s. Captured by the Nazis, she is taken to a death camp where she fights to stay alive and retain her dignity. At the end, she chooses to go to the gas chamber to save a friend in a scene that had me sobbing out loud with horror and disbelief. At that moment she returns to herself in contemporary times, but with a much deeper understanding of her grandparents’ inability to shake off the past. This is truly a brilliant book, one that should be read by everyone. It has been made into a movie, which I haven’t yet seen (though I would like to!)

George’s little bit at the end

I have not read a single one of these books, but they all sound fascinating. I obviously need to broaden my horizons. In my defence (such as it is) I can say that I have seen the 1989 BBC series of Tom’s Midnight Garden. I enjoyed it a great deal but I don’t know how faithful an adaptation it is.

After reading Kate’s selection, I was reminded of one other book I should have mentioned in my last post — Mark Twain’s 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Were I able to travel through time, I’d go back and fix this oversight, but seeing as I can’t, I’ll have to settle for mentioning it now instead. As the title suggests, it’s about an American who travels back in time to the court of King Arthur. It’s been filmed several times, including one version with Bing Crosby. I read the book a few years ago and loved it. Long winded and meandering, often humorous, occasionally political and sometimes lacking internal logic… but always interesting. And my god, Twain wrote some incredibly long sentences.

This brings us to the end of our time travelling adventures, for now. Tune in next time, when I’ll tell you about the launch of The Star and have chat with it’s author/illustrator, Felicity Marshal.

Catch ya later, George

That sinking feeling

This day 99 years ago the Titanic sank into the Atlantic Ocean, taking 1,517 lives with it. I grew up ten miles from the Titanic’s last port of call – Cobh in County Cork, Ireland – and the sad tale of the ship was familiar to me from a young age. My Dad told me it.

And just down the road off the coast of Kinsale is the wreck of the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner torpedoed by a German U-boat in May 1915. She sank in eighteen minutes, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. In fact, there are over 65 known shipwrecks off Cork, which is even more horrifying when you realise the county is only eighty kilometres wide, almost all of which my father was only too delighted to share the terrifying details of.

So growing up with a father with a penchant for horror stories, as far as we were concerned, ships sank. A lot. The more “unsinkable” the better the odds they would be on the ocean floor by sundown. When my family’s first ever experience with rough weather at sea happened we were understandably nervous.

We were on a huge car ferry from Cork to France and a force nine gale had sprung up out of nowhere. The wind howled around the boat and the ship listed erratically from side to side, making walking around almost impossible. My father had been in the Navy and read several books on the wrecks. You would think he would have consoled his two children, one of whom needed to be seasick, with cheerful thoughts on how maritime law had been updated from the cautionary tale of the Titanic to provide enough lifeboats for everyone and how hardly any large passenger boats sank these days.

Oh no. My Dad saw a chance to regale a captive audience with tales of terror, and he went for it. They wouldn’t be able to send out the lifeboats, we’d be on our own. Our own lifeboats would capsize in the swells. And there was no point sticking on a lifejackets – if the boat sank, he explained, the wake of it would pull us down and we’d drown. Even if we avoided that, we’d get hypothermia. And possibly sharks. EVIL sharks.

The result? Two terrified and traumatized children, one of whom needed to be seasick. My Dad’s work here was done.

My father’s love of expanding on harmless situations by listing the worst available outcome may be where I get both my worry-wart tendencies and my interest in worst-case scenarios  and what happens when things go wrong. And specifically, how to survive it. To understand how people behave in a crisis is the first step, according to many books, in getting through that crisis. In the absence of clear instructions and peer action, people freeze. They don’t take advantage of what is called the “Golden Time”, the brief period where you can still affect what happens next.

To that end, I can only recommend the Worst-case Scenario series. Thick enough to use as a weapon and handily indexed for those moments when speed is of the essence, they provide a humorous but helpful guide to getting through disasters, perfect for the worry-wart in your family or for shutting up the disaster master when they are hauling you down Pessimism Alley.  Need to deal with a sinking ship, elephant stampede, mine collapse or a nuclear attack? Here’s your guide.

And, as an added tip, if my father starts telling you stories, you can hit him with it.

The Myth of the Children’s Book (Part 1)

If you read up on these kinds of things, you’ll already have been aware that the Hugo Award nominees for 2010 have been announced. Among them the name ‘Shaun Tan’ sits merrily, in the category of ‘Best Professional Artist’ . And if you’ve been hiding under a different rock from the one Shaun Tan’s been propped on, he’s the artistic genius behind such books as Arrival, The Red Tree, and The Rabbits.  I love them to bits.

But I have a confession to make. All those listed above are often marketed as children’s picture books. And I’m an adult.

Do you remember the first book you ever read (or had read to you)? There’s definitely an early one that imprinted itself on my brain: There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. And sure, I know that partly the reason I have loved this book every time I have opened it since, is that nostalgia for my 80s childhood. Yet there’s another larger part of me that can’t even remember what the book’s about – it’s the illustrations themselves that continue to draw me in. At the ripe old age of 26 (newly turned) I am still in love with the pink and purple colour combination! Seeing pretty colours together in print gives me some sort of weird inner peace and I immediately feel calm, as if all is right with the world – such is the power of illustration.

Shaun Tan himself is a master at wielding the power– his pieces are often dark and disturbing. Consider his use of colour in The Rabbits (written in collaboration with John Marsden). It’s a dark yet sensitive story about colonisation from the perspective of the ‘colonised’. The twist is that the colonisers are bunny rabbits.

The Rabbits cover itself could be interpreted by a number of perspectives:  the preschooler (happy, bright reds and blues), the agonised teenager (colours of rage and oppression), or the professional art critic (colonial imperialism, environmental destruction and cultural discord)! Even Mr Tan himself believes that his picture books are intended mostly for an older audience. In ‘Picture Books: Who are they for?’, Tan comments:

We [all] like to look at things from unusual angles, attempt to seek some child-like revelation in the ordinary, and bring our imagination to the task of questioning everyday experience. Why are things the way they are? How might they be different?
…But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”

In response to anyone who believes an imagination is ‘children only’ domain, I would argue that imagination never stops. An ‘innocent’ imagination transforms into a ‘critical’ imagination with age and experience, giving us the ability to explore abstract concepts and see them as capable of many meanings.

Having said all this, I don’t even want to PRETEND to think that there’s some ‘hidden meaning’ to that purple hippopotamus on the roof eating the pink cake. I think it’s a safe bet (though I could be wrong!) that for the little girl in the story, there really was a hippopotamus on the roof. And that’s it. If I probed very deep with my ‘psychology fingers’, there might be something to be said about the wider human need to create invisible friends to be different, or to be understood, or to never be alone. But really, my attraction to the book can be witnessed through the lullaby rhythm of the words and the pink and purple pictures. Plain and simple.

A continuous look back to the picture books of your early years, similar to the study of academic history, can reveal new things each time. To me, it’s the truest magic you can find in this world – a fantasy in reality, you might say. Perhaps for you, it will be a gentle meditation on a childhood lived. Perhaps it will reveal something about the person you are now. But if all you feel like seeing is the happy colours and playful words, then that’s ok too. No adult, no matter how old, smart or busy they are, should lose the urge to play.

Wild About Tea Cosies

Really Wild Tea Cosies‘Wild’ and ‘tea cosies’ aren’t exactly terms one would instinctively pair together, but not only does this irreverent pairing work, the book pairing them has been a runaway success. So successful, in fact, that Loani (pronounced Low-arni) Prior has just released her second book about knitted tea cosies. Its title? Really Wild Tea Cosies, of course.

I had the good fortune to hear Prior speak about her journey from quiet, unassuming home knitter to published author and ‘grand purl baa’ of tea cosy knitting (she puts it down to luck and sass to put her idea out there and to find an editor willing to take the chance), and I have to say that I was taken with just how self-deprecating and downright funny she is. I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised given that her books include such designs as Carmen Miranda (yep, as is in a tea cosy covered with knitted fruitiness), green-eyed monsters, and court jester-style cosies, which come complete with tuckable, extendable, er, jester bits.

But what I was surprised by—and which would surprise most of us—is just how fondly tea cosies are regarded. Prior spoke of tea cosies that had been passed down through generations and which, while after all that time and use weren’t exactly the best looking, were far more than some wool around a pot—the tea cosies were imbued with love and treasured memories of family members and good times. Sure, she points to the fact that while women tend to use tea cosies for their intended purpose, men appear to have an inherent instinct to put tea cosies on their head. But it’s clear that the tea cosies bring joy to both sexes.

As a knitter with my training wheels on (I’ve recently joined my local Stitch ‘n Bitch group after being uber impressed by them when I visited for a story I was working on), the design skills and the knitting dexterity are something I can only at this stage aspire to. But the knitting instructions are concise and straightforward to follow and the images are both spectacular and inspiring for anyone who has mastered the not-actually-that-tricky-I’m-just-a-slow-learner knitting and purling. Part inspiration dip, part instruction manual, and part coffee table book, Really Wild Tea Cosies (and, indeed, its predecessor), is something special. Give me a week and I’ll be in the market for copies to beg, borrow, or—let’s face it—steal.

Multimedia Does Not A Book Make

The release today of the stunning Alice for iPad video on YouTube (above) has made me wonder, yet again, whether these ‘enhanced’ ebooks that are beginning to pop up (mostly on the iPhone’s App Store) are anything other than a gimmick. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, an enhanced ebook is an ebook with bells and whistles. They range from the no frills, DVD extras kind of thing – perhaps a written interview with the author, at best – to the sort of multimedia extravaganza that was put together for the release of The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. This iPhone enhanced ebook contains the full audiobook (read by Nick Cave) with backing music composed by the author (helpful that in this case the author is a musician), interspersed with video of the author in all his moustachioed glory.

For a long while, I’ve held the view that enhanced ebooks done properly (like Bunny Munro) are for people who don’t really like reading – and, in fact, aren’t even really books – and when done badly (I won’t name names), are just an excuse to charge $25 for something that is only worth $12. But I have changed my mind (at least about the former).

The new Bunny cover. Now with              less conspicuous female genitalia.

The argument is that by sticking audio or video into a book, it stops being a book (some would argue that this makes it a vook – those people are ridiculous; there is no such thing as a vook). Rather than ponder the metaphysical question of what really makes a book (I fear the answer may be full of smell-of-books style nostalgic silliness), I think it’s more worthwhile to think about how we – and by ‘we’, I mean me – consume books.

Nowadays, the way I read a book – ebook or not – is often peppered with mental interruptions, whether it’s wondering what a word means, questioning what the author is referring to or just following a trail of logic to its illogical conclusion. For me a book is not just the words on the page, but a series of associations I have made along the way. I’m not sure if this is a product of the internet age – where in order to understand what’s happening on Lost it’s necessary to have your laptop open and twelve tabs open in Google Chrome and be constantly flicking between each one before your attention runs out – but this is genuinely how I like reading. I suspect I’m not alone*.

The traditional paper book is, perhaps, the last great bastion of undivided attention and pure concentration. And that is lovely, for those times that you have great swathes of time and attention to spare. But the daily lives of many people sometimes don’t allow for that kind of reading experience. Should that mean that books get left behind other kinds of easy-to-consume media? I don’t think so. When I get off the train and want to keep reading, why not have Nick Cave continue reading me the story? And when the full brain freeze of reading is just too much for me, why shouldn’t I be able to check the news and reviews on an author simultaneously?

What do you think? Have you ever tried an enhanced ebook? Would you? How many books do you read a year? Do you think you might read more if they were a bit more accessible?

*Yes, I’m talking about you. You know who you are. You’re the one who looks up the name of every movie mentioned in a casual conversation on IMDB on your iPhone.

PLATO PLATYPUS’ INTERNATIONAL LAUNCH

Hazels Edwards‘ new picture book, Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) is the story of a platypus who is also a part time plumber. Plato is the imaginary friend of a young boy called Zanzibar who has all sorts of things that need fixing around his home.

On call, Plato fixes watery problems like leaking taps, but he also fixes grumpy people. From his tool kit, he uses smile spray, a feather or a joke. The book is beautifully illustrated by John Petropoulos.

Hazel says her original idea was to create a story with two things that don’t usually go together. The story was originally an idea for a TV series about Zanzibar and his adventures.

Plato the Platypus Plumber (Part-time) was launched recently at Pasir Ridge International School in Indonesia. Hazel has agreed to share the experience with us.

Reading Plato at launch with Pasir Ridge Children

How did the school prepare for the launch?

Meg Baxter, the Early Childhood teacher and her enthusiastic staff  had organised a special ‘mud’ cake iced with a replica of the cover as well as ‘muddy’ chocolate milk. SFX of water noises. Charts of platypus facts, and even an story house, surrounded by recycled branches (in the spirit of the story) with an author  chair for the ‘first’ reading. To the side was a ‘creek’ with platypus shapes.

The children had all created their own plumber tool kits in mini cases. Teachers had prepared the children well.

What else was unique about the preparations?

There were platypus prints leading into the room and up to the pile of  Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) books.

Can you tell us about the author signing?

International school children have names from many cultures. And that can be a challenge when you are autographing. A first edition book should be dated as well as signed by the author and illustrator, (but he was back in Melbourne)

So Indonesian teachers helped with typed slips of children’s names for autographing. Many are KTC s  Kids of the Third Culture, where parents may be nationals of different countries and the child born or schooled in a third.  But stories cross all cultures.

Sounds like the teachers were very resourceful, Hazel. And in your book, Plato helps Zanzibar to develop these same kind of problem-solving abilities. Why do you think it’s important for children to have these skills?

Being willing to try new ways of solving problems, even if you get it wrong occasionally, is the only way we learn. It’s okay to do things differently.

What was your favourite part of the launch?

For me the special pleasure was that once I’d talked about how a book was also created by the reader from the clues given by the illustrator and the author,  the children sprawled on the rug and all read the book for themselves.

‘Mine is the first Plato book signed in the whole world,’ said one little boy as he sat down to read.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us, Hazel.

Find out more about Plato the fixer and eco-warrior at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRPN-9zqx2k

Dee

VIDEO POST: James Bradfield-Moody talks ‘Sixth Wave’

James Bradfield-Moody chats with Random House about his new book, The Sixth Wave, written with Bianca Nogrady, out now.

The Sixth Wave by James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady
Five waves of innovation, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, have each transformed society, economies and industry. The fifth wave was dominated by information and communications technology but its peak is beginning to fade. The sixth wave of innovation will be about resources – natural resources, human resources and information.

VIDEO POST: Masterchef Julie Goodwin on her new cookbook

Julie Goodwin, Masterchef 2009 winner, chats to Random House about her brand new cookbook.

Our Family Table by Julie Goodwin
Since taking out the coveted title of Australia’s first MasterChef, Julie Goodwin has been cooking, testing and writing away like mad, preparing to publish her first cookbook. Full of lovely stories and recipes and feasts, with a strong focus on good old-fashioned tucker.

VIDEO POST: ‘Return of the Prophet’ Trailer

Return of the Prophet by Greig Beck
When a massive amount of gamma radiation is detected somewhere beneath the desert of Iran, the world begins watching. Is it a nuclear weapon, or something much much worse?
Alex Hunter and his highly trained incursion team are dropped into the ruins of Persepolis but find nothing. No lab, no weapons, no scientists not even radiation. A black hole has taken everything, but is it possible something could have come back?
The President of Iran is making speeches about the end of the world and the return of the prophet, and yet another gamma spike is detected in Iran. Israel is threatening nuclear war, and the details of America’s Arcadian program have been stolen. And someone, or something, is draining the fluids from the bodies of Iranian soldiers in the desert…
The moon is buried in darkness and the world is folded.
Alex must face his fears and follow the traces of radiation to the ancient caves of Arak. Inside those tunnels he will come face to face with a creature from his darkest nightmares. The clock is ticking until the end of the world and the judgment of mankind. Balances must be kept, decisions will be made but who will be found wanting?

The Stars, up close and personal

Clash of the Titans may be the latest 3D must-see movie, but I haven’t gone yet, and I am not sure I want to. I’m bizarrely attached to the old version from the 1980’s, complete with Harry Hamlin hamming, stop-motion monsters and a jerky Pegasus, and I’m not sure I want to see the new look version, shiny and all as it will undoubtedly be.

Clash of the Titans is an old favourite if mine for another reason – it started me looking at the stars. The movie has scenes where they overlay the constellations with images in the sky; an odd Y shape becomes the warrior Perseus, sword in hand, and a few twinkling lights becomes Pegasus, flying through the skies.  It was the first time I had heard that stories of the shapes of constellations. My uncle was a keen stargazer and, realising that he might be able to use my love of ponies to talk about something other than ponies (I was a very single-minded child), he took me out to show me the night sky through his telescope. I was hooked.

I stayed interested in star-gazing into adulthood – although in Ireland it can be a bit of a letdown, what with the near-permanent cloud-cover and rain for most of year. One of the reasons visiting Australia excited me was seeing the stars of the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. (Another, and please do not hold this against me, was to see if water flushed the other way round in the toilets once you crossed the equator due to the Coriolis effect.)

The majesty and mystery of the night sky has captured the imagination of many people, from our ancestors who looked up into the universe and saw their legends and gods, to the science fiction writers of today who imagine life amongst them. The stars have amazing stories and many people tell them well. While there are factual guides of the sky and useful atlases to find your way around, an excellent introduction to the sky that blends instruction with entertainment is Legends of the Stars, by Sir Patrick Moore. He brings the names of the stars and their ancient myths to life – Orion battles and Pegasus soars and for those of you worried you may be left behind, there are helpful celestial pictures to follow the action. If you are looking for a book to introduce the depths of the stars to a budding enthusiast, here is your Holy Grail.

Looking to explore the heavenly bodies that are a little closer to Earth? Legends of the Stars is a celestial guide with its feet firmly on the ground but Dava Sobel’s Planets defies classification. A lyrical biography of our near neighbours, mixing poetry by Blake and Tennyson with factual explanations of the deadly acid atmosphere of Venus, it is strange and wonderful guide to our Solar System. The planets are explored through myth, astrology, astronomy, music, literature and science-fiction and Sobel’s prose guides you surely from the Big Bang and the Sun in Genesis to the outer reaches of the Oort Cloud with both a sense of wonder and a sense of humour, in this surprisingly personal and intimate look at the planets.

For an even more human perspective on exploring the Solar System, Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter is the story of the great Italian scientist Galileo and his daughter, Virginia, as told through their letters and contemporary accounts of their lives. Galileo – “the father of modern physics” – was a keen astronomer and scientistm was tried for heresy when he put forward the astounding proposition that the Earth actually moves around the Sun. His illegitimate daughter was a nun, and this book explores their relationship through their lives, the stars, and their shared interest in science and religion.

Whether you choose a classical, modern or human perspective on astromony, it’s a fascinatingly beautiful subject, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Clash of the Titans for bringing it into my life. What perspective on the skies do you enjoy, and do you have recommendations for budding astronomists?

A note on seven-legged spiders

I was conflicted as to where to put this post. On the one hand, this is not a young adult book, and surely doesn’t belong on the young adult blog. On the other, if there’s one thing you feel when you read The Internet is a Playground by David Thorne, it’s young. This is exactly the sort of book that Perpetually Adolescent is all about, the kind that, no matter how old you are, and where in life you find yourself, immediately drags you back to your adolescence, back when things were simpler, when you were invincible and everything was the funniest thing ever. You can’t help but slip into it, and you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed before, and you actually find yourself not reading ahead, only to savour some of the belly laughs for tomorrow. It is absolutely hilarious.

And if it were possible, I would marry the seven-legged spider.

Those that also share my love of the seven-legged spider will be happy to know that The Internet is a Playground has been added to this month’s book giveaway.

Those that have not been introduced to the seven-legged spider haven’t received what is, without a doubt, the funniest chain email ever. It’s the Susan Boyle of chain emails. I fell on the floor, in absolute hysterics at several points while reading it. I called my mother upstairs. She read it. She, too, was crying she was laughing so hard.

I thought it was a one-off article. But apparently, there’s been more, lots and lots more – and now, they’ve been put into a book. It is, without a doubt, the most joyous collection I’ve ever read. Yes, some of the featured pieces are funnier than others (I wasn’t much of a fan of the edited photos), but as a whole, I’d recommend the entire collection for you, and anyone you know.

And now, to introduce you to the seven-legged spider, featured in one of many wonderful email exchanges printed in the book. If this doesn’t sell you on David Thorne’s brilliance… well, I honestly don’t know what will:

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Wednesday 8 Oct 2008 12.19pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Overdue account

Dear David,

Our records indicate that your account is overdue by the amount of $233.95. If you have already made this payment please contact us within the next 7 days to confirm payment has been applied to your account and is no longer outstanding.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Wednesday 8 Oct 2008 12.37pm
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Overdue account

Dear Jane,

I do not have any money so am sending you this drawing I did of a spider instead. I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 10.07am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Overdue account

Dear David,

Thankyou for contacting us. Unfortunately we are unable to accept drawings as payment and your account remains in arrears of $233.95. Please contact us within the next 7 days to confirm payment has been applied to your account and is no longer outstanding.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 10.32am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Overdue account

Dear Jane,

Can I have my drawing of a spider back then please.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 11.42am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Overdue account

Dear David,

You emailed the drawing to me. Do you want me to email it back to you?

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 11.56am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Overdue account

Dear Jane,

Yes please.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Thursday 9 Oct 2008 12.14pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Overdue account

Attached <spider.gif>

From: David Thorne
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 09.22am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Whose spider is that?

Dear Jane,

Are you sure this drawing of a spider is the one I sent you? This spider only has seven legs and I do not feel I would have made such an elementary mistake when I drew it.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 11.03am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Whose spider is that?

Dear David,

Yes it is the same drawing. I copied and pasted it from the email you sent me on the 8th. David your account is still overdue by the amount of $233.95.
Please make this payment as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 11.05am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Automated Out of Office Response

Thankyou for contacting me.

I am currently away on leave, traveling through time and will be returning last week.

Regards, David.

From: David Thorne
Date: Friday 10 Oct 2008 11.08am
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

Hello, I am back and have read through your emails and accept that despite missing a leg, that drawing of a spider may indeed be the one I sent you. I realise with hindsight that it is possible you rejected the drawing of a spider due to this obvious limb ommission but did not point it out in an effort to avoid hurting my feelings. As such, I am sending you a revised drawing with the correct number of legs as full payment for any amount outstanding. I trust this will bring the matter to a conclusion.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Monday 13 Oct 2008 2.51pm
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

Dear David,

As I have stated, we do not accept drawings in lei of money for accounts outstanding. We accept cheque, bank cheque, money order or cash. Please make a payment this week to avoid incurring any additional fees.

Yours sincerely, Jane Gilles

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 13 Oct 2008 3.17pm
To: Jane Gilles
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

I understand and will definitely make a payment this week if I remember. As you have not accepted my second drawing as payment, please return the drawing to me as soon as possible. It was silly of me to assume I could provide you with something of completely no value whatsoever, waste your time and then attach such a large amount to it.

Regards, David.

From: Jane Gilles
Date: Tuesday 14 Oct 2008 11.18am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Whose spider is that?

Attached <spider2.gif>