Today, Sherryl Clark is back to tell us about one of her very new releases, One Perfect Pirouette.

Attending the National Ballet School is every aspiring dancer’s dream. It’s been Brynna’s for as long as she can remember.

When her parents move her family to Melbourne so Brynna can attend a top ballet school, it looks like her dream is about to become a reality. But why does she feel so awful about the move? Her brother Tam is angrier than she has ever seen him and her mother is working hard to keep the family afloat.

Will every step towards success come at a price? For Brynna to realise her heart’s desire, something has to give. But will it be her family?

One Perfect Pirouette is a novel for 10-14 yo’s about Brynna, a girl torn between her passion for ballet and the people she loves best.

Sherryl Clark says that the inspiration for One Perfect Pirouette came from three days she spent in Canberra doing school visits for the CBCA there.

The person who “chauffeured” me around was a teacher-librarian at a school next to the Australian Institute of Sport. She told me about the students at her school who were at the AIS, and how their families had moved to Canberra to give them the chance to maybe become Olympic gymnasts. It got me thinking about families who sacrifice everything in order to give one child their chance – and the effect on that family. This led to a story about a family who move to Melbourne so the youngest girl can have her best chance at auditioning for the Australian Ballet School (except in the book it’s the National Ballet School).

Where the conflict comes from

Brynna  has a lot of talent and determination, but she also feels the pressure from her family (one brother doesn’t cope with the city at all) and they don’t have much money. She has to start at a new school, and finds some kids in the city are not as nice as her mates back home. And of course the pressure at the elite ballet school she is going to, where quite a few of the girls are intent on auditioning as well, and see her as a “wannabe” and try to get rid of her.

One Perfect Pirouette is not just about ballet – it’s about having a dream and the hard work it takes to achieve it, the struggle to rise above jealousy and rivalry, and also about family secrets. Brynna’s mum also has a secret that she’s been hiding!

The Main Character

Brynna has dreams, but she’s not infallible.

Sherryl says,

I read a lot about child proteges, and their families, too. One girl in particular seemed so absolutely confident that she was going to be famous that she felt unreal! I don’t think it’s that simple – especially when what you want affects your family, too. For a child of that age, to pursue a dream of the Olympics or the Australian Ballet would take a lot of courage, but underneath there would surely be moments of doubt. That’s what I was interested in – not perfection!

UQP is creating teachers’ notes, and Sherryl will be adding the material to her website , especially sources for research.  She says, there are some fantastic websites with video and examples.

The writing journey of One Perfect Pirouette

Sherryl advised that the things she liked most about writing this book were

My research at the Australian Ballet School, for a start! Leigh Rowles (Director of students) was a fantastic support, and she also allowed me to watch classes. I also enjoyed creating the family story – I had to rewrite Mum’s part of the story and completely change it (a request from the publisher) and I think I’ve come up with something better.

She says that the hardest part was the restructuring.

Initially it was going to be two books, and then UQP just wanted the two books condensed into one. It felt like I had to cram everything into one book (I didn’t really, I just chose the most important elements), which was a challenge. And now there’s been one review already in AB&P that suggested a sequel!

On Friday, Sherryl Clark will be back to talk about her other June release, Now I am Bigger.

REVIEW: The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn MonroeMafia Honey was and is a remarkable animal. Was, because he was, in truth, Marilyn Monroe’s pet Maltese terrier for the last two years of her life. Is, because, as he demonstrates in Andrew O’Hagan’s book, he is a remarkably literate, philosophical, perceptive and intelligent animal, even if he is an inveterate name-dropper. His pedigree (according to Maf) “is terrifically intact” and can be traced back to the pets of Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette. He is also a skillful narrator with a fascinating story to tell.

Born in Aviemore, Scotland, in the house of an imaginative Trotskyist, Maf imbibed literary knowledge and socialist principles as a pup before being sold to the gardener of Charleston, where he became part of the household of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and inherited the dog-collar of Virginia Woolf’s beloved dog, Pinker. His literary education, thus, was impeccable and his vast knowledge of art may have begun there, too.

So, Maf was Scottish born and English educated before his journey to Marilyn exposed him to a new and different culture. Maf tells us how he was shipped to America by Natalie Wood’s mother, spent some time in the Wood’s chaotic household, and then was bought by Frank Sinatra as a surprise gift for Marilyn Monroe, because “every girl need a man around the house”. Marilyn was instantly captivated by Maf, lifted him into her arms and kissed him as if he “was a returning hero”. Hearing that he was from England, she declared him “a proper gentleman”. It was love at first sight for both of them and from then on Maf was her almost constant companion. He was thus perfectly placed to tell us about the famous people she met and worked with, and he was an acute observer of Marilyn herself. He tells us all about his observations with an ironic turn of phrase.

Commenting on dog owners in general, Maf says that humans imagine that dogs “enjoy nothing more than leaping after a stick or chasing a tennis ball”. On the contrary, he says, dogs would prefer a chewy bone to gnaw in front of a roaring fire whilst they imbibe conversation and opinions. He notes, however, that “given the paucity of stimulating conversation in most English and American households”, a trip to the park where he can meet and debate with other “flatulent slaves of enchantment” is very acceptable.

Maf is always ready for philosophical debate with his own kind. Quite where he came to know the works of Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Descartes (“He think therefore he Am – well good for He. Good for Am”) he never tells us. Nor does he really explain how he came by his extensive knowledge of literature and art, both of which he quotes from and refers to frequently. He does tell us that Marilyn reads Russian novels – slowly. He also comments that you never saw her reading the books by De Toqueville and Edmund Wilson which she had on her shelves unless a photographer came to the apartment to take pictures. But he records her strong desire for intellectual seriousness, and her urge to better herself and to break out from behind the Marilyn ‘mask’  which she wore to concealed her vulnerability.

Maf gets involved in some wonderfully funny situations. His description of Natalie Wood’s father, Nick, watching cowboy shows on the television, swigging vodka and holding his rifle (unloaded) on his lap, and the mayhem that ensues when Frank Sinatra visits is an exercise in deadpan humour. “I don’t think I have ever witnessed such chaos”, he remarks, “whether in Scotland, England, on Pan-Am or in Quarantine”.

When Maf accompanies Marilyn to an after performance gathering of actors and friends in Lee Strasberg’s office, their enthusiasm for Shakespeare’s dog, Crab, in Two Gentlemen of Verona, inspires him so much that he imagines himself on Lear’s blasted heath:  “Poor Maf’s a-cold” he extemporizes, getting carried away by the excitement of the moment.

Maf is acutely aware of Marilyn’s vulnerability and of her need for self-discovery. He shares her ups and downs, her passions and her depressions. He accompanies her to consultations with her psychiatrist, about whom he makes  penetrating comments on her patronizing attitude, her self-obsession, her own neuroses and her claims of childhood friendship with Anna Freud. Most of what passed for psychoanalysis at the Actors Studio, Maf concludes, was really just gossip about analysts and writers in Europe, which made people feel better about their own lives in America.

Marilyn’s first meeting with President ‘Jack’ Kennedy is recorded. “Don’t hold your breath for stunning revelations”, Maf tells us. He only met him this one time and that was as at a party which was “no more racy than usual”. He recalls no “world-historical discussions”, only a brief conversation in which he was aware of “something dramatic lying just under the surface”.

All-in-all, Maf is a great observer and a great story-teller. “A dog’s biggest talent is for absorbing everything of interest”. Cats, he observes, “show an exclusive preference for poetry over prose” (one cat he meets quotes Yeats) and that is why dogs hate them. Other animals speak prose and are practical and realistic, Human beings, however, “live in a place invented in their own minds”.

Above all, Maf’s creed is to never give up. “We move on”, he proclaims, “New adventures. New people. New snacks.”. His last glimpse of Marilyn is on television, singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy. She looks, he says, “unearthly”,”as if nothing real had ever touched her”. And our last glimpse of Maf is of him snuggling down on his mistress’s empty bed, breathing in the scent of her pillow.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2010
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Ann Skea
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

CBCA NSW 2010: Assorted Snaps

Some other snaps from the Conference:

Bob Graham took us through his life and his life’s works. He was then treated to orchestrated interpretations of four of his picture books (composed and conducted by George Ellis) including How To Heal A Broken Wing

Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle took to the stage to discuss the process behind their smash-hit, The Words Spy, and its sequel, Return of the Word Spy.

Sandy Fussell, author of the recent Jaguar Warrior talked all things Internet…

… with Boomerang Books’ own Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo and helmer of Kids’ Book Capers.

Queen Victoria made a rare posthumous appearance at the book launch of Queen Victoria’s Underpants, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s latest.

Okay… so I almost went a full festival without making myself the centre of attention – Margaret Hamilton looks on as I, the youngest member of the CBCA NSW Committee, and Maurice Saxby, the oldest living former CBCA NSW Committee member, cut the cake for the CBCA NSW’s 65th.

The cake in question before Maurice and I hacked it to bits. For the record, it was delicious.

A Massic to end all Massics

In an early post on her Poisoned Apples & Smoking Caterpillars blog here at Boomerang, Aimee Burton discussed the emergence of what she described as mashups, the combining of literature with monsters.

I prefer the term ‘massics’ (classics with monsters). However as the originator of the term, I get to include pretty much whatever I feel like adding to that classification, including Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, where a young Queen Vicky becomes something of an action hero (Bruce Willis in drag?).

While this blending of literature with the Monster Mash probably offends the purists, I find it amusing in a quirky sort of way, although that probably says more about my warped sense of humour than anything else.

This cross-genre infestation of Austen with horror devices  has not been happening in isolation. At the same time we have seen vampire slut fiction… er… that is to say, paranormal romance, really take off. Increasing amounts of shelf-space in bookstores is being devoted to this merging of the horror and romance genre.

I blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer for romanticising the Undead. Of course I only watched the program to enjoy Joss Whedon’s story telling, not for the visual delights of Sarah Michelle Gellar… Charisma Carpenter…

Sorry, the mind wandered there for a bit. Now where was I?

Oh yes – romanticising vampires. I don’t really see anything terribly romantic about someone wanting to hack into my jugular and suck up copious amounts of my caffeine-impregnated red stuff. Besides, I read of a study that found the greatest incidence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom is found in colonies of vampire bats. Makes you wonder just what the good Count D was really looking for when he started hanging around the windows of Victorian bedrooms, finding nubile young women abed, their camisole-clad chests gently rising and falling in sleep, long dark tresses strewn across the pillow, revealing a pale, slender neck….

Sorry. Mind wandered again.

So what will become the next big thing? I predict a giant merging of all genres.

We start with young Muffy the Monster Molesterer, sitting in her kitchen, cleaning some of her monster-molestering equipment. There is a shimmer in the air and two men clad in unconvincing velour uniforms suddenly appear.

“Curious, captain,” remarked the one with pointed ears, holding up what appeared to be an old tape recorder in a leather holder.

“Who says… thatI’m…. curious?” asked the other.

“Whoever you are, haven’t you heard of knocking?” Muffy snapped.

“Miss, we… have come… fromthefuture… the fate… of… the world… liesinyourhands. Tonight… you must-”

“Tonight? Sorry – all booked up. Monster molestering, you know? So, bugger off.”

The two in velour shrug their shoulders.

“Well, we tried,” said the one without the pointy ears. “Beam us up, Snotty.”

With another shimmer, the pair disappeared.

Apparently used to things appearing and disappearing, Muffy buckled on her equipment belt of molstering doo-dads and headed out to rid the world of evil. Again.

Just down the footpath, she tripped over the body of a young, bespectacled lad, clad in the uniform of Fartsworth College for the Magically Inept.

“Help me,” the lad whispered through the bloodied froth on his lips. “Voldemart…”

“The new supermarket? About three blocks over. But I think what you really need, buddy, is a doctor.”

Satisfied at doing her good deed for the day, Muffy continued along the footpath until the whisper of leathery wings made in spin around, reaching for a number three spike.

“I vant to suck your – oi! Wot you doin’ stickin’  me wiv dat pointy thing, missus?”

Ignoring the now crumbling pile of vampiric ash, Muffy dashed across the road to the bus stop. A man clad in goatskin, came plodding along the footpath past the bus stop bench, muttering to himself.

“I say, my desert island is becoming rather busy these days. You simply cannot be shipwrecked in peace any longer.”

The bus arrived and Muffy boarded, taking a seat along side a burly, tattooed, half-naked man who was holding a large harpoon.

“Morning, Ishmael.”

“Morning, Muff. I got a new tatt. Wanna look?”

Muffy’s perusal of the tattooed bicep was interrupted by a clean-cut young man leaping from his seat.

“If this bus goes under 50mph, it’s going to explode!” he cried.

A lanky man, wearing his best 1970s polyester slacks, unfolded himself from his seat and pointed a revolver the size of an ICBM at the young hero.

“Go ahead – make my day.”

His finger tightened on the trigger and, with the gunshot still echoing the passenger’s ears, the young hero lay in a bloodied heap in the aisle.

“Good one, dipstick,” Muffy snapped. “I think he was supposed to be the good guy.”

The bus driver turned around to reveal a hideously burned face and brandishing a leather glove with blades emerging from the fingertips.

“Ready for a ride, boys and girls?” the driver cackled.

At which point, the bus drove off a convenient cliff, putting all the passengers, as well as the readers, out of their misery.

What do you think? Should I start making plans to purchase a personalised jet? Nah, you’re probably right.

Now you will have to excuse me, yet again. My laptop is feeling suicidal after being forced to type this gibberish.

ross hamiltonRoss Hamilton is an author of speculative fiction, some-time poet and a book reviewer. Among other places, he can be found loitering in the vicinity of or his website Unfortunately, he thinks he is funny. We would rather you didn’t encourage him.

CBCA NSW 2010: Markus Zusak previews new novel, BRIDGE OF CLAY

One of our favourite Tweeps, @tyecat, with Markus Zusak

The Conference’s other ‘International Star’ Markus Zusak stopped by on the second day and gave attendees a preview of his latest novel – the epically titled Bridge of Clay. My memory is pretty lousy, which is great, because it means this post will be kept relatively spoiler-free.

Of course, if you don’t want to know anything about the novel’s opening, then don’t read on.

Things we know for sure about Bridge of Clay:
– It’s pretty good.
– The protagonist is female.
– She is on the cusp of womanhood, so either 18 or 21 – I’m tempted to go with 18 because of the brief reference to ‘hitting the town’ to celebrate. Of course, I don’t know where this is set, if it’s the United States, then she’s almost 21.
– She’s good at jigsaw puzzles – in fact, she makes sense of the world as if it were a giant jigsaw puzzle, with the puzzle pieces/memories figuratively falling from the sky.
– She’s waiting for a boy, the same boy Zusak mentioned in his interview with The Guardian:

I’m writing a book called Bridge of Clay – about a boy building a bridge and wanting it to be perfect. He wants to achieve greatness with this bridge, and the question is whether it will survive when the river floods.

– Did I say it was ‘pretty good’? I probably should have said ‘excellent’. He silenced the hundreds of attendees with a brief passage. Well, until they broke out into applause.

He also read from one of his oldest creative writing attempts, one of the most unintentionally hilarious bits of creative writing I’ve ever had read to me in my life. The fact that Markus had the guts to read from it – and laugh at it with us – that really captures his character perfectly. Here’s someone who has experienced an unfathomable amount of success, and yet, has been absolutely unaffected by his own hype. I fear meeting authors I admire because they mightn’t be everything I imagined they’d be, but in the two times I’ve met Markus and heard him speak, my admiration is not only in tact, but intensified.

CBCA NSW 2010: A note on Melina Marchetta (and her effortless awesomeness)

Me, Melina Marchetta

I really hate the overuse of ‘awesome’ as a word, but sometimes, someone possesses so many wonderful qualities that in lieu of actually listing them all, it becomes easier just to call them awesome. Melina Marchetta is one of those people.

And yes, even she mispronounces her own name.

[Her, Susanne Gervay and I are huddled around a copy of the Conference program during a break, quietly joking to ourselves. Melina has a problem with her descriptor: “International Star”.

Susanne, clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, says, “Yes, but Melina, you are an international star.”

“Yes, but so is everybody else that’s speaking today,” Melina says, before pointing at all the other authors in the program and detailing their overseas successes.

I interrupt the list – “Now that I’ve got you, quickly, do I say it Marketta or Marchetta?”

“Marketta spelt Marchetta.”

“Ah.” I suppress the urge to admit that I’ve been saying it “Marchetta” for years, and correcting people who pronounced it “Marketta”. I stop feeling bad when she reads her own name aloud 3 minutes later, ch instead of k. I pull her up on it, she laughs a little.]

I’ve only met Melina three times, and yet, she’s so impossibly warm, that bumping into her in the hall is like being reunited with your oldest, greatest friend. The snappy, honest exchange that follows is the sort of thing I’m only used to sharing with people I’ve known a very long time. Sure, I’ve known her through her writing for quite a while, but it’s an experience I’ve had with no other author.

The aforementioned awesomeness helps.

If I had to describe Melina for those that don’t know her, I’d ask you to close your eyes, imagine your ideal friend, imagine that friend is also a superstar author, open your eyes, and BAM! Melina.

She’s the sort of person who deserves a throne in the front of the room, and instead, at the Conference, she sat cross-legged up the back with a few librarians, and listened intently to the speaker.

It was one of those moments that defines someone more than what they’ve ever said or written.

She is the best kind of celebrity, the kind that we feel good celebrating, without being all self-absorbed and ‘celebrity’-y.

Her speech was great too. She went through her entire back catalogue, and talked us through each book. She even dropped a few hints as to what to expect next. Clues: Finnikin. Sequel.

But yes, whether she likes it or not, she is an international star (she did just win the prestigious 2009 US Michael Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature and all). If she doesn’t like that descriptor though, she can always just settle for “Melina Marchetta: Made of Awesome”.

Travelling in the TARDIS with Stephen Dedman

Doctor Who! Yep, I’m still on that topic. The greatest television show ever made! The best tie-in books in existence! As the fifth season of the current series nears its conclusion on Australian television, I am joined by Aussie author Stephen Dedman.

As well as writing short stories, role-playing games and numerous novels including For a Fistful of Data and Foreign Bodies, Stephen has also dabbled in the world of the good Doctor…

From London to Prague
by Stephen Dedman

In 2005, Steven Savile told me he was editing an anthology of Doctor Who stories, Short Trips: Destination London, and asked if I were interested in writing for it. I’d wanted to write for Doctor Who for decades – I’d tried selling a script for the show in 1985, then an adventure for the role-playing game, and had toyed with the idea of writing a novel for the Missing Adventures series – and so I jumped at the chance.

Rather than have England invaded by yet another race of monsters, I decided to pit the Doctor against human tyranny. I looked up the timeline of Earth history in my copy of What’s What and Who’s Who, found a suitable century, and came up with an outline for a story set largely in the British Museum which featured cameos by William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Eric Blair (George Orwell), and others.

A few days before the deadline, I was informed that the setting had been changed to Prague, so there went that story. I had never been to Prague, so I looked it up in a Lonely Planet guidebook. Golems. Franz Kafka. Karel Capek. Defenestrations. Torture museum. Interesting architecture, largely unscathed by the world wars. Okay.

I sent off an outline about a paranoid Kafka enthusiast who reprograms the city’s nanotech to enact Kafkaesque revenge on his enemies, starting with a recreation of the Harrow from ‘In the Penal Colony’ inside the torture museum. And crossed my fingers.

Steven liked the idea, and I started writing the story. I had deliberately been non-committal about which Doctor and which companions would best fit into the story, so I was delighted when I was assigned the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. This meant I could buy and watch DVDs of some of my favourite episodes and call it research. Better still, the DVDs became a tax deductible work expense.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine who is also an avid Doctor Who fan was honeymooning in Prague, so I would periodically send him questions about the city. So did three other Australian writers. I gather he enjoyed the honeymoon despite this.

So I finished the story, managing to squeeze in references to Rabbi Loew’s golem, Capek, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, four Doctor Who episodes, and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (as well as an in-joke that made one of my fellow writers exhale Coca-cola in public), and sent it to Steven. It was published, in excellent company, in 2007, more than 23 years after my first attempt to write for the show.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I had great fun writing the story; besides, how could I turn down a chance to deduct my Doctor Who DVDs?

George’s bit at the end
My thanks to Stephen for stopping by. If you’d like to know more about Stephen Dedman and his writing, check out his website.

Aren’t tax deductions wonderful? They are a writer’s best friend. I too started tax deducting Doctor Who DVDs the moment I was asked to write a Doctor Who story. And I too would jump at the chance of delving back into the Doctor Who universe. Perhaps, one day, I’ll write a post about all my failed endeavours to do so. 🙂

In the meantime, we will be leaving the topic of Doctor Who for a while, in favour of some other literary pursuits. But fear not, for Doctor Who will return to Literary Clutter in the not too distant future.

Tune in next time as we find out about David McLean’s first YA novel Finding Coaby.

Catch ya later,  George

CBCA NSW 2010: Libby Gleeson Keynote


Libby Gleeson at the CBCA 65th anniversary dinner

Libby Gleeson is a powerhouse of children’s literature. Don’t believe me? Click here. Her books have helped shaped the world views of so manny Aussie kids, and hers was the keynote address of the CBCA NSW Conference.

 This was my first Libby Gleeson experience, and I loved hearing her speak. As tempted as I am to completely regurgitate her speech, I wouldn’t want to, in case she reusesmaterial with different audiences (I’ll get back to you with a definitive answer after my second Libby Gleeson experience).

In all seriousness, though, she was excellent, and not just because she brought up, and spoke, at length, about the books of my childhood, The Magic Faraway Tree series. She touched on the books’ censorship (Note: William suppresses a rant), and how they left a mark, sometimes good, other times, bad. Her friend found them terrifying as a child. In fact, the very part that I found exciting, the risk the kids took that they may not be able to return to their own world, Libby’s friend found terrifying. Funny how we all react so differently, eh?

Libby also touched on parenting and books, and how we select books for our children. She mentioned nostalgia being a big factor in choosing what to read, and the varying results letting nostalgia govern the books we read to our children achieves. So, I thought I’d pose a question, or a few… Which books left a mark on your childhood? Have you tried reading them to your children? How did it go? Did they have the same experience with the book that you did?

CBCA NSW 2010: An event like no other

Jackie French, me, Bruce Whatley

The CBCA NSW Conference… wow.

I’ve been to my fair share of festivals, but never before have I been to one that felt so inclusive. Authors and other attendees weren’t separated. My experience with other festivals, as both speaker and attendee, has been that after sessions, speakers disappear to green rooms, never to be seen when they’re not onstage. The CBCA NSW Committee (and I’ll register my bias now: I’m on it) abolished the green room for the Conference, and what a difference it made. It felt like a gathering of equals: there were authors, publishers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, students all amassed togher and relating to each other as children’s book lovers.

I was speaking with Susanne Gervay (author of the sensational I Am Jack and its sequels, not on the Committee, so there isn’t an obvious bias), and she put it perfectly:

“I really loved the set up where everyone could get together.”

And we did come together. Authors talked process (with the behind-the-scenes workings of picture book partnerships), and politics (keynote speaker Libby Gleeson with the quote of the Conference: ‘What’s the point of building an education revolution, and building libraries, if there are no teacher librarians in those buildings?’)

While there’s no way to cover the entirety of the Conference, I will write about a selection of moments that really struck me. And there were many moments. It really was the perfect place to be perpetually adolescent…

[Note: If I don’t look particularly happy in photos, disregard it… Mum’s pulled me up on smiling like Mr Bean in pics, so I’m trying to dial down the rubber-faced grin from ear to ear. Right now, I’m having difficulty finding the attractive median between ‘rubber face’ and ‘serial killer’. Case in point, I’m giddy in the above photo to be meeting Jackie French (an icon) and Bruce Whatley… can you tell? Haha. PS, this is their new book, which was launched at the Conference.]


Just After Sunset by Stephen King
Reviewed by Rad Hall

This collection of short stories by Stephen King does not start off with a bang: ‘Willa’ is a good story, neither too weak nor, however, terrifying.

‘The Gingerbread Girl’ was better, more thriller than out-and-out horror, but human and captivating.

‘Harvey’s Dream’ was where the collection started getting good. The tale is short. It is simply told, but sublime. We are introduced to everything from Harvey’s wife’s point of view, just everyday mundane things, including Harvey’s appearance at the breakfast table and how he’s beginning to get on her nerves. By the time Harvey starts talking, he felt so familiar it was as though I were there sitting and listening. Not with Harvey’s wife, but as her. And then ‘my’ Harvey keeps talking and I start to want, and then need, for him to stop. But he keeps on going. And when he finishes, I know the phone will ring. And when it does, there’s no startlement on my part, no exclamation, no voiced cry. Just a throat clogging sense of quiet horror realised. Splendid stuff.

‘Rest Stop’ was something of a fantasy. A chance for the protagonist to do take action where likely he (and most people) would rather have merely asked what could have/should have done in hindsight.

‘Stationary Bike’ left me unsatisfied. Though written with great imagery, I couldn’t help feeling that Richard got bullied. Perhaps I simply didn’t empathise with the workers as I should have. I think I might have missed the point of the story entirely 🙂

‘The Things They Left Behind’, ‘Graduation Afternoon’ and ‘The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates’ all had a 9/11 feel to them. The first and third both had a happy almost calming conclusion to them; although both have scenarios that would be just as welcome otherwise, they seem kindly addressed to the post 9/11 American.

The second story though is just your good ol’ apocalypse. Short, simple and smashing. The protagonist’s small description of the damage to her eyes as she watches the bomb blast mildly recalls Eddings’ Torak and his (if memory serves) ‘eye boiled in its socket’ line. Mind you, this tale has a compassionate leaning and I can’t help worrying about our lead post-event.

‘The Cat from Hell’ does not hold a candle to George Fielding Eliot’s similar and horrifying story ‘The Copper Bowl’.

‘Mute’, like ‘Rest Stop’, has an urban paranoia to it but I could not find it engaging.

‘A Very Tight Place’ … reeks. Splendidly written scatological horror at its most eww. Practically guranteed to leave the reader feeling shudderingly unclean.

Now to the jewel in the crown. I thought ‘N.’ was the absolute highlight of the collection. The story of compulsion being all that stopped the fabric of this world from being torn through to let in monsters from another, is such a stunning piece of work. The slow, steady buildup, the descriptions of beauty and those of horror, the burgeoning hysteria, madness and inevitable despair of characters at maintaining that fragile integrity. Amazing.

The entire collection is certainly well worth a read and the better stories make it highly recommended. (3 stars)

A big thanks to all the members who submitted reviews – keep reviewing your favourite books at for your chance to win! For being this month’s winner, Rad Hall has won $50 to spend in Boomerang Bucks.

Boomerang Books to participate in carbon emissions forum

The Managing Director of Boomerang Books, Clayton Wehner, will participate in a panel discussion about reducing carbon emissions at the upcoming Australian Booksellers Conference in Brisbane in early July.  Boomerang Books recently became Australia’s first carbon neutral online bookstore.

The ABA Conference will run a panel on reducing carbon emissions with Joel Silver, president of Canada’s largest book retail chain Indigo Books.

Silver will discuss the IndigoGreen environmental program at the ABA Conference via video. The program includes a commitment to a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2014.

Joining the panel will be Liz Minchin, Walkley award-winning journalist and co-author of Screw Lightbulbs (UWA Publishing) and Clayton Wehner, managing director of Boomerang Books. Fiona Stager, ABA president and head of the ABA environmental working party will present the results of eco-efficiency research being undertaken by the ABA. The session will be chaired by Howard Nielsen, a business sustainability consultant who facilitates the Climate Smart Business Clusters program in Queensland.

For full program information and online registrations see the ABA website at

Review: ANZACs in Arkhangel – The untold story of Australia and the invasion of Russia in 1918-19

Anzacs in ArkhangelANZACS IN ARKHANGEL: The untold story of Australia and the invasion of Russia in 1918-19 by Michael Challinger

Review by Ross Hamilton – [email protected]

I was quite interested in this book when it first appeared on bookshelves and have ripped into it after obtaining my copy via Boomerang.

The author states from the outset that this is the story of the Australians who took part in this venture rather than a history of the campaign as such. Challinger sticks to that although there is plenty of information in there to give an overal view of what was happening.

This is a story in two parts – first that of the initial force despatched in secret, nominally to seize control of military stores and keep them from falling into German hands, particularly after a miscaluation by the Russians (and especially by Trotsky) in their peace treaty talks with Germany, resulted in the Russian government under Lenin giving up large tracts of territory to Germany. The second part of the story is that of a second, larger force sent to withdraw the now-stranded mission in northern Russia.

Challinger clearly paints a picture of a mission that was a confused mess from the outset. Many of the participating troops in the different forces supplied to the mission, were inexperienced, poorly supplied and poorly led. There are some remarkable parallels to more modern history such as involvements in Vietnam, Iraq and Afganistan where there are conflicting reasons for why the combatants are there and what they are trying to achieve. Various forces were sent to Northern Russion on the understanding that they would not  be combative forces, such as the 5,000 Americans sent as part of the original mission, only to have the British General in charge blithely ignore that restruction.

With the ending of WW1 and apparent failure of that original mission to Northern Russia, it was determined to send a second force to relieve and remove the first. However a certain, Bolshevik-hating British politician, one Winston Churchill, decided to reinterpret the instructions of the British cabinet and sought to turn this into a full-scale combat against the Bolsheviks in what was always going to be a doomed campaign. Where have Australians’ come up against a similar pig-headed, poor decision by Churchill, I wonder? Fortunatley for the Australian combatants, this venture  did not turn into quite the same disaster as Gallipoli.

I have to admit to being less-than informed of the situation in post-revolution Russia, and the extent of the civil war that resulted was interesting reading. Challinger also clearly depicts the immediate pre-Revolution scenario of dissatisfaction among the Russian populace and the poor conduct of the Russian involvement in War World 1. There is little wonder that people, including the soldiers, revolted. Even before the peace treaty with Germany, there were mass desertions from the Eastern front by Russian soldiers.

My only real criticism of this book is that it seems to bypass most of the actual combat. For example, a reader could be forgiven for getting the impression that the original force did not engage in combat as so little is said about it. However a crucial passage does comment that there were skirmishes and massacres. Unfortunately this is not greatly elaborated on, which left me a little dissatisfied.

That criticisim not withstanding, I found this an interesting account which painted a clear picture of a poorly considered and enacted venture that for some reasons, governments seemed to continue to fall folly to.


Sherryl Clark is an award-winning author of 41 children’s books, and 3 adult books (two of which are poetry collections).

She’s also a writing teacher at Victoria University TAFE where she taught me a lot of what I know about writing. I was lucky enough to have Sherryl launch my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo last year.

This week, Sherryl is at Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her three most recent books (two of which were released just last week).

Sherryl has been writing for many years and started in a  community writing class that morphed into a writing group.

At first I soaked up everything the class had to offer, then I went on and studied a BA at Deakin Uni by flexible delivery. In those days there was no other way to study and write at the same time.

I also became involved in community arts and met a lot of great writers who helped me and spurred me on to things like residencies and schools, and also gave me the courage to start submitting my work.

Sherryl admits to being a first draft lover!

I love the excitement of dreaming up characters and stories, and pounding away at the keyboard. I also love it when I get a new idea, and I’m not sure where it might go, but the exploration is a lot of fun.

At the moment, Sherryl is working on Draft 9 of “Pirate X”; an historical series for Penguin which will be part of their Our Australian Girl project; two different verse novels; and poems for her www.poetry4kids.netwebsite.

The hardest part of the writing process

Sherryl says that for her, the hardest part of writing is the revisions.

I’m better at this now – I’ve learned how to tackle a revision in a way that makes it new and interesting, and how to look at structure and then scene by scene. But the hardest thing of all is making myself sit down and start when I’m not entirely sure what comes next. I like plenty of thinking time in first draft stage, which helps the writing flow better.

I asked Sherryl about her greatest writing achievement.

At this point, I think it’s managing eight drafts of my historical pirate novel and not giving up on it! It started at 120,000 words and is currently 80,000 and is about to undergo another major rewrite. I still love it, and I still want to make it work.

I also won the NSW Premier’s Award forFarm Kid, which was pretty amazing.

She admits there are some consistent themes in her writing.

I realised a few years ago that with my books for older readers, one of the recurring themes was abandonment, and identity. With my books for middle years (Grade 5 to about Year 8 or 9) I write a lot about powerlessness – how kids are either ignored, abused, or treated like infants by adults. Kids are really smart. I like writing stories where they find their own solutions and their own way through the world. With picture books, it’s more about being the hero, being “centre stage” – little kids have a world that is all their own, and it’s all about them! Which is a good thing.

Sherryl’s tips for new writers

Apart from all the stuff about reading, writing and rewriting, educate yourself about the marketplace. Who is publishing what, what the current trends are (and understand you need to be ahead of the pack), and most importantly, how to be professional.


Sherryl’s most recent verse novel, Motormouth came out in in March this year.

She wanted to write a story about a boy who lied – big lies, not little ones! And delve into why someone would create such a huge fiction about their life. She also wanted to write about cars and boys, and the two things came together.

  • Chris has lost his best mate in a car accident, and he’s going through that stage where people expect him to “get over it”, but he can’t. His refuge is his love of cars. Then he sees this kid steal a model car right in front of him, and he can’t believe it – even worse, the kid turns up at his school. Josh is a real show-off, and talks all the time about his dad who is a racing car driver in Europe. Despite his initial doubts, Chris gradually gets drawn into becoming friends with Josh.

Motormouth, for years 4-7 is also a story about family, about where a boy fits with his dad, and his dad’s expectations and hopes for him.

Verse novels look easy to read, but there’s always more below the surface, so they can be accessible to younger readers and give older readers plenty to think about.

As a verse novel, Motormouth taps into deeper emotional issues, but I think kids of that age are very aware of their friendshops, of being included or left out, of being pressured into stuff they’re not sure about. But there are elements of humour as well – I like to add those touches for contrast.

What Sherryl enjoyed most about writing this book

Sherryl says she really enjoyed discovering who Chris was. I knew Josh right from the beginning – I think I went to school with one or two kids like this for whom the “mask” is everything. Their image (even in Grade 6) is paramount, and their need for friends overrides everything else. But Chris has gone inside himself, through grief, and he doesn’t even really understand what that means. He just knows he’s hurting, so it was up to me to draw him out and find out who he was and how he could begin to heal.

The hardest part about writing this book was the climax, where Chris confronts Josh. He has to decide what’s most important – his pride, or forgiveness. I rewrote those poems many times.

More about Sherryl

Sherryl will be back at Kids’ Book Capers on Wednesday and Friday to talk about her newest books, Now I am Bigger and One Perfect Pirouette.

Sherryl’s website is at — her blog is at
Check out her new site at – it’s all about poetry for kids!

She also has a new Littlest Pirate web page at

Tearjerkers with Morrie

Tuesdays with MorrieCall me a snob, but there’s a certain sort of book that I tend to avoid like the plague. You know the ones: the easy-to-read misery memoirs that follow a certain formula to cue tears at specified intervals throughout the book. They very ones that are instant bookclub hits.

I realise that that makes me sound cynical. I’m not. I’m just suspicious of books that openly set out to turn on readers’ waterworks. Or that purport to contain the meaning of life which we Westerners have either lost sight of or are desperately trying to discover. Which is why I’m still not sure why I picked up a runaway bookclub bestseller I’ve been avoiding for years: Tuesdays with Morrie (or, as I prefer to call it, Tearjerkers with Morrie).

And dammit, if it didn’t make me cry.

I swear I spent the entire book determined to remain stoic. I swear I had entire conversations with myself about how the whole book was building to the cry climax. But it still managed to get me in the final pages—perhaps because the almost 200 pages before had softened me up; perhaps because the end was in sight and I’d started to relax.

For the few of you who haven’t yet read it, the book is written by sports writer Mitch Albom who’s successful financially and career-wise but who feels empty and unsatisfied. He reconnects with his wily, witty college professor, Morrie, who also happens to have been diagnosed with, and is rapidly dying from, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, a form of motor neuron disease whose most famous sufferer is Stephen Hawking. The book catalogues Albom’s and Morrie’s life-lesson discussions, which take place on—you guessed it—Tuesdays.

Clearly I think there are better books out there and clearly I’m frustrated that bookclubs all too often opt for the easy reads—the ones that can be consumed quickly and often in one or two sittings and that offer some sort of trite statement about how to be fulfilled and happy. I mean, Albom’s follow-up book, which is obviously following that tearjerker formula and which has also proved a bookclub hit, is The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I won’t be reading the latter, but I will admit that did get some joy out of Tuesdays/Tearjerkers with Morrie. The premise and the book are solid and I had a couple of—to quote Oprah, as feels warranted under the circumstances—‘aha moments’ while reading it. I’ll even admit I wish I had been able to meet Morrie while he was still alive and got to thinking about some incredible former teachers and mentors of my own with whom I’d love to reconnect.

I refuse to go all gooey and say Tuesdays with Morrie is a book I’d permanently borrow from someone’s bookshelf, but I wouldn’t not recommend it either. Instead I’d say recognise it for the tearjerker it is, have a quick flick through, and keep the tissues within reach when you do.

The Book Is Dead, Long Live The Book

Speaking to an ex sales rep friend the other day, I learned that the thickness of a book can contribute to its success or failure on the shelves.  Specifically, a very thick book will mean that only two or three books will fit in a ‘pocket’, which is the space one book facing out takes up on the shelves in a store. If only two books fit in a pocket then the bookstore is that much less likely to order more, as it will need constant maintenance and replenishment.

The physical limitations of the paper book permeate the entire process of writing, editing, publishing, selling, buying and reading books. Most books published fall somewhere between 300-400 pages long. Almost all books published as trade paperbacks are in multiples of sixteen pages. If there isn’t enough content to fill those sixteen page sections, then the end of the book can be filled up with advertisements or just have blank pages at the end. There are certain tricks used to squeeze a book into a smaller amount of pages, and tricks used to pad out the page extent when it won’t be long enough. Too short? Make every chapter start on the right hand page, with blanks beforehand. Too long? How about we put the dedication on the copyright page? In some kinds of books, the words themselves are changed so a sentence fits better on the page, or around an illustration.

At the moment, paper books are by far the dominant format, so ebooks inherit all the idiosyncrasies of the print world. But what if this wasn’t so? If you take away the physical limitations of a printed book, what makes it a book? How short can a book be before you still call it a book? Would you be less intimated to read a gigantic novel (like Gravity’s Rainbow or 2666) if you couldn’t feel how heavy it was in the hand, and see how much there was left to go? Will publishers be more likely to publish really big books, or illustrations and maps, if they know they won’t have to pay any extra to print it? One friend who has just started reading ebooks says that she feels ebooks give a false sense of progress as you read. Because you turn the page far more often than in a printed book, it gives the impression that you’ve read more than you have. What other ways that we can’t even imagine yet could electronic publishing change what we think of as a book?

At least these changes will not be sudden. Even the most enthusiastic forecasts don’t have ebooks making more sales than printed books for a very long time. Even when it does happen, it’s likely that the paradigm of the printed book will last beyond the limitations of technology. But eventually, it has to be assumed, what you think of as a book now may be a very different artifact. What do you think? What smell-of-books type things will you miss? Is there anything about printed books that annoys you? Sound off in the comments.

The Family Law

The Family LawI should probably issue a disclaimer that I not only know this author, I consider him one of my best friends. I should probably also disclose that my brother rates a mention within the book’s chapters and I get one at the end (at least, I think it’s me). But I would also like to say that while I’m biased, I have a very good reason for being so: the author is the incredibly talented Benjamin Law; the book, his memoir, The Family Law.

You might have already encountered Ben’s work in the likes of The Monthly, The Big Issue, Qweekend, and frankie, or heard him on ABC Radio where he was recently in conversation with the delightful Richard Fidler. And now, courtesy of his debut book, you (and I) get to read more about his childhood, his family, and in particular his one-of-a-kind mother, Jenny.

It would be easy to categorise Ben’s book as a David Sedaris-style book of short stories that will make you cack yourself on public transport. And, while that is true of The Family Law and the two writers have a lot in common, I’d argue that Ben’s writing has an extra depth.

The Family Law is incredibly funny, but it’s also incredibly poignant. It aligns upbeat stories about his aspirations to be an actor on Home and Away and how his father doesn’t like thongs because they ‘split the toe’ with heartbreaking stories about his parents’ divorce and his mother’s miscarriage (Ben is one of five children, but his mother was pregnant six times).

I absolutely loved the story of Ben’s own birth, which was speedy and which saw his mother in agony in the backseat of the car as Ben’s workaholic father drove her to the hospital. She was relieved to find that they had arrived, but quickly realised instead that he had stopped in at the restaurant at which he worked because he was hungry and didn’t like hospital food.

The chapter in which his mother discusses vaginas with unequalled frankness is completely and utterly priceless and rather than quote it here I’d simply encourage you to read it in full, graphic detail. I also loved the stories of how his family, one of the first Chinese families to settle on the Sunshine Coast, used to try to seem as ocker Australian and un-touristy as they could at theme parks so as to differentiate themselves from Asian tourists.

But I was absolutely floored by the stories of how some of his relatives were deported from Australia, how Ben came out to his mother, as well as the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of his grandfather, his father’s father. All three stories speak volumes about the wrenching outcomes of our immigration policies, about father-son relationships, and about the complexities of growing up Asian and gay (or as Ben terms it, ‘gaysian’) in Australia, and have stayed with me for the weeks since finishing the book.

Of course, I am undeniably biased that The Family Law is a book worth rushing online to buy and I won’t try to convince you otherwise. But I will point to the fact that this is a man so popular and whose book was so highly sought after he had to have two sold-out book launches in his adopted hometown of Brisbane. I might be biased, but it seems a lot of other people are too.

The Family Law is available at this good online bookstore now.

Video Post: The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe A unique, fascinating fictional peek into one of the most extraordinary periods of the twentieth century, from the vantage point of Maf, the dog given to Marilyn Monroe by Frank Sinatra.


In November 1960, Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn Monroe a dog. His name was Maf. He had an instinct for the twentieth century. For politics. For psychoanalysis. For literature. For interior decoration. This is his story.

Maf the dog was with Marilyn for the last two years of her life. Not only a picaresque hero himself, he was also a scholar of the adventuring rogue in literature and art, witnessing the rise of America’s new liberalism, civil rights, the space race, the New York critics, and was Marilyn Monroe’s constant companion. The story of Maf the dog is a hilarious and highly original peek into the life of a complex canine hero – he was very much a real historical figure, with his license and photographs sold at auction along with Marilyn’s other person affects. Through the eyes of Maf we’re provided with an insight into the life of Monroe herself, and a fascinating take on one of the most extraordinary periods of the twentieth century.

Check out the video here:

IndieBound movement coming to Australia

The Australian Booksellers Association has reached an agreement with the American Booksellers Association to bring the IndieBound movement to Australia.

Meg Smith, the Membership & Marketing Officer for the American Booksellers Association, delivered part of the keynote address at last year’s conference. She spoke about what IndieBound was and the benefits it provides booksellers and their local communities.

ABA Chief Executive Officer, Joel Becker said, “It is very encouraging to see booksellers working collaboratively across borders to support independent book retailing  Our hope is that Australian booksellers can replicate the passion and enthusiasm that American indie booksellers have for IndieBound. Independent booksellers are an important part of the whole book industry and we would hate to see any decline in the market.”

Jon Page, ABA Vice-President added,  “I am personally really excited about IndieBound coming to Australia. I have been really envious of all the wonderful things the American Booksellers Association has been able to do for their members with IndieBound and to have our version in Australia is fantastic.”

The Australian Booksellers Association will announce details of the Australian IndieBound program at this year’s conference in Brisbane.


Picture book author Catriona Hoy has always loved writing.

I wrote lots of bad poetry as a teenager, filled with angst, and dreamt of being a songwriter. I didn’t’ see writing as a career though and did a science degree at university. I did a lot of writing as a teacher, designing units etc which was probably good training. But it was a bottle of red wine and a conversation with a friend which began …’if you had your life over, what would you be?’ She’d wanted to be an artist and I’d wanted to be a writer. She’s now just put on her first exhibition of textile art and it is stunning.

My friend gave me the courage to try my hand at writing picture books. I had my share of rejections and made cringeworthy mistakes but at each bump in the road, I kept going. Thankfully my book The Music Tree landed on the right editors desk at the right time and went on to become a CBC notable book for  2006.

What inspired you to write Puggle?

I visited the home of some wildlife carers a few years ago. It was a great experience as every room of their house held baby animals or injured animals being nursed back to health. These wildlife carers were volunteers and cared for and fed the animals until they were strong enough to be released. It was their sheer dedication that inspired me. My children got to feed a baby wallaby from a bottle, hold snakes and squashed flies to baby birds.

What’s it about?

Puggle is the story of one of the animals living in this amazing home in the bush. A puggle is the name for a baby echidna.  Because they are so slow, echidnas are in danger when they cross roads. Puggle’s mother had been killed accidentally but Puggle had been saved and brought around to the home of these wildlife carers. He lived in a woolen beanie when I visited him. The story is about how he learns the skills necessary to survive before he can return to the wild. There are some other lovely animals in there too.

What appealed to you about Puggle?

For me, it was the sheer vulnerability of Puggle when I first met him, like most babies. He was pale, grey and completely helpless. I thought he looked a bit like a chicken fillet with the skin on…same texture! And of course I loved the name. When Sue told me his name was ‘Puggle’ and that he actually was a ‘Puggle’ my eyes lit up and the idea for the story took root. I kept in touch with Helen and Sue, his carers, to find out how Puggle progressed and there was that little bit of tension about whether or not he would grow up and become strong and healthy enough to return to the wild.

On my website I have also listed a number of websites which link to information which can be used by classes as part of research work, including the Pelican Bay Echidna Research Centre on Kangaroo Island.

Even better, there are some great pictures of Puggle, starting from the day he first arrived up until he was fully grown and ready to return to the wild.

How did the pictures fit in with your idea of the book?

I think Andrew Plant’s illustrations are fantastic. He has a real love of animals and the bush and his zoology training means that all the drawings are realistic. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t also incredibly cute. I was overseas when I saw the proofs for the book and they made me feel incredibly homesick. I swear I could smell gum trees and dry dusty bark and leaves coming from the page. The colours too were also so, well, Australian!

More about Puggle is available on Catriona’s website

True Life tales

I’m always a bit divided on true-life travel stories. On good days, tales of the indomitable human spirit triumphing over adversity and tough terrain uplifts my soul and inspire me.

But on bad days, when getting out of bed is a major battle and surviving until lunch without returning to it in tears looks unlikely, the last thing I want to hear is about some smug git who cycled across Antarctica blindfolded. I am feeling sorry enough for myself already without comparing myself to some little boy with no limbs and a burlap bag for a body who STILL managed to climb Mount Everest to raise money for orphaned kittens with sore paws.

Using only his teeth. In a blizzard. While on fire and being chased by goats.

Which may be why more personal books such Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love appealed to me. I’m late to the party on this one, I admit. Everyone I know has already read it, Julia Roberts is starring in the movie of it, I feel like the kid who finally persuaded her folks to let her get a mobile when all the other kids have moved on to iPhones.

So, why is it so popular? Gilbert’s book is more travelogue than triumph story, 350 pages or so of navel-gazing, documenting her round-the-world search for happiness and inner peace and finding love in the process. It is all about her, but the light tone, funny moments and travel tales give a great insight into her personal journey without creating a book that comes across as being as self-absorbed as a sponge that has just peed itself. She strikes the balance of conversational and humourous well to a good effect, and the fact that this book became a best-seller shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not the first tale of travel and self-discovery out there, and to my mind (and sorry, Elizabeth) it’s good, but not amongst the very best.

My Family and Other Animals is one of my personal favourites. Gerald Durrell was 10 when his family decided they could no longer endure the damp English climate, and they did what any sensible family would do: sell their house and relocate to the sunny Greek isle of Corfu. Some years later, and now a naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, he set out to write about the natural history of the Greek island of Corfu, but made the “grave mistake” of introducing his family into the book in the first few pages.

“Having got themselves on paper, they then proceeded to establish themselves and invite various friends to share the chapters. It was only with the greatest difficulty, and by exercising considerable cunning, that I manages to retain a few pages here and there which I could devote exclusively to animals.”

Durrell’s wry and witty description growing up with a family plagued by their own follies, fires, firearms and eccentric hangers-on (as well as his habit of bringing home house-guests such as toads, scorpions, geckos, and the aptly named puppies Widdle and Puke) make this book a classic that is justifiably still in print and popping up in people’s “must-read” lists nearly 60 years after it was published.

Looking for a more local read than one based in Corfu? A great place to starts is Down Underby.

Written by the always entertaining Bill Bryson, this book is the story of his travels in Australia in 2000. It’s always intriguing to see your home country through the eyes of a visitor, and even more so for me as I am recent immigrant to Australia. (More five grand Irishwoman than 10 pound pom, it must be said.)

Bryson – like me – is thoroughly smitten by the Lucky Country; “the people are cheerful, the food excellent, the beer always cold, the sun nearly always shines.” From catching the Ghan first class to getting lost in Canberra, his travels in Australia as entertaining as they are useful as a guide.

Looking for a guide for further afield written by an Australian? Try reading anthing by Peter Moore, whose trips are less first class and more an experience in hilarity. The Full Montezuma – his account of touring Central and South America (with a hapless new girlfriend who was expecting a slightly more luxurious trip) is required reading that I am taking on my own trip to Central America. Particularly enjoyable is reading about their adventures in Casa del Cockroach, battling food poisoning and local vermin, when you have decided to learn from their pain and book a hotel with running water and clean sheets.

As you can see, I prefer travel memoirs that make you laugh, not feel guilty that about enjoying a read instead of building orphanages whilst meditating on the true nature of the Infinite. What are your favourite travel tales, and why?

The Whale Warriors

The Whale WarriorsIt’s easy to say that whaling is wrong, and I’d be lying if the recent locked talks at the farce of an International Whaling Commission conference in Morocco didn’t make me want to shake someone. But what’s harder but more effective is being able to explain articulately and persuasively why it is.

Which is why I’ve decided it’s time to re-read Peter Heller’s The Whale Warriors. It’s a book that documents the time the award-winning National Geographic writer (not to be mistaken for Peter Hellier, the comedian) spent with Captain Paul Watson and the crew of the Sea Shepherd as he investigated both the complex, emotionally charged issues around whaling and the people who are willing to risk their lives to put a stop to it.

The Sea Shepherd organisation actively courts the attention of being the no-holds-barred activists who won’t, like the ‘Avon ladies’ of Greenpeace, merely stand by and take photos of the slaughter. They will instead maneuver their ship between the whaling ship and the whale under the instruction of Watson, who declared that: ‘We are here to enforce international conservation law. We don’t wave banners. We intervene.’ But despite the Sea Shepherd’s apparently tough stance, the Japanese and media’s denigration of them as ‘pirates’ is simplistic and simply untrue.

Heller boarded the ship to find out who exactly Watson and his crew were, what motivated them, and whether they really were (or still are) pirates. What he found was that although Watson is an undeniably uncompromising man you’re either with or against, he’s also largely misunderstood or mis-portrayed, if you like, in the media.

The Farley Mowat is a ship that proudly flies the Jolly Roger, sports a big metal steel blade with which to slice the bows of ships, comprises of a motley crew of volunteer activists there for a variety of passionate reasons, and offers up a monotonous diet of vegan fare. Beyond that is an incisively intelligent and dedicated captain looking out for the whales, his crew, and even, at times, the Japanese.

Like him or loathe him, Watson is a smart man. He knows maritime laws intimately and, in spite of how it might be reported, operates within the law—it’s worth noting that despite his eco-terrorist tag, Watson has never injured anyone and has never been convicted of any felony in any country. Perhaps it takes an uncompromising personality to dedicate yourself to an unending battle to end a practice we all know is wrong but lack the courage and conviction to do much about. As the saying goes, and one I’m inclined to agree with: ‘Any day saving a whale is a good day to die.’

Fact: The Japanese are telling furphies—there’s no scientific basis for the whaling whatsoever. The research they’re claiming needs to be done can be completed just as effectively through non-invasive (that is, non-harpooning, non-terminal) procedures.

Fact: Eating whale meat isn’t part of Japanese culture. Just four per cent of Japanese people regularly eat whale meat and a mere 11 per cent support whaling.

Fact: They Japanese are conducting whaling in an internationally recognised whale sanctuary. Under Sections 21 and 24 of the United Nations World Charter for Nature, Watson is well within his right to try to prevent the Japanese from slaughtering whales in Antarctic waters.

Fact: As the country closest to the sanctuary, Australia has been tasked with policing and protecting it, something which we’re epically failing to do. Part of the reason for this is, I’m ashamed to admit, is because Japan is a major trading partner and we value our exports more than whales’ lives.

Set in 2005, this book predates some of the more recent controversies such as the crew members boarding the Japanese whaling ship or the collision that sank the Ady Gill. But it’s certainly not outdated. If anything, it simply shows that all talk and no action by anyone other than the Sea Shepherd activists (particularly at the current International Whaling Commission conference being conducted in Morocco), means that we’re no closer to resolving the issues five years down the track.

Surprisingly, given that it’s a book about one of the most contentious moral, ethical, and environmental issues of our time, The Whale Warriors is actually really funny. Some of my favourite parts include how the slower, less financially-equipped Sea Shepherd have double agents aboard the faster, more cashed-up Greenpeace vessel who then feed them information about whaling ship locations, and how the crew throws rotten, foul smelling, but environmentally and ethically sound food at the Japanese ship.

At the same time, The Whale Warriors is incredibly emotionally flooring. Without giving too much away, the most profound moment of the book was for me when the Farley Mowat emerged from a thick fog to surprise and give chase to the Japanese whaling ship. As they passed the Greenpeace vessel, which was staying back and merely observing, many of the frustrated, hands-tied Greenpeace activists screamed, clapped, and cheered in encouragement. It’s a fist-pumper of a moment and one that still chokes me up.

As the IWC conference continues and the whaling season approaches again, I’m wondering both what’s next in the fight against whaling and whether this year will be the year that something different occurs. In the interim, I’ll be brushing up on my facts and figures courtesy of Heller’s book, as shaking someone in frustration probably isn’t going to advance the anti-whaling cause.

Travelling in the TARDIS with Robert Hood

Today has certainly been a day of political interest here on Australia’s fair shores. But have no fear, there will be no talk of Prime Ministers, political parties or mining taxes here at Literary Clutter. Instead, I’m sticking with the topic I introduced last time — Doctor Who. My last post was about the literally hundreds of books dealing with this television series. Now it’s time to meet some authors who have played in the Doctor Who universe.

Between 2002 and 2009, Big Finish Productions in the UK published 29 Short Trips books. These were short story anthologies featuring the first eight incarnations of the Doctor. I myself was lucky enough to be published within the pages of one of these books — Short Trips: Defining Patterns. If you want to find out about my experience of writing Doctor Who, check out my guest post over at the Great (book) Expectations blog — “My little fan-boy moment”.

In the meantime, let me introduce Aussie author Robert Hood. As well as having written several novels, including Backstreets and The Shades series, and a plethora of short stories, Robert has had the chance to delve into the universe of Doctor Who. Take it away, Robert…

Me and the Doctor: “Gold and Black Ooze” from Doctor Who Short Trips: Destination Prague
by Robert Hood

As a longtime stalker of the Doctor (since the show was first aired in Australia in 1965 – when I was 12), I was naturally overcome with nerdish glee when Steve Savile suggested I should submit to a Doctor Who: Short Trips anthology he was editing for Big Finish.

The competitive process involved choosing a Doctor (from Hartnell to McGann) along with an appropriate companion and a storyline, then waiting for a response. I chose the unpopular Sixth Doctor. I liked Colin Baker’s quirky interpretation, even if the scripts he was saddled with were mostly rather dire.

The theme – Prague – was designed to take the Doctor away from the more familiar environs of London into a European city rich in turbulent history. While researching that history, I came across the fact that in 1648 in Prague the alchemist Richthausen had supposedly transmuted mercury into gold in the presence of Ferdinand III – so I decided I’d use that. My Prague, however, was haunted by a “bizarre metallic creature” – and besides, the Doctor had been headed for Prague in 4240 AD, so why was it looking exactly the way it had in 1648 – and why was it surrounded by a sea of nanotech tar?

The story fit nicely into the Doctor’s established “history”, coming after the events of “Revelation of the Daleks”. In that story Peri accidently breaks the Doctor’s favourite watch. So I decided that the Doc would naturally want to get the watch fixed. And as everyone knows, the watchmakers of Prague in 4240 AD are the best in the galaxy.

For research I re-watched Baker’s episodes, used the terrific website The Whoniverse to check continuity and, when the outline was accepted, scoured Google to become more familiar with Prague in the 15th century, not just in terms of its history and politics but also at a ground level. With Peri and the Doctor doing their usual running through the streets, I needed to know where everything was located, relatively speaking. Writing the story – and in particular making sure the Doctor and Peri sounded and acted right – was an exciting challenge and a lot of fun. The BBC not only approved the story but also used it in their pre-publicity.

It seems to me that, unlike other franchises, Doctor Who offers much more artistic freedom to writers – within limits. Don’t kill the Doctor. Don’t kill his established companions. The only change that was required to my story was to something I knew was a bit cheeky. The Sixth Doctor didn’t have his sonic screwdriver during that period, but I put it in anyway – a version knocked-up by the Doctor and subsequently cannibalized to defeat the monster from the nano-tar. I destroyed it at the end so everything reverted back to the official timeline. No good, however. It had to go. So I re-made it into a different gadget and all was well.

Writing for Doctor Who was a unique experience and I love the fact that my story of the Doctor is now part of his official canon.

Would I do it again? In a (double) heartbeat!

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Robert for stopping by. If you’d like to know more about Robert Hood and his writing, check out his website.

And tune in next time for another trip in the TARDIS, this time with author Stephen Dedman.

Catch ya later,  George

Why David Mitchell Makes My Head Hurt (In the Best Way Possible)

Guys, just finished David Mitchell’s newest: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and just had to share my thoughts on it. It is ah-mazing. I don’t know why I haven’t read more of his work, but last year was my first taste of his genius, when I finally worked up the courage to plough my way through Cloud Atlas (it had been sitting on my shelves gathering dust for at least a year previous). So, what did I think of that one? Pretty damn crazy, and also pretty damn good.
Cloud Atlas, if you haven’t had the chance (or the bravery) to read it yet, I warn you now – it gets a little muddy. There are six narrators in all, cursing their way through history with the echoes of each other’s voices at their backs. Your first reaction may be to hit your head against a wall, and that’s ok. You wouldn’t be the first, or the last. But stick with it, and this philosophical map of human power; the way we lust after it, and the way we fall victim to it, makes itself known across the 544 pages. Like I say with all my chunksters, the sense of accomplishment is there, but David Mitchell has this added extra of ‘enlightenment’ for the reader:

“Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. What sparks war? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence, is the instrument of this dreadful will… The nation state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be.”

Pg 462, Cloud Atlas.

It appears from fan reviews that he likes a fat splash of sci-fi in his novels: I would liken one of the stories in Cloud Atlas to the Eastern movie 2046 (also highly recommended), or maybe a condensed and not entirely westernised version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. There’s another story in Cloud Atlas that speaks of colonialism and this is perhaps where we first see Mitchell’s talent at writing ‘colonial historical fiction’ , later brought to the fore in his first ever one-man story, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

Think feudal Japan on the brink of revolution (westernisation). The island of Dejima, an island just off the coast of Japan set up for the pure purpose of trade. An island that is open only to a select few foreigners, and Jacob De Zoet – a 20-something Dutchman – is one of them. Like Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns is also about the will to power, the subjugation and replacement of a minority culture by a majority culture. And besides the message it conveys about humanity’s greed, there’s also a rollicking good adventure to be had in reading this book.

Every so often, a book comes along that – through some holy fusion of chance – has a wonderfully stylised viewpoint, a hidden message, a set of brilliantly realised and fatally flawed characters, and an historical storyline that is more fascinating than any fantasy. I’m thinking this is one of them!
I did a bit more of an indepth review on my lifestyle blog, if you’re interested in a few further thoughts on the book. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is released at the end of this month with that stunning cover art (it’s sparkly in the flesh!), and while it may be a bit more exxy than your usual weekly read – believe me, it’s worth it, particularly if you’re already a Mitchell fan. And if you’re not, well, chances are you will be.

What do you think of David Mitchell? Does he deserve the critical praise he receives for his works? Do you have a favourite David Mitchell book? Let me know, so I can make a decision about which to read next!


Trudie Trewin is the author of I Lost My Kisses and Wibbly Wobbly Street.

  • She grew up on a farm in South Australia, but says,
  • my outdoor play time was hampered by a condition which left me unable to cope with cold weather – known as ‘Acute Sookie-la-la syndrome’. But don’t worry – having that syndrome had two great outcomes on my life. Number 1… spending half of Autumn and Spring, and the entire Winter inside meant I developed a love of reading. And number 2… it meant I eventually moved to beautiful warm Far North Queensland, where I still live with my husband, three sons and a wardrobe full of shorts and singlets!

Trudie’s acclaimed picture book, I Lost My Kisses is about an adorable cow called Matilda Rose who is worried she has lost her kisses

Matilda Rose loved to kiss. She kissed hello. She kissed goodbye. She kissed good morning and she kissed good night. But one day something went terribly, horribly wrong.

Matilda’s poppa is coming for a visit and the first thing he always wants is a big kiss from Matilda – but she has lot her kisses! Matilda’s mother says they’ll be there when she needs them, but Matilda is not so sure. She sets out to find them, the only trouble is… what do kisses look like?

Nick Bland’s soft illustrations complement the gentle text and it’s no wonder I Lost My Kisses won the 2008 National parenting Publication Award.

So, how did Trudie become an author?

When I left work to have our third son, making it 3 under 3 ½, I joked that I might write a book in my newfound spare time. I actually meant adult fiction, but a workmate assumed I meant children’s books. It planted a seed in my mind, so I enrolled in a course in children’s writing, fell in love with it, and voilà, as they say.

Yeah, embrace your peculiarities. Life’s pretty straight without a wibble or two!

Trudie Trewin’s latest picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street is about the only street in Squareton that’s not straight and smooth and wide. Its non-conformity, and the peculiarities of its residents lead Mayor Angle and his fellow councilors to take some radical action to try and bring it into line with the rest of Squareton.

It’s another book full of quirky gentle humour and a strong theme that it’s okay to be different.

On Friday we’re featuring Catriona Hoy, author of Daddies, Mummies Are Amazing and My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day

A Feature, Not a Bug

Excellent article in the Guardian this week about the internet. It seems almost laughable that someone could write a four thousand word essay about the internet these days, so central is it to the way we live our lives. But John Naughton has, and it’s excellent. He makes an excellent point about disruption being an essential part of the internet – a feature, not a bug:

One of the things that most baffles (and troubles) people about the net is its capacity for disruption. One moment you’ve got a stable, profitable business – say, as the CEO of a music label; the next minute your industry is struggling for survival, and you’re paying a king’s ransom to intellectual property lawyers in a losing struggle to stem the tide. Or you’re a newspaper group, wondering how a solid revenue stream from classified ads could suddenly have vaporised; or a university librarian wondering why students use only Google nowadays. How can this stuff happen? And how does it happen so fast?

Naughton argues that we are currently in the midst of a revolution (an actual revolution, rather than an evolution) the outcome of which is not by any means clear. He says that in the future, it’s likely we will look back on the internet in the way we look back at the Gutenberg press – tracing a clear line of consequence between movable type and such massive cultural shifts as the rise of modern science, entirely new social classes and professions and the collapse of the universal power of the Catholic church.

Of course, without the benefit of hindsight, it’s impossible to know whether the changes the internet and the age of digitisation will bring will be good or bad. It’s very likely they’ll be a combination of both. But nonetheless there is a certain inevitability about it – whether we want it to or not, change is coming.

What has this got to do with books and book technology? Quite a lot. Movable type and the Gutenberg press were at the centre of the communications revolution of the last millennium. The press allowed all sorts of new kinds of communication, and it allowed the rapid distribution and dissemination of books. Will the new communications revolution leave books behind altogether in its race to transfer information ever faster, or are books still a relevant means of communicating ideas in this new age? The answer, according to Naughton, will come to those who wait. In the meantime, of course, we can always speculate. What do you think? Will the book as a medium survive the next four hundred years? If so, why? What does it have to offer that no other medium has?

Doctor Who books

Here it is! At long last! The post I have been threatening you all with since I began writing Literary Clutter. The post you have all been waiting for with bated breath… The first Doctor Who post.

Now, for those of you who do not know what Doctor Who is (because, clearly you’ve been living under rock for the last 47 years), I should explain that it is the longest running science fiction series, ever. First going to air in the UK in 1963, it lasted for 26 seasons, finally being cancelled in 1989. But, just like its main character, it would not die. It came back for a tele-movie in 1996 and then a revived series starting in 2005, and is still going strong. The principal character, known only as the Doctor, is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels in a time/space machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). The TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental, which means that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. It is also able to change its external appearance to blend in with its surroundings — at least, it’s meant to. It’s actually broken and is stuck in the shape of a 1960s police call box.

One of the most remarkable things about this series is its ability to change lead actors. You see, the Doctor, like all Time Lords, has the ability to regenerate. When his body wears out, or if it is damaged, instead of dying, he changes — becomes a new person. So over the years, he has been played by 11 different actors — William Hartnell (1963-1966), Patrick Troughton (1966-1969 ), Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), Tom Baker (1974-1981), Peter Davison (1982-1984), Colin Baker (1984-1986) Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996), Paul McGann (1996), Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005-2010), and Matt Smith (2010-??).

Doctor Who has gone way beyond its humble television origins. Aside from the numerous television spin offs (K9 and Co, Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood and the new K9 series), Doctor Who has resulted in feature films, radio plays, CD audio adventures, computer games, toys, comics, magazines and, of course, books. Lots and lots and lots of books. Hundreds of them, in fact.

It all started with the novelisations published by Target Books (later taken over by Virgin Publishing). There were 156 books published in this series, with only 5 of the original series stories left un-novelised. I used to love these books as a kid. I would read and re-read them. Hardly a week would go by without me reading at least one of them. I have particularly fond memories of Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks, which was my most often re-read Doctor Who book.

Things didn’t end with this series of novelistations. After the series was cancelled in 1989, Virgin Publishing began a range of New Adventures books, original novels set after the series, continuing the adventures of the seventh incarnation of the Doctor. Then there was the Missing Adventures books, original novels featuring earlier incarnations of the Doctor, set during the events of the series, but between televised stories. And so it went on and on. After the tele-movie in 1996, which featured a new eighth Doctor, there were more books. And now with the new series, we have another range of original novels featuring Doctors #9 through #11.

Sadly, with the recent demise of the Short Trips anthologies, a series of short story books from Big Finish Productions (the company that also produces the Doctor Who audio adventures), there are no longer any new books featuring the older set of Doctors. I keep hoping that the BBC will one day again licence a publisher to do more novels with the earlier Doctors. In the meantime, there are the current series books and the books based on the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures.

Doctor Who books had a huge influence on me as a kid. They fuelled my interest in the television series between seasons, and in science fiction in general. Although I no longer religiously read all the books, I do still occasionally dip into the Doctor Who literary ocean. The last one I read was Doctor Who: The Story of Martha, and as I look over my shoulder to my to-be-read pile, I can see three other Doctor Who books as well as a Torchwood novel. I’m also rather looking forward to the upcoming Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by the well-known science fiction author Michael Moorcock.

Want to know more about Doctor Who books? Check out the TARDIS library, a very comprehensive listing.

So… any other Doctor Who fans out there? What are your favourite Doctor Who books? Leave a comment below.

And stay tuned for more Doctor Who, as over the next couple of posts, Literary Clutter will be visited by a few authors who have had the good fortune to play in the Doctor Who universe.

Catch ya later,  George


This week we’re having a picture book fest at Kids’ Book Capers – we’re taking time to celebrate some great Australian picturebBooks and their creators.

Unfortunately, in a single week we can only cover a small selection of wonderful Australian picture books, but we’ll be delving into the minds, the lives and the inspirations of three popular picture book authors.

Melbourne’s, Claire Saxby is the author of four picture books but she hasn’t always been a writer. After leaving school, Claire became a podiatrist, but she soon realised that all she wanted to do was write. Claire says,

One of the things I liked most about podiatry was the stories people shared.

Today, Claire is talking to us about her latest picture book, There Was an Old Sailor, a seafaring version of the rhyme, ‘There Was an Old Lady who swallowed a fly”. The Old Sailor eats some seriously unpalatable seafood, but the nonsensical text and Cassandra Allen’s wonderful illustrations are bound to get young readers giggling.

Claire was inspired to write There Was an Old Sailor by  a storyteller friend  who bemoaned the lack of ocean-based cumulative stories and said someone should write one. So Claire thought she’d have a go!

There Was an Old Sailor was published this year, but Claire has been performing it in schools and libraries for  a long time. She says,

Kids like There Was an Old Sailor because it’s absurd! They enjoy the rhythm and repetition and generally are joining in the refrains by about half way through the book.

Cassandra Allen’s illustrations paint the Old Sailor with wonderful laughing eyes, a ‘robust’ frame and Popeye forearms. He’s substantial but never frightening. There’s nothing to dislike about him really, although perhaps he’s a tad greedy.

It’s no wonder that There Was an Old Sailor is proving to be very popular. The language and absurdity give it child appeal, it’s easy and fun for parents to read and it provides opportunities for teachers to talk about the ocean, food chains, fantastic fiction and more.

Claire says she really enjoyed thinking of crazy things for the Old Sailor to do.

The hardest thing was getting the rhyme and rhythm right, so that it could be read for the first time with ease. It took time and redraft after redraft to get it right.

I asked Claire if she had any consistent themes/symbols/locations in her writing.

I hadn’t been conscious of it, but ocean or water feature strongly in many of my stories. Actually in my non fiction too. I grew up by the sea and holidayed by the sea. Many of my stories are in or around water. Themes? I don’t consciously write to a theme. Sometimes I’ll identify the theme and strengthen the story around it, but that comes in the redrafting, not in the original drafts.

Claire has had more than 30 books published and There Was an Old Sailor is her fourth picture book. Her other picture books are Ebi’s Boat, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate and A Nest For Kora.

Teacher’s notes can be found for There Was an Old Sailor on Walker Books Australia website

On Wednesday, we’re talking to Queensland author, Trudie Trewin, author of I’ve Lost My Kisses and Wibbly Wobbly Street.

The Tall Man

The Tall ManSome Canadian friends recently asked me to recommend some good books that would give them a comprehensive understanding of Australia and its treatment of Indigenous Australians. I have to admit I was pretty stumped. Partly because I’m—embarrassingly—not sure I’m across our treatment of Indigenous Australians, and partly because as someone with Irish and Scottish heritage, I’m not really the best person to speak authoritatively or advise anyone on the issues.

Walkley Award-winning journalist Chloe Hooper wrestled with similar problems in reporting on—and then writing a book about—the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody. She does not have Indigenous heritage herself but worked hard to understand and then sensitively portray the story behind the tragic (and suspicious) death of Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004.

The tall man from which the book derives its title has ominous significance in Indigenous culture, and Hooper draws parallels between this figure and the towering height of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, the man widely suspected of beating Doomadgee so viciously in his cell that Doomadgee’s liver was cleaved in two. It would be easy to cast Hurley as the two-dimensional villain, but Hooper endeavours to examine the complexity of the issues surrounding Doomadgee’s death and to embed them in the context of broader Palm Island and Indigenous Australian issues.

Six years on, and with more investigations being carried out and blame being attributed in just the past two days, the details of Doomadgee’s death remain murky. Hurley denies doing it, but the medical evidence, timelines, and eyewitness accounts suggest, if not otherwise, that there’s at least more to the story than Hurley’s telling.

Hooper has a lilting, poignant writing style that’s simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. Through it, she outlines a small, troubled community, an upstanding senior sergeant with an unblemished record, and relatives who could easily be bitter about the circumstances of Doomadgee’s death, but who are, surprisingly, unremittingly forgiving and tender. She also examines the domino-like effects of the case on the community and whether there’s any truth to the accusation of a closed-ranks cover-up by the police.

It was while reading The Tall Man that I was both amazed and embarrassed at how little I knew—know—about Indigenous Australian history. For example, that Palm Island was a sort of dumping ground for Indigenous Australians, with people from various and different regions now effectively displaced and trapped there, having lost touch with or never knowing their real homes.

The beauty of Hooper’s book is also that in spite of clearly becoming close to Doomadgee’s relatives, she somehow maintains an entirely objective stance. Hurley was offered as much opportunity to be interviewed (he declined), and she actively tries to understand the events from his perspective.

Did he do it? It’s incredibly, frustratingly hard to say. I can say, though, that The Tall Man is a subtly layered book that I’ll both re-read and recommend.


Princess Belle stepped forward and curtsied to the royal guests.

The King said, “This is my daughter, Princess Belle.”

The King of Danzania held out his hand. Forgetting she was wearing a clown trick ring, Belle shook his hand.

A zing of electricity buzzed from the ring …

Princess Clown is the new book from author Sheryl Gwyther and there’s not a dinosaur in sight (see Secrets of Eromanga).

Princess Clown is for younger readers and stars the quirky and talented Princess Belle who has aspirations to be a clown and her antics ensure that there is never a dull moment around the palace.

Not surprisingly, Princess Belle’s zest for fun doesn’t always meet with the King and Queen’s approval and causes a number of disasters in the kitchen, the school room and pretty much everywhere.

Not to be deterred, Princess Belle keeps on with her quirky and clowning ways.

When the King and Queen of Danzania come to visit with their son, Alan it looks as if Belle is headed for disaster again, but this time her merriment could just be what’s needed for the unhappy prince.

Maybe it is possible to be a princess and a clown after all.

Princess Clown is a chapter book for 7 to 8 year-olds and they will certainly be engaged by Sian Naylor’s colourful illustrations and Sheryl’s active humorous text.

The book idea came from a writing challenge the author set herself to put two words that didn’t match together, and try to write a story about them.

Sheryl says, I picked clown and princess. Before you could say ALLIBALLOO, out sprang Belle, a princess who would much rather be a clown.

The texture and brightness of the silver foil inlaid cover is bound to attract young readers’ attention and as well as being full of fun and colour, Princess Clown carries a strong theme of follow your dream no matter what.

Princess Clown is published by Blake Publishing as part of their Gigglers Blue fiction series of eight books. Princess Clown can be purchased from

The Book of Last Resort

Speaking to a particularly ebook-wary friend the other day, I was told the only reason an ebook might be useful is when travelling. Years ago, he said, he travelled with half his pack full of cassette tapes and half with books, then stuffed a few pairs of underpants around them. After he started using an MP3 player he discovered he had a lot more room. Ebooks, he said, might reclaim the other half of his luggage. Presumably with the magic of electronic reading, he can now pack more than just underpants when he goes on holidays. The world sighs in relief.

This conversation got me thinking about book scarcity. When you’re relying on finite paper resources (or finite luggage resources) there are only so many books you can carry. There isn’t much space for the book that you don’t think you’ll read (but you might). Ebook buying, on the other hand, lends itself to this kind of purchase – the book that you really think you might never get around to, but at least you have it just in case. I’ve got many friends that treat their bookshelves like I treat my ebook reader. They’re full of books they’ll probably never get around to reading, but you never know – there may come a time when you really decide to commit to A Brief History of Time, Ulysses or Infinite Jest.

This all leads in to the title of this post. The Book of Last Resort. I think you all know the one. It’s the book that has crossed over from the ‘might never read’ category into a habit you can’t kick. The book that follows you around like a bad smell. You read a chapter in 2008, two chapters in 2009 and a few pages in 2010. It’s long, it’s difficult, it’s not particularly pleasant, but it’s there – mocking you. It’s the book you do take on holidays, but it remains unread while you plough through the Stephen King or Jodi Picoult on the rented house’s bookshelf. But it will always be there, at the bottom of your bag, or somewhere in the alphabetic calamity of your ereader.

My question for this post is to own up to your Book of Last Resort, whether it be electronic or not. What book can’t you quit, and why?

Contemporary fury and historical shadows

What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked! In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels, Fury by Shirley Marr and TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow. All three are YA. But they are three very different books. And at least two of them are a notch above your average YA novel.

First up, In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels. This is a historical novel inspired by the archaeological excavations around Lonsdale Street in the city of Melbourne, the artefacts from which were displayed at a Melbourne Museum exhibit. These artefacts are ordinary things, part of everyday life in 19th century Melbourne. Each chapter of In Lonnie’s Shadow is headed by an artefact’s name, number and description, rather than by a standard chapter number and title. And somewhere within the chapter, that particular item is alluded to. It could easily have been contrived and intrusive, but the author handles it with subtlety and aplomb. In her hands it is a wonderfully original, intriguing and evocative way into the story.

Lonnie McGuiness is a teenage resident of the area known as Little Lon — an area of poverty and hard knocks, looked down on by the rest of Melbourne in 1891. Lonnie is a stable-hand who dreams of being a jockey. He gets caught up in an illegal street race, which he discovers has been fixed. It is a story of struggles and survival… but most importantly, it is a story of friendship between Lonnie and his three best mates: Pearl, a prostitute caught between two rival brothels, desperate to get away from both; Daisy, a Salvation Army do-gooder with a mysterious past who moonlights as a seamstress, making dresses for one of the brothels; and Carlo, who operates a fruit cart but dreams of opening an ice cream factory. Four lives that cross paths; four teenagers who help each other out and stick together.

There is a lot of wonderful historical detail and atmosphere in this novel. The author certainly seems to have done her research. The characters are vivid and sympathetic. The Melbourne setting is both familiar and completely alien. As a Melbournian, I found the landmarks and place names were known to me (the Exhibition Building and its iconic fountain, for instance), but the poverty and squalor of the characters lives were an eye-opener. I can see this book being well-used in schools to help bring a historic period to life in the minds of students. It’s an enthralling read.

At the other end of the scale we have the very contemporary Fury, by Shirley Marr (who, incidentally, has visited Literary Clutter in the past).

“My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.”

How’s that for a great opening line? This book had me hooked from word go and I found it very hard to put down. It’s about a high school girl and her friends who get caught up in murder. It’s also about friendship and the day-to-day dramas of teenage life in high school. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s sad. It’s a really riveting read.

It’s also particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is told with flash-backs. Eliza has been arrested and is sitting in a police station talking to anthropologist Dr Fadden, while refusing to see her mother. Slowly, over the course of several conversations, Eliza opens up and tells us about the events leading up to her arrest.

Secondly, Eliza, the main character, is thoroughly unlikeable. She is a spoiled rich kid living in a walled suburb and attending an exclusive private school. She is a bitchy, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, snobby brat who is even nasty to her own friends. Oh yeah, and she’s a complete control freak. And yet, somehow, Marr manages to elicit sympathy for this character. Maybe it’s because we get a bit of an insight into her past and how she came to be who she is. In any case, there were several moments where I found myself taking her side in conflicts — these moments were usually followed by a double-take as I reminded myself that I didn’t like Eliza and so I had no business taking her side. Hats off to the author for achieving this. It is rare for me to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

Eliza aside, there are many interesting and memorable characters in this book — from Eliza’s trio of girlfriends, Marianne, Lexi and Ella, to the sympathetic and likeable student Neil, whose past is inextricably linked with Eliza’s. Neil was easily my favourite. I’d like to tell you why, but that would necessitate spoilers. All I’ll say is that there is a great deal of subtlety to his character.

Although this book seems aimed mostly at teenage girls, I think there’s a lot in it for other readers as well. It’s a thoughtful, well constructed novel… and a great read!

Finally, there’s the science fiction, time-travel adventure TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow. I’ve already reviewed this book for the MC Review website, so if you’re interested you can go there to see what I thought of this clichéd but entertaining yarn.

So… anyone out there read anything really interesting lately? Feel free to share your literary adventures with the rest of us in the comments section below.

And tune in next time for a little bit of Doctor Who.

Catch ya later,  George

Of walnuts and whales – fitness books and the booklover

In addition to being a TV presenter, literary critic and very successful author, Clive James is a famously acerbic interviewer; witty, dry and possessed of a portly poise that allows off colour joking while looking dignified. He once interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the Governator of California, back then a muscle-bound movie action hero. They showed a clip of Arnie in the title role of Conan the Barbarian. At the time of filming he was a professional body-builder and the movie unashamedly showcased his bronzed and sculpted physique in a tiny leather loincloth.

Clive James, a large and bald man even then, put on a condescending smile and turned to Arnold. “Watching that scene, I have to say you reminded me of a condom stuffed with walnuts.”

Arnie looked him up and down, and quipped, “And you remind me of a walnut stuffed with condoms.”


Having both gone back to gym and taken up running again, I am unlucky enough to know how they both feel. I’m at that aggravating stage where my muscles have bulked but I haven’t slimmed much. So, despite being healthier, I’m no appreciably smaller and my arms are starting to look like large angry hams. Still, I intend to persevere, and add being an exercise lover to being a booklover.

While the cliches suggest that all athletes are brain-dead and all authors (and booklovers too) are flabby pale whale-like creatures from sitting indoors when they should be at the gym, the truth is that many readers enjoy a bit of sport. Walk into any bookstore or have a browse here at Boomerang and you will come across an amazing profusion of books about sport and exercise, from biographies to real-life triumphs to how-tos. Boxing, cycling, the perennially popular golf; they’re all out there and more titles come out each week. For a booklover who likes to read up on things, there’s plenty of material out there.

The question is, what was an unfit booklover to read? Cross-fit is the new media darling, apparently combining multiple movements and exercise drills for maximum “real-life” benefits (because, really, who is ever going to need to peddle at a stupidly high speed for 40 minutes on a stationary bike ?). So last week I decided to give that a whirl. No Excuses by the terrifyingly buff and permanently sun-glassed Commando Steve is on the bestseller list here at Boomerang (possibly because everyone is just too scared of him to take him off it) and it seemed like an obvious place to start.

As the name suggests, this is not fitness for sooks. Commando Steve is as engaging when talking about fitness and how he got into it as he is uncompromising when people try to wiggle out of getting their fit on. And don’t think that finishing the book  gets you off the hook – he even has a website for carrying on afterwards, with a new and entertainingly challenging routine being posted every day. And, it must be said, it looks like it works. Clive James would call the Commando Steve’s physique walnut-y, although probably not to his face.

So, all fired up and inspired, I decide to try introductory boxing which my local gym combines with a cross-fit routine into 45 minutes or so of pure, unrelenting agony. Hit the bag, hit the mat, do sit-ups, push-ups, whimper. Hit the bag, sit-ups, push-ups, offer the nice man cash to allow you to stop. More sit-ups, more push-ups. Flounder like a beached whale. Cry a bit. Hit the bag. Hit the floor.

I am not naturally talented as a boxer, it appears. My preferred method is to charge in flailing madly (and completely ineffectually) and then need a bit of a sit down. Muhammad Ali famously said “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. My interpretation of this appears to be “float like a 3-legged drunken hippo, sting like a bubble-wrapped sponge”. And cross-fit for beginners is remarkably demanding.

Still, a few days and a few classes later, I am feeling a little more limber. It may not be time to declare this booklover buff, but I’m at least on my way to feeling a bit less like a walnut. Or a whale.

Wednesday Web Sighting

We’re road-testing a new feature today: Wednesday Web Sighting. We’re hoping, every couple of Wednesdays, to point you in the direction of what’s hot on the Web this week.

Today, via our friends at Hachette, we’re giving you a sneak peak at their upcoming July promotion: Winter Flings.

Winter Flings has the best selection of eligible bachelors to get you hot under the covers. With 31 books single and ready to mingle in July, you’re guaranteed instant satisfaction, whenever you want.

The Winter Flings website (click here)  features:

–       Every day there will be a new book to ‘date’ (read)

–       Perfect Date Profiling – Answer some basic questions to tell us about your likes and dislikes and be ‘matched’ with the perfect Winter Flings book!

–       Rate your ‘date’ – write a book review

–       Be a Matchmaker – Apply through the site to become a Winter Flings Match Maker. For just one year, the best 10 applicants will receive advanced Winter Flings books to read before anyone else. All you have to do is agree to read a book and write a short review to help match-make other Winter Flingers!

Daily Competition: Every day in July we are giving away 10 copies of the Winter Flings book of the day. All you need to do is register online and answer a very simple question to be in the running! There will be a different question each day to win each book in July.

Win the Ultimate Winter Flings (Night In) Pack: Total prize value = $2000

Enter every day to qualify to win the Ultimate Winter Flings (Night In) Pack! The pack includes:

–       Stack of books to the value of $250;

–       Hot chocolate;

–       Mega bag of marshmallows and chocolates;

–       Beauty products (face & eye masks, moisturiser and more).

–       And to top it all off – an iPad!

For more information, visit the official website and the Facebook page.

Spotted something online you want to share with other Boomerang Blog readers next Wednesday? 


Today Sue Walker is back at Kids’ Book Capers to talk about how she wrote her new junior fiction book, Arnie Avery.

Sue, can you tell us what your new book is about?

Arnie Avery is about your typical 13 year old boy.  He has a sense of humour, he likes riding his bike, and he likes being with his friends.  But he also has a few serious problems – one is his family, and the other is the school bully, Jacko.

I think the story demonstrates that no matter how tough things might seem…you can turn your life around.

What age groups is it for?

The story is suitable for children 8-12 years, but the content and style would also be appropriate for older, reluctant readers.

Why will kids like it?

I think kids (particularly boys) enjoy stories with action and characters they can relate to.  Arnie Avery has both, as well as a sprinkling of humour and a couple of twists that should keep kids reading.  Plus there’s a mix of strong male and female characters.

What do you like about your main character, Arnie?

13 year old Arnie is funny and he’s small for his age, but what I like most about him is his courage. Even though he’s going through a tough time, he overcomes his fears to triumph in the end.

Are there any teacher’s notes, or associated activities with the book?

Yes.  Teachers can find notes on the Walker Books website (

Some important themes and values in Arnie Avery include – treating people fairly, friendship and loyalty, and family support.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Arnie’s distinctive voice speaks directly to young readers and kids will quickly be drawn into his world.

The problems Arnie faces are serious, but he tackles them head-on with a strength kids will admire.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

The thing I enjoyed most was developing the relationship between Arnie and his best friend Belly.

They’re great mates and they made me laugh often, especially Belly with his huge appetite.

Sue Walker has written almost twenty books for children. You can find out more about Sue and her books at

The Tower of eBabel Part Two

One commenter on my last post raised an interesting point that I’d like to draw out as a follow-up post.

A question – why are publishers ‘unlikely to stop using’ DRM, even if it doesn’t benefit them so much, as you indicate? I agree, getting rid of DRM is the way to go, but it won’t happen if publishers AND tech companies have some sort of stranglehold on the whole thing. What’s in it for the publishers?

I think DRM is a sop for publishers’ (and authors’) fears about selling their books digitally. Technology companies know better than anyone else that DRM is an ineffective strategy for stopping piracy. But they are motivated by reasons other than content protection – that is, if their particular brand of DRM is successful in dominating the industry and becoming a standard, they stand to benefit hugely. Music, movie and book content providers love DRM as well, because it is a straightforward, simple and relatively cheap way to oppose piracy. If an ebook ends up on a filesharing website, they can say “Well, we put DRM on it, so what else could we have done?” Meanwhile, DRM makes it difficult and confusing for consumers to buy digital products, locks consumers in to a single retailer and platform, and fails to stop piracy all at the same time.

I’m not saying publishers don’t have the interests of their authors at heart when they support DRM. They do. I believe many of them genuinely believe DRM is an effective deterrent to piracy as well. But I think they’re wrong – and here’s why.

Publishing is a black art. People feel their way by instinct, publishing books that they get the sense will work in the market. As publishers are fond of saying – publishing books is not like making sausages. Part of the reason the success or failure of a book is difficult to predict is that nobody really knows how people find out about books. For some reason, or for many reasons, some books just work. They are spoken about, shared around, bought second-hand and distributed in libraries far more than they are purchased outright. Bryce Courtenay admitted the other day that he gives away two thousand copies of each of his books to people who recognise him on the street. It has certainly been an effective method of getting people reading (and buying) his books – he’s frequently the top-selling local author in the charts.

The point is, we don’t really know what would happen if you took away people’s ability to share books. There is currently no metric for measuring this kind of legal book-sharing. No one keeps track of the sale of second-hand books in a way that publishers use. Nobody knows how many hands an average book passes through in its lifespan without money ever changing hands. But the more successful a book is, the more it is shared and passed around. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but the point is – publishers don’t know.

There’s an incredible amount of obstinacy about digital rights management in the industry. I had one digital person in publishing the other day equate my stance on DRM with support for piracy. Partly this comes from the way that digital piracy is measured. Generally every ebook downloaded illegally is counted as a lost sale. But this is clearly not the case – it’s impossible to determine how many of the people illegally downloading a book would have bought it if it wasn’t available for free. Another digital publishing guru a few weeks ago claimed that DRM might not stop the sort of piracy that happens on filesharing websites, but it stops individual people emailing their legitimately purchased ebook to a group of friends. At best, I don’t really see this as a realistic proposition – are people who aren’t savvy enough to use filesharing websites going to be savvy enough to email book files around? All the Luddite ebook readers I know have had to be shown how to load books onto their ereaders five or six times before getting the hang of it, and still forget on occasion. I also don’t think people actually want to pirate books. If a book is available legitimately for a reasonable price and it’s easy to purchase – most people who have the money and the inclination will buy it. Those who don’t wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. In the worst case scenario – where a homespun email filesharing cabal springs into being – is this really the kind of sharing publishers want to stamp out?

I don’t believe there is any way to stop digital piracy. There will always be those willing to crack DRM and distribute intellectual property illegally. The only way to combat it effectively is to make digital product cheap and easier to acquire than pirated content. As the Tower of eBabel gets bigger and more companies start selling ebooks with different kinds of DRM and in different formats, the job for the average consumer gets more and more difficult. It won’t be long before it’s easier to download a pirated book than to buy a legitimate one (if this hasn’t happened already). DRM is just ass-covering, pure and simple – it’s lazy technology, and it has the potential to lock a generation of readers into buying all of their books from one company – who will skim a profit off the top for doing very little.

Publishers are the only ones in a position to change this situation. They can harp on all they want about a standard ebook format – but the format won’t matter a bit if every retailer is using a different type of DRM. As it has been said by people far smarter than me: obscurity is a far greater threat to books than piracy.

Book-Recommending Family Folklore

The Life of PiThe ongoing Crawford family folklore is that someone—most likely my brother—made off with my un-cracked, un-dog-eared, un-read copy of Fahrenheit 451. But there’s a lesser known but equally important one. That is, that my brother is no longer allowed to recommend books for me to read.

I used to accept recommendations from him*, I really did. But a very famous, very popular book he once recommended to me changed all that. So was it a book of the ilk the uber-violent American Psycho? No, it was the more palatable Life of Pi.

I know, I know, it won the Booker and has sold a bazillion copies around the world. I know that most people are blown away by the simply executed fable about a boy who, along with a tiger, is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. I know that my brother certainly isn’t the only one to like this book. And I can concede that, although I absolutely hated it, I did love the concept and Yann Martel’s writing style.

American PsychoSo why did I—and do I—hate the Life of Pi so much? The animals all—**spoiler alert for those of you who are in the minority who haven’t yet read it**—get eaten.

As a super squeamish, tree- and animal-hugging vegetarian who is likely to faint at the mere hint of gory scene, the animals’ deaths put me off big time. I know you’re saying that it’s fiction, that it’s an analogy, and that no animals were actually harmed in the making of this book (and forthcoming movie), but for some reason the eating disturbed me. For the record, I read the whole book, which is why I feel confident about commenting. And my brother can attest to the tremulous, incredulous phone call he received when I finished it, which opened not with ‘Hello’ but with ‘You didn’t tell me they got eaten’.

The running joke is, of course, why I didn’t stop reading. But, as I told my brother, I kept thinking that that was it, the survival of the fittest was over, and it would be smooth reading from thereon in.

And then another animal would get eaten.

But the point of this blog isn’t whether or not I should have been upset by fictitious animals getting munched. It’s that you can never really know whether someone will feel the same way as you do about a book you recommend as a good read.

I’m always conscious of ‘the Life of Pi incident’, as it’s now known, and whether one of my recommendations might turn out similarly disastrously (and ultimately funny). Was the book as good as I remember it being, I wonder. Was the writing outstanding it just or was it where I was at when I was reading it that made it good? And is there anything in the book that I wouldn’t notice or be upset by, but that someone else potentially would?

To cover myself, I suss out people’s reading habits before proffering suggestions, relate the book to similar titles, and offer blanket disclaimers about how I liked it, but it’s been a while since I read it, it might be somewhat dated now, and so on. But that makes book recommending sound a little too serious. More often than not, whether recommending books or having them recommended to me, I ask one simple question: ‘Do any animals get eaten?’

*and it should be noted that I still actively seek out recommendations from others

Angels in YA Literature (Part 2) – Closer to Godliness

An article in The Guardian, published April 2010, discusses Philip Pullman as a possible trendsetter for the current onslaught of angels in YA fiction. One of the voices of the article claims that “on the ladder that goes up from the mushroom to God, angels are one rung above us”– angels are seen as superior to vampires because they are superior to humans and thus, are “more fertile ground” for the inspired author and the greedy YA reader.

In the second book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman introduces a pair of supernatural lovers in the form of homosexual angels, who meet with the tween protagonists in one of the parallel worlds featuring prominently in the trilogy. Whilst the angels are not major characters in the series, their presence is significant not only for the connotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost (Pullman cites the story as one of his major inspirations), but also because their description is a massive departure from previous religion connotations of winged beings. The ‘nouveau angels’ from Pullman’s books in their own unusual manner and description express a need for companionship, and feelings of desire and love – previously human-only traits.

Angels in YA literature, as touched on in Part 1 have become like teen humans, hormones-a-racing and usually with something to prove. It should come as no surprise then, that teen protagonists in these supernatural novels are now being written by their contemporaries – teens themselves.

On the homefront, Alexandra Adornetto, at the tender age of 17 has three books to her name from when she signed a publishing deal with publishing giants HarperCollins, and is now embarking on an entirely different journey with Halo, due for release later this year. The twist lies in the way the angels in this book are portrayed – they’re not the tortured, dark supernaturals we’ve come to expect, but rather have their own more ‘heavenly’ reasons for investing themselves in earth’s affairs.

But Alexandra’s not the only teen Aussie on the brink of international angel fiction fame. When I first picked up Charlotte McConaghy’s Arrival (Book 1, Strangers of Paragor) mid-2009, I’ll admit it was total cover lust, and not much else. It was only when I’d finished reading, and completely fallen in love with the characters and the world-building of Paragor, that I discovered the author finished writing the book when she was 16! The heavily-anticipated second book in the series by Miss McConaghy, aptly titled Descent, has been released this month. While angels play a fairly small part in Arrival, there’s the promise of more angel action in the later books, portraying angels as the hero messengers – not so far from its original religious context as one would expect from a teen growing up in the age of Twilight, Hush,Hush and Fallen.

The overwhelming feeling one garners from these books is that new Australian YA angels in fiction don’t fit the Edward Cullen mould. They seem, strangely, to be moving away from the tortured and tragic Byronic teen love interest. With Aussie teens themselves weighing in on the heavenly side of the angel craze, the character of the angel in literature lends itself to a new interpretation – is the craving for angel fiction in YA circles not in fact a generation looking for the new vampire, but rather the evolving natural rebellion of a generation in need of a character closer to God?