More short stories

I love short stories so much, that one post just wasn’t enough. So here I am, with my second post about them.

Blackwater DaysLast time I mentioned Neil Gaiman and Peter Ustinov as two of my favourite story writers. Let me now add Aussie author Terry Dowling to that list. He writes science fiction and dark fantasy with an absolutely unique style and approach. I have had to read some of his stories a second or even third time before finally having things click into place. Don’t let this put you off. Each and every story of his that I have read has been well worth the effort. Many of his stories are connected, dealing with the same characters and settings. He is probably best know for his Tom Tyson stories, amazingly vivid tales sets in a future Australian landscape, collected in four volumes — Rynosseros, Blue Tyson, Twilight Beach and Rynemonn. But my favourite of his stories are those collected in Blackwater Days, all set in an around the Blackwater Psychiatric Hospital, which begin with the following line:

“When shadows move in Casna Park and the wind is in the trees, I can’t help but see it as the most terrifying place in the world.”

To find out more about Terry Dowling, check out his website.

Although my latest book is a novel, I began my writing career with short stories. My very first book, published way back in 1999 (and now sadly out of print) was a collection of YA stories about life in high school, Life, Death and Detention. Even my current novel, Gamers’ Quest, is connected to short stories. It is based on “Game Plan”, a short story published in Trust Me!, a YA anthology edited by Paul Collins. After the novel was complete, I went on to write a further two stories about some of the characters, for the book’s website.

Last year, I had a story called “Photographic Memory” appear in the first issue of [untitled]. Early this year I had the great pleasure of launching the second issue. Now, as [untitled] prepares for its third issue, publisher Blaise van Hecke has dropped by to tell us a little about this mag.

I’d thought about starting up a writers’ magazine but soon put the idea away as being something too hard for one person. But when Les Zigomanis came to me at the end of 2008 and made the suggestion, I was more than willing to give it a go.

[untitled] was born as a forum for storytelling and a way for new and emerging writers to have a voice. This is our mission statement:

[untitled] has no pretentious literary aspirations. Nor is it on a crusade to ennoble some ethereal literary collective, or enrich the community – literary or otherwise. It doesn’t really want to change the world – sorry, but it doesn’t. Because for as unique and enlightened and even sublime as that endeavour would seem, it’s all been done before, it’s all been tried before.

It just wants to be about stories.

It wants you to forget every manner in which you’ve been conditioned, and remember what it’s like to read, to enjoy, and to escape.

The physical form of [untitled] is what has set it apart from other writers’ magazines that are on the market. Firstly, it isn’t actually a magazine because it’s pocket-sized and it has no articles or non-fiction. Call it a journal if you will.

I like to call it a pocketbook.

[untitled] is run purely on the goodwill of talented editors, led by Les Zigomanis, who give up their valuable time to read submissions and give diligent editing advice to new writers, all for no remuneration. We hope this changes as our reputation grows. With two issues out in the marketplace, we’ve come a long way in a short time. Our goals are to be able to pay the editing team and of course the writers for their stories.

In the meantime, the printing of the publication is funded by our business, Busybird Publishing & Design. Kev (my husband) and I do the entire layout and design. It’s very much been a matter of ‘pay the printer and cross our fingers that we make the money back’.

All that hard work is very gratifying when we get continued respect and comments on the publication (both its physical form and the quality of the stories). This is what Kalinda Ashton, recent recipient of the SMH Best Young Novelist 2010 and author of The Danger Game, has to say about it:

“[untitled] is a desperately-needed place and space for short stories at a time in Australia when most publications are eschewing that form. Courageous, curious and an admirable project”.

Now that we’ve had a taste for the publishing racket, we’ve got other ideas for future projects. Currently, we’re writing up a proposal for a book called ‘Journey’ which will be a collection of stories from men and women who’ve had experience with breast cancer. We’ll be calling for submissions soon and we’re aiming to have this out in October 2011.

Thanks Blaze. For more info about [untitled] and for submission guidelines check out the website.

And so, dear readers, this brings us to the end of the short story posts. All that’s left for me to do is ask you who your favourite short story writers are? Leave a comment and share your opinions.

And tune in next time to find out what I’ve been reading lately.

Catch ya later,  George


Sue Walker is the author of numerous titles for children. Her book Tilly’s Treasure is part of the award-winning Aussie Nibbles series, and Best Friends is a Children’s Book Council Notable Book.

Many of Sue’s poems, articles, and short stories have appeared in children’s magazines, and her books have featured in the Premier’s Reading Challenge.  Sue lives in Sydney with her husband, three children, and a scruffy white dog.

Some writers are born, others don’t discover they are writers until later in life.

Sue Walker is one of those people who has ‘always been a writer.

As a child I kept a journal and I loved writing letters to friends, but it wasn’t until I had children and was reintroduced to children’s books, that I started taking writing seriously.

Initially I was drawn to picture books because of their combination of rhythmic language and beautiful illustrations.  They’re still my focus, but I’ve written chapter books, non-fiction, and more recently, a junior novel.

Sue’s favourite books as a child were ones about children who went on exciting adventures. She has been on many adventures herself including climbing the world’s highest mountain and diving in the ocean with sharks. But Sue says,

The most exciting thing I’ve ever done is writing stories for children.

Like many writers, Sue had a number of jobs  before she became an author. She says her first job was horrid, working at a cemetery, making labels to put on boxes of ashes.

Sue’s junior novel, Arnie Avery was released by Walker Books this month. Although she is the author of around 20 books, she says that Arnie Avery holds a special place in her heart.

Little snippets of my own childhood seem to have found their way into Arnie’s story.  An important scene at the pool came from my past, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Sue spent some time in Malaysia as a child and went to preschool on the edge of a jungle. At lunch time she used to watch the monkeys swinging in the trees. Later, when the family moved to Goulburn in NSW she spent a lot of time exploring the bush with her brother and sister and their dog, Mitzie. Clearly she has always been a writer and an adventurer at heart.

On Wednesday, Sue is coming back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her new junior fiction novel Arnie Avery. She’ll talk about the inspiration behind her book and what she enjoyed most about writing it.

Dangerous Expectations

Expectations, we all have them. With new releases – movies, books, albums, you name it – comes anticipation, and with that anticipation, expectations of quality. Sometimes, our anticipation is so great that we expect more than we’ve been promised, and we’re eventually let down by the final product. Even if the product is good, if it’s not as good as we thought it’d be, well, we feel let-down, and the product seems worse as a result.

Sometimes, our expectations are met. Sometimes, they’re surpassed. I recently went to a pre-release screening of Toy Story 3, it matched the hype, and that was so fulfilling. It added to my satisfaction that my expectations were blown out of the water.

Sometimes, our expectations are not met. Soemtimes, they’re not our own expectations, but manufactured expectations. I recently sat down with the much-buzzed-about Beautiful Malice. And by ‘much-buzzed-about’, I mean Rebecca James has been called ‘the next J. K. Rowling’. Hers is the million-dollar manuscript – so, I was expecting something truly spellbinding, and rightly so. The hype had guided the way I approached the book, much like a good blurb or cover teases at a book’s contents, the way Beautiful Malice had been sold as The Next Big Thing shaped the way I read it.

It’s why, when I reached the back cover, I found myself asking, ‘That‘s it?’

While I read Beautiful Malice, instead of being 100% focused on the narrative, I kept looking out for ‘truly spellbinding’, and consequently… well, the Beautiful Malice I had imagined wasn’t the Beautiful Malice I eventually read.

The book’s hype hurt it. It literally stood in its own hype’s shadow, and honestly, comparisons to J.K. Rowling didn’t help.

But you can’t blame a publicist for trying. I wonder, though, if someone was given this book blind, with no expectations, no hype, no ‘next J. K. Rowling’ spin, what they would have thought of it? What would they have seen? And as the publicity machine works tirelessly around Rebecca James, you have to wonder, what does she think of all this?

Have you read Beautiful Malice? Has it lived up to the hype?

Boomerang at the 2010 CBCA Imagine This! Imagine That! Conference

Boomerang Books is proud to announce that this weekend, not only is a member of our Boomerang Books blogging team speaking at the sold-out 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch Conference, but we’ll be live-blogging the two-day event – with scheduled appearances by the big names in Australian children’s writing, including Libby Gleeson, Glenda Millard, Libby Hathorn, Jackie French, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas and Shaun Tan.

For program information, click here. Sad you can’t make it? Itching to ask a particular author a question? Well, send me an email, and I’ll not only be your eyes and ears at the Conference, but I’ll be your mouth.

BOOK TRAILER: The Devil’s Tears by Steven Horne

1975: When bloody war ravages his beloved Portuguese Timor, Cesar da Silva flees with his wife and children from a country in flames. But in their desperate bid for freedom, amidst the chaos and devastation, Cesar’s young family becomes separated. Believing his wife and two daughters dead, Cesar finds passage to the Portugal of his heritage and later to Australia.

In occupied Timor, Cesar’s wife is alive, but her troubles are far from over. Hunted by a sadistic warlord and with no way to get a message to the outside world, she despairs she will never see her husband again…

1997: More than twenty years later, a young Australian journalist and her photographer are drawn to the killing fields of Timor and discover the terrible suffering of the Timorese people at the hands of a brutal foreign invader. They are compelled to expose the truth to the world, but in their quest for justice, they become entangled in the da Silva family tragedy, placing them all in the gravest of danger…

Powerful, moving and enthralling, The Devil’s Tears announces the arrival of a bold new voice in Australian fiction.

“A captivating story of bravery and honour in a time of war, The Devil’s Tears will grip you from the first page to the last.”

 – Peter Watt

Apples and Eternally Popular Penguins

Penguin Mugs

If ever there were a publishing house you’d want to hug and then delve into the minds-behind of, it would have to be Penguin, the publishing world equivalent of Apple computers. And if I were another publishing house looking out how to stay afloat in an increasingly competitive and digitised industry, I’d give anything to be a fly on the Penguin offices’ wall. Because far from being rendered obsolete by technological advances and the changing needs of readers, Penguin continues to not only innovate, but to do it at affordable costs to the reader.

Case in point: Popular Penguins.

A budget range of titles with orange covers don’t sound as though they’d set the reading world alight, but the iconic Popular Penguins offer us many lessons. They tell us that readers like books at affordable prices and that cover art doesn’t have to be expensive—it just has to be simple and well designed.

In fact, it’s precisely because of Popular Penguins that I don’t buy (pardon the pun) the oft-trotted consumer (read: non-reader) complaint that books in Australia are too expensive. At just $9.99 per title and with a bunch of different titles from Ian Fleming’s James Bond books to Jane Austen’s classics to the books you know you should have read but haven’t, the fiction- and non-fiction-spanning Popular Penguins cater to all reading tastes.

They’ve also made reading cool. With their bright orange covers replete with cute penguin logo, Popular Penguins are the books you’re happy to be seen reading in public or to house on your bookshelf. At the same ingenious time, they’re the books you’re not too worried about, that you don’t regard too precious to stuff in your handbag or replace should someone (and I maintain my innocence here) make off with your copy.

In 15 days, Popular Penguins will be celebrating 75 years of bringing excellent books to readers at affordable prices. They’ll be doing so by adding 75 new titles to the already extensive list to bring the total number to a whopping 174.

Cosied up on the couch with a Popular Penguin and a hot chocolate served up in a Popular Penguin-style mug (I proudly have one with George Orwell’s 1984) is akin to a slice of book reading and book- and merchandise-innovating heaven. It also reminds me that there’s absolutely no excuse—in fact, 174 no excuses—for any of us not to be reading.

Mini Mountains of Books

4-Hour Work WeekLogic would tell you that you’re buying too many books when you literally look at the latest package that’s arrived and are genuinely mystified as to which books it contains. Of course, it makes it a little like Christmas every weekday as you heft and shake the packages to determine their contents before finally tearing them open.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned—that is, apart from the fact that a little bit of credit card space combined with an oh-so-easy-to-use online bookstore is a dangerous thing—it’s that the more books you buy (or burgle), the more you want.

My bookshelves are overflowing and my bedside table, my coffee table, and floor boast mini mountains of books that I have to shift or shuffle around in order to operate. I don’t The Gamephysically have the space to store more books. Nor do I have the time to get through the ones I already have. Yet I’m absolutely itching to buy more.

Currently on my completely disparate wish list are:

Neil Strauss’s The Game (not because I’m intending to pick up, but because I want to know why this book is perennially popular but furtively obtained)

– The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris (not because I don’t want to work—I love my job—but because I’m seriously wondering if that would enable me to fit in more reading time until someone invents a time machine)

– and Dr Catherine Hamlin’s The Hospital By The River (which documents how she and her husband set up the world’s only and life-changing fistula hospital—‘nuff said).

The Hospital By The RiverUnbridled book buying is not a bad habit to have—I can think of much worse ways to spend my money and use up my time—but I also can’t explain it. You can consume only so much chocolate or sugar before your body says ‘no more’ (and yes, I’m fully aware that bucket loads can be ingested before you get to that point and often wonder who chocolate manufacturers really think they’re kidding when they call their giant, easily-consumed-by-one-person-in-one-sitting blocks of chocolate ‘family’ size).

But there’s no such limit for book buying or reading. You get sick of one book? You change to another. You get tired? You have a power nap before returning to it. You get motion sick on public transport? You buy the book in a digital format so you can read it with your ears. Regardless of the circumstances, you keep buying and you keep reading. Is that a bad thing? I think not. Particularly if said reading is accompanied by a family-sized block of chocolate.


Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac travelled thousands of kilometres to research their latest book, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash

I caught up with them at Dromkeen National Centre for Picture Book Art, in Victoria recently and chatted with them about the book’s amazing journey.

Mark admits to having a long-held fascination with Ned Kelly, culminating in him purchasing a replica armour which has held pride of place in their house for the last four years.

But Mark says his interest in the famous bushranger was heightened when there was an article in a Broome newspaper about Ned Kelly’s missing skull.

The story of the green sash has been mentioned in passing in a number of books about the notorious bushranger, but has not had quite the same focus as in Mark and Frané’s Ned Kelly and the Green Sash.

The story goes that when he was a young boy, Ned Kelly rescued a classmate from a flooded river. The grateful boy’s parents awarded Ned the green hero’s sash.

Clearly, Mark and Frané share a deep fascination for Ned Kelly. The story of the green sash was brought to Mark’s attention in Ned Kelly, The Authentic Illustrated History by K McMenomy.

For Mark, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash started with a lot of questions. Where did Ned Kelly hide his green sash? Where was it now? These questions took Mark and Frané from Western Australia to the Benalla Pioneer Costume Museum in Victoria where Mark was able to look upon the actual green sash for the first time.

Mark was able to get copies of Ned Kelly’s letters, and he says that having real documents really brings the story to life.

After finding the green sash, Mark says his next major dilemma was “How are we going to balance the story and show that Ned Kelly was a criminal. The Green Sash was such a symbol of his duality – of someone who was both a hero and a villain.”

Equally as fascinating as the story of Ned Kelly is the way that Mark and Frané work together on a project.

Mark says that he writes with Frané in mind. He doesn’t mind taking words out if that will make the story work better with Franés illustrations. But they  agree that the input works both ways, and Frané says she uses a lot of Mark’s research in creating pictures for the story.

Both Mark and Frané love the research process. Mark says, “It’s all about finding the story and walking in that person’s shoes – filling up your senses with detail from that era and time.”

Whether you feel fascination or fear when it comes to Ned Kelly, you can’t help but appreciate the meticulous research and the passion behind the story of Ned Kelly and the Green Sash – out now from Walker Books Australia and UK.

I was totally engrossed from start to finish.

You can view the book trailer of  Ned Kelly and the Green Sash at


Alex Rider competition closes TODAY! So get your entries in to


Jenny Mounfield interviewed at:

Chrissie Michaels interviewed at: and part three:


Hazel Edwards interviewed on Australian Women Online:

George Ivanoff interview at:

Short stories

I love short stories! I love reading them and I love writing them. So I’m going to take a couple of posts to blather on about them.

I adore the way a short story can force a writer to cut through the waffle and get straight to the core of the plot. With a novel you have umpteen thousand words to create your world, set the scene, introduce your characters and slowly unravel your plot. But not so with the short story, because… well… it’s short.  🙂

I’ve read a lot of short stories over the years and there are a few writers who really stand out for me as masters of the form. Neil Gaiman, for instance. Yes, I know, he’s best known for his novels and comics, but it is as a short story writer that I believe he truly excels. “Murder Mysteries”, a story about the angel Raguel, who was “the Vengeance of the Lord”, is one that comes to mind. But my absolute favourite is “Nicholas Was…” — a Christmas story with a difference, that is exactly 100 words long.

“Nicholas Was…
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.”

If you’re able to locate a copy, I’d highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

The late, great Sir Peter Ustinov is probably best remembered as an actor, but he was also a masterful writer of short stories. Loaded with wit, compassion, interesting characters and an incredible depth of knowledge, his stories are a joy to read. “Add a Dash of Pity” (the title story from his collection Add a Dash of Pity) is my favourite of his stories, and here’s my favourite sentence from it:

“He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.”

Short and ScaryAs a writer, one of the things that I love about short stories is that I’m able to dip in to many subjects and many genres. Just look at my three most recently published short stories.

“Trees”, published in Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur, is a YA horror about two teens in a forest of vengeful trees.

“Feather-light”, published in Belong, edited by Russell B Farr, is a fantasy about a straight guy who falls for a gay angel who has been exiled from exile.

“Future Dreaming”, published in Under the Weather: Stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman, is a kids’ story about climate change and how the actions of individuals can influence the future.

A number of years ago, my wife and I went on a holiday to Egypt. While there, we climbed Mt Sinai and visited St Katherine’s monastery, situated at the foot of the mountain. This visit inspired me to write a science fiction story, called “The Last Monk”, which was published in 2002 in issue 30 of Aurealis – Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m very happy to say that this magazine, now at issue 42, is still going strong. I invited Stuart Mayne, the current editor, to tell us a little about the mag.

Aurealis is Australia’s most successful science fiction and fantasy (SF) magazine. When the first issue appeared in September 1990 something began that had never been produced before in Australia: a professional mass market SF magazine. Before Aurealis there were hundreds of thousands of avid SF readers in Australia, but the amount of Australian SF they were reading was miniscule. Aurealis has changed that, and launched dozens of new writers, who have become established writers. Now, most of the major publishers in Australia have a local SF list. In addition, the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction were established in 1995 and have become the premier SF awards, highly prized by producers and publishers alike.

Aurealis began when Stephen Higgins and Dirk Strasser met in a short story writing class. Stephen and Dirk shared an interest in science fiction and fantasy in the face of a teacher and fellow students who, at best, viewed them with a total lack of comprehension. Then, one evening, sitting, around one said, ‘I’ve always wanted to start a science fiction and fantasy magazine’ to which the other replied, ‘Me too.’ That was the moment when Aurealis was born. This year Aurealis celebrates a record breaking twenty years of continuous publication: a remarkable contribution to the Australian literary landscape.

Aurealis focuses on publishing Australian SF. It provides Australian SF writers with a steady, reliable market and continues to play a defining and pivotal role in the promotion and acceptance of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror. We have kicked off the careers of many bestselling speculative fiction authors, including Michael Pryor, Shaun Tan and our beloved former Art Director, Trudi Canavan.

Thanks for stopping by, Stuart. To find out more about Aurealis, and to see their submission guidelines, check out their website.

And tune in next time for some more short stories.

Catch ya later,  George

The Tower of eBabel

The problem with new technology is that it costs a lot of money. Technology companies frequently spend years and years without making a profit, shaping their business model, trying to ‘monetise’ their creation. Amazon, for example, was launched in 1997, but didn’t become profitable until 2002. Facebook only became profitable last year, and Twitter still doesn’t make money, despite all the people that use it. Nonetheless, when these technologies take off they often make a lot of money.

Most big technology companies have become massive by creating platforms that have ended up being the de facto standard. A platform, in the technology sense of the word (rather than a raised piece of floor), is the system used to manage certain kinds of content. Facebook, for example, is a social media platform. The iTunes Music Store is a platform for music. Amazon’s Kindle is a platform for digital books. The most useful outcome for consumers is that a single platform ends up delivering a single type of content. In the days of physical media platforms – CDs, DVDs, audio cassettes – there was a certain amount of disconnect between the company that owned the rights to the platform and the people who sold the content.

Digital media has changed this. Nowadays, the iPod and the iTunes Music Store are synonymous with buying music digitally. Amazon would like to make the Kindle synonymous with ebooks. Apple would probably like to do the same with their iBooks software on the iPad (and as of this week, the iPhone and iPod Touch too). People in the industry call this eBabel – as each new company enters the fray, they bring with them a different format with a unique type of DRM. This situation is absolutely horrible for consumers. People are locked into a single platform with their purchases because digital media cannot be transferred between competing platforms. I’m not going to try and stretch this into an awkward physical media metaphor – there is no equivalent. It’s just bad – frustrating, confusing and annoying for readers.

It’s easy to argue that a single format will win out in the end – it’s what has tended to happen with physical media (we have Bluray instead of HD-DVD, and had VHS instead of Betamax), but with digital media the result of a single format ‘winning out’ is dramatically different. The only settled digital format so far (digital video is still up in the air, as is the format for ebooks) is Apple’s iTunes platform. This model has succeeded by Apple being in complete control of the platform and the content delivery. In order to use the iTunes Music Store and the iTunes platform, you need to use an iPod. In order to use an iPod, you need to use the iTunes Music Store.

In the future, it’s easy to foresee a company like Apple or Amazon being the only place you can buy ebooks from. They control the hardware and the software – the platform and the content. Is this what we want for ebooks? I think the answer is an emphatic no (though by all means, please disagree in the comments!). Unfortunately there is no clear solution to this problem. Getting rid of DRM would be a nice start, but publishers are very unlikely to stop using it – even though it demonstrably benefits technology companies far more than it does content providers. I’d love to hear what you guys think – sound off in the comments if you have an idea or even just an opinon. How do you want to get your books in the future?

Interview with Charlaine Harris (Part 2) – Angels Versus Vampires, and Life After Sookie

So we’re back with Charlaine Harris, chatting about her phenomenal bestsellers widely known as the Sookie Stackhouse novels, with her tenth in the series, Dead in the Family, released in Australia this month. Charlaine will be coming to Oz towards the end of September as a special guest at the Hub Productions True Blood events in Sydney and Melbourne. She’ll also be doing an author tour after that, details to be confirmed. To stay up-to-date on the haps, you can check out Hub Productions website, or Charlaine’s website.

Ok, cough it up Charlaine – where do you get the inspiration for all the hot love-interest supes (supernaturals)? Are Bill, and Sam and Eric all based on friends of yours? And I warn you that if you answer ‘yes’ be prepared for an invasion of lusty readers to your home town (Bill’s mine, ladies)!

Like most love interests in novels, all the men and women have a kernel of truth in them and a lot of fantasy.

A rather large perceived difference between most vampire novels out at the moment, and your vampire series, is that the female protagonist usually has to struggle with the temptation of becoming a paranormal being. I can’t see Sookie as a vampire myself, but do you think she could ever be truly tempted?

I think health and eternal life are always a bit tempting, but Sookie will never become a vampire.

The reader, in a way, has some of Sookie’s telepathic ability because we’re subjected to Sookie’s thoughts, emotions, dreams, weaknesses. Was there a particular reason you employed this voyeuristic technique?

It seemed the best way to tell Sookie’s story. I love knowing her so well.

You’ve been writing mysteries for decades, in fact you’ve been writing The Southern Vampire Mysteries series for about ten years or so…any pieces of advice for budding writers?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. That’s the advice so many budding writers can’t seem to follow.

What books are on your bedside table?

I have a whole bookcase beside my bed, and it’s full of things I want to read.

What do you think about the whispers around the traps that angels are the new vampires? Will vampires outlive the angel trend, or do you think there’s enough room for both in the supernatural world?

First it was zombies, now angels. I think the writers who were just writing vampires because they were current will start writing angels or something else. There’s nothing wrong with that. W e all have to make a living. I’m fortunate enough to be able to write what I want, at least at the moment!

And what’s in store for Charlaine Harris after she finishes the Sookie Stackhouse Novels? A trip to some tropical island to soak up the sun (far away from vampires), perhaps?

I have no idea. I’ve been writing other books alternately with the Sookie series, and I’m sure I’ll write other things. I love Sookie, so I don’t want to keep writing her if I have nothing to say about her. I’ll stop when I feel that way.

Charlaine, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions. I think I speak for a huge number of readers when I say we’re all super excited to have you visit our shores, and hope you have an absolutely fabulous time while you’re here in September. And if you get to meet any, I hope our Aussie vampires live up to your standards!

I’m sure they’ll be delightful.


Actually, you’re right about that Charlaine. A big, mushy thanks to Charlaine Harris, and Hachette Australia for the interview opportunity.


Today, 15 year-old George is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about why he is a big Alex Rider fan.

George, what do you like about the Alex Rider Books?

They’re action packed, fast paced well written. They have a good storyline and all the gadgets are really good.

Each book has a unique storyline. Interesting is places he goes, what gadgets he gets, why the bad guy is doing what he is doing?

What do you like most about the Alex Rider books?

I really like the characters – they are enjoyable – each has their own sense of humour.

Some characters are believable and some aren’t. I’m hard pressed to believe that there is a fourteen year old spy but that doesn’t worry me – doesn’t stop me from enjoying the stories.

What is your favourite gadget?

The Cannondale Bad Boy Bike because it has lots of features, lots of things it can do – bells and whistles.


The Cannondale Bad Boy Bike is designed and built for speed, safety and reliability. it has an aluminium frame and special tyres. To deter pursuit the bike has a smokescreen, an oil dispenser and two heat-seeking missiles. The seat post acts as an emergency ejection system and there are special accessories for the rider’s safety

What’s your favourite book?

Crocodile Tears. Dennis McCain is the chief of First Aid, and he sets up disasters so that when people donate money he can grab it.

Why is this your favourite Alex Rider Book?

It’s interesting. I like the fact that Dennis McCain was all cocky and that Alex Rider managed to beat him.

What do you like about Alex?

He always seems to know what to do – and he’s generous and nice. I like that he is confident.

I think it’s fair enough that he doesn’t want to be a spy, he’s only 14 years old

Would you like to be Alex Rider – why/why not?

Yes and No.

Yes because you get all the cool gadgets and things and meet new people and travel the world.

No, I wouldn’t want to be under all that pressure to save the world and live up to my uncle’s and my dad’s name.


Alex Rider’s uncle is a secret government agent but Alex doesn’t know it. Uncle gets killed on way back from mission. Alex meets two people from MI6 and joins MI6 and goes on a mission to stop Herod Sale

Alex goes undercover (as a guy who won competition) to see what Herod Sale is up to and stop him if it’s bad.

What I liked

I liked at training camp when he toughed it out and didn’t let anyone get the better of him.

I liked the way Alex used his talents and courage to overcome the bad guy.

What I didn’t like?

That you didn’t find out much about his parents.

I would recommend this book to people because it was interesting and fast paced and I liked the technology.

Anyone between age of 11 and 17 would enjoy these books.




Interview with Charlaine Harris (Part 1) – True Blood and the Sookieverse

I figured that all this talk of angels being the new vampires was missing a bit of balance, so I thought I’d let a vamp writer get in on the action to give their point of view on whether or not vampires are ready to retract their fangs from the current bestseller lists…
Charlaine Harris is the author of the internationally super-popular Sookie Stackhouse series (formerly known as The Southern Vampires Mysteries): the books behind that AWESOME TV series, True Blood. I cornered Charlaine in one of the dark alleyways of cyberspace to give me the lowdown on all things Sookie.

Charlaine, for readers new to your work, explain this idea of the “Sookieverse”:

In my world, the vampires are newly-outed legal citizens of the United States (and have come out all over the world). They don’t have all the rights and privileges of human citizens though, which is galling to them. Further on in the series, the Weres (werewolves) also come out, though other supernatural creatures remain in the shadows. Sookie is a telepathic barmaid in a small town in Louisiana , who meets her first vampire when Bill Compton walks into the bar.

Sookie’s an unusual protagonist in that she’s not tough by nature, she’s tough through experience! How does she manage to stay so inherently good-natured despite having to kill people?

She was brought up right by her grandmother. It’s kept her grounded.

So if you lived in Bon Temps, would you and Sookie be friends? What do you guys have in common?

We’d be friendly, but not good friends. I’m a lot older than Sookie, and I very seldom drink, so we wouldn’t have much in common at all unless I got to know her at church. I’d like her if we worked together putting on a church pot luck or something.

Having grown up there, tell us Aussie readers what it is about the America ’s Deep South that makes the vampires so delicious?

I think if you write about any location with love and conviction, you can make it just as interesting and attractive. I’ve almost always lived in the south and I love to write about it from a humorous perspective.

What do you really think about the TV show based on the books, True Blood? Some writers are (understandably) precious about their work and don’t like it being changed or interpreted, tell us how you really feel!

I love the show. I’d be a fool not to. I think Alan is a genius, and I’m lucky enough to have met many members of the cast and crew.

I’ve heard Anne Rice loves watching True Blood. Were you ever a fan of her Vampire Chronicles? You seem to share a love of the Southern Gothic/Grotesque!

Anne does love the show. Of course, her vampire novels are icons in the field, and I’ve read them. We approach somewhat the same material from different directions, and that’s worked out for both of us.


I’d say it has, Charlaine! Ms Harris will be back for round two later on, so stay tuned to hear her views on whether angels are the new vampires, and what’s in store for Charlaine post-Sookie. In the meantime, you can catch all the latest goss on Sookie, Bill and the rest of the gang at Charlaine’s website.

Good, Bad or Indifferent – books to flash (or not) at work

Last week I posted on the books that you would prefer not be seen reading in public. I got some great what to read and not to read tips – from not reading L. Ron Hubbard to reading Anton LeVay’s Satanic Bible to keep your seat very firmly free.

But what about those of you who don’t catch public transport? Why should you miss the fun? This week I’m looking at the workplace, and making sure your boss is getting the right idea from your reading material. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to the books to leave conspicuously on your desk – and some to keep wrapped in the recesses of your bag.

The Good : Anything by Malcolm Gladwell

If you are looking for both inspiration and fascinating read, no one does it like Gladwell. His enthusiasm for new ideas, and his ability to write about them in a way that both entertains and informs, has led to three successive New York Times #1 bestsellers, and a place in both Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People and Newsweek’s “Top 10 New Thought Leaders of the Decade.”

Why are these good books to read as well as display on your desk? Well, unlike most motivational texts, they’re enjoyable and treat you like an intelligent reader. (Anyone who has suffered through Who Moved My Cheese, we’re sorry, come back to business and motivational books, please. We have good ones now.) Gladwell’s books celebrate human achievement and entertain while informing. The phrases and ideas they have coined (“the tipping point” after the book of the same name,  and the ideas explained in Outliers of how it takes 10,000 hours of training to become a true master of something) have entered both the media and the workplace.

Not convinced? Try Blink. Not a pretty book to have on your desk, but the subject – how to master the snap judgments that we all make unconsciously and instinctively for successful decision-making – is something that workplaces value. Digest and enjoy, or just place prominently somewhere on your desk and watch the boss take notice of your big read.

The Bad : Anything by Robert Greene

While lots of business books claim to be the “only book you need to read”, Mr Greene has a stronger case than most. His writing, including the 48 Laws of Power and the Guide to Seduction, are filled with the distilled advice of other books that went before, collated into one handy spot. He cherry-picks from the wisdom of Machiavelli, Plato and Sun Tzu and from the diverse examples of leaders like Napoleon and Margaret Thatcher, as well as diplomats, captains of industry and Samurai swordsmen. Greene uses this impressive reading list to formulate themes and guidelines on what he believes transcends all the texts, and illuminate his take on the pattern behind it.

So, what’s the issue with being seen reading these? No one said that politics is nice, or that history is full of laudable behaviour. Quite simply, Robert Greene advocates following in the footsteps of great men (and women) throughout history – and being a mean and selfish sod. His guide to seduction, for example, contains guides to “picking victims” and the 48 Laws contains career advice including cheating, confounding and flattering your way to the top. Laws 7 and 17 variously are “get others to do the work for you, but always take credit” and “keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability”.

His rather depressing take on humanity is that the average office is a den of inequity, lying and back-stabbing, as opposed to somewhere you go to share office gossip, send round funny emails and occasionally get some work done. Probably not one to have on your desk, unless you are trying to make your manager nervous you’re after their job.

The Indifferent – The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.

Going from amorally ambitious to the other end of the scale, you have 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. This semi-autobiographical guide explains how to define, simply and automate your working week until you are doing – you guessed it – just 4 hours of work. It’s an enjoyable read with some good tips for those feeling trapped in the rat race on how to redefine both your job and yourself in a career-obsessed world, and details his own experience in transitioning from being an omnipresent micro-manager to an occasional drop in boss, and how productivity and morale soared when he turned up less.

(I have to admit, my first thought after reading that “if your business does better when you are not there, maybe you just a bad boss?” but according to a friend who loves it and has been following the advice, I’m being overly cynical. I’m still not convinced that is possible to be overly cynical when reading lifestyle books, but my mate is very happy with the book’s advice.)

I would finish with an admonition not to let your boss see this one in your bag, but frankly, if you’ve hit the point where you are reading this on your way to and from the office, the days of your commute are probably numbered. If you’re still commited to your job after reading it, only suggestion I can make is leave this on your boss’s desk – who know, it may give them some ideas. They could decide to step out of office life themselves, or their boss may notice and decide they’re no longer committed. Either way, it leaves a spot free for you.

I’m sure Robert Greene would approve.

The Hedonism of the Digital

This is about the weirdest book trailer I’m come across in a while. For those without the patience or ability to view it, it is the trailer for a kids’ book – It’s A Book! by Lane Smith. The trailer presumably rehashes the story in the book; that is, a tech savvy donkey asking a series of questions of an increasingly frustrated chimp. “Can you scroll down?” asks the donkey. “Can you blog with it?” Inevitably, the donkey ends up playing with the book and is utterly sucked in, sitting and reading it for hours – promising to “charge the battery” when he is done.

Aside from the bizarre irony of a one minute internet book trailer about a book advocating reading paper over ephemeral electronic distractions it’s quite cute. And it underlines one of the things I’ve been banging on about over the last few weeks. The essential nature of reading. I’ve argued before that in order to leap into the digital age, publishers need to be prepared for new kinds of reading – the kind that people do while queueing up to buy a beer, while standing on public transport and while sitting on the toilet. It is a matter of debate whether this kind of reading privileges a certain kind of writing – the easy to pick up and put down, disposable experience. This is what dead tree enthusiasts fear will be lost if paper books go the way of the dinosaur.

These arguments, of course, are not without its advocates. I came across the video above last week, and again, aside from the irony of a TED talk about the perspective of time being summarised in an animated infographic to make it easier to concentrate on, it is fascinating viewing. The premise of the video is this: different people experience time in different ways. Some of us are future oriented, some past and some present. The current crop of electronic distractions, Professor Zimbardo argues, is turning us into a culture of present-oriented people – particularly young men. This has consequences for education, as in order to learn difficult things – like how to read – one must be able to delay gratification: do hard work now in order to fulfil the promise of greater things in the future.

While I disagree more specifically with some of Zimbardo’s points (like the fact that the average teen male has spent 10,000 hours playing video games and is therefore a hedonist without social skills), I find the overall point of this discussion comes with an in-built bias. Let me give you an example – reading. There’s no doubt that Professor Zimbardo has no problem with books and reading – these are part of traditional schooling and presumably all about delaying gratification. But my experience of the kind of wholly absorbing reading depicted in the It’s A Book! trailer above has nothing at all to do with delaying gratification. My most treasured and absorbing reading experiences are completely hedonistic. My experience of time vanishes, and hours go as if they were minutes. This experience has happened to me with reading on and off screen.

While I don’t pretend to know for certain that digital distractions aren’t transforming the newer generations into anti-social sybarites, my feeling is that these arguments come from fear rather than fact. They make emotional arguments using apparently self-evident truths that are anything but self-evident. “Digitally rewiring”, my ass. Just because the youngest generation is demanding that, for example, publishers give them the ability to read books when and where and how they want them does not, ipso facto, mean that they are incapable of being absorbed in the longform experience of reading. Digital is not a synonym for disposable. Sometimes you need to learn to read the signs in a different way.

Aussiecon 4

Aussiecon 4 is coming soon and I can hardly wait! “What is it?” I hear you ask. Aussiecon 4 is the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon, for short). And it’s going to be in Melbourne. To say that I am excited, is an understatement.

Today, I’ve invited long-time Worldcon attendee, Laurie Mann, to tell you a little bit about this amazing annual event.

When the Worldcon comes to your neck of the world…
by Laurie Mann, longtime science fiction fan

For the fourth time since 1975, the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Melbourne. Aussiecon 4 will be held at the futuristic Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from September 2-6. If you love science fiction and fantasy, especially SF and fantasy books, this is the convention for you.

Aussiecon 4 has renowned guests of honour:  writer Kim Stanley Robinson and artist Shaun Tan, as well as fan Robin Johnson. [Note from George: Conventions like these have a long-standing tradition of inviting a fan guest of honour — someone who has contributed a great deal to the science fiction community, involving themselves in the running of conventions, clubs, etc.] Young adult author Garth Nix will serve as the MC for the Hugo Awards Ceremony.

Worldcon is an annual get-together of fans, writers, artists and publishers from all over the world. Worldcon members have the chance to choose from hundreds of panel discussions, readings and autograph sessions. You’ll be able to visit an Art Show with hundreds of pieces of original art, and a Dealers’ Room where you can buy, amongst other things, books, jewellery, DVDs, and T-shirts. You can attend a big event every night, including the Hugo Awards, a Masquerade and a gathering of horror writers.

Aside from the planned events, one of the great things about a Worldcon is the unplanned events: having a long discussion with other fans at a party about the current trend in dystopic fiction; running into your favourite author in a bar and buying him/her a drink; meeting a fan from Orlando, Florida who grew up down the street from you in Sydney.

Aussiecon 4 will attract a few thousand people from all over the world, including writers like Paul Cornell, Cory Doctorow, Ellen Kushner, George RR Martin, Sean McMullen, Robert Silverberg, Melinda Snodgrass and Ian Tregillis, and editors including Ginger Buchanan, Ellen Datlow and Jonathan Strahan.  Science fiction is often called the “literature of ideas”; at Worldcon, you’ll hear all kind of ideas discussed at great length.

Jim and Laurie Mann

I’ve been going to Worldcon since 1976, and this will be my first Australian Worldcon. Despite the fact that I’ve never been to Australia, I’ll probably know a couple of hundred of the attendees. That’s one of the great things about Worldcons; once you start going to them, you’ll always know people to hang out with, go to panels with, volunteer with…

George’s bit at the end

If you’d like to know more about Aussiecon 4, check out their website.

I’ll be attending Aussiecon 4 in a triple capacity. Firstly as a long-time reader of science fiction and fantasy, eager to meet fellow readers and to hear some of my favourite authors speak. Secondly as an author myself, to speak on panels, do a reading or two and participate in book signings. Thirdly as a Boomerang Books blogger, to report on the event for those of you who can’t make it.

Thanks, Laurie, for stopping by Literary Clutter. I look forward to meeting you at Aussiecon 4.

Aussiecon 4 will be my third Worldcon. Has anyone else out there been to a Worldcon? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Tune in next time to hear me ramble on about how much I love short stories.

Catch ya later,  George


Today we welcome The Book Chook back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about why Alex Rider gets Kids Reading.

Hi Book Chook, great to have you back here. Anthony Horowitz’s series has been credited with changing boys’ attitudes to reading. How important, for boy readers in particular is it that books like the Alex Rider series are available?

I know it’s not politically correct to generalize but I am rarely politically correct. Some boys aren’t attracted to fiction, but many of those who are need adventurous books which race along at high-octane level, ricocheting from one scrape to another.

Crocodile Tears has been simultaneously published as a traditional book, an e-book and an iPhone application. Do you think that offering these options is a good thing for  readers?

Yes! Some mourn the imminent demise of the printed book but I think that’s hooey. It’s not a case of either or. We need print books AND technology-driven applications. If a mum is queuing in the supermarket and she can hand her iphone to her three-year-old so the child can read a picture book on the device, great! But for bedtime reading aloud that night, perhaps real printed picture books are the answer.

I spend hours with a computer screen each day, so when I quit, I read print books for relaxation. But when we next go to China, I hope to have several books digitally stored on my iPad, so I can avoid excess baggage charges.

Do you have some tips of your own to encourage kids to read?

After loving your kids and respecting them, read to them. Read to them every day. Tell jokes, read riddles, write letters and notes. Dance, sing, pretend, paint, recite poetry, go to theatre performances, lie on the grass and cloud-watch. Read some more. Get to know the wonderful Australian children’s authors who have so much to offer our Aussie kids. Hang out at your local library. Make sure your kids see you reading and writing. Let your kids choose what they want to read, but sneak in an occasional favourite of your own. Make sure your home has books galore.

And if you can, get a big old Jacaranda tree for your backyard. They’re great places for reading.


by Lachlan – aged 12

Crocodile Tears is about Desmond McCain who started up a charity called first Aid and they always seemed to be the first ones there whenever there was a crisis.

Desmond intends to keep all the donations for himself and Alex has to stop it from happening.

I liked Crocodile Tears because I liked how Alex beat Desmond McCain in poker. I liked the Kikuyu Tribesman and how the writer used the location to fit them into the story. I liked the suspense in the story and it was hard to predict what was going to happen.

I didn’t like what happened to the RAW agent, Rahim.

People who enjoy fast-paced quirky action books will like this book.



If You Were Lost on a Desert Island…

OMG Lost fans, guess what?!
The final episode of Lost aired over a week ago on TV, and the world – gasp – is still turning! Hard to believe, I know…

Oh, you guys know I’m only playing with you! Don’t you? I jest, I jest. But truth be told, I don’t get what is so great about Lost. Or rather, I didn’t, until recently.

Being the spoiler-lover that I am, I of course Googled the last episode as it was airing in the US and got the lowdown on what happened during, and how everything ‘came full circle’. Whatever that means. Of course, it didn’t make much difference to me – I had no idea who Jack and Kate and all the rest of them were. But while I was searching for reasons to watch the last six seasons of this TV show I knew very little about but which still managed to create a cult (that is, worldwide popular cult) following, I stumbled across an interesting little tidbit about the show. Apparently, aside from all the Sci Fi time-travel shenanigans and psychological madness and murder, Lost is a show which depends on its literary references to release clues to the audience. Clues to what, I hear you fellow ignoramuses ask. Well, only clues to the whole MYSTERY of Lost, gawd! You may as well have asked, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ (I’m just trying to give you a Lost fan’s perspective here, don’t get all offended).
Turns out literary references turn up in a lot of episodes, and they’re all symbolic of something to do with why these people are stranded on the island in the first place [yes, I realise that this post is strangely serendipitous considering Fiona’s most recent post over at The Book Burglar – coincidence, you ask? More like fate (Fiona, no I don’t think you’ll get stranded on a desert island very similar to the one on Lost…just..keep safe!)].

I am especially partial to the Alice in Wonderland reference – apparently white rabbits are a reoccurring theme in Lost (I wonder what it all means?) and the Chronicles of Narnia reference – the DHARMA initiative station, is named the Lamp Post, after the lamp post which marks the passage between two worlds in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Could I have been wrong about the show all along? Is it perhaps, not the models-in-bikinis-and-men-with-six-packs serial I first believed it to be ? Is it in fact, a much more respected serial of models-in-bikinis-and-men-with-six-packs atop a mound of LITERARY GENIUS?
Other examples include (but are not limited to): The Brothers’ Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy and Ulysses by James Joyce.

If these heavyweight classics are being thrown around like children’s discarded playtoys, it tells me there are some SERIOUS readers at the helm of Lost. In turn, I have to question my pooh-poohing of the series to one of my friends, who absolutely loves Lost but, she says emphatically, not JUST for Sawyer.
So I am done with my Lost snobbery. If it encourages the world to read more, I am ALL for it. Just don’t get me started on Rory from Gilmore Girls…*

*Actually, I want to talk about the Gilmore Girls phenomenon next week. So don’t quote me on that last sentence. It was for effect only, people!

Dr Mark Norman wins Wilderness Society award for The Great Barrier Reef Book

From Black Dog Books:

We’re proud to tell you that our very own Dr Mark Norman has done it again, this time winning the Wilderness Society’s award for Children’s Literature. The award is given to a book that promotes environmental values and a sense of caring and responsibility for the environment.

The Great Barrier Reef Book : Solar Powered
by Dr Mark Norman
This beautifully presented book takes a look inside one of the natural wonders of the world, introducing young readers to some of the wondrous creatures that live within it. It likens the reef to a gigantic forest powered by the sun and teeming with life, a biodiversity that is sadly threatened by global warming. The book offers many suggestions on what each of us can do to help prevent this. Dr Mark Norman is the head of Science at the Melbourne Museum and a world expert of octopuses, squids and cuttlefish.  Take a look at the award here.
You can have a look at other great Black Dog Book titles perfect for World Environment Day at Wild Planet and Rare Earth.

Books Before Undies

The Family LawFaced with the very real question of what you would take to a deserted island (as by the time you’ll be reading this I’ll be on my way to spend four days sans phone- or internet-access on a boat and almost-deserted islands in the Whitsundays*), I’m once again struck by the paralysis I was when I played this game in primary school.

For while everyone else came up with practical and essentially life-saving ideas—the likes of which included: ‘I’ll take a Swiss Army Knife and will be able to shimmy up the coconut tree and cut down coconuts and spear fish with my lightning-quick reflexes and trusty 5cm blade and corkscrew’—my answer was always: ‘I’ll take a book’.

Admittedly I’d probably die of dehydration and sunburn before I got to the last page, but life-or-death practicalities aside, the concept of me, a book, a beach, and no interruptions is nothing short of bliss. Given that I’ll be on a boat a lot of this time, it’ll be bliss on a boat. But that’s equally inviting and the fact is that the main issue that I’m facing is how to overcome my number one rule (and error): books before undies.

Bitter ChocolateMy logical brain tells me that I will be able to—at best—complete two or three books in four days and probably a lot less given that I’m going on a boat with friends and there will be spectacular coral and aquatic life to marvel at. But my books-before-undies brain tells me that I cannot take anything less than seven books and that such necessities as undies will be turfed from luggage before I’ll take any book out of said bag.

I know this is a rookie mistake. In fact, it’s one I’ve made before, the fallout from which saw me trying to find a 24-hour laundromat in a foreign country in the wee hours of the morning while lugging around tomes of books on my back that I didn’t have time to read.

But to choose just two or three books from the mini mountain of a book stockpile I have on my bedside table? That’s like being asked to choose your favourite…well, something…from your list of favourite somethings.

The Birth WarsAnyway, in spite of my itching to read such worthy and weighty books as:

  • Mary-Rose MacColl’s The Birth Wars, an investigation of the battle between the ‘organics’ and the ‘mechanics’ or natural and interventionist birth practitioners, inspired by the tragic and unnecessary death of a baby in Brisbane
  • Carol Off’s Bitter Chocolate, an examination of the horrific practices that occur in the nations that produce the cocoa that makes up our so-cheap, so-yummy chocolates

I’ve at least been clever enough to opt for some more entertaining, lose-yourself-in-their-pages holiday reading:

Three Cups of TeaBy the time I end up leaving, there’ll be one more book and a few less pair of undies in my bag, but I’m completely ok with that. See you in four book-filled days with some fresh book reviews and some lobster-red sunburned skin.

* I’m not gloating, honest. It’s the first holiday I’ve had in forever, I promise.


In my mailbox recently I received two new picture books from New Frontier Publishing; The Important Things by Peter Carnavas and I Spy Mum written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Chantal Stewart.

In their own way, each book shows the importance of a parent in a child’s life, and they both struck a chord with me.

The Important Things is about the absent father. In I Spy Mum, the child experiences the pure joy of being reunited with his ‘lost’ mother. I know as a parent that this is a feeling that works both ways.

I think one of the things I liked most about both these books was the powerful feelings conveyed in stories that were so simply told.


Written & Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

The Important Things tells the story of Christopher, a little boy trying to come to terms with the absence of his father. He does this by cherishing the things that remind him of his dad – the memories.

One of the things I liked about this book is that it showed how divergent an adult and a child’s thinking can be in these situations. It’s a story about a child and a Mum finding their way back to each other through understanding.

The Important Things is a book that can be shared between a parent and a child on many levels. Each word has been carefully chosen and every colourful illustration speaks another thousand words.

I can see The Important Things becoming an important book for many children. It is the work of writer, illustrator and teacher, Peter Carnavas. His first book Jessica’s Box has been shortlisted for three awards. It was closely followed by Sarah’s Heavy Heart which has already been translated into six other languages.


Written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Chantal Stewart

I Spy Mum is written in a much more playful tone, but it’s still a book that conveys a child’s feelings for a parent. I Spy Mum is a beautiful rhyming picture book for under five’s.

A little boy sees lots of other Mums, but he knows they are not his. He spies a ‘baking mum’, and a ‘singing mum’ and a ‘ding-a-linging mum, but can’t find his own. Children will love the surprises of the search and the fun of the other mums he discovers.

Even though not being able to find your mum is a traumatic event for a young child, this book is so full of fun and humour that children will be engaged all the way to the happy ending.

I Spy Mum is the sister book to I Spy Dad which has been shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award 2010. It is written by well loved award winning author Janeen Brian. Janeen is a South Australian based author who has written over 70 books for children.

Illustrator, Chantal Stewart has illustrated  a number of books for children including Tilly’s Treasure by Sue Walker, and Clancy’s Long, Long Walk by Libby Gleeson.

The Important Things and I Spy Mum are just two of the beautiful new releases from New Frontier Publishing this year. If their 2010 catalogue is anything to go by, there are still many more to come.

An Inconceivable Notion

An Inconceivable NotionWith baby bonuses being waved at the Australian masses obliging the request to bump up the birth rate and the media peppering us with images of pregnant celebrities and yummy mummies, breeding is the new black. Indeed, sometimes it feels as though if you’re not effortlessly falling pregnant or adopting a child from a war-torn nation, there’s somehow something very, very wrong with you.

Which is why it’s refreshing and heartening that Brisbane writer Justine Davies stopped to consider the members of our population who, for a variety of often complex and multifaceted reasons, haven’t had—and can’t or won’t have—children.

The best way I can explain it is that An Inconceivable Notion: Stories of coping with infertility and childlessness is, ultimately, the kind of book you didn’t know we needed but that, once you see it, wonder why we haven’t had it all along. Based on extended interviews, Davies’ book conveys the stories of men and women who are childless for a whole host of reasons: medical complications; the decision that children weren’t for them; or through simply not having met the right person in time for biology to do its thing. She sensitively portrays interviewees’ previously unspoken hopes and fears, and also subtly reminds us that a life without children does, contrary to some people’s perceptions, hold value.

The result is a book that offers rare and raw insight into an incredibly loaded and taboo topic. One woman worries that her husband might leave her for another (read: fertile) woman. Another talks about how her difficult childhood and family circumstances have affected her and how, although she’s a very capable adult herself, she doesn’t feel that she could or should bring up a child. One man shares his aversion to his previously favourite Simpsons character, Maggie, who is now a reminder of the daughter he’ll never have. Many speak of their journey to come to terms with the ‘inconceivable notion’ of childlessness.

What brings these varied voices together is the pain they’ve experienced as a result of miscarriages, dashed hopes, insensitive people,  prying questions, and glimmers of hope. While An Inconceivable Notion will obviously appeal to people struggling (or unable) to conceive, its discrete chapters and compelling stories may also show others how seemingly simple (albeit well-meaning) questions about whether a couple is trying for a baby or tips on how to fall pregnant can be incredibly awkward and crass.

An Inconceivable Notion is the kind of book that will be word-of-mouth popular with childless singles and couples, but that will also prove an insightful read for those for whom conceiving isn’t quite so difficult. And with so many interviewees who are childless for such diverse reasons, it’s the kind of book that contains a little bit of something for everyone. Whether childless or raising a veritable Brady Bunch, readers (including me) will be surprised at just how much they relate to this book’s interviewees.

Review: Borders Launches Ebooks in Australia

The launch of the Borders ebook offering in Australia finally brings a contemporary local ebook buying experience to Australians. The store is fresh and easy-to-use, and Borders is a recognised name in books in Australia. The prices look reasonable, and if all goes well they should soon have a reasonably wide selection of ebooks to sell as their existing relationships with publishers are finalised for ebooks.

Thus ends the good part of this review. While the front end of the store seems to be well set-up, the user interface end is not as good. Borders have reached an exclusive arrangement with Kobo to run their ebooks platform, but the Kobo platform is flaky at best. Kobo (previously Shortcovers) is a competitor to Amazon’s Kindle – they are both aiming for device independence. There are Kobo apps for the iPhone and iPad, there is a standalone Kobo reader (for the impressively low price of $199). Unfortunately, however, you get what you pay for. The standalone reader lacks the most rudimentary ereader features – like search and annotation – and supports only ePub and PDF (and does PDF badly, like most e-ink devices). The iPad and iPhone versions– since they are software only and not really limited by the physical specs of the standalone reader – should have, at the very least, a search function. But they do not.

Books purchased on one device can be downloaded for free to any other device – but how is the user supposed to figure out where they are up to? If I’m reading a book on my iPad, and then switch to my iPhone – there is no way to find the place that I’m up to. On the Kindle platform, this happens wirelessly and automatically through Amazon’s servers (through a service enticingly called ‘Whispernet’). I don’t necessarily expect this level of functionality – but at the very least let us search! What’s the point of being device independent if you still have to manually flick through hundreds of electronic screens to find your place?

This is not the only problem with the Kobo platform. Although the books that come with the reader for free (out-of-copyright titles including Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, Dracula and so on) look great on the screen – other purchased titles are cut off at the edges and are nigh on unreadable (see images). Additionally, the App Store for iPhones and iPads features both a Kobo and Borders app – both of which are backed by the REDgroup (Borders’ parent company) catalogue of ebooks in Australia. However, consumers will need a separate account for each app (which look almost identical, save for branding), and if a book is purchased in one it will not transfer to the other.

I really want to love the Borders/Kobo ebook offering. But I emphatically do not. Kobo should be applauded for their attempt to do device independence, but the implementation is ultimately flawed. Borders should be applauded for taking a step forward with ebooks in Australia – but it’s a pity they have wedded themselves to this particular platform. There is a very good chance that over the next year or so software and store selection will improve and many of these problems will be ironed out. But how many readers will be burned in the interim? How many readers will turn off ebooks altogether because of a cheap entry-level offering that is clearly not ready for the market? And, more importantly, how much further ahead will the competition be by then? If you’re looking to get in on the ebook experience in Australia – your best bet, sadly, is still the Kindle.

Carole Wilkinson talks about sugar

Sugar SugarA few posts ago I mentioned Carole Wilkinson’s new YA novel Sugar Sugar (see Family reading). Today, Carole has dropped by Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about Sugar Sugar and writing in general.

The Sugar Sugar blurb

Jackie has left Australia with a psychedelic suitcase and a dream to become a world-famous fashion designer. She knows exactly where she’s going and how she’s going to get there. So how does a weekend in Paris send her spinning off-course? How does she end up somewhere she couldn’t even find on a map?

The interview

There have been a few comments flying about that writing YA is a bit of a change for you. Granted, you’re best known for your children’s books, but your first novel, Stage Fright, was YA. Why has it taken you so long to write another YA novel?

I don’t really know why it has taken me so long. I guess I was comfortable with the middle years and this took me out of my comfort zone.

Was is difficult going back to YA after so many children’s books?

Yes. I thought it would be liberating being able to write about sex and drugs and rock n roll, but it was hard. Not addressing these issues at all is a whole lot easier than addressing them and then deciding how far to go!

RamoseYou have a real affinity for historical novels — ancient Egypt in the Ramose books, and then ancient China in the Dragonkeeper books. With Sugar Sugar you’re not going back quite so far. Why did you choose to set Sugar Sugar in the 1970s? And any reason for the specific year of 1972?

That’s when this sort of travel was happening. That’s when John [Carole’s husband] and I travelled along the hippie trail. A few years later, it wasn’t possible because Afghanistan became a war zone and Iran had a fundamentalist government. It really was a narrow window in time when it was possible to travel through those countries.

You mention in the acknowledgements that this is the first of your books to draw on personal experience. Any reason you’ve waited so long to use your personal experiences as inspiration?

I don’t know. It’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. My very first (unpublished) novel was an attempt to write a story using the same scenario. I’ve always wanted to go back to it and try again. I think this was the time that was right for me and my publisher.

Can you tell us a bit about your travels? Were they as filled with accidental adventures as Jackie’s?

Some of the incidents are from our experience: we did overturn a vehicle, we did travel in the back of an army truck for four days in the wilds of Afghanistan. But I also used the experiences of friends who made a similar journey. The converted London taxi came from a friend, as did the experience of getting hepatitis in  Afghanistan. When we travelled it was all about finding a place to sleep, food to eat and somewhere to have a shower! No real adventures. Though we did think we were going to be arrested for dumping our van in Morocco.

What do you hope people will get from reading Sugar Sugar?

I dunno… it has my usual theme of female self-empowerment! I like my girls to look out for themselves, none of that wishy-washy, I-need-a-man-to-save-me Twilight heroine business. I’m not suggesting that people take unnecessary risks, but I think it can be valuable to put yourself out of your comfort zone every once in a while, to test your resilience. Ultimately I just hope readers enjoy the story.

Is this a stand-alone novel, or are you planning further adventures for Jackie?

I have no plans for another novel about Jackie.

So then, what’s next for Carole Wilkinson, assuming your next project isn’t top secret?

I’m currently writing a book for the Black Dog Books’ Drum series about a World War I battle. (I like variety!) I am starting to consider the possibility of another Dragonkeeper book.

DaragonkeeperThe bit at the end

Well, another Dragnonkeep book would keep the fans happy. I’m certainly excited by the possibility.

My thanks to Carole for stopping by and answering my questions. For more info about Carole and her books, check out her website.

Tune in next time for a preview of the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention being held in Melbourne later this year.

Catch ya later,  George

Brown paper bags and iPads – disguising less literary moments

I’m not an ardent Apple lover and haven’t blasted through this month’s food money to buy an iPad, but I can see a useful application for it already.

I’m not going to go through the technical ins-and-outs of the iPad reading experience (if you have a hankering for that sort of thing, I suggest popping over to the Smell of Books, where Joel has already covered it nicely) but state one simple fact – reading through an iPad means that you’ll never again have to put up with people judging you by your book’s cover.

While what you enjoy reading should be a personal choice, reading in a public space can be an alarming reminder that not all literature is seen as equal. As with any subjective matter, opinions are divided and occasionally offered in the most insulting possible way.

A friend of mine has given up reading her Twilight books on the train, thanks to pointed glares from non-fans and one person asking her if she was capable of reading a “real book”. Much like the kids who disguise their comics, pulp serials and (ahem) educational adult material in a heavy encyclopaedia while in the school library, she now disguises them with a book sleeve of something more high-brow. Another keeps their taste for corset-busting romances firmly hidden in brown paper covers since a drunken commuter insisted they could be their semi-clothed pirate prince instead of “some poof in a book” and then proceeded to open their shirt and prance around the carraige to demonstrate.

My own habit of reading motivational and pop-psychology books has put me in cringe zone a few times when I have looked up and seen people reactions to my choice of book. These books that are worth a flick, but perhaps not without reading either on an iPad or with a plain brown paper cover.

1. He’s Just Not That Into You

It’s more a comedy than a melodrama of a book, with wonderfully down-to-earth advice but if you decide to read this on public transport you may as well place neon flashing sign over your head. And that sign says: “I have been dumped. Dramatically dumped. I am just one visual reminder (“There’s a car. George used to drive a car.”) or off-hand comment (“He said hello. George used to say hello…”) off breaking down into a torrent of tears while wailing “Why, George, WHY?”

You don’t have to use George. Insert the name of your ex, or if anyone is wearing their work ID, try bawling their name between gut-wrenching sobs just to watch them twitch. If you feel like cranking the Embarrassometer up a notch, you can turn up the next day reading He Just THINKS He’s Just Not That Into You, causing all your co-commuters to call home and check that the bunny hut is safely secured.

2.The Game by Neil Strauss

You may be engrossed by the fascinating world of the PUA’s, or Pick Up Artists, or enjoying Neil Strauss’s honest and irreverent humour but everyone looking at you thinks you are only reading it for cheat tips to the opposite sex. If you are a guy reading this, people assume you a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis* and tries the “there is.. .something… in your eye…” line at parties. If you are a girl reading this people assume you are a damp-pawed and creepy type who also owns How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis. Basically, no one is making eye contact or shaking hands with you all the way home.

3. Anything on unarmed combat, knife-fighting or ear-biting. Or How-To guides by the SAS.

On the plus side, no one will take the seat next to you for the whole trip. On the minus, those four burly armed security staff closing in on you are not doing so to offer you a chocolate muffin and a nice cup of tea. As a general tip, most commuters are fine with you reading books about horrifically bloody murders, it’s when you start reading about real-life methods of mayhem and squinting speculatively around the carraige they will decide to call the cops.

Perhaps the release of the iPad and other e-readers is a licence enjoy your guilty or gorey pleasures. Tescos reported sales of downloaded Mills & Boon titles grew 57 per cent in the five months after the Sony Reader went on sale, and with the advent of the iPad, who knows what the person next to you on the bus could be reading? You’ll just have to ask them to show you.

And if it’s How To Pick Up Girls By Hypnosis or anything on knife-fighting, I suggest keeping your eyes on their screen and smiling vaguely the whole way home.

* This book does not exist out of the science fiction series Red Dwarf, so don’t bother looking for it. At least, if it DOES exist, Boomerang Books thankfully don’t stock it.

I suggest keeping your


When the first Alex Rider book came out ten years ago, it became a global bestseller. The reluctant teenage superspy was credited with helping to cure many reluctant readers. Alex Rider and his exploits turned a whole generation of teenage boys onto reading for pleasure.

Today The Book Chook is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about the importance of literacy and why the Alex Rider books have been so effective in getting kids to read. But first of all, she’s going to talk a bit about what she does.

Can you give us a bit of background about why you set up The Book Chook blog and established your e-zine, Literacy Lava? What is Literacy Lava and where can people get it? is The Book Chook blog,

I set up The Book Chook blog because I was getting closer to my goal of becoming a children’s writer (or so I thought!) and I knew I needed an online presence. However, it didn’t make much sense for me to blog about children’s writing when my only published credits were in travel magazines.

I read an article that suggested  bloggers find their passion and write about that. I have many passions, but the one that was closest to writing was children’s literature and literacy. I began writing children’s book reviews and bringing parents tips and ideas to help with kids’ learning.

Literacy Lava grew from my desire to reach more people with my message about encouraging kids to read, write and communicate with creativity. I have an amazing group of contributors who come from different backgrounds, but who all share my passion and are keen to reach out to parents and teachers.

The fifth issue of Literacy Lava a has just been published, and is now available for download from Susan’s website.

You are a passionate advocate of literacy, can you tell us why you think it’s so important?

I think literacy is the magical key to children’s future success. If children love to read, write and communicate, they have the building blocks they need for future learning. Literacy impacts all other subjects. Being able to read not only helps kids learn, it allows them access to other people’s dreams and fuels their own dreams.

I believe our society needs dreamers – people who can think creatively and come up with solutions to some of the problems that beset us.

Where does this passion for literacy come from? Is it a professional or a personal thing or both?

I taught in Primary schools in NSW for 25 years, and I taught ESL in China. I loved both jobs, especially being able to share my love of books, poetry and drama. Before that, I was a reader/writer/communicator, often found perched in the Jacaranda tree with my nose in a book, or bossing the neighbourhood kids into staging Robin Hood among the gum trees. So both personal and professional I guess.

The Alex Rider books have sold over twelve million copies worldwide and been translated into 28 languages.

Why do you think Alex’s reluctant teenage superspy character appeals to so many readers?

Alex Rider is not only who we want to be, he’s real enough to almost be who we are. I think Horowitz gets it exactly right with Alex.

Alex Rider has a lot of ingenious gadgets. Do you think this is part of his appeal for readers?

Absolutely! Aren’t we all fascinated by how things work, inventions, technology? I know I am.

Next week at Kids’ Book Capers, The Book Chook will be back for an in depth look at why Alex Rider has been so successful in encouraging boys to read. There will also be a review of Crocodile Tears by Lachlan aged 12.



USER REVIEW WINNER: Diggers in France

Diggers In France by Richard Travers
Reviewed by ausrossH

There is history and then there is… history.

All too many people when writing history, think it is necessary to try and bore us to death with reams of facts, figures and something so dry that you feel your cheeks puckering in sympathy as if you were sucking on raw limes. Then there is history that informs, engages and tells a real story which grips the reader, making them want to keep on reading and learn more.

Facts and an entertaining account do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

When I first picked this book up, it was while researching something quite specific – the Battle of Fromelles. But the book is simply so engaging that I found it near-impossible to put down.

Almost every page directly quotes from the soldiers themselves, from letters, diaries etc. This puts you practically right there with the diggers themselves.

Unlike say Patrick Lindsay’s account of Fromelles, there are plenty of detailed footnotes that add authority and point the reader in the direction of further reading if they are so inclined.

There is plenty of real information in here but combined with human touches. An early example is describing the break-up of the existing 1st and 2nd Divisions In Egypt following the Gallipoli withdrawal, creating the 4th and 5th Divisions (the 3rd was formed back in Australia). It describes how Albert Jacka, one of our most famous soldiers in World War 1, then a hard-nailed company sergeant-major, was so very unhappy at breaking up the existing companies but did his duty all the same.

The book does not glorify war. After reading of the chronic debacle of Fromelles, the reader cannot help but wonder ‘why?’. Nor does it try to paint the Aussie diggers in sugary depictions such as the flower of our nation and similar phrases that the likes of official War Historian, Charles Bean, was known to do.

That said, for some reason, Travers could not resist using the old ‘who called the cook, a bastard – who called the bastard, a cook?’ gag as something that was supposedly said on parade, although a footnote admits that this may not have been more than a story (I first heard it as a story about shearers). Similarly he quotes an account of a dead soldier, laying next to a dead German, the enemy’s greatcoat draped over him, with the suggestion that the dieing German removed his coat to cover the injured enemy. But a footnote admits that it might just as well have been someone else who simply took the German’s coat and draped it over the Digger. But these romanticisms are the exception rather than the rule.

This is real history, as history should be written. It engages, informs and even entertains. I thoroughly recommend it to all. The only reason I did not give it five stars is because I am a miserable sod. (4 stars).

Robin Hood and His Merry Band of Contemporaries (Eleanor of Aquitane)

 I had the surprising pleasure of watching the new Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett at the movies yesterday. Surprising because I didn’t expect much of it. Pleasing because I found it to be intricately crafted, the chemistry between Robin and Lady (Maid) Marion to be entirely believable, and the movie showcased a new and fascinating approach of the man before he wore the hood and became one of the most famous outlaws of all time. If I’m to be perfectly honest, it was a little Hollywood and the movie could have actually been MORE epic than it was – it seemed as if it had been overedited slightly. But in my view that’s a small price to pay for an enjoyable movie trip, and Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion was majestically good as always.

Coming away from the rolling credits however, what struck me most about the legend of Robin Hood was how little I had known of it. Big fan of men in tights and such, but I didn’t know, for example, that ol’ Robin was considered a staunch supporter of 12th century king Richard the Lionhearted. I didn’t know (stemming from this) that the legend of Robin Hood lived in the time of Eleanor of Aquitane. Yeah, THE Eleanor of Aquitane. Oh, wait, you want to know more about her? Well, she was…awesome. And important to history because…um.
You got me readers, I don’t know a thing about her. Oh, I can spin a yarn from here to tomorrow that’s more or less true about Elizabeth I, or count the wives of Henry VIII on my fingers in under 9 seconds (that’s right, I timed it). I even profess to know more than your average Jane about the beloved Plantagenets.

But about the woman who was considered the most beautiful woman of her time (oh, weren’t they all), who defied convention and exercised influence over her sons as heirs to the throne, was super wealthy, survived the marriage of two kings and outlived all but two of her TEN children? Regrettably, not much. Until, that is, Alison Weir, teacher of this area of history, rides in on her trusty white horse to take me far away from the land of ignorance!

I graduated to the class of Alison Weir after I had polished off Philippa Gregory’s “historical” works (so they were mostly fictionalised a great deal, who cares? Still rollicking good reads). Alison Weir writes BIOGRAPHIES about British Royalty, my snobby historian friends said. Not mere fiction.

Yawn. Sounded boring to me. Luckily, the lives of these royals are as good as fiction anyway! I’m flicking through my recent purchase, Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitane, and I’m learning things already. Turns out Eleanor’s first marriage to King Louis VII of France was annulled by consanguinity within the fourth degree (don’t feel shame in looking up that word – I had to)!

I’ll report back once I’ve finished, if any of you out there have some interesting books on Eleanor they’d like to recommend me, I’m all ears (we’re on a first-name basis now, Eleanor and I).

I’m about to be educated – is it wrong that I get so excited about these history lessons?

Judging the Book by its Book

One of my female friends, a fellow booklover with a penchant for writing short stories, has just dropped a potential boyfriend. It was all going fine until she got into his apartment but what she found – or rather didn’t find there – was a dealbreaker.

His fatal flaw? “He didn’t have any books!”

As is her habit, she went to examine his literary tastes and realised to her horror there were no bookshelves. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then bookshelves are the backdoor to the brain, letting you in on people’s likes and dislikes and what they like to curl up with in the evening. Do they like to curl up with a classic, or dip into short stories? Do they read for humour or are they a historical fiction fan? Are you going to be fighting over the latest fiction every Sunday breakfast, or will they be happily looking up your next holiday in their Lonely Planet?

Without a set of shelves to peruse, my book-loving friend knew just one thing. She loved books. He didn’t. This was never going to work.

Even if he had had a set of books, he still could have well fallen at this first hurdle. My friend is a big believer that you are what you read. A quick look through his shelves would have told her if he was more interested professional perfectionists such as Dr Scarpetta or if he was looking for a Bella to his Edward.

“The bookshelves are good,” my friend explains. “You can’t tell what people are like from what they read in public. They might be all adoring Thomas Kinneally in public but re-reading Stephen King most evenings when they get home. You need to check which books have been thumbed the most.”

But is it fair to judge a book by its, well, book? Many people have very diverse tastes. I know my bookshelves would confuse a few people. Can we unite my copies of Lord of the Rings with Superfreakonomics? Can Roger McDonald’s Ballad of Desmond Kale share space with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series? Can you be a book with many different types of pages?

I’d say yes, but that’s because I will read anything. I am a literary flirt, dallying with any and all genres. I have books on politics and science sitting next to chick-lit and travelogues, fantasy titles sharing the shelves with feminism.

And it’s not just books. Magazines, newspapers, articles, the internet, the back of your t-shirt if you stand still. If you put text in front of me, it will be read. In severe cases, I read cereal boxes. I pick up books belonging to other people while in their houses and usually make a bee line for the bookshelves.

Except I’m not going to judge them, I’d going to try and sample them. I’ve never turned a date down for what I have found on their bookshelves. But if there were no bookshelves at all? I’m not so sure it could work.

Could you love a non-reader, and what books would make you decide to cancel that dinner date and just curl up with a good read?