The Internet is for Porn (And So are Ebooks)

We all know it’s there, and there are a lot of us out there who use it – so why does the civilised internet like to pretend it doesn’t exist? That’s the question James Ledbetter asked in a column in Slate this week, when talking about erotica appearing on the Kindle store. Snip:

As I write this, the most downloaded item for Amazon’s Kindle is a novel by Jenna Bayley-Burke called Compromising Positions. Here is part of the plot description: “David Strong knows how to do a lot of things—run an international fitness company, finesse stock portfolios and stay out of emotional entanglements. That is, until he gets tangled up with Sophie Delfino and her Sensational Sex workout. He’s supposed to help her demonstrate Kama Sutra positions for her couples-yoga class. … And his co-instructor unexpectedly tests his control to the limit.”

As Ledbetter goes on to point out, one of the many reasons Compromising Positions (go on, look it up, I’ll wait) appears on the top list for fiction is that the publisher is giving it away free to promote the author or the series. This is one of the many ways in which producers of adult entertainment (and by adult, I mean porn) push the envelope of what is possible and experiment with new technology. And by that I mean with sales, distribution, content and marketing, not teledildonics.

Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it.

What annoys me about the article in Slate, however, is the presumption that given enough time and attention from the wrong sorts of people, Amazon may be forced to censor their listings.

Is it valuable to the company to goose interest in the Kindle with erotica giveaways, or will the presence of e-books like Compromising Positions at the top of Amazon’s charts sully the e-reader’s reputation?

My question for you today is simple: is this something we need to worry about? Is this another example of the way American prudishness is ruining the internet? Or should we be thinking of the children? Is erotica something we ought to be scared of, or something we should be happy about because at least people are reading it, instead of having it injected into their eye sockets? You decide – sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

The RL Gang rant

The Ralph Lauren label has released a children’s book! Really? What does a fashion label know about children’s books? Nothing! But they do know how to sell clothes… and it appears that that’s exactly what they are doing with The RL Gang.

The RL Gang is the story of eight cute kids in very cute outfits, who go to school and do cute things and then go on a simple (but cute) fantasy adventure. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Except, of course, that after you’ve read the book you can purchase any of those cute outfits.

The book is available both in print format and as an online video at the Ralph Lauren website. The online version is narrated by Harry Connick Jr and right underneath it are links to each of the outfits that feature in the book so that you can purchase them. The print version of the book is only available through TikaTok, an online service that allows kids to create their own books.

A group of child models have been photographed in Ralph Lauren clothes and placed onto illustrated backgrounds for the print book. In the video they have been filmed and placed onto simple animated backgrounds. Even the teacher is dressed in stylish clothing and actually referred to as “a well dressed man”. It is all nauseatingly cute and well produced — it has certainly had some money thrown at it.

The book is subtitled “A Fantastically Amazing School Adventure” and the author is listed on the cover as Ralph Lauren Childrenswear. It is advertising masquerading as a children’s book. But is it trying to advertise to kids or to parents? Are kids really going to look at this book and say “Mummy, I want that outfit. Please buy it for me.” Or is it more likely that parents will look at the photos in the book and say: “What an adorable outfit, let’s buy it for Junior.” The book’s title and subtitle are obviously aimed at the kids, but the listing of the clothing label as the author is a clear message to parents.

The big question is: Will it work? Will parents buy this book, and the range of clothes, for their kiddies? Will kids actually want the book, let alone the clothes? And more importantly, if it does succeed, will the market suddenly be flooded with kids’ books advertising clothing, not to mention all sorts of other stuff?

There is nothing new about advertising pretending to be entertainment. We’ve had toy adverts fashioned into kids’ television shows and movies for years (the current crop of Barbie movies, for example), but the film and television industry has long been in bed with advertisers. Do we really need children’s book to go down this path as well?

But wait a minute, there’s something to make you feel better about getting sucked in by this advertising. The website proudly states that “15% of all Ralph Lauren Children’s sales from August 18 through to September 15 will be donated to Harry Connick Jr.’s charity, New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village”. And 15% of proceeds from sales of The RL Gang will be donated to Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans. That should make us all feel better. Oh wait… there’s an asterisk beside each of these announcements. The asterisk on the clothing label leads to a note capping donations at $25,000, and the asterisk on the book leads to a note limiting donations to US purchases only.

Anyone out there tempted to buy this book, or the clothes, for their kids? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

And tune in next time to find out about The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… where I won’t try to sell you clothes of any variety!

Da Vinci Confession

Confession time. I don’t hate Dan Brown. In fact, I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code.

As subtle as a 14-karat gold bishop's ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.I know, I know, in literary terms this is up there with saying that you preferred the movie of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to the book or you favour tomes with chewable covers and pop-up illustrations on every page, but I’ve had enough of lying. I read The Da Vinci code, I quite enjoyed it, and then I put it down and that was the end of it.

Or so I thought. Now I find myself justifying my moment of fluff reading to everyone who asks. “Yes, I read the Da Vinci code. I know, I know, it’s bad. He writes with the subtley of an illiterate rhino on crack, I get it.” After a few minutes of being haraunged for my poor taste I find myself bleating the following apology and attempt to justify myself. “Yes, I read it. But I didn’t buy the series.”

I feel like Bill Clinton, with his famous admission that he tried marijuana but didn’t inhale. (And seriously, I understand that he was trying so hard to sit on the fence that he was getting wedgied by the posts but who wants someone in charge of their country when they say they can’t even work out how to smoke correctly? Next thing he’ll be all confused about the facts of life… oh, wait a minute.)

Everyone has had a go at Dan Brown. He tops the Oxfam Least Wanted list for books donated to the charity stores. Jodi Picoult thinks his books are “poorly written“, Salman Rushdie thinks The Da Vinci Code is a “novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name“, and Lifehacker pithily titles one of its articles Improve Your Writing with Dan Brown’s Mistakes.

The UK Telegraph devoted a whole article to identifying the worst moments of Dan Brown’s writing, including such gaudy but apparently subtle gems as “Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué”. There’s also a quote in there from Edinburgh professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum who declares that “Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.

I’m not arguing that one. But I think they miss the point on what Dan Brown is. He is the literary equivalent of the old Batman TV shows; terrible dialogue, ludicrous plots, evil organisations and camp villains and constant cliffhangers get resolved in the most ludicrous of twists. You don’t read Dan Brown for the writing. In fact, you barely read Dan Brown at all. You skim lightly from crisis to crisis and plot twist to plot twist, thoroughly entertained by the silliness of it all. The only thing missing is a pop-up at the end of each chapter – POW! BANG! BIFF! Right in the eye with that subtle diamond and gold applique ring.

The Da Vinci Code isn’t a book for lovers of fine prose and editing, it’s a block-buster designed to distract the brain. Dan Brown has thrown subtlety and good writing out the window and written the literary equivalent of a dodgy action movie. Is it good writing? Hell no. Is it a good book? Well, that’s another issue. It is if that’s what you want to read right now. Sometimes there is a place for terse and tightly written prose. Sometimes you just want to see renegade monks beat up people.

So I’ll admit it. I read The Da Vinci Code.  And I enjoyed it.

Book Review: Torment, by Lauren Kate

Ah, Lauren Kate. You do torture me so.

When I read Fallen, I must admit, it didn’t particularly exceed my expectations. I expected a nice ‘fallen angel’ YA romance and that’s pretty much what I got.

Lucky for me, the followup, Torment offers much, much more.

Spoilers for Fallen will have to follow – you have been warned!

By the end of Fallen we left teen Luce at the oppressive Swords and Cross school having to deal with the news that her one true love (Daniel) is an angel. In Torment, the warring angels have called a truce between themselves for a short while, and so Daniel insists on protecting Luce by keeping her at a literal distance, enrolling her in a luxurious private school reserved for students of the nephilim class. Luce is an instant celebrity around the nephilim who have grown up hearing the romantic reincarnation legend of Luce and Daniel, but Luce can’t help but feel frustrated. While Daniel goes about doing his mysterious angel business, Luce is kept in the dark and begins questioning her feelings for Daniel.

I felt like there was so much more action going on with this book than its predecessor, Fallen, and it pays off for the reader. And I was engrossed with the new additions to the storyline, particularly the addition of several interesting secondary characters (including an angel/demon couple)!

But what really puts this book a step above the mainstream YA paranormal romance is the heroine herself. Luce is sensible and headstrong, and it seems that Lauren Kate has been listening to bloggers’ cries for sassifying female protagonists. In fact, Luce as a character might even seem a little impatient and bossy for some – to me, she was more than a little frustrating, but all in all I much prefer her strong outlook to the usual damsel-in-distress suspects.

Yep, I’m back on the wagon to see how this whole love triangle turns out in Book 3, and whether there’ll be this massive angel showdown of good versus evil (I’d say there will be…I’m HOPING there will be)…

It so often happens that the second book in the trilogy falls by the wayside- it feels like a filler. I can happily report that this isn’t the case with Torment. And if you want my personal feelings on it – Torment as the second instalment of the series, is better than the first.

Torment is released in Australia at the end of September, 2010.


When Robyn Opie was fifteen, her English teacher gave her an ‘A’ for every essay she wrote. One day, as he handed back her essay, he said, ‘You should be a writer’.

I was stunned. I hadn’t thought about being a writer. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about people writing books. I mean, I read plenty of books, all the time, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people wrote the books I loved. People, like me? I went home and began work on my ‘Nancy Drew’ mystery.

Robyn’s ‘Nancy Drew’ mystery was rejected for being ‘too similar’ but she has gone on to become the author of more than eighty books including her fast-paced Black Baron, which is part of Walker Books Lightning Strikes series.

Black Baron, Jake’s champion racing cockroach, hasn’t lost a race and Jake is on top of the world. But then his mum decides to clean up his bedroom and discovers Black Baron in a shoebox under Jake’s bed. Mum is aghast — how could Jake keep such a filthy pest? But Black Baron escapes and Jake’s Mum calls the pest exterminator and a humorous slapstick tale ensues. (Blurb courtesy of Walker Books Australia website)

Black Baron is for readers aged 8 to 12, but I must admit that this particular cockroach managed to get under my skin, and I know I’m not the only adult who has been charmed by his scuttling ways. The story  is action packed and full of great humour.

The main character Jake is a normal boy who isn’t good at cleaning his bedroom and would rather spend time with his mates,  which is why his mum ends up cleaning his room and finding Black Baron.

What Robyn likes most about her main character, Jake is that, to him, Black Baron isn’t an ordinary cockroach to be stomped on or exterminated. Jake has a friendship and bond with Black Baron.

He refers to himself as Black Baron’s manager, as well as Black Baron’s mate. He cares so much that Black Baron’s possible demise is devastating. He struggles with the guilt that Black Baron’s imminent death is his fault. He feels responsible for his champion and mate. His relationship with Black Baron is special.

Robyn says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing this book was falling in love with Black Baron.

Warming to a cockroach wasn’t easy for me either. Most of us have our prejudices against cockroaches. They’re not cute and cuddly. Jake taught me to care and respect Black Baron. Cockroaches are misunderstood. As Jake says, ‘Cockroaches get a bad rap.’

Robyn loves animals and says that they often feature in her stories. She also confesses to being a ‘greenie’ and this affinity for the environment comes through in a number of her works.

My latest manuscript has the environment as a theme and includes an ancient mystical symbol. You’ll have to wait to find out more. I’m hoping the environment and natural forces will become even more of a focus in my writing.

In my own way, Black Baron is a protest about hunting and killing animals. I don’t understand how people can hunt and kill animals for pleasure or profit.

Yes, a cockroach is an unlikely hero in a protest against hunting and killing animals. People will have to read the book to understand. I’ll get off my high horse now and leave you with one thought – Long live the champ!

Walker Books has prepared a page of classroom ideas and this sheet can also be downloaded from Robyn’s website:

Three Ways to Deal with Ebooks and Airplanes

Anyone who has ever read an ebook and flown on a plane (or perhaps just sat next to me on a plane) will know that you can’t read ebooks on a plane during the crucial moments of take off and landing. To anyone with the attention span of a baby monkey (like me), these moments of dead time can leave you shivering with lack of stimulation. What makes it worse is that the reasons for these restrictions are half-baked, like a lot of airline policy, and I’ve always thought it’s geared around shoring up the authority of the flight attendants rather than the actual safety of the plane. After all, newer ebook readers that use e-ink, like the Kindle, Kobo and Sony readers, emit about as much power as a digital watch – so unless every electronic object on the plane could cause it to drop out of the sky it seems pretty arbitrary.

Nonetheless, this rule is still enforced, ignorant or not, so what can the discerning reader of ebooks do about it? In this post I run through three potential options for dealing with this most horrible of first world problems.

1) Lie and Cheat

As I’ve demonstrated in previous posts, I’m flexible when it comes to rules. And in this case, breaking the rules won’t hurt anybody. The best way to conceal a Kindle or other ereader is in a cover that looks like a book. Failing that, you can usually slip it into the inflight magazine and hold it upright whenever the attendant walks by. Be careful not to appear too interested – nobody really likes those magazines, so you don’t want to give yourself away. If you’re travelling alone, ensure the person next to you isn’t crazy or a Federal policeman so you don’t get dobbed in.

2) Wait for an Official Solution

As Diana Dilworth pointed out on eBooknewser this week, it’s really only a matter of time until airlines begin integrating ebook reading into the inflight entertainment system. Kindle, Nook and iPad owners already enjoy the ability to sync whatever they’re reading between whatever device they happen to be reading on, so it would be a cinch to have whatever book you happen to be reading pop up on the screen in front of you for you to read without even using the batteries of the iPad/laptop/e-ink reader in your bag.

3) Take a Boat

If all else fails, take alternative transport. Today’s e-ink devices have a battery life of over two weeks, so you can probably go for a pretty long boat voyage before you run out of something to read. This plan is pretty failsafe, but does require some forward planning.

So there you have it, three ways you can avoid dead time on a plane. Sound off in the comments if you have any further suggestions, but please don’t waste our time by pointing out that I could just sit quietly and look out the window for twenty minutes. That is simply not an option.

What’s new at Ford St

Ford Street Publishing is a small Australian publisher specialising in books for kids and teens. Set up by author Paul Collins, it is an imprint of Hybrid Publishers. In just three years they have published over 20 books from established authors such as Hazel Edwards and Gary Crew through to newcomers like Foz Meadows and Chrissie Michaels. Hell… they’ve even published me! I’ve blogged about some of their books before (particularly my own), but I thought it was time I did so again. So let’s check out their latest titles and see what the future holds.

The latest release is a gorgeous picture book called The Glasshouse, written by Paul Collins and illustrated by Jo Thompson. Thompson’s haunting style of illustration works well with this story of obsessive perfection and paranoia. A girl named Clara lives in a glasshouse and grows perfect pumpkins… but her pursuit of perfection becomes an obsession, as her fear of the outside world turns to paranoia. But everything changes with the arrival of a young boy. This book has been getting some pretty great reviews so far — check out the reviews at Buzz Words Books and Kids Book Review.

Paul Collins and Jo Thompson signing copies of The Glasshouse.

Next month sees the release of the first two books in the Hazard River series by JE Fison. With colourful, eye-catching covers from Marc McBride, these adventure books are bound to be a hit with kids of about 8 and up. Jack Wilde and his gang of resourceful friends, on holiday with their families at Hazard River, are faced with a series of dangerous and humorous adventures. In Shark Frenzy! dead sharks with missing fins are being washed up on the river’s shores. In Snake Surprise! they find an abandoned houseboat with a snake and a message for HELP. Fast-paced and fun, these books also have a strong environmental angle. As with The Glasshouse, the great reviews have already started — check out the Bug in a Book reviews for Shark Frenzy! and Snake Surprise!.

And in March next year the next two books in the series will be released — Bat Attack! and Tiger Terror!. For more info about the Hazard River books, check out the official website.

There’s loads more books coming from Ford Street in the near future, including Into the Beech Forest by Gary Crew and Den Scheer; The Key to Starveldt (sequel to Solace and Grief) by Foz Meadows and Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. For more info about Ford Street Publishing, check out their website.

And tune in next time as I have a little rant about Ralph Lauren’s foray into kids’ books.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Dating by the Book – looking for love through literature

When it comes to romance, I think we are using books the wrong way. There are countless books about dating. They range from positive to negative to the extremely off-putting, including titles such as Dating Fitness, which combines dating with gym imagery (have YOU flexed your dating muscles recently?), and thus makes the whole thing sound a million times worse than it is. There are books on how to date and who to date and where to find dates, but why not just bring books along when we go dating?

Probably not one to impress the Pope with, either.A speed-read-dating function – where all the participants bring a few favoured books to show the others – sounds a lot more appealing to me than a three-minute meet and greet. By having special Book Daters events, we could just solve that hideous moment when you have spent two minutes rhapsodising about what you are currently reading and they say, “I don’t like books, actually.” You could get straight into the real question of the date – do you both like similar books?

It would solve non-compatibility issues right off the bat. If they are flashing a well-thumbed copy of the The God Delusion and you are clutching your battered and much loved copy of the Bible, well, that’s probably not a match made in heaven – whether you believe heaven exists or not. Likewise, Mills & Boons romance readers of the Barbara Cartland school (kissing is fine, but no further) might want to give people toting a copy of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell a wide berth.

The great thing about books is that they can be a little window into the reader’s brain. I have heard various horror stories from speed-dating, and a lot of those tale involve lies of the most basic nature – the guy who claimed to work at an animal shelter and turned out to work in the stock exchange (which I reckon would have probably been a deal-breaker either way round you decided to lie), another one who said he was just “a normal regular Joe” who brought his mother with him on the date, a girl who claimed to be a “sucessfull[sic] business woman” on a dating site and then tried to borrow cash for transport to the date in question.

A quick peak at their top three books would solve that one neatly. People read about the life that they would like to lead. If they’re holding travelogues and your idea of annual leave bliss is two weeks at home, this may not work out. If he’s toting Tolkien and an armload of fantasy books, you can’t complain when he turns out to be esoteric and fascinating but occasionally a touch odd. Likewise, if their favoured reading is sports books and sports bios and sports jokes, you can’t scream that you had no warning about this sport fixation when you have to spend the third Sunday in a row watching the games with them or worse, actually running around a pitch.

This man knows romance is a shirt half off.If your idea of true love is bringing home petrol station forecourt flowers on Valentine’s Day and they’re into urban and paranormal romance, you can bet that you’ll need to up your game in the romance stakes. A lot. And possibly wear sparkly body lotion in the sack.

Book can be a direct look at the relationships they idolise and what they will expect from you – Bella and Edward, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Sam and Frodo. Need to know what they want from you? Check out their bookshelf. Or better yet, get them to come to the date with their best books.

I mean, nine times out of ten if it all goes well you’ll just end up wittering on about books anyway so why not just make it official?

GIVEAWAY: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Kate Morton fans – we have a pre-release copy of The Distant Hours to giveaway, courtesy of the great people at Allen and Unwin!  Kate is the bestselling author of The Forgotten Garden and The Shifting Fog.  Her third novel, The Distant Hours, will be released in November.

To win the book, all that we want you to do is to provide one fact about Kate Morton and her books via a blog comment below. One of our ‘commenters’ will win the book.  Entries close Friday 1 October at 5pm AEST.

About The Distant Hours

It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost for a long time, waiting out half a century, stifling summer after cooling winter, in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey …Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives one Sunday afternoon with the return address of Millderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her Mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret. Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family: Juniper, her twin sisters and their father, Raymond, author of the 1920s children’s classic, The True History of the Mud Man. In the grand and glorious Millderhurst Castle, a new world opens up for Edie’s mother. She discovers the joys of books and fantasy and writing, but also, ultimately, the dangers. Fifty years later, as Edie chases the answers to her mother’s riddle, she, too, is drawn to Millderhurst Castle and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiance in 1941 plunged her into madness. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Millderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

Kate is the bestselling author of The Forgotten Garden and The Shifting Fog.  Her third novel, The Distant Hours, will be released in November.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton from Pan Macmillan on Vimeo.

David Hicks’ Guantanamo to be released 16 October – pre-order now

The much-awaited David Hicks autobiography will hit shelves on 16 October 2010.  You can pre-order the David Hicks book here…

Guantanamo: My Journey is the first published account by David Hicks of the years leading up to his incarceration in the infamous US military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, his time as a detainee, and his search for a normal life following release from prison in late 2007.

Written over the last two years, the book dispels myths about David Hicks’s life before Guantanamo and reveals insights into the interrogation techniques used by the US military on Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Publishing Director of Random House Australia, Nikki Christer, said she had greatly enjoyed working with David Hicks as his publisher, and found him to be a talented writer. She expected keen interest in this first published account of his experience. “David Hicks is one of the more intriguing figures in recent Australian history. Most people have an opinion about him, but very few know the truth of his experience,” Ms Christer said. “We’ve waited a long time to hear from him.”

Managing Director of Random House Australia, Margaret Seale, said the publisher was proud to be bringing such an important Australian memoir to print. “David Hicks has been the subject of controversy and sharply divided opinion in recent years, but until now his own story has not been told. Guantanamo: My Journey is a remarkable story that sheds light on an important chapter in our recent history,” Ms Seale said.

Guantanamo: My Journey is described as charting the path of a young man who, in 1999, set out from suburban Adelaide on an overseas trip that would change his life forever and land him in notorious Guantanamo Bay prison for five and half years. His story was one that divided a nation.

Now married and living in Sydney, David Hicks said: “This is the first time I have had the opportunity to tell my story publicly. I hope you find that this book is not only a story of injustice, but also a story of hope.”


Today I’m pleased to welcome children’s author Marianne Musgrove to Kids’ Book Capers. Marianne is a former social worker, tomato picker, museum guide for kids and law school dropout who says that the thing she likes most about writing is inventing.

Marianne is also descended from Henry VIII’s librarian (true story) so you could say books are in her blood. She became a writer when a tick bite led to a bad bout of typhus which led to a long period of convalescence.

As I stared at the ceiling, I thought to myself, “Now’s the time to write that novel!” That novel became The Worry Tree.

Marianne is the author of The Worry TreeDon’t Breathe a WordLucy the Good and Lucy the Lie Detector, all with Random House Australia and she says that the hardest part about writing is the discipline.

Her greatest writing achievement is:

Completing my first novel, The Worry Tree. It still amazes me when children from around the world get in contact to say the book has inspired them to make their own worry trees which they hang their worries on at night.

Marianne’s books have themes of how kids philosophise about the world, the importance of family and intergenerational relationships and characters with Shakespearean names. At the moment she is working on a funny book about forgiveness.


A blank page can be very intimidating. Pick a word at random and write it on the page. Now it’s not blank anymore!


Marianne Musgrove was inspired to write Lucy the Lie Detector by two things

1. how telling the truth isn’t always black and white, and

2. guinea pigs.

I didn’t know how to combine these two very different themes but then, one night, I had a dream and the plot was laid out before me.

When Lucy accidentally scratches Dad’s brand-new car, one small mistake turns into an enormous fib involving Lucy’s best friend Harriet, Lucy’s worst enemy Jacinta, a telepathic camel and a guinea pig with an escape plan. Lucy is on a quest to discover what truth is so she decides to become a Lie Detector. The question is: can she figure out the truth in time?

Lucy the Lie Detector is for readers aged 6-9. They will relate to Lucy because she is a real kid with real flaws.

She and her brother have a lot of funny adventures as a result of her idiosyncratic view of life, e.g. Lucy wishes there was a machine to suck out her guilty feelings. In the next scene, we find her standing in the lounge room with a vacuum cleaner attached to her tummy.

This is not Marianne’s first book about Lucy and the author clearly has a fondness for her main character.

I like the way Lucy is absolutely convinced her way of seeing the world is correct. As a result, she draws some rather unorthodox conclusions about life. I don’t dislike anything about her although she does have quite a temper, but then so did I when I was a kid. Just ask my Year One teacher. (Sorry, Mrs Langdon!)

Marianne says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing this book was getting  inside Lucy’s head and letting her lead the way.

A lot of books for this age group aren’t terribly ‘deep’ or if they do tackle an issue, they can be moralistic. I’ve aimed to write a rollicking adventure that also explores some of life’s big questions.

The hardest thing about writing this book was meeting the deadline. I had to be very firm with myself: less staring out the window drinking cups of chai tea, and more typing!

In July, Marianne visited my deescribewriting blog with some great advice about how to write about issues in children’s fiction. Here’s the link to her very informative post

Teachers notes and activities are available at

Is Piracy a Legitimate Part of our Culture?

For my fiftieth post (yes, my fiftieth!), I’d like to revisit a topic close to my heart. Piracy. In the world of digital content, piracy has been around longer than most legitimate forms of digital purchase. Anyone who claims to have been reading ebooks since they had a Palm Pilot probably at some point acquired illegal digital books. Piracy is at the forefront of innovation when it comes to distribution and accessibility and yet, because it clashes with most of our current economic models, it is considered a Very Bad Thing.

So my question for today – can piracy ever be good? Is piracy a legitimate part of our culture? Are the old economic models broken? Like almost every question I post up on this blog, I don’t have an answer. But I think there are lots of reasons why people rush to defend piracy (and it’s not just because pirates are cool).

First of all, there are lots of reasons why people pirate things. I think most of those reasons are not that defensible from a traditional ethical standpoint. That is, people don’t like to pay for things they don’t have to. Piracy enables people with a certain level of technical expertise to not have to pay for things they want. This is the most basic reason for piracy, and it’s the most basic reason why anti-piracy groups want to stop them. On the one hand you’ve got a group of people technically able and willing to get things they want for free, and on the other hand a group of people making things who want to be remunerated for that.

The problem occurs not because one of these urges is unethical and the other isn’t. Or even because the former precludes the latter. The problem is that most of our cultural industries view a pirated thing as exactly the same as a stolen thing – or more importantly – as a lost sale. However, it’s evident to anybody who has ever pirated anything that this isn’t the case. Making a digital copy does not mean that you are depriving someone else of that thing. People who pirate things still buy things. And a person who pirates something wasn’t necessarily ever going to buy it. Piracy, from numerous studies, doesn’t even seem to affect legitimate sales one way or the other.

So if piracy is done for the wrong reasons, but the consequences aren’t bad – what is it? I prefer to think of it as a form of unpaid, uncontrollable viral marketing. It’s clear that the most successful books are also the most pirated. And anyone who has ever tried to sell a good book will know that the best way to boost sales is to get more people reading that book – through the always-elusive word of mouth. Piracy is dodgy, but it is also the most efficient way to distribute a digital product. And so long as there is an easy-to-use, affordable, legitimate alternative to piracy, most people will still prefer to buy it. And for those in-between cases, like people with disabilities, library sharing and proof copy distribution (problems that have yet to be solved by traditional publishers in regards to ebooks) – the availability of illegal copies means that those people who wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise read your book will be able to do so. To quote the excellent Tim O’Reilly, e-publisher: “Obscurity is a far great threat to artists than piracy.”

So the way to fight piracy, then, isn’t to try and make people who pirate things feel guilty. If they felt that guilty about it, they probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place. It’s also ethically iffy to sue people for lost sales when they’ve pirated content, as it isn’t clear that all of that content would have been purchased if it hadn’t been acquired illegally. I also don’t see the point in locking up digital purchases with DRM, as it unfairly punishes those of us who buy things legally, and makes piracy a more attractive option. At its best, book piracy is a way of getting people talking about a book who wouldn’t otherwise be reading it. At its worse it’s a bunch of dodgy people whose technical expertise and lack of ethics means that you’ll never be able to stop them getting hold of your product without paying anyway.

What do you think? I’d especially love to hear from authors who have seen their own books end up on filesharing websites. Do you see it as a good or bad thing? How would you prefer your publisher deal with the issue of piracy? And for everyone else: have you ever pirated a digital something? How would you defend your choice to do so?

How I learned to love libraries

I love libraries! I can’t imagine a world without them. But I wasn’t always so enamoured with them. Once upon a time, in my dim and dark past, libraries were places to be fearful of.

The first library I remember visiting was my primary school library way back in the 1970s. Once a week our class would visit the library and each student got to borrow a book. Actually, each student had to borrow a book. This was back when I didn’t like reading. I wasn’t very good at it and I didn’t like the readers we were given in class. The library, as far as I was concerned at the time, was filed with more of those awful, boring, difficult to read book things. But I was expected to borrow a book each week. So I did. I would borrow a book, take it home in my library bag and dutifully ignore it until the following week, when I would return it and begin the process again.

Thankfully, things did change. Somewhere in mid-primary I discovered Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet —a book that showed me that reading could be fun. You would think, now that I had decided to like reading, that I would enjoy visiting the library. No! Even though I now enjoyed reading, I still wasn’t very good at it… and I was very slow. The thought of having only one week to read a book filled me with fear. So each week I would search the shelves for books with as few words as I thought I could get away with borrowing. I would often end up reading books way below my level, simply so I could feel confident about returning them the following week. I have a distinct memory of borrowing (and loving) all the Anatole books by Eve Titus — simple, heavily illustrated books about a French mouse, aimed at early primary school level.

Things did eventually get better. My reading confidence slowly increased (although my speed did not) and I discovered the wonders of re-borrowing. “WOW! You mean I can keep a book for two weeks?” So I started borrowing more challenging books, one of my favourites being a large hardcover illustrated edition of L Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — I borrowed and read this book several times over. By the time I started high school, I had learned to love libraries, and I made regular use of my high school’s library, even though we didn’t have to borrow its books.

After all these years, I still love going to libraries. I am a frequent visitor to my local library. I am still not the fastest of readers, so that re-borrow feature comes in handy every now and then. And now that I have kids, I love taking them to the library. My oldest daughter, at seven years of age, excitedly borrows books from her school library each week… and usually ends up finishing whatever book she gets, on the day she gets it.

My use of libraries has changed over the years. Where once I used to mostly borrow novels and books for reading relaxation, these days I tend to use libraries more for research. I write a lot for the primary school education market (see my post: School Readers), so I’m forever searching out facts about everything from Native American myths to lions’ teeth. I do a lot of research on the World Wide Web, but I still keep coming back to my local library. I can search the catalogue, reserve a book and even re-borrow from the comfort of my own computer via the library’s website. Very convenient!

If you’re sufficiently interested in my thoughts on libraries to want more… you can read my article about the University of Melbourne’s library at the Baillieu Library’s 50th Anniversary Memory Board — “The Baillieu, friendship, and graffiti”.

If you’ve got any library memories you’d like to share, leave a comment.

And tune in next time to find out about the latest books from Ford Street Publishing.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… a great place to hang out when you’re not at the library.

The Power Of Printed Books

Green ZoneIt’s easy to get caught up in the hype that ebooks are sounding the death knell of printed books, but if there’s one thing that South America has reminded me, it’s that printed books are far from dead—they’re alive and well in the hands of travellers.

Everywhere I look, backpackers and flashpackers are clutching or leafing through their well-thumbed Lonely Planet guidebooks. They’re reading novels in hammocks (or covering their face with them as an effective sun block while they’re snoozing). They’re perusing the hostel book swaps. Or they are, like me, lamenting the lack of supply of English language books, and making puppy dog eyes at anyone willing to loan or swap them one.

The reason? Ebooks are fantastic and I will happily subscribe to them, but when you’re travelling, you don’t always have access to the ebook make-or-break thing: power. That or the power you have access to isn’t always reliable*. Nothing—not a pretty iPad, not a less-pretty but equally functional Kindle—can replace the handiness, the ease, and the comfort of a printed book.

I have single-handedly blacked out my hostel in Rio three times in the last 24 hours. By turning on the light. They keep asking me if I have other things, such as power-sucking hair dryers, plugged in at the time I switch on said light, i.e. something that would short the circuit or whatever the technical language is. I would argue that it’s clear given the frizziness of my hair that there are neither hair dryers nor hair straighteners being used by me. It’s obviously—and slightly frighteningly—the hostel’s dodgy wiring. I’d have no chance of charging an iPad.

It’s also occurred to me in recent days that although travelling is exciting, printed books also offer an escape from travel. Or help you travel in another way. They help you escape from an interminably long flight. Escape from the snoring of the person slumped in the seat next to you. Escape from the jet lag-induced insomnia. But they also help you journey into a place, to better understand it as you travel through. At the very least these books remind you of a time and place where you enjoyed them.

I made a lucky find a couple of days ago, both because I found an English book I’m enjoying and because it’s one I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered given the expansive choice of books in Australia. The book is Green Zone (originally published as Imperial Life in the Emerald City). I knew of it because it was a recent film by the director of the Bourne Identity series and starring Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon, and I have to say that although the Bourne films are good, I figured Green Zone would be a little macho and over the top for my reading tastes.

But desperation makes for desperate reading measures, and it turns out Green Zone isn’t macho or OTT at all. It’s a brilliant, insightful, and ultimately frightening account of America’s attempt to rebuild Iraq from within a heavily protected area they cordoned off in Baghdad and to which they effectively transplanted a mini America. The result is that the Americans making the biggest decisions in Iraq have little to no understanding of the Iraq beyond the ‘Green Zone’ walls.

Imperial Life in the Emerald CityGreen Zone/Imperial Life in the Emerald City is of the ilk of The Good Soldiers and Generation Kill, but focuses on the policy makers rather than the grunt men. It’s exceptionally crafted and complements the content of the other two books, albeit thoroughly cementing my horror at the Americans’ bungled efforts (and lack of common sense, strategy, and empathy) in Iraq.

My problem with Green Zone? It’s that it’s so easy to read that I’m already three quarters or the way through. I’m sweating bullets over how to beg, borrow, or steal another book to read on the five-hour flight back to Santiago, and the subsequent 15-hour flight back to Brisbane via Auckland. I read the in-flight magazines and watched the films on the way over. On the way back, without a printed book I’m doomed.

*It should also be noted that while five-in-one adaptors seem like a good idea at the time (that is, you no longer need to cart around a bag of various ones that you can no longer remember have which plugs for what), such adaptors are far too fancy and far too technical when you’re jetlagged and. just. need. to. charge. your. phone.

72-year-old publishes debut novel – winner of inaugural CAL Scribe Fiction Prize

In August 2009, Scribe launched the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize for an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer aged 35 and over, regardless of publication history. The winner received $12,000 and a book contract from Scribe.

Maris Morton, born in 1938, has never had a book published before and was thrilled to win the inaugural CAL Scribe Fiction Prize with her debut novel, A Darker Music, to be published in October 2010 by Scribe.

Maris said of the win: ‘Winning the CAL Scribe Prize has made what seemed to be an impossible dream come true. I’m still pinching myself. Winning has given me an added incentive to go on doing what I love best: telling stories!’

Maris currently lives in Uki in rural NSW but has worked in various jobs around Australia including as an English teacher, shearers’ cook, shed hand, artist, art restorer and director of an art gallery, as well as raising two children. She has had a lifelong love of reading and a desire to write. But, she says, she never had the confidence to and it was only when she reached a crossroads in her life in the 1980s that she finally put pen to paper. At 72, she will finally see her dream realised.

A Darker Music has been a long time in gestation and was her third attempt at a novel. ‘A lot of people knew I was trying to write a book, it’s been a twelve-year effort, so I’m not an overnight success, far from it!’ She did a fair amount of research into merino wool production and the viola, as one of the central characters was a musician before she abandons her music to live on the sheep stud.

Maris says she has accumulated a lot of stories over the years. ‘I have been single for most of my life and people talk to me.’ She is now at work on another novel.

The inaugural CAL Scribe Fiction Prize for writers over 35 attracted 534 entrants, with the eldest born in 1919 (90 years old), while 22 entrants were born in the 1920s and 64 in the 1930s. The standard was very high and it was a tough task to narrow the longlist down to just three manuscripts and then to choose a winner. Aviva Tuffield, Fiction Acquisitions Editor at Scribe, says: ‘The judging process was quite lengthy and the judges admired all of the ten longlisted manuscripts.’

It was a very tight contest in the end — almost a dead heat between the three shortlisted works — but after much wrangling and negotiation the three judges agreed that Maris Morton’s work was the standout. The judges were Kerryn Goldsworthy, Mark Rubbo, and Aviva Tuffield. Of the winning manuscript, judge Mark Rubbo said: ‘It has a strong narrative and personally I found it was an extremely satisfying read.’

Both Meg Mundell’s Black Glass and Jane Sullivan’s Little People were highly commended and will also be published by Scribe in 2011.

The Scribe Fiction Prize is running again this year, with entries now open for the 2011 edition.

Many writers only find the time and have acquired the life experience to write fiction later in life. This prize recognises that there are many examples of late bloomers when it comes to writers, certainly in terms of getting published. Youth is already celebrated in so many ways, and Scribe wants to support writers who are emerging or still going strong in their prime.

About A Darker Music

‘This is an evocative story layered with mystery, longing and regret. Set on a sheep stud in WA the rural landscape is a background for a narrative that succinctly shows what the human heart can endure. Passion can extend beyond human love. It can fill our soul.’ — Nicole Alexander, author of The Bark Cutters

When Mary Lanyon takes on the job of temporary housekeeper at Downe, a famous Merino stud, she is looking forward to staying in a gracious homestead with the wealthy Hazlitt family. The owner’s wife, Clio, has been ill, and Mary’s task is to get the house back into shape in the lead-up to the wedding of the only son and heir, Martin.

When she arrives, however, Mary realises things are not right. Clio Hazlitt rarely ventures from her room. The house is shabby, redolent of dust and secrets. As a friendship develops between the women, Mary discovers answers to the questions that have puzzled her: What is the nature of Clio’s illness? What has caused the grim estrangement between Clio and her husband? And why did Clio give up playing music, when she says it meant so much to her?

A Darker Music is a gripping mystery that takes you into the heart of rural Western Australia, and into one family’s troubled past.


The Samurai Kids and Sensei are on their way to the hwarang training village in search of Pak Cho, Sensei’s former teacher.

At first, Kyung, the guide with the gun is determined to stop them, but he soon realizes that the travellers are more than a match for him.

In their latest adventure, Niya,  Kyoko, Mikko, Yoshi, Taji and Chen must help the hwarang warriors rescue the Nine Valleys from the clutches of the corrupt Provincial Governor and power hungry Hypo Moon.

In the process, they learn some valuable things about themselves, about patience and not judging too soon or too harshly.

Fire Lizard is the fifth book in the Samurai Kids series and just like its predecessors, it’s fast-paced with great characters and eloquent writing. Fire Lizard is narrated by Niya (whose spirit is the White Crane). He is the Samurai who can read Sensai’s thoughts and in this book, he comes one step closer to discovering his teacher’s secret.

This is another action-packed adventure for 9-12 year-olds. I love the uniqueness of the six Samurai Kids, each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses – each with a quality that is essential to the wellbeing of the entire group.

Sensei as always is full of wise words “Just take one step. Every journey begins with one step. No matter how long or hard the traveling is.”

Fire Lizard, like all the Samurai Kids’ books is beautifully illustrated by Rhian Nest James and has been meticulously researched.  Author, Sandy Fussell has impeccable attention to detail, and it’s this description of food, terrain and weather conditions that allow the reader to feel as if they are actually going along on this journey too.

Young readers have been eagerly awaiting the release of this fifth Samurai Kids’ adventure and I’m sure they won’t be disappointed. Fire Lizard is published by Walker Books.

Terry Pratchett’s sword is mightier than his pen

The pen may be mightier of the two but, after years forging a career as Britain’s best-selling fantasy author with over 65 million books sold to his name, Terry Pratchett decided it was time to forge a sword instead of writing about them.

Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) “for services to literature” in 1998 and knighted in the 2009 New Year Honours, he briefly lamented the fact that knighthood no longer came with a horse and blade before deciding to make his own. And not just any sword, but as fitting a fantasy writer, he decided to make an epic sword made from fallen meteorites – a Swordof Fallen Stars, if you want to get all fantastical about it.

Make it, mind, not just buy it in a shop. Popular convention has it that writers are weedy creatures, unsuited to exertion, the outdoors and – in extreme cases – sunlight and fresh air, but Pratchett, found and gathered and smelted the iron ore himself.  For that epic sword of fantasy flavour it included “several pieces of meteorites — thunderbolt iron, you see — highly magical, you’ve got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not”.

In addition to the pieces of meteorite it took 81kgs of ore, a makeshift kiln made from clay and hay and powered by sheep manure, and the help of a friend who was an expert on metal-making, but Terry Pratchett succeeded in making his own sword. “Most of my life I’ve been producing stuff which is intangible and so it’s amazing the achievement you feel when you have made something which is really real.”

Pratchett is a profilic writerm and a favourite author of mine, with his Discworld series taking up some serious bookshelf real estate in my apartment (Small Gods is my favourite). His collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, being one of the books I am most likely to force into people’s hands, roaring “you must read this, it is fantastic”. He’s been in the news recently for his battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, filming a programme chronicling his experiences with the disease for the BBC and his controversial and publicised support of assisted suicide, and it’s good to see that he hasn’t – if you will forgive the pun – lost his edge.

He has always gone his own way, and long been known for his habit of wearing a black fedora anywhere he can get away with it. Looking more like a snow-bearded cowboy than an elderly writer, it’s unlikely he’ll be adding the sword to his threads when he’s out in public. It’s a showpiece only, as he can’t carry it proudly on his side – sheathed or otherwise – thanks to UK law. “It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime.”

Despite weilding a satiric pen for years, Terry isn’t contesting this. He has no doubt which of the two make a better weapon. He wrote said, “The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.”

As for me, I’m having fun imagining a world where authors become professionals at crafting the tools of their genre. In addition to fantasy writers slaving over the anvils, we could have science-fiction writers building spacecraft and time-machines in the shed, and romance novelists setting up dating agencies. Twilight author Stephenie Meyers doing a sideline in making bedtime coffin and scented stakes.

Someone will have to tell crime-writer Patricia Cornwall that she’s not invited to this party.


Earlier this month, Fire Lizard, the much anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kid’s series was released. I know my boys weren’t the only ones who were really looking forward to it.

Today, Sandy Fussell is back at Kid’s Book Capers to talk about Fire Lizard and how she created this fascinating book.

What inspired you to write Fire Lizard?

As the fifth book in a series, it has a life of its own. I don’t really have much control at all. It was inspired by a combination of the readers and the characters.

What’s it about?

Sensei travels to the hidden valley of the Hwarang warriors in the Kingdom of Joseon, to visit his old teacher, Pak Cho. Much has changed. The villages of the Nine Valleys are terrorised by a corrupt governor and his henchman, Hyo Moon. Pak Cho is blind and frail, but still a powerful man. Sensei and the Little Cockroaches escort Pak Cho through the now dangerous Valleys to deliver a warning message to the governor in Daejeon City.

What age groups is it for?

The Samurai Kids series has found an audience across a wide age group. Perhaps this is best indicated by its selection on the NSW Premiers Reading Challenge for Years 5 -6 and the VIC Premiers Reading Challenge for Years 7 -10.

Why will kids like Fire Lizard?

First and foremost, it is an exciting action adventure, a struggle between good and evil with a martial arts focus. It has a cast of familiar and new characters, a slash of humour, a little cultural mysticism and mythology and an unusual setting.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

One of the interesting things about the Samurai Kids series is there is no main character and different readers attach to different favourite Kid. Even though one-legged Niya is the narrator in all the books, he doesn’t assume a driving role except in the first book, White Crane. A different character drives the story line in each book, but not in a sense that I would call them the main character. One of the ongoing challenges of writing Samurai Kids is providing balance between six main characters.

The Kids are so familiar to me that in any situation I know who would be flicking their rice across the room, who wouldn’t be listening to me, who is poking the kid next to him…

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

The Samurai Kids series has a dedicated website with a range of teacher resources – craft ideas, origami, reading notes, fact sheets, a one-act play, web quests and interactive quizzes.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Each of the Samurai Kids books features a different Kid, a new location in their journey with Sensei and a new martial arts skill added to their repertoire. The story of Fire Lizard is driven by Mikko, who only has one arm and whose spirit guide is the Striped Gecko. This time Sensei and the Kids journey into the Kingdom of Joseon, now known as Korea. There they discover the elite Hwarang warriors, sometimes credited with developing the early techniques of tae-kwon-do.

What did you enjoy most about writing Fire Lizard?

I enjoyed exploring a new corner of history. I knew nothing about 17th century Korea and very little about its geography. I love the fact that each Samurai Kids book teaches me new things.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Two things. It was much more difficult to find reference texts on Korean history than for my earlier settings of China and Japan and half-way through the story, the idea for Book 6 which is set on Cheju Island at the tip of Korea, began to push its way into my head. I wanted to get started on that and had to concentrate hard to finish Fire Lizard! I am easily distracted by the lure of a new story.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, I’ll be doing a review of Fire Lizard. Hope you can join us then.

Interview with the Rotten Vampire: Claudia Gray (Part 2)

We’re back with Claudia Gray, author of Hourglass. In this post is a spoiler about Book 4, Afterlife, that Claudia says she’s never released to the public before! Gosh, readers, are you spoilt or what?!

So, Claudia – books on your bedside table?

I just finished FURIOUS LOVE. I’m currently reading DAUGHTERS OF KURA. You’ll notice that neither of those are YA paranormal, because I’m currently in the heart of editing FATEFUL. I do keep up with my YA paranormal, but only when I’m not in the middle of my writing process. First up for when I start with the YA again: PARANORMALCY and FIRELIGHT.

Biggest misconception you had/have about Australia that you know is about to be proved wrong?

Honestly, I didn’t find that I had too many assumptions to knock aside — I was eager to see what I’d find. I will say that my one trip to the Australian outback featured rainy, cool weather and verdant greenery, which was not what I was expecting!

Authors that influence your writing:

I don’t think there’s anyone specific. If you’re an avid reader and writer, I think pretty much any book you love has some effect on your writing. The one person whose style probably had the most impact on me (though I don’t know that it influences my writing that much, directly anyway) is Margaret Mitchell.

Tell us one thing your readers would be surprised to learn about you:

I once took a role in a friend’s low-budget science fiction movie, wearing alien make-up, no less. It was never released. Thank GOD.

What’s next in store for Claudia Gray?

Next is finishing my book FATEFUL, which is a werewolf adventure set aboard the RMS Titanic. Then I’ll be turning to BALTHAZAR, about the life, death and subsequent adventures of the title vampire. At the beginning of next year, I hope to start work on SPELLCASTER, a witchcraft-based trilogy.

I realise that most things would be spoilers for those who haven’t read the series yet, but what can we expect from Book 4 – Afterlife (any cryptic spoilers)?

Here’s one I’ve never given out before: Vic will finally have a supernatural “moment” of his own. It won’t go well.

Most important question of the night: would you rather be stuck in the body of a gargoyle spouting water at the entrance to some major gothic castle for a year, or drink only blood for two years? Why?

I’m so grossed out by the blood that I guess I’d have to go for the gargoyle, though that does sound a bit dull. But maybe I’ll catch up on my rest. And maybe the gothic castle will have residents who lead deliciously soapy lives, so I can live vicariously through their dramas.


Thanks for the info, Ms Gray! And thanks to HarperCollins, too.


Jaguar Warrior by Sandy Fussell begins with slave boy Atl imprisoned in a box waiting to be sacrificed.

When the Spanish invade a fast runner is needed to request help from the nearby city of Purepecha; Atl is released.

However, the Captain of the Temple Guard believes Mexica is losing the battle because Atl has not been sacrificed as promised and pursues him. Accompanied by two friends, Lali and Zolan, Atl races through the jungle. Unknown to him, the Captain is hunting not far behind. Atl must make the decision to run to freedom or to complete the task he has been given.

Sandy Fussell, the author of Jaguar Warrior has been fascinated by Mexica (Aztec) history, ever since she was a child.

It’s such a dichotomy – the advanced, intellectual society sacrificing people so the sun would rise. Mexica civilization is an interesting look at how different beliefs shape history. It’s always tempting to look back and judge based on what we know today or our modern day ethics and values. I wanted to put the bloodthirsty stereotype version of Aztec history into perspective for younger readers while using it as the historical backdrop for an action adventure.

Jaguar Warrior is for readers 9+. While it is set in a culture known for their bloodthirsty sacrificial practices,  Sandy says it is not a violent or gory book.

I am very conscious of historical context – the need to get the facts right and in perspective – as well as the age of my readers. This balance was one of the main challenges when writing the story.

The story seems to really resonate with young readers and I asked Sandy why.

Readers tell me the chase is very exciting. One reviewer thought the story was so action packed she compared it to an Indiana Jones plot! There are jaguars, crocodiles, ghostly figures in the mist, slave traders, ambushes and the ever present threat of being captured and returned to the Temple for sacrifice.

As a writer, I know I get very attached to my main character. I get to know them so well that they start to seem like a friend or even a family member. Atl, in Jaguar Warrior seemed very real to me, and Sandy obviously has a close affinity with him.

Atl has a lot to learn about himself and he’s not happy to listen to anything his companion, Lali, has to say on that matter. He thinks she is an annoying show-off. And sometimes she is but she is very smart. It hasn’t been easy living as a slave and Atl has to decide whether to put his freedom first or even whether he can be free if he runs away from helping Tenochtitlan. He can be pig-headed and stubborn. But he is loyal to his friends when he works out who they are, and that helps him make his decision.


The thing Sandy enjoyed most about writing this book was doing the research.

I discovered this wonderful book called The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla. It’s a collection of translated oral Nahuatl language accounts of the Spanish invasion – a perspective I hadn’t explored before. History is so often written by the victors and the Mexica people didn’t have a written language (although they kept hieroglyphic records) so it was the first real access I had to a native primary source. Plus some of the poetry is very haunting and beautiful.


The hardest part was developing the reader relationship with the villain, the Temple Guard Captain, Huemac. I tell the story from two perspectives – that of the hero and the villain. I wanted the reader to know both equally well. But I wanted them to dislike Huemac intensely. And then, when I had achieved that, I wanted to turn the reader around and convince him/her to allow Huemac to be redeemed. (Which in Mexica culture meant to return to life for a brief period as a butterfly!)

Teacher’s notes and a web quest, Daily Life in an Aztec City are available on Sandy’s website

Tomorrow at Kid’s Book Capers, Sandy is going to talk us through the inspiration behind her much-anticipated fifth book in the Samurai Kids series, Fire Lizard.

What is Google Editions and Why Should You be Excited?

I’ve heard a whole range of responses to the announcement of Google’s answer to the ebook question, from the pessimistic (this won’t change anything), to the hysterical (this development is going to single-handedly save the book industry worldwide!). As with most of the stuff I cover on this blog, the answer is probably somewhere between the two.

To begin with – what the hell is Google Editions? Editions is Google’s response to the current ebook retail solutions. Hardly surprisingly, it is very Google-ish. Instead of a single device that reads books sold through a single store (like both Apple and Amazon), Google Editions will be as open as possible. It will be accessible from launch on any device with access to the web through the login most of us already have with Google. They’ll do this by hosting their ebooks in ‘the cloud’ – a fancy way of saying on the internet, specifically on Google’s vast server space. They’ve already got the content – when they launched Google Books a couple of years ago they got the books from scanning a vast library of out-of-print and out-of-copyright paper books, and have spent the time since cementing relationships with publishers and authors in order to get more recent books (and the permission to use the books they took it upon themselves to scan in). When they launch they’ll likely have a bigger library of ebooks than any other retailer on the web. More importantly than any of that, Google will be opening up their library of ebooks for sale through other retailers, acting as the backend for independent booksellers and other booksellers who, for whatever reason, lack the resources or wherewithal to put their own ebook store together.

In theory, this should mean that those of us who read exclusively digital nowadays will still be able to support our local indie bookstore and continue to read ebooks. It wouldn’t even need to be done through a website. In the most optimistic view, I imagine a world in which I head in to my local bookstore, browse the selection they have there and come across a couple I’d like to read, then proceed to a terminal or the front desk to order them sent to my personal digital library in the cloud to read at my leisure later. That would combine the singular experience of browsing a bookstore (far more enjoyable, in my opinion, than any ebookstore has yet managed to create) and the convenience of ebooks.

So what’s the catch? Well, the cloud solution to ebooks is nice in theory, but it stretches the software licence idea of ebook ownership to a new level for consumers. When you buy an ebook from Amazon, you’re not really buying the file you download, you’re buying a licence to use that file and cannot legally use it in any way contrary to that licence. This is completely different to a physical book, which, after you’ve purchased it, you can do anything you like with – including sell it on to another person or a secondhand bookstore. Google Editions wouldn’t be any different to the existing ebook offerings in that regard, but you wouldn’t even be downloading a file – you’d be accessing that file through the internet. It remains to be seen whether consumers will embrace this difference or not.

Other question marks hang over the Google Editions project as well. If the file can only be accessed from the cloud, what do you do when you’re not connected to the internet? Does that mean you can’t read the book? One presumes this isn’t the case, Google have been experimenting with ‘offline’ apps (such as offline Gmail, Calendar and Docs) for years now, but people still tend to fundamentally think of books as an offline, almost anti-internet experience – and I wonder if that will make a difference to how Google Editions is viewed.

At any rate, Google Editions is a welcome addition to the offerings already out there, and has the potential to do some very interesting stuff to the industry, especially to independent booksellers.

Small Salvation

Four days into my 20-day trip to South America, I realised that I have made the biggest, rookiest, most unforgiveable mistake: instead of taking my own advice that there’s no such thing as too many books, and loading up and weighing down my bag big time with paperbacks I’ll never have time to read, I forced myself to bring just two.

The result? I’ve finished one and am three quarters of the way through the second. I would have finished the latter by now but for forcing myself to eek out the last quarter as the panic of impending booklessness sets in.

I do know that Murphy’s Law dictates that had I packed extra books, I’d never have read them. But because I didn’t, I have. I’ll finish my second book tonight—there’s no way I can spread it any more thinly and I have neither the ability nor the willpower to pace myself—and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get through the remaining 15 days.

The irony, of course, is that I have a 30-plus book backlog awaiting me back in Brisvegas and I’m kicking myself for not bringing at least a few of those said backlog books. I have also thought seriously about ordering up big from this good book store and begging Clayton to send a care package express international, but I also realise that I’m both travelling too much and that even sent express, any package would only arrive pretty much as I’m leaving South America.

So it’s with more than a little relief and a lot of excitement that I stumbled across a gorgeous café/bookshop in Santiago. All the books are in Spanish, which no more diminishes the desire to buy and read them, albeit which is hampered by my increasingly and embarrassingly apparent inability to master even the most basic Spanish.

The bookshop discovery doesn’t solve my impending no-books-to-read issue (and no, the hostel I’m staying at doesn’t have a book swap regime on the go, because trust me, I’d be pillaging it right now if it did), but the mere proximity of the books has helped me recover some of that temporarily depleted zen. The boon too is that such an inability to read Spanish is a blessing for my already overwrought credit card and my luggage-lugging back.

So, I don’t have any extra books to read, but I do have the comfort of books’ proximity. That small salvation is enough for now, but if you happen to know anyone travelling through South America who’s willing to loan me books, that’d also be completely tops.

Sentenced to Read – how your books give you away

The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, but the way to understand a person’s heart comes straight off their bookshelf, according to the law in Michigan.

The judgement on 15-year-old, Justin Furnari, who killed a woman in a hit-and-run car accident, included an intriguing twist – a stipulation to read. In accordance with what you would expect, the judge sentenced him to four years in juvenile detention, the maximum penalty allowed under law, and ordered him to pay for her funeral expenses. But intriguingly the judge added a stipulation to the sentence – the teen was also ordered to read three books a month. This starts with “The Catcher in the Rye”, which was a favourite of 59-year-old Penny Przywara, the woman that he hit and killed.

It’s an interesting idea, although the news reports are sadly lacking in the why of the judge’s decision. Was it motivated by a belief that further education would broaden and improve the mind of the teen, or an attempt to make the culprit understand the mind of the woman he hit? Did it come out over the trial that the teen did not read and the judge believed he would benefit from it? Or something else entirely?

Still, the first step to empathy is to understand other people, and what better way to get to know someone than to read the books that appeal to them? The Catcher in the Rye is a much-lauded coming of age story written by JD Salinger, featuring a teenage protagonist wrestling with his identity, teenage rebellion and his sense of alienation from society. It’s a book frequently recommended to teenagers, echoing the wrestles with growing-up and confusion as it does. The fact that it remained a favourite of Ms Przywara until her late fifties suggests, had she ever met Justin, Penny would have understood the young man a great deal more than he would have expected.

That said, just because it’s a book about teenagers doesn’t mean they will all like it. The Catcher in the Rye was on my own required reading list at high school and I have to admit the fragmented and occasionally incoherant prose and the whiny indecisiveness of the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, left me not so much with an understanding of him but with more of an urge to smack him – and JD Salinger – in the face with a herring.  Repeatedly. I did, however, take a huge shine to Shakespeare, and particularly Macbeth, which most of my class declared boring. Perhaps it was all the hot men with Scottish accents or my wish to be a witch when I grew up.

There’s no doubt that people’s choice in reading tells you a great deal about them and – as my poor long suffering English teacher could have told you – the main thing you learn when you have to recommend a book to a large group of people is that for every person who “gets  it” and loves it, there will be two people loudly complaining that it’s rubbish. In recommending The Catcher in the Rye, the judge takes the risk that it will not just not appeal to, but actively alienate, the fifteen year old boy that will be reading them. Perhaps that’s why the judge stipulated not just one book but three a month.

Or perhaps I have the wrong end of the stick completely, and the judge just works part-time in the publishing industry. What do you think, and what book would you recommend people read to understand you?

Interview with the Rotten Vampire: Claudia Gray (Part 1)

I was incredibly lucky to score an interview with the fantastic Claudia Gray, author of the Hourglass book I gave away on this blog a few weeks ago. Thanks so much HarperCollins – she’s a charmer!

Hi Claudia, hope you have a smashing time while you’re in Australia, and thank you in advance for taking the time to answer the questions from an Evernight fan.
So, is the Evernight series something that hit you as late-night inspiration, or had you been working on the idea for years?

More late-night inspiration, though it wasn’t an all at once type of thing. But I’ve been fascinated with vampires and all kinds of frightening creatures since I was a small child.

Describe the main character Bianca in 3 words, all starting with the letter ‘V’:


How did you celebrate when you first realised you had a publishing deal?

I was more in shock than anything else. Though I went out to dinner with a few friends that evening, I actually had to cut it short and head to the outskirts of town, where I was catsitting for a friend. It was a bit of a comedown, so I told the cat my news. She was unenthused.

Finish this sentence: the main difference between Chuck Bass (from the TV and book series Gossip Girl) and Balthazar is….

Oh, I’ve never watched “Gossip Girl.” Maybe it’s that Balthazar is still waiting for his TV/movie deal?

What did your school experience have in common with Evernight Academy?

Sadly little. If ONLY I’d had a Lucas and a Balthazar at my school. If ONLY.

Name the one book character from any book you wouldn’t mind drinking the blood of if you had the chance:

There is absolutely no character for which that is true. Drinking blood = yuck. I’d make a rotten vampire.

Which author are you hating on right now?

This will sound corny, but it’s the truth — the more I write, the more I realize how hard this is, and the less I “hate on” other writers. This is a tough business, both in terms of the writing itself and dealing with the inevitable bumps and scrapes of being (barely) in the public eye. Any time spent “hating on” someone is time wasted. I spend my time thinking about the stuff I love.

[Awwww. Stay tuned for Part 2.]

Literary stuff with an iPhone app

Q: What do novelists do in their spare time?
A: They create iPhone applications, of course. Well, at least one Melbourne novelist has.

Narrelle M Harris, author of the rather fab vampire novel, The Opposite of Life, recently launched Melbourne Literary, an app for the iPhone. This app can be used to discover literary locations, local authors and books set in Melbourne. Even I get a mention!

Let me say here that I do not have an iPhone and I have no plans to get an iPhone in the near future. But if I did have an iPhone, this is exactly the sort of app that I’d get and use. So, I invited Narrelle to tell us how she went about putting together the information for this app.

Discovering literary history
By Narrelle M Harris

When you start a project, you never know what you’re going to learn in the research phase. I began the preliminary work on the Melbourne Literary iPhone application fairly confident that I knew a lot about Melbourne and its literary history. I ended up learning how much I didn’t know – but at least I filled in a few gaps.

The app was inspired by Melbourne’s status as the second UNESCO City of Literature (Edinburgh was the first). It achieved the honour for very excellent reasons. This town has a history of being intimately involved in writing, publishing and bookselling from the very early days of the colony in the 1830s. Melbourne has incubated great writers, including one of the first women to write detective fiction, Mary Fortune (who predates both Fergus Hume and Arthur Conan Doyle). It has been birthplace to, or adopted home of, many acclaimed writers. It’s a place where people love to read – at home, on the tram, in little cafes and on the State Library lawn (weather permitting).

I wanted to make the app as interesting and inclusive as possible. I wanted to surprise people with it – for them to discover things they hadn’t known about this town. I had my own little surprises along the way.

Did you know that there is a memorial to Henry Lawson in Footscray Park, overlooking the Maribyrnong River? Raised in 1960 and maintained by the Henry Lawson Society, also based in Footscray? Have you been to The Drunken Poet, an Irish bar near the Victoria Markets? Instead of a mounted TV set, they have dozens of pictures of poets gazing down upon the merrymakers, with regular poetry nights!

For years I’ve walked past a statue on a high column in Brunswick Street and wondered who that man was, with his hands spread so expansively as though in animated conversation with the universe. He proved to be Melbourne poet and raconteur, Adrian Rawlings, active in the poetry and jazz scene in the 60s and 70s.

I discovered new writers and books too, not all of them Victorian. Anita Heiss is an Indigenous writer from Sydney, and her breezy, fun book set in Melbourne Avoiding Mr Right is the second of her “indigenous chicklit” books. I learned about Adrian Hyland’s crime novels, Carole Wilkinson’s dragon books and Gabrielle Williams’ Beatle Meets Destiny, which was marked as a ‘notable book’ in the CBC Book of the Year awards.

Public art, cafes for book lovers, specialist publishers, architectural remnants of our literary past and Australia’s oldest Shakespeare Society (established in 1884) were all there, waiting for me to find them.

Whatever else this project of mine may achieve, I hope that everyone who uses it discovers at least one new thing. As readers and writers, these discoveries give us a rich tapestry from which to construct and experience the written word. Those words are, after all, the stories we tell about ourselves to the world, and it’s a long and colourful epic filled with courage, failure, love, struggle and triumph. It’s good to know as many chapters of it as we can.

Besides, it never hurts to discover a new café, or a new book to read while you’re there.

George’s bit at the end

To find out more about Narrelle, visit her website. To find out more about the Melbourne Literary app visit:

Has anyone out there used the Melbourne Literary app? Does anyone know of any other literary apps? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

And tune in next time, when I’ll tell you about… something. Not sure what yet, but it’s bound to be interesting, thought-provoking and an absolutely essential read. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… even though I’m not cool enough to own an iPhone!


Since her first book was published in 2007, Sandy Fussell has had four educational and seven trade titles published.

Sandy says she became an author after receiving some strongly worded advice from her son.

When he was in Year 4, my eldest son abruptly stopped reading because ‘all books are boring’. I couldn’t find anything he was willing to read so I challenged him to write a story to show me what wasn’t boring. To my surprise he agreed, only if I scribed the words. I tried to help. I tried to help once too often and was told to: “Go write you own story and leave mine alone.”

I took his advice, discovered how much I loved writing and haven’t stopped since then.

Sandy brings this sense of humour and wisdom to her popular Samurai Kids books and her stand alone novels, Polar Boy and Jaguar Warrior. She says that the thing she likes most about writing and being an author is the opportunity to engage with young readers.

As a writer for children, I spend many hours in schools speaking to kids about reading and my books, and running writing workshops. I could fill pages with their funny anecdotes and even more pages with thierinspiring stories. I have set up a blogging project, ReadWriteZone, where I blog with classes of children at www.readwritezone.blogspotcom.

She says that the hardest thing about being a writer is that it’s not a full-time job and she finds it difficult to squash family, work and writing into twenty-four hours.

Luckily I don’t need a lot of sleep. It gets particularly hard during a busy period like Book Week or if one of my children is sick or a major deadline looms. It can be quite stressful and I couldn’t do it if I didn’t love storytelling. Sometimes I wonder if I would write better if I was more awake. But then again, I secretly think: probably not!

Before she became an author, Sandy was (and still is) a systems analyst/computer programmer managing a number of large projects.

“This professional background has helped me develop interactive teaching resources to support the use of my books in the classroom and to maintain a dynamic web presence.”


I don’t think I have a greatest writing achievement, yet. It’s a work in progress. I haven’t been writing long enough to make comparative judgments. Probably in about ten years I’ll look back over my volume of work and feel comfortable with that.

I am a fiddler and a diddler. I doubt I would get anything done if it wasn’t for editorial deadlines. I am currently completing the final revision of Golden Bat, the sixth book in the Samurai Kids series and my first picture book, Sad the Dog. I am working on a young adult novel which is new territory for me and an exciting challenge. I am partway through another historical novel but have put that aside for the moment. Finally, the idea for a new fantasy series keeps poking into my thoughts but I am trying to push that one away for a while.


To date most of my book have been historical fiction set in early cultures – feudal samurai Japan, the Mexica (Aztec) Empire and the 14th century Arctic. The locations are widespread – and I hope to eventually write my way around the ancient world – but there are symbols and themes common to the times such as animal mythology. In these centuries a child of twelve to fourteen was about to assume adulthood so there are also strong coming of age themes in many of my titles. I don’t create symbols or themes on purpose. It just happens while I am telling the story.


Read. Anything and everything. Read inside and outside your comfort zone. Try new authors, new genres and new directions. Wide range reading helps old and new writers absorb good techniques and look at ideas differently. It inspires and stimulates.

I used to say I was the Cinderella author. I felt as if someone had waved a magic wand over me and for at least a year I was really worried I would turn back into a pumpkin. I don’t worry any more. I feel like I have found a comfortable corner of the castle, surrounded by books and kids. I don’t have a ball gown or a glass slipper but I have a wooden practice sword and a gong. It’s heaps more fun! (I always think of my school visits as the ‘pointy sticks and loud noises tour’. I’m probably the only author to bang a gong in the NSW State Library!)

Sandy’s websites include:

an author website (
a website dedicated to the Samurai Kids series (
a personal blog (
a classroom blog (,
a forum under development (
a Facebook Fan page (!/pages/Samurai-Kids-Series/132997448255?ref=ts).

Do I need all these? Probably not but I find it heaps of fun.

On Wednesday, we’ll hear all about how Sandy Fussell wrote Jaguar Warrior and on Thursday, Sandy is back at Kids’ Book Capers with some great insights into how she created her latest Samurai Kids’ book Fire Lizard. Hope you can join us then.


Every book I have read in the The Mates series (published by Omnibus) has been full of great characters and humour and the two books I’m talking about today are no exception.

These uniquely Australian stories celebrate what it is to be Australian – our history, our inventiveness and unique perspectives on life. And these books are humorously illustrated in full colour.


Written by Michael Gerard Bauer

Illustrated by Nahum Ziersch

You Turkeys was always going to be a favourite with me. Not only is it written by Michael Gerard Bauer whose writing I greatly admire, but I am probably the only person in Australia who has a fascination for Scrub Turkeys.

Jake’s Dad’s garden is his pride and joy so when the scrub turkeys move in and turn it into a mess, pecking at the tulips and spreading the chip bark with their sharp claws.

Dad has a five point plan to get rid of them and Jake is his enthusiastic assistant. But when scarecrows, pepper and chicken wire fail to work, he has to rethink the whole situation.

Apart from the great characters and humour in You Turkeys, I loved the resolution to this story and I’m sure that young readers will too.


Written by Allayne Webster

Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Hannaford’s family loves naming things, even the lawnmower! The new baby lamb needs a name, and it’s Hannaford’s turn to choose…

There’s something appealing about a book that starts by introducing Victor the Evil lawnmower. And growing up in a household with cars called Snortsy and Soames, I could really relate to a family that names everything.

But so far, Hannaford (named after Alfred Hannaford) hasn’t had a chance to name anything. So when a new baby lamb arrives at the farm, this could be his chance. But first he must find a way to help the lamb’s injured mother to walk again.

Barnesy is full of great characters like Sir Robert Helpmann the thieving wombat who danced out of the way of an oncoming car and Stumpy, the cockatoo.

It’s another hilarious read in the Omnibus “Mates” series.

The “Mates” books are for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels, but the humour and colour of will be enjoyed by kids of all ages and reading levels.

Sony Reader (Finally) Launches in Australia

Sony’s line of ereader devices have been around since 2006, but for the first time the company has made them available for sale in Australia. Sony has done a content deal with the Kobo / Borders ebook store so owners will be able to load up ePub books from those stores. They’ll be making two models available, the Sony Pocket ($229) and the Sony Touch ($299), but sadly don’t have any plans for now to release the Sony Daily Edition, a model that uses 3G wireless technology so that readers can download books on the fly.

So is this too little, too late? These latest models of Sony readers have been around for a year, and have already been superseded by the cheaper and some would say superior Kindle 3. There are some things about the Sony readers that are unique, but more importantly than that, Sony’s move into Australia is evidence that the rest of the English-speaking world is finally taking us seriously as an ebook market.

So is the Sony worth buying? Your answer depends largely on your philosophy. For the most part, the Sony readers are considered technologically inferior to the Kindle, but more open. The screen technology is a little more advanced on the Kindle, particularly noticeable in the Sony Touch, whose touchscreen layer detracts from the screen contrast, making the text seem a little less sharp and a bit greyer on the vaguely grey background. Nonetheless, it is an e-ink device, so that means you can read it full sunlight and the battery life is long (in comparison to something like a laptop or an iPad). The touchscreen itself is kind of fun, but to those who are used to using iPads or even an iPhone, they do feel a bit old hat and unnecessary. The Kindle just has buttons, but they work just fine. The touchscreen does enable you to take notes on the pages of the book you’re reading with the stylus, but there’s no way to export these notes, so the editors among my readers won’t really get much use out of this function. Additionally, the Kindle ebook library, via Amazon, is massive in comparison to what you can buy for the Sony readers via Kobo or Borders.

So in that case, why would you buy a Sony? The benefits of these devices are accessibility. Unlike the Kindle, which exists in an entirely closed environment, managed completely by Amazon, Sony readers can access almost every kind of DRM (except Amazon’s), and read multiple file types, including PDFs, Word files and rich text – without having to be converted for use. These features make the Sony readers a great choice for those of us who desire interoperability above all else. The Sony Readers will also be available in physical stores in Australia, unlike other readers, giving them an edge when it comes to selling in.

Having said that, for my money, the Kindle 3 is still the best e-ink reader out there for now. It’s far cheaper, and the process of buying books, annotating and checking words in the dictionary – not to mention the access to your books you’ll have through your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad or Android phone through Kindle software there – is worth the trade-off of being stuck in the Amazon ecosystem. For now. I’m happy to see a Kindle competitor launched in Australia, but I’m looking forward to something a bit meatier from Sony in the future – if they manage to hold on against the Kindle juggernaut for long enough.

Race (And Read) Of A Lifetime

Race of a LifetimeI’d normally say that a reader’s awareness of how clever writers are and how many eloquent, too-clever words they use is a sign of the writers trying too hard and of their pomposity. But nothing’s further from that truth with John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House. In fact, the only reason I noticed their extensive and impressive vocabulary was because it was so simply used, and so many less-common, but no-less-beautiful words were slotted in so effortlessly and eloquently into the pages of this 430-ish page book.

I found myself dog-earing pages and making mental notes to find a way to use such words. Of course, they all escape me now, but having read this mighty book, I’m all too conscious of my apparently limited writing and speaking vocabulary.

The writers employing such words are of the accomplished New York magazine and Time, respectively, with such other publication notches to their names as the New Yorker, the Economist, Wired, and ABC News. I know that years of writing for these esteemed publications has honed their craft and extended their knowledge, with words gathering to them like magnets over time. But it’s also their turn of phrase—simple, direct, active, keenly observed that makes the words, grouped together, so powerful.

Race of a Lifetime was recommended to me by one of my best friends—someone who knows how voraciously I read and who doesn’t often feel comfortable pointing me in the direction of books. The glowing endorsement she gave combined with the intriguing concept of the book told me I absolutely had to read it.

The culmination of hundreds of interviews with key players—both on and off the record—and filled with inside information that can only be obtained through long-held and strongly-forged professional relationships, Race of a Lifetime is perhaps the most comprehensive and most compelling look at the race between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and a host of other players such as John Edwards.

It’s fast-paced and thrilling, with Heilemann and Halperin making you feel as though you’re not only inside the room, you’re inside the players’ heads. Having read it voraciously for three days straight, including on a notoriously attention-sapping long-haul plane ride, I can hand-on-my-heart say (fitting given it’s a book that looks largely at American patriotism and precisely what it takes to commit yourself wholly to a process and country to win a game-changing presidential race) that Race of a Lifetime is stellar. And I say that as someone who’s not overly interested in (and who is incredibly frustrated by) politics and the guff that goes around it.

Heilemann and Halperin convey the tension, the emotion, and the details of the history-making pre-selection and presidential candidature process that saw the USA recently elect its first African American president. The campaign was long, arduous, and at times funny, and I feel as though I know Obama, the Clintons, McCain, and Palin more intimately and more truthfully than ever before.

The bulk of the book’s content concentrates on the at-times-vicious race for Democratic party endorsement between Obama and Clinton, as well as Bill’s at-times-crazy contributions to it.  The latter third of the book introduces McCain and the woman who was both fascinating and like watching an only-in-America train wreck: gun-toting former beauty queen Palin. The examinations of each candidate aren’t always flattering—in fact, I do wonder if they’re these days trying to work out who leaked what to whom and when—but are simultaneously humanising and intriguing.

We see just how difficult, extensive, and hard-fought the battle was between Obama and Clinton—leading me to marvel at the kind of miracle that either of them made it over the line still standing in spite of their exhaustion. We understand the complexity of the media-drenched, fundraising-driven process that appears, to largely disinterested and objective outside observers like me, quite befuddling. And of course, we catch a glimpse of an answer into what McCain was thinking in selecting the off-the-wall Palin as his running mate. I could tell you, but that would ruin it for you. Instead I’ll simply say you should definitely read Race of a Lifetime to find out for yourself. It may have been the race of a lifetime. I’d say it’s the read of one too.

Robert Heinlein and my wife

I was originally intending to write a post about what my family and I have been reading lately. But I’ve ended up focusing specifically on what my wife, Kerri, has been reading. Why? Because she’s been reading books by an author significant to my reading past.

It all started when she asked me to recommend some books. (She’s a much faster reader than I, and is always running out of reading material.) So I thought it was high time to introduce her to the books of Robert Heinlein, the acknowledged “dean of science fiction writers” (well, so says Wikipedia… so, of course it must be true).

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907 –1988) was the American writer of numerous best-selling science fiction novels. Four of his books won the Hugo Award and he was the first recipient of the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement, given by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

I was in Year 7 when I discovered Heinlein. Well, actually, it was my school librarian who placed a copy of Citizen of the Galaxy in my hands, assuring me that I’d like it. She was right… I LOVED it! And that year, I proceeded to read all the Heinleins in my school library… which was only about four or five. Over the years I went on to read many of his books, until one fateful day… but I’ll get to that later. For now, let’s get back to Kerri.

I would have liked her to start with Heinlein’s juvenile novels — something like Time for the Stars or Citizen of the Galaxy (my two favourites) — but she said she wanted a grown-up book. I sighed, for I never thought Heinlein’s grown-up stuff anywhere near as good as his books for younger readers. I scoured the bookshelves in our library (Yes, we have a little library in our home. As we are a family of book lovers, it seemed like a logical idea, when we built our new house, to include a library.) for Heinleins. Alas there were only three grown-up books — Job, Glory Road and Waldo + Magic Inc. It was then that I remembered that I had actually given her Job to read many years ago, and I seem to remember that she thought it was okay but not good enough to get her to read more of his stuff. So I gave her Waldo + Magic Inc, as this was the one I enjoyed most out of these three.

Waldo + Magic Inc is actually two novellas in one book. Kerri enjoyed Waldo, despite it being “a little too heavy on the science stuff”, and also enjoyed Magic Inc, despite it being “heavy on politics in one overly-long section”. After she finished the book, she asked if I had any more Heinlein.

And so it was with much trepidation that I handed over Glory Road. This was the book that put me off reading Heinlein. Long, meandering and silly is how I remember it. It was a fateful day when I first picked up that book… because I’ve never read a Heinlein since. A similar thing happened to me with Stephen King after I read his dreadfully long and boring sci-fi horror, The Tommyknockers… but that’s another story. Back to Heinlein.

“It’s not a great book,” I warned. “Are you sure you want to read it? Wouldn’t you prefer one of his teen books? They’re much better!” No, she wanted Glory Road. She was about half way through the book, when we had friends over for dinner. She launched into a diatribe about this stupid book that I had told her to read. When revealed as Glory Road, the dinner guests all rolled their eyes and said, “if you want good Heinlein, go read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”. Alas, it is not on our bookshelves. I’ve never read this book (as I said, I’d been put off reading Heinlein by Glory Road). But now I’m thinking it might be time to dip back into the past and dig out a copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and perhaps some of his other books I never got around to reading.

By the way, Kerri still hasn’t finished reading Glory Road. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to get her to reader another of his books?

Anyone out there read any of Heinlein’s books? Glory Road perhaps? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

And tune in next time to find out about a Melbourne-based literary app for your iPhone (assuming you have one, that is… and even if you don’t, tune in anyway… it will be interesting… I promise).

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… 112 followers and rising!

A Dream Come True at 72 – Maris Morton on A Darker Music

Maris Morton has always loved to write but has never had a book published. At the age of 72 she will finally see her name in bookstores when her winning entry to the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize, A Darker Music, hits the shelves at the end of this month.

While there is no doubt Maris is delighted to see her work in print, Scribe believes that it’s not just the older writers that benefit from the prize; it’s good for readers too. There are many examples of late bloomers when it comes to writing.  Scribe’s Fiction Acquisitions Editor, Aviva Tuffield, says, ‘It seems that many novelists, especially women, only find the time and have acquired the life experience to write novels later in life.’ Maris agrees; A Darker Music was a long time in gestation and is her third attempt at a novel. ‘A lot of people knew I was trying to write a book, it’s been a twelve-year effort, so I’m not an overnight success, far from it!’

A Darker Music is a mystery novel set on a merino stud in rural Western Australia, and draws on Maris’s own experiences as a shearer’s cook. ”It is essentially a crime novel,” she says, ”but it’s not a conventional police procedural – they’ve been done to death. I am interested in the way characters interact, how the situation deteriorates and violence is done.”

I caught up with Maris to ask her a few questions about A Darker Music, writing and what advice she has for aspiring authors.

What was it about this story that made you want to tell it?

A long time ago I met a farmer’s wife who told me she used to be a violinist, until her instrument was accidentally smashed. This started me thinking about what it must be like to live in an isolated place, and lose something that is precious, with no hope of ever getting it back; and then, to make matters worse, to see the same thing shaping up to happen to another young woman. The plot took a long time to germinate, but when it did it grew into something quite powerful.

You’ve worked as an English teacher, shearers’ cook, shed hand, artist, art restorer and director of an art gallery. Do you think all these experiences took away time or added something to your writing?

Have had such a varied work history has given me a rich store of experiences, people and places to draw on for my stories. For example, in A Darker Music I was able to use my experience as a shearers’ cook.

Having always been an avid reader, I’d always thought that writing a book would be a fine thing, but somehow I never had enough confidence to get started. It’s only through my various jobs that I’ve accumulated the belief in myself, and my skills, to tackle the challenge. No experience, however painful it may seem at the time, is ever wasted.

How did your family react when they heard?

My family’s reaction was surprise! Although they knew that I was busily writing I don’t think any of them expected me to have any real success. Only one of them has even read my work, and even she hasn’t read A Darker Music.

A Darker Music is your first book. Will you be resting on your laurels or do you have more planned?

Although A Darker Music is the first of my books to be published, I have another four almost ready, plus another two started. Most of them feature the character Mary Lanyon, and have an element of crime or mystery; some of them include murder. I wrote the first draft of the first book (Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man) in 1997.

Finally, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

For aspiring writers: Don’t give up! You’ll get many rejections but you must develop a thick hide, and learn to profit from criticism.

Gather as much experience as you can, keeping a journal if you don’t trust your memory.

Organise your research material so that you can find what you want when you want it.

Don’t ever let yourself think that near enough is good enough, it doesn’t matter if you get things wrong. Somebody will always spot mistakes, and your credibility will be gone.

And if you’re not in love with writing, and with your characters, forget it.

The CAL Scribe Fiction Prize is for an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer aged 35 and over. The winner receives $15,000 and a book contract from Scribe. This year’s competition has closed, so if you are a budding writer who has lost the bloom of youth, you have lots of time to get cracking on your entry for next year.

It’s A Book

It's A BookFor all the debates about the future of the book, which are getting both tedious and, well, whiny, there’s a refreshing new take on the matter. It’s a book called, er, It’s a Book.

Crafted by Lane Smith, it’s a simple but wry reminder of how books are good, standalone objects that don’t need to be fancy in order to engage us—the joy of reading is entertainment and pleasure enough. And what better way to convey it than with a YouTube video replete with a cartoon donkey and monkey?

The video opens with the donkey (with oh-so-cute, metronome-like vacillating ears) asking, ‘What do you have there?’

The monkey responds, ‘It’s a book.’

The donkey asks, ‘Can you scroll down?’

The monkey answers, ‘No, you turn the page. It’s a book.’

Donkey: ‘Can it tweet?’ (This also happens to be my favourite moment, with the donkey making a too-cute hand/hoof gesture when asking.)

Monkey: ‘No.’

Donkey: ‘Can it text?’

Donkey: ‘Can it WiFi?’

And so on.

The video has gone viral and, by all reports, the book has become a bestseller too. And no wonder. It’s a simple idea executed well, and perhaps conveys what most of us booklovers have struggled to convey all along: technology is great and has its place, but a good book is a good book and doesn’t need bells and whistles to shine.

That said, there’s no irony that It’s a Book uses web technologies such as YouTube to promote and sell the book. And successfully so. It’s also perhaps a sign of the future, with complementary tools such as blogs and quirky short videos with cartoon monkeys and donkeys (and penguins—the perennially popular penguins are sure to make an appearance) to promote them, potentially even drawing in a traditionally non-reading audience.

In many ways, this video reminds me of the Beached Whale series that went viral, although I’m not certain that there was a book attached to that, or that if there was, it came afterwards. Either way, ‘I’m beached as, bro’ has entered the collective consciousness and I can’t help but think the phrase ‘It’s a book’ will too—a shorthand for the fact that it doesn’t have to be anything more than it is. It’s a book. And that is more than enough.

Gary Ross in talks for HUNGER GAMES film

Gary Ross, the director of Pleasantville, appears to be the front runner to direct the film adaptation of The Hunger Games after Deadline reported the director is in early talks to helm the film scripted by Billy Ray (who rewrote the novel’s author, Suzanne Collins’ original draft). Other directors whose names have been thrown into the mix include American Beauty director, Sam Mendes, Francis Lawrence, David Slade and Susanna White.

Now, Internet speculation has turned to the cast – who will make the cut? Deadline is reporting that LionsGate hopes for a Twilight-like franchise, and you can see why. The third and final book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay was published this month and has already sold half a million copies.

Who do you want starring in the adaptation?

TRAILER: The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

“I love you…”
“I know.”

This is one for film buffs and Star Wars fans – a newly-announced in-depth look at the making of fan-favourite second/fifth installment, The Empire Strikes Back. As someone who devours making-of documentaries on anything Star Wars, I honestly can’t wait… Check out the clip below.

An exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of arguably the greatest and most cherished of all the Star Wars films, the most important motion picture sequel of all-time, and a movie that changed pop culture forever: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. J.W. Rinzler, author of the acclaimed The Making of Star Wars, once again uses his unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm archives, and their treasure trove of never-before-published photos, design sketches, paintings, production notes, interviews, anecdotes, and scripts, to take us back thirty years to relive the entire production process for one of the most anticipated movies ever produced – along the way unveiling stories as entertaining, enthralling and mind-boggling as the film itself. As a long-standing member of the Lucasfilm staff, J.W. Rinzler has enjoyed unparalleled co-operation and support from the original moviemakers, including both George Lucas and veteran director Irvin Kershner. The result is a truly definitive account that is destined to become a must-have for all true Star Wars fans and serious cinephiles. Jonathan Rinzler is a New York Times bestselling author and longtime editor at Lucasfilm Publishing.


In my travels as an author, I meet many aspiring young writers. I hope they will take inspiration from today’s guest, 16 year-old author, Steph Bowe.

Steph has taken time out from her hectic schedule to visit Kids’ Book Capers to talk about becoming a writer, and about her brand new book, Girl Saves Boy.

I asked Steph what made her decide to become a writer.

It was never a conscious decision – I’ve written stories since I could put together a sentence, and I’ve always felt like a writer.


I sent out queries to literary agents in September of last year, and within three weeks had three offers of representation. From there, a signed with one agent after speaking to each of them – a handful of weeks later, my book went to auction in Australia.

Steph says that the thing she enjoys most about being a writer is writing. “When  ideas come easily, and everything clicks.”

Like many authors, she says that the hardest thing is dealing with self-doubt.


Just do it! Don’t worry about rules or publication, and don’t doubt yourself for a second – if you want to write, write.

Steph says that her greatest achievement to date is getting a book deal.

I’m working on book two at the moment – but I’m not really talking about it. I’m afraid I’ll jinx it.


Girl Saves Boy is about a girl saving a boy from drowning, garden gnome theft, lobster liberation, first love, friendship and grief.

I asked Steph where the inspiration for her book came from.

I never really have specific inspirations for things – I’m always taking stuff in and having ideas and they just grow and grow in my head till I’ve got a fully-formed story bursting to get out – that’s how it was with Girl Saves Boy.

I hope it’s an honest book. I think the fact that I’m still young makes it easier for me to write about the emotions that you experience at this age.

Why will kids like it?

While it might not deal with experiences they’ve had, it does contain emotions they’ll be able to relate to.

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

There are really two main characters in my novel:

I dislike them both because they can be selfish, like almost everyone is.

Sacha, who I like because of his sensitivity and sense of humour

Jewel, who I like because of her attitude

Best part about writing this book?

The writing part – when everything clicked, and I absolutely loved the characters and what I was writing.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The editing with an editor! Very involved, and a bigger job than I’d expected.

Find out more about Steph and her fabulous book at her blog

Roald Dahl: the BFG (Big Fat Genius)

*Taps pen against chin*


How to possibly write a post commemorating one of the most amazing authors of all time, that will actually do him justice.

I can’t.

But I can profess my undying love for Roald Dahl, a day AFTER Roald Dahl Day. Yes, dear readers, I was meant to write this post yesterday, 13th September 2010, on RD’s birthday. Life gets in the way, though, and before you know it 24 hours has past and it’s already the 14th. I hope he won’t mind this belated birthday message – from me to him.

Dear Mr R. Dahl,

This is a half-birthday card, half-love letter, from Yours Truly.

Most people will remember you for your awesome children’s books: The BFG, The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr Fox. I know I always cross the street when I see a woman with ugly square-toed shoes, just in case she is a witch.

And your collaboration with Quentin Blake (aaah! Revolting Rhymes!) is a particular masterpiece I hold close to my heart, long after the primary school memories have faded. I’ve always wondered: how many people WERE disgusted, when Cinderella’s panties busted?

I know, Mr Dahl, that you tried your hand at some more ‘mature’ works, and I’m sure they are very fine. But my very favourite of yours is a lesser-known picture book, gifted to me very young, by my very favourite uncle. The Minpins filled my childhood nights with dreams of finding ripe red strawberries in back woods, in the Forest of Sin. I wished I was Billy, and I wished I had come across those miniature little people and saved them from the hot breath of the Gruncher. I think you must have known that the monsters surrounded by fiery breath (so you can never get a proper view of what they actually look like) are the scariest of all. I always wished for a pet swan like Billy’s, that I could ride on up into the clouds. And I remember how devastated I was the day Billy got too big to be carried by the swan. I guess girls and boys have to grow up sometime. But still, did you have to put that bit in, Mr Dahl?

In short, I think every child should own a copy of The Minpins, and I hope you don’t mind me marketing it so blatantly on my Boomerang Books blog…

Anyway – what I’m trying to say is – you’re the best. Happy birthday, Mr Dahl. Wherever you are. May your endless days be filled with golden tickets, everlasting gobstoppers, swan rides, and the best strawberries you’ve ever tasted, straight from the forest floor.

Lots of love and blue spit, xxxxxx