The Zombification of Fiction

Sadhbh’s talked about Feed, by Mira Grant.

Will’s talked about World War Z, by Max Brooks.

And EVERYONE has talked about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith’s masterpiece (disasterpiece, perhaps?).

Yet there are other zombie books out there, threading their fingers through the literary soil, hoping their hungry groans will reach the ears of consumers… I’m here to single out the ones that I can vouch for, or ones that I wish I could.

Firstly, one of my favourite offerings of recent years is The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan. Marketed at young adults, this is one of those reads that really has to transcend the young adult category and can be read by those people posing as ‘adults’, too. A zombie apocalypse occurs, and Mary believes her village to be the only survivors left. Secured by wooden fences, the village is fast becoming depleted of its citizens because The Unconsecrated, as the zombie creatures are called, are fast encroaching on Mary’s village territory. What I love most about this book is its 19th century feel, and the love triangle is pretty spectacular as well. And if you’re a fan of M. Night Shymalan’s film The Village, you’ll find some comforting similarities here.

I know you’ve probably had it up to HERE with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but its follow-up Dawn of the Dreadfuls, taken over by Steve Hockensmith, is much more my style. Think less petticoats, more bloodlust and mashed brains. The fact that Hockensmith didn’t have an original Austen text here lets his imagination go from wild into the realm of utterly ridiculous fun. Its zombie-riffic!

Blogger Rhiannon Hart has me craving the scrummy-looking An Anthology of the Undead, edited by Christopher Golden. The word on the street is that its more gory than scary, which would suit me just fine. And contributions by paranormal/horror authors like Joe Hill and Kelley Armstrong should satisfy even the most ravenous of zombie fans.

And finally,The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, is top of my Christmas wish list. It looks like everything you need to know about how to protect yourself best in a zombie apocalypse. And it seems like Max isn’t taking the mickey out it – he’s completely serious about how to defend against the inevitable zombie attack. I’m a slow runner, so I like to think I could learn a thing or two from this guide…

It’s pretty clear from recent releases and not so recent releases that we are suffering from zombie-itis. I’m not sure how long it’s going to last, but I’m happy to slobber after the craze until it’s ready to settle into its grave again.

Brains Wanted at Baltimore University

And I thought it couldn’t get any better than a Harry Potter course. Well, it’s at least comparable.

The University of Baltimore in the US has offered a particular subject called English 333. Sounds typical, right? Well, it’s been dubbed by the participant students taking the course as “Zombie 101”, because the entire course is about…yep, you guessed it – zombies. Instead of grades weighted on horrid essays and mean-spirited exams testing what you don’t know, Zombie 101 will be expecting their class to follow a syllabus of reading zombie comics, watch 16 of the most prominent zombie movies of the last century, and create zombie storyboards. Oh, there will be a research paper at some point on the role of zombies in popular culture – so expect a little bit of study! The course will also consider zombies and their role in folklore. Wouldn’t you love a title like ‘Doctor of Zombies’?

Lecturer Arnold Blumberg decided to wear a shirt with a skull pattern on his first day of teaching, and brought with him his ‘friend’: a delicious zombie head.

“Even major fans of zombies—and they’re out there, by the millions,” says Blumberg, “—may not spend time contemplating the underlying meaning of this monster, despite its potency.

Zombies have certainly inched their way into fiction lately. And while this isn’t the first time zombies have graced classes with their undead panache: in Chicago, Columbia College has apparently offered a subject on zombies in popular media for years, and Iowa’s Simpson College allows their students to write a book on “The History of the Great Zombie War”, this IS the first time the idea of zombifying the tertiary education system has caused such a novelty commotion on the ‘net. I have a feeling if we delve deep into the idea of zombie culture, we could come up with a few reasons as to why these slow-moving monsters are causing such an excited panic in the liberal arts.

With all the talk on the Poisoned Apples blog about angels and vampires being the current fads of the fictionella world, I tend to overlook the other magnificent creatures of the paranormal variety. It’s certainly not intentional – I love brain gobblers and slobbering fleshmongers as much as the next zombie fan. So in my next post, I’ll be studying my own Zombies in Popular Media subject, and introducing some books to you that are currently top of the zombie food chain.

In-Flight (Almost No-Flight) Entertainment

Race of a LifetimeThis blog comes to you a little late and from halfway around the world. I’m in South America, despite the, er, best efforts of the Brazilian Consulate-General. It appears that the BCG has a policy of not acknowledging whether they’ve received your visa application and passport, not telling you where your visa application is at, and not telling you if or when they post it. Seriously.

I’d spent the Friday morning on the phone to both my travel agent and travel insurers establishing that although it wasn’t my fault the visa hadn’t arrived in time, I wasn’t covered for such an issue and would be required to cough up some serious moolah to change my flights. The BCG then called at 1pm to say they had a visa for me but couldn’t post it as, clearly, it wouldn’t arrive before my Sunday morning departure. Oh, and they couldn’t give me the media visa that I needed but had issued something temporary that explicitly said ‘not for work’ and that appeared to cost the same amount as a media visa.

Suffice to say that, having been trying to contact them for over a week by phone and email without receiving anything except automated we-won’t-tell-you-anything messages, I said something along the lines of ‘What good is it calling me at 1pm from an entirely different city on the last business day before I leave?’ With perhaps a couple of not-so-polite words thrown in.

Their response was a presumptuous, snooty, ‘Don’t you know anyone in Sydney who can drive in to the middle of the city at a moment’s notice to collect a visa and passport?’ And yes, the irony that they wouldn’t tell me anything over the phone or email about my application’s status, but were more than willing to hand my passport and visa over to a random stranger wasn’t lost on me.

Fortunately, through the incredible power of friends and Facebook, I managed to contact a friend who was driving back to Sydney from Canberra and who had a half-hour window to collect them. I then found another friend who was in Sydney at a conference and couriered the passport and visa to him as he was flying back to Brisbane on the last flight out of Sydney on the Saturday night. Receiving them at 10.30pm on the Saturday night for a 9am departure on Sunday was undoubtedly going to be cutting it fine, but my only other option was to fly to Sydney myself to collect them, and as I had other commitments not even in Brisbane right up until I left, I didn’t have time.

The Boy In The MoonOf course, the story wouldn’t be replete without a final twist. There was a loud bang on my friend’s plane that resulted in it being turned back to Sydney. The airline had to find another plane, unload and reload baggage, and ignore the Sydney flying curfew to arrive in Brisbane after midnight. Cold sweat? Heck yes. But the relief when I got that little book and its accompanying piece of paper? Priceless.

The reason I tell this story is that it’s times like this, when you’re thwarted by bureaucracy and bizarreness, that there’s nothing quite like the salvation of retreating into the world of a good book. The urge to turn off the phone and intermanet, pull the covers up, and crack the spine of one of the many, many books piled up on my mantle was enormous. In fact, what kept me together and even laughing for most of the ordeal was the knowledge that once I got onto the plane, I had nothing but about 15 hours of uninterrupted reading time.

My book of choice was something I’d agonised over almost as much as the visa—I’d had to pare back my pile of books to take overseas from 31 to just two. I’d then had to nominate one to take on board and one to stow in my luggage, which required almost as much effort again. In the end for in-flight reading I opted for the tale of the USA presidential candidate, Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House. It’s by the esteemed John Heilemann and Mark Halperin of New York magazine and Time respectively, two journalists who could hardly be more experienced or better placed to capture and interpret the events of the past few years.

My stow-away book was Ian Brown’s The Boy In The Moon, which I’ve discussed previously on this blog. The reason that finally swayed me towards Race of a Lifetime over The Boy in the Moon was simply because I think the latter is going to make me cry and no one wants to sob in public for 15 hours straight. I’m over halfway through the Obama book and can safely say it’s fabulous and was a fabulous choice for in-flight entertainment. Full review soon to follow.

Spring Cleaning and Book Breeding

Spring has sprung and I need to face facts. My bedside book collection has got completely out of control.

When I first landed in Sydney in 2006, I planned to go backpacking about Australia for two years. When you are upping sticks every eight weeks you have to stick to the Two Bag Rule mentioned by Australian author and traveller extraordinaire Cameron Rogers in his recent interview on this blog. Once you go over a rucksack and some hand-luggage, you have too much stuff. Sad to say, when you need to carry enough to survive the back-packing existence by night and working in an office by day, it doesn’t leave much space for heavy reading materials.

This meant that my book luggage was so minimalist as to be non-existent. I carried the copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Australia and New Zealand that still adorns my shelves today (it’s out of date, but has too much sentimental value to junk) as well as a copy of the Writers’ Yearbook and a dog-eared copy of Eat, Shoots and Leaves. One to encourage me to write, the other to correct my horrendous grammar. Three books, maybe a fourth if I was travelling and needed something to read en-route. Okay, sometimes five. But not more than that.


That’s not to say I didn’t read; I picked up books in hostels, shops and second-hand stores, and then gifted or gave them away when it was time to move on. I made use of Australia’s wonderful library system; I have cards for Melbourne, Perth and Wagga Wagga and Brisbane’s New Farm branch still sends me imploring emails asking why I don’t visit anymore. But I learnt not to be too sentimental about my books; I read, I enjoyed, I shared. Love ’em and leave ’em with someone else, that was my motto.

Now my motto appears to be love ’em and use ’em to build a fort around the bed. A quick glance around my boudoir reveals several Terry Pratchett’s, a few Gladwell’s, a copy of Guns, Germs and Steel, the ubiquitous Bryson’s and more Chuck Palahniuk’s than you could shake a large and angry surrealist stick at as well as some magazines and newspapers. My bedside locker is teetering with titles, and while I was telling myself a spring clean could wait this morning I found another literary adventurer had slid off the dresser and into the laundry basket. If I were to retire to my bedroom to read them all, you’d be ordering me in pizza until sometime in the summer.

And that’s not all. I have Neal Stephensen’s Snow Crash in the bathroom, Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness in my handbag, at least another ten titles sprinkled around the house and five more titles on the way from Boomerang Books. And that’s not counting the groaning bookshelves.

I am unsure whether I require a spring clean or Hercules diverting some handy rivers through my apartment. Never mind a two bag rule, I’d be happy if I could just get my book collection into the one apartment that I have. Every time I try to start cleaning, I discover another interesting title lurking in the oddest place (in the sofa and by the cooker being the recent two) that demands I have flick through its pages. It’s hard to spring clean when the clutter is this fascinating.

It’s even harder when there is so much of it. I’m finding titles I forgot I bought to read – always an issue when your partner shares your taste in reading and occasionally swipes them from under your nose. There are so many odd books popping up I suspect they may be breeding somewhere. Perhaps that’s why they are all over the bedroom?

I hope not. If the darn things are planning on procreating all over my house and squatting here indefinitely, I’m going to need to ask them to pay rent. Or at least help me clean.

50 Books You Can’t Put Down

It’s that time of the year again. The Get Reading campaign kicked off at the end of last month and for the first time they’re offering an iPhone app to help readers connect with books.

The app is free from the App Store, and I’m surprised to say that it is excellent – far more useful than the Get Reading brochure available from most good book stores.

For those who don’t know, the Get Reading campaign runs every year and is designed to get people who wouldn’t usually read a book to have a go. The way it works is that there’s a list of 50 books broken down into a few basic categories: non-fiction, new authors, page turners and escapist reads. If you buy one of those books from a participating store you get a free exclusive book written specifically for the campaign. This year you get a choice between 10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2010 and Tickled Onions by Morris Gleitzman.

The iPhone app is great for browsing the books available and with the click of a button you can read the first chapter of the book or find a bookstore near you to buy it integrated with Google Maps. You can even find a place to read the book, as the app contains a directory of coffee shops (cute!). The app also has a schedule of Get Reading events that are being run throughout the month, which you can pinpoint and get directions to if you decide to go.

One-off apps of this nature are often a bit gimmicky, but I, for one, am all for them, so long as they are well made and actually useful, as this one is. Over the past year I noticed a Sydney Festival app and the Good Food Guide, and I’m hanging out for an app of this nature for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which has a notoriously annoying schedule.

My only gripe, predictably, is that ebooks are not included in this year’s Get Reading campaign, though this is hardly the fault of the iPhone app. Nonetheless, it’s disheartening to see that in a campaign run by the government to get people reading at any cost, they have not managed to include reader-friendly ebooks as part of the promotion. (To be fair, they may have tried and failed – the only real Australian ebook retailer is Borders/Kobo, and they may have declined). Ebooks are incredibly easy to buy – and it wouldn’t be difficult for retailers to rig up a system for giving away the free books in a package (it is definitely possible with online retailers of dead tree books – cheers Boomerang! – so it should be possible for ebooks). At any rate, I applaud the effort, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next year.

You can download the iPhone app here.

More Aussiecon 4 Memories

Yesterday I started babbling on about the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, but ran out of space. Today I’m back on the same topic.

The Ford Street Publishing table in the Dealers’ Room.

One of the major literary events at a Worldcon, aside from the exclusive publishers’ parties (to which I didn’t score any invites 🙁 ) is the presentation of the Hugo Awards, which are the worldwide awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. In a lavish ceremony, entertainingly MCed by Australian author Garth Nix, to the deafening sound of much applause, the winners were announced. Each was presented with a stunning award statuette — the traditional silver rocket on a base designed by a local artist… in this case, the amazingly talented Mr Nick Stathopolis. There was a tie for Best Novel — The City & The City by China Miéville and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form went to Moon, while Doctor Who scored yet another Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, this time for “The Waters of Mars”. The announcement that probably got the biggest applause was Shaun Tan winning Best Professional Artist. A complete list of winners is available here.

The Twelfth Planet Press and FableCroft Publishing table in the Dealers’ Room.

Also presented at the convention, were the Australian Science Fiction Awards, known as the Ditmars. Although there was less pomp and circumstance, and a smaller crowd, there was no less excitement as the winners were announced. Best Novel went to Kaaron Warren for Slights. Paul Haines took away two awards — Best Novella or Novelette for “Wives” (published in X6) and Best Collected Work for Slice Of Life. Best Short Story went to Cat Sparks for “Seventeen” (published in Masques) and Best Artwork went to Lewis Morley for the cover of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #42. A complete list of winners is available here.

Signing a tentacle!

Lots of other stuff happened. I chatted to a few publishers and editors, I signed some autographs and I did my best to promote my book, Gamers’ Quest. I got the chance to meet and talk with a whole heap of interesting people. I collected some autographs from authors I admire, I stalked a few celebrities and I drank single malt Scotch at one of the many parties. All up, I had a fun time.

Let me conclude with some random memories.

Meeting several people who had read and liked Gamers’ Quest; including a 12 year old girl who was also a huge Doctor Who fan. We ended up chatting about Doctor Who for ages, and were equally excited to meet Doctor Who scriptwriter, Robert Shearman, who stopped by the kids programming room during a presentation on books based on television, being given by myself and Ian Mond.

Terry Dowling

Getting Terry Dowling to sign a copy of his latest book for me, and chatting to him about my favourite of his stories.

Rushing frantically from a panel to my scheduled book signing, and being distracted by a passing platter of sandwiches carried by co-Chair, Rose Mitchell. “Who do I have to kill to get one of those?” I was rather hungry, as I had been on programme items throughout lunch. To my amazement, she handed me one of the sandwiches. Bless her for saving a starving author!

Being asked to sign a giant rubber alien tentacle.

Hearing a lot of buzz about Ben Chandler’s new YA novel Quillblade. So that’s now been added to my reading pile.

Michael Prior, author of the Laws of Magic books.

I could go on and on and on… but I won’t. So let me finish by saying that if you ever have the chance to attend a Worldcon, either in Australian or overseas… DO IT!

Tune in next time to find out what my family and I have been reading.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Awesome people, like Michael Prior, Trudi Canavan, Sean Williams and Poppy Z Brite, follow me on Twitter… you should too. 😉

Wolf Hall: Surprisingly Readable

Villains are so much more engaging when they have a heart, dontchathink?

I have been ashamed for too long – Wolf Hall has had pride of place on my bookshelf for months now, and I’ve barely poked it. I only wish I had got to it sooner, because once I picked it up I could not put it down. And it seems like the perfect time to talk about it, what with the 2010 Booker shortlist having just been announced (I can’t believe Mitchell wasn’t picked)!

So then: Wolf Hall. The 2009 Booker prize winner is something of an art piece, detailing a vast account of Thomas Cromwell’s rise as the grand vizier to Henry VIII. So often the courts of Henry VIII are the subject of lusty romance fiction novels, with victimised mistresses as bawdy fruit ripe for the picking, and a particular redheaded brute who enjoys hunting, feasting, and aforesaid victimised mistresses. Don’t get me wrong, I love that bodice-ripping stuff. But it can get a little worn. Wolf Hall is of a refreshingly different breed, and Mantel is the architect of a sceptical and calculated court, seen through the beady eyes of one Thomas Cromwell.

The novel’s magic lies in the humanisation of Cromwell – his marriage is a business contract, but he comes to love his wife Liz, his boy Gregory and his two little girls. When Liz, Grace and Anne perish of the sweating sickness we don’t see the outward show of stoic, but instead are witness to Cromwell’s grieving thoughts as he makes a show of conducting his daily business. Mantel treats Cromwell’s life unequally – she is particularly attentive to his early years where his father uses him for bloodsport, and then is attentive to his later years under the majestic Cardinal Wolsey, with very little in between. Yet, this deliberate spotlighting results in a fascinating portrait of a guy whose humble beginnings helps him understand the fickleness of power when everyone around him is a glutton to it.
Cromwell’s wry disdain of mademoiselle Anne Boleyn is particularly evident – I especially love the first introduction of her:

“The lady appeared at court at the Christmas of 1521, dancing in a yellow dress. Daughter of the diplomat, Thomas Boleyn, she has been brought up since childhood in the Burgundian court at Mechelen and Brussels, and more recently in Paris, moving in Queen Claude’s train between the pretty chateax of the Loire. Now she speaks her tongue with a slight, unplaceable accent, strewing her sentences with French words when she pretends she can’t think of the English. At Shrovetide, she dances in a court masque. The ladies are costumed as Virtues, and she takes the part of Perseverence. She dances gracefully but briskly, with an amused expression on her face, a hard, impersonal touch-me-not smile. Soon she has a little trail of petty gentlemen following her; and one not so petty gentleman. The rumour spreads that she is going to marry Harry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland’s heir.”
-[Page 67, Wolf Hall.]

The rest of the book is just as impeccably written. And if you expect to see the rise AND fall of Thomas Cromwell, you will be disappointed – the curtain closes when Thomas is at the height of his power in 1535, five years before his downfall and his execution at Henry VIII’s word in 1540. To my mind it is the perfect send-off. You can’t help but feel a little uneasy, like a gypsy reader unsure of her own clairvoyance. Thomas Cromwell, in the closing of Wolf Hall appears as if he will be Henry’s beloved forever. But that’s the draw of power, isn’t it? It makes you omnipotent and thrillingly vulnerable in the same intoxicating breath.

Book By Accident And In Reverse

The Princess BrideI’ve talked before about whether films live up to books’ standards, but there’s one much-loved film that many people aren’t even aware is a book. Until recently I was one of them—I came to the book by accident and in reverse long after I’d fallen in love with the film.

I’m talking, of course, about The Princess Bride, William Goldman’s ever-so-brilliant tale of true love, honour, comedy, and adventure.

What most surprised me about the book, when I did realise there was one to read and set about reading it stat, was how close to the film it was. Or how close the film was to it. Right down to the Fred Savage character interrupting the grandfather, asking him to ‘skip the mushy bits’.

Upon closer examination, it kind of makes sense though, as Goldman, who had a hand in the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, A Bridge Too Far, and All The President’s Men, is a screenwriter well used to writing visually. The Princess Bride may be a novel, but it’s written with screen adaptation in mind.

My TPB book discovery wasn’t without confusion though, with someone telling me it was a spoof. Goldman himself inspires this thinking, with his note about how the book is an abridged version of S. Morgenstern’s tale.

So who the hell is S. Morgenstern? Well, it’s likely a reference to the abundantly named Johann Carl Simon Morgenstern who coined the term ‘bildungsroman’. What the hell is ‘bildungsroman’? It’s a fancy term for a formation novel, or one that focuses on a protagonist’s moral and psychological journey.

Confused? Yeah, me too. But it’s a clever nod and tribute to a guy who named the ‘hero’s journey’ genre that includes The Princess Bride. The brilliantly written The Princess Bride. I mean, which girl doesn’t wish she were Buttercup and lust after Westley? And which boy doesn’t wish he were Westley or Dread Pirate Roberts?

Who doesn’t remember the Cliffs of Insanity, the battle of wits with the iocaine-laced wine, the fire swamp, and the ROUSes: Rodents of Unusual Size? And who can’t quote at least a few of the incredibly famous lines from the book and film—both of which are chock full of memorable ones? There’s ‘as you wish’, ‘inconceivable’, and of course the old chestnut, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’

The film to book reversal continued recently as, while marvelling about the discovery of the book, I discovered that some friends had neither seen the film nor read the freshly discovered book. So we held an old-school movie night at a friend’s house, with cheese and crackers, chips, and dessert and 10 of us sitting around a big-screen TV. By the end most of them were saying what I said: having come to The Princess Bride via the film, they’re now keen to read the book.

Aussiecon 4 Memories

The 68th World Science Fiction Convention is over! Five days of panels, talks, signings, parties, awards and other related stuff, has ended. People from all over the world are making their way home… or perhaps sightseeing across Australia before departing our golden shores. I’m now sitting in front of my computer at home in Melbourne, still exhausted, trying to come to terms with the fact that it will probably be at least another 10 years before the Worldcon returns to our country.

Since the convention finished, the blogosphere has been inundated with reports and reviews. Check out the report from Foz Meadows, author of Solace and Grief, for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show Blog. Also, check out the blog from Narrelle M Harris, author of The Opposite of Life. If you’re on Twitter, you can see posts about Aussiecon 4 at #Aussiecon4 and #Aus4.

The Dealers’ Room!

Reading the various reports, it is evident that different people had very different experiences. Some people partied; some people networked; some people collected autographs and listened to their favourite authors; some people promoted; some people shopped in the dealers’ room; and some people sat around chatting and drinking way too much coffee. I tried very hard to do a bit of everything! 🙂 And now it’s time for me to add my view of Aussiecon 4 to the ever-expanding blogosphere.

The Ticonderoga Publications table in the Dealers’ Room.

The writer Guest of Honour was Kim Stanley Robinson, author of numerous science fiction novels, including Galileo’s Dream and the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars). I’ve never read any of his novels, as my taste in science fiction tends to lean towards lighter, adventure-based story-telling, rather than hard science. Despite this, I made the effort to attend his Guest of Honour speech… which was thoughtful, humorous and very entertaining. What I enjoyed most about it, was the insight into his non-writing life; and how he felt that one of the greatest things given to him by his writing career was the opportunity to work from home and watch his kids grow up. As a writer who is also a stay-at-home-Dad, this really struck a chord with me. I’m even tempted to go off and read one of his books.

Kim Stanley Robinson giving his Guest of Honour speech.

The artist Guest of Honour was Australian illustrator and author, Shaun Tan, creator of many wonderful books, including The Lost Thing, Tales From Outer Suburbia and The Arrival. I’ve heard Shaun speak numerous times over the years, but I never tire of listening to him. Given that my artistic abilities do not extend beyond stick-figures, I am in awe of anyone who can draw… and can this guy draw, or what? And he makes it look so easy. And he comes across as such a nice guy.

Shaun Tan (right) on a panel about art with D.M. Cornish (centre) and Richard Harland (left).

Now, let’s move on to Doctor Who, because as any regular Literary Clutter reader will know, I am a Doctor Who fanboy. Two writers who worked on the revived Doctor Who series were in attendance at the convention — Paul Cornell (who I’ve previously interviewed on Literary Clutter) and Robert Shearman (who wrote first season’s “Dalek”, the last truly awesome episode to feature this race of pepper-pot encased aliens). I got the chance to meet both of them, and even spoke on a panel with Mr Cornell — “Playing in someone else’s sandpit: franchise writing”.

There were a number of interesting Who related panels, including the one I was on, “We are all fairy tales: Doctor Who’s fifth season”, which was a discussion of how the series had changed with its new production team. It was during this panel that I referred to head writers Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffat as “Rusty and the SMoff” and made the grand statement: “I’d have the River over the Pond, any day!” — although I guess you’d need to be a fan to find any humour in this. Thankfully, neither Paul nor Robert were there for that one!

Of course, there was much discussion of both film and television during the course of the convention. One session I found particularly interesting was George RR Martin’s on-stage interview with Melinda M Snodgrass. Melinda is author of numerous novels (including the Circuit trilogy) as well as being a scriptwriter who has written for, amongst other shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation, SeaQuest DSV, The Outer Limits and Sliders. George is author of countless novels (including the Song of Fire and Ice series) as well as being scriptwriter of 14 episodes of the 1980s television series Beauty and the Beast. The interview worked extremely well due to the obvious rapport they have from being long-time friends and colleagues, and was a wonderful insight into the world of television writing.

And then, of course, there were books… many, many books! And much discussion of those books. Some of the panels I attended included “YA speculative fiction: industry overview and insights”, “Getting published in YA spec fic”, “Nuts and bolts: editing YA spec fic, an insider’s view” and “What’s hot and what’s not: trends in YA spec fic” — do you see a pattern forming here? There were also lots of great readings, by authors local and imported. The highlight for me was the tag-team reading session by Richard Harland and Jack Dann, each providing character voices for the other’s reading.

I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m out of blog space. Tune in next time as I continue to ramble on about the awesomeness that was AUSSIECON 4!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… I’ve now got more than 100 followers, so I must be worth following. 🙂


Totally Twins is the new fun series for readers aged 9+ from New Frontier. The books that follow the life of twins Persephone and Portia are written by Aleesah Darlison and illustrated by Serena Geddes. Both Aleesah and Serena have been at Kids’ Book Capers this week talking about their career journeys.

Aleesah is back to today to talk about the creative process behind Totally Twins. I asked Aleesah why readers will enjoy the series.

Perse has a unique way of looking at things, which I think readers will connect with. Even though she’s shy, she doesn’t hold back in her diary. She lets readers know exactly how she feels. There’s also lots of zany characters in the books. For instance, Perse’s mum, Skye, is a yoga teacher and a laughter therapist. Her gran is a travel writer who goes bungee jumping. Her annoying next-door neighbor, Dillon Pickleton (aka Dill Pickle) is obsessed with Perse and Portia’s ‘twin-ness’ and runs around the yard playing knights and dragons with his dog, Camelot.

The series is written in diary format by Persephone (she’s the sensible twin) and the first book, Musical Mayhem is about a school musical.

Portia is the outgoing twin who loves to sing. Persephone (or Perse for short) is the shy twin who is often overshadowed by her super-confident sister and who is also a terrible singer. Perse can’t bear the idea of having to get up on stage in front of people. But everyone in class must play a part on stage…

Serena Geddes illustrations feature on every page and kids will connect with these books because they will relate to the characters and the problems that are faced by Persephone and poured out in her diary.

Aleesah says she is loving writing Totally Twins.

I love writing as Perse. I find it so easy to slip into her character and express her feelings about whatever challenge, or whatever joy, she’s facing. I think her sense of humour and her sensitivity may be similar to mine and she’s a Gemini like me, too. I also love writing about the other characters in the book. They’re always good for a laugh.

Working with an illustrator and seeing my characters breathed into life has been a very special and joyful experience, too.

Readers won’t have to wait long for the second book in the Totally Twins series. Model Behaviour is due out next month.


Just like Aleesah Darlison, I always thought it would be great to be a twin. I imagined how it would be to have someone who understands how you think and feel. And the idea of being able to switch identities seemed so appealing.

But as Aleesah conveys in Musical Mayhem, there’s also a downside. It can be easy for one twin to overshadow the other, for one or both to lose their individual identities.

Musical Mayhem is the first book in the Totally Twins series about ‘nearly eleven’ year-old twins Persephone and Portia Pinchgut. In a fun and engaging way, it raises issues of the ups and downs of being a twin.

The book is written in diary form from the point of view of Persephone, the ‘quiet’ twin. Her talented twin, Portia is trying out for the lead role in the school musical and it’s compulsory for every student to audition. The problem for Persephone is that she’s a really bad singer.

The thing that really came through in this book was the strong voice of the main character. Although she is the quiet one of the pair, Persephone has a lot to say in her diaries and she really lets the reader feel as if they are part of her world.

Persephone has a humour and perspective on life that will resonate with young readers. Her everyday problems with friends and family and how she handles them give us great insights into her character and make her likeable. Not so likeable is her twin sister Portia, although she shows remorse and reconciles with Persephone in the end.

I enjoyed reading about Persephone and was pleased to see her problems resolved, although it looks like she has plenty more to come (Book 2, Model Behaviour is due out in October). The relaxed format of this book and the great illustrations by Serena Geddes compliment the text and help to make Musical Mayhem a fun read for readers aged 9+.

Musical Mayhem is published by New Frontier Publishing.

Gabrielle Williams Q&A

One of the great things about Get Reading! is that I’ve had a fantastic chance to meet authors from other states I haven’t crossed paths with before – one of those authors is the fantastically entertaining Gabrielle Williams, who I sat down with while in Melbourne to talk about all things Beatle Meets Destiny.

Okay, first up, you used to work in advertising, so, what better way to start this interview than with a sales pitch – “sell” Beatle Meets Destiny to our readers.

Ugh! Selling my own book makes me feel very uncomfortable. If I talk it up, it sounds like I’m being boastful, but if I talk it down no-one will want to read it!

How about if I just say I think it’s awesome?

That’d help.

Well… it’s awesome, and it is in the running for some big awards…

True. It’s been short-listed for the Prime Ministers Literary Awards and the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards, as well as being included in the “Get Reading! 50 books you can’t put down”. It was also a Notable Book in the Children’s Book Council awards (not short-listed, but still!).

It’s still a big deal.. Now, why name your character John Lennon? You a big Beatles fan?

 I thought it would be quite funny and burdensome if you had a famous person’s name: it seemed to say alot about your parents and also open up lots of opportunities for comedy. I don’t think any other band would have worked for my story quite as well as The Beatles. The only comparable band would perhaps be the Rolling Stones, but to have a main character called Mick Jagger seems to stretch the boundaries of believability for some reason, whereas to have a main character called John Lennon seems kind of normal with only a twinge of weirdness. I think characters’ names are so important when you’re writing a book, I can get quite hung up on it until I find exactly the right name for each of them. Then, when I find the name, I seem to find my story as well.

I loved the randomtwin interviews that pop up every so often during the course of the novel . Where did that idea come from?

I’m not sure. I just liked the idea of throwing in these random stories, and then at the end of the book when the reader has decided all these twin stories have no relevance whatsoever, you find out exactly how they all fit in to the story. I also quite liked the idea of throwing in random stories – almost like ad breaks in a tv show – to break the rhythm and surprise the reader a little.

The final major scenes (at Destiny’s house) had lots of characters and plot-lines all converging at once. How difficult was it to write? Did you always envision everything exploding at once?
The final major scenes did take a while to write. I wrote version after version, with my editor screaming out ‘more chaos more chaos’ after each edit until she was satisfied that it was well and truly calamitous. I wouldn’t have been half as cruel to Beatle as she made me! But I love that it all comes to a head, that so many people are there to witness his humiliation, and that there was no way around it but for him to tell Destiny the entire truth (even if he managed to lie to everyone else who was there).

Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams
A young adult novel that doesn’t quite go along the traditional boy-meets-girl lines. For one thing, Beatle never normally goes out on Friday the thirteenth, but this night is an exception, and how can he avoid talking to the attractive girl who is wearing sunglasses and reading a book while waiting for the tram? Not only is her name Destiny, but her surname is McCartney, and since his real name is John Lennon, and for a whole heap of other spooky reasons as well, it seems destined that they will be together. But Beatle already has a girlfriend. Not that he’s in any hurry to tell Destiny about her… Click here to read the first chapter.

TRAILER: Burnt Snow by Van Badham

Burnt Snow by Van Badham
Sophie is in the last term of Year 11. She’s used to moving around with her accountant father and free-spirited mother, so the move to a small town on the South Coast in NSW doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary – at first. As Sophie negotiates teenage preoccupations with overprotective parents, whether her pyjamas are cool enough for a sleepover and the school-ground politics of secrets, lies and faithless boyfriends, something dark is hovering on the edge of her vision. The school Goth delivers her an ominous warning, strange birds seem to be following her – and fate keeps reuniting her with the dangerous bad boy with a past that nobody wants to talk about: Brody Meine. Violent storms suddenly erupt, windows explode in the classroom, and a fire engulfs an entire street. And all these escalating, demonic happenings seem to take place when Sophie and Brody Meine are together…

TRAILER: Lost on Earth by Steve Crombie

Lost On Earth by Steve Crombie
“The only way I am coming home is by bike or by box,” Steve Crombie writes when he first hits the road, travelling 90,000 km from Australia to the Arctic Circle via South America. It takes him two years. He suffers from dehydration, starvation and disease. He rebuilds his motorcycle four times. Along the way Steve not only tests his limits but meets the world head on – waking up behind iron bars in Tierra Del Fuego; traversing the length of the Amazon with a 260 kg motorcycle in tow; evading pumas in Guyana; skimming across the Caribbean on a yacht with wanted criminals; dodging bullets in Nicaragua and finally paddling a few laps in the Arctic Ocean. Lost on Earth is an adrenaline rush, taking the reader to the wilds of South America, with a man who made the dream of following a road less travelled into a reality.

REVIEW: Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti

sicilian foodI make no secret of my shameless and insatiable need for cookbooks and books about food, nor is my particular interest in Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean food one I’ve kept hidden so, when I was presented with the opportunity to review a book on Sicilian food it is no surprise that I grabbed it with almost indecent haste!

“Sicilian Food” by Mary Taylor Simeti was first published in the US as “Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food” in 1989 and has been re-published here in Australia by Adelaide’s Wakefield Press.

While I can appreciate the benefits of the less cumbersome title, the new one does not really do justice to the contents of this book which is so much more than a collection of recipes.  Simeti is an American who married into Sicily, but even so, came late to her full appreciation of the rich culinary history of her adopted home.  It wasn’t until she and her Sicilian husband began to spend time in the countryside that the historical significance of the peasant culture around her began to tease her earlier interest in history, sending her off on the fascinating and thorough research which informs this book.

Sicily lies at the toe of the boot that is Italy and  has had a long association with the culinary arts – the first known Western cookbook, the now lost  “Art of Cooking”, was written in Syracuse in the fifth century BC.   Sicilian food has been influenced by the many and  varied cultures which held sway over the Mediterranean island, including the Greeks, Arabs, Romans, French and Spanish.  Such was the reputation of Sicilian food, that possessing a Sicilian cook was considered to be a status symbol in the Roman Empire  and a  great many Sicilian dining favourites subsequently made their way up the boot to the rest of Italy and Europe.

In the early chapters, Simeti’s book follows the incursions by the miscellaneous conquerors and notes the culinary influences of each of them with plenty of traditional recipes reflective of each culture.  There is a chapter devoted to bread and it’s place in Sicilian society,  further chapters look at foods of the various classes of past Sicilian society and the final chapters are dedicated to pastries, street foods and ice cream.  Each chapter of the book is a fascinating and very well-researched read about the history and culture of each subject with anecdotes and excerpts from historical and literary sources.  Interestingly, for a good Catholic school girl, the section on sweets and pastries involved  research into the histories of many of the convents of Sicily as the devout nuns exercised their creativity by turning out a plentiful supply of treats!  The recipes are traditional and classic Sicilian dishes and Simeti states that she has made each of them herself – even going so far as to attempt some of the more ancient and unusual concoctions that she read about in her research.

Mary Taylor Simeti is a New York girl who travelled to Siciliy, in the 1960’s, for what was meant to be a two year break.  There she met her husband, an agricultural economist, and they now run an organic farm near Palermo.  She has written several other books, some in Italian, and including one which is a memoir of a convent-trained pastry chef.

As I stated earlier, “Sicilian Food” is not just a collection of recipes, but a well researched and accessible examination of an influential and rich culinary tradition.  Simeti’s writing style is descriptive, amusing and engaging – this is a book that belongs in the hands of anyone who has an interest beyond just the taste of their food.

Mary Taylor Simeti will be in Sydney and is appearing as part of the “Crave Sydney International Food Festival” on 9 October, 2010.

Amanda McInerney

Judges decide on six shortlisted titles for Man Booker Prize

Peter Carey, Emma Donoghue, Damon Galgut, Howard Jacobson, Andrea Levy and Tom McCarthy are today, Tuesday 7 September, announced as the six shortlisted authors for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. For over four decades the prize – the leading literary award in the English speaking world – has brought recognition, reward and readership to the outstanding new novels of the year. The shortlist was announced by Chair of judges, Sir Andrew Motion, at a press conference held at Man’s London headquarters.

The six books, selected from the Man Booker Prize longlist of 13, are:

  • Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
  • Emma Donoghue Room (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
  • Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Atlantic Books – Grove Atlantic)
  • Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
  • Andrea Levy The Long Song (Headline Review – Headline Publishing Group)
  • Tom McCarthy C (Jonathan Cape – Random House)

Chair of judges Andrew Motion, comments:

“It’s been a great privilege and an exciting challenge for us to reduce our longlist of thirteen to this shortlist of six outstandingly good novels. In doing so, we feel sure we’ve chosen books which demonstrate a rich variety of styles and themes – while in every case providing deep individual pleasures.”

Australian author Peter Carey is one of only two authors to have won the prize twice, in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang. Should he win this year, he would become the only author to have won three times. He was also shortlisted in 1985 for Illywhacker. South African author Damon Galgut has previously been shortlisted for his book The Good Doctor in 2003 and Howard Jacobson has been longlisted twice before for his novels Kalooki Nights in 2006 and Who’s Sorry Now? in 2002. Irish author Emma Donoghue is, at 40, the youngest author on the shortlist.

The winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on Tuesday 12 October at a dinner at London’s Guildhall. The announcement will be broadcast on BBC News across television, radio and online.

The winner will receive a cheque for £50,000 and worldwide recognition. Last year’s winning novel, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, has now sold over half a million copies in the UK alone. Each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, receives £2,500 and a designer bound edition of their shortlisted book.

Chaired by Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate, the 2010 judges are Rosie Blau, Literary Editor of the Financial Times; Deborah Bull, formerly a dancer, now Creative Director of the Royal Opera House as well as a writer and broadcaster; Tom Sutcliffe, journalist, broadcaster and author and Frances Wilson, biographer and critic.

On Sunday 10 October, two days before the winner is announced, the shortlisted authors will appear at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. It is the only public opportunity to join the 2010 shortlisted authors for readings from their books, discussion and an audience Q&A.

In addition, the Man Booker Prize has teamed up with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the London based private members’ club The Groucho Club, who will both host events with some of the shortlisted authors for their members.

Last month the prize announced exciting new digital plans for 2010. The Man Booker Prize App is now free to download from the App Store to an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch and is the UK’s first app for a literary prize. The prize has also partnered with T-Mobile via the digital book retailer GoSpoken. T-Mobile users can access content on their mobile phones and GoSpoken has provided free audio extracts from all the 13 longlisted titles which can be downloaded to subscribers’ mobiles.

Burn Before Reading

This week’s top book story is not, unfortunately, a story of a great new novel or a literary award. Look up books in the news this week and what you’ll find is the planned burning of two hundred Qur’ans in Florida.

Church pastor Reverend Terry Jones says he and other church members plan to burn 200 Qur’ans – the central religious text of Islam, also known as the Quran, Koran, Qur’ān, Coran or al-Qur’ān – on Saturday, calling the event “International Burn a Qur’an Day”. They say the goal of burning Qur’ans is to send a message to al-Qaida, the violent Islamic group that carried out the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

While book-burning is often seen as censorship, this church apparently burns not with the aim of obliterating the information but to actively antagonise a tiny group of the people who identify with it, seemingly ignoring the fact that they are also at risk of antagonising the full fifth of the world’s population who revere the book as the word of God. It’s a useless gesture – as one tweeter quipped, “yeah, and I’m going to delete 200 pdfs too” – unless their agenda is to insult and aggravate.

Should they be able to burn these books, these words that some people find sacred? When is burning a book justifiable or wise?

The media coverage has ranged from factual to celebrity-obsessed to sensationalist fear-mongering. It’s often reported that US is floundering ineffectually and unable to stop it, using terms like “appears powerless”, but it’s not. It’s honouring its own sacred words. Administration officials say the Florida pastor and his followers are within their constitutional rights to burn a Qur’an, just as U.S. anti-war protesters have burned American flags at demonstrations in the past. The church has the right to burn, but the US administration hopes the church reconsiders its threatened action.

This is not to say the US condones the burning. They have pointed out that the gesture will sadden millions and possibly enrage a small few, leading to further attacks on tourists or troops by extremists. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the contemplated actions are abhorrent, inappropriate, and should not happen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton branded the plan “disgraceful”. Sarah Palin has chosen actively denounce the action on her Facebook page, although I’m undecided whether she was actually calling for clemency or just taking the chance to get a quick dig in at infamous “Ground Zero Mosque”.

“People have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at Ground Zero… “

It may be called “International Burn a Qur’an Day” but it is getting precious little support anywhere, with everyone from the Vatican to UN decrying the actions. Will this, and the numerous requests from religious leaders, army generals and statemen, have any effect on the Floridian preacher? It’s doubtful.  But they are on the record, disagreeing.

This church has the constitutional right to burn Qur’ans. But should they?

Where in the World is Lisbeth Salander Pt 2

In my last post I wrote about the issues facing ebook distribution in Australia as it pertains to territorial copyright and parallel importation. To recap: the current situation is that if I want to buy an ebook that is published by a US or UK publisher in Australia it is more than likely impossible. I can buy the Australian version of that ebook where it is available, but I cannot (except in the very rare case where the overseas publisher owns worldwide digital rights) buy the overseas version, even when that ebook is not published electronically by an Australian publisher. Even when the ebook’s Australian rights have not been purchased at all, it is still more than likely impossible to buy that book in Australia. This all despite the fact that I can buy any paper book from any publisher anywhere in the world and have it posted to my front door.

It’s a very complicated issue that faces all publishers worldwide. In fact, it is an ongoing issue with all producers of digital content. Digital TV streamed overseas through services like Hulu and the BBC’s iPlayer are not available in Australia at any cost. Music services like Spotify and Pandora are also not available here due to territorial copyright restrictions. There is no obvious solution to this problem, but in this post I’ll cover some of the reasons why this occurs.

The main reason ebook availability is so patchy at the moment is time. When Amazon (the biggest seller of ebooks in the world, and the first mainstream ebook retailer to enter the market in this country) first made the Kindle available to Australians in November 2009, they had not approached any Australian publishers to organise the distribution of ebook files and organise sales contracts. They did not, in fact, begin speaking to Australian publishers about terms until well into 2010. Concurrently, Amazon’s agreements with US publishers specified what copyright territories they were allowed to sell to – and most of these did not include Australia. Amazon decided not to mess with territorial copyright law (which, as I pointed out in the last post, are a legal grey area when it comes to ebooks) and honoured territorial copyright.

For the most part, that problem has now been fixed, but there was a massive delay in distribution that is still being felt by consumers looking to buy the newest releases for their Kindle or other ereaders even now. Given time, many ebooks that were not available at the launch of your favourite ebook reader or are not available straight after the print release date will eventually be sorted. The same goes for older backlist titles that have not yet had their rights cleared to be published in electronic form in Australia. This is a massive administrative and legal issue that most publishers around the world are slowly and surely dealing with, and it’s not something unique to Australia. Given time and resources, publishers the world over will sort it out and a greater range of titles will be available to everyone.

Having said that, this problem is representative of a larger issue. Why should Australian publishers be scrambling to get territory-specific rights to ebooks and inefficiently doubling (or tripling, or quadrupling) the workload when virtually identical ebook files are being created by their counterparts in the UK and US and they are all being sold from the same international retailer? You can kind of understand how it can be more efficient for publishers to print books in the country they sell them to, and you can understand why Australian publishers would look after the ebook files of Australian authors, but for identical electronic files to be produced and supplied separately to the exact same international retailers? It’s madness.

So why is it happening, and how can the industry as a whole move towards a more global system? And perhaps more importantly, should they? The answers to those questions essentially boil down to the same issue. Australia’s publishing industry is protected by the government with the enforcement of parallel importation restrictions; these restrictions enable Australian publishers to print more books locally, giving jobs to editors, printers, publicists, sales representatives, typesetters and, of course, authors. If we are moving towards a system in which a significant proportion of the books sold are electronic, and we give up on that protection of the industry, it will inevitably shrink. If Australian publishers make less money, they will likely publish fewer Australian authors, and fewer Australians will be employed in the publishing industry as a whole.

As a person employed by the publishing industry, my bias is for protection. Nonetheless, I do think consumers have a point when they complain that the US Kindle store has almost twice as much content as the Australian store – a restriction that is purely about protecting revenue streams rather than technical limitations. So if we assume that publishers are going to continue to protect these revenue streams, and that the current system will, for the most part, function as it is – what can be done to make it fairer for ebook readers?

Join me in the thrilling conclusion of this series of posts about ebooks and the fascinating world of territorial copyright, as I uncover some of the potential (and partial) solutions to this problem.

FROM DISNEY TO TOTALLY TWINS – Meet Illustrator, Serena Geddes

Illustrator, Serena Geddes has always enjoyed drawing, scribbling and creating spot cartoons of fellow work colleagues.

In 1996 she was accepted as a Trainee In-betweener for Walt Disney Animation Australia, a career path she never knew existed.

Disney offered an intensive 3-month training program to become an In-betweener, and once through, areas such as life-drawing, animal and human anatomy were all part of our learning. Though very hard work, it was brilliant opportunity to learn the fundamentals of animation and illustration.

In March 2009, Serena found herself at the crossroads of her career. She felt this would be a great opportunity to try her hand at illustrating for children’s books and educational book publishers.

Serena decided to invest 3 to 6 months creating new artwork to send to publishers in Australia and the UK. Within 3 months she had landed her first contract and has not looked back since.

I am back to doing what I love (drawing all day) and have four books due for release this year! decided to invest 3 to 6 months creating new artwork to send to publishers in Australia and the UK. Within 3 months I had landed my first contract and have not looked back since.

Serena is at Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about her work and the release of Totally Twins, a series by Aleesah Darlison that she is illustrating.

Where does your inspiration come from?

It can vary from people watching in a café to trudging through books at the local library or bookstore. I sometimes find meeting with the author can give me a better insight into the style or characters for their books.

What inspired you most about illustrating Totally Twins?

I’m one of four children, my little sister is sixteen months younger than I am so I could completely relate to the frustrations Persephone had with her over confident twin sister Portia. Writing in my diary was my escape and I’d find myself retreating to places my little sister could not find me. The irony of this all, as an adult, my little kid sister is now one of my best friends.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I guess it would be Persephone. I was never a very confident child so if there was a school performance coming up, I tried to avoid being on stage in the spotlight. Persephone has a lot of characteristics I could relate to, even though she can be a little disgruntled at times her heart is in the right place once she learns to relax a little.

How did you decide what the main character would look like?

I had drawn up some characters, one of which was based on my niece who lives in New Zealand. This character Aleesah (the author of Totally Twins) was instantly drawn to, so I used her as a base to create Persephone and Portia.

Can you tell us about the illustrating process for this book?

This is my first Junior Novel so I learnt that the editing process can mess up the initial layout of a book. Once the manuscript was finalised I designed the front cover and sat with the publisher to go over the manuscript discussing the illustrations. Once that was done I tried a few different styles and showed the author to see if it was what she had in mind. Once I was happy with the style I begun illustrating the book.

What was your favourite part of the illustration process?

Adding in something quirky or something humorous to the character’s personalities or the situation they maybe in.

What was the hardest part of the illustration process?

Trying not to over work an illustration, as an artist you can find yourself picking at niggly things that no one else will see or notice. It’s so easy to spend a day on something that should have taken you 15 minutes to do!

Did you get to collaborate with the author or did you work fairly independently?

I have worked closely with Aleesah on the Totally Twins series. This was a perfect example of meeting to gain a snap shot of how she saw the style of the book and her feed back on the characters I was creating. Aleesah has been great to work with especially because she liked anything I drew for her, which is always positive.

Can you tell us about the medium you used to illustrate this book?

For the front cover, I drew some of the images by hand then scanned and coloured them on the computer. I created the bulk of the cover on the computer but all internals were drawn by hand in black ink.

How long did it take to illustrate?

Including the two weeks of artist block… about four to five weeks. Once I found a style I was happy with it just flowed so in this particular instance not very long.

How many books have you illustrated?

I have four books in total all due for release this year.

Any tips for people who would like to become children’s book illustrators?

Keep an open mind when it comes to sending out samples to publishers, a rejection does not necessarily mean you’re not good enough. Keep creating wherever you can and find a style that makes you a little different from everyone else.

Anything else of interest you might like to tell our blog readers?

I attended a Children’s Book Illustration course a few years ago through the Centre for Continuing Education at The University of Sydney

At the time I was not sure how it would help as I was not practicing to be a book illustrator, but once I started looking into the publishing industry, all my course notes and the information notes were more valuable than ever.

More of Serena’s beautiful illustrations are available from her website

“And the award for best zombie goes to…”

Back in July we interviewed Seanan McGuire, author of the Tody Daye series and “science fiction zombie political thriller” Feed, for this blog. When I was speaking to her, she had been nominated for a Hugo and was packing for AussieCon4 in Melbourne. The Hugo Awards have been running since 1953, and are awarded to the best in fiction, art, editing, film making and fan achievements in science fiction and fantasy. Seanan was pretty excited, both about visiting Australia for the first time and the fact that she was up for  best New Writer, but was nice enough to take the time out to talk to me about writing, zombies and the importance of getting your research right.

The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work was published in the last two years, and I am delighted to see that she won.  Having just finished reading Feed, which Seanan wrote as under the name of Mira Grant, I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

Feed is less about horror, guts and zombie gore, and more about the political, social and media landscape that forms twenty years after the zombie apocalypse when gatherings of more than 20 people are viewed as a deathtrap and windows no longer exist, but elections still need to happen.  It’s about a world where everyone carries the zombie virus, and friends and family could turn at any time and a future where some journalists (called, amusingly enough, Irwins) take insane risks to titillate the bunkered public with shots of zombie-baiting. It’s a suspenseful and speculative story whose characters will stay in your head long after they are dead.

Especially after they are dead.

Feed will be joining all the other titles telling me how to survive an undead invasion. There is the stern Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, which contains useful tips on reinforcing your home (remember, windows are not your friends) and picking the right sort of melee weapon so you don’t end up clutching something too heavy to lift when the time comes. There’s the Ultimate Survival Guide, which is also useful for scenarios that don’t involve zombies. (Although, honestly, what are the odds of that?)

And, just to remind you that just because the world is ending there is no need to be uncouth, there is always Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

There’s also Zombies for Zombies, a guide for the freshly infected, which I am hoping I won’t need but should it happen at least I will have guide to help me to transition through that awkward opening period where you want to eat everbody’s brains but you are just not sure HOW.

For those of you wondering about how reading books about zombies qualifies as real-world reading, well, I figure when the cries of “brains” start it will be too late to get to a bookstore. I’m getting my library together now. As any reputable zombie-survival guide will tell you, be prepared. And don’t stand near the window.

Time to Get Reading – and score your free book

Did you know that the Get Reading! Campaign for 2010 has started.  Purchase one of the 50 Books you can’t put down from Boomerang Books and you’ll get a free book!

The 50 Books You Can’t Put Down guide for 2010 is available to browse or download on the all-new beefed-up website, as well as a host of other material, including previous years’ guides.

Information on the two free books and the all-new Outdoor Reading Rooms , events listings, book retailer and library listings, first chapter downloads, a Kids’ Room, News , poetry, television commercials, a blog and more make this the most comprehensive website in the history of the campaign.

So go to, have a browse and check out dates for events or Reading Rooms near you. Or download a first chapter or two. And GET READING!


Four years ago Aleesah Darlison realized she could awaken her dreams of being a published author by writing when the kids were asleep and still be a mum.

I could have the best of both worlds! I also realized I wanted to write for children so I started learning ‘the craft’ properly for the first time in my life.

I attended workshops, networked, read stacks of kids’ books, wrote in every spare second that I could, entered every competition that came my way, sent my work away to publishers. I got loads and loads of rejections, but I also started to get acceptances. Slowly, I began to make the unattainable dream a reality.

Aleesah has always been an avid reader and says that somewhere deep inside she has always been a writer, too. She won a writing competition when she was a teenager, and started dabbling in writing then, but she never properly embraced the challenge – or dared to dream that she could be a real, published author – until much later in life.

I think it was never letting go, and always working hard to achieve that dream that finally made me believe I was a writer. I’ve doubted myself often, but thankfully I’ve had others close to me who have believed in me.

This month Aleesah celebrates the release of Musical Mayhem, the first book in her Totally Twins series about identical twins, Persephone and Portia Pinchgut. As a child, Aleesah always wanted an identical twin.

I’d read stories about identical twins playing tricks on people and sharing things no one else could. In times when I felt unfairly treated by my parents, I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a twin, a soul mate, who would feel as miserable as I do right now, or who would cheer me up?’. So, when I came to write this book, I drew on those memories and that desire to have a soulmate to share everything with. I also realized that sometimes things wouldn’t be perfect between twins and that I could draw on that fact to create loads of drama.

The Totally Twins series (for girls aged 9 +) is written in diary format by Persephone, and Magical Mayhem is about a school musical. Portia is the outgoing twin who loves to sing. Persephone (or Perse for short) is the shy twin who is often overshadowed by her super-confident sister and who is also a terrible singer. Perse can’t bear the idea of having to get up on stage in front of people. But everyone in class must play a part on stage…

Readers can find out more about Persephone or get in touch with  Aleesah by visiting her website at:  And for more information about Serena Geddes and her work, they can visit her website at: Aleesah says,

Serena and I are embarking on a national tour to promote the Persephone series in schools and libraries as a ‘Dynamic Creative Duo’ and to give the inside scoop on Persephone and her sister, Portia. We’re really looking forward to it. We hope to meet lots of Perse fans, and lots of Kids’ Book Capers readers, over the next few months.

On Wednesday, Serena will visit Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her journey and her wonderful illustrations, and on Friday, we’ll go ‘under to cover’ of  “Totally Twins” and find out more about Persephone and Portia Pinchgut and their story.

Your Dress Is Tucked Into Your Underpants

Day three of the Brisbane Writers Festival saw me sitting on a panel. I know, a mention beforehand would have been handy for those of you keen to heckle, but I was so incredibly nervous I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my mum. She found out about 9pm last night and changed her plans to come down and offer moral support. And I’m kind of glad she did.

After AmericaAs far as I know, the panel went well. At least, I hope it went well—the whole thing is a bit of a blur of anxiety-meets-adrenalin and the couple of friends who were there were under strict instructions to give me hand signals to say ‘slow down’, ‘you’re not making sense’, and ‘your dress is tucked into the back of your underpants’. You know, the gestures that are required when all those public speaking horrors are realised. Often all at once.

But the audience seemed interested, the other panellists were fantastic, and I got a few laughs and a few questions—neither of which I was expecting. The panel was entitled Twittering, Pinging, Poking, Facebooking: The World of New Media. My co-panellists were the esteemed John Birmingham, of He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, Weapons Of Choice, and After America fame, and Chinese writer Mian Mian, famous both because her book, Candy, which focuses on the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll of post-Mao China, was banned there for 10 years, and because she sued Google for scanning her book without permission. My expertise, obviously, was in blogging (this blog is one of five I regularly write).

Weapons of ChoiceAs my first time on the other side of the writers’ festival microphone, it was simultaneously terrifying, exhilarating, and incredibly humbling. I’d love to recount the witty repartee that I participated in, but trying to recall is like trying to catch clouds. I do know there was some mention of the woman who put the cat in the bin in the UK last week, who is now being mocked with a viral spoof that involves someone dressed up as Sylvester the cat putting a human in a bin. I do know I managed to talk about how I think hardcovers are outdated and should be rendered obsolete (for the record, most people agreed with me). And I do know I managed to get in a mention of the Hot Guys Reading Books blog I’ve previously blogged about.

I also know that I managed to make it through the session coherently, at an understandable pace, and that there were no dress-tucked-into-underpants incidents. At least, none that I’m aware of. Thanks to those of you who came to support and heckle—both were much appreciated.

Introducing Steph Bowe and GIRL SAVES BOY

I know introducing Steph Bowe online is like introducing Google, but still… This is for the 5 people who don’t know who she is, and was initially written as an introduction for a book event today:

I’ve been tasked with introducing Girl Saves Boy. Now, I know the importance of a good introduction. Call me fickle, but I’ve picked up books in stores, read the first page and put them back down because they just didn’t grab me. As a writer, I’ve seen and admired the power of a gripping beginning, which has the power to shape the way a reader interacts with a story.

And today, I’m not just introducing a story, I’m introducing a flesh-and-blood person, someone I’ve known for a little while now.

I first met Steph Bowe two years ago, and by “met”, I mean, I sent emails from Bronte, and she replied to them from Victoria. She had won a competition and a copy of my book. If I had to define our relationship in the beginning, I was the author and she was the fan. She had a blog, which she eventually directed me to when she wrote a review of my book. I read that post, and liked it, not only because of the nice things she said about me, but because of the way she said them. There was something so real about her voice, and I kept coming back to her blog, long after she wrote about me. And with every single post, I got to know her a little bit more.

Despite the fact that, at this point, we hadn’t met, I felt our relationship change. I was no longer just the author, and she was no longer just the fan. We had, over time, simply become friends. And as her friend, I have watched her grow into a confident young writer, whose work manages to balance an almost lyrical quality with a pure honesty. Having now read her novel, I’m proud to say that our relationship has once again been redefined.

She’s the author, and I’m the fan.

Which puts a lot of pressure on me and my introduction. I have compress my admiration of Steph into an intro that’ll, hopefully, positively shape what, for many of you will be your first Steph Bowe experience. I’ve always been one to shy away from mentioning anything when talking about books for fear of spoiling something, no matter how miniscule a detail. But what I will say is: a lot of you will come to  Girl Saves Boy as ‘the book written by the sixteen-year-old’. And I think that’s selling it short.

Don’t get me wrong, for a book written by a sixteen-year-old, it is something remarkable, a masterful achievement. But just as there’s more to Steph than being sixteen, there’s more to  Girl Saves Boy than being a book written by a sixteen-year-old.

It’s difficult to explain, but by the time I reached the back cover, I had this overbearing sense that I hadn’t read a book so much as I had experienced a beginning. The beginning of a career that will no doubt span many years, many acclaimed books, many in-store appearances, many signings, and many introductions.

There is the promise of so much between these covers, and as a reader, Steph’s certainly got me gripped.

The Male Megan Stack

The Boy In The MoonReaders of this blog and people who’ve engaged in any kind of general, passing conversation with me will know that I came back from the Byron Bay Writers Festival rabbiting on about how I discovered knock-out author Megan Stack. It’s now day two of the Brisbane Writers Festival and I think I’ve found the male Megan Stack equivalent: Canadian journalist Ian Brown.

With a run-of-the-mill Anglo-Saxon name and a topic that sounds bleak and that has the potential to make us all a little uncomfortable, it’s kind of understandable that Brown’s first festival session was only half full. I’m just grateful that I was in that small crowd, because the journalist and author was unbelievably outstanding.

Brown’s not particularly known in Australia, but has a swag of accomplishments and awards to his name in Canada (including recently beating a strong field that included Margaret Atwood for some honours). He’s speaking at the festival about both his food blogging tour and the slightly heavier topic of living with a son who has Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome (CFC), a rare disorder that effectively traps his son, Walker, as an infant for life.

At the time of Walker’s diagnosis, there were only eight known cases of CFC, making it one of the rarest of rare syndromes. The disorder and its affect on Brown and his family is documented in his award-winning book, The Boy in the Moon. From the semi-medical (no joke) diagnosis that he’s a ‘funny looking kid’ (FLK) with no eyebrows (a trademark of the disorder) to the ‘Chernobyl’ of diaper rash Walker experiences, Brown acknowledges and investigates the things we are afraid to ask and even more afraid to discuss.

He debates with his wife whether if they knew then what they know now, would she have aborted Walker as a foetus. He talks about how he considered double suicide, by taking Walker with him out into the snow. He examines the complex issue of how we now have the technology to save lives that in the past wouldn’t have been possible to, but little support for them ongoing.

He admits that as the father of a disabled child, you constantly feel guilty about the state of your child. And he asks what the value and meaning of Walker’s life is, given that he is now a 14-year-old boy who looks about nine and who has the mind of a two-year-old. Walker has to wear special cuffs and a helmet to prevent him from constantly hitting himself and, as Brown says in the book,  ‘Sometimes watching him is like looking at the man in the moon—but you know there is actually no man there. But if Walker is so insubstantial, why does he feel so important? What is he trying to show me?’

Brown also argues that disorders such as CFC make us so uncomfortable because they’re a walking metaphor of the unpredictability and randomness of our own lives. He writes, ‘All I really want to know is what goes on inside his off-shaped head. But every time I ask, he somehow persuades me to look into my own.’

It wasn’t all bleak, though. He talked about how if Walker were here, he’d enjoy our company, would be pottering around, and would most likely be looking down at female audience members’ cleavage. He’d asked doctors in the past if that was part of the disorder. No, they said, that’s specific to Walker.

What made a panel about a book about a profoundly disabled boy and the affects of this disorder on Brown, his wife, and their daughter is Brown’s normalcy, his exquisite eloquence, and his honesty. Brown spoke at length about a variety of topics, answered questions, and went off on tangents, and we hung on his every word.

I’ve never witnessed a panel where an author was clapped so enthusiastically and for so long. Nor have I ever witnessed one where the author was given a standing ovation. No, not even Megan Stack’s. Both happened with Brown. Festival director Jane O’Hara was seated just a few rows behind me for the session and I said three things to her as we walked out:

  1. He. Was. Incredible.
  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing him here.
  3. Tell me he’s speaking again at the festival.

It turns out he is. His other panels are at 1pm on Saturday and 2.30pm on Sunday (the latter is about his food blogging tour, so may be lighter but no less compelling).

Message from Get Reading! – Outdoor Reading Rooms

The first Get Reading! Outdoor Reading Room was open over the weekend in Sydney’s Hyde Park and it was a huge success.

For a gold coin donation to the Indigenous Literacy Project, people enjoyed the sunshine, relaxed in the comfy furniture, browsed the 50 Books You Can’t Put Down and chatted to visiting authors Judy Nunn, Gabrielle Williams, Malla Nunn and William Kostakis. Kids loved the kids’ corner, where they could draw, colour in and do puzzles, or just read a book.

The mood was buzzy but homely, and those who dropped by didn’t want to leave. To see the photos click here or go to

So if you’re in Brisbane, Melbourne or Wagga Wagga, don’t miss the chance to relax in the Get Reading! bubble chairs or chat to an author or two. Get outdoors, make a gold coin donation to the Indigenous Literacy Project, and enjoy your very own celebration of books and reading!


1–5 September: Brisbane
Maiwar Green, Southbank Cultural Centre
State Library of Queensland
Stanley Place, South Bank, Brisbane
10 am – 4 pm daily

10–12 September: Melbourne
The Amphitheatre, Federation Square
Flinders St, Melbourne
10 am – 4 pm daily

14–15 September: Wagga Wagga
Wagga Wagga Library Garden
Baylis Street, Wagga Wagga
Tues, 14 September: 9 am – 4 pm
Wed, 15 September: 10 am – 4 pm

Sulking at Stig and Bieber’s baby bangs – when is it too soon for a bio?

Today I am wearing my cranky hat, and it’s all the Stig’s fault.

This week the news was full of the fact that the BBC had lost a ruling to keep his identity a secret. Racing driver Ben Collins, the man who plays the white-suited and helmeted driver on the Top Gear television show, will be able to release his book about his time as the Stig. HarperCollins plans to publish The Man in the White Suit in September and the secret of the man under the helmet is out. Some fans are unhappy, as the anonymity of the Stig added to the mystique of the show. The BBC are also not happy, refusing to officially confirm Ben as the Stig, but acknowledging he is the author of the book who claims to be the Stig.

I’m not happy too, but for a different reason.

I couldn’t care less who he is, what annoys me is that Ben Collins is 35 and everyone keeps referring to this book as his autobiography.

Is it just me, or is the word biography coming to mean “an account of stuff I did last week”? 35 seems a bit young to be pulling out the memoirs and summing up. When I think of the word biography, I associate it with a life that has actually been lived. I’m after wisdom and the benefit of hindsight, not recommendations on how to get through your twenties. I prefer images of someone writing their memoirs over a glass of aged port in their library, not scribbling them on a beer-mat in the VIP area of a club.

Yes, I’m cranky. Possibly because I don’t get into VIP areas. But I have back-up from the Collins Dictionary. It defines a biography as “an account of a someone’s life”, not “a description of what you got up to before breakfast”. Wikipedia, that user-created starter of arguments about bias in articles, states ”a biography presents the subject’s story […] a work is biographical if it covers all of a person’s life.”

You only live once. But you get to write about it incessantly.

See? That’s all of a person’s life, not their most recent Facebook status updates. And the Stig isn’t the only person due for pointed glare. Miley Cyrus released her auto-biography at the age of 16. (And what a read that must have been. “Got up late, sulked, told Dad his mullet and Achy Breaky Heart sucks and I wish I had never been born”.) UK Glamour model Katie Price took time out from having tasteless weddings and even more tasteless surgery to release three of the damned things between the ages of 26 and 30. How interesting can tanning your ever-expanding boobs be?

Tween idol and teenager Justin Bieber has apparently managed to scrawl something in crayon in between getting his hair styled and having the testosterone carefully removed from his music. I’m not even sure if I can even mention him on this blog without getting done by Child Protection agencies. Teenage sailor Jessica Watson I’ll let off the hook as she refers to her book as “her story”, although it ends up under biographies in bookstores as there is no other section for it. But, while I’ll read a good story (and Jessica’s certainly is that), I don’t to read about a teenager’s life. I remember being a teenager. I was awful, even more cranky than I am now.

I can be reasonable. I know the Stig is not trying to annoy me personally. (I am not sure about Bieber. That HAIR! That music! That relentless sensitivity! Why can’t he be sulky, spotty and into incoherent thrash metal like a regular teenager.) But, just as a short book is called a novella to distinguish it from the longer novel, I think we need a commonly –used word to distinguish a description of events from a look-back over a life. How about an biographette? Or biographella? Or, if you want to give it an Irish feel, a biographeen?

I know, I could just get over it. But I maintain an interesting experience is not the full story. An autobiography does not, as far as I can see, refer to writing about your life when you can’t remember the first five years and suspect you have another seventy to come. When I buy a biography, I expect more than snippets from a whipper-snapper.

Am I so wrong? Am I just becoming Captain Cranky-Pants in my old age?

And, if I am that old, am I old enough to write my auto-biography?


I loved Belinda Jeffrey’s Brown Skin Blue and had been looking forward eagerly to the release of her new book Big River, Little Fish.

I wasn’t disappointed. Big River, Little Fish is another Belinda Jeffrey’s book that’s hard to put down.

It tells the story of 15-year-old Tom Downs struggling to fit into a world that he doesn’t understand, and that doesn’t understand him. Tom’s Mum died giving birth to him and apparently, he came out backwards; which seems to explain why things don’t make sense. Tom struggles with reading letters, and with reading the people and the world around him.

Apart from his closest friend, Hannah, Tom is more comfortable with the recluses who live by the river than with kids his own age.

Tom wonders what it takes for a person to end up like that: feeling safer alone than with others. Depending only on yourself come hell or high water. Then again, perhaps he does understand.

Caring for people like for Murray Black, Bum-crack and Mrs Cath helps Tom to understand his own place in the world.

Big River, Little Fish is as deep, powerful and unpredictable as the Murray River, which provides the backdrop, the catalyst and the resolution for this amazing story.

It’s a beautifully crafted novel where the setting, Old Mother Murray becomes another character in the story. Big River, Little Fish was inspired by teen holidays Belinda spent at her father’s shack on the Murray, and her affinity with the river is clear.

The story is set in 1956 when the banks of the South Australian Murray River burst its banks in one of the state’s worst-ever natural disasters. The locals know it’s coming and Tom feels that everything he loves could be swept away and lost.

Old Mother Murray is like the ups and downs of life. Sometimes it is full to overflowing and sometimes it’s a muddy hole full of sharp branches and rocks.

Belinda Jeffrey has a way of creating characters that get inside your heart and soul. Her evocative writing allows you to feel the water lapping at your feet, and experience Tom’s tide of emotions as past mixes with present to create a new beginning.

Big River, Little Fish will keep you thinking, long after you have read the last word.

It is published by University of Queensland Press.


Dead In The Family by Charlaine Harris
Reviewed by Molly

Dead In The Family, #10 in the Sookie Stackhouse series, is definitely no let-down. Loyal and dedicated fans who have read the previous books in the series will not be disappointed.

The novel is still action-packed and realistic in its depiction of Harris’ supernatural world, however in this particular book, but there’s been a change: you’ll meet a slightly more world-wary Sookie. This in no way detracts from her original character – in fact, this growth of character is what makes her easily likeable and real.

The intricacies of Sookie’s relationship with Eric are explored, and Bill is by no means absent. Nor are her fae relatives, of which there are some who seek revenge on Sookie.

Indeed, Sookie must accept and heal from the devastating torture she experienced in the previous novel under the hands of her fae relatives, and the deaths of her fairy godmother, Claudine and her new friend Amelia’s werewolf boyfriend.

Overall, this book most definitely lives up to expectations and there is much room for an 11th – loyal fans and readers will be very pleased with this latest wonderful addition. (5 stars)

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

Boomerang Fact: Did you know that the Sookie Stackhouse books are the basis for the wildly successful TV series, True Blood?

Where in the World is Lisbeth Salander? Pt 1

Those who have dipped their toes into the chilly waters of ebook purchasing have likely done so through an international portal like Amazon. But when you buy an ebook from Amazon, where is your money going? Are you buying that book from an Australian publisher? Or is it going to a big American or British company? And why is it that your mate in the States can buy a copy of Mockingjay from the Kindle store but you can’t? The answer is territorial copyright and parallel importation restrictions.

For those who have no idea what those two phrases mean, allow me to quickly explain. Territorial copyright is the legal licence sold by the owner of a copyrighted work (in this case, the author of a book) to a publisher so that they can reproduce that work for sale in a particular territory. Parallel importation restrictions are the laws that force Australian booksellers to sell the Australian version of a book where it is available (to stop them from importing cheaper versions of the same book from overseas and cutting out Australian publishers). However, this protection of Australian publishers is not absolute. The rule that governs parallel importation in Australia is known as the 30 day rule, which essentially means that so long as an Australian publisher gets a book printed and available for sale within 30 days of its publication overseas, Australian booksellers can only buy the Australian version.

There is another loophole in the parallel importation rules, and that is for single copies of books. Booksellers are allowed to import a single copy of a particular book for a customer, and individuals are allowed to import their own single copies of books from overseas (from stores like Amazon).

So what does this mean for ebooks? At the moment, every copy of an ebook sold is sold as a ‘single copy’. Nonetheless, every major ebook retailer respects parallel importation restrictions and does not allow the sale of ebooks to Australia unless the publisher who is providing the file to the retailer has explicit rights to sell that ebook in Australia. Is this a legal requirement of our parallel importation restrictions? Well, at the moment, nobody is sure. That’s why ebook retailers are playing it safe and keeping Australian publishers happy.

So we’ve ended up in a bizarre situation. I can buy a copy of any book I like from any publisher I like anywhere in the world and have it posted to me here in Australia. But ebooks? No. I can only get a copy of an ebook that has been explicitly produced and given to an ebook vendor by an Australian publisher (unless the overseas publisher owns worldwide digital rights – quite a rare situation). Is this crazy? Yes. Is it fair? Probably not. But the solution? Unsurprisingly, it is not going to be a cakewalk. Tune in to the next blog, folks, and I’ll see if I can make sense of why this is happening and what cleverer people than me think might be done to sort it out.

Sean Williams talks Star Wars Part 2

Last time around Sean Williams told us a little about writing novels set within the Star Wars universe. Today, he’s back for Part 2 of the interview…

How much freedom do you get in writing a Star Wars novel?

A surprising amount, I’ve found, within certain restrictions. Obviously you have to write something appropriate for the Star Wars publishing line–so graphic sex and violence are out. And it has to fit into the universe as given. But as long as you’re prepared to toe those lines, you’ll be fine. (If you didn’t, why would you want to write a Star Wars novel?) You’ve got the whole ‘Galaxy Far, Far Away’ to play in, and as I keep saying, it’s a big place.

Of course, the nature of the story you’re hired to write does dictate precisely what freedoms you’ll have. The Force Unleashed was a tightly-constrained, close-focus account of two characters at one critical point in history. It was also the novelization of an action computer game, based largely on the game’s script. To invest the novel with too much history, philosophy, backstory, etc, would be to rob the book of the momentum it needed to feel representational of the game–so there were less freedoms with this book, in that sense. I was, however, freed up to explore the psychology of the characters, to really dig deep into their emotional cores, and I think that at least partly explains the book’s ongoing popularity.

Writing in The Old Republic presents a whole different sort of challenge, because it’s an MMORPG []—there are dozens of stories spread across many characters and character classes. There are decades of history behind it, and thousands of hours of gameplay. Where do you even start? The hard thing here was finding a single scenario, a series of converging stories, that accurately represented the world of the game without giving anything away about the game. It sets things up, while at the same time standing alone. It’s very important to me that all my game novelizations works as novels in their own right, because there are plenty of people who will just read the book. And I write novels, of course, not cheat manuals.

What’s the hardest thing about writing Star Wars?

I think I was just touching on it, there: the need to satisfy a large number of often contradictory imperatives coming at you from all sides. Everyone involved in a Star Wars project—and there are a lot when you’re writing a game tie-in—have an investment in the finished product, as they should. And sometimes the timelines are very tight. There’s nothing more intense than writing a novel in a month with a dozen people looking over your shoulder. It’s like the universe is waiting for you to fail. But you don’t—or at least I hope I haven’t. You rise to the challenge and you give it your all, and then a bit more. There is no try, as the little green man himself said. You just do it.

The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance is your latest Star Wars book. Will there be more?

We’ll see. The book is doing very well, and getting good reviews, and I certainly enjoyed writing it. I suspect The Old Republic is huge enough for dozens of novels, and I like to the think that the characters I created for Fatal Alliance are interesting enough to hear more from. It’s not up to me, though. Time will tell.

Would you ever consider writing for another franchise, like Star Trek or Doctor Who?

Ah, well, that’s an easy one, because I have already written for Doctor Who—just one Third Doctor short story for Big Finish, that’s all, but I was very pleased when it was picked for their “best of” anthology, Re:Collections, as my love of SF really began with that franchise. I wouldn’t write for Star Trek because I’ve never been a huge fan (all apologies to those who are; vive la difference etc) but I have gone after Battlestar Galactica a couple of times, and I might have done something there if my timing hadn’t been consistently out. I came close to a Firefly novel once, which would have been fun, and since The Force Unleashed did so well, I have been offered other franchises that would have been fun and high profile, but always it’s a juggle between original work and tie-ins. I don’t want to do one at the expense of the other. I want to have my cake and eat someone else’s too.

My thanks to Sean Williams for dropping by Literary Clutter to chat about writing in the Star Wars universe. To find out more about Sean and his writing, check out his website.

Sean will be attending Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fictions Convention, which starts tomorrow (2 Sept) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. I’ll also be there… so Literary Clutter will return after it’s all over, with a report on the convention.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… quick… before it’s too late!


Brown Skin Blue, the acclaimed debut YA novel from Belinda Jeffrey was inspired by her brother’s wedding.

About ninety people flew to Darwin for the wedding-many family and friends from SA and QLD – and we spent about a week before the wedding – and then again afterwards – touring the major sights of the Top End. While my family and friends were taking pictures of the usual touristy things, I found myself taking photographs of patches of landscape. I felt my character, Barry emerge. When I went on a Croc Jumping tour, I knew I had the bones of a story and couldn’t wait to get home to write it.

Belinda Jeffrey started writing after High School, at University. She was studying Primary Teaching and started writing picture books to use with her students.

I had a flimsy idea that one day I might take them seriously enough to seek publication.

When Belinda left teaching to have her first child she thought she’d have the time to take her writing seriously.

While I didn’t have as much time as I thought I’d have—babies do not sleep as much as they should—I did discover my desire to write was much stronger than I once thought. The more I wrote, the more I realized how much I loved writing and wanted to become published.

Brown Skin Blue is about a seventeen year old boy, Barry Mundy, who has brown skin. His mother is white, though he doesn’t know who his father is. He has been brought up rough, touring the Top End with his mother in a caravan, and he leaves home to seek out his own life.

He gets a job working on the boats for a Croc Jumping Cruise and the crocodiles become a powerful symbol about abuse he suffered as a child.

Barry tries to track down his father, thinking that if he can find out the answer to this mystery of his own life, he might be able to make sense of who he is.


The main character, Barry Mundy is unusually wise and vulnerable all at once. He lets the reader into the experience of a boy dealing with a difficult past, but wanting to create a different future. There’s lots of information about crocs along the way. Belinda says,

I love Barry’s honesty and vulnerability. He isn’t afraid to face both the dark and naivety of life. He’s delightfully self-aware despite being in experienced with people.


Brown Skin Blue would relate to studies about Australia, Australian Identity and history and Indigenous issues, and teaching notes available for download from the publisher, UQP


Belinda says that the thing she enjoyed most about writing Brown Skin Blue was creating the character of Barry himself.

I loved his voice and, once I got over the initial shock of the issues he came to the story with, I loved exploring his journey.

According to Belinda, the hardest part was writing each of the stories that Barry creates for his possible fathers.

Each story took a long time to get right, to get that balance between voice, character and history. I also had to make each story arc for its characters but relate to the escalation of Barry’s own story. I think I was tweaking the story of Toucan right to the last minute.


For some strange reason, I find the imagery of fish creeping into my stories. I also find issues of discrimination and oppression flavoring much of my writing.

Belinda’s new novel Big River, Little Fish has just been released by UQP and will be the book featured at Kid’s Book Capers this Friday.