The Art of Assassination

Ah, Ezio.

*Heart flutters*

The type of man who can scale buildings with the greatest of ease, assassinate baddies dual-weapon-style by ground or by rooftop, have his wounds treated by a doctor friend and still turn up on your bedroom balcony by nightfall. Swoon.

The only problem is that he’s a character from a video game.

Yes, dear readers: aside from my other fifty billion nerdalicious pursuits, I am quite fond of PC/Console RPG’s (Role-Playing Games), and the Assassin’s Creed franchise is something of an especially addictive one. There’s something heady about imagining yourself as an assassin, creeping up on your unsuspecting victim; the look of deep surprise masking his or her face for only a moment, but a moment that is very special to them because it’s their LAST MOMENT ALIVE. Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so they say, but Ezio’s particular brand of warm humour paired with flashing dark eyes sits especially well with me.

Knowing my recently-discovered penchant for virtual assassination then, imagine my surprise and secret delight to discover that Assassin’s Creed has its very own offspring fiction with Assassin’s Creed: Renaissance and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. While I can’t comment on the calibre of prose (must we always expect the highest literary standard?! Sigh. I suppose we must), I found it interesting that a video game could inspire not only one piece of fiction, but also generate a follow-up work.

The other reason I make light of the fact that I am quite possibly in love with a computer character is due to a new book: The Fallen Blade (Act One of The Assassini), by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. The cover reminds me of Assassin’s Creed; the story is set in Renaissance Italy (hoorah!); and sure enough, the blurb makes reference to assassins. Well, VAMPIRE assassins.

Venice, 1407. The city is at the height of its powers. In theory, Duke Marco commands, but Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They seem all powerful, yet live in fear of assassins better than their own. On the night their world changes, Marco’s young cousin prays in the family chapel for deliverance from a forced marriage. It is her misfortune to be alone when Mamluk pirates break in to abduct her – an act that will ultimately trigger war. Elsewhere Atilo, the Duke’s chief assassin, cuts a man’s throat. Hearing a noise, he turns back to find a boy drinking from the victim’s wound. The speed with which the angel-faced boy dodges his dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. He knows then he must hunt him. Not to kill him, but because he’s finally found what he thought was impossible – someone fit to be his apprentice.

NO, DON’T GROAN! This book is receiving highly favourable comments from bloggers! It could be the NEXT BIG THING.

And won’t you hate yourself for pre-judging it, if it is?

At any rate, I’M not going to pre-judge it. Keep your eyes peeled for my thoughts on what should be an exciting, action-packed and enemy-slaying read indeed.


A funeral is an unusual setting for a children’s book, but Sally Gould has turned it into a riot that kids will find hilarious in her new novel, Dead Certain published by Walker Books Australia as part of their Lightning Strikes series.

Sally is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about her writing and her new book. Before she became a writer, Sally was a corporate lawyer. She says,

Strangely, I see a similarity between taking complex areas of law and making them understandable and accessible to, for example, company directors and taking complex ideas and making them accessible to readers though a story.

After she decided to focus on her writing, Sally enrolled in a Professional Writing & Editing Class and took Rachel Flynn’s writing for Children subjects. Sally was the first of Rachel’s students in eleven years to have a picture book published (Charlotte and Me – Windy Hollow Books).

Sally says that her favourite part of writing is starting a new story.

I love when the seed of a story idea drops down from the heavens and into my head. Especially when I’m not looking for an idea and it’s a wonderful unexpected surprise.

But she finds the first draft hard.

While I love nurturing the initial story idea into a fully formed plan, I find writing the first draft hard. I know I shouldn’t self edit as I’m writing, but I often do and so I don’t enjoy the process of the first draft. The last set of drafts make up for it though.

At the moment she is working on a paranormal series for 9-13 year olds and it’s the first time she has attempted this genre.


I think one of the most important things to do is to form a writing group where you read and critique each other’s work. The feedback needs to be honest and constructive and I think a group works best if the members are at about the same level.


Jumping to conclusions is a favourite theme of mine, probably because I have a tendency to do just that. Two educational books I’ve written contain that theme. And I have written a number of stories in locations where we’ve been on family holidays. Chase through Venice is a picture book I have coming out in April with Windy Hollow Books. While we were in Venice, I wanted to buy a picture book that showed off the sights, but I couldn’t find one so I wrote that story.

Join us back here on Wednesday when Sally will be talking about how she wrote Dead Certain and we’ll be reviewing this hilarious new book.

Leaving Microsoft To Change The World

Leaving Microsoft to Change the WorldIf you haven’t heard of the following author or book or managed to catch one or both, you need to clear your schedule this week: John Wood, the author and entrepreneur whose name perhaps doesn’t inspire intrigue but whose work does, is in town.

The Cliff Notes version of his story is that he was working in marketing for computing giant Microsoft when he went on a trekking holiday to Nepal. Getting off the beaten track on a whim and checking out a tiny Nepalese school, he found that not only did they only have a few books (and by ‘few’ I really do mean, like, three), they were keeping them under lock and key.

The idea was that the books were precious and needed to be preserved. The reality was that the books weren’t overly special (I think one was a Jackie Collins or equivalent) and preserving them meant starving children of learning opportunities. But the reality behind the reality was that this was a school in a village in a country that’s so dirt poor no one could really afford books.

Determined to change this, Wood sent out an email to his array of contacts (which was vast—he was in marketing for Microsoft, remember), asking them to send books to his parents’ place and he’d organise for the books to be shipped to Nepal to furnish this school. He then promptly forgot about it, being swept back up by work commitments.

That is, until his father called to say that they were running out of space and what on earth did he plan to do with all the books. Turns out lots of people heeded his call and Wood hasn’t stopped receiving and shipping books out since. He left Microsoft to pursue this full time (hence the book’s title) and has expanded the operation (now called Room to Read) into such other countries as Cambodia and Vietnam. He also found the time to write about the heady experience, the success of which even he can’t quite believe.

Claiming that you left Microsoft to change the world is a book title that includes an, er, element of confidence. I’ll admit that I was initially wary that the book was going to be, well, too American and too ‘I’m awesome’. But Wood has traveled widely and lived around the world (including here in our very own Syd-oh-nee) and doesn’t come across as either too marketing-slick or too American.

The book is a brilliant, easy, inspiring read and Wood is a guy-next-door motivating character with a strong sense of humility humour. In fact, I heard second-hand that he quipped he got in first to use ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World’ as a title before Bill Gates had a chance to.

I’m not going to issue a double thumbs up or star rating to Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, but I will say that it’s a book that I return to annually as a kind of touchstone and refresher. I recommend you read it at least once, and if there are tickets left and you’re able to get down to hear him speak, I recommend you do that too.

As A Retailer, They Made A Good…

It’s been a week and most of us are still reeling over the likely demise of Red Group Retail‑owned Angus & Robertson and Borders.

I wasn’t planning on weighing in on the debate, both because I don’t think I have all the answers and because I think others can say it much more incisively and eloquently than me. But having pored over the flurry of blogs and articles that have emerged over this last 10 or so days, I think there are a couple of things that need to be clarified.

First, while I would love to credit tenacious, community-based, customer service-driven, independent, ‘David’ retailers for toppling this big-box ‘Goliath’ (as some blogs are doing), I can’t. Because I’ve seen the inside of the behemoth and it wasn’t being toppled by independents nipping at its heels—it was already fundamentally going to pieces within.

Time now, for a confession of sorts: I once worked part-time at Borders. I’m not claiming to have been privy to the company’s financial statements, but I’ve had more experience in retail than I care to admit courtesy of a long, long university enrolment and subsequent need to feed myself. I’ve especially had experience in retail in a really competitive, low-margin environment courtesy of having worked for Sanity/Virgin/HMV for the better part of a decade. And it didn’t take a rocket scientist of an employee to know that things weren’t so good at Borders.

Morale was low, stock variety was reducing, prices were increasing, and changes to systems didn’t put the customer first (say, for example, the push to get customers to conduct their own searches and place orders via the online store, typing in their credit card details while other customers hovered nearby).

Staff weren’t being supported to do their jobs (the database we had to ‘use’ to find books was an absolute clunker and the customer order system nightmarishly random and manual). Staff’s vast book knowledge and passion wasn’t nurtured or drawn on, senior management was all but invisible, and the company was directionless and had no clear plan for winning customers back from the alluring cheaper online options.

The independents are surviving because they’re doing all the things that Borders didn’t—valuing their customers and working hard to find and then share the books they’ve found. But to say they kneecapped the giant with their above-and-beyond personalised service? No, the giant purely and simply shot itself in the foot in its fumbling.

We talk about mining magnates but not bookselling ones for a reason—there’s money to be made raping and pillaging the land for precious natural resources, but feeding the mind and soul appears to be less fruitful. There’s also a reason why independent bookshops don’t really branch out into multiple sites—the margins are tight, and the exhausting necessity of closing monitoring every dollar and every margin in every book brought in to be sold, as well as fostering personal relationships and subsequent trusted recommendations, is necessary but exhausting. Larger, multi-site operations dilute this.

Arguably, big-box retailers dilute this to the nth degree. Borders, for example, operated on a kind of ‘if you build it, they will come’ philosophy. And come they did. Even people who you’d least expect to be there would show up. I spotted more card-carrying ‘I support my local independents’ book buyers than you’d believe during my time working at Borders. Some of them bought books (because few book lovers can leave a bookshop without having fallen in love with and had to have some text-based tome-y goodness), but even more of them used Borders as a resource. A library resource.

And that’s perhaps the greatest tragedy of Borders’ demise: as a book retailer, it made a great library. Should it go under (as it’s reported based on the trends of companies that go into administration it has over a 90% chance of doing), we’ll lose an invaluable resource.

I long held reservations about what such a big-box retailer meant environmentally (and I’ve touched on this in a previous blog), with vast quantities of books being produced and shipped and then returned after having served as three-dimensional wallpaper to fill and flatter huge shelf space.

But I haven’t touched on how the vast shelf space and the initially diverse range of books enabled so many of us to see, smell, touch, and maybe even taste what was available on a given topic before purchasing it. It helped us put books side by side and pick the best one for our tastes and needs. It also helped us discover books we didn’t know existed and be swept up in the desire to read.

Sure, many people then took the knowledge they’d gained from picking staff’s brains about the available books, trawling the shelves, and flipping through the books, and then bought their book of choice at a cheaper, often online store. For many others, Borders was the closest they came to stepping into a library and conducting school or university research.

As a side note, I’ve often wondered why, although I’m a big library visitor, bookstores excite me much more. Methinks it’s because the books are shiny and new and merchandised nicely and are emitting the new-book drug/perfume that says buy or read me (or both).

There’s obviously a certain amount of schadenfreude to be had at Borders’ current and likely further demise. But while they might not have been the retailer you supported or wanted to support, as a library they supported us more than we probably realised.

The Consumer Manifesto – Bruce Philps on writing (Part 2)

In writing Consumer Republic, Bruce Philps set out to present retailers and customers with a manifesto for change, couched in the form of a great read. No small goal. Here, in the second part of my interview with him, he talks about getting his book out there, including advice to aspiring specialist writers looking to pen their thoughts on their field.

What was the biggest challenge in putting this book together?

The usual challenges were there, of course: finding time and a place to write, organizing my thesis, researching, all of the things that go with non-fiction writing. But there were also two unique challenges in this book. One was that I was catching a very specific moment in history, and I had no idea where the zeitgeist might go by the time I was finished. It was a gamble that the finished product would be seen as relevant. And, as I mention in the Author’s Notes, the research material was coming at me like patio furniture in a hurricane. It was like what I imagine being a journalist is like, except that I have no such training.

The other challenge was more about fear than about the process, but it bears mentioning: This book attempts to be reasonable about a very big and freighted issue. Reasonableness isn’t very fashionable these days. People can too easily love their simple black hat-white hat narratives, love someone to blame, love to wallow in fear and anger. Heated rhetoric sometimes feels as if it’s replacing critical thought. Meanwhile, here’s “Consumer Republic” saying, “Well, this mess was kind of our fault, too. And in any case, fault-finding is a waste of time. Because this is a free market economy, the only change there can be is change that begins with consumer demand.” I was afraid I was going to have to get Naomi Klein to start my car for a while, there.

So far, I’m happy to report, this fear seems unfounded. People seem very open to the idea that they have the power to turn things around and are excited by that.

You worked in marketing for years before deciding to write about it. What advice would you give to other would-be professionals looking at writing about their field?

There are a couple of ways to answer this question. The first is for the more common situation in which a practicing professional wants to write about what she does as a form of self-marketing. To her I would say, treat your book as your platform, not as your product. For a book to help your career or even just to be a business, you have to leverage it into public speaking and consulting work, and you have to be your own best, most tireless promoter. Examples of people who have done this are countless, but I think that Sall Hogshead’s “Fascinate” or Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Crush It” are great current cases in point.  They may do better with their books than most writers of this kind will do, but I can assure you that the books in both cases were pillars of bigger, longer term personal branding strategies.

My situation wasn’t exactly like that, though, and that leads to the second answer. Although I will continue to consult, I left the company I founded before this book came out, and in some respects left the industry itself. “Consumer Republic” wasn’t meant as a business book, but as a book for consumers and a manifesto; there was no ‘business model’.

To someone who wants to do this, my advice is a little different. Yes, you are still going to be your own brand manager as any writer today is, but you’re also going to have to let go of what you were, at least while you’re writing. You’re going to have to be a writer, not a consultant who writes, with all that implies. I spent a lot of time on my own, and I spent a lot of time doubting myself, two things that were not characteristic of my business career or my lifestyle, but very much are characteristic of being an author. I also had to be willing to fail, utterly. That, again, isn’t a sustainable business strategy, but it’s the only way to go into a project like this. And, with that, I had to realize that I wasn’t a CEO anymore, I was a helpless little bunny with a book to write. I relied on an editor, a very smart woman who marked my work like a schoolteacher and without whom the book wouldn’t have been possible. Likewise, an agent, and likewise a publicist, and so on. You have to learn trust and dependency and humility all over again, and if fortune favours you with mentors, embrace the opportunity tightly.

What would you like to write next?

I’ve had another project in development since a couple of months before “Consumer Republic” was released here, another book about consumerism that reimagines it as a pop culture phenomenon. I won’t say more, but even at the conceptual stage, it was great fun to gnaw on. Since “Consumer Republic” has come out, though, it’s had a great deal of media attention and interest and attracted enough fresh questions that I’d love to be ‘forced’ to write a sequel. Hey, a guy can dream.

Consumer Republic will be released on March 28th, but you can pre-order now from Boomerang. You can also check out his blog at “Brand Cowboy”.

REVIEW: Poetry and Childhood by Joy, Whitley and Styles

TITLE: Poetry and Childhood
EDITORS: Styles,  Joy and Whitley
PUBLISHER:  Trentham Books, Westview House, 734 London Road, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 5NP, England  (February 2011)
ISBN: 9781858564722     254 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]).

It is almost impossible to write a short review of this book. The essays in it are all of high quality but the range of topics and styles is as broad as the background, cultures and countries of the contributors. The best way of showing the variety and interest of this book is to list its contents at the end of these brief notes.

Gathered in Poetry and Childhood, are papers presented at a conference which took place in 2010 to complement the British Library’s exhibition Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat! 250 years of poetry for children. Although the publishers acknowledge that the book is primarily aimed at scholars and teachers, there is something here for anyone who is interested, as they put it, “in poetry and children”. Apart from a few essays, where readers who are not familiar with discourses, meta-discourses and signifiers and the jargon of modern literary criticism will be lost, this claim is true. There are historical papers, analytical papers, a fair amount of poetry from different countries (including the USA, Brazil, England and Ireland), some rude playground humour, and a degree of irony about the whole practice of theorising children’s poetry (anyone who has enjoyed Frederick Crew’s book, The Pooh Perplex will enjoy David Rudd’s dealings with Humpty Dumpty).

That there is no consensus between writers on what defines children’s poetry is as apparent in the title, Poetry and Childhood, as it is in the essays themselves. However, the two poets whose pieces bookend the collection, tackle the question in different ways and both write from their own experiences of sharing poetry with children. Michael Rosen, a former British Children’s Laureate, reminisces about his own childhood and young adulthood and the influence of his immigrant parents on his love of poetry. He tells of (and demonstrates with some of his poems) the ways in which having to read his poems to children changed him and his poems. Philip Gross writes of the need for ‘alongsidedness”: the need for adults and children to share and enjoy the reading and writing of poetry. He offers practical advice on how to go about this; and he presents some of the results of a poetry-writing exercise he shared with conference participants.

Understandably, in such a wide ranging selection, there are a few writers who seem to lose touch with the essential imagination and fun of the poetry itself. But in spite of the rather ponderous titles listed in the Contents (below), many of the essays are interesting, informative and full of curious details.


Foreword by Andrew Motion.
Introduction: Taking the Long View of the State of Children’s Poetry Today.


Theory, Texts and contexts: A Reading and Writing Memoir – Michael Rosen
Confronting the Snark: The Non-Theory of Children’s Poetry – Peter Hunt
What Is Children’s Poetry? Children’s Views of Children’s Poetry – Stephen Miles
Ted Hughes and the ‘Old Age of Childhood’ – Lissa Paul


‘Childish Toys’ for Boys with Beards: John Bunyan’s A Book for Boys and Girls – Pat Pinsent
‘Those first affections’: Wordswoth and Mournful Adolescence – Louise Joy
‘The Land of Play’: Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses – Shaun Holland
A.A Milne’s Poetic World of Childhood in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six – Jean Webb
‘The Penny Fiddle’ and Poetic Truth – Michael Joseph
‘A child, barefoot: alone’: Innocence in Charles Causley’s Poetry – Debbie Pullinger
‘Not Not Nursery Rhymes’ and ‘Not Not Lullabies’: How Carol Ann Duffy and Pórarinn Eldjarn Refurnish the Nursery – Olga Holownia


Humpty Dumpty and the Sense on an Unending – David Rudd
‘If it rhymes, it’s funny’: Theories of humour in Children’s Poetry – Karen Coats
Children’s Oral Poetry: Identity and Obscenity – C.W. Sullivan III
Poetry in Children’s Annuals – Victor Watson
Wicked Thoughts: Fairy-tale Poetry for Children and Adults – Laura Tosi


Anthropomorphism Dressed and Undressed in Beatrix Potter’s Rhymes and Riddles – Lorraine Kerslake
Once upon a time in the realms of Eden: Children’s Poetry in Brazil – Telma Franco Diniz
Animal Poems and Children’s Rights in America, 1820-1890 – Angela Sorby
‘Imaginary gardens with real toads in them’: Animals in Children’s Poetry – David Whitley


Poets in the Making: Ted Hughes, Poetry and Children – Peter Cook
Articulating the Auditory Imagination: When Children Talk About Poetry They Hear – John Gordon
The Affordances of Orality for young People’s Experience of Poetry – Joy Alexander
Exploring Poetry Teachers: Teachers Who Read and Readers Who Teach Poetry – Teresa Cremin


Playing with words: Two children’s Encounters with Poetry from Birth – Virginia Lowe
Writing Alongside at the Poetry and Childhood Conference – Philip Gross

Copyright © Ann Skea 2011
Website and Ted Hughes pages:


I know from watching my own kids growing up that there are definitely books for different occasions.

There are books full of fun and action to start the day and there are books that are more mellow, that leave small readers feeling warm and snuggly and ready for sleep – the perfect bedtime stories.

These are the books that gently lead them into the land of nod – books like Samuel’s Kisses and the runaway Hug. Both are tender funny stories for young readers about family and being loved.

Samuel’s Kisses

Written by Karen Collum and illustrated by Serena Geddes

Published by New Frontier publishing

Samuel loves going shopping but he notices that the people around him don’t share his happiness and sense of fun.

He decides to brighten up their lives by blowing them kisses.

This is a beautiful book depicting how a small child can find a simple solution to adult grumpiness.

There is movement and a gentle rhythm in this story as the kisses find their way around all sorts of obstacles to reach their mark.

Serena Geddes expressive and colourful illustrations show the affection and happiness that surrounds little Samuel and how he makes such a positive difference to the world around him.

This uplifting story is full of light-hearted fun but has a strong message and a satisfying ending for the reader.

the Runaway Hug

Written by Nick Bland and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Published by Scholastic

This book is a collaboration between two of Australia’s favourite picture book creators, Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood.

‘Mummy’, said Lucy. ‘Can I have a hug before I go to bed? I promise I’ll give it back.’

As Lucy discovers, a hug can go a very long way. It can be shared with Mummy and Daddy, it can be shared with the twins, it can even be shared with Annie the dog. The secret to sharing a hug is for it to be given back.

This hug seems to go especially far and along the way it becomes softer, sleepier, bigger and even peanut-buttery.

But when the hug runs away, Lucy doesn’t know what to do. How will she keep her promise to Mummy?

the Runaway Hug is a gentle, charming story with a perfect ending for bedtime reading.

Freya Blackwood’s beautiful illustrations are full of action and the sort of telling detail that young readers love.

Samuel’s Kisses and the runaway Hug will leave readers feeling snug, safe and ready for sleep.

What Do You Want From Your E-reader?

Has the focus on reading – and reading anything you want – been swept aside in order to make it easier to buy content? Until very recently, relatively speaking, e-reading was all about what digital text you could get your hands on. Most of it was free, out-of-copyright stuff from the web. Some of it came via longform journalism (also on the web). And some of it, yes, came from piracy. Although nowadays content can be purchased easily from multiple sources, I would argue the e-reading experience as a whole has not improved as much as Apple, Amazon, Google and their ilk would have us believe.

I first started reading ebooks and other digital content on a Palm Zire in 2003. It had a tiny screen, no wireless capabilities, and the only two stores you could buy content from were Mobipocket and eReader (both of which have since been bought out and absorbed by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively). At the time there were virtually no books available on these stores that I actually wanted to read, so my reading was heavily supplemented by free material from elsewhere. To add my own reading material, I had to convert the files manually, plug the device into my computer and transfer them across. Although wireless and screen technology are light years ahead of my old Palm Zire, the process of reading non-standard material  has not really changed dramatically since then.

At the time I owned the Zire, I also had a first generation iPod, which seemed to me to be the most amazing piece of technology ever. Just plug it in and fill it up with music. Conversion and transfer was all handled through iTunes, which could also organise your music library and play your music for you when you were at your computer. People have had their share of complaints about iTunes, and I certainly have issues with it in its current incarnation, but to begin with it was an incredibly freeing experience. The iPod was portable digital music. To your iPod, the music you got from a CD (or free off the web) was no different to the stuff you could buy (much later) from iTunes itself.

So where was the iPod moment for e-reading? It has never come. Although the Kindle ecosystem has come the closest to recreating the ease of use of the iPod it’s still not there yet, and may never be. Primarily it is a device intended to be used with purchased content – and that content has to come from the Kindle store. Can you imagine if you were only able to load songs onto your iPod if you’d bought it from Apple first? The iPod would never have achieved such a dominant position with such a narrow focus.

Where is the device out there that puts the act of reading at the centre of the experience? Where is the device that doesn’t care where your text comes from, but just wants you to read? My list of demands is not unachievable. Completely wireless loading and conversion of any piece of text I’d like to read; a built-in dictionary; highlighting and annotation (and wireless export of these annotations); Bookmark syncing between devices; and, of course, the sharing of passages and annotations through social networks. Most of these features are available to readers if you buy your books through Amazon or Apple and only read on a Kindle or an iPad – but what about other content? Reading has never been just about blindly buying what’s served up to you in a store – it’s an organic, social experience. And none of the major reading platforms cater to that.

My ideal reading platform has not been created yet. All the major players are far more interested in locking you into the device they make and the content they provide than wanting you to have an ideal reading experience. But I suspect that when that platform comes along, there will be another iPod moment. And the way things are going I very much doubt it’s going to be Apple or Amazon.

What do you think? What do you want from your e-reader? Are you happy with what’s already out there? Or do you think I’m just being a giant early-adopting whiner? Sound off in the comments.

Lili Wilkinson and her book covers

Ultimately, it is the content of a book that is most important. But it is the cover that will often entice readers to pick it up. Last year I wrote a few posts about book covers (Some book covers, Series book covers and My book covers). Today, YA author, Lili Wilkinson pays a visit to Literary Clutter to give us a look at a couple of her covers. Lili is the author of numerous novels, including The Not Quite Perfect Boyfriend, Angel Fish, and of course, the two books she discusses in her guest post. Take it away Lili…

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

That’s what people say, right? Except everybody does.

One of the questions I get asked the most is: do I get to choose the covers of my books? The answer is no… but.

What happens is, the editors of my book put together a design brief, and a designer comes up with some ideas. Then I get to see the ideas and give my opinion. And so far, my editors have always agreed with my thoughts. I’m not sure what would happen if we had a major disagreement over a cover – I suspect they’d win, because although I know what I like, they know what sells, and that’s more important.

So here’s how it happened with Pink. Bruno came up with these four designs:

And we all LOVED the ones with the silhouettes. But I made a few suggestions – like for most of the images to be things that you wouldn’t normally associate with being pink – like tools and cockroaches. And I loved the Y-fronts so much that I actually added a bit in to the book where Ava sees a boy’s underwear, just so we could keep them on the cover.

Here’s a post from Bruno about how he went about designing that cover, including his original, AWESOME, but ultimately too expensive idea to have a hypercolour cover that turned pink when you held it.

And here’s the final cover:

And here, for comparison, is the US cover for Pink, which I also love because I can’t wait to see it standing out against all those black-and-red paranormal romance books:

Sometimes, if a book needs a bit of a facelift after it’s been out for a few years, it gets rejacketed. This happened with my first novel, Scatterheart. I love the original cover for Scatterheart – and so do a lot of people. It has the same cover in the UK and Germany. But some people didn’t like it. So the good folks at Black Dog Books decided to rejacket, and came up with this:

It’s amazing what a difference it made. Scatterheart sold more copies in six months with this new cover than it had in the three years since its publication with the old one.

George’s bit at the end

Wow! Who would have thought a cover could make that much of a difference? Of course, it helps that Scatterheart is a brilliant read. I read it last year and loved it. Lili’s other books are now on my to-be-read pile! For more info about Lili and her writing, check out her website. And follow her on Twitter.

Tune in next time for some family reading.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Books, But Not Like You Know Them

Mini Modern ClassicsFor those of us who love books, the thought, sight, or smell of them is enough to make us want to put the out-of-office on and take the rest of the day off to read. The ebook shift/revolution (I think it’s the former, but maybe one day it will be the latter) is making us rethink what books are and what form they come in. I thought it appropriate to, in this blog, feature some ‘different’ takes on books, their formats, and their uses.

Organising The Bookcase

For the OCD among us, this video will shock and awe. Shock, because you can understand the sentiment but can’t believe someone’s actually taken the time to do rearrange their books in such a fastidious fashion and then film it. Awe, because it’s brilliant and you are absolutely itching to do it. Oh, you’ll love how he even credits the books at the end in order of their appearance.

The Uniform Project

Stretching the concept of the book, this online picture book documents a one-year project in images. Dubbed ‘the story of one girl and her little black dress’, The Uniform Project took one dress and reinvented it 365 ways instead of buying new clothes and, in the process, raised money to send kids to school. I love that it combines the concepts of a video, a blog, and a flip book into a very watchable little film. And it makes me wish I could be as inventive and fashion-savvy!

Ever-Popular Penguins

Then there’s the ever-popular Popular Penguins, which just keep bringing us inspiration. You can download and complete a cute crossword, download complete lists of the titles and the most popular of those titles. You can also salivate over the forthcoming Mini Modern Classics. Who needs McCain? Ah, Penguin, you’ve done it again!

Not For Sale (But For Loan)

Not For SaleThe other day both my friend and my father voiced what I had myself been feeling—that although they loved the current crop of books I’ve been distributing to them as must-reads, that they might need to inject a few slightly trashier ones for some light relief. Phew. Me too.

I’d encountered a bumper crop of books, including Into The Woods (which I’ve already blogged about), Silent Spring (which I will blog about), and revisited the brilliant (if logic-defying) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (which I’ll also blog about soon), but was feeling pretty disillusioned with and weighed down by social and environmental problems. And specifically gobsmacked and frustrated that we humans are the initial and ongoing root of all this evil.

While on one level I am empowered and invigorated and inspired to enact change after reading these kinds of books, on almost every other level I feel like sitting in a corner, wallowing, and wishing it would all go away. So why, out of the 50-ish books I have sitting waiting to be read (see previous blog and feel free to send some pointers my way), I finally picked out David Batstone’s Not For Sale, I’ll never know.

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManIt’s a book about abolishing human trafficking. As in slavery. As in the horror happens in developing nations but also, more frighteningly, right here, right now, in our backyard. I can feel the friends I plan to pass the book on to wince already. What happened to me finding them some cotton-candy airport fiction, right?

The good news is that the topic sounds (and is) heavy, Batstone covers it with a light touch. He threads stats with real-life examples, short chapters, and segments of case studies. You’re introduced to a person at the beginning of the chapter and then return to them at its close to find out how their story ended up.

I’m now equal parts fascinated and disturbed how the parts of the world where people (often women or children) who are trafficked (often for sex crimes) changes a little like fashion does—wars, famines, poor financial prospects, a lack of international pressure or sanctions, or governments looking the other way, all play a part in determining who’s trafficked from and to where.

Into The WoodsThe book covers the stories of women and children forced into sexual slavery in Thailand or Uganda or [insert name of just about any nation here] through poverty or the promise of education for their children or through nightmarish village razing and abduction.

I now understand how people get there and stay/are kept there. I also now understand how it’s a very profitable industry—globalisation at its worst—because Batstone unpacks what’s an entirely complex and murkily moralled issue in a straightforward, commonsense manner.

While the awfulness of the violence and rape perpetrated against women and children really did make me wince, I both winced more knowing that slavery goes on in first-world nations (seriously, in suburban USA and probably in suburban Australia) and that I should be doing more to stop it.

I’m making it sound bleak, though, which it’s really not. Especially as Batstone features the people who, often through random encounters or split-second decisions, have found themselves dedicating their lives to stamping human trafficking out.

I know I’m going to have a hard time selling Not For Sale to my friends as family right now as they all need a less complex carbohydrate non-fiction call to action, more mindlessly consumable simple carbohydrate Twilight-style tale, but I am still going to try. If not now, then at some stage, Not For Sale should be on the list of books I loan out.


When I was a kid, one of my all time favourite songs was There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. Who wouldn’t be mesmerised by a tale where someone actually swallows a horse?

In recent years The Old Woman’s story has been making a bit of a comeback, but in slightly different forms. There are now a number of great pictures books around with variations on this theme.


Last year, Walker Books released There Was an Old Sailor, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Cassandra Allen.

Claire and Cassandra’s book is a nautical take on the much-loved “Old Woman” rhyme, which not only makes it hilarious, but also gives it plenty of relevance in the classroom.

There was an old sailor

Who swallowed a krill

I don’t know why he swallowed the krill –

It’ll make him ill.

The Old Sailor devours a wide variety of sea creatures in ever increasing size and hilarity. The rollicking text is complimented by beautiful illustrations – each page is a masterpiece.

Kids will love the incongruity of this story, as well the surprise ending. There Was an Old Sailor is also a great tool for teachers wanting to talk about who and what lives in the sea. And there are fishy facts at the back of the book for readers to enjoy.


Just this month, a new book on this theme was released from Scholastic.

There Was An Old Bloke Who Swallowed A Chook is from P.Crumble and Louis Shea, the team who created the popular There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Mozzie.

This book is an hilarious take on the classic nonsense “Old Woman” rhyme. Here’s another bloke with a bottomless belly, but this one isn’t partial to sea creatures.

His particular favourites are Australian animals so before the story ends, readers see a wombat, galah, possum, goanna and of course a chook swallowed by the old bloke with the insatiable appetite.

There was an old bloke who swallowed a chook

I don’t know why he swallowed that chook…

By cripes, that’s crook!

If you want to find out where his eating frenzy ends, you’ll have to read the book.

As well as the hilarious text, I loved the colourful illustrations in There Was An Old Bloke Who Swallowed A Chook. From the sight of the old bloke sitting on the power lines with the galahs to the improbable ending; the illustrations are graphic without being gruesome, and are very funny.

Shopping to Save the World – Consumer Republic by Bruce Philp

Bruce Philps wants shoppers to realise something: we hold all the power.

His book, Consumer Republic, argues that – far from being us being powerless passive consumers constantly buffeted by slick marketing – the brands that corporations spend millions to develop and maintain makes them accountable. Expensive to create and more public than anything else a corporation has or does, a brand is an enormously valuable and fragile asset to them. And we consumers have the power to make it worthless with just a few clicks and key-strokes.

Brands, says Philp, are the leverage the average consumer has with which to make a company behave itself. And he should know. Describing himself as a “advocate for brands”, he works as a marketing strategist to some of the world’s biggest brands, helping them create brands that are both profitable and sustainable. (“Profitable is easy, sustainable isn’t.”) His previously-published book, Orange Code, explains how the championing of consumers led to ING Direct’s revolutionary rise in the banking industry.

I caught up with Bruce to ask him a few questions about his book. Here, in the first part of my interview with him, he talks about the big Australian brands, the Aussie approach to consumerism and how to react to attacks on your own personal brand.

In Consumer Republic, you discuss – and contrast – European and American attitudes to branding and consumerism. How about the Australians?

Comparative data like the material I used in the “Europeans” chapter isn’t as easy to come by for Australia, unfortunately, so I can’t give you an empirical answer. But since my pundit license is current, I can share some impressions. My sense of the Australian consumer is that she has more in common with those in my home market of Canada than perhaps anyone else in the world. Both are suspended between the global influence of American brand culture on one side and, on the other, three moderating forces that are more European in character: hereditary Anglo reserve, healthy suspicion of social climbing, and a cultural preference for working to live rather than living to work.

What this produces is a muted version of American consumerism, wherein we still lust for things and often spend more than we ought to, but there is also still some social currency in understatement and a resistance to forced social consensus.  That seems to be the attitude, anyway, to a casual observer. Still in all, it’s worth pointing out that Australians have in the past had among the highest ratios of household debt to disposable income in the world. Whatever the various contributors to that number are, it certainly has to be construed as a warning that perhaps consumerism needs moderation there, too, and that perhaps more of us in the world resemble the pre-2008 American consumer than we’d like to think.

What’s your favourite and least favourite Australian brand?

My favourite Australian brand is that of Australia itself. I am in awe of how clearly it seems to understand its nation-brand, at least to those of us in the rest of the world. It is extremely comfortable with its distinctiveness and with the virtue in that distinctiveness. It’s impressive enough that so many people dream of living there despite the fact that apparently everything in nature wants to kill you (I owe this characterization to my daughter whose heart has been stolen by an Australian man). But I also think it’s an admirable model for branding of any kind. If I had to choose a more typical consumer brand, I’d have to say that I greatly admire Billabong. It’s achieved global brand status in a tough product category, and seems to be staying on top of its game.

As for a least favourite, I don’t think I have one. But forced again to answer, I might choose Foster’s in its global brand guise. In export markets, this brand’s advertising has often made some pretty ham-fisted use of its Australian heritage, doing neither it nor Australia’s brand any favours at all.

How do you react when people diss your brand on social media – slag off your book or blog? In this age of “personal branding”, do you think we need to vigilant or get over ourselves?

The best way for anybody to approach the social media space is the way public relations people have always approached the world: Decide on your reaction by first assessing the credibility of the attacker. As has always been true, there are times when it’s best not to rise to the bait because the dissers are either hopelessly unreasonable and shrill, or they are lonely voices in the social media wilderness.

Often, though, if a criticism is well reasoned and legitimate, you can accomplish a lot by engaging with the critic. For one thing, it’s amazing how things can suddenly get very polite when something like this turns from a speech into a public conversation. For another, any brand that lives online – and we all do – has to bear in mind that everything that’s said about it becomes part of the internet’s canon. Too much criticism, unanswered, becomes what people will find in the future when they Google you, so to speak. Engagement is, in the crudest terms, a way to make sure that the good scraps of information about you floating around out there in cyberspace outweigh the bad.

So, yes, I’m vigilant (technology like Google Alerts makes this very easy), but I try not to get too paranoid about it. I try to respond to every serious blog comment and every Twitter mention, and will for as long as it’s practical.

Consumer Republic will be released on March 28th, but you can pre-order now from Boomerang. We’ll be posting the rest of the interview, including Bruce’s advice to aspiring specialist writers looking to pen their thoughts on their field, on Friday.

What the Failure of REDgroup Means for Ebooks in Australia

Anyone who follows book news cannot have failed to hear about the collapse of REDgroup’s Borders and Angus & Robertson bookchains last week. But what does this mean for ebooks? Depending on who you listen to ebooks are one of the causes of REDgroup’s slide into administration. But is this true? Are ebooks destroying the common dead tree bookseller? And did video kill the radio star? Read on to find out more.

For those who don’t know, Kobo is a Canadian ebook platform that partnered with Borders in the United States, and Borders/A&R in Australia. As I said back at Christmas, it may not have been the brightest move on Kobo’s part to tie themselves so closely to Borders, but they did. And that means that even though Kobo is not REDgroup, they will suffer some of the consequences of the collapse, including the withdrawal of books by some publishers from their joint library.

Although I’ve complained about the Kobo ereader and their flaky platform before, they were the only real competitor to Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem and Apple’s iBookstore. They were unique in Australia because their partnership with Borders brought them mainstream, nationwide legitimacy and a physical retail presence – something neither Apple nor Amazon can compete with. From all reports this partnership has been relatively successful – it was one of the few areas of their business that REDgroup wasn’t entirely bungling. This is part of the reason why ebooks cannot be blamed for the collapse: like it or not ebooks are still only about 1% of the industry here in Australia – and REDgroup had already carved themselves a healthy chunk of that 1%. While that number is growing very fast, ebooks are not putting booksellers out of business just yet.

No, what destroyed REDgroup was incompetence and greed. While various pundits have tried to blame parallel importation, the GST, and even the internet as a whole – the fact of the matter is that REDgroup are the only Australian bookseller currently under administration. And while plenty of booksellers are struggling, they haven’t had fraught relationships with suppliers for the last twelve months, and they haven’t been jacking the prices of their books up over RRP. And they haven’t been selling barbecues instead of books.

Regardless of the outcome of REDgroup’s period under administration, the Borders brand has been seriously tarnished by this collapse, and that’s only going to get worse with issues like the recent decision not to honour customer book vouchers. You can safely predict that Kobo’s ascendancy in Australia will be slowed for a while to come.

So where does that leave ebook buyers and readers? Or rather – where does it leave readers who don’t want to submit to the Amazon or Apple gulag platforms? Well, with the recent news that Google are looking to partner with groups of retailers rather than individual booksellers, things on the indie front appear to look a bit bleak. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The annual post-Christmas survey in Bookseller+Publisher demonstrated that while the dead tree book industry is trembling under the threat of a shrinking market – ebook readers and ebook sales are healthy and growing. Not only that, but 40% of booksellers not already selling ebooks are planning to do so in the next year. This is great news for readers – with the freeze of Borders/Kobo, there is a lot of room for new growth. And new growth in books can only be a good thing.

As a culture, we’re currently undergoing one of the largest paradigm shifts in cultural consumption ever. It is now more than any other time that we cannot afford to have dead weight like REDgroup dragging the rest of us down. So I say the king is dead – long live the king.

The Aussiecon Author Videos, part 2

We’re back for another round of videos. Last week I posted four author videos, which I shot at Aussiecon 4 in September 2010. I asked each author to introduce themselves and then to tell me about the book (or books) which has had the greatest influence on them. Here are another four… the final four. There should have been more. I had intended for there to be more. There were lots of authors around at Aussiecon, and I wanted to video as many of them as I could. But… um… I forgot! 🙁 All my wonderful intentions went down the gurgler because I was having too much fun. Oh well, this will have to do you for now. So, without further ado…

Trudi Canavan is the author of numerous fantasy novels, including the Black Magician trilogy (The Magicians’ Guild, The Novice and The High Lord). Her latest book, The Ambassador’s Mission, is the first in the Traitor Spy trilogy. Book two, The Rogue, is due out in May this year. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter. And take a peek at my review of The Magicians’ Guild.

Paul Collins is the author of over 100 books, including The Jelindal Chronicles (Dragonlinks, Dragonfang, Dragonsight and Wardragon). He is also co-creator, along with Michael Pryor, of The Quentaris Chronicles. Check out his website and the official Quentaris Chronicles website.

Sue Bursztynski is the author of numerous books for children and young adults. She is best known for her non-fiction, including Crime Time, but her latest book is the YA werewolf novel, Wolfborn (I’ve previously reviewed Wolfborn and interviewed Sue on Literary Clutter). Check out her blog.

Reece Hauxby is the fifteen-year-old author of Justin Gale Deals With Death. It’s his debut novel and is intended as the first in a series. Check out Cytique Publishing for more info.

Well, that’s it folks. No more videos. But fear not (or do fear, as the case may be) for now that I’ve got a taste for putting videos up on Literary Clutter, I’m likely to do it again. There’s a local spec fic / pop culture convention happening here in Melbourne in June this year (Continuum 7), so I shall try to get my butt into gear and corner a few more authors at that event.

Tune in next time for a guest post from Lili Wilkinson as she discusses the covers of her books, Pink and Scatterheart.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Narnia Read-Along: The Magician’s Nephew

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ~ C. S. Lewis

There is an endless bounty of amazing quotes from the brain of C.S. Lewis. I’ll choose an appropriate one for each book in the series as I fondly work my way through with the other participants in the Narnia Read-Along, hosted by Whitney at her elegant blog, She Is Too Fond Of Books.

As you can see by the edition I’ve included in this post (the celebrated edition of the first edition, complete with the original illustrations!), C.S. Lewis meant for the Chronicles of Narnia to be read by children. Judging by the quote at the beginning of this post however, C.S. Lewis hoped for the Chronicles of Narnia to be enjoyed by non-children as well.

The Magician’s Nephew is the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, though it was published five years after it, and was the second last book to be published in the seven-part series. I don’t think it matters really, whether you read the books in chronological order of Narnia’s events (starting with The Magician’s Nephew) or in order of publication (starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Either way brings immense reading pleasure.

The Magician’s Nephew provides a wider landscape and a new dimension to the Narnia we’ve come to know and love. English children Polly and Digory are neighbours who fast become friends upon meeting, and happen to stumble across Digory’s uncle’s private study. As fate would have it, Digory’s uncle is something of a tinkering scientist who is power mad (of course) and hates the idea of having children in his private working area. Sensing an opportunity to test out his latest experiment, however, he lures Polly into choosing a pretty ring, which, when Polly touches it, transports her into another world. A very frightened and angry Digory is forced to follow and rescue her from wherever she’s gone, and so begins the adventures of Narnia.

I have mentioned before that this is among my favourite books of the series, if not THE favourite. The story explains the origins of how the White Witch came to discover Narnia, over which she would later enjoy dictatorial rule. The story also explains the origins of Narnia itself, through a recreation of the Christian story of the Garden of Eden, and the creation of a world in seven days. Readers are often dismayed to discover the Christian symbolism underlying their favoured childhood fantasy story, but I think the passion of C.S. Lewis for his religion enriched his storytelling ability. After all, one doesn’t need to be of the Christian faith to enjoy a wonderfully engaging story of good versus evil.

You may be wondering where Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan are in this book. The truth is, because The Magician’s Nephew is the tale of the creation of Narnia, it takes place many, many years (Narnia time) before Lucy pulls back the fur coats to discover a snow-covered world in a magic wardrobe. In our world, nowhere near as much time has passed, though Polly and Digory could be Lucy’s grandparents. And in fact Digory plays an interesting mentor role later on, not only to the children who discover Narnia by playing hide and seek, but also to the reader, who is wondering whether to believe Lucy’s story of finding a world in a wardrobe:

“Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister [Lucy] is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

– Professor Kirke, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Chapter 5.

I love The Magician’s Nephew more every time I read it: I love it for its humour, its magic, and its lively characters; its willingness to flesh out what we already know about Narnia and to make us question the role of choice in Fate – it is an apt beginning to a set of books letting you know that anything is possible, as long as you’re open to it.

And then there is the added bonus of a FLYING HORSE.



Disclosure: Bought.
Year of Original Publication: 1955.
Year of My Own Publication Copy: 1988.
Number of Pages: 173.
Book Challenges: The Chronicles of Narnia Read-Along 2011.

Doing My Dash With Crime Thrillers

Patricia CornwellI thought I’d done my dash with crime thrillers for a few reasons. First, I had absolutely inhaled all of the Patricia Cornwell books (even the rubbish Southern Cross, before she found her protagonist and winning-formula writing form).

Second, I didn’t think I would find a series, characters, or plots I liked as much—a doctor who’s a lawyer who has an ass-kicking computer-hacker niece and a profiler boyfriend pretty much covers all my reading-requirement bases.

And third (and relating back to my last blog about being, like, totally time poor), I don’t have the time to retreat from work, sleep, and the world in general to devour such page-turners.

But I heard Val McDermid interviewed a few times recently—including in an hour-long session at the 2010 Brisbane Writers Festival—and was utterly sold on her hilarity. I know, right? A crime writer with a wicked sense of humour doesn’t compute. But having not read a single one of her words, I figured someone who is so clearly intelligent, and so compelling, engaging and funny warranted further investigation.

Given that I’ve got almost buckley’s chance of meeting her unless I turn stalker, find out where she lives, and lob up there—the likes of which are less like to see us become friends than me end up in prison and perhaps recognise myself as a bit-part crazy stalker in her next bestseller—the closest I can get to her is via her books.

Wire in the BloodSo I did no research other than to learn how to spell her surname and then picked up the first book of hers I saw. And I’m so glad I did. I’m exhausted because I’ve barely slept in recent days because I’ve sacrificed sleep to ingest large chunks of the book in a short space of time.

I even battled my usual motion sickness to read her book on public transport. The result is that I’ve completed Wire in the Blood and it’s taking every ounce of willpower not to go out and find more.

I’m not sure where Wire in the Blood comes in her series (I know this much from the references to previous adventures: it’s not the first), or even how many books McDermid has written. Nor do I wish to know, because I’d be unplugging the internet, switching off my phone, and shunning every social engagement until I’d made it to the end.

I will inhale these books about a profiler called Tony Hill at some stage. I just need to develop either a time machine that enables me to stop things while I read or some willpower to eke the books out at a reasonable pace. Maybe both.

‘Hello, I’m A Bibliomaniac’ Isn’t Quite Apt

EnoughI thought about kicking off this blog with ‘Hello, my name if Fiona Crawford and I’m a bibliomaniac’, but that’s perhaps not the most apt intro. Sure, I’m an out-and-proud biblio, but the ‘maniac’ sort of suffix gives the wrong impression and the intro implies that I’m asking for help.

I am asking for help, but not the kind you think, so I perhaps need to rephrase the intro as ‘Hello, my name is Fiona Crawford and I’m a desperately time-poor avid reader’. A brief stack and count revealed that I have some 42 titles currently sitting, as a wobbling tower of books, on my bedside table.

Book pileI laid them out, photographed them in a line and then in stacks (because I couldn’t work out which one made the volume look more manageable) before finally doing up a quick tally (see accompanying pictures). Then I realised there were another seven or so titles not in that stack, so let’s make it a round 50 books.

I know I should just slowly and steadily work my way through the pile. The complication is that it’s likely that I’m heading back to uni for the next three years, which will put further pressure on my already limited reading time. How, then, am I possibly to choose which books to read?

Wolf HallSome of the books are in there because they’re great tomes that I know I will need time and brainpower to read. These include Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning Wolf Hall and Jared Diamond’s Collapse (I know, it’s an oldie, but I’ve been told it’s a goodie).

Some of them are socially and/or environmentally minded, which I love, but which are often a little bit drier, a little bit more guilt-inducing, and take a little bit longer to read in order to properly absorb. I’m talking about a handful of how-to-live sustainably books, David Borstein’s The Price of a Dream, four-odd Mohammed Yunus titles (he’s widely credited with kicking off microfinance social enterprise format), and John Naish’s Enough, which talks about how we need to reign in our rampant consumerism for both our own and the planet’s health.

The Accidental GuerrillaThere’s Bitter Chocolate, which shows us the dark, child-labour and general enslavement awfulness that goes into every chocolate bar that makes its way to our shops and into our mouths. There’s David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla, which argues that by blowing the bejeepers out of otherwise-on-our-side civilians in places like Afghanistan, we actually sufficiently anger them to join the ranks of the guerrillas.

There’s Mary-Rose MacColl’s Birth Wars, which emerged from an initial report MacColl was asked to write some years back after a baby died in a Brisbane hospital because of a battle between the midwives and the doctors—or, as she terms their philosophies, the organics and mechanics. There’s also Luz Arce‘s The Inferno, which documents the experience of living under Chilean dictator General Pinochet. I bought it because I these days have some strong connections with Chile, and even recently travelled there. But I didn’t have time to read the book before I flew over and realised it would be a bit insensitive to be toting it around and dog-earing pages of note while I was in town.

Silent SpringThere are books I know I should have read by now, including Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring, which is apparently the book that changed the use of certain pesticides in farming, Confederacy of Dunces and The Catcher in the Rye—the former I’ve avoided because the protagonist is apparently the most unlikeable character ever and the latter I’ve not quite gotten around to and then avoided lest I be seen to be jumping on the just-dead bandwagon.

Then there’s the randoms, including how Nike grew from just another shoe manufacturer into a global conglomerate that ‘owns’ sport, the 19th Wife, which brings us the story of the first woman to leave the Mormans and tell the world of its polygamy. Oh, and the tricky-to-find book I bought, which turned out to be a large-print version, and which both makes it slightly unwieldy to carry about on public transport and has print so large passengers five rows back could read over my shoulder. Purchasing it has, I’m sure, also flagged me in the online bookstore’s database as someone who needs special versions of titles.

So where to start? And how to tackle them? Especially bearing in mind that I have a voucher to spend on this here good online bookstore and that even more books will be released and bought by me in coming months. Oh, and if you had a Boomerang Books gift voucher, what would you buy?

Book pile

Read-Along: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 6 – 11)

Obligatory Warning: Spoilers will be a necessary part of the discussion of this novel, so if you are interested in reading Villette for yourself you may wish to bookmark these discussion posts and read them AFTER you have read the novel.

It’s only Week 2 of the read-along and I already like this book far better than Bronte’s most famous offering Jane Eyre. And I’m two days late with this scheduled Chapters 6 – 11 post because I was savouring the emotion, the writing, and just generally collecting my thoughts on the book so far.

Lucy Snowe is shaping up to be a remarkable character – we last left her apprehensive yet hoping to take up residence as a governess. While aboard the boat to Brussels she talks with a girl whom she judges as spoilt and rich, but who gives her a piece of advice as to where to seek work – one Madame Beck’s boarding school for young women. At stepping off the boat Lucy’s anxiety at being in a foreign place with little direction is heightened, then strangely placated by the appearance of a handsome gentleman offering to escort her to respectable lodgings. As Fate would have it, Lucy finds herself outside Mme Beck’s house and business, and makes the decision to suit up for a position as a teacher to the boarding school’s bouquet of sparkling young girls. Despite what I am sure was Lucy’s best efforts not to do so, she finds herself blossoming as lecturer and tutor to the impressionable femmes and gains a type of comfortable respect from most of them [a quick aside: the girls and Lucy at times converse in French, which is a little difficult to grasp since there’s no translation in the book, but I enjoyed grasping the gist of their high-spirited banter].
One effervescent personality in particular is of interest, and reminds me very much of how I expected Polly from chapters 1-6 to turn out in later years. Flighty and yet all too aware of her feminine wiles, Ginevra is an endless source of frustration to Lucy, who consistently and forcefully voices her disapproval of Ginevra’s coquettish stringing-along of the handsome “Isidore” (Ginevra’s pet name for the mystery boyfriend).

During Lucy’s stay at Mme Beck’s, an English doctor turns up with ties to Lucy’s boss and students. To Lucy’s surprise, Dr. John is the same gentleman who found her safe lodgings on her arrival in Brussels. To Lucy’s further surprise, she finds herself incredibly attracted to him.

What transpires for Lucy and Dr. John’s burgeoning relationship remains to be seen. It is interesting, and perhaps only indicative of the era that Lucy should have much more interaction with females in the novel so far, but I have the strange sense the author is trying to tell us something about these girl characters that are so offensive to Lucy Snowe’s outward countenance and internal ethics and morals. Only two males have had Lucy’s attention in the novel according to reader knowledge: Graham, earlier on, and Dr John, at present. And despite the fact that Lucy observes both males taken in by effervescent feminine personalities, Lucy appears to view the male version in a more positive light.
It is perhaps Lucy’s Destiny to meet and interact with Dr. John, but this must be distinguished by Fate – which is in Lucy’s hands. “Fate took me in her strong hand” says Lucy as she decides to approach Mme beck about the teaching position. How fascinating and, yes, slightly irritating that Lucy doesn’t take any responsibility when she takes an adventurous action or makes an adventurous choice, preferring to paint herself a passive creature. Stoically passive, almost. Just what is she trying to convince people of? And is she trying to convince me, the reader? Or herself?


Discussion of Chapters 12 – 17 will be posted next week. In the meantime, you can check out others’ thoughts over at Unputdownables.


The Pup’s Tale is the latest book in Sally and Darrel Odger’s Pet Vet series from Scholastic.

It’s book number 6 and the story is told from the point of view of Trump, The Animal Liaison Officer (ALO) at the Pet Vet Clinic.

Trump the dog lives behind the veterinary surgery belonging to her person, Dr Jeannie and travels with her to house and farm calls. Having acute dog senses, she often works things out way before the humans.

In The Pup’s Tale, main character, Trump is in a tricky situation. She can see that Goldie the Labrador isn’t coping with her brood of fifteen new puppies and one in particular isn’t getting enough food.

Trump knows that Tiny, the runt of the litter isn’t going to survive long without help, but how can Trump convince the humans that something must be done?

Although most of the characters in this book are dogs, they’re still very ‘people like’ in their perceptions and qualities, and will be easy for young readers to relate to.

Trump is a bright, determined Jack Russell who thinks she might have the perfect solution to Goldie’s problem. Authors, Sally and Darryl Odgers often come up with ideas for books while walking their own Jack Russells so it’s hardly surprising that Trump seems so real to the reader.

The Pup’s Tale is an engaging story and it’s also great for teaching young readers about how to look after their pets.

The book has vocabulary and definitions to extend literacy skills and will provide entertainnig classroom reading.

The text is broken up by side bar definitions like Caterwauling – a loud squalling sound cats make when they’re annoyed or challenging other cats.

Janine Dawson’s lively humorous black and white illustrations are scattered throughout The Pup’s Tale.

The Pet Vet series is written for readers aged 6 + and they won’t be able to resist the cute photo of Tiny on the front and back cover The Pup’s Tale.

Thoughts on: Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Peruse bookshelves at any large bookstore and you’ll most likely see Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver, centre-stage and hyped to the hilt. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I remember it creating quite the sensation a year back when early-bird bloggers were receiving review copies. Delirium is Lauren Oliver’s new creation – the first of a trilogy – and if my review of the book is anything to go by, it’s sure to create an equal amount of hysteria.

What if there was a cure for Love?

Delirium is Young Adult Dystopian by genre, romantic by nature. It centralises around the idea that in the not-too-distant future, Love is considered an illness. Romeo and Juliet is taught only as a cautionary tale to students so that they understand the consequences of giving in to Love. Rest assured, however, because at 18 years old, you can have the surgery that will defeat the illness of Love forever.  And afterwards, you can be guaranteed a painless, Love-free life.

Lena’s almost 18 and looking forward to her own surgery appointment. She’s waiting to leave the life behind that has the stigma of her mother attached to it – a woman who had the surgery three times and still exhibited signs of retaining the disease. Lena only wants to do what’s right and good for herself…and then she meets Alex, and begins to question everything she knows and wants.

The whole time I was reading this book the song “Catch My Disease” by Ben Lee was running through my head:

“So please/

Baby please/

Open your heart/

Catch my disease.”

The idea of a future environment with the socially-acceptable retardation of human emotion is nothing new, but I applaud Lauren Oliver for writing something that will appeal to a generation who may not have been exposed to the classics of the genre (like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World). Each chapter is prefaced with a quote from the social “bible”, or another historical tidbit about the world Lena lives in, which is both interesting to ponder and validates the message behind the story. The book’s a fairly hefty read at 441 pages (aren’t they all, these days?) but the prose is poetic and flows smoothly – it shouldn’t take you too long to race to the end, which is both a bittersweet finale for something and the promise of more to come for something else.

Delirium prefers to skip in-depth characterisation to focus on the overarching philosophies of freedom, sacrifice, redemption. And while I liked Delirium quite a lot, I didn’t love it – perhaps because I’m kind of over the teen doomed love affair… or perhaps because when I was 18 I had the surgery, and now I’m just a passionless sack of potatoes.

I was impressed by Delirium either way though, and I can highly recommend it for teens especially: the prose is quality, and that’s just for starters. Readers will likely find this an intoxicating read that they are free to go delirious over, unlike poor Lena. The freedom to love – imagine that!


Disclosure: Received for review.

Year of Publication: 2011.

Number of Pages: 441.

Book Challenges: None.

NEWSFLASH: Author vs Sawn-off Shotgun

We interrupt normal blogging to bring you this special newsflash. A NEWSFLASH? On a bookish blog? Yes, indeed. Today’s planned post, with the remainder of the Aussiecon author videos, has had to be delayed, in favour of this story about a mild-mannered author and a shotgun wielding robber.

Yesterday evening, at exactly 6pm, I received an email from Richard Harland, author of the rather brilliant steampunk novel, Worldshaker. (Check out the Steampunk post with a guest bit from Richard.) The email detailed the events of a post office robbery… a robbery that potentially threatened the Worldshaker sequel, Liberator. I gasped as I read the email, my concern for Richard mounting. And then, as I reached the end, I thought — Hey, this would make an awesome blog post. I immediately emailed back, asking permission to post his email on Literary Clutter… um… of course, I started off by expressing relief that Richard was unharmed and that the manuscript was safe. And so, with Richard’s permission, here is the story of the post office robbery and the Liberator manuscript…

It’s true – I was just caught up in the middle of an armed hold-up! Half an hour ago! I finished the US copyedit of Liberator ahead of time, and went to a local post office to send it off. A tiny, quiet little post office in a tiny, quiet shopping area. I went to the counter and was given the international form thingy that has to be stuck on the front – and I’d just started filling it out. The only other people in the shop – it’s so small, it could hardly hold a dozen customers at once – were an old couple.

Suddenly these two guys burst in, wearing hoodies, face masks and gloves, and one of them toting a sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun. About 20-25 years old, I’d have guessed from their voices, though one of them, who stood guard over me and the old couple, hardly spoke. The one with the shotgun jumped up on the counter, shouting like a character in a gangster movie – threatening, cursing and trying to sound as violent as possible.

The ugliest moment was when shotgun guy accused the post office guy of pressing the alarm button – which he had. The elderly lady was breathing and gasping and shaking, on the verge of a panic attack. I put my arm round her and said we’d be OK. It turned out she had a heart condition – luckily she had an inhaler spray with her that she used the moment they were gone.

They made the post office guy open the till, and shotgun guy jumped down and scooped up what was there. Then back on the counter, ordering the post office guy to lie on the ground (not us). There was something more they wanted, maybe access to a safe, but they decided not to hang around any longer. The post office guy told the cops afterwards that they’d got away with $1000-2000.

Anyway, they rushed out and took off in an off-white car that had been parked in the drive next to the post office. We got the number plate, for what that’ll be worth. The post office guy rang the cops who turned up pretty smartly, viewed the CCTV footage and took down our details.

Funny thing was, it didn’t seem particularly scary at the time – maybe because the shotgun was almost always trained on the post office guy, with just a flourish or two towards us. And the elderly lady did enough panicking for us all – I was more worried about her state than anything.

And now the key question you must be wondering – did they get away with the copyedited MS of Liberator? No, they didn’t even realise the treasure right under their noses! They just rushed out with the money – and I had to go to a different post office to send off my parcel.

And people think that authors live quiet, uneventful lives, never venturing from the safety of their computers. But in reality, the danger and excitement never stops!

Thank goodness no one was harmed! I don’t think that I would have been as calm as Richard, were I in a similar situation.

Tune in next time for a return to our normal programming, with part 2 of the Aussiecon author videos.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or gimme all your money!

Review: The Daily Pt 2


Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

Which is not to say The Daily doesn’t at least try to interact with Facebook and Twitter. It really does, and it does so in a way that makes it unique to paywalled news – you can share almost every article in The Daily, and people can read it through a web browser – it just isn’t as compellingly interactive as it is on the iPad, and you can’t browse the entire issue except in the paid app. But that isn’t to say that the process of sharing articles is easy.

What you get when you try and share an article from The Daily is a carefully crafted advertisement for The Daily. The link is still there, but this isn’t a click and go process, and that rather misses the point of the modern news sharing paradigm. News isn’t about where it comes from, it’s about who it comes from, what it is and who you trust. If I wanted a curated news experience on the iPad, I’d just use Flipboard and my Twitter stream. And that may not be the average news reader’s experience, but that is where it’s heading – and trying to dam the river with an app like this isn’t going to stop it.

That’s something that any digital industry can learn from The Daily. Digitising content isn’t just about making it available digitally – it’s about hooking into the new ways people have of finding, sharing and consuming content. Now we’ve just got to find a way to get people to pay for it – and that’s one experiment The Daily is pioneering that I suspect will be very interesting indeed.

Review: The Daily

There is no shortage of comparisons between the book industry and the music industry, despite their obvious differences. However, book publishers are loathe to compare the digitisation of books to the digitisation of newspapers and magazines. And that’s mostly because paper and mag publishing is (arguably) facing off against far bigger problems than the book trade. Chief of those problems is how to get consumers to pay for content. And that’s where The Daily comes in.

The Daily is Rupert Murdoch’s tilt at making paid newspaper and magazine content work online. For the moment it exists exclusively on the iPad, and it’s the first iPad app to leverage Apple’s contentious new subscription system. And it’s a good deal too. At the moment The Daily‘s content is free to try, but when subscriptions start rolling out in a couple of weeks, it’ll cost just $0.99 per week (and there’s an entirely new issue every day, with updates throughout the day).

Click on any of the images in this post to see them full-size.

So what’s the app like? I guess you could say it’s slick. If I were the kind of person who read a newspaper from cover to cover, I’d say it gave me almost everything a paper gives you and more: all the regular sections of a daily paper (arts and lifestyle, gossip, politics, technology, opinion and business), comprehensive (American) sports coverage, sudoku and crossword puzzles (which can be linked through Apple’s Game Centre to compete against friends) and much more.

The app’s interactive elements definitely have a bit of a wow factor – not because they’ve never been done before, but because the content is so fresh. This isn’t just a one-off app like an iPad book, or the gorgeous interactive table of elements app. This is immersive daily news. It’s a format I could get used to. There are photos with zoomed in hotspots, 360-degree photos, live polls, animated elements; not to mention most articles have an audio version (read out by a real person), and there’s a video that gives the highlights of each issue that can be interrupted at any time to go to the full story being talked about. You can ‘shuffle’ The Daily to take you to a random section of the issue you haven’t read yet, and flick through individual pages like you would in a physical paper or magazine.

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.



I wasn’t surprised to discover that Oliver Phommavanh, the author of Thai-riffic is a stand up comic.

Oliver is a seriously funny guy and his debut novel, Thai-riffic is hilarious.

The story is set in a Thai restaurant which goes by the same name as the book and in this restaurant live Albert, Kitchai and their Mum and Dad.

Albert is frustrated and embarrassed by his parents steely determination to hang onto their Thai heritage.

We moved to Australia when I was two so why don’t we have an Aussie surname? I want something easy like Smith or Jones. But I’m stuck with Lengviriyakul. It looks like someone ate alphabet soup and threw up the letters.

He has just started high school and seems pretty convinced that his family is the most embarrassing one that has ever existed.

Helping Albert cope with High School are his new friend Rajiv and his teacher Mr Winfree who has a moustache like a fat caterpillar. Mr Winfree helps him come to terms with his culture and also shortens his surname to something more pronouncable; Lengy.

Thanks to Mr Winfree’s fondness for Thai food and 20,000 fliers delivered by Lengy, business at Thai-riffic is booming although Albert would prefer it if the teaching population of  Marsden Park High didn’t frequent the restaurant.

And when Mr Winfree organises for an important food critic to visit Thai-riffic, things start to go horribly wrong.

Thai-riffic has plenty of Bow Thai and other Thai/tie related jokes to keep the reader giggling. This book explores mulicultural themes in a fun involving way and could promote a lot of discussion in the classroom.

It’s a book with unique perspectives, real problems for a kid starting high school, and it also touches on aspects of history.

Grandma’s our own Captain Cook. She discovered Australia for us. After Grandpa passed away, she trekked around the world visiting Thai temples and cooking for the monks. She loved Australia so much that she settled here in a Thai Temple.

Thai-riffic is full of warmth and humour and great characters and each one has their own special talents and place in the story.

Thai-riffic is a book that keeps you laughing from first page to last and will appeal to readers aged 9 +. But be warned, there’s a lot of talk about great food in this is not a book so it’s not to be digested on an empty stomach

It is published by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin and Oliver has a new book due for release later this year.

Cooking up a storm – what books do you want read about?

Looking through the top non-fiction books of 2010, I can see that many of them are in areas that I never really get into – cookery, food, gardening, home-making and crafts.

Look, there is a reason for this. My skills don’t lie in these areas, even if I often enjoy their output. I love to eat but my cookery can best be described as spontaneous, where spontaneous is a euphemistic way of saying, “too lazy to follow recipes”. I don’t have all the necessary blenders, creamers and accoutrements that many books assume you have clogging up the kitchen. I live in a small flat, I have limited space, and most of that goes to books.

I also never remember to buy all the ingredients, so end up substituting and feeding my guests improvisations that ranges from the sublimes to the “screw this, let’s order some takeaway from the Thai place up the road”. Seeking to rectify this, a friend has just kindly sent me some Nigella’s as a gift. I’m picking up some new recipes, but also a far larger waistline. Nigella must have a metabolism that runs like a badly-serviced Hummer. Mine, sadly, is more economical, getting several gallons of flab from one cupcake.

Reading about food makes me want to eat it – I’m getting peckish just writing this. I’m going to avoid baking and dessert books on the general principle that prevention is far better than needing to spend an extra five hours a weeks on the treadmill. But the cookbooks that I avert my eyes from are incredibly popular with many of Boomerang readers – cooking, wine and food guides take up 60 places in the top 1,000, with most of those in the top 300.

As for my gardening? I’ve blogged already about my black thumbs (the Venus Fly-Trap ate about 10 flies and then sadly passed away over winter for those of you wondering). I do enjoy growing veggies and the odd flower, but I’m missing the bits of brains that makes a morning spent gardening anything but a chore.  (Also, I am very bad at identifying the difference between weeds and, say, strawberry plants. So I avoid areas where this might be an issue. Especially when they are someone else’s strawberries.)

Can’t cook, can’t garden, been known to injure myself with knitting needles and glue my own fingers together while crafting. It’s safe to say that, while I might be able to provide a reasonable beginner’s guides to home and craft things (especially for those of you who enjoy reading about disasters), I’m not the right person to claim to be an authority on these popular fields.

What do you think? Does Boomerang need a cookery or gardening or crafting blogger, or perhaps one crafty person who could combine all those things into one blog? What would you like to see non-fiction blogs about?

What would you write about?

One of 2010's biggest hits, books from the "4 Ingredients" appeared 4 times in our top 100.

Top 10 books on Food (Boomerang sales in 2010)

  1. Our Family Table
  2. MasterChef Australia: The Cookbook (Volume 2)
  3. 4 Ingredients: Fast, Fresh and Healthy
  4. Fast Fresh Simple
  5. MasterChef Australia: The Cookbook (Volume 1)
  6. Dukan Diet, The
  7. AWW Slow Cooking
  8. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals
  9. Crunch Time Cookbook: 100 Knockout Recipes for Rapid Weight Loss
  10. Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

The Aussiecon Author Videos, part 1

I’ve been promising these videos for quite a while, and I’ve finally managed to drag myself away from my word processing program long enough to open up the video editing program and prepare the videos. When you watch the videos, you’ll probably notice that there isn’t very much editing at all. So, what’s taken me so long? I’ve only ever used the program once before, and I couldn’t remember how to use it. So it took me a while (lots of trial and error resulting in much colourful language) to re-learn the program and then to get the videos ready. Okay, enough with the pathetic excuses. On with the show…

In September 2010 I attended Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Melbourne. (Check out my Aussiecon 4 Memories post.) There were an awful lot of authors wandering about, so I thought I’d corner a few of them and stick a video camera in their faces. I asked each of them to introduce themselves and then to tell me about the book (or books) which has had the greatest influence on them.

And so here are the first four authors…

Michael Pryor is the author of many YA novels, including the Laws of Magic series. He is also co-creator, along with Paul Collins, of The Quentaris Chronicles. Check out his website.

Foz Meadows is the author of The Rare trilogy — the first book, Solace and Grief, was published last year; the second book, The Key to Starveldt, will be published later this year. Check out her blog.

Jane Routley is the author of numerous fantasy novels, including Mage Heart and Fire Angels. She writes under her own name, as well as Rebecca Locksley. Check out her website.

Richard Harland is the author of numerous novels for kids, teens and adults. His most recent novel is Worldshaker. Its sequel, Liberator, will be published later this year. Check out his website.

And tune in next time for another four videos. I promise. Maybe.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll post a video of myself. 😉


Who will be your Valentine? The Romance Top 10

I don’t normally do the Valentine’s thing, so it was a bit of a surprise when the doorbell rang this morning. Whatever could it be?

On seeing the large lump in the postie’s hands it became obvious it wasn’t a huge bundle of flowers or a carefully gift-wrapped pony (a girl can hope) but my latest delivery of books from Boomerang. Despite the day that’s in it, the contents of my package weren’t very lovey-dovey. If I had fancied something a little more romantic though, I would have had some excellent guidance. According to the list of the Boomerang Top 1,000 books in 2010 that I recently got my paws on, many of you have been dipping your noses into books of love, lust and just perhaps a little period drama. The most sold Romance novels by Boomerang in 2010 were:

  1. Master Player, The
  2. Stormy Greek Marriage
  3. Country Midwife, Christmas Bride
  4. Quarterback Daddy / Valentine Bride
  5. Mavericks Virgin Mistress / Unbridled, The: Mills & Boon Desire
  6. Australian Boss: Diamond Ring
  7. Going Down Hard / Once A Rebel
  8. Charade / Imminent Affair
  9. Wedding At King’s Convenience
  10. From Russia, with Love / Scent of a Woman

I can’t link to most as they are sadly no longer available (romance books have a faster turn-over than Warnie’s dates) but just look at that list.  I’m fascinated by the descriptions – for example the intriguing Quarterback Daddy/Valentine Bride combo.  The second book in the pair, Valentine Bride tells the story of beautiful Irina who enters into a green card marriage so she won’t have to return to her war-torn homeland.

I’ve been known to enjoy a romantic interlude occasionally but sadly Irina’s story will no longer ring true for me, as will no book that uses the “marriage as a quick and easy way to get a visa” plot. As someone who has actually gone this route, I can tell you that partner visas are neither quick nor easy. My green card resulted from beating the Department of Immigration around the head with approximately 3 kilos of legal statements and affadavits until they cried Uncle.

How do I love thee? Here is the 300 pages of forms, certified documents, statutory declarations and accompanying appendices. Oh, and a huge processing fee.

It must be love. I have the paperwork to prove it, if not the gift-wrapped pony.

My package included Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth, a dissection of modern stereotypes of female beauty and the societal and personal obsession with that beauty, and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which explores meat-eating and the ethics of it. Nothing says romance like examining theories of consuming and shaping human and animal flesh. Mmm hmm.

On a slightly lighter, or at least more comedic note, there is Last Chance to See; Douglas Adams’s journey across the world in search of its most endangered creatures (hence the title), and On Writing by Stephen King, which I have finally decided to upgrade from my e-version to a real book as it is just that brilliant.

So, not exactly a package spilling forth with romance and all things torrid and bodice-ripping. But, as I got it on Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided that makes it official. Boomerang Books, I will be your Valentine!

Now, where is that gift-wrapped pony?


There was plenty happening on the kid’s book scene in Melbourne this weekend.

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

On Saturday, I went to a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) seminar in Melbourne where popular kids and YA authors, Pauline Luke, Edel Wignell and George Ivanoff (Boomerang Books blogger at talked about how they spread the word about their latest books.

Our Australian Girl Launch

On Sunday I was at the wonderful Readings bookshop in Hawthorn. It was overflowing with kids and adults there for the launch of Penguin’s Our Australian Girl series.

Creator, Jane Godwin is the Children’s Publisher at Penguin Australia and she spoke about how much hard work has gone into putting the books together and how much they mean to her.

Our Australian Girl is a new 16 part series of novels for readers aged 8-11. It features four inspiring young Australian girls with different cultural heritage and traditional backgrounds, each of whom live in a particular decade of Australia’s early colonial history.

The series is written by four talented Australian authors and beautifully illustrated by Lucia Masciullo.

At the launch, each of the authors had something special to say about their books.

Sherryl Clark – author of Rose’s story

Author, Sherryl Clark

Rose for me has become very real and it has been a pleasure to write her story.

Gabrielle Wang – author of Poppy’s story

What makes history interesting is people’s individual stories like the ones in the Our Australian Girl series.

Sophie Laguna

I got to go to some interesting places. It was a fantastic thing to be able to go back in time.

Alison Lloyd

It was great to write a book for girls where I could work dresses into the story.

The Our Australian Girl series fits with the new National Curriculum and will encourage a new generation to discover our history and cultural diversity.

Other Australian authors out and about at the Our Australia Girl launch

L-R Meredith Costain, Claire Saxby and Bren MacDibble

Author Signings at the Our Australian Girl launch

You Say Westfield. I Say…

Much was made of shoppers completing their Christmas shopping online. Mostly by physical-store retailers who reckoned they wuz being robbed because offshore online retailers don’t have to charge GST. I won’t deny that price at least in part drove people out of stores and on to their computers, but I will say that I think that was but a small part of the equation. Me? I shop online for a variety of reasons (well beyond the fact that I’m a blogger for this good, carbon neutral, online bookstore and it’d be in my interest to say so). The other reasons are, in no particular order, as follows:

You say Westfield? I say somebody kill me now

Seemingly never-ending university study and a need and desire to feed myself necessitated that I worked in retail for more years than I care to admit. And retail is officially the seventh circle of hell, with the general public automatically assuming that you’re stupid and slow and treating you accordingly.

Years of politely attempting to assist people who get aggressive and abusive when you don’t immediately know which orange book (um, there’s like 150 Penguin Modern Classics for starters) they’re after has left me with something of an aversion to shopping centres and the general public in general. You say Westfield? I say I’d rather die than venture into one.

Just what I want and need and no more

As someone who had to do it herself and struggled with every minute of it, the forced greeting within 30 seconds of you entering the shop and the subsequent efforts to ‘add on’ extra, high-margin but entirely-unneeded items irks me no end. It disturbs me in financial and environmental terms, with the former taxing people who often can’t afford even the items they originally set out to purchase and the latter taxing the environment as these extra, undesired, unused items end up in landfill.

Pretty wallpaper makes lots of landfill

The advent of big-box book retailers brought with it the promise of every title your heart could possibly desire being housed and sold under one roof. The lure of these places is vast and compelling (seriously, my body sniffs out and gravitates towards the book perfume whenever I’m—against my better judgement—in a shopping centre). But there’s also a dark side.

Lots of shelf space means lots of books are needed to make said shops look full and enticing. Not all of these books are sold and end up acting as a sort of three-dimensional wallpaper before being returned—under a Sale or Return (SOR) agreement—to the publisher for what often ends up being pulping.

Consider the resources consumed to first produce, then freight, then re-freight, then pulp these books, and bricks-and-mortar stores aren’t shaping up so book- or environmentally friendly. The books might look good on the shelf, but they don’t sit so well in landfill or on my conscience.

Letting my fingers do the walking

Borrowing the jingle from an ironically now-largely-online phonebook, it’s smarter to let my fingers do the walking rather than my feet. For starters it saves the tread, and for seconds and thirds it saves the environment and my shopping-centre-worn-down sanity. It’s taken me a while to realise it, but intermanet shopping has someone other than me chase around and find stock. I have no idea why I/we haven’t embraced this easier form of shopping earlier.

It’s like Christmas every day

These days most of my mail arrives via email, and most of it’s bills. Nothing excites me less or frustrates me more than coming home to find physical junk mail—wasteful, environmentally unfriendly letterbox spam—poking out of my little letterbox. Offsetting that, though, is receiving packages of books in the mail.

I (admittedly) buy too many books and rarely remember what’s on its way, which means that finding and unwrapping those parcels is a lot like receiving Christmas presents. There’s some sizing up, some shaking, and some guessing before I peel open the package to unveil the book within. And frankly, that’s not something I can get from a physical store.

The Writing Class

The Writing ClassYou take notice when three well-read friends who don’t know each other independently casually mention, umprompted, that they’ve stumbled across a rollicking good read. And when the author of that rollicking good read has a name so unusual, so memorable, and so fun, you tend to make a mental note to find out more. That’s what happened with Jincy Willett’s The Writing Class, an author and book I’d never heard of until I recently heard of it three times over.

First up I wanted (and still want) to know if that name is for real or it’s a pen name. Willett’s website, which is satirical and tongue in cheek like the book she’s written, gives no clue. Second up, I wanted to know what the book was about. It is, as the title suggests, about a writing class. Things take a turn for the worse when someone in the class gets murderer and everyone becomes a suspect.

Hmmm. As someone who’s sat through many a creative writing class replete with cringe-worthy writing and critiques overlaid with a cloying cologne of desperation, the book didn’t initially really appeal to me. That it’s is also being pushed by Women’s Weekly would normally made it a no-go zone, but three friends whose tastes I trust persuaded me otherwise. Or to at least to give it a chance.

I can’t quite pin down how I felt about the book. I can’t say I loved it, but I did enjoy it. But saying I enjoyed it doesn’t cover the nagging feeling that shadowed my read. Was this really such a strong story? Was it groundbreaking enough? Would a first-time author have been able to get this published? I can’t say I think so. It was clever in places and Willett’s incisive, witty barbs pepper the text like punchlines, but I kept thinking that she was doing a good job of an otherwise fairly bland, been-there-done-that idea.

That does the book a disservice, though. Credit where credit’s due, I didn’t guess who the murderer was. In fact, I couldn’t even narrow it down. This might have had something to do with the fact that I couldn’t remember who all the characters were (and I wholly admit that that’s a failing not necessarily of the writer but of this small, easily confused brain of mine). There were some 13 in the class plus the protagonist, Amy, and to me that’s practically a cast of thousands. Particularly as Amy assigns the characters nicknames, thereby effectively doubling the number of characters in my mind.

Further complicating things, I found some of the characters too similar or too bit-part-y to distinguish between at all. We only really got to know them on the most superficial level, which potentially contributed to why I didn’t guess the ending/great murderer unveiling. I did wonder if the book would have been stronger with half the number of characters (and, by proxy, suspects in the murder).

But that might not be entirely fair. Maybe The Writing Class was too close to my own experiences. I’ve been there. I’ve lived it. I’ve probably been and still am that overly keen but not overly talented writer churning out work in quantity but not quality.

So my verdict is 1.5 thumbs up. I enjoyed The Writing Class and there were moments of brilliance, but perhaps my expectations after three recommendations were a little high. Go in a little lower, master the ability to keep track of 13 characters plus a protagonist, marvel at Willett’s clever insights and sly asides, and you’ll like it just fine.


“Thank you for your submission. We regret to inform you that it does not suit our current needs.”

These words, or similar, are common in the life of a writer. Okay, I’m sure that there are writers out there who no longer get such notes. I’m willing to guess, for instance, that it’s been a very long time since Stephen King has had anything rejected by a publisher. But for those of us who are not household names with a string of best sellers to our credit, rejection is still a daily threat — A pendulum with a razor-sharp blade, swinging above our heads, waiting to suddenly drop.

But the thing to remember here is that writers like Stephen King and JK Rowling did, once upon a time, before they struck it BIG, get a rejection letter or two. JK even discussed her rejections with Oprah.

A young Paul Jennings took his first rejection very personally. In Paul Jennings: A Biogrpahy, by Matthew Ricketson, he is quoted as saying:

“I wrote my first story when I was sixteen and it was turned down by the Women’s Weekly. I felt so rejected I didn’t write anything else until I was forty.”

Different writers will undoubtedly have different experiences with rejection. Some writers deal with it well… like water off a duck’s back. They pick themselves up and try again. Others not so well. You hear the stories of some writers who take rejection personally and who question their ability every time a piece of work is not wanted. But they deal with it, they move on, however torturously, and continue writing. And then there are those people who get one rejection and never write again… writers who could have been, but never were, perhaps never meant to be.

I think there are two important things to remember about rejection. Firstly, that it is not personal. It is the piece of writing that is being rejected, not the writer. Secondly, it is just the opinion of one publisher/editor. A piece can be rejected for any number of reasons other than the quality of the writing. It may not be what an editor is looking for at that time. It may be too similar to something else that has already been accepted. It may be a simple case of the wrong story to the wrong publisher at the wrong time.

But it can be a hard slog. I understand that. I had many years of rejections before I finally made my very first sale — an article about Melbourne’s Regent Theatre for a CBD magazine called Melbourne Agenda in 1994. And it was another few years of rejections before I had my first book — Life, Death and Detention in 1999. I get a lot fewer rejections these days (‘cause me righting has gotten gooderer) but I still do get them. Every time I send something off, I do so with a little bit of anxiety. Every time I send a piece of writing out into the world, away from the safety of my computer, I feel the threat of possible rejection.

Not that the threat of rejection is necessarily a bad thing. It certainly keeps me on my toes. It forces me to not be complacent about my writing. Most of all, it makes me even more determined to try harder and make the next sale. As far as I’m concerned, dealing with rejection is just part of being a writer.

Tune in next time for a post I haven’t even thought about yet. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll make a list of every rejection I’ve ever had.


Meeting a muse: Dannii Minogue

I remember my writing ritual as a kid. I’d rush my homework (well, rush most of it and leave what I figured I could get away with not doing), then would open a Word document, put on some music and start writing.

I couldn’t just have any music playing, some artists worked better than others. Was never a fan of rock or Bjork. I gave hip-hop a chance, but my writing, already cuss-ridden, got a whole lot more profane. After a bit of trial and error, I settled for upbeat, unoffensive pop. So long as the music played, the writing flowed. And the artist who got the most spins? I’m not ashamed of it — but judging by the looks I get from people I tell, I should be — the artist was Dannii Minogue.

I remember making a joke about it at one of my first speaking events at the State Library of Victoria. To this day, co-speaker Michael Gerard Bauer pokes fun at me for liking the other Minogue, and worse, for admitting it.

There are two reasons why I think Dannii Minogue’s Neon Nights album worked so well to alleviate any writer’s block. One, it was released around the time that my writing passion became an obsession, so it got most of its spins while I wrote feverishly. I guess my body associates the album with writing now. And two, that album was a gift I received from the now-deceased friend I went on to dedicate Loathing Lola to. The album reminded me of the morning he surprised me with it at school (and you know, back when we didn’t have jobs, someone spending $20 on someone else’s birthday was kind of a big deal), and of him, and it just brings with it a wealth of positive feeling. And just playing it, I felt good. I felt inspired.

So, you could say, Dannii Minogue acted as a kind of muse.

I attended the launch for Dannii’s new 3-part documentary for FOX8, Dannii Minogue: Style Queen, during the week. The series covers everything from her writing her autobiography, to her pregnancy and her launching her new fashion label. I decided  that while I had her in close proximity, I was going to introduce myself to my muse.

Of course, all while hiding the CD-shaped bulge in my left pants pocket.

So I approached Dannii, and we spoke for a little while (read: a couple of minutes). She signed my CD, and I eventually worked up the courage to tell her that I was a children’s author, and that her album fuelled my writing. It inspired me.

And she didn’t brush me off. First, she gushed. Then, she joked: “‘Put The Needle On It’… inspired… a children’s book?” We laughed, I told her it’s young-adult. She lamented not having a genre for that age group when she was growing up. I asked to take a photo. She said, “Sure.” She put her arm around my back. I, having an epic out-of-body experience, returned the favour.

And then it was somebody else’s turn. We said good-bye. The odds are, she’s forgotten about me already. But you know what? For three minutes, I had my muse’s complete attention. And in those three minutes, I got to say thank you, albeit breathily and briefly, for her helping me achieve my dream.

Read-Along: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 1 – 5)

Warning: Spoilers will be a necessary part of the discussion of this novel, so if you are interested in reading Villette for yourself you may wish to bookmark these discussion posts and read them AFTER you have read the novel.

As far as I’m concerned, you fall into one of two groups with the Brontes: those who prefer Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and those who more inclined to enjoy Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. I am a fan of the former – Wuthering Heights is just so darkly ROMANTIC and PASSIONATE that any Jane Eyre theatrics tend to pale in comparison. But it is Villette, by Charlotte Bronte that Virginia Woolf declared to be Bronte’s “finest novel”.

For me, the first five chapters of this novel absolutely flew by. The reader is first introduced to the novel’s protagonist, Lucy Snowe, through a recollection of memories of her time staying at her godmother’s house: a place that she refers to as “Bretton”, the household’s surname. Snowe tells of the attention she receives as the household’s only guest child, but I adored the introduction of six year old Paulina (“Polly”) who suddenly descends upon the Bretton household in rainy weather; a proud little princess with “her neck delicate as wax, her head of silky curls” [page 10], seeming to act a caricature of someone two to three times her young age. It is through Lucy’s eyes that we observe Polly’s sudden and passionate attachment to Graham, a bright and jovial sixteen year old, and Polly’s sadness and fear at leaving Graham and not being his “favourite” when she is called away by her father and must leave the house to meet him. I couldn’t help but wonder at Snowe’s observations of the people around her: she finds Polly’s dramatics peculiar and considers Graham “spoilt”. By comparison, Lucy herself appears neutral and well-possessed… I will be interested to see how this personality progresses the novel and whether she remains unmoved, or whether she experiences a change within herself.

We move on to Snowe’s own quitting of Bretton, and her subsequent depression/loneliness which she never voices to anyone, describing the feeling as the pressure and icy coldness you would feel on a boat in stormy seas. Already I’m sensing the reason for Villette’s celebration as a literary masterpiece: a work of existentialism before existentialism even existed. Snowe is thus compelled to change her habitat, and takes up residence with the kind Miss Marchmont as a live-in nursemaid until her death. Again there is this sense of fear of upheaval and despair…but I was forced to leave Lucy apprehensive and anxious at the end of Chapter 5, travelling to London in the hopes of picking up a governess position with a city family.

I’m loving Bronte’s clear and concise prose, and the blinkings of gothicness. There’s a certain poignancy to Snowe’s character developing for me, I’m looking forward to seeing how this new governess position affects her inner self…


If you’re interested in reading others’ thoughts on Chapters 1 – 5, head on over to the Unputdownables. I’ll be discussing the next group of chapters next Thursday/Friday.


Little Mates is a colourful new series from Scholastic for children aged 3 +.

There are 26 pocket-sized books designed to fit easily into a handbag, nappy bag or backpack. Each book features a letter of the alphabet so the books are both educational and fun.

The Little Mates series is written by Susannah McFarlane and illustrated by Lachlan Creagh. Susannah has been writing since she was seven and is the author of the EJ12 Girl Hero series. You’ll see when you read the books that she is a big fan of alliteration, which is something that young readers seem to enjoy too.

Illustrator, Lachlan Creagh is also a concept designer and illustrator whose work is inspired by nature. He likes to create original visions full of life and imagination and his hilarious, colourful pictures help McFarlane’s words to leap off the page.

The alliteration makes these stories fun to read aloud and each one features an endearing Australian animal. The 26 books enable readers to work their way through the alphabet in a fun way and each has the applicable letter of the alphabet on its spine so that by lining up the whole series, readers will have the entire alphabet laid out for them.

In the first book, we meet Amelia, the most athletic ant on the anthill. She is an astonishing acrobat and an amazing tennis ace. Then there is Bouncy Ben the bilby who has a batch of beaut bush buddies, and Cuddly Callum the cockatoo who has a collection of cheerful chums. Daredevil Declan the dingo likes to dart and dive and Energetic Elliot the emu is excellent at eating but his exuberance can lead to emergencies.  Finally, there’s Friendly Fred the fairy penguin who feasts on felafel and plays a ferocious game of footy.

In each book the main character goes on fun adventures with their friends. As well as introducing readers to the alphabet and fun words, these books also present personal concepts like friendliness, loyalty and ‘giving things a go’.

The first six Little Mates came out this month and the rest are due for rapid release during 2011-2012


Henry Hoey Hobson is the latest ‘laugh out loud’ book from Australian Christine Bongers, author of the widely acclaimed, ‘Dust’.

Just from the blurb of Henry Hoey Hobson I could tell I was in for a fun ride.

“Twelve-year-old Henry Hoey Hobson arrives at his sixth school, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour to discover he’s the only boy in Year Seven.

Friendless, fatherless and non-Catholic, Henry is not only a Perpetual Sucker, but a bloodsucker according to his catty classmates.”

Henry’s life has always been nomadic but this latest move has brought even more uncertainty into his life. As if his new school isn’t bad enough, Henry also has the creepy new next door neighbours to contend with.

They own a coffin and have weird rituals like only leaving the house after dark and when Henry and his mum are invited there for tea, Henry’s sure it could be the last meal he ever has.

Henry survives the dinner, but he’s still struggling to keep his head above water at school. The far from angelic Angelica and the swaggering Joey Casterellaro are determined to make his life a misery.

Will his natural swimming talent be enough to help him navigate the treacherous waters of Year 7?

To complicate things there are behind-the-scenes family dramas going on in Henry’s life, and he makes some surprising discoveries about who he really is.

In Henry Hoey Hobson, Bongers handles some real issues faced by today’s kids with sensitivity and humour.

Who could not sympathise with HHH plight? After reading this book, you could also be forgiven for thinking that triple H stands for triple hilarious. There were so many places where I laughed out loud in this book and others where my heart was in my mouth, fearing what might happen to Henry next.

Apart from having a delightful sense of humour, Bongers has a way of making her characters so real that you are sure you have met them before.

Twelve-year-old Henry is very believable with his vulnerabilities and his hopes. Even his ambitious, Barbie Doll mum endears herself to readers.

The next door neighbours add interest and an intriguing sub plot to the story and I liked the fact that the headmaster Mr Paulson was far from stereotyped.

There’s plenty of action and humour in Henry Hoey Hobson to keep readers aged 9-12 hooked to the last page.

Henry Hoey Hobson is published by Woolshed Press

Going Postal Giveaway

In January 2009, Englishman Nathan Millward found himself in Sydney and in an unenviable situation; a great girlfriend in Australia and no Australian visa.

I have no small amount of sympathy for him, having faced almost exactly the same thing myself a few years ago. With a promising relationship starting, and my visa ending, it seemed like the worst luck in the world to have met a wonderful Australian bloke at exactly the same time as Immigration were counting down the days to my departure. Luckily I found a way to swing a reprieve and stay working in Sydney to give the relationship a fighting chance.

Nathan Millward and his girlfriend Mandy had no such luck, and he decided to make the best of a bad lot and take the road less travelled. Literally. Instead of hopping on the plane he elected to try to ride home, from Sydney to London, overland. On a motorbike –  a decommissioned Australia Post bike called Dot, to be precise. With just two days to prepare in Sydney, he set out to drive his little red bike from Sydney to Darwin, with the aim of continuing on through Indonesia, Thailand and then through to Pakistan and the Middle East into Europe.

Two days preparation. That meant he had to apply for visas and the dreaded carnet internacional (a passport for his bike, effectively) while on the road. If it all went belly up, or if his bike went belly down and took him along, Nathan couldn’t claim it back on his insurance as insurance companies wouldn’t cover him in several of the areas he was travelling to. With a milk crate stuck on the front containing his worldly goods, far less vaccinations than recommended and a helmet signed by Kevin Rudd, he was off to travel the world at sixty-five kilometres an hour. Oh, on a bike that he didn’t have time to get looked over by a mechanic.

I can assure you, finding a job to take a punt on you is a much easier option and I’m happy that I managed to avoid Nathan’s round the world trip. The Australian and I currently doing the prep on our Irish-Australian wedding, so I personally think that extra visa was the best move I ever made. But I have to admit, riding a motorbike around the world – or at least around Australia – has a certain ring to it. Wonder if I can get my Australian on the back?

Want to read Going Postal? Boomerang is giving it away (thanks to HarperCollins) as part of a non-fiction pack prize also Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and Inside Story by Peter Lloyd (thanks to Allen and Unwin).  Entries close tomorrow – Wednesday 9 February at 5pm Australian Eastern Time – so get your name by clicking through here to the competition and do it fast!

(Please note that you must be either a Boomerang Books Member or a fan of the Boomerang Books Facebook Page to be eligible to win. Both of which are things easier to achieve than getting an Australian visa or riding across the world on a bike.)

Read-Along: Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens (Chapters 1 – 22)

February’s read-along choice over at A Literary Odyssey is Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. This time, participants will be reading the book in three parts:

Thoughts on Chapters 1- 22 will be posted on participating blogs on February 8.

Thoughts on Chapters 23 – 37 will be posted on participating blogs on February 17.

Thoughts on Chapters 38 – 53 will be posted on participating blogs on February 28, and will conclude the read-along for the month of February.

I’ve only read two Dickens novels: David Copperfield, which I remember enjoying when I read it years ago (though the details are hazy); and A Christmas Carol, which I ADORE and attempt to read every year leading up to Christmas. Yet how many times have I heard the advertisement for the live musical on TV, or an old movie, with a little boy questioning: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

The gruel always looks especially gruesome.

I ventured into this read with the participants of the January read-along’s reluctance fresh in my mind. By and large they seemed to feel that Wilkie Collins was much more enjoyable/easy to read than Dickens. Upon consideration of the labourious time I experienced during the first half of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, I think I feel the opposite: for all Dickens’ love of commas and hatred of full stops, I find that his writing flows better for me than Wilkie’s. But it is all down to personal taste, I’m sure.

So, first things first: the protagonist – a little orphan boy named Oliver – I don’t think I have quite figured out yet. Certainly he is the recipient of large injustices and general “life-is-unfair”-ness. At times he shows a bit of spark against his early enemies at the orphanage (and they are formidable), but HONESTLY: how much bad luck can one little boy (and one reader) take?! Yes, yes, there are some beautiful sentence and paragraph descriptions, like this melancholy one which made me clutch at my heart for a moment:

“The boy had no friends to care for, or to care for him. The regret of no recent separation was fresh in his mind; the absence of no loved and well-remembered face sank heavily in his heart. But his heart was heavy, notwithstanding; and he wished, as he crept into his narrow bed, that that were his coffin, and that he could be lain in a calm and lasting sleep in the churchyard ground, with the tall grass waving gently above his head, and the sound of the old deep bell to soothe him in his sleep.” [Page 36]

…but I am SINCERELY hoping that the second and third parts of the book lay off the odes to “poor little Oliver Twist” and get on with the story (hmmph). I realise in saying this I’m probably being unfair myself – there are some shots of comic relief amid all this dreariness (“the olden times” had a sense of humour closer to our own than you’d first suspect). Still…it all gets a bit much for this unfeeling reader!

Turning now to an immense positive of the book… if Wilkie Collins is the King of Characterisation, Charles Dickens is the Emperor of Scenery. Sense of place in Oliver Twist is so supreme, that often I felt the grime of the Victorian backstreets on my fingers, and would hastily wipe my hands on my pants before I turned a particularly descriptive page. Villains sprout from the environment with their dirty toes half-stuck in the rotting floorboards; thieves and other nasty-minded citizens slink in the shadows; the cruelty of a recent and untimely death unfurls like smoke in the air. And when Oliver is drawn into the set of a particular unsavoury bunch, I almost set to weeping (if weeping was done at all these days).

Yet as I venture into the second part of Oliver Twist, there is hope for the young boy yet. What are his true origins? Why does he look the spitting image of the boy in the portrait? We shall have to wait and see…