Comic Book Adventures

Once upon a time… there was a young man who, upon graduating from University, embarked upon casual employment in a comic book store. He only worked there for a short time, but during that time his eyes were opened to new worlds and endless possibilities. Most importantly, he came to realise that comic books were not just for kids and that superheroes were just the tip of the graphic iceberg.

For those of you who haven’t worked it out yet… that young man was me. ☺

I was never really into comics as a kid. I remember reading the occasional Archie comic and I had a few Aterix comic books, but that was about it. Once I discovered that reading could be fun (around about mid-primary age) I tended to stick to books rather than comics. And as I grew up, I, like so many other misguided souls, looked down my nose at comic books as being ‘kids’ stuff’.

So now, I am eternally grateful for having had that brief time in the comic book store. Working there, surrounded by hundreds of comics, I was eventually enticed into flicking through some titles. It was the first time in years that I had read any comic books. It didn’t start off too well. I read a couple of dire superhero titles and was pretty much ready to give up on it all, when the store manager handed me the first of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman collections, Preludes and Nocturnes, assuring me that I would like it. It was complex and grown-up and mythic on a grand scale. It had depth and emotion and enormous imagination. It was beautifully written and stunningly illustrated. It was everything I expected it not to be. Like it? I loved it! Not only did I read it, but I eventually ended up buying all the Sandman collections.

From there I moved on to other titles including the Sandman spin-off, Death, Hellblazer (adapted for the silver screen as Constantine), Black Orchid, Books of Magic and the monumental cross-title epic, The Children’s Crusade.

And when I realised that not all superhero comics were the same, I even ventured into these more traditional comic book realms — starting with JM DeMatteis’s Superman: Speeding Bullets. This story re-wrote Superman mythology, asking the simple question… What if the capsule from Krypton, with baby Kal-El inside, landed not in Kansas, to be discovered by Mr and Mrs Kent; but on the outskirts of Gotham City, to be discovered by Dr and Mrs Wayne? Cool stuff!

In fact, my most recent comic book experience was of the superhero genre — Neil Gaiman’s What Ever Happened to the Caped Crusader?. It is the story of the many deaths and re-births of Batman. As with Sandman, it’s big and bold and mythic. Perhaps not one of Gaiman’s best, but still an entertaining and intriguing read.

These days, comic books are often referred to as graphic novels — a term that seems intent on dispelling the comic-books-are-just-for-kids misrepresentation. But whatever you call them, please, please, please, do not dismiss them. If you’ve never read one, I implore you to have a go. They are as diverse as any other form of literature (and yes, I do believe them to be Literature, as well as Art) and if you look around, you are bound to find something that appeals.

Tune in next time for a post about rejection.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll attempt to leap a tall stack of comics in a single bound. ☺

.

Simply the best – our top 25 non-fiction books

Ever wondered what other Boomerang fans are reading? Wonder no more. I recently got my hands on the data of the Boomerang books top sales for 2011, an impressively massive spreadsheet of what people have been buying with their hard-earned cash. It’s an excellent snap-shot of what Australians, and specifically Boomerang readers (Boomers? Boomies?), were browsing in 2010.

The big winner is, of course, Eat Pray Love. I’ve heard it described as Eat, Pray, Vom, or Barf, Barf, Barf (with an amazingly funny movie review here) but with three of the places in the top 100 held by various editions of her book, Elizabeth Gilbert probably isn’t losing any sleep over what her various detractors have to say.

In fact, self-absorption seems to be the order of the year. Looking through the first four books, it’s all biographies or memoirs. If you want the Australian audience hanging on your every word, you should play hard, party hard, get into politics or be a bit of a comedian. (Doing all the above but completely forgetting what you got up to due to the truly vast level of drugs taken at the time only works if you are Keith Richards.)

Talented but troubled AFL star, Ben Cousins:, released the most read Australian biography of the year. Coming after him was John Howard’s Lazarus Rising. Love him, hate him or just want to find out what goes on in that shiny bald head of his, his biography was the third best selling of the year, followed by Anh Do’s excellent The Happiest Refugee.

Just after that came an awful lot of cookbooks and Keith (who, going on his cadaverous appearance, could probably do with buying a few). Want to see the list?

Boomerang Books Non-Fiction Top 25

  1. Eat, Pray, Love Gilbert, Elizabeth
  2. Ben Cousins: My Life Story Cousins, Ben
  3. Lazarus Rising Howard, John
  4. Happiest Refugee, The: A Memoir    Do, Anh
  5. MasterChef Australia: The Cookbook Volume 2
  6. Life: Keith Richards Richards, Keith
  7. 4 Ingredients: Fast, Fresh and Healthy
  8. Fast Fresh Simple    Hay, Donna
  9. MasterChef Australia: The Cookbook Volume 1
  10. Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace with Marriage     Gilbert, Elizabeth
  11. True Spirit: The Aussie Girl Who Took on the World     Watson, Jessica
  12. Dukan Diet, The     Dukan, Pierre
  13. Brain That Changes Itself, The     Doidge, Norman
  14. Underbelly: The Golden Mile    Silvester, John & Rule, Andrew
  15. Food of India, The: A Journey for Food Lovers
  16. Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Enter If You Dare!: Bk. 7
  17. AWW Slow Cooking Australian,     Women’s Weekly
  18. Fry Chronicles, The: A Memoir        Fry, Stephen
  19. Standing My Ground      Hayden, Matthew
  20. Simpler Time, A: A Memoir of Love, Laughter, Loss and Billycarts     FitzSimons, Peter
  21. How to Make Gravy     Kelly, Paul
  22. Jamie’s 30-minute Meals     Oliver, Jamie
  23. Crunch Time Cookbook: 100 Knockout Recipes for Rapid Weight Loss     Bridges, Michelle
  24. Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery     Fulton, Margaret
  25. Slow Cooker:Easy and Delicious Recipes for All Seasons  Sally Wise

So that’s the top non-fiction top reads of last year, but here’s a few other fun facts on Boomerang books sold in 2010.

  • The only astrology book to appear in the top thousand is Dadhichi Toth’s Pisces 2011. So, even if beleaguered astrologists are being lambasted as charlatans by scientists everywhere, at least they can point at one bit of verifiable data – that people born under the sign of Pisces are more likely to buy astrology books.
  • Most popular places to travel, going on the volume of guide books sold, are Europe, Vietnam, the USA and Bali.
  • The most popular phrasebook is French.
  • The most popular places to read travelogues about, on the other hand, are Tuscany, Australia, with three of the top 4 (From Here to There: A Father and Son Roadtrip from Melbourne to London, Is That Thing Diesel?: One Man, One Bike and the First Lap Around Australia and Bill Bryson’s Down Under) taking the honours for the lucky country.
  • Richard Dawkins and Dr Karl dominate the popular science field, making skeptics the order of the day. Superfreakonomics in all it’s various forms, is vastly more popular than every other type of economics and lots of people are willing to pay quite a lot of cash to find out what Rhonda Byrne’s Secret and Power are. (They should ask Dr Karl and Richard Dawkins. The answers would be amusing.)

Anything else you would like to know?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (3)

“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what you’ve read the past week and planning to read next.

Finished

Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

Pilgrims, by Will Elliott

Plugging Along

The Magician, by Raymond E. Feist

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

The Magician’s Nephew, by C. S. Lewis (umpteenth re-read)

Villette, by Charlotte Bronte

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

Secret Ones, by Nicole Murphy

Slave of Sondelle, by Bevan McGuiness

Starting Next

In Great Waters, by Kit Whitfield

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

Miscellaneous News

I have been waiting for February to roll around forEVER (is it just me, or is January a really slow month to finish?), because it is going to be such an exciting month for my bookshelves. You may have noticed I’ve started my Chronicles of Narnia Read-Along – I don’t know how I’m going to contain my first Narnia Read-Along post to less than novel-length as I discuss why The Magician’s Nephew is my favourite of the chronicles! Eeee.

February is also the month we begin Villette, by Charlotte Bronte, and Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens *rubs hands together in glee*

***

It’s Monday, what are YOU reading?

Home And Away

Home and AwayThe title might be confusing to those of use familiar with the long-running Australian soapie of the same name, but that’s where the similarities end between Dave Bidini’s Home and Away.

Bidini’s book, which has just been published by the University of Queensland Press (and many thanks to them for the review copy they kindly sent me), follows the Canadian street soccer team as they prepare for, travel to, and return from the 2008 Homeless World Cup (HWC) in Melbourne.

Melbournites may recall that the event, which utilises football to create social change and help homeless and marginalised people get clean, get fit, play in a team, have fun, make friends, and reintegrate into society, played out on street soccer pitches erected in Federation Square and Birrarung Marr. The 14-minute matches were fast-paced, action-packed, rivetingly skilful, and some 10,000 people packed out the square to witness the final between Afghanistan and Russia—two nations who’ve had a long and fraught history.

I cover the HWC annually, have travelled to Melbourne, Milan, and Rio in the past three years, and am making plans to head to Paris, Mexico, and Poland for it in the next three. But 2008 Melbourne event, in particular, was without question life-changingly inspiring (if that’s a permissible phrase) for me.

GoalFor years I’ve wrestled with how to capture and convey the impact that the HWC has on players, volunteers, and onlookers alike (co-founder Mel Young‘s book came the closest to date, but it only covered the events up until 2005 and the event has grown exponentially since then so Goal is out of date). I don’t know how or where to start, I can’t find the words, the words don’t do the experience justice, or I simply get choked up and don’t get the words out at all.

Which is why waiting for Bidini’s book was a little like waiting for Christmas for me—the pace with which the time until its release passed was inversely proportional to the anticipation with which it approached. Not only had Bidini been at the same event(s) as me, he’d produced an entire book about them.

Now, I will concede that I have a special and first-hand interest in Home and Away’s topic so know that I probably enjoyed it more than, say, a lay person would. But I will also say that I absolutely inhaled this book in two sittings because Bidini writes so well and, well, so easy-to-read-ily. It kicks off in Canada, where organisers are attempting to assemble a motley crew of players and progresses to the event in Australia where I witnessed these guys play.

What I love (and what I’ve grappled with myself) is that Bidini portrays the players as they are: flawed and often taking two steps backwards for every one they take forward. The causes of homelessness are multifaceted and myriad and include sexual, domestic, or substance abuse, coming from a broken home, or being unlucky enough to be born to poor parents in a poor country.

What I also love is that Bidini frames the players and the event in incredibly incisive and fast-paced writing—more than a few times I found myself wishing I possessed his observational skills and his turn of phrase.

Although the book focuses on the Canadian team, it also features a cast of Australians and other nations. For example, crowd favourite, former jockey, and Street Socceroo Steve Maloney is on the cover, Street Socceroos coach George Halkias is quoted in its pages, and some of the Australian reserve players fill in for the Canadians (they arrived short of team members and some of their attending team members were injured during the event).

The book features players I came to know, but reveals aspects of them I didn’t—their ‘backstory’ if you like. It also features players I didn’t get to know, such as the Afghanis and Zimbabweans who, by the event’s end, had applied for asylum in Australia.

But that sounds heavy. What’s worth noting is that for all its apparently brooding themes, the book’s funny. Bidini introduces us to the coach whose secret coaching weapon is feeding his players chicken and is ever ready to laugh in that Canadian style that’s similar to Australian-style humour at the circumstances of the event and in which he finds himself.

Home and Away will be less familiar to most readers than it is to me, but it makes it no less readable—Bidini’s done a brilliant job of capturing the complexity of the event and its emotions. The book”s about a football event that tackles homelessness, but it’s also about much more than that.

More Punk… with Ryan Kennedy

Last post, Hazel Edwards dropped by to talk about the punk aspects of f2m: the boy within. Today, we are joined by her co-author, Ryan Kennedy, as he gives us his two cents worth on the same topic…

How We Co-Wrote Punk — Ryan’s View

The punk aspect of our story required little research on my part. I’ve always wanted to write about the punk scene, having spent four years immersed in it, and still enjoying the odd live show now and then.

For me, it was a natural choice to cast the main character as a punk; it was the best way to quickly immerse myself in the character. I found it easier to write a punk teenager than to write a non-punk, and it brought a dimension to our story that Hazel would have needed to spend a lot of time researching.

It’s not just about wearing clothes covered in patches of favourite bands and slogans – a punk teenager sees the world through a different lens, one of questioning what is taught. The ideas found in punk encouraged questioning what I was told by parents, schools and peers and allowed me to more easily abandon the life I was supposed to be leading and follow my own path. In punk, I found the freedom to explore music, my beliefs and ultimately who I was, and to experiment with gender roles and how I presented myself to the world — exploration that led to my gender transition.

To me, punk is a music scene with anarchist principles at its core. Practically, this translates into questioning what authorities teach through schools and government, pointing out where those in power abuse their power at the expense of the vulnerable and the environment, and living and promoting peace and anti-violence. Because it’s also a music scene there are punks placed all along this spectrum of political involvement, from daily activism to intellectual rather than practical involvement, to being interested in the music alone.

I see the punk side of Finn’s character as integral in his journey to understanding that he needs to transition to male, where the book begins. Of course, there are teenagers unaware of this fairly underground scene who decide to transition, but this journey for Finn was one that I could most easily relate to, and provided a setting that I thought readers would learn from and find interesting. Those familiar within the scene will appreciate the accurate depiction and musical references, and those unfamiliar will learn about something new and be less likely to judge punks on appearances and stereotypes. This was also a goal of the gender transition story.

I chose the bands referenced in the book quite carefully. All of the local band names are fictional, with the ‘Chronic Cramps’ being a reference to the Cramps, a mixed-gender punk band from the 1970s. For the real bands, I chose older artists like Bikini Kill, Iggy Pop and NOFX partly so that the book wouldn’t date because of the bands referenced, and also so that younger readers would have some great music to look up while reading the book. In this way f2m: the boy within already has its own soundtrack spanning three decades of punk. The beauty of writing books is that you don’t need permission or to pay for the rights to play an artist’s music like you would for a movie – the soundtrack plays in the reader’s mind!

Bikini Kill were the most influential (and some would say the first) Riot Grrl band, a genre of feminist punk rock from the 1990s; there is no doubt that they would make a strong impression on Finn and the Chronic Cramps. Artists who are not specifically punk are referenced as well, to show that Finn has varied musical tastes and doesn’t limit himself to one genre, something I found throughout the punk scene; freedom of thought seems to flow into freedom of musical influences.

During the period that f2m: the boy within was written, I explored new punk bands and revisited some old favourites. But not while I was writing – I find it too distracting!

George’s bit at the end

Some great music insights! Thanks, Ryan. To find out more about Ryan Kennedy and his writing, check out his website. And follow him on Twitter.

And tune in next time for a post about graphic novels.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

.

LOATHING LOLA

Okay, I know I’m a bit behind the times – Loathing Lola has been out for a while now, but over the holidays I scaled the mountain of books on my ‘to be read’ pile and discovered this debut YA novel by William Kostakis’.

Loathing Lola was full of surprises right from the start. Leopard-clad Lola was not who I expected her to be from the title, but she was a great character nonetheless – someone who was colourful and memorable and the lynch pin for  important plot points in the story.

In spite of the name of the book, this is not Lola’s story. Loathing Lola is about fifteen-year-old Courtney Marlow who thinks that starring in a reality show on national television will solve her mum’s financial problems and allow her to be a positive role model for teens across Australia.

Courtney is hoping to show that many kids her age live a ‘normal’ life without boob jobs and eating disorders. But Courtney’s life is far from ordinary. Her boyfriend died recently in a car accident and her new stepmother Lola seems intent on becoming a major part of her life.

She also has to deal with the conniving Katie and at times the reader’s not the only one wondering whether Katie is actually a friend. Luckily for Courtney, she has a reliable friend in Katie’s twin, Tim as well as a hunky new love interest who might just be the guy to help her get over her recent tragic loss.

In Loathing Lola, things aren’t quite what they seem to be and there are plenty of clever twists and turns in the story that keep you guessing till the end.

Courtney is a very believable character who readers will care about and she has an engaging authentic voice — hardly surprising seeing as author, William Kostakis was just nineteen when Loathing Lola was published.

The dialogue and setting are also very real, as are the problems faced by the main character.

This clever book is laced with humour to darken the lighter moments and is a satire on both Australian culture and reality tv. The laughs begin right from the start at the funeral of Courtney’s boyfriend when the irrational Chloe tries to lay claim to the dead guy.

The foreshadowing in Loathing Lola is effective and the tension gives the reader a sense of foreboding amidst the humour – the feeling that unless something changes, things might not end well.

Loathing Lola is published by Pan MacMillan.

The (Wo)Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too MuchEver had that moment where you’ve been seized by simultaneous terror, surprise, and secret pleasure when you find a book that could truly be based on you? That was me when I by chance discovered The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, a non-fiction tale of an unrepentant, rapacious book thief.

John Gilkey, a real-life book thief, is a complex character—I know, aren’t we all?—who cannot contain his desire for possessing rare, first-edition books and who has a Gollum-like obsession with obtaining said books and sticky-fingered approach to sourcing them.

It’s an obsession I kind of understand, although I’m at pains to stress that my fingers only stick to family members’ books, that they know where the books have gone, and that they often steal them back. I certainly wouldn’t even consider stealing from strangers or bookstores, although I am acutely aware that my defence is hypocritical and, well, kind of flawed.

The book, in essence, proposes the question: What would you do and how far would you go to obtain a book you desired? For me, the answer is buy it or permanently ‘borrow’ it from a family member. For Gilkey, it’s steal it from a bookseller and go to gaol. Multiple times.

It would be easy to pain Gilkey here as a fool or crazy, but he’s more nuanced and multifaceted than that. He’s a guy aspiring to be part of the educated, respected aristocracy and he sees books as he path to achieving that. He feels that the world owes him something and both absolves himself of responsibility and distances himself from his crimes.

Yet he also devises increasingly sophisticated means of stealing books, including credit card fraud, that help him become one very successful (and potentially begrudgingly respected) book thief. It’s a hell of a seesaw and one the author, the delightfully named Allison Hoover Bartlett (I mean, just look at all those double letters!), portrays well.

As someone who knows what it’s like to covet books, I found myself equal parts fascinated and abhorred by Gilkey. But no crime story is complete without a thief’s foil, and in this book it’s played by the equally obsessed, albeit on the ‘right’ side of the equation, Ken Sanders. Dubbed the ‘bibliodick’, he rallied normally reluctant booksellers to spread the word of thefts and pursued Gilkey with a relish that matched Gilkey’s pursuit of rare books.

It’s a difficult and frustrating pursuit for Sanders, as although more books are stolen annually than art, the former gets little attention from the police and prosecution. Indeed, Gilkey (and many other book thieves) presents well and is polite and well-spoken—traits which serve them well when having to turn up in a court of law.

I spent much of the book grappling with whether I was or wasn’t a female version of Gilkey. Whether if you add a ‘Wo’ to the ‘Man’ Who Loved Books Too Much, you would have me. I’m still a long way from Gilkey, but I will admit that I do in part understand his modus operandi. For the moment, though, bookstores and others are safe—it’s only my family who need to guard their book inventory.

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 2

It was either ‘Apple Jumps the Shark’ or ‘Apple Screws the Pooch’. But which do you prefer – the scary apple or the adorable puppy?

This is the second part of a two-part article. To read the first part, click here.

Here’s where Apple made even me suspicious. In its clarification yesterday, Apple said that it isn’t only in-app transactions that it is forcing onto its system, but any transaction. To use Apple’s own words:

We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.

This great big steaming pile of crap basically means that any platform that wants to make an app for the iPad or iPhone to sell and/or read books has to at the very least give their customers an option to buy books through the Apple-sanctioned method – which gives Apple 30% of the profit. And it’s not just the profit. It’s the transaction – which means Apple can leverage the data collected (who bought the book, when they bought the book, how often they buy books and from which apps) to optimise their own book store – and they get that information for doing absolutely nothing. There’s also a massive doubling up of energy and effort here: Amazon, Google, Kobo, Overdrive and every other book reading app that offers a store already has a store. Apple skimming 30% off the top is nothing but pure greed. And if they stick with it, they will fail. And here is why.

Those who know me well (or know me at all) are probably acquainted with my pile of Apple gadgets and my willingness to justify spending vast amounts of money on the latest and greatest from Cupertino. That’s because despite every anti-competitive, backwards-thinking, mean-spirited thing they do on the iTunes or App stores they still make pretty things. Very pretty things. In fact, they make billions of dollars from selling pretty things for exorbitant prices. Just a small example of this: it was announced today that despite having only having 4% of the global smartphone market share, Apple still makes 50% of the profit from sales of the iPhone. That means there are a lot of people out there who are willing to spend a lot of money on Apple hardware.

And that’s because they make good hardware. It was the reason the iTunes store and the App Store were created. To sell more hardware. Apple may have revolutionised music sales, and made a killing doing it, but they did it by selling iPods – not by selling music. If they try and take complete control of ebooks on iOS (the iPhone and iPad operating system) in this way, then all it will mean is that ebooks will fail on iOS. Books are not like music. There are already quite a few established sellers of ebooks with more market share than Apple. And books are already too expensive, and too unprofitable for Apple to skim yet another 30% off the top.

So Apple have screwed the pooch. What are they going to do about it? The views on this story seems to be entirely negative. Will they try to spin it into something positive for consumers? Or will the famed Apple marketing machine fail? Only time will tell, but unless Apple rolls over on this issue it will be a bad thing for books in general.

Apple Screws the Pooch Pt 1

News has surfaced in the last couple of days about Apple and how they’re once again ruining it for everyone. Why, Apple, why? I didn’t want to believe it myself at first, but now Apple have clarified. Yup, definitely evil. But it’s not just evil – it’s really stupid. And here’s why.

To summarise: two days ago, The New York Times reported that Apple had some made some changes to the App Store rules which meant that Sony could no longer sell ebooks through their reading app on the iPhone. Instead, Apple would force Sony to use a system called “in-app purchasing” – which means that every transaction made within an iPad or iPhone app goes through Apple and the iTunes store. That means 30% of every book sold goes to Apple. There was a massive (I argued) overreaction to this, as every man and his dog predicted that Apple was being evil and trying to take over ebooks. I thought they were evil, but I thought they were being evil in the same way they always are. Apple have always had it in for software developers trying to sell things directly through their apps. This is why Kindle’s iPhone and iPad apps force you to go to the browser to buy a book, but Apple’s own iBooks app lets you do it without going to the web browser.

I thought (wrongly as it turns out) that this meant apps like Kindle and Overdrive wouldn’t have to change, because all of their transactions take place on the open web. If you don’t know what that means, let me explain: I open the Kindle app on my iPad; I want to buy a book; I click a button in the app which takes me to the Amazon website; I buy my book; the Kindle app re-opens and I can start reading. In Apple’s iBooks app, on the other hand, I press a special button inside the app; there’s a fancy-pants animation that turns my bookshelf into a secret rotating door; I buy my book; the secret rotating door rotates again and I can start reading. In other words, there’s not that big a difference, save for the magic rotating door.

This is the first part of a two-part article. To read the second part, click here.

Punk… with Hazel Edwards

Last year saw the publication of a rather extraordinary and unique YA novel, f2m: the boy within. As far as I’m aware, it’s the first YA novel to deal with female-to-male gender transitioning from the perspective of a young person (18 year old Finn) going through the process. The subject is handled with sensitivity, understanding and honesty… and it’s a great read.

Commentary on this book, understandably, tends to focus on the primary topic of transitioning gender. But there is more to the book than that. It is also deeply immersed in the punk music scene, an aspect that adds to the storytelling and to the novel’s uniqueness. I thought it was about time someone shed a little light on the punk aspects of this novel, and so I have invited the book’s co-authors, Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, to blog about it. First up, here’s Hazel…

How We Co-Wrote Punk — Hazel’s View

Participant-observation is the fancy name for doing new things so I can write realistically later. This has been my excuse for hot air ballooning, lazing with a glass of wine on a French canal barge and even checking municipal water channels (with an engineer) for returning platypus. All called work, especially for the tax man.

In my other YA novels, I go to great lengths (even Antarctica) to experience and then write accurately about a setting.

Punk music was different.

I’m aware that many authors use mood music when writing. I don’t. The only time was co-writing the satire Operatic Duck with Christine Anketell. In the community arts scene, where there’s no elephant for the Grand March from Aida, we used the duck. And played the march music to fit the chapter action while we wrote. Fun!

I’m digressing because I haven’t got much to say about punk music and the writing of f2m: the boy within.

This is where I relied heavily on my co-author Ryan, who has been a punk musician and still is.

The naming of ‘The Chronic Cramps’ (the band featured in the novel) was all Ryan. ‘Mosh’ was a new word for me.

There were three new languages I had to learn for this novel — transitioning gender, genetics and punk. The vocabulary had to be right. Especially the pronouns.

My first ‘punk’ mistake was in writing the draft synopsis. I stated that our character Finn found more difficulty transitioning gender than making it in the punk scene. Ryan told me that punk is NOT competitive. I rewrote the synopsis.

In the scenes where punk music was performed, I had an overseer role in the ‘crafting’ to make sure the scene worked, writing-wise. The detail was Ryan’s. If he had been living in Melbourne, I probably would have gone to a few punk performances, with him interpreting, but because he was in New Zealand, while we co-wrote electronically, I deferred to his expert knowledge.

This is a genuine advantage in having a co-author who is expert in a field. Of course, Ryan had the participant observation experience of transitioning gender too. I didn’t.

My role was the naïve observer-listener, who asked the pertinent questions that the ‘average’ person might wonder about.

So I asked about the sound, smell, customs, language and status (who did and didn’t do, what) in the punk world. I was interpreting across cultures. Age was also a factor. I was a generation away in age, but often that is irrelevant for an author. Creators need to be androgynous and write from any gender viewpoint. They also need to be no age, just the age of their central character in that book. So I was emotionally aged 18 for f2m: the boy within. So was my co-author Ryan.

So I don’t have any punk favourites, but I do find the names intriguing.

George’s bit at the end

Make sure to tune in next time for Ryan’s view.

From writing about an operatic duck to exploring the world of punk, Hazel has had quite a varied writing career, which, of course, includes one of Australia’s all-time favourite children’s picture books, There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. To find out more about Hazel Edwards and her writing, check out her website. And follow her on Twitter.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

.

PIRATE – THE BARKING KOOKABURRA – An Audio Book for Long Car Trips

When I was a child, we found an orphaned magpie and raised it alongside our cat and Labrador dog. The magpie was a great mimic and learned to bark almost as well as the Labrador.  So a story with a barking Kookaburra was always going to have immediate appeal for me.

Pirate – The barking Kookaburra is the new audio book from Adrian Plitzco, who has a background in drama education for children. He hosts a monthly children’s show on SBS Radio and writes and produces radio plays. So it’s hardly surprising that this book combines text, music and effects so dramatically.

The features a host of great characters including Pirate the Kookaburra, so named because of the black feathers around his eye and Stelze the Dobermann (whose name means stilts) Ajax and Hoover and Buddha the clever and cynical cat.

As Pirate searches for his origins, listeners are introduced to the beauty and diversity of the Australian landscape, visiting swimming holes, cave and Eucalypt forests. His adventures are full of fun and warmth and Pirate’s high energy antics will give listeners plenty of giggles.

I also really enjoyed the unconventional friendships between the main characters and they way their skills were shared.

This book is great for in-car-entertainment, providing 2 1/2 hours of laughs and action for young listeners. Australian actors Anne Phelan, David Tredinnick, Francis Greenslade, Drew Tingwell and many others provide the voices that bring the characters to life in this very Australia tale.

Pirate – The Barking Kookaburra is a story for children aged 4-10 about friendship, belonging and acceptance. It comes in a 2-cd, 6-panel pack with pictures, music and text.

Listeners of Pirate – The Barking Kookaburra will also enjoy the adventures of  Lancelot – The one-armed Kangaroo.

More about Adrian and his work can be found at http://www.plitzco.com/

Vampires: Die, Already!

Ohhh, I don’t really mean that. But I have to admit that the vampire fad has stayed around a lot longer than one would have expected. A few more years and the Twilight movies and their spinoffs will have run out – then it will be time to take note of the vampire’s true staying power. In the meantime, you fang-fans can still enjoy derivative works – and as long as they aren’t sparkly, often I can enjoy them too.

In the surprising swelter of the late Aussie summer I have picked up a new release to read: Nocturne, by Syrie James. I have heard of her before: she writes fiction spin-offs of well-known classics (namely The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen; Dracula, My Love; The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte). In hindsight, I am wondering whether I may have written her off as ‘not worth it’ too soon. And yes, it may seem strange to some, but the novel’s environment – set in wint’ry-white Colorado, USA – was a welcome change from the sweltering heat outside.

I don’t think I am spoiling anything by giving away that it is a vampire/ human love story. This story is unusual though, in that it features only two characters: the vampire and the human female, stuck in a mountain retreat after the woman’s car runs off the road driving back from a ski-slope wedding.

I try hard not to be judgmental with these types of reads – as I say, Chick Lit is good if it’s cohesive and interesting (humour always helps), and doesn’t purport to be something it’s not. Pleasantly, I was lulled into the lovey-dovey-ness of the story and didn’t have time to worry about it not being a ‘literary’ read. I found myself (surprisingly) attracted to the dashing, secretive Michael, and Nicole wasn’t too bad as far as heroines go: she displays sass, wit and snarly fightbacks when the situation calls for it.

Nocturne is a bubble-bath of a novel – a frothy, fun, cozy piece which doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is, and for that reason I’d recommend it as a quick, enjoyable read. There is a slight annoyance about the female protagonist’s obsession with a certain fictional author, and a little too many (repetitive) references to the “red-gold hair” she displays, but aside from that, I don’t have any qualms with this sweet brand of vampire fairytale. If your Valentine’s Day dancecard on February 14th isn’t filled,  I suspect you won’t mind so much with this read on your lap, nestled in your favourite overstuffed chair.

***

Disclosure: Received for review.

Year of Publication: 2011.

Number of Pages: 224.

Book Challenges: None.

Hacking, biting and just a touch of throbbing – The Boomerang Top 10

As someone who always has to contain my urge to snoop through other people’s bookshelves when I’m left unattended, one of the things that always fascinates me while on the Boomerang site is the “what’s happening?” bar on the right of the screen. This little column tells you what other browsers are looking up and it’s frequently a diverting read. I find myself wandering away from the books I planned to look at to check out complete stranger’s selections. I’ve ended up browsing – and buying – everything from cookery books to financial planning to heady period romances.

It’s the internet equivalent of going out to get milk and coming back with three pounds of seafood, a lampshade, four bath bombs and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

The thing is, while it’s a lot of fun, this is just a snap-shot of what a few other browsers are looking at. Some of you may remember my delight when Nielsen Bookscan, the world’s largest book tracking service, released data on their book-sales over the last ten years allowing spreadsheet-loving bibliophiles the chance to compare their reading with the rest of the worlds.

I got more than a little excited about this (you can find my delighted frothing here) but this information related to book sales in the UK only and I found myself lamenting the lack of Australian data. Would we be similar or vastly different? Would we read more or less non-fiction? Could anyone explain the enduring popularity of Gillian McKeith? What were other Boomerang readers are reading overall?

Well, wonder no more, because I have in my overexcited little hands (well, my hard drive) the Boomerang data for 2010. It’s going to take more than one blog – so much spreadsheet! so much graph! – but here’s a quick and dirty look at what the average Boomerang reader was browsing through in 2010.

It was the year of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Steig Larsson’s trilogy taking up spaces 1, 2 and 4. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner pipped in at number 3, preventing Lisbeth Salander from making off with the gold, silver and bronze.

And, unlike the UK where the first non-fiction showed up at number 20, Aussies had non-fiction come in strong in the top 10. Eat, Pray, Love took fifth place and Julie Goodwin’s Our Family Table came in just after it (this was also the most sold Australian book of the year – you can read our interview with Julie on the process of writing it here).

Wimpy kids proved popular, as did Jodi Picoult. Proving that there is no end to the surprises that peaking on other people’s reading can bring you, in eight place was a book I have never heard of; Master Player by Emma Darcy, where handsome tycoon and television baron Maximilian Hart whisks innocent beauty Chloe away from the paparazzi with the aim of getting her into his (probably emperor sized, possibly throbbing) bed.

This is sadly no longer in print – romance novels turn over faster than celeb perfumes – but you can get a copy of her latest book, the intriguingly titled Ruthless Billionaire, Forbidden Baby. Please, please do send me a review if you have read them, I’m now fascinated and Boomerang doesn’t provide a blurb – perhaps it couldn’t take all those handsome billionaires throbbing and pulsating all over the place.

Anyway, without further ado, or further musings on how exactly one would throb a billionaire, here’s the list.

Boomerang Books Top 10 in 2010

  1. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,The: Millennium Trilogy – Larsson, Stieghttp://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Our-Family-Table/Julie-Goodwin/book_9781741669688.htm
  2. Girl Who Played with Fire,The: Millennium Trilogy – Larsson, Stieg
  3. Short Second Life of Bree Tanner,The: An Eclipse Novella – Meyer, Stephenie
  4. Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,The: Millennium Trilogy – Larsson, Stieg
  5. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything – Gilbert, Elizabeth
  6. Our Family Table – Goodwin, Julie
  7. House Rules – Picoult, Jodi
  8. Master Player,The: Sexy S. – Darcy, Emma
  9. Ugly Truth,The: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Kinney, Jeff
  10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Kinney, Jeff.

GIVEAWAY: Will Elliott and Nicole Murphy Prizepacks

Spread the word – we have another giveaway on the main blog. I know, I know, ANOTHER giveaway.

The two lucky winners will each receive the latest releases from Aussie fantasy authors Will Elliott and Nicole Murphy: Pilgrims and Shadow from the Pendulum trilogy, and Secret Ones and Power Unbound from the Dream of Asarlai trilogy.

If you would like to learn more about the authors and their works, you can check out my interviews with them beginning here, and here.

If you’d like to enter for the chance to win, Australian residents can click through to the entry page here. Good luck!!

And big sloppy kisses to HarperCollins for being so generous once again!

REVIEW: Brighton Rock by Graham Green

TITLE:  Brighton Rock
AUTHOR: Graham Greene
PUBLISHER: Random House  (January 2011)
ISBN: 9780099478478     PRICE: A$12.95  (paperback)  269 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]).

“He knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”.

It is many years since I first read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, but that opening sentence immediately drew me in again. Brighton, being just one hour by train from London, is still the seaside resort to which Londoners flock on hot weekends, public holidays and race-days. The Palace Pier is still almost as Greene described it  – a place for strolling couples, deckchairs, amusement arcades and music; and the Aquarium and many of the other places mentioned in the book are still there. But the 1930s slums have been replaced by trendy apartments and the trams no longer run from the Railway Station to the sea. Whether there is still “a nest of criminal activities, centring on its racetrack” (as J.M.Coatzee put it in his Introduction), I have no way of knowing but Greene’s chilling young gangster ‘Pinky” Brown surely has a modern counterpart amongst the drug-addicted, disaffected youth in any populous city such as Brighton.

Pinky’s determination to avenge the death of his gang boss, Kite, and his unwilling but increasingly necessary entanglement with the innocent local girl, Rose, who inadvertently threatens his alibi for murder, is at the centre of the story. With his casual, unfeeling violence, his dislike and distrust of women, his bravado and his repressed sexuality, Pinky is a very unpleasant character. But ranged against him is the indomitable Ida. Big bosomed, sympathetic, fun-loving and easy-loving Ida, with her firm belief in Right and Wrong, is determined to see that justice is done and that Rose is saved from her misguided love and loyalty to Pinky. Ida follows the thread of mystery surrounding the sudden death of her chance acquaintance, Fred (Kolley Kibber) Hale, to the bitter and dramatic end.

From this seemingly simple scenario, Greene wove a gripping story. He intended it to be filmed (and it was) and all the elements of cinema are there in its structure. “When I describe a scene”, Greene once told an interviewer, “I work with the camera, following my characters and their movements”. In Brighton Rock, this makes for vivid scenes, fast action and sharp dialogue, but there is depth to Green’s characters, too, and maybe more to think about(as J.M. Coatzee suggests in his Introduction) that is immediately apparent.

Coatzee’s Introduction, however, is prefaced with a spoiler alert: it reveals details of the plot. Predictably, he also discusses Greene’s Catholicism and its possible relevance to this story. Greene once rather tetchily said that he wanted to be viewed as an author who happened to be a Catholic, not as a Catholic author, and certainly Catholicism is part of this story (both Pinky and Rose are Catholic) but it is by no means an obvious part of the plot. Nevertheless, Coatzee’s comments are worth reading for the different perspective they offer.

Graham Greene was a masterly story-teller and Brighton Rock is still an exciting and enjoyable read. Now, thanks to Random House’s new paperback series of Vintage Classics, it is again easily and cheaply available.

The range of Vintage Classics can be seen at http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/vintage/vintageclassics/author.htm?authorID=5572

Copyright © Ann Skea 2011
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/