Parenting with Soul

Parenting with SoulShe worked behind the scenes for years to produce compelling, high-quality books, but in recent times editor Sally Collings has also turned her hand to writing. Her best-selling first book, Sophie’s Journey, conveyed the harrowing, heartening story of Sophie Delezio. She’s followed it up with two more books, Positive and The World According to Kids, and now divides her time between writing, editing, running her own publishing company, offering her services as a guest speaker and consultant, and raising two young children. It’s fitting, then, that Collings’ busy lifestyle inspired her latest book, Parenting with Soul

How would you explain Parenting with Soul?

It’s always hard to sum up a book, especially if it’s yours! But I’d say that Parenting with Soul is designed to help parents find something they might have lost in their lives: meaning, direction, peace. It’s also about refreshing the joy in being a parent by exploring things like mindfulness, being present, and slowing down.

How did you come up with the idea for it?

This book has had a long gestation period: the ideas have been swimming around in my head for about eight years, since my first child was born. It’s a book that I needed when I became a parent: I obsessively read a pile of books about babies and parenting, but most of them were about the physical aspects of the subject. What I really wanted was something that touched on the spiritual and emotional side. That’s what this book sets out to do.

You’ve now written a couple of books around the theme of children (I’m thinking specifically of The World According to Kids and Sophie’s Journey). Is it an area you feel particularly drawn to/about which you feel you have something to say?

Starting to write in this area came about more by accident rather than design: I was invited to write Sophie’s Journey, which was a real gift and put me on a different path in my life. Previously I’d edited and published other people’s books, and it was quite a shift to be the one writing the words. But it’s an area that is very much part of my identity right now, having young children myself.

How does Parenting with Soul differ from other parenting books?

This is a very personal book. I’m not writing as an expert but out of my own experiences and those of people I spoke to along the way. It’s also a bit of a crossover book, covering both parenting and spirituality.

In Australia we are more comfortable talking about sex than spirituality—except for a dedicated minority, most of us get embarrassed by the whole spirituality thing. That’s partly why I called the book Parenting with Soul—I figured I could sneak it in under the radar, and people might think it was about soul music or soul food.

Sophie's JourneyYou juggle parenthood with a busy career as a writer and editor, run your own publishing company, and still find the time to give guest lectures at university and industry writing courses. How do you fit it all in? Is the book, in part, your own way of coming up with a way to stay zen while juggling so many responsibilities?

Sometimes I feel a bit like Vegemite—spread very thin! Years of working as a book editor have taught me how to juggle very effectively; I’m used to working with a dozen or more authors and projects at once, and that forces you to be very clear about priorities, schedules and delegating.
For the second part—yes, I do think the book has served the purpose of solving my dilemmas as well as other people’s … I have to keep reminding myself of the key messages in Parenting with Soul, like slowing down, being present, and finding joy in the small things.

We’ve recently seen a kind of peeling back of the mantra that women can have it all. Is Parenting with Soul part of that emerging conversation? That it’s ok not to be perfect and we all need a little help now and then?

I didn’t set out to join that conversation but that is certainly a major direction that the book follows. In fact, for a while I toyed with the idea of calling this book The Perfect Parent, but I decided that people might not get the joke … I think as parents and as humans we need to re-assess our notion of what ‘perfection’ is all about, and embrace our differences, our failings and our brokenness. Those things don’t stop us from being perfect; they are part of our perfection.

Do you feel that spirituality is the oft-forgotten part of parenting? If so, how?

I think it’s an oft-forgotten part of society more generally. Even if you have an active spiritual life, once you become a parent it’s very easy for that to be one of the first things to ‘give’ as your days fill with feeds, naps, nappies, bottles, teething, tantrums … Spirituality can feel like a luxury rather than a necessity, but I think we need to turn that around in order to give our days meaning, direction and a sense of purpose.

The World According to KidsYou note that parents are already stretched thin and make it clear that your book offers opportunities to incorporate spirituality rather than a checklist to work through. Can you tell us a little more about this?

I wanted to talk about spirituality as part of the fabric of parenting rather than an added extra. There are plenty of books about spirituality that ask you to take just 10 minutes a day to pray, or retreat to a mountain top to meditate. As a parent with young children I’m lucky if I get out the door some days, let alone to the top of a mountain!

To me, spirituality isn’t a task to add to your day. Parenting is a spiritual practice in its own right. So I think people will read this book and be delighted to find that they are already doing quite a lot of ‘parenting with soul’. Every time they appreciate the gift of their children, or stop to breathe for a moment, or say a word of thanks for the day—that’s soul. Hopefully too, parents will find in this book some new ideas so that they can experience more soul in their lives.

What sort of response have you received so far from other busy parents?

In the course of writing Parenting with Soul I talked to lots of parents in different situations: single parents, co-parenting couples, post-career mums, young mums, full-time parents, juggling parents. Overwhelmingly, when I explained what the book was about, people would say, ‘I need that!’ or ‘I need to buy that for my [sister/daughter/cousin]!’

I’ve been really pleased that people connect so readily with the concept; I thought it would be harder to convey what Parenting with Soul is about, but there seems to be an instant recognition of what it is and that there really isn’t anything quite like it.

PositiveHow important is maintaining a sense of humour to parenting with soul?

Massively important. For me personally, seeing the funny side of parenting is essential and a real lifesaver. It’s the best way to defuse explosive situations. When a five-year-old farts in your ear, you just have to laugh—it’s so much more fun than losing your temper.

Juggling writing with family responsibilities can be challenging. How and when do you write?

Mostly I write when my children are at school. Early mornings I need to exercise to keep myself sweet and sane, and by the evening my brain is about a quarter of its usual size and I struggle to string a sentence together. Occasionally I run away from home: I go to the library to write. In the course of writing a book I also try to get away by myself for a few days—what I call a ‘writing retreat’, but not in the formal sense of the term, usually involving the cheapest hotel deal I can find within a two-hour drive of home.

What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works or a well-earned writing rest?

One of the things I really enjoy is collaborating with other writers. Right now, I’m co-writing a book with Antonia Kidman about sustainable living and rediscovering the simpler pleasures with your family. After that—who knows? I have some visions but they’re not set in concrete. Now that you mention it, a writing rest might rather lovely …

I LOVE YOU BOOK – MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR, HEATH McKENZIE

Heath McKenzie is the popular illustrator of the enchanting new I Love You Book being featured this week at Kids’ Book Capers.

He became an illustrator through…

hard work, perseverance, minor ignorance and lots and lots of practice. Since then he has worked on hundreds of projects.

Heath says he loves being his own boss, but it’s also one of the pitfalls of the job. Before becoming an illustrator, he was a student and worked in a shop.

“Getting published – every time” is his greatest illustrating achievement according to Heath and he has a number of works in progress at the moment.

Heath’s tip for new illustrators is to become known.

If no one know you exist and what you can do – no one will hire you – so get out there and show yourself and your work off!

Heath doesn’t have common themes in his books but he says

I tend to default to converse runners on feet and four fingered hands.

You can find out more about Heath at his website  – www.heathmck.com

ILLUSTRATING I LOVE YOU BOOK

When he was illustrating this book, Heath was inspired by the chance to let his imagination run wild.

I Love You Book is for all ages and celebrates the joy of books. Heath says,

Kids will like this book because of the escapism and adventure it presents and promotes beyond just this book.

The unique concept and imagery set this book apart.

An illustrator’s role is to bring the words to life and Heath says that the hardest thing about illustrating I Love You Book was
reigning in the visual potential presented by the text.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, we’re reviewing I Love You Book.

 

The Grim and Grimmer blog tour, part 2

Last post, Ian Irvine told us about the 10 things he enjoyed most about writing Grim and Grimmer Book 3: The Desperate Dwarf. He’s back again today. But this time he is going to tell us about…

10 things I found hardest about writing this book
by Ian Irvine

1.                   Right Beginning

Initially, The Desperate Dwarf began with Ike, Mellie and Pook lost in the mountains, running out of time to find the Book of Grimmery. Once I’d completed the first draft I realised how pedestrian this opening was. I started afresh with a blind seer weaving the threads of Ike’s future (under the direction of a hidden watcher), and making everything go wrong. This beginning, though better, was more remote and rather dark.

My editor suggested I reveal the hidden watcher to be Ike’s nemesis, Emajicka, and inject some humour into the beginning, since the succeeding chapters were grim. Now the stern old seer foresees Ike’s most humiliating moment, a failed spell that blows his backside up to the size of an airship. I renamed Chapter 1, ‘Ike’s Bum” and it’s an appropriate and original opening to the story.

2.                  Appropriate Ending

The Desperate Dwarf is the third book of a quartet, which is awkward for storytelling because the story neither begins at the beginning nor ends at the ending. Furthermore, the ending has to satisfyingly complete the events of this book, while leave the overall series questions unanswered so as to draw readers to the last book.

Since the book begins with drama and humour, for symmetry I wanted to end it with humour and drama. Ike’s friend, Lord Monty the headless highwayman who talks through his bottom, regains his lost head but it goes on backwards and abuses him ceaselessly. Monty and his head have the ultimate inner conflict.

3.                  Sagging Middle

Sometimes stories lose direction in the middle. One solution is to cram the book full of action, though action, by itself, can become tedious. The middle can also be strengthened by adding subplots though that wasn’t an option; these books are relatively short. Instead, I chose to deepen Ike’s conflicts and make his every choice more difficult.

Ike has three conflicting objectives: to recover the Book of Grimmery, without which Grimmery will be overthrown; to clear his parents’ names, because they’re accused of betraying Grimmery; and to help Pook rescue the children whom Emajicka has stolen for her Collection. To tighten the middle of this book, I make each of these conflicts more difficult and urgent, and force Ike into a situation where he sees how terribly the children are suffering, yet can do nothing to help them.

4.                  Characters

I’ve written 27 novels with a word count around 3.6 million, in the process using up a lot of characters. My challenge with each new book is to create fresh and original characters. As I’m designing characters for a new book, I analyse them, and where they resemble characters I’ve created before, I rewrite to make the characters new.

5.                   Freshening the Plot

Similarly, over several decades of writing I’ve used thousands of different plot elements, and it’s an increasing struggle to avoid repetition; one’s writing tends to follow familiar patterns. In the early days I did little planning, making the story up as I went along. These days I develop plots in considerable detail, examine them closely for repetitive elements, and rewrite to make them fresh and original.

Well, no plot can be truly original – the twenty or thirty plots that exist have all been used thousands of times. But it is possible to tell an old story in a new way, or freshen a well-loved plot with striking, empathetic characters. If the reader cares enough about the characters, it doesn’t matter if they’ve seen the plot before.

6.                  Story World

The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Casablanca and Gone with the Wind are all unique and drawn so vividly that, decades afterwards, their story worlds are still vivid. But the story worlds of most books aren’t memorable, because the author hasn’t spent enough time to create them in living detail.

In Grim and Grimmer, this is one of my greatest challenges. How to tell a familiar story – about an ordinary boy becoming a hero – in a fresh and vivid way. And how to use stock fantasy beings such as trolls, goblins and dwarves without evoking memories of Tolkien’s dwarves or JK Rowling’s goblins. The solution was to dig deep in creating the world of Grimmery – to bore through the clichés of fantasy and uncover the living, breathing details that make these characters and their world unique.

7.                  Simplifying

When writing involved action scenes involving a variety of characters, and also when describing exotic fantasy locales, my initial drafts of the scene can be difficult to follow. These days I do several extra drafts of all such scenes, making sure that readers can see clearly what is going on. Examples in The Desperate Dwarf include the various gateways that open from Fluffia Tra-la-lee’s carpeted cave, and Ike’s leg-wrestling match with the dwarf Con Glomryt on the edge of a thousand-foot chasm.

8.                   Dialogue

Dialogue is always a struggle for me; I never feel that I’ve got it right. Readers can usually tell who my characters are by their attitude and actions, but sometimes one character’s language does sound like another’s. I’m still working on that.

9.                  Humour

There are some genuinely funny moments in the Grim and Grimmer books, but I’m also aware how much of a novice I am in writing of humorous stories for children. A lot of the laughs come from schoolboy humour or simple wordplay. If I were writing these books again, I’d be working hard to broaden the sources of humour. But then, has any author ever set down a finished book and not seen flaws in it?

10.                  Language

I have a relatively plain writing style. I don’t use a lot of imagery apart from relatively simple similes and metaphors. There’s nothing wrong with this – plenty of writers employ language that doesn’t draw attention to itself – but I would like to broaden and deepen my storytelling by making use of all that the English language offers. Next time.

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Ian Irvine for making Literary Clutter part of his current blog tour. He is making other appearances on other blogs, so be sure to check out the complete list.

If anyone has any questions for Ian, ask them in the comments section… he’ll be stopping by to answer them.

And tune in next time for a post about reviews.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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I LOVE YOU BOOK – MEET THE AUTHOR, LIBBY HATHORN

Libby Hathorn, author of I Love You Book has  been writing stories since she could hold a pencil and spell out words. She has published more than 50 books for children.  Libby says,

It’s a life-long love affair with story and the way in which thoughts and words are able to be put down and then make meaning on a page.

ON BEING A WRITER

I have a portable profession and one that is always absorbing. Wherever I am my thoughts and dreams go too- and the fun of being a writer is making these ideas into meanings , weaving new stories or creating new poems for someone else- the reader!

According to Libby, the hardest thing about writing can sometimes be letting go of characters and settings you’ve been immersed in for months even years on end, can be difficult.

When I first began writing books I liked ‘singing up’ Australian families (Thunderwith a YA novel  which Hallmark made into a movie, and is still in print after 21 years); and  Australian settings The Tram to Bondi Beach (still in print after 30 years)as there were not so many  Oz books available. then And even now my latest YA novel is set in the Blue Mountains though my picture books could be anywhere in the world eg I Love You Book.

Before she became a writer, Libby says she had the best job in the world for someone who loves books and stories. Libby was a teacher-librarian.

I who loved the job of bringing kids and books together. But better still is being a fuull-time writer.

At the moment she is working on a beautiful picture storybook, a book of poetry and a novel which is a timeslip story.

I love poetry and many of my thoughts and inspiration on come directly from poetry. I’ve been really pleased to compile The ABC Book of Australian Poetry: a treasury for young people last year and I’m working on more poetry this year.

LIBBY’S TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS

Read a lot and of course  write a lot- every day of your life if you can. There are my Golden Rules  for Writing which can be read at www.libbyhathorn.com

HOW LIBBY WROTE “I LOVE YOU BOOK”

I was inspired by a trip to Papua New Guinea some years ago when I was lucky enough to take part in a high school assembly of a few hundred boys in their school in Goroka. Some of the mothers of the boys had been coming to school so that they could learn to read themselves and luckily for me today was the day they were putting on a play that sounded like a poem to me. They told the audience the way that books and learning to read had changed their lives. I love you book, they said because you take me to places and you open up my world. I was so moved  by that little play that I vowed to make a picture storybook for kids celebrating the book itself one day. And I Love You Book is the result.

What’s it about?

The book tells of the way in which books can transport us making us fly! It’s also about the sensuous response to the book as an object in our lives- taste, touch smell and sound as well as the sight of a book. It’s an absolute celebration of the book.

What age groups is it for?

Little kids and their parents.

Why will kids like it?

Heath’s lively illustrations follow a little girl and her brother as they literally dive into the world of books and have their adventures.

THE CHARACTERS

Though the character is not named the book is dedicated to my granddaughter Ruby and it is through her eyes that the action happens as she and her little brother experience all the delights of being read to, or  reading themselves and being carried away by the ideas in books.

It is unique in its lively celebration of the book as an artefact, part and parcel of our lives through a text that swoops and dives, and through Heath Mackenzie’s lively and most appropriate illustrations.  As a writer in  all the excitement of  e-books and lots of imaginative developments online, I also  wanted to celebrate what is special about the book as object, as a tactile and collectible and rewarding object in our lives.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Remembering the wonderful ways books inspired me all my life  and the way they continue to inspire  me and lots of others, particularly children

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Finding the illustrator who could do it justice in the way Heath has. I feel very lucky to have found his work and then to have  had his imaginative input.

Tomorrow, Heath Mackenzie is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about how his work and how he illustrated this wonderful book.

How to Organise and Convert Your Ebooks with Calibre

If you’re reading this blog then you’ve probably got an interest in ebooks. If you do, then you may have already heard about Calibre. Calibre is a free, open source, cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) ebook reader, organiser and converter. If you’ve ever listened to music you downloaded from the internet, then you’ll probably be familiar with iTunes. Calibre is just like iTunes, but for ebooks, and not owned, locked in and operated by Apple. Did I mention it’s free? Download it here.

It’s a pretty big download, so it might take a while. Also, if you’re trying to install it on your work computer, you’ll probably want to get in touch with your IT department, because you need admin privileges to install it. If you’re at home, then fire away.

 

Installed? Great. The first step you’ll be confronted with once Calibre is installed and you open it for the first time is the wizard.

This is not the wizard you’re looking for.

This is the wizard

You’ll be asked to find a place on your computer to store your ebook files, and to determine what kind of e-reader device you use. Calibre supports a broad variety of e-readers, including the Kindle, Sony and iPad. If you use more than one kind of device, then don’t worry – Calibre supports more than one.

Look! It’s John Birmingham’s latest book: After America

The next window should be relatively familiar to anyone who has used iTunes. It has a library where you can filter your ebooks by author, title, series, publisher or rating. You can also search for keywords. All of those search functions will be pretty useless to you right now, though, because you haven’t added any books.

To add a book, hit the ‘add’ button, and find your ebook file. Calibre supports virtually every format you can imagine for an ebook, though you should keep in mind that if you bought that ebook from a store (like Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or even Booku) it’s likely it will be protected by DRM (digital rights management), which will stop you messing around with it. Never fear, though! Calibre still allows you to import books with DRM, organise them and load them quickly and easily onto your ebook reader (you just can’t convert it to another format or read it from within Calibre).

Also, strangely, Calibre does not support Microsoft Word format – so if you want to read something you only have as a Word file, open that sucker up in Word first and save it as RTF. Then add it.

There are plenty of places you can buy ebooks from that don’t have DRM, and there are plenty of places you can download ebooks from for free as well. You can find a few of them in the resources at Booku. For those ebooks, Calibre really comes into its own.

Calibre can automatically download the cover, publisher, publication date and blurb for your ebooks from the internet. You can save ratings and tag your books for easier searching.

Calibre will also convert your non-DRM ebooks from one format to another. Say you have a free ePub book, but you want to read it on your Kindle. By hitting ‘convert e-books’ in Calibre, you can easily and automatically convert your ebooks from ePub to Kindle’s Mobi format. Then to send it to your Kindle, all you need to do is hit ‘Send to Device’, and Calibre will automatically email the file to your Kindle (though you will need to tell Calibre your Kindle’s email address in ‘Settings’ first). If you want to send a book to your Sony reader, just plug it in and Calibre will automatically copy the book you select onto your reader. Calibre will even send your book via iTunes (or email) to your iPad or iPhone. It’s very versatile, and once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to use.

Calibre can do a lot more than convert and organise your ebooks. It can automatically download news from your favourite blogs and news outlets, package them up and send them to your e-reader. If you’re a self-published author trying to convert your own ebook, it can pull apart ebook files so you can iron out the bugs. And it can do much much more. But those are topics for another blog post, and you don’t need to be interested in any of that to get some use out of Calibre. If you have any questions about Calibre, or any of the topics raised in this post, feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Virtual flirtations with good intentions

Today I’m all about e-books.

Yes, I know we have Joel at the Smell of Books for that.  In fact I highly recommend that, if you are looking for and educated opinion and some facts, you go read his blog. Joel can provide an informed opinion on all things e-published whereas me writing on ebooks is like Kyle Sandilands writing about emotional empathy or Gillian McKeith giving serious scientific advice on food and nuitrition.

At near 1,200 pages, it's easy to see why I'm hoping they bring this out as an ebook soon.

But the darn things keep cropping up on me, tempting me. While I have confessed to being an ebook luddite (for reasons ranging from the fact that the sight of a full bookshelf makes me happy to the sad reality that sometimes I really like to have the option of throwing a really terrible book off the wall) having played with a Kindle a little over the weekend, I am becoming more tempted by the day. I don’t see myself ever giving up real books completely, I can just see the benefit of being able to take 20 books on holidays without having to carry their weight in your rucksack.

I feel guilty in considering neglecting my beloved paperbacks for their hot new digital friend  but I’m certainly not alone in it. Earlier this year, Amazon revealed that 115 Kindle eBooks were sold for every 100 paperbacks sold in January.  And, in a year where Borders and Angus and Robertson were going broke, Amazon reported record quarterly sales of $13 billion the last quarter, up 36% compared to previous year. They have their own awards. The New York Times now has a dedicated eBook Bestseller List. I’m considering grabbing a Kindle, with 8 million sold in the last year, I’m far from alone.

Ebooks are everywhere and, just maybe, that’s not such a bad thing. They are making some good things easier to do. For example, the ebook format allows for acts of altruism that would be near impossible on the convention physical books scale. One example of this is the fast release of Fault Lines, an ebook of nature stories by Australian writers put together to raise money for the Red Cross’s relief efforts in Japan and New Zealand following the devastating earthquakes. From conception to contribution to implementation, it took less about a week and a half. It’s near impossible to imagine a reaction that fast from conventional printing.

The whole thing has been organised by Matt Granfield, in a fraction of the time you would expect, with the aim of raising money for the Red Cross’s efforts in Japan and New Zealand. Fault Lines is a ebook collection of new writing by some of Australia’s most popular authors and bloggers, including two of my favourites – the intrepidly-travelling Peter Moore and the world’s most satirical Masterchef fan Ben Pobjie.

The essays and stories range from side-splitting to serious and if, like me, you suspect in your quieter moments that you are not reading as many Australian authors as you should, it provides a great intro to some writers that you might not have come across already. It’s only ten bucks and 100% of the proceeds go straight to charity. You don’t even have to have a book reader to read it, so my books may be safe from the Kindle cohabitation. For now.

 

 

 

 

The Grim and Grimmer blog tour, part 1

Author Ian Irvine is currently touring blogs across Australia in celebration of his latest novel, Grim and Grimmer Book 3: The Desperate Dwarf. And guess which blog he’s stopping at today? Take it away, Ian…

10 Things I enjoyed most about writing this book
by Ian Irvine

1.                   Title

I had the idea for the series Grim and Grimmer in Borders’ in Perth, while waiting for a scientific meeting. I’d been struggling with a title for months, then it came in a flash, the best title I’d ever thought of.

Titles are rarely easy, and can be a nightmare. For my fantasy series, Song of the Tears, I spent 24 hours going through options and still wasn’t satisfied; it’s a special joy when a title comes right. I’ve never mentioned Grim and Grimmer without getting a smile, and the title expresses my storytelling philosophy – make my characters suffer, ha, ha!

2.                   Hero

I generally write heroes who, for all their faults, are clever in one way or another, so it was a treat to begin with a kid, Useless Ike, who couldn’t do anything right. Ike is tall and gawky, hopeless at sport, bottom of the class and, because he knows he’s useless, always gives up. The one thing he can do is draw, but what use is that?

This posed special challenges. Few people want to read about a hero, no matter how good-hearted, who’s so hopeless that he never does anything. Therefore I put Ike to a personal crisis in the first chapter, when his oafish classmates are mocking him and his teacher, the perpetually disappointed Mister Flogger, is about to expel him. In that moment Ike realises that he has to make something of himself, or shrivel and die inside.

Ike’s other fault is impulsiveness. He’s forever going off half-cocked and getting himself in worse trouble – as when, after he’s drawn the door that takes him to magical Grimmery, he tries to save Princess Aurora from robbers lurking in the woods, only to discover that they were her rescuers and he’s betrayed her to the wicked Fey Queen. To death! But, reckless to the end, Ike vows to rescue Aurora no matter what, though she mocks him cruelly and refuses to be saved by a no-account peasant. This precipitates the events of the next 3.75 books and sets in motion his personal growth from Useless Ike to the hero who saved Grimmery.

I have a great fondness for Ike. Perhaps because he began so low, his rise and transformation is all the more moving.

3.                   World of Grimmery

Being used to setting my stories on epic canvases – whole worlds and multiple worlds – in these books I enjoyed being restricted to Grimmery, a small, mountain-locked land surrounded by great enemies.

But even here, I succumbed to the temptation to send my heroes, Ike and his friend, the apprentice thief-girl, Melliflua di Sorrowgrove (Mellie) to foreign lands, like glorious Feyrie and the grimly magnificent underworld of Orcus. Small compasses just aren’t for me.

4.                   Humour and Risk

I’ve never set out to write humour before, and had no idea how to go about it. What if I tried to write funny and it wasn’t? It would be as humiliating as some of the disasters I put Ike through – like his disastrous wyrm-dung fuelled rocket, or the disgusting troll-bum door he has to squeeze himself and the pretty princess through.

Books didn’t help. I read a dozen books about writing humour without learning anything save that no one understood how it worked. Then I found John Vorhaus’s The Comic Toolbox, which explained humour in terms that even I could understand.

Don’t get the wrong impression – there’s an awful lot of schoolboy humour of the farts and bums variety in Grim and Grimmer. But it’s my first stumbling step on the path to making people laugh.

5.                  Wacky Characters

When writing comedy, there’s no such thing as too much exaggeration. For the first time I allowed full rein to my wacky side, creating characters like the malicious guard imp, Nuckl, whose sole desire is to eat Ike’s liver; the insane hermit, Gorm, whose fifty-year obsession with the Key to all Magic is so all-consuming that he hasn’t bathed in that time and new ecosystems have evolved under his disgusting toenails; and the sweet, murderous old lady, Fluffia Tra-la-lee, whose cave is carpeted in foot-deep shag pile and defended by an arms’ race of weaponry.

Such fun I had with the many crazy characters in these books. I’ll miss them.

6.                   Length

I’m best known for an 11-book, 2.3 million word epic fantasy series consisting of two quartets (The View from the Mirror and The Well of Echoes) and a trilogy (Song of the Tears), which can be read as one gigantic story. I love writing epic fantasy and I’ve spent much of the past twenty-four years doing so, but it’s an enormous investment in both time and creativity, and very draining.

At the end of each series I work on something completely different, and when Song of the Tears was finished in 2008 I decided to write some relatively short, humorous stories for children. But not books that were mainly wit and wordplay – I wanted to write funny stories with strong, driving plots. That’s the kind of story I like best.

By this time, I’d written many children’s books – the relatively long Runcible Jones quartet as well as the brief Sorcerer’s Tower series (fabulously illustrated by DM Cornish). On reflection, the Runcibles are too long, but the Sorcerer’s Tower books, considered ideal for reluctant readers in mid-primary, were a greater challenge – I struggled to adapt my writing style to such a small canvas. The Grim and Grimmers, at 40-50,000 words each, seemed perfect – long enough for a depth of characterisation and an involving plot, yet short enough that they only take a pound and a half of flesh to create.

7.                  Publisher and Artist

These books are put together by the lovely people at Omnibus in Adelaide and they’re a pleasure to work with. The covers were done by World Fantasy Award-winning artist Martin McKenna. Never in all my books have villainous characters been so perfectly realised as Aigo on the cover of The Grasping Goblin, and Con Glomryt the leering huckster on The Desperate Dwarf.

8.                  Age Group

These books are for ages 8-14, and older readers too. Readers in their thirties have told me they really enjoyed them. I love writing for this age group: they’re young enough to be captivated by a well-drawn story world, yet old enough to want something longer and deeper and more complex. I struggle to write stories for younger readers.

9.                  Ending

2010 was a desperate year for me, 2009 and 2008 too. (Moment of self-analysis: must have a problem with over-commitment). Each book of Grim and Grimmer was written to a more urgent deadline than the previous one, yet each book is better than the one before. For Book 4, The Calamitous Queen, which will be published in June, I ended up with so little time that it could not be done, and I despaired. Then I told myself, the book has to be done in a couple of weeks, and done well, and I’m going to do it.

And sometimes, when I plan a book well and write it at a furious pace, it works far better than the stories I stop and start, sweat over and grind out over months – perhaps because I’m in the zone the whole time. But don’t get the wrong impression; I could never work this way on the first book in a series, only the last. And only in desperation.

My editor and publisher loved it and thought it a fitting end to Grim and Grimmer.

And then they said, “But we weren’t expecting it for a couple of months.” Teeth, ungnash!

10.                  Aftermath

If there’s anything better than writing a much-loved series, it’s sending off the last proof corrections and knowing it’s out of your hands forever, and away to live or die on its own.

Finished at last. The best feeling of all.

Two hours pass.

What am I going to write now?

George’s bit at the end

To find out more about Ian Irvine and his books, check out his website. And tune in next time, as Ian returns to tell us the 10 things he found hardest about writing book 3 in the Grim and Grimmer series.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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The Wheeler Centre

Did you know that here in Melbourne we have a centre for Books, Writing and Ideas? It’s called the Wheeler Centre and it’s situated on Little Lonsdale Street just around the corner from the State Library. As it’s website proudly proclaims, it is “a Victorian Government initiative and the centrepiece of Melbourne’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.”

The Wheeler Centre is home to…

The Wheeler Centre hosts a large array of writing and reading related activities, including regular events such as Lunchbox/Soapbox, Texts in the City and Debut Mondays.

Debut Mondays is a really interesting idea. Once a month, get four debut writers, working in very different fields, and let each of them to do a ten minute reading. As a result, the audience is exposed to a variety of styles and genres they would not otherwise necessarily read.

Last Monday I had the great pleasure of being one of the fours writers featured in March’s Debut Monday event. Krystin Low read from her first published short story, which appeared in Voiceworks magazine. Meg Mundell read from her first novel, Black Glass. Angela Smith read from her first poetry collection The Geometry of Flight. And I read from my first novel, Gamers’ Quest. So the audience got a small taste of short fiction, poetry, a literary novel and a teen novel. Quite a mixed bag. After the readings, the writers got a chance to mingle with the audience members over drinks.

I had a great time. It was a terrific opportunity for me to introduce my teen novel to an adult audience, and it was also a good opportunity for me to listen to other writers reading their work. It introduced to me some writing that I would probably not have otherwise heard of. I don’t tend to read a lot of poetry, for instance. Of what I have read, I tend to like the classics (Wordsworth, Keates, that sort of stuff), while not being all that fond of contemporary poetry, which I have mostly found to be either self-indulgent or confoundingly obscure. So I was pleasantly surprised by Angelas Smith. Her poetry was accessible and heartfelt, and very well read. I enjoyed listening to her and to the other two writers.

So, if you happen to find yourself in the Melbourne CBD on Monday 18 April, why not pop into the Wheeler Centre for their next Debut Monday event, to hear Elisabeth Holdsworth, Mara Coson, Felicity Everett and Leah Swann reading their work. And check out the Wheeler Centre’s Calendar of Events to find out what else they have planned in the upcoming months.

Tune in next time as Ian Irvine drops by on his Grim and Grimmer blog tour.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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Breaking Up With Books

Vampire AcademyMy problem is twofold. First, most pressing, and most depressing, I’m going through a book break-up. This break-up’s worse than usual, because it’s a six-book one. Having absolutely inhaled Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (if you already haven’t heard me rabbiting on about them, click here), I am now staring down the barrel of the book break-up withdrawal, depression, and malaise.

When you go through a break-up for real, you’re convinced that what you had was so deep and so special that you’ll never again find someone who’ll love you and who you’ll love like that again. The world develops a sepia tone and a two-dimensional flatness. Nothing and no one interests you, and anyone you date in the following six (or more) months stands not an iota of a chance. This is not because they’re not lovely or interesting or simply very attractive, but because you’re still so busy looking back at what was you can’t see what’s in front of you.

You feel bad for not really giving them a real go, and on some level you even know that—break-up cliché alert!—if it were a different time or place and you were in a different headspace, you might be able to fall in love with them. But the timing and place and headspace aren’t right, and you shelve those book beaus before they’ve had a chance to get past the first (chapter) date.

The principle’s the same when it comes to finding a replacement book once you’ve finished with a brilliant one (or six ones, in the case of the Vampire Academy series). That means that nothing grips you, and every subsequent book’s just a temporary, you’ll-do rebound as you’re constantly and unfairly comparing them to the one you’ve just finished.

John BirminghamCompound that issue with the fact that I’ve had to travel interstate this week for work. Which means air travel. Which means hours as a captive, claustrophobia- and stir craziness-prone passenger in dire need of a brilliant book to distract her from the fact that she hates, hates, hates flying …

Let’s just say that this week has not been a happy one.

John Birmingham defined airport fiction as those books that improve at altitude. I’d say they don’t improve and that they’re simply being tried and tested. Any book that can help you temporarily forget that you’re being held captive in a small, cramped space, starved of good food and entertainment, and swamped by smelly, etiquette-challenged neighbours, is worthy of an award.

The problem I had this week, though, is that not even airport fiction (the titles traditionally considered trashy and absent of nutritional value by book snobs and that are everyone’s secret, guilty reading pleasure) could tempt me.

I was certain that I would find about 20 books I had to have as soon as I perused the books at the airport. It happens without fail. I’ve been known to abandon (not literally, just metaphorically) books I’m half way through in order to read books that have seduced me with their bright, shiny covers just minutes before boarding the plane. I have also then deeply regretted having to lug around heaps of books I’m not going to read, as well as ones I am.

Finding have-to-have books didn’t happen this time, though. Although my reading appetite is there, my ability to stomach much right now isn’t. I am, quite simply, in desperate need of book recommendations to help me mend my broken reading heart post Vampire Academy, preferably before my flight departs at 7pm tomorrow night. And frankly, the trashier the better.

Ships in the Night: Hocking and Eisler Switch Sides

News has surfaced this week of two surprising defections from rapidly entrenched sides in the Great Publishing Wars of 2011. In the red corner is the reluctant indie/self-publishing darling Amanda Hocking, author of several self-published ebooks and POD (print on demand) dead tree titles. Hocking recently announced she had sold over a hundred thousand copies of her books via Amazon’s Kindle store. In the blue corner is Barry Eisler (Barry who?), author of the John Rain series of thriller novels (published by Penguin) and surprisingly good-looking (in the publishing business we call them ‘promotable’).

So what’s happened, and why should we care? Basically in the past week these two have switched sides. Eisler has turned down a $500,000 advance by his publisher to follow J.A. Konrath down the self-published rabbit hole, and Amanda Hocking, it is rumoured (by Amanda herself), is on the verge of accepting a deal with a traditional publisher.

Quite a bit of blog space has already been filled up with speculation and analysis of this situation by smarter people than me. So for this post I would like to concentrate on how I think this situation might play out long term – or rather, how it might turn out to be representative of how books will get published in the future.

Most publishers wouldn’t argue that discovering amazing writers is one of the hardest parts about publishing. And when I say ‘amazing writers’, I don’t just mean people who can write well. There’s a sort of magic that takes place somewhere between the author, the page (or the screen) and the reader. The best publishers try to pick up on this magic and publish books that people want to read. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s how fortunes are usually made in books – both by the publisher who discovers and develops the talent, and by the author who writes the actual books.

The difficulty with this kind of publishing is that the signal to noise ratio is incredibly low. Lots of people write, and love writing. Very few writers, relatively speaking, are worth reading. When there are very few publishers (indie fanatics, read: gatekeepers), then the bandwidth is going to be terrible. Publishers have tried harnessing technology to solve this dilemma in the past (see: Authonomy et al.) But I’ve spoken about the problems surrounding community-based filtering before.

What the Eisler / Hocking switcheroo has shown us, though, is that self-publishing (at its low end) can provide a low-income microcosm of how traditional book publishing plays out. It’s far more market-driven than traditional publishing. And its cut-throat competitive nature ensures that only the authors who have the magic – and the persistence, hard work and nous – will make headway. In the years to come, the self-publishing arena will, I am sure, be a goldmine for traditional publishers.

And the price publishers will pay for this amazing organic filtering service? The risk of losing their existing authors to the clamoring, messy, dynamic horde of self-published writers. Publishers really will have to compete to hold on to their successful authors, particularly those that are self-starting, driven and ambitious. Some authors (like Eisler), will find that the odds are stacked in their favour. But many authors just want to write, and don’t want to spend their lives administering their own career (like Hocking). And there will be other authors still who are created in the self-publishing bubble and never leave – an option that could not have existed only a few years ago. All of this is great news for readers, authors and publishers. There will be better books, and more of them, they’ll be easier to find and (one hopes) the right books will find the right audience more of the time. In others words, it’s a great time to love books.

Narnia Read-Along: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather,

CS. LEWIS


The Lion.

The Witch.

And the Wardrobe.

Even the title gives me little shivers of joy. Seeing it here, I immediately feel frost on the nose. Big fur coats and comfortable shoes and the most fragrant, rosiest Turkish Delight you could ever hope to taste. The sound of bells which strike fear in a child’s heart, only to find out there IS such a person as Father Christmas. I owe a lot to this book.

For the poor sods who’ve never had the experience, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of four ordinary children who find a magic portal to the world of Narnia through the back of a wardrobe. The kiddies soon discover that they have entered the land in a time of extreme discontent – The White Witch rules with a glacial fist – and Narnia is cast in perpetual winter without ever experiencing the joy of Christmas. Spies of The White Witch are everywhere, and before the story’s over we’ll experience a myriad of talking animals, heroic battles, themes of betrayal, sacrifice and redemption, and a great and terrible lion named Aslan.

Never is the magic of Narnia more visceral, more vivid, more immediately and perfectly valid, than in this book, the very first published in the Chronicles.

Aside from learning never to take candy from a stranger, the introduction of Narnia to a certain impressionable little girl gave her something to dream about during daytime. No, dream isn’t the right word…Narnia WAS real – it was more a matter of waiting (and waiting) for the right (wardrobe) door to open. Clearly I wasn’t the only child to believe – there’s a whole group of us still standing in line for our adventure. If anything, the beginning to the Chronicles of Narnia is a practice in discovering how convincing the imagination can be.

I hope I get back there one day.

Tattoos and Text

They say a picture says a thousand words but, for the literary fans who like prove their dedication by getting tattoos devoted to their favourite texts, you better off going with something more quick, pithy and evocative. Check out this link where  Buzzfeed did a feature on the 20 Awesome Literary Tattoos if you’d like to see some examples of saying more with less text . It went viral last week (this is apparently a good thing now, as opposed to requiring hopitalisation and isolation) and contains some really amazingly ornate displays of inked-up ink, such as this tattoo representing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.

Literary tattoos aren’t new but according to one expert in the area, Eva Talmadge, they are taking a while to catch up. When she and Justin Taylor were looking for submissions to “The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide”, a pictorial guide to the emerging subculture of literary tattoos they found that those who got inked were more likely to read it in ink. “There are many personal anecdotes shared in “The Word Made Flesh,” but not a single tattoo’s origin story mentions words first read on a Kindle, iPhone or Nook – at least none we’ve seen yet.”

The tattoos mentioned in both the book and the blog are all by big important names, it must be said. Plenty of Kurt Vonnegut and Shakespeare. There’s an obvious American bias, with Kerouac, Ginsberg and Salinger showing up, and people complaining about the absences of Twain and Hemingway in the comments.

Despite the apparent popularity of Twilight tattoos, they are inexplicably absent from the list – including this one that I hope never sits in front of me on public transport. Just imagine those eyes all the way through your early morning commute.  Looking at you. Sparkling.

I thought he only had eyes for Bella?

Incidentally, the most common Twilight script to get tattooed on to your skin – according to the rigorous empirical research I conducted (and by that I mean googling for images related to Twilight tattoo) – is “and the lion fell in love with the lamb” rendered in various scripts. Here’s hoping that quotes on what seems to be cross-species affection are still as recognisable in 20 years. Also, as someone who raised in a Catholic country, I always associate the lion with St Mark and the lamb with Jesus, and that was where my head went first on seeing the quote. Just sayin’.

So, what book or phrase would inspire you to commit the ink to your skin forever?

Continue reading Tattoos and Text

REVIEW: The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

TITLE:  The Report
AUTHOR: Jessica Francis Kane
PUBLISHER: Granta  (March 2011)
ISBN: 978 184627 279 0     240 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]).

Authors find their inspiration in the most unexpected places. New Yorker, Jessica Francis Kane, found hers in a report published by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office which she picked up in the British Library bookshop. It deals with an incident which took place during the bombing of London in World War II and which is commemorated in a plaque at Bethnal Green Underground Station in London. The plaque reads:

Site of the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War
In memory of the 173 men, women and children who lost their lives on the evening of Wednesday 3 March 1943 descending these steps to Bethel Green Underground air raid shelter.
Not forgotten.

The deaths were not caused by a bomb, but by a sudden blockage on the stairs in which the victims were crushed.

A local Magistrate, Laurence Dunne, was given the task of investigating the incident in order to determine its cause. He struggled with conflicting accounts, traumatized survivors, racial tensions due to an influx of Jewish immigrants, rumours of secret bomb testing and new German weapons, and restrictions placed on information by a British government obsessed with the morale of the people. In the end, the government suppressed Dunne’s report until the war was over.

Thus far, the story is true.

Jessica Kane’s story begins thirty years later, when a young film maker, Paul Barber, decides to make a documentary about the accident and turns up on Laurence Dunne’s doorstep to interview him. Paul, it turns out, was one of the babies miraculously passed out of the tangle of bodies to rescuers. Central to the story, too, are Ada Barber and her daughter Tilly. They, too, were survivors of the crush, but Ada’s youngest child, Tilly’s little sister Emma, had died.

Through Dunne’s memories of his investigation, through the testimony of those who had been there at the time, and through the thoughts and actions of some whose lives had been affected by the whole incident, Kane recreates the atmosphere of East End London at that time.

At first, after reading Kane’s vivid recreation of that night, I was uncertain whether I wanted to go on reading about another wartime horror, but the same puzzle which had confronting Laurence Dunne drew me in. How had it happened? Why, on this particular night amongst so many others like it, had there been a problem? How could something so drastic happen and be over so quickly?

I became entangled, too, in the lives of Kane’s people. Not just in those of Paul and Dunne, Ada and Tilly, but in that of Bernard, an insecure young clerk who was given the terrible task of documenting the dead, listing what was found in their pockets and returning items their families. And of Clare, the young nurse who befriended Bernard and helped him through this trauma. Of Warden, James Low, who had changed a smashed light bulb on the stairs shortly before the accident but felt inexplicably responsible for the accident, and Sarah his wife. And of the Rev. McNealy, whose church lay close to the station entrance and who buried many of the dead and struggled to provide comfort to the living.

Kane effectively recreates the atmosphere of wartime London. The food and clothing shortages; the unrest cause by the influx of hundreds of Jewish refugees from Europe – the usual reaction of insular people to foreigners with foreign ways – exacerbated by a few racist trouble-makers; the daily exposure of its people to death, destruction and grief; and the friendships and community spirit which kept everyone going. But her story hinges on the mysterious cause of the accident, on something hidden which Dunne suspects and labours to uncover, and on his decisions about what to reveal and whether to ascribe blame is justified, appropriate or necessary.

Kane does not mention it, but there are resonances here with horrific modern accidents which catch the attention of the people who demand answers, reasons and scapegoats, and with the investigations which are instigated by various authorities and the reports which they eventually release. Can any one person be held responsible? Is it not a confluence of circumstances which trigger a disaster? How much good does a report do, or how much harm?

Paul, too, must consider these questions as he makes his documentary. And he, too, discovers uncomfortable facts about his past.

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

Zombies and Unicorns

So what is it that the shuffling undead have in common with the equine symbols of purity? Well, nothing really. It’s just that for some odd reason they seem to divide opinion. Apparently, most people favour one or the other.

Authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black had a bit of a blogging discussion about zombies verus unicorns on Larbalestier’s blog. This eventually resulted in the two of them co-editing a YA short story anthology titled, yes you guessed it, Zombies vs Unicorns. It’s a great read. (Checkout my review on the MC Reviews website.)

Aside from the fact that I enjoyed reading the stories contained within its pages, this book made quite an impact on me as a writer. I was working on my novel, Gamers’ Challenge (sequel to Gamers’ Quest), when I read Zombies vs Unicorns. Unlike Larbalestier and Black, I did not find myself drawn to one of these imaginary creatures over the other. In fact, I loved the idea of using both of them. And so I did. Gamers’ Challenge, which will be published later this year by Ford Street Publishing, features both zombies and unicorns within its pages. When first plotting the novel, there was no trace of zombies or unicorns. But after reading the anthology, I just couldn’t resist working them in.

There was a moment in the plot that needed an unusual, unexpected threat. My original outline simply said something along the lines of “the heroes face a new threat, run around a bit and then escape, only to find themselves facing an even greater threat”. I knew what the greater threat was going to be, but I needed that unexpected threat. And now I had it — zombies.

Gamers’ Challenge also needed some mythic creatures to take part in the climactic battle. I already had a Chimaera, but I needed something else. Answer — a unicorn. In fact, I even ended up giving the unicorn a little extra time earlier in the novel.

Now that Gamers’ Challenge is finished and on its way to publication, I find myself being drawn back to both unicorns and zombies. And I keep thinking about what I would have written for the Zombies vs Unicorns anthology had I had the opportunity to contribute. Well, of course, I would have written a story with both creatures… or maybe… I would have combined the two and written something like this…

The first thing I noticed about the creature was its horn. The end was broken off, leaving a jagged edge that dripped with blood from its recent kill. It looked up at me, momentarily distracted from its meal of virgin’s brain, gore dribbling from the corners of its mouth. It stared at me with dead, vacant eyes and I noticed that one of its ears hung down, connected by a mere flap of decaying skin. It made a sound that was part whinny, part moan. It was a sad sound. A haunting sound. And possibly the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard. Then it returned to its grey matter feast, using a rotting hoof to hold down the body while biting into the girl’s brain with blackened teeth.

I had never been more thankful for my lack of virginity. And to think that Mum said it had been the greatest mistake of my young life. But she hadn’t realised that the zombie unicorn apocalypse was just around the corner.

Hmmm! I think it’s got potential. Well… maybe not.

One final thing to mention today. Tonight I’m off to the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to do a reading from Gamers’ Quest as part of their regular Debut Mondays programme. So, if you find yourself in the Melbourne CBD this evening at 6.15pm with nothing to do… why not drop into the Wheeler Centre and listen to me and three other authors do some reading. More info here! I’ll probably report back about how it all went in my next post.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll inflict some more zombie/unicorn fiction on you.
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WIN A COPY OF THE DESPERATE DWARF – COMPETITION NOW ON!

ENTER OUR GRIM AND GRIMMER COMPETITION NOW!

In The Grasping Goblin, Ike picks up a frozen lightning bolt.

What is the most dangerous or difficult thing you have ever done?

Let us know in the comments section of this post and Ian will pick 3 winning entries over the competition period to receive a free copy of Grim and Grimmer.

COMPETITION CLOSES MIDNIGHT AUSTRALIAN  EST SUNDAY MARCH 27TH

 

GRIM AND GRIMMER BLOG TOUR STARTS HERE!

Today, I’m very excited to be the first stop on author Ian Irvine’s blog tour to celebrate the release of The Desperate Dwarf, the third book in his hilarious Grim and Grimmer series for readers aged 10 +

Ian Irvine is a marine scientist and has written 27 novels, including the bestselling Three Worlds fantasy series, an eco-thriller trilogy and 12 books for children.

Ian grew up in a forest and spent his entire childhood reading books and climbing trees (and frequently both at once, to the terror of his parents). He had no interest in writing as he’d always wanted to be a scientist. Work has since taken him all across the eastern hemisphere, including idyllic locations like Mauritius, Bali, Fiji and Western Samoa. This provided absolutely no inspiration for his books as Ian prefers to send his characters to unpleasant places, there tormenting them to the limit of human ingenuity.

If you check out Ian’s website at http://www.ian-irvine.com/ you’ll see  that his Grim and Grimmer series is described as hysterical horror and hopeless heroes and this pretty much sums them up.

It’s not easy to be a hero when your bum is the size of an airship and you’re bobbing around the ceilings, mocked by a host of angry dwarves.

WHAT IS GRIM AND GRIMMER?

The Series Reviewed

Ike has always been good at drawing but when he accidentally steals a fountain pen in The Headless Highwayman, it changes his life forever. It soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary pen and when Ike draws a door with it, the door comes to life and when Ike goes through it, he finds himself in the strange land of Grimmery.

There Ike discovers that he is not who he thought he was and that he has talents and qualities he didn’t know he had.

After accidentally betraying the Princess of Grimmery to the evil queen, Emajicka, Ike sets out to save the Princess. This sets him on a strange adventure with his new friend, the thief Mellie, a headless horseman, a meat eating horse and an evil imp who wants to eat his liver. He visits strange places and ends up on the back of a giant wrym and eventually inside the butt of a giant troll, wondering if this could be the last door he ever goes through.

In Book 2, The Grasping Goblin, Ike is being hunted by Emajicka, the Nightmare Queen, for more reasons than he can possibly guess. But this is not going to be a happy adventure for him – funny for the reader, but not happy for Ike. Struck blind, forced to eat maggot soup and again in deadly peril, Ike is going to need a lot of luck and ingenuity to survive this quest. And on top of all this, he is still being hunted by the imp who wants to eat his liver.

In Book 3, The Desperate Dwarf, Ike is the only one who can save Grimmery now. But to succeed, he will need to outsmart a lying, cheating dwarf and survive more bad smells and gruesome incidents.

I gasped and laughed my way through these first three books in the Grim and Grimmer series and I have to confess to feeling eager anticipation, but a certain trepidation as I anticipate what Ike might have to face in his next adventure. It is bound to smell and taste foul.

Which is exactly why kids will love these books. Not only are they full of gross bits that boys in particular love, they are action packed and have flawed but likeable characters. The hapless Ike who feels he isn’t good at anything and his super-confident best friend, Mellie are an unlikely pair but they work well together.

Things get grimmer and more grotty as this series progresses, and Ike finds himself in more dire situations.

The Grim and Grimmer series is written by marine scientist and high-profile adult fantasy author, Ian Irvine. So all the antics and effects have been well thought out and Ike’s world is weird but believable. The setting is full of incredible detail and the fast-paced scenes will keep readers turning the pages.

Children aged 10+ who love action and humour won’t be able to put these books down. They will be carried along with Ike and Mellie just like I was, wondering what could possibly happen next.

KEEP READING TO THE END OF THIS POST TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN WIN A COPY OF THE DESPERATE DWARF

To find out more about how Ian wrote his books, follow his blog tour to all these fabulous stops:

March 21, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog/

Kid’s Book Capers                                    Review and competition – 3 BOOKS TO BE WON!

March 22, 2011                                         http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

Dee Scribe                                                  Writing Ike’s Character

March 23, 2011                                         http://bloggingwithianirvine.blogspot.com/

Our Lady Of Lourdes School                 General Writing

March 23, 2011                                         http://tristanbancksflow.blogspot.com/

Tristan Banck’s Blog                                Creative Process/Workspace

March 24                                                     http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

Kid’s Book reviews                                   Top 10 Writing Tips

March 28, 2011                                         http://www.robyn-campbell.blogspot.com/

Robyn Campbell                                        About the writing life and this book

March 28, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I enjoyed most about writing this book

March 31, 2011                                          http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I found hardest about writing this book

April 6, 2011                                               http://dcgreenyarns.blogspot.com/

DC Green                                                     Where the character and story ideas came from

April 11, 2011                                              www.buginabook.com

Bug in a Book

ENTER OUR GRIM AND GRIMMER COMPETITION NOW!

In The Grasping Goblin, Ike picks up a frozen lightning bolt.

What is the most dangerous or difficult thing you have ever done?

Let us know in the comments section of this post and Ian will pick 3 winning entries over the competition period to receive a free copy of Grim and Grimmer.

COMPETITION CLOSES MIDNIGHT AUSTRALIAN EST SUNDAY MARCH 27TH

Are Publishers Losing the Hearts and Minds of Readers?

Here’s a fact that might not surprise you very much: the internet is full of idiots. The idiots come in many flavours, but the kinds of idiots who are annoying me this week are some of the people who write blogs about ebooks.

Let’s kick off this discussion with a few choice quotes from some blog posts I’ve read in the last week or so:

From Delimiter: Publishers in Australia refuse to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 19th century, let alone the 21st century … The Publishers in Australia are heavily addicted to the large margins that Australian books traditionally generate … Publishers are trying to protect their rivers of gold (book sales) by pricing eBooks in such way that makes them less attractive.

I kid you not – RIVERS OF GOLD, people. That’s what publishers are making from paper books: RIVERS. OF. GOLD.

From BookBee: In either case, Billbo posits that publishers are publishing poor-quality ebooks as a Cee Lo Green-style “f$&ck you” to the medium in general, because they’re frustrated … This is so out there that I hadn’t even considered it to be possible … But, really thinking about it, it may well be true. This is the kind of bloody-minded thing that a control freak manager who has had things go his own way for decades might actually do … Yes – sheer madness. Sadly, some publishers have form in the madness stakes.

That’s right, readers: publishers – particularly control freak publishers – are deliberately introducing errors into ebooks because they don’t like them.

I wonder if either of any of these bloggers has ever met or spoken to a real human being who works for a publishing company? Because I guarantee you that if they had they would learn two things a) the old stereotype of the boozy publisher with deep pockets full of cash died twenty years ago; and b) publishers are anal retentive freaks who hate the idea of errors slipping into the books they publish even more than their readers.

To think otherwise speaks of a genuine ignorance and a completely unfounded hate for traditional publishers. For the most part, people who work for publishing companies are in love with books. They love everything about them, and that’s why they work in an industry that pays them all so badly. Traditional publishers are not saints, but they are not the enemy of the reader.

To be fair, these bloggers aren’t the only voices out there. There are plenty of people on all sides of the new publishing paradigm that are speaking sense. Take the phenomenally successful self-published author Amanda Hocking (who I wrote about late last year), who wrote on her blog last week:

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that … I just don’t understand writers animosity against publishers. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has made me out to be Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch … Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren’t some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices … Traditional publishers are not evil any more than Amazon or Barnes & Noble are evil.

Which brings me back, finally, to the title of this blog post and the central question I want to ask of all of you out there. Do blog posts like the ones at the top of this post convince you that publishers are doing bad things for the future of reading? Because I worry that they do. Every time I read one of these posts it makes my blood boil. Not just because I work for a major publisher and know what goes on there doesn’t compare to the bad press they’re getting, but because Amazon and Apple – major companies with a lot more sway over the future of reading than publishers – seem to be getting a free pass. So, let me know what you think in the comments.

Don’t You Ever Interrupt Me While I’m Reading A Book

There are a lot of thoughts that race through your head watching the following video, not least:

  • Who is this guy?
  • What inspired this video?
  • This is really random.
  • Is he serious or seriously taking the p&ss (I vote the latter)?
  • He looks a bit like the guy from Buffy/Angel.
  • He’s kind of cute.
  • My, his nose crinkling is kind of fascinating.
  • So are his eyebrow movements.
  • Which shows/film clips is he spoofing?
  • This is actually clever and hilarious.
  • The song is actually pretty good.
  • It makes me want to dance.
  • It could almost be a dance-party hit.
  • I can’t get this song out of my head.
  • I’m borrowing some of those moves.

Those occur in a varying and sometimes looping order, while you can’t help but smile, jiggle you leg, and palm-pump your hands toward the computer screen to mirror Julian Smith’s efforts. Seriously, this video is infectious. And funny. Especially given that we can assume it was inspired by the can’t-you-see-I’m-reading frustration one feels when interrupted by others about mundane things.

They say the truth is often said in jest, and I suspect this video was inspired by some very real frustration at having reading interrupted. I can’t claim that this happens all that much to me, as I live on my own and my dog and she, well, doesn’t do a lot of interrupting unless it’s a meal time and she’s ravenously hungry.

But I do know the feeling of having to wrap up your reading at the climax or even just a really, really gripping part because your train has arrived or your lunch break is over and you must return to the real world—even if your heart and a large part of your brain remain behind in the book.

I’ve never been allowed to read at the table while other people are present for a meal, so it’s my guilty, living-on-my-own pleasure to now accompany every mouthful of food with lines of prose. Moreover, I’ve often thought that the day we develop the capacity or the technology to be able to read while driving while maintaining complete concentration on the road will be a very, very good one. In the meantime, I’m down with this video (and its dance moves).

Hand-Hammering Whacky-Whacky

This week I committed the book-loving equivalent of ‘I can’t. I’m washing my hair’ by switching off my phone for a day or two and spending Friday night and Saturday buying, carting, unpacking, and assembling a giant bookcase.

 

I’d waited some three months for it, as Ikea was, for some reason, having trouble sourcing the bookcases from Sweden or wherever they’re manufactured (and it’s probably best I don’t think about where, because it’s probably some poor, third-world nation). Then I’d waited some more as the eight—just eight!—they got in the initial shipment were snapped up before you could say ‘flat pack’.

I finally scammed my father to drive down to the giant warehouse that is Ikea (seriously, I’m wondering if that building would be visible from space) and load the 100-ish kilograms of flat-packed bits that would, if we managed to follow the word-less instruction booklet, make up my much sought-after, much-needed bookcase. I say much needed, in particular, because my pantry is filled rather awkwardly not with food but books.

 

I was patting myself on the back for being smart about taking my dad, having learnt my lesson that Ikea staff will not help you even when it’s quite apparent that you’re on your own and you’re struggling. Particularly when you might have grounds for an OHS-style lawsuit because you’ve had to single-handedly had to lift and cart the frame, slats, and mattress for your new, queen-sized bed.

 

That didn’t mean we were immune to some Ikea ridiculousness, however, including getting lost and disoriented in the store while attempting to execute a savvy ‘shortcut’, battling a trolley with wayward wheels, and then almost getting run over by said wayward trolley when I tripped over my handbag (which I’d placed on the ground while concentrating on steadying the trolley-load of stuff). Note to self: never stand downhill from the fully laden trolley.

In truth, the fun and games had only just begun. Cue no fewer than three people to assemble the bookcase. Admittedly, our efforts were hampered by the lack of a rubber hammer or a small-enough electric drill bit, which resulted in a lot of hand-hammering whacky-whacky and some excruciating labour-intensive Allen Key efforts.

 

Throw in a dog whose favourite game is to hide the ball in hard-to-reach places and then dance around barking excitedly and generally getting under your feet—the in-progress bookcase proved an irresistible feat. Add in some poor spatial awareness while concentrating on where to stick those accursed little wooden pegs, which saw me quite literally head-butt the oh-so-solid wall (post-headbutt head holding pictured) … and, well, you can imagine what the scenes were like when we tried to put this thing together.

There was also an awkward moment when my mother encouraged my to put a book on the freshly assembled case and the book she handed me was Spirit Bound, from Richelle Mead‘s Vampire Academy series. It’s a great, fabulous, you-should-totally-read-it book, but it has the most cringe-worthy cover ever–kind of like a teenage, vampire Mills and Boon.

 

In spite of those headache-riddled challenges, the fact that Ikea instructions are pretty shabby, and the fact that we ended up with a bag of suspiciously left-over bits, the bookcase is now assembled, relatively straight, and upstanding. Some of the books are now out of my cupboards and there’s a whopping big space in the middle for where I could put a TV if I had one.

Methinks I’d rather fill that space and the rest of the bookcase with books. I’m off to spend my Boomerang Books voucher …

The Private Practice of Polygamy

You may have seen, or at least heard of, ‘Big Love’, the TV series starring Bill Paxton as the paternal head of a four-wife family. The series somehow manages to showcase the humour and the love as well as the jealousy between multiple wives sharing one (very busy) hubby. And while I would occasionally watch an episode and quite enjoy the script and the storylines, I still couldn’t let go of the thought ‘this is wrong’.

It wasn’t until I watched the US reality TV series ‘Sister Wives’ that I began to rethink my judgmental approach. These women were REAL, and personable to the viewer, living by choice in a household where they had to decide which nights per week they would delegate each other to spend with the man they married. Certainly the relationship is a complex one – the first wife seemed to be going through a bit of a rough time with the news that the Mr had fallen in love with Meredith, the proposed fourth wife, and we see the good times and bad times this huge family (each of the wives have at least one child) go through by making this new connection. I was most struck with the kinship of the wives – ‘Sister Wives’ is such a perfect title – and I began to see that perhaps I was wrong for painting each polygamist family with a broad brush. I’m not saying it’s my thing, but who says women cannot be happy in such a relationship if that’s what they want? I feel like we’re prone to judge negatively because it doesn’t align with our culture. With this in mind, I sought out fiction centred around polygamy to further question and understand my views on the subject, and came across The 19th Wife.

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, begins with murder. A prominent figure in a polygamist cult is gunned down, and all signs point to his 19th wife, BeckyLyn, as having pulled the trigger. BeckyLyn is awaiting execution, but her son, Jordan (who has his own reasons for leaving her to await her fate), manages to show up to wish her goodbye and make amends. BeckyLyn manages to convince him that things are perhaps not what they seem – she isn’t the murderer the police are looking for. His mind reeling, Jordan must make his own journey back to his childhood (living in a polygamist household) and attempt to solve the mystery before his mother is put to death for a crime she may not have committed. And intertwined with Jordan’s journey is the story of another 19th wife who lived in the 19th century – real-life historical figure Ann Eliza Young, who set out to rid the world of polygamy.

I don’t believe Ebershoff achieved a balanced viewpoint of what it means to be a polygamist (he is far too invested in the characters who have been done wrong by polygamy for that), but the book is an incredibly interesting one. What Ebershoff does manage to do is expertly weave a set of parallel lives and circumstances with a prose that’s as easy and effective to breathe as oxygen. I was caught up from the start, utterly absorbed, and managed to finish this 525 page novel in record timing.

This book seems to do for polygamists what Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, did for hermaphrodites – it slices the top off a secret world, lets us peer in, and once we have, we’re changed. The 19th Wife has been the perfect appetiser for me – I’m now more eager than ever to read more about this private, often fugitive culture. I highly recommend it.

***
Disclosure: Bought.
Year of Publication: 2009.
Number of Pages: 525.
Book Challenges: Chunkster Challenge 2011; Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Christina’s Matilda – Bringing a Legend to Life

Everyone knows the song Waltzing Matilda, but how many people know the true story behind its creation?

Christina MacPherson, playing a marching-band tune was the girl who originally inspired Banjo Patterson to write his song while Banjo was visiting her brother.

Though the old Scottish tune and the lyrics are remembered, Christina’s part in the story was forgotten until the 1970s. Christina’s Matilda, written by Edel Wignell and illustrated by Elizabeth Botte brings Christina’s story to life.

What inspired Edel to write the book

In the early 1980s I researched a collection, A Bluey of Swaggies, and the spin-offs, Battlers of the Great Depression and a series, ‘On the Track’ (three titles). Since then I have maintained an interest in the history and folklore surrounding the creation of the song, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The final chapter in A Bluey of Swaggies explains the events, but I wanted to focus on Christina Macpherson who has been neglected in history. Indeed, she went missing for a while mid-20th century.

The Story Behind the Story

I asked Edel to tell me the story behind the story of her fascinating new book.

While many people know that ‘Banjo’ Paterson wrote the lyrics of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, very few know that Christina Macpherson provided the tune, so I decided to focus on her. In 2002 I interviewed her great-niece, Diana Baillieu (who lived in Toorak, Melbourne), and she was delighted, lending photographs and other items which I copied and included in the book.

Diana Baillieu (aged 87 years) remembered when she was a child and ‘Aunt Chris’ would arrive by train and stay on the family property at Meningoort (near Camperdown, Western District, Victoria). The publication of Christina’s Matilda became Diana’s special project and she was thrilled when I found a publisher for it before she died.

The Pictorial Story

This book is a fascinating read, but it’s the pictures that really bring this story to life. Illustrator, Elizabeth Botté has captured the historical atmosphere by creating borders that reflect the textual and pictorial content of each page.

Anyone from 10 to adult with an interest in history and folklore will find plenty to interest them in this thoroughly researched non-fiction book from Interactive Publications.

The facts of Christina’s life and her contribution towards Waltzing Matilda have never been published in such detail.

Teachers notes are available at:

www.edelwignell.com.au/Notes for Teachers

www.ipoz.biz/IP_Kidz/kidz.htm

Trailer: 

The Story Behind the Pictures

Elizabeth Botté, the talented illustrator of  Christina’s Matilda has published more than 25 books, and today she talks to us about her creative journey.

Painting and drawing and simply soaking in the intricate details of visual imagery is something I’ve just always done. But naturally I presumed I’d grow up and get a real job. There were no illustrator courses when I finished school, and the artists didn’t like me and the designers didn’t like me…. as an illustrator, one meanders somewhere in between. But I chose to just kept practicing enthusiastically and learning on my own.

Sometimes there are those things in life that are deeply fulfilling; fortunately I discovered that creating useful images is what does it for me. Love getting into character for a new project, adapting to a new look and feel. And I do like having my own flexible schedule to work with.

Elizabeth says that her greatest achievement is that her  13yo son still thinks his mothers’ illustrations are the world’s greatest.

Elizabeth’s tips for new illustrators are that you have to practice and love your art and be prepared for  long hours of sitting very still and being in your own thoughts.

Illustrating Christina’s Matilda

Elizabeth says she was  handed a fascinating manuscript with some old photos, about a woman she’d never hear of, but should of.

It was a pleasure to find a way to make it all work together visually and turn it into a book.

Elizabeth says that Christina MacPherson was a  great woman in a difficult time.

It’s frustrating hearing about a time where a woman had her place, it was expected of her to be modest and not speak about her achievements etc. How could they stand it! My gratitude to Women’s Lib.

It’s great to see an historical work presented like an adventurous tale. An atmospheric scrapbook of Australian History to delve into.

According to Elizabeth the most fun part about illustrating Christina’s Matilda was immersing herself into the mood of the era to  concoct a visual atmosphere where Christina’s story could be told. She loved working in old fashioned sepia tones and says it was engrossing creating the menacing images of “Mad Morgan”.

She says that the hardest thing about illustrating this book was also  the most satisfying challenge.

To hold a bare, typed manuscript, and visualise how it should look as a finished, illustrated book.

You can see more of Elizabeth’s wonderful illustrations at www.illos.net

The Hazard River blog tour

Brisbane author, J.E. Fison, launches two new books in the Hazard River series this month. Tiger Terror and Bat Attack follow the action-packed holiday adventures of Jack Wilde and his friends. As part of the blog tour to promote these books, J.E. is here at Literary Clutter to tell us a bit about the Hazard River covers…

Does my front cover look too scary in this?
By J.E. Fison

There’s a theory that book sales are proportional to the number of teeth on the front cover. With this theory in mind my publisher, Paul Collins, of Ford Street Publishing, enlisted the talented Marc McBride to do the artwork for the Hazard River series. Marc, who is famous for the Deltora Quest illustrations, is not known for his subtly. Rather, he’s notorious for adding the fear factor to everything he touches. The result for the Hazard River series is a collection of eye-catching front covers that ought to send my sales figures into space if the theory is correct.

The front cover of Shark Frenzy alone should set new records, with the gaping jaws of a monster shark poised ready to snap up a boat full of children. Then there’s the sinister snake on the cover of Snake Surprise, a tiger on the front of Tiger Terror and the gruesome gob of a bat on Bat Attack. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for the next books in the series Blood Money and Toads’ Revenge.

Kids love all of the Hazard River front covers, but they really go for the toothy ones. A random sampling of my son’s Year 4 class found the Bat Attack front cover scored particularly well on the ‘awesome’ scale, which tends to support the theory.

But what do parents think? One friend can’t even look at the front cover of Snake Surprise because she’s so scared of snakes. Another is terrorized by the Bat Attack cover and I have to admit that even I am frightened by the front cover of Shark Frenzy and I know what happens. (No children actually got eaten in the writing of that book.) The truth is – the books are all action-packed fun with an environmental twist. The scary animals are all good guys in these books. The baddies are smugglers, dodgy developers, and unscrupulous fishermen. Shark Frenzy starts with a dead shark washed up on the bank of Hazard River. It has no fins. When Jack Wilde and his friends decide to investigate, they find fishermen are killing sharks for their fins.

Shark finning makes for an interesting theme, but a dead, finless shark doesn’t make a great front cover. A monster shark with its mouth open does. Sorry to any squeamish parents, the kids’ votes win on this one. Please avert your eyes the next time your son or daughter picks up a Hazard River book. Or maybe just grin and bear it, if you’ll pardon the pun.

George’s bit at the end

For more details on J.E. Fison’s Hazard River series check out the website and her blog. And check out the other stops on the Hazard River blog tour:

  • 14 March — Review of Tiger Terror and Bat Attack
  • 15 March — Inspiration – it’s all around us
  • 16 March — Interview
  • 17 March — Writing for kids helped me become a better parent

And tune in next time for some zombies and unicorns.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

.

LONG LIVE US – A FRACTURED FAIRY TALE

Long Live Us is a hilarious fractured fairytale written by Edel Wignell with beautiful watercolour pencil illustrations by Peter Allert.

It features characters from some popular fairytales from around the world.

The Troll (from ‘The Three Billy-goats Gruff’) is the main character, and the fact that he is hungry leads to interaction with characters from five tales.

The Greedy Troll waits for his next meal in a cave under a bridge. There he meets the Three Bears on a quest to bring Goldilocks to justice.

This is a classic tale of Goodies versus Baddies but it doesn’t turn out how you think it might.

Author, Edel Wignell has fun fracturing fairy tales to create surprising stories like Long Live Us which was written for readers aged 6-10. There are clever traps, lucky escapes and unwelcome surprises.

Young readers will also love poring over the detailed illustrations that are full of subtext and layered humour. Peter Allert brings life and colour to his illustrations through vibrant tones and perceptive detail.

Long Live Us will appeal to readers looking for books with colour and humour. It is published by IP Kidz and is also available in e-book format.

Beating The Odds

Beating the OddsYou’d expect a book that involves high-stakes gambling, false headquarters, hidden compartments, paper that’s designed to dissolve upon contact with water, and police raids that involve spectacularly breaking down and entering through walls to be complete fiction.

Particularly a book that includes businesses being set up on tropical islands, and cameos being made by one of Australia’s richest businessmen, a former prime minister, and underworld figures made famous by the likes of such shows as Underbelly.

But the adage that the truth is stranger than fiction rings true with Beating the Odds, a rollicking-good read that weaves all these elements and more into a highly readable work of non-fiction. Not a bad effort for a book that actually started out as a university assignment.

First-time author Nichola Garvey started researching the little-known tale of Australia’s most successful SP bookie, Allan Tripp, as part of her masters in creative writing course. Her lecturer and mentor Peter FitzSimons, himself a widely published author, passed it on to HarperCollins. They loved it and signed her up six weeks later. It’s the kind of fairytale most writers dream of, with the bonus for readers being that a must-read part of Australian history has been told in a comprehensive, fast-paced, often-funny book.

Peter FitzsimonsThe ‘SP’ in the bookmaking is short for ‘starting price’, and SP bookies were an illegal but entrenched part of Australian betting life. Offering better odds, they enabled punters to have a bet away from the track, but drew funds and taxes away from the government-run TABs. The government, clearly, couldn’t have that happen, and the subsequent crackdown on SP bookmaking put Tripp, the top bookie, firmly in the police’s crosshairs.

Regarded as a genius by some and a criminal by others (whatever your quibble, he is actually the most convicted), Tripp was irrefutably the world’s—yes, the world’s—most successful bookmaker. Beating the odds that in part lend the book its title, Tripp found ways round or simply kept getting back up to rebuild his often-nearly-bankrupt business into one so successful and later sold for so much that he became, effectively, a billion-dollar bookie. And yes, this is where the too-out-there-to-be-true elements I mentioned in the opening paras come into play.

But I’m not going to give too much of the story away and I’m going to let you make up your own mind about Tripp’s genius or criminality. HarperCollins has been kind enough to allow us to give away some copies of Beating the Odds. Head to the giveaways section to find out how to be in the draw to score one.

Going Green for the Day – Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh

Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, and we all know what that means.

Well, actually, we don’t. Ask people about the correct way to celebrate the holiday and you’ll probably hear about something that sounds like forty comedians and a troupe of strippers having a riot in a brewery, possibly with the words “beer”, “fiddle-de-dee” and “potatoes” thrown in for good measure. So, in the interest of promoting cross-cultural understanding and not having to hear anyone say “fiddle-de-dee potatoes” at me – a phrase about as Irish as saying Fosters is the Australian for beer, by the way – here’s a quick guide.

Not as fast paced as Shore Thing, but a better read.St Patrick’s Day occurs on March 17th and is the Irish national day. It’s believed to have celebrated by the Irish since the ninth century. The real Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, would probably be somewhat bemused by all this mentioning of green and beer and potatoes. The original colour associated with him was blue and the only written records he left behind him, the Confessio and the Letter to Coroticus, are not filled with either lavish descriptions of tuber-based cuisine nor playing drinking games until 2am.

When he was not driving the snakes out of Ireland – the pleasant way of saying he got rid of the pagans – Patrick was a bit of an old booklover himself who preached piety and learning in equal measure. His influence is partly credited with instilling Ireland with a sense of literacy and learning that encouraged Ireland to become “the isle of saints and scholars”. This is a point of pride for many Irish people – we are, after all, a nation who live in a country where literature and art are exempt from tax so books are GST free – and some have gone so far as to claim we are responsible for keeping libraries and literature alive through the dark ages.

So clever, and modest too!Thomas Cahill’s modestly named, “How The Irish Saved Civilization” describes how Irish monks and scribes copied and preserved the manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, maintaining the records of Western civilization while Europe was being overrun during the dark ages. He argues they preserved Western culture and allowed it to be reintroduced to the continent when the barbarians finally got bored and buggered off.  So if you are looking for an Irish activity to do on St Patrick’s Day, you could do worse than read a good book.

Quieter activities like reading might suit an Australian take on the day better – St Patrick’s Day isn’t a public holiday over here, so celebrations are usually held on the Sunday closest to it. But make sure you don’t miss out completely because – speaking as an Irishwoman who has done the day in many places – Australia usually throws a great bash. In Sydney, for example, their St Patrick’s Day Parade has passed its thirtieth year and ends with one hell of a party in Hyde Park. Celebrations have been going on in Sydney for as long as there have been Irish here. The first recorded party was in 1810, when a dinner was organised for the convicts under the employ of the governor of the city.

It might have started with a dinner, but it got bigger – and noisier – fast. In 1895, Sydney’s archbishop Cardinal Moran, an Irishman himself, banned the parade because of the “tendency of marchers to gravitate to the pubs afterwards”.  History doesn’t record whether this stopped them going to the pub altogether, or whether with nothing to distract them they just went there earlier in the day. But to the pub all Patrick’s Day celebrations will doubtless go, so be ready to put down your book and have a pint with friends at some stage because the other thing that the day is definately about is community and socialising.

While you are there, please remember that it’s never Patty’s day (that’s a hamburger) or St Pat’s, and that if your beer is green that probably means it has gone off. If you want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day exactly like the Irish, here’s how to do it. Wear a bit of emerald green, have a drink with your friends and a sing-along in the pub. That’s about it.

And, as we say in Irish, Lá ‘le Pádraig sona daoibh go léir – a happy St Patrick’s day to you all.

 

Going Green for the Day – Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh

Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, and we all know what that means.

Well, actually, we don’t. Ask people about the correct way to celebrate the holiday and you’ll probably hear about something that sounds like a riot in a brewery, possibly with the words “beer”, “fiddle-de-dee” and “potatoes” thrown in for good measure. So, in the interest of promoting cross-cultural understanding and not having to hear anyone say fiddle-de-dee potatoes at me – a phrase as Irish as saying Fosters is the Australian for beer, by the way, here’s a quick guide.

St Patrick’s Day is March 17th is the Irish national day believed to have celebrated by the Irish since the ninth centuries. The real Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, would probably be somewhat bemused by all this mentioning of beer and potatoes. The only written records he left behind him were two texts, the Confessio and the Letter to Coroticus, neither of which are known for their description of nights on the lash.

When he was not driving the snakes out of Ireland – the pleasant way of saying he got rid of the pagans – Patrick was a bit of an old booklover himself. His influence is partly credited with instilling Ireland with a sense of literacy and learning that encouraged Ireland to become “the isle of saints and scholars”. This is a point of pride for many Irish people – we are, after all, a nation who live in a country where literature and art are exempt from tax so books are GST free – and some have gone so far as to claim we are responsible for keeping libraries and literature alive through the dark ages.

Thomas Cahill’s modestly named, “How The Irish Saved Civilization” describes how Irish monks and scribes copied and preserved the manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, maintaining the records of Western civilization while Europe was being overrun during the dark ages. He argues they preserved Western culture and allowed it to be reintroduced to the continent when the barbarians finally got bored and buggered off. So if you are looking for an Irish activity to do on St Patrick’s Day, you could do worse than read a good book.

http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Real-St-Patrick/James-McCormack-CM/book_9781856076074.htm

Quieter activities like reading might suit an Australian take on the day better – St Patrick’s Day isn’t a public holiday over here, so celebrations are usually held on the Sunday closest to it. But make sure you don’t miss out completely because – speaking as an Irishwoman who has done the day in many places – Australia usually throws a great bash. In Sydney, for example, their St Patrick’s Day Parade has passed its thirtieth year and ends with one hell of a party in Hyde Park. Celebrations have been going on in Sydney for as long as there have been Irish here. The first recorded party was in 1810, when a dinner was organised for the convicts under the employ of the governor of the city.

It might have started with a dinner, but it got bigger. A lot bigger. In 1895, Sydney’s archbishop Cardinal Moran, an Irishman himself, banned the parade because of the “tendency of marchers to gravitate to the pubs afterwards”. History doesn’t record whether this stopped them going to the pub altogether, or whether with nothing to distract them they just went there earlier in the day. But to the pub all Patrick’s Day celebrations will doubtless go, so be ready to put down your book and have a pint with friends at some stage.

While you are there, please remember that it’s never Patty’s day (that’s a hamburger) and that ordering an Irish Car Bomb is a) something most irish people have never heard of, b) a terrible thing to do perfectly good beer and c) a phrase that would get you punched in Ireland for the sheer offensiveness of it.

So, if you want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day like the Irish, here’s how to do it. Wear a bit of green, have a drink with your friends and a sing-along in the pub. That’s about it.

And, as we say in Irish, Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona daoibh – happy St patrick’s day to you all.

http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/How-the-Irish-Saved-Civilisation/Thomas-Cahill/book_9780385418492.htm

http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Yeats-is-Dead/Joseph-OConnor/book_9780099422341.htm

REVIEW: Fifty Plants that changed the course of History by Bill Laws

TITLE:  Fifty Plants that changed the course of History
AUTHOR: Bill Laws
PUBLISHER:  Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781742372181    226 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]ea.com).

This is a handsome book. A delight to look at and a pleasure to hold. It is also a pleasure to read, not just because each page is beautifully illustrated but also because of the unusual, unexpected and fascinating histories it charts.

That said, this is a book for browsing, rather than for reading straight through. Each page is packed with facts. The Latin names and common names of each plant, a brief outline of its importance to us , the history of its uses and misuses, and countless small details (often presented in a separate box to the side of the main text) all give the reader a lot to absorb, but everything is presented in a humorous, easy-going way laced with plenty of curious anecdotes. Did you know, for example, that Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have invented ginger-bread men to amuse her courtiers? Or that willow coffins are the latest must-have for the ecologically minded? Or, indeed, that Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, in about 1150 advised adding hops to drinks as a preservative?

Bill Laws’ choice of fifty plants which have changed the course of history (or, as the book’s blurb says “had the greatest impact on civilisation”) includes many that you would expect: tea, papyrus, cotton, tobacco and rice, for example. But there are also many unexpected inclusions, like lavender, saffron, Sweet Pea, the Dog Rose and pineapple. Pineapple finds a place here because this tropical “collection of individual fruits pressed together to form a whole” prompted such interest when it was first presented to the English King Charles II by his gardener, John Rose, that it caused much experimentation with pits of steaming manure and the building of  ‘glass houses’ to aid its cultivation in cold climates. After that, ‘hot-houses’ grew in size, sophistication and popularity, resulting eventually in huge constructions like Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in London and, on a much smaller scale, the conservatories and greenhouses which grace so many our modern, family gardens.

Other plants with long histories which are still part of our everyday lives are White Willow, the source of Asprin; Cacao, from which chocolate is made; and, more disturbingly, Coca and the Opium Poppy, both of which have valuable medicinal uses but which now also fuel the illicit drug trade and cause serious social problems.

Laws is outspoken about the evils some plants have caused and still cause: these include wars, slavery, smuggling, organized crime, addiction and ecological damage. Perhaps surprisingly, sugarcane is one plant he sees as both valuable and dangerous. It has been the historical cause of human misery through slavery and economic disasters, and now, with refined sugar in almost everything we eat, it has changed our digestive systems to the extent that sugar addiction is a serious cause of obesity and ill-health.

Bill Laws weaves together strands of ecological, political and agricultural history. His scope is worldwide and it ranges from the words of early herbalists and herbals to the discoveries of modern science. He draws inspiration from myth and legend, and, occasionally from the early philosophers. And the illustrations come from art, history, old magazines and modern botanical photography. Altogether, Laws has done a fine job and Quid Publishing, which conceived and designed this book, have made sure it looks as good as its contents.

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

LONG LIVE US – EDEL WIGNELL AND PETER ALLERT COLLABORATE

As an author, it’s always inspiring for me to hear about small independent publishers in Australia willing to team first time picture book illustrators and established authors to produce books that readers will enjoy and that give Australian creators an opportunity to showcase their unique talents.

Long Live Us, from IP Kidz is a perfect example of such a venture. Written by Edel Wignell and illustrated by Peter Allert, it is a fractured fairy tale incorporating some much loved fairytale characters. There are the three pigs, Goldilocks, the Three Bears and of course, the evil troll.

Today we’re going to meet the author and illustrator of this hilarious tale and tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, we review Long Live Us and talk more about the book.

MEET AUTHOR, EDEL WIGNALL

Former teacher, Edel Wignell has been writing full time since 1979 and she loves doing research and being able to abandon herself to her imagination. She says her greatest writing achievement to date has been:

The publication of the novel, Escape by Deluge (Walter McVitty Books). It was published in the UK (with a fabulous cover by Allun Hood), the US and Sweden. It was a CBCA Notable Book, and shortlisted in the Adelaide Writers’ Festival and the West Australian Young Readers Book Awards.

The author of more than 90 books, Edel has these tips for new writers:

When your work is returned, don’t respond as though this is a personal slight. There are many reasons why a ms isn’t right for a publishing house: they may have  recently accepted one with a similar theme; they may have enough mss for boys and want one for girls… Be persistent and professional: check publishers’ websites, if possible improve the ms, then send it out again.

Edel’s tale, Long Live Us won a Fractured Fairy Tale competition and she thought it would make a good picture book so she created a parallel strand to be shown only in the illustrations.

It stars The Troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff and is an epic tale of goodies verses baddies featuring food and hunger which Edel points out are very important topics for children.

Peter Allert’s illustrations vividly capture the drama of the story, and children will enjoy finding the many humorous details he has interspersed.

Edel says this wasn’t a difficult book to write because she is familiar with folk tales from many countries and the fact that good always triumphs.

Playing with this notion was fun.

Below are links to teachers notes and the book trailer for Long Live Us.

  • www.edelwignell.com.au/Notes for Teachers
  • Trailer:

MEET ILLUSTRATOR, PETER ALLERT

Peter Allert has loved to draw ever since he can remember.

When I look back at my life I always wanted too express myself artistically through illustrating but was never sure how this talent would translate into developing a career.  One day I just decided to put time aside and focus on developing my skills, I wanted to understand what skills I had and how I could improve them.  Being mostly self-taught I started to do some art classes and received constructive feedback on my work.  This was a great experience because you are sharing with other experienced people.  I also started researching writing and illustrating for children’s books and attended conferences to understand more about the industry.  I made a lot of great friends with similar interests I could share ideas with.  I believe this is when I decided that I wanted to be an illustrator.

Peter says it’s very inspiring to create unique and engaging characters in your own little world. He says that what inspired him the most about working on Long Live Us was the creative process.

I had to first create character profiles (rough illustrations) for the publisher of the Troll, Witch, Goldilocks and Wiley Wolf.  It was fun working out what the Troll might look like. How tall? What colour he might be? Did he have fur or even a tail?  Then I had to create a world around the character’s that was both colourful, and engaging.    Watching the world slowly come to life was the most inspiring.  I still have a lot of the original illustrations around me for inspiration on my next project.

Who is your favourite character and why?

My favorite character is the Troll and his friend the little red dragon.  They work well together and you can see the friendship between them.  The dragon however insisted on having his own dressing room.

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

When someone says there is a Troll under a bridge you often get an image inspired by previous fairytales read to you as a child or what you may see in popular media.  I wanted to build on those ideas but most of all I wanted the character to have its own personality to shine through.  I think I brought my own style to the Troll.

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

As I read Long Live Us I made notes of the first ideas that popped into my head.  I also made small sketches of these ideas some of which ended up it the final book.  I then worked on what the characters may look like and received feedback from the publisher and the author.  Once they were happy with the style of my illustrations I started drawing a series of storyboards (rough drawings outlining how each page may look and where the text would sit on the page), adding or changing them as the book developed.  Once storyboards where approved I worked on each illustration making sure they all looked consistent and then added the final colour.  The illustrations were then scanned and sent to the publisher to create a mock up book.  This was then sent back to me as a PDF file in order to supply feedback.

What was your favourite part of the illustration process?

Applying colour to the final illustrations was the favorite part for me.  Watercolour pencils can produce a rich and vibrant finish when applied to the right paper.  When I was finishing the final illustrations for Long Live Us the colours made everything come alive.  Sure it takes a little while longer with pencils but the final results are worth it.

What was the hardest part of the illustration process?

Continuity, making sure every illustration looks consistent throughout the book.  This can range from the proportions of the characters (such as their size and shape) to the texture and colour of their cloths. Being very familiar with drawing the characters before you start the book is essential.

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

I worked closely with the author Edel Wignell and the publisher Independent Publications feeding ideas back and forth but I mostly worked independently.  I understand working with the author does not always occour but I found the process a positive experience.

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

With this book I used watercolour pencils on watercolour paper and then used different sized paintbrushes to smooth over the colours.  I then used standard coloured pencils to sharpen the images.

How long did it take to illustrate?

This is a very common question, one I still have trouble answering.  This particular book took approximately 12 months to complete while I was working full-time from the initial sketches to the final artwork.  Usually if you are entering into a contract with a publisher there are already deadlines established and often this dictates the time it takes.

How many books have you illustrated?

This is my first fully illustrated book and I would like to thank Dr David Reiter from IP Kidz for giving me the opportunity.

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

I do have a few tips I would like to share, I can only say these worked for me and I hope they do for you.

Create an area to work

Create a place where you can work undisturbed and make it your own.  NO HAWKERS!

Make a place for yourself to work on your writing or illustrating regardless of other commitments otherwise you will be too easily distracted.

Have belief in yourself

Have the courage in yourself and believe in your own work. It is very easy to assassinate yourself or believe the work you are doing is no good but you are a better person when you set your sites on your qualities.  Set yourself achievable goals and be fair with the assessment of your work and abilities.

Don’t forget to come back to Kids’ Book Capers tomorrow to read all about Long Live Us, a colourful and fun new picture book from IP Kidz.

iPad 2 Sells Out in the US: Should You Buy One?

 

As some of you may already know, the iPad 2 was announced on 2 March, and released on Friday in the US to much fanfare. News has officially surfaced about the tablet sales over the weekend and it seems overwhelmingly good (for Apple, at least): the iPad 2 has completely sold out, and sold more than half as many again as the original iPad. What does this mean for Australians – and more importantly, what does it mean for you?

The answer? Not much. Going by the early reviews of the second iteration, your decision to get an iPad should not be much different from when the first one was launched last year. If you were waiting for Apple to iron out the bugs for the second version, then wait no more – the iPad is ready. If you were dubious about the iPad the first time around, then it’s likely you’ll feel exactly the same way now.

Almost a year on from getting my iPad, I realise that although it’s a desirable product, it is something I found a use for rather than found useful in and of itself. It is a gadget, and as a gadget lover it is a beautiful thing. As an editor, I’ve found the iPad far more useful than I thought it would be. It’s versatile enough to read any manuscript you can throw at it, and as a device for editing it is as good or better than a laptop. As an avid reader of websites, blogs and other social media, it is a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s also fantastic for travelling – ten hours of battery life takes you a good long way into a long haul plane trip. It is not ideal for writing – the on-screen keyboard is great for short bursts of text but for the most part it is inferior to a laptop.

For most casual users of a computer who are not yet in the habit of checking social media sites or email every hour or so, it is less useful than a laptop, and not as specialised as an e-reader in either battery life, screen quality or heft. And that means it falls between use cases. I am not an average user, and the iPad is not an average gadget.

For the most part, people still don’t really know why they want an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Apple seems to be adjusting their own expectations as well. The original iPad was launched with a keyboard dock and a suite of Office-like apps. The iPad 2 has dropped the keyboard dock and is now concentrating almost entirely on casual media creation – it sports new video editing and music mixing apps, as well as a photo booth app for taking and editing photos.

Having said all that, if you’re still entranced by the shiny new iPad 2, and you have the money, then you should get it. This is a purpose-defining gadget – something you will use once you own, because it is a pleasure to use. If you’re a reader of ebooks, despite all my reservations about the direction Apple is going in, it is still more open and more versatile than a Kindle (or any other straight e-reader).

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner for my last post’s giveaway. Congratulations to Melinda! I’ll be in touch with Melinda by email this evening to arrange the $100 worth of Booku Bucks.

The Sky is Falling! Future Babble, fatalism and why we want to hear bad news

“Most of the prophets of the past millennium were more concerned with scansion than accuracy. You know, ‘And thee Worlde Unto An Ende Shall Come, in tumpty-tumpty-tumpty One.’ Or Two, or Three, or whatever. There aren’t many good rhymes for Six, so it’s probably a good year to be in.”
Aziraphale, in Good Omens* by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

If I’m somewhat skeptical of prophecies of doom and gloom these days, it’s because I got it all out of my system when I was younger. At some point in my early teens, some eejit introduced me to the prophecies of Nostradamus ensuring that I would my last few years of childhood plagued by nightmares and terrified that the world was about to end.

The prophecy that particularly obsessed me read; “The year 1999 and seventh month, from the sky will come the great king of terror” giving me two major worries; would the world end in 1999 and, if so, would it at least have the grace to do it after my birthday which was early in the month? Surely by July, they meant mid-to-late July, right?

Worrying about the future comes naturally to me, as least as it pertains to me personally. In fact, worrying about the future is something humans seem to excel at. From doomsday cults to end-of-time prophets, from massive enviromental failure to Mother Nature throwing a terminal stroppy fit, we’re all ready to listen whenever Chicken Licken tells us that the sky is falling, again.

Dan Gardner’s Future Babble – Why Expert Predictions Are Wrong And Why We Believe Them Anyway is an analysis of this, and of why humans seem to long to hear the worst. He argues that finding the glass not just half-full but possibly poisonous is a useful survival trait, which may go some way toward explaining Nostradamus’s enduring popularity, and how we are  more likely to give credibility to experts who get it almost always wrong than the quieter ones who occasionally get it right. And by occasionally, he means about half the time if they are lucky – Gardner pulls no punches in his condemnation of our practise of trusting expert opinions on the future.

“Let’s face it: experts are about as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys. And yet, every day, we ask them to predict everything from the weather to the likelihood of a terrorist attack. Future Babble is the first book to examine this phenomenon, demonstrating why our brains yearn for certainty about the future, why we are attracted to those who predict it confidently, and why it’s so easy for us to ignore the trail of outrageously wrong forecasts.”

And while many books on the future make the reader feel the end is nigh, Gardner explores cognitive psychology, political science, and behavioral economics to come up with an optimistic outlook; the future is always uncertain but – despite what the experts often say – the end is not always near.

It’s long gone 1999, and we’re all still here. Actually, a small bit of fact-checking now seems to suggest that the great king of terror could have been Ricky Martin, whose brain-meltingly catchy Livin’ la Vida Loca dominated the airwaves to claim the number one spot in mid-July. Just sayin’.

* On a side note, Good Omens is a fantastic book. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of comedic writing especially if you – or someone you need a gift for – is a fan of Pratchett, Gaiman or Douglas Adams.

WINNERS OF THE GEORGE AND GHOST COMPETITION ANNOUNCED!

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNERS OF THE GEORGE AND GHOST COMPETITION!

A FREE COPY OF GEORGE AND GHOST IS COMING YOUR WAY

What an amazing standard of entries we had in our Kids’ Book Caper’s George and Ghost competition. Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to enter.

Competition judge and George and Ghost author, Catriona Hoy admits that she had a difficult time making her final choices because there were so many fabulous entries.

JUDGES COMMENTS

It really, really was sooooo hard to choose. I had to enlist the help of my thirteen year old daughter! She laughed too. She even laughed at the story about her thinking Dad came out of my tummy.

So, as they say, in no particular order, here are my choices…but I really had lots of other favourites.

THE WINNERS

1. Julie Murphy (Australia) for…what is it like inside a brick.

It was so left field and in the words of my daughter…’that’s just so random, Mum!’

2. Karen Tyrrell (Australia) for ‘what is time?’

I saw a whole documentary on the BBC for that one and boy is that a dooozy to answer…even for a physicist.

3. Vickie Laurie (Australia) why didn’t I get invited… because it was so poignant and brough back memories of my own daughter’s struggle for acceptance…and my own!

4. Kay Baillie (Australia) because I’m seeing those free range sausage rolls, roaming the hills, slurping on tomata sauce (or ketchup fro our US friends).

and last but not least

5. Breanna Glass (US), for setting Grandad on fire.

I loved so many of the others though and I wish I had copies to give you all. One thing it has made me appreciate though…how tough must it be to be a commissioning editor? Really, sometimes, it just comes down to how someone feels on the day.

Thank you all so much for entering and taking part in my blog tour. I hope those of you who won will love your copies of George and Ghost and those who didn’t, look out for it in bookstores or libraries.

Finally…perhaps I’ll do it all again next month…when ‘Our Gags,’ comes out.

Thanks again to everyone who followed the blog tour and entered the competition. Congratulations to all our winners. I will be contacting you by email to tell you how you can collect your prize from Catriona.

KEEP WATCHING FOR MORE GREAT BLOG TOURS AND COMPETITIONS AT KIDS’ BOOK CAPERS – MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO WIN GREAT BOOKS!

Next Week – Grim & Grimmer author, Ian Irvine starts his tour here – more great prizes to be won.

Inside a Dog

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Who would have thought that these words, uttered by the legendary Grouho Marx, would have gone on to inspire a website for young readers?

Inside a Dog was originally launched in May 2006 by the State Library of Victoria’s Centre for Youth Literature. Since then is has hosted many ‘writers in residence’ on its blog, published hundreds of book reviews by teenagers and given birth to the Inky Awards. Its purpose is to encourage reading amongst young people and to promote Australian writers and their work.

Recently, the dog had a facelift. Actually it’s more than just a surface spruce-up and redesign. The new site has a lot of additional functionality, including forums, book clubs and teacher resources. I was lucky enough to go along to the re-launch of the site, hosted by The Age, on Tuesday 8 March.

As well as all the things you would expect at such a launch, speeches from people at the Centre for Youth Literature and The Age, and a tour of the website and its functions, this launch also included a key note speech from writer Bernard Beckett.

I’ve got to admit that I’d never heard of Bernard Beckett prior to this event. But I was seriously impressed by his speech. As well as being a writer, he is also a teacher, and he spoke about engaging students with reading. He talked about the importance of encouraging the enjoyment of reading, and he did so with passion, insight and a great deal of wit. All those attending received a copy of his latest book, August, which I have now placed in my must-read-soon stack.

So why am I telling you about the launch? It’s simply an excuse for me to encourage you all, be you young or young at heart, to visit the Inside a Dog website. If you’re a parent or teacher, browse through the reviews to see what kids are reading and the find out what they really think of books like Twilight and Harry Potter. If you’re a young person, register on the site and share your opinion of the books you are reading. And everyone should check out the Writer in Residence blogs. The current Writer in Residence is Brian Falkner, author of Brainjack and The Tomorrow Code. Past writers have included Daniel Ducrou (Byron Journals) and Nick Earls (True Story Of Butterfish).

It’s certainly not too dark to read inside this dog!

Tune in next time as J.E. Fison drops by on the blog tour for her latest Hazard River books.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

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Recent Acquisitions (5) (cont.)

Part 2 of my delicious recent acquisitions! Feast your eyes on these babies!

The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller – reading through the Chronicles of Narnia for the Reading Challenge has not only renewed the love that lay dormant in my heart for Aslan and Mr Tumnus and even Jadis, it’s also set me on task for devouring more  of C.S. Lewis. I must have more!!! Having adored them as a child and losing that innocence to the knowledge of Narnia’s religious undertones, Laura Miller’s book is ‘A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia’ and details the rise, and fall, and rise again of the Narnia chronicles through her eyes. I am reading it slowly, fingering each page with delight as I remember my own first encounter with Narnia. I am quite sure that interspersing this book with a re-reading of the Chronicles will enrich the experience a thousandfold.

I hate to admit that I’ve never read C.S. Lewis’ other works. I’m relieving myself of this unforgivable ignorance with Till We Have Faces. This is a retelling of the Greek myth of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche, and I have never read anything quite like it. I was a bit hesitant at first, wondering whether C.S. Lewis would subject me to a religious rant, but this book is a refreshing and welcome surprise, and is the perfect lead-in for me to next purchase The Screwtape Letters as my next Lewis read. Suffice to say I think I will enjoy writing the review for Till We Have Faces.

I’ve gone out on a limb with my non-fiction choices too, purchasing Long for this World, by Jonathan Weiner, who set out on a scientific adventure to discover if we had actually already discovered the secret to eternal life. I don’t have a cover picture for this one (it’s black and kinda simple, so you’re not missing out on much), but Long for this World certainly sounds like an interesting read.

Recently I received for review The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas. The cover is certainly beautiful (the gold filagree is SHINY), but it’s the story that attracts me most.
Taking place on the streets of Turkey at the end of the Ottoman era, a little girl named Eleanora is whisked into history after she is taken on as advisor to the Sultan. The Oracle of Stamboul is meant to be literary in style, but not cumbersome, and has been hailed as an ‘instant classic’. I wonder if I will feel the same?

***

Have you purchased anything recently that you’re excited to start? Have you checked out a book from the library that you totally misjudged? I’d love to hear about them!

Recent Acquisitions (5)

I haven’t done one of these ‘Recent Acquisitions’ posts in a while, but I’ve definitely still been receiving books at a fairly rapid rate. I’ve chosen my most anticipated reads for this two-part post…I hope there are some in there you’re eagerly anticipating reading too, or at least are inspired to learn more about them!

First up is Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. Every time I read the title of this book my brain bursts into yes, THOSE lyrics (nothin’s gonna change my world….nothin’s gonna change my world), but Beth Revis’ book version is about OUTER SPACE, you guys! YA outer space.

Amy is cryogenically frozen, along with her parents, and placed aboard a spaceship as frozen cargo with the expectation that they’ll all wake up in 300 years on a cool new planet. Except Amy wakes up 50 years too early, on board the ship, and everything is kind of crazy – she learns that someone meant for her to die, and now her parents are next. There’s madness, but also romance. And it’s been receiving good reviews across the blogging universe – so I thought I’d give it a test-drive myself.

Next: Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Are you a sucker for the strange bravado of a red/pink colour combination? I know I am! But that isn’t the reason I chose this book.

Lady Audley’s Secret caused quite the sensation back in the day and was read widely during the Victorian era. Since reading Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, I’ve been searching for another novel with similar themes and feel, and was recommended this one. With a protagonist as beautiful as she is murderous, Lady Audley’s Secret should prove to be quite the thriller!

And the award for the most random book on Aimee’s bookshelf goes to: the recently acquired The Cloudspotter’s Guide, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Published in 2007, this is a not-so-serious guide on Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s hobby: ‘the science, history and culture of clouds’. Oftentimes on long car trips I find myself looking up at the sky and losing myself in sweet cotton daydreams or becoming pensive over the bruised and stormy harbingers of doom. But I don’t really know what they’re there for, where they come from, or how to tell them apart. I expect that if I like this read, I will be heading out to purchase his latest: The Wavewatcher’s Companion.

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Part 2 up next!

The Fantasy Worlds of Trudi Canavan, part 2

Trudi Canavan, best selling author of The Black Magician trilogy and numerous other books, is back to answer some more questions. If you missed part one of this interview, go back and read it before reading part two. Sequential interviews usually work best if read in order (nag, nag). And now, on with the interview…

What is it that attracts you to the fantasy genre as a writer? And are you a reader of that genre as well?

I have tended to read mainly fantasy, even before I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always loved the way fantasy constantly imagines new ways to explore the impossible. Every now and then I’ll read outside the genre, but I’m always amazed at how often fantasy elements turn up in, say, contemporary novels. Reading minds and seeing ghosts? Fantasy. I guess my definition of fantasy is quite broad.

Have you tried out any other genres as a writer, or do you have any plans to do so?

I’ve tried writing short stories in other genres, though none that I thought were any good! The most successful have been urban fantasy – and by that I mean the old definition of fantasy set in a modern day urban environment, not paranormal romance – and fantasy romance knit lit. (Yes, you heard that right: romantic fiction with fantasy elements and knitting. Lots of fun to write!)

As well as being an author, you are also an artist. Is your writing influenced by your art, and would you ever want to illustrate the cover of one of your own books?

At the most basic level, I find I write better if I also have an outlet for my artistic side. When I worked as an illustrator I used to provide illustrations for science fiction and fantasy magazines. I also painted covers for the first two books of The Black Magician Trilogy, only to discover that publishing companies have a general rule against using artwork by the author, author’s relatives, friends, associates, etc. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare.

I have managed to get artwork into some of my books, however. In the Age of the Five trilogy the maps contain character drawings.

On your website you mention that you have an idea for a young adult novel. One of the things that struck me about The Magicians’ Guild was that in many ways it reads as YA — young heroin, understated romance that’s not pursued, no sex or graphic violence, etc. If not YA, it is certainly YA-friendly — but it is marketed as general fantasy. Was making it YA friendly a conscious choice on your part? And has this lead to a teenage readership? And how has this affected future books?

I never aimed the Black Magician Trilogy at the young adult market, but I know I was thinking of how my teenage self would enjoy it as I was writing it. I didn’t write the sole sex scene in it in detail only because I wasn’t sure I could write a sex scene well! It was a pleasant surprise when my UK publisher released a young reader version of the books and they sold so well.

At that stage I started to see myself being referred to as a young adult writer and that bothered me for two reasons. I didn’t want adults avoiding my books because they were only ‘for children’, and I didn’t want my image as a writer to be restricted. So when I wrote the Age of the Five I aimed for an older audience by having a main character who was in her mid twenties, and attempting a few sex scenes. Even so, a lot of teens read them and the sex isn’t explicit so parents don’t seem to mind.

And finally, can you tell us what the future holds for Trudi Canavan? What’s next after The Traitor Spy trilogy?

I’ve just recently sold my next series, so I can tell you a little about it! Once again I’m moving away from the Black Magician Trilogy world and into a new universe. Maker’s Magic, the first book in the Millenium’s Rule series, will be set in many different worlds. In one, a society experiencing its own industrial revolution, a student of archaeology discovers a magical, sentient book holding vital clues to an impending disaster. In the other, a world stuck in a dark ages after a terrible battle depleted all magic, the daughter of cloth sellers hides forbidden powers.

That brings us to the end of the Trudi interview. To find out more about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Twitter. Oh, and here’s a list of her books…

The Black Magician Trilogy

  1. The Magicians’ Guild
  2. The Novice
  3. The High Lord

The Age of the Five Trilogy

  1. Priestess of the White
  2. Last of the Wilds
  3. Voice of the Gods

The Magician’s Apprentice

The Traitor Spy Trilogy

  1. The Ambassador’s Mission
  2. The Rogue – due for release 5th May 2011
  3. The Traitor Queen – due for release 2012

Tune in next time for a look inside a dog.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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ENTER HERE TO WIN A COPY OF GEORGE AND GHOST

ABOUT GEORGE AND GHOST

George and Ghost is a book about a little boy and his special friend.

One day George decides he doesn’t believe in Ghost anymore and the onus is now on Ghost to prove that he exists.

George and Ghost delves into the world of what’s real and what’s not and does it matter anyway. A great book for children of an age when books should be encouraging their imagination to flourish. George and Ghost shows them that it’s okay for them to see the world in a different way to others.

This is a beautiful book for young children with themes of friendship, trust and perceptions. I also like the science themes explored in this book. Catriona Hoy who is a secondary school science teacher has cleverly woven some interesting detail and science experiments into this story for younger readers in a way that will amaze and engage them.

I loved that this book doesn’t tell you what to think or how you should believe. The ending is left up to the imagination and interpretation of the reader.

The text is very active and carries the reader along, but there are also clever insights into what George is thinking and feeling.

Cassia Thomas has done the stunning illustrations for this book. Her beautiful child friendly pictures will allay anyone’s fears that ghosts are too scary a topic for this age group. Like George, ghost is simply gorgeous. He is a gentle funny friend – the kind you’d want to take home as company for your young child.

HOW TO WIN A COPY OF GEORGE AND GHOST!

In George and Ghost, George questions his friendship with Ghost, and asks Ghost to prove that he is real.

Think of a hard to answer question that you asked as a child or a hard to answer question that your child or a child you know, has asked of you? The five hardest questions (as judged by George and Ghost author, Catriona Hoy) will win a copy of Catriona’s fabulous new book.

*  *  * PLEASE READ! HOW TO ENTER THE COMPETITION *   *   *

To be in the running to win one of the five copies of George and Ghost, THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:

1. Write your “hard to answer” question in the comments section at the end of this post.

2.  Next to your entry, write your country of origin.

3.   Submit your entry before 12 midnight Sunday 12th March, Australian time.

FIVE entries will be winners

Catriona is visiting all these great locations on her blog tour.

Monday March 7

Claire Saxby:  Let’s Have Words

Topic: Art vs Science

Tuesday March 8

Rebecca Newman: Alphabet Soup Magazine’s Soup Blog

Topic: Does a picture book need editing?

Wednesday March 9

Trevor Cairney : Literacy, Families and Learning

Topic: The Writing Journey

Thursday March 10 (Official Release Day!)

Robyn Opie: Writing Children’s Books With Robyn Opie

Topic: Writing George and Ghost

Friday March 11

Dee White: Kid’s Book Capers : Boomerang Books

Topic: Ghosts…Do You Believe? And…a review!

Saturday March 12

Chris Bell: From Hook To Book

Topic: Picture books: Here and Overseas.

Monday March 14

Lorraine Marwood: Words into Writing

Topic: What’s real anyway?

GEORGE AND GHOST AUTHOR CATRIONA HOY TALKS ABOUT GHOSTS

Catriona Hoy is visiting today as part of her blog tour to celebrate the launch of her beautiful new picture book, George and Ghost. She’s going to be talking about ghosts in general and about the special Ghost in her new book, which has been beautifully illustrated by Cassia Thomas.

I asked Catriona some spooky questions

Do you believe in ghosts?

I certainly believe there are ‘presences,’ and that there are more things on heaven and earth than we have the wherewithal to understand. I feel sometimes that special people who have passed on keep an eye on me and that’s a comfort. I would love to be ‘fey’ and that might seem to contradict my science background but it doesn’t really. I think that the boundaries of science are continually expanding and the more we know, the more we know we don’t know!

What’s the scariest ghost story that’s ever been told to you?

I’m actually not very good with ghost stories. I never watch horror films as I get too scared, I like to think of the dark as comforting rather than scary. I did however go out once with a boy whose mother was a spiritualist. She believed that their house was full of spirits and I always felt uncomfortable when I was in the shower…I used to wonder whether old Uncle Fred could see me. Of course I’m sure if Uncle Fred was there, he’d be much too civilised to watch me in the shower!

Have you ever met a ghost? If not, would you like to?

No, I haven’t met a ghost. I did love travelling through England and Scotland though, where there were so many ghosty and haunted places. One of the local pubs claimed it’s own ghost and I even booked friends in to stay the night there. Sadly, I think the noise of the Trivia Night chased it away!  I still hope to meet a nice, benevolent ghost one day.

If you met a ghost what would you say to it?

It depends…I might be really, really scared! It might be…’arrrggghhh.’ Or I might ask if it knew my Dad or my father-in law and ask if they were doing okay, ask it to give my mother-in law a big kiss and whether great auntie May missed having a cigarette or a whisky!

Why is this ghost important to George?

Although I’ve emphasised the ‘hidden science’ in George and Ghost, essentially it’s a story about friendship. Ghost is George’s friend and he is sent away, for reasons which may seem justified but really aren’t. I think children will relate to the friendship, loss and renewal of friendship. It’s also a metaphor for that slipping away of childhood things, those questions like ‘is Santa real?’.

Is George and Ghost based on something that really happened or is the story straight from your imagination?

George and Ghost came from my imagination but having said that, there were a lot of influences on me at that time, including where I was living and what my own children were up to. When we first moved to England, we had a loft where we found little bits and pieces that previous people had left behing. We found a note from a little boy and for a little while pretended he lived up there. Maybe that’s where the idea came from.

What made you write about a ghost?

Essentially, Ghost is just a best friend, rather than a ghost. Sure, he can fly through the window and he’s a bit different but when he snuggles down with George in bed on that last page, he’s as cute as any other sleepy little kid. George and Ghost isn’t a ghost story, it’s a friendship story. I know my own Mum had an imaginary friend when she was young, and an only child. True friends come when we need them.

Thanks, Catriona for talking ghosts with us and telling us about your new book.

Don’t forget to enter the competition on this blog to win one of five copies of Catriona Hoy and Cassia Thomas’ new picture book!

HOW TO WIN A FREE COPY OF GEORGE AND GHOST!

George questions his friendship with Ghost, and asks Ghost to prove that he is real.

Think of a hard to answer question that you asked as a child or a hard to answer question that your child or a child you know, has asked of you? The five hardest questions (as judged by George and Ghost author, Catriona Hoy) will win a copy of Catriona’s fabulous new book.

To be in the running to win one of the five copies of George and Ghost, write your “hard to answer” question in the comments section at the end of this post.

Catriona is visiting all these great locations on her blog tour.

Monday March 7

Claire Saxby:  Let’s Have Words

Topic: Art vs Science

Tuesday March 8

Rebecca Newman: Alphabet Soup Magazine’s Soup Blog

Topic: Does a picture book need editing?

Wednesday March 9

Trevor Cairney : Literacy, Families and Learning

Topic: The Writing Journey

Thursday March 10 (Official Release Day!)

Robyn Opie: Writing Children’s Books With Robyn Opie

Topic: Writing George and Ghost

Friday March 11

Dee White: Kid’s Book Capers : Boomerang Books

Topic: Ghosts…Do You Believe? And…a review!

Saturday March 12

Chris Bell: From Hook To Book

Topic: Picture books: Here and Overseas.

Monday March 14

Lorraine Marwood: Words into Writing

Topic: What’s real anyway?

The Fantasy Worlds of Trudi Canavan, part 1

Trudi Canavan is a best-selling Australian fantasy author whose books include The Black Magician trilogy, the Age of the Five trilogy and the current Traitor Spy trilogy. And she’s here at Literary Clutter for a bit of a chat.

Let’s start off with a fairly standard sort of question: When did you realise that you wanted to be an author and what was your road to publication?

Before I wanted to be a writer I wanted to make films, thanks to Star Wars. Helpful adults told me to write my ideas down, and the writing thing sprang from there. It was only when I read Lord of the Rings at 14 that I gained the ambition to write books.

I started out keeping a journal, but it wasn’t until I bought an Amiga computer in my late teens that my output began to grow. Finally it felt natural to write. I didn’t tend to write in a linear way, instead hopping back and forth to build a narrative.

At some point I promised myself I’d have a book written by 25, since that was sooo ooold. When I reached 25 and hadn’t yet finished a book, but had a fantastic idea for a story that actually had an ending, and hated my job, I decided it was time to give writing more time and dedication. Starting an illustration business with the intention of writing part time, I wrote the first draft of The Black Magician trilogy in a year and a half.

Of course, many rewrites and years passed by before it found a publisher, but by then I was seriously addicted to the writing life, even if it meant I was broke most of the time!

The Black Magician trilogy, the Traitor Spy trilogy and the stand alone novel The Magician’s Apprentice are all set in the same fantasy universe. How hard is it to create a believable world, with its geography, society, politics, etc; and how do you keep track of it all over so many novels?

Creating a believable world is a lot of fun and a lot of work. It helps to have an interest in archaeology, history, anthropology, biology, geology, etc., as I do. And I believe it is just as helpful to watch documentaries as it is to read books on a subject, because they give you a more visual sense of what you’re learning. It also helps to have a go at some of the things your characters might be involved in. My few experiences riding, grooming and feeding horses, convinced me that I should avoid having my characters interact with horses as much as possible because I clearly have no clue about them! I also tried fencing, which I was really bad at, but it gave me a very good insight into the practicalities of sword fights. I can now spot an implausible fight scene from two paces.

As I write a book or series I keep notes on the world, though I tend to stop and compile them in batches rather than break the flow of writing constantly. The good thing about writing the prequel and sequel to The Black Magician trilogy is that most of the world building is already done.

The Age of the Five trilogy is set in a different universe to your other novels. Do you have any plans to revisit this world?

No plans as yet. I can’t explain why without spoiling it, but the epilogue at the end of that series deliberately lets the reader come to their own conclusions about the ending, and writing a sequel would spoil that. Having recently written a prequel, I’m aware of the particular challenges involved in prequels, so I’m not overly keen to go that way either. Not unless I think of a particularly exciting story to write.

Trudi will be back again for the next post. In the meantime, check out Trudi’s website and my previous post, reviewing her novel The Magicians’ Guild.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I won’t post the second half of the interview. 😉

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CATS BATS AND WITCHES HATS

This quirky new picture book from Michèle Dodd takes a simple idea and develops it into an engaging story. If you’ve ever wondered what is really underneath the witches’ hats on the road, this is the story for you.

At the stroke of midnight, four mischievous witches sneak out from their hiding places under the witches hats and create havoc and mayhem all around. They mix potions, cast spells and create havoc everywhere.

They introduce the reader to a whole new life out there on the highway. Speed humps turn into camels, white lines into zebras.

Michèle’s colourful expressive illustrations bring this unusual story to life.

This book is one that gives free reign to your imagination. I know as a child I used to dream about the things around me coming to life and causing chaos.

These witches and their fierce cats are naughty but full of fun just like the illustrations in the book. I think my favourite picture was the witches sneaking back under their witches hats to shade from the sun.

Cats, Bats and Witches Hats is full of wild and wacky humour and vibrant colourful pictures.

Cats, Bats and Witches Hats is published by Brolly Books.

Thoughts on: A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.

It’s the book I was meant to fall in love with. But you guys KNOW how it irks me when books are compared to others (who wants to be the next ‘anything’, anyway? Don’t they want to set the standard, be the original, rather than be compared to the standard, be a derivative of the original?). Aside from sympathy for the author, publishers who overhype books run the risk of disappointing readers. Readers like me, who was intrigued when the book was described as ‘sparking a bidding war’ between publishing houses: a mix of ‘Twilight, Harry Potter and The Historian‘ (let it be known that I was more intrigued by The Historian comparison than the Twilight/Harry Potter ones).

So what did I think when I had A Discovery of Witches in my hot little hands? Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Firstly, my encounter with the book’s protagonist left me cold. Diana is a super-smart historian, a blonde, and a witch. For reasons still unknown to me, Diana is not happy with her witchy powers and prefers not to use them at all. Oh, except to speed up the onerous chore of doing the weekly laundry. Diana is also supposedly super-busy, but if you judge her from the book’s contents, much of her time is spent fainting, complaining, dithering about, and doing the odd yoga sesh. And as the story plods into baffling territory of Diana’s discovery that she is an UBER-witch, she alternates between acts of ‘bravery’ (read: dominatrix) and frailty. I had trouble with Diana’s choices, which seemed more to reflect where the plot was going than any thought to character consistency.
Matthew, the vampire love interest, is also a strange mix of baffling and boring. I couldn’t get past the fact that he’s been alive for 1500 years, but appears to be socially inept. He emanates the typical Edward Cullen-style possessiveness, but I didn’t buy the two’s supposed chemistry-at-first-sight… perhaps because I wasn’t sure exactly what was realistically attractive about either of them. And I guess that’s one of the really big issues I had with the book – I felt the reader was being told what to feel, rather than seeing it and feeling it as a result. By the time Diana was whisked off to Matthew’s estate in Paris I couldn’t stomach another Mills and Boon cliche.

To be fair to the book, readers who like elaborate descriptions may appreciate this story, as it’s lavishly detailed every step of the way… but for me the detail was lacklustre – we learn about everything Matthew cooks Diana for dinner, and vice versa. Apparently Diana loves rowing, yoga, contemplations over cups of tea and using her PhD status to get a great desk at the library, because there are repetitive scenes which do little to further the plot. And there’s not much other action going on, that’s for sure.

As a disclaimer: if the book had been an enjoyable escapist read, I would have written a more forgiving review. But I feel it’s important to be true to my opinion, and for that reason I have to admit to rolling my eyes often at the cheesy dialogue, becoming increasingly annoyed with the slow pacing and itching to slap the characters into life.

It will come as no surprise that reading A Discovery of Witches left me increasingly frustrated and, ultimately, dissatisfied. It is a physically hefty book with a feather-light story and a blatant escapist mentality. Yes, it might have been improved by further editing, and yes, perhaps Book 2 will remedy some of the issues I had with Book 1 (they’re banking on a trilogy), but I’m not sure that it will generate the “reader infatuation” publishers are hoping for.

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Disclosure: Received for review.

Year of Publication: 2011.

Number of Pages: 592.

Book Challenges: 2011 Fantasy Reading Challenge; Chunkster Challenge 2011.

Celebrating female writers on International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day and to celebrate we are asking who is your favourite female author and what women writers recently rocked your socks?

I may write about non-fiction these days, but my early years were filled with fiction written by women. This is not because I felt strongly about reading female authors but because once someone placed a copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty in my tiny hands I became utterly obsessed with books about ponies. Between pestering my folk’s to buy me anything by Christine Pullein-Thompson and rampaging through the library looking for all things equine, if it had a horse in it, I tracked it down and read it with a dedication that was sadly missing from my devotion to schoolwork.

My first favourite writer was an Australian woman who wrote poetry and passion about horses and the Australian bush – Elyne Mitchell of the Silver Brumby series fame. Long before I could pronounce it, I yearned to see the slopes of Mount Kosciusko and its silver gums and herds of brumbies. (In fact, I’m not sure I can pronounce it. Cos-kus-zio? Cosk-usque-yo? Can I just call it the Big K?)

In college, I learned to love a bit of Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood and Ruth Park and spent more time digesting non-fiction – Naomi Klein take on consumerism and the media in her book’s No Logo and Shock Doctrine, Susan Faludi on feminism and how gender expectations affect both sexes. It wasn’t all heavy reading and high literature – I frequently sought some light relief with Robin Hobb who I’ve been reading for over a decade now and I still think writes some of the best character-driven fantasy out there.

Recent releases by women hogging the best spots on my bookshelf include Mira’s Grants Feed, a tale of politics and media in the post-zombie apocalypse world with a suitably savvy and complex female protagonist,  and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a study of neurosexism – the idea that hard-wired differences in the brains of the sexes accounts for the gender status quo –  which is particularly appropriate for the day that is in it.

Not that the day was conceived as a recent idea in the battle against sexist pseudo-science – originally called International Working Women’s Day, it has Eastern European and socialist origins and was first observed in 1911 in Germany. Demonstrations for International Women’s Day in Russia were the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. While the day has changed since its inception, the original political and human rights theme still runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are highlighted, with reasons for cheer celebrated. In 1977 the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

And for those of you wondering, there is also an International Men’s Day on November 19, with a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models.  On the internet there is also an unofficial consensus that March 14th is Steak and Other Nice Thing we won’t name here Day, but I have never seen why both genders can’t enjoy that. I can even put on a great vegan chilli for the non-steak eaters out there.

Happy International Women’s Day, and happy reading!