The Let’s Go Wild books are a new children’s series from acclaimed adventurer, filmaker, author and artist, Sorrel Wilby.

Sorrel has published a number of books recounting her amazing adventures around the world and with her Let’s Go Wild series she hopes to bring her passion and enthusiasm for animals and nature to a whole new audience.

These books are great for kids who love humorous non-fiction – and adults seem to love them too. The books provide all sorts of fascinating facts about animals.

JUST FOR THE RECORD is all about How High, How Fast, How Strong and How Big animals are and the book introduces kids to some quirky animal habits. Kids will be amazed at the incredible achievements of the animal kingdom. “In this world there are even prizes for coming last.”

Each chapter has all sorts of interesting trivia and a Did You Know segment full of all sorts of weird and wonderful facts. Despite being non-fiction, the text is never dry and is broken up by hilarious black and white illustrations from talanted Michelle Pike (also known as Spikey).

SKIN DEEP as the name suggests is all about the suits of armour that protect animals from predators and from the climatic conditions of their environment. With animals, what’s on the outside really counts – it’s essential to their survival. Animals use their skin to attract or repel, hide or stand out and stay cool or warm.

Readers of Sorrel’s SKIN DEEP will find out why birds have feathers, how animals play hide and seek and how bald can be beautiful in the animal kingdom. If the lively text and illustrations don’t have them giggling, the jokes at the end will raise a smile.

Here’s a sample:

Why was the bald man walking around with two rabbits on his head?

Because from a distance, he thought they’d look like hares.

See how sick the humour is? Kids will just love it. Sorrel’s passion for what she is writing about shines through in these books and so does her humour which seems to match perfectly with illustrator, Michelle Pike’s obvious sense of fun.

Current titles in the series are

They are for readers aged 7 to 10 and will appeal to kids who love collecting weird facts and trivia. A great way for them to have fun learning about animal kingdom.

The Let’s Go Wild series is published by ABC Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


Thoughts on: Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

The Times says Skippy Dies is a “carnival of a novel”. It says so on the cover.

And The Times is right: the nostalgic sweetness of fairy floss in your mouth, the heated competition of the sideshows, the risk of life on the rollercoasters, the contentedness of the ferris wheel and the fear of ghosts in the haunted house. It’s all there. And it never manages to seem too long, for all its 650 or so pages.

Fancy that – a story about a fatal donut-eating competition somehow managing to squeeze my heart. Skippy, the title character, dies within the first scene of the book, and then we move back from there, slipping into the minds and hearts of a jumble of different characters surrounding Skippy, as well as a little bit of Skippy himself (the book is not chronological, so he’s alive for most of it).

You may be thinking that I’m treating a schoolboy’s death rather lightheartedly. But this is what Skippy Dies does – it’s ticklish with humour in parts, which makes the sad parts distinctly sadder. It pushes you to be thoughtful. The writing is phenomenal. The kids seem to fare better than the adults when we’re first introduced – a lot of them have repressed desires that should probably not be mentioned much further on a family website like Boomerang Books, but I don’t think you’ll be offended if you read it. And you probably won’t ever look at Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’ the same again.

In parts, Skippy Dies reminds me of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz – it has that same ability to make us see the comedy in the tragedy. But there’s so much more I’m not telling you – and I can’t really pigeonhole it any more than I have. Suffice to say it takes place in and around an Irish Catholic School for Boys, and Skippy still manages to fall in love in spite of the odds.

Have I sold you yet?

This is a novel of life and death, of education and voiceless desires, heartbreak and first love, and the wormholes in the universe that connect them all. When I finished this book, I lay it down, and took the time to stare into space for a while – a little sad, and wondering about life and stuff. I said a prayer for Skippy, and hope that he’s happy, wherever he is.


Are you planning on reading Skippy Dies? Or have you already? What did you think of it?

Year of Publication: 2010.
Number of Pages:
Book Challenges: The Complete Booker 2011 Challenge; Chunkster Challenge 2011.

2011 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction announced

The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction has been awarded to Siddhartha Mukherjee for THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES A Biography of Cancer

‘I found myself thinking of cancer as this character that has lived for 4,000 years, and I wanted to know what was its birth, what is its mind, its personality, its psyche?’- Sid Mukherjee

HarperCollins is thrilled to announce that Siddhartha Mukherjee has been awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

The Pulitzer committee described The Emperor of All Maladies as ‘an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease that, despite treatment breakthroughs, still bedevils medical science’.

In The Emperor of All Maladies, Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a novelist’s richness of detail, an historian’s range and a biographer’s passion. The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience and perseverance but also of hubris, arrogance, paternalism and misperception, all leveraged against a disease that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out war against cancer. It’s a story of science and scientists, of centuries of discoveries, of setbacks and victories and deaths, told through the eyes of Mukherjee’s predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary.-Siddhartha Mukherjee

About Siddhartha Mukherjee
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University Medical Center. A Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in The New Republic, The New York Times, Nature and The New England Journal of Medicine. He lives in New York with his wife and daughters.


Adventurer and artist, Sorrel Wilby successfully combined her passion for nature into a hugely successful presenting and public speaking career, including nine years as a journalist on Channel Nine’s ‘Getaway’ program.

Sorrel has published numerous books recounting her amazing journeys and with Let’s Go Wild she hopes to bring her passion and enthusiasm for animals and nature to a whole new audience.

Today she is visiting Kid’s Book Capers to talk about her fabulous new series. Here’s what she had to say.

1.          What inspired you to write the Let’s Go Wild books?

I really love nature and I’m constantly looking for new ways to connect kids to the natural world. These books are really just the tip of a very big iceberg… I hope they inspire kids to be inquisitive and respectful of all wildlife – and who knows? Maybe even one day they will help care for and protect wild animals and their habitats.

2.         There are heaps of fascinating facts in these books, can you tell us about the research process?

I’m very lucky, in that I have had so many amazing first hand experiences filming with animals and the scientists either studying them, or fighting to protect them. So a lot of the research for these books is directly from those experiences in the field. I also have an extensive library of books on animals and subscriptions to several natural history magazines from different parts of the world. I use the internet a fair bit as well – but always “phone a friend” to double check a fact before including it in one of my books.

3.         You’ve been on a 17,000 kilometre solo bike ride through the Himalayas and climbed all the major peaks in Africa so you clearly enjoy a challenge. What is the most challenging thing about being a children’s author?

Hmmmm…. It’s not that challenging writing for kids – the hard bit is getting the work published! LOL. I have a great agent, BTW… 
I have two kids of my own, and a tribe of other children I walk to school (3kms) every day – so I was able to run every fact past them first – and depending on their reaction – either include, or reject it for inclusion in the series. Same with the animal jokes at the back. If I didn’t get a laugh – the jokes didn’t get a run. Too bad, too sad.

4.         Did you have a particular reader/readers in mind when you wrote these books?

Well… It’s interesting you should ask that. I was thinking these books were for 8 – 12 year old kids…. But it turns out their parents are hogging the books, trying to find random and totally cool facts they can impress their own friends with at dinner parties!

5.         Are these the sort of books you enjoyed reading as a child?

I must admit, I wasn’t a huge reader as a child… I was too busy exploring the great outdoors to have my nose in a book!  I remember once, catching cicadas and putting little numbered tags on their backs with Perkins paste, trying to “track” where they went…

6.         Why do you think it’s important for children to learn about the natural world?

I think it’s really important to be PASSIONATE about the natural world. To develop a CURIOSITY about the wonder that’s all around us. We can’t protect what we don’t understand – and when it comes to the animal kingdom… Given the alarming rate at which we are destroying habitat… It is absolutely imperative for the future of nature, that our kids today CARE. I also think it’s really important that that responsibility to take better care of the environment and all the creatures who share it with us, comes from a place of WONDER, and not GUILT.

7.         Did you have a vision for how you wanted the Let’s Go Wild books to look or were you happy to leave this part of the process up to illustrator, Michelle Pike?

I had a very definite vision for each drawing – and communicated this to Michelle, who’s just soooo clever, she was able to draw EXACTLY what was in my head! I think we share the same brain… She’s amazing.

8.         How many books do you have planned for the Let’s Go Wild series? When are the next ones due for release?

OK – so there are 3 now, and I’ve already written another 5… All up though, I’ve planned 12.

On Friday at Kids’ Book Capers, we’re reviewing Sorrel’s new children’s series. Hope you can join us then.


A Book Club That Works

Have you ever joined a book club? They’re not just for retired ladies anymore.

Everything “old” is cool again: vintage fashion will now cost you an arm and a leg, you’ll find girls happily taking up knitting on the bus to work, and chardonnay is clawing its way back onto the wine charts of the ‘upwardly mobile’.

Being the partner of a Defence member, I get to move around a bit, and I figured early on that one surefire way to get social in a new town is to join a club. If someone else in town likes books, chances are you’ll get along famously…

Or not.

If there’s anything my varied book club experience has taught me, it’s that you need to find the right book club that works for you. So, I’ve compiled a quick set of guidelines in case you like the idea of joining a book club, or even setting up a book club yourself, but live in fear of making a commitment you don’t think you can keep.

Book Club Guideline 1

Know your style

Are you interested in a straightforward discussion of the book? Or do you like a bit of a lighthearted non-bookish conversation thrown into the mix? This is the number one issue I’ve found in choosing the right book club. One club I went to – we would spend the first half hour nattering about everything but books before settling into the monthly read. A new member came along, and as soon as she sat down opened up her book full of post-it notes, crossed her legs and looked at us expectantly. We continued the chatter, but one couldn’t help but notice her huffs and puffs and constant wristwatch-checking. When all the regular members had settled in, our conversation finally turned to books, but by that stage she stood up, said she had dinner to cook, and stormed off. We never saw that woman again.

I can’t stress enough: know what you’re in for. If you’re turning up to a book club you found by trawling the Vogue forums online, expect to talk a bit of fashion. If it’s a book group set up through a bookstore, there probably won’t be much time to get to know the other participants – expect a serious read (unless people are super-friendly and talk over the chairperson)!

Book Club Guideline 2

Know your genre

Do you even want to stick to a specific genre? Are you happy to read off a literary prize list, or indulge in some Chick Lit? It’s important to make sure you and your members know what types of books you’ll be reading. This is the chance to expand your horizons – the most effective clubs I’ve been to often assign a month to each member – they’ll choose the book and you’re forced to read it. From personal experience, there were of course some duds in the mix – but some of my favourite books come from another member’s choice – and I would never have picked up the book if I hadn’t been required to read it for Book Club.

Book Club Guideline 3

Know your discussion

There really is no point turning up for a book club if you haven’t read the book, month after month. If you’re one of these types, get up off that derriere and plan, plan, plan! Write it in your diary, on your fridge, in your work calendar – wherever will help you remember. If you don’t want to buy the book, check the library catalogue or tee up with one of the other members to borrow the book and return the favour next month.
At the actual meeting, ensure that you have a few questions up your sleeve, in case of lulls in the conversation. There are tons of resources online that will help you out with some interesting questions to ask, or fascinating discussion points you can bring up to enrich your own reading experience, and make you look extra intelligent in front of everyone else. People at book clubs will often dither about, not wanting to structure the discussion for want of seeming too keen, desperate, high brow, or just plain nerdy. I’m not suggesting you go in there and rule with an iron fist and a drafted meeting agenda – but you’ll be surprised at how a few simple prepared questions posed in a laidback manner will get people talking and enthused.
These are just a couple of points garnered from my own experience. Don’t take it as gospel, but perhaps it’ll come in handy if you feel like mixing it up a bit at your own book club. And if you’ve been thinking about joining one for a while, this might be the kick in the pants you need to take the plunge. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

As for me, now, I’m thoroughly happy with my chosen clubs. And with a little pre-planning and knowing what you want, you can dive into loving your own book club too! It’s something to look forward to every month – a great set of girls and/or guys, a big glass of wine, some gossip, and discussion about books – what more could you want?


The Curse of Being Brunette



I know I’ve got two brilliant covers of Game of Thrones up there, and I promise I’ll get to the book later in the post, but first of all I want to make reference to another book I’m reading right now, and how it relates to the subject matter I’m wanting to discuss with you all.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is one of those pensive, magical reads that really makes a girl think. I am loving the book so far, but I must admit, something has been gnawing at my bones and its been growing for a while now. Or not my bones, rather. More my hair follicles…

If you want the God’s-honest truth, my brunette strands are spitting like Medusa’s snakes.

Allow me to explain. Zimmer Bradley does such a bang-up job of portraying Morgaine’s side of the story in The Mists of Avalon and the glorious legend of Camelot and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (et cetera, et cetera) that I am actually hating on Guinevere (or “Gwenhwyfar” as the book spells it). Hating on her for her ‘fair locks’, just like Morgaine is, because Lancelot wouldn’t both looking at dark, ugly things while these pale golden beauties are around…

Is it just me, or are we taking a step back into Disney fairyland here, where Rapunzels and Cinderellas and Goldilocks’ are the orders of the day for romantic heroine stereotypes, and the witches are all black-haired? Just to clarify, I’m only talking about hair here, regardless of skin colour. Not to say that that isn’t a worthy argument – but you can research the whole idea behind Disney’s film The Princess and the Frog, or the furore of Justine Larbeister’s US cover of Liar, in your own time. For the moment, I’m just focusing on the colour of hair. And I’m pretty sure that even in Arthur and Lancelot and Merlin’s time there would have been a bevy of brown-haired British-Anglo beauties to portray alongside the piety of the fair Gwenhwyfar.

Which brings me to Game of Thrones. We see much of the same issue here. Sadhbh has already made a wonderfully comprehensive commentary on this ridiculous review of Episode 1 of  the TV series Game of Thrones which I refuse to pay any attention to – except to say that even my favourite character of the series, Daenerys Targaryen, irks me, all because of her beautiful white-blonde hair. Visually-stunning golden twin Queen Cersei Lannister does nothing to help the cause. I can only hope Arya Stark can do an about-face and quit the raven-haired rebel stereotype (but I do secretly think she’s pretty wonderful no matter the hair colour).

I’m suffering a serious case of character hair-envy, no doubt about it. But seriously, if we can just find an Elizabeth Taylor type (just one) to combat all those Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly types in fantasy literature, then I may find some peace.

What do you think? Are brunettes given a bad rap in fantasy literature? Are there raven-haired heroines out there who don’t conform to the stereotype of rebellious, cold-hearted creatures?

No Fantasy please – we’re women.

Winter is coming, and Ginia Bellafante thinks that the ladies won‘t like it.

The Winter in question is HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martins political fantasy epic, Game of Thrones and Ginia, the New York Times reviewer who saw the screening in advance, is less than impressed. She feels that the TV show is an overblown over-sexed extravaganza whose budget could have been better devoted to keeping Mad Men on air. In this land of “dwarves and loincloths” there are too many characters, she thinks, perhaps the show should warn people who can’t count cards to go back to watching Sex and the City re-runs?

The show does have a lot of characters but then, so do the books. I like to read a bit of fantasy, and I am a fan of Game of Thrones and the series it is part of. And I know plenty of other people – male and female – who‘d agree with me. When I worked as manager of a games and bookstore in Ireland for two years, one of the most common questions was, “Do you know when the next George R R Martin  is coming out?” That question came up so many times, from all genders, that we joked that we should just stick a sign up behind the till saying, “No, Book Four is not out yet. Direct complaints to Mr Martin, please.”

While there are many criticisms you can throw around about the books – including an impassioned plea to Martin to just release book five already – there is no denying that they have many fans of both genders. Bellafante is clearly not a fan, which is fair enough, but she assumed that what held true for her applies to everyone with a uterus. Women, she stated, simply weren‘t going to like it – not because it was badly-cast, or poorly scripted, or just plain boring – but because it is fantasy.

“While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”

Now, I’m not a Hobbit fan nor in a book club, but I am better placed than Ms Bellafante to judge Martin’s writing, and fantasy generally, by the simple virtue of actually having read some. I wasn‘t aware that having boy parts was a prerequisite to enjoying the genre and I didn’t find the books particularly patronising, but Ginia’s belief that women don’t enjoy epics is getting right up my nose.

Bellafante’s dismissal of fantasy as “boy fiction“ led to lots of heated responses, some vitriolic and other more thoughtful, so much so that she weighed back in a few days later, trying to pour oil on troubled waters with a piece entitled, “Pull Up and Throne and Let’s Talk”. This probably didn’t come out as well as she hoped. Ginia started by explaining, “I write from a perspective that is my own, not one that seeks to represent a big tent of varying opinion.” Which is fair enough, even her previous piece included an offhand blanket statement about half the darn planet.

And then she continued, “As I wrote in the review, I realize that there are women who love fantasy, but I don’t know any and that is the truth: I don’t know any. At the same time, I am sure that there are fantasy fans out there who may not know a single person who worships at the altar of quietly hewn domestic novels or celebrates the films of Nicole Holofcener or is engrossed by reruns of “House.””

So, not only does Ginia believe that she doesn’t know a single woman out there who likes to read fantasy, but also that these exotic female fantasy fans (who she has never met) may well conglomerate in groups, trading sorcery and sword novels and refusing to read or watch outside their tiny circle of knowledge. Roaming their homes in chain-mail bikinis, purchasing “Hot Dwarves Monthly” and throwing axes at the TV to activate the extended and expanded Directors edition of Lord of the Rings.

Not just, you know, reading good books and enjoying them, regardless of their reproductive organs.

To which all I can say is, Ginia, the problem here is clearly not Game of Thrones or the fantasy genre. It’s that you need to meet more women.


Alpha Monsters, written and illustrated by Chris Kennett offers a fun and innovative way for children to learn their alphabet.

It’s an Alphabet book with a story. The hero, Freddy is in his tree house when lightning strikes and hurls him into  whole new world.

He lands on a strange jungle floor where he encounters a sobbing monster. The monster has a problem that kids will definitely relate to – he has lost his teddy. The sobbing monster is Monster “A” and he has twenty five friends in his world, all named after letters of the alphabet.

Freddy journeys through this amazing world with Monster “A” in search of the lost toy.

Chris Kennet’s monsters are cute and not scary and each of them is doing an action that matches their letter of the alphabet. My favourites would have to be “Poor U (upside down with his underwear freezing) and “G groaning about gritty sand in his tea.”

They are all very busy little monsters going about their typical day doing fun activities like ice skating and visiting the beach.

By visiting the other monsters at play and helping Monster “A” retrace his steps, Freddy helps him find his lost toy.

This book will appeal to small children on so many levels. There are the cute Alpha Monsters and the cheeky smiling Freddy, there’s the adventure and the lost teddy problem that is something they will have experienced. Freddy helps Monster “A” remember where he left Teddy by going over everything he did that day – this is the same method a parent would use to help a small child find a lost toy.

At the end of Alpha Monsters, there’s a colourful double paged spread showing all the alphabet monsters getting up to their special antics. So young readers can go through the alphabet in a fun way all over again.

Reader aged 4+ will love the cartoon style illustrations and the rhyming text makes this a fun educational experience for the whole family to share.

Alpha Monsters is published by Scholastic.

Ebook Prices and Greed

So I’ve been thinking about ebook prices and greed lately. There are a few good arguments for lowering ebook prices, mostly to do with the win-win situation when cheaper books mean more sales and more profits (i.e. it doesn’t always work). What annoys me, though, is that a big proportion of blog chatter about ebook pricing seems to be based solely on a sense of entitlement. Do people deserve to be able to buy books at low prices? And how low is low? As always, The Smell of Books does not provide an answer, but I’ll do my darndest to run in ever tighter circles around the question.

But either way, yes, I think publishers are losing the hearts and minds of readers. After all, readers don’t have to know about the ins and outs of the publishing business—they just have to know how it affects their own pocketbooks …

So said Chris Meadows in a recent post he made responding to my post on publishers losing the hearts and minds of readers. And I find it hard to disagree with him. Despite eloquent arguments to the contrary, I find it difficult to even argue with my friends who want to buy cheap books overseas or cheat territorial restrictions to get cheaper ebook prices.

There are many ebooks that seem to me to be very expensive. And yet working as I do for a large publishing company, I know that margins are tight, that people are tense and that the future of publishing is by no means assured. This is the rub. People want cheaper books, but cheaper books will cripple the industry. The reason for this incongruity, I suspect, is that the people who love books (and are demanding lower prices) don’t fund their production. Books are an 80/20 endeavour. In other words, twenty per cent of the books (or less) make eighty per cent (or more) of the profits. The massive amount of irregular book buyers buying one or two overpriced books a year fund all the other books that more dedicated, passionate (and proportionately fewer) readers buy regularly and enjoy.

So what’s the solution to this conundrum? Publishers have used book windowing to try to address this issue – retaining profits while still (eventually) making books affordable. Book windowing, for those who don’t know the term, describes the practice of selling hardbacks or trade paperbacks (the bigger paperbacks) at a higher price on a book’s release, then selling smaller paperbacks at a lower price later. However, windowing is under serious threat from ebooks, and, it can be argued, doesn’t seem to make much sense in a digital world.

Some would argue that publishers simply don’t have a place in the book world any longer. I disagree vehemently (as you’d expect). There is still a valid role for gatekeepers in the chaotic world of indie and self-publishing (follow the link if you want a good argument for it – Rich Adin does it admirably well). The fact that traditional publishers successfully act as curators of book content is part of why they can charge more for their ebooks and still sell more copies than most self-published titles – yet still people complain.

So what is the solution to this problem? Or is it even a problem? Is the customer always right? Should book prices be lower than they are? Is windowing a fair way of distributing the cost of producing books? What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.


Scorpia Rising is the latest Alex Rider book by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the last book in the series and as far as red hot action goes, it doesn’t disappoint.

“Alex Rider wants his life back. But when you’re the world’s most successful spy, there’s only one way out. Alex’s final mission will be the deadliest of them all.”

In Scorpia Rising, Alex encounters some old foes. The crime syndicate Scorpia, who Alex has defeated twice already, has set a trap for MI6 where it plans to use Alex and lure him to his death.

Alex is also confronted with his old enemy the psychopathic Julius Grief who hates Alex with a passion because of past encounters. Julius is looking forward to being witness to Alex’s slow painful torture and eventual death.

Alex, who is well and truly ‘over’ being a teenage super spy is drawn back into this dangerous world and this time he might not escape with his life.

Scorpia Rising is fast-paced and full of gadgets to appeal to the techno head. As usual there’s never a dull moment, and people and situations are not what they seem.

It’s hard enough to end a book well, let alone a series, but Anthony Horowitz manages to tie up all the loose ends in a believable way that will leave readers feeling that things have reached their conclusion.

Like all the Alex Rider books, Scorpia Rising drags the reader in right from the start and doesn’t let them go till the last page.

Although the characters aren’t people that teen readers would encounter in their normal everyday world, they have flaws and feelings that make them credible. Despite his unusual talents, Alex is presented as a boy who makes mistakes and has flaws – these things make him real to the reader.

The Alex Rider books are full of suspense and all the elements to engage teen readers – particularly boys.

Every piece of action has been well researched and well thought out and in Scorpia Rising, the odds of Alex surviving seem more impossible than ever before.

There are more fascinating locations and exotic settings as Alex super spies his way across the globe, and places like Egypt provide a backdrop for new action and adventure.

In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, author Anthony Horowitz conveys his sadness that the Alex Rider series has come to an end with Scorpia Rising. There are many readers who will feel this way too.

Scorpia Rising is a great read for teens and is published by Walker Books.


The case of the Captain Cook project and the stolen book

Once upon a time, in my dark and shady past, I stole a book. Yes, that’s right! I am a criminal… or, at least, my 9-year-old self was. It was the one and only time I have ever stolen a book. And it wasn’t really intentional, although it was premeditated. Let me explain…

My memories of the incident itself are rather hazy… what I do remember clearly are the feelings. I was in grade 4 at the time and my teacher had set an Australian history project. On the day that it was due, I had nothing to hand in. When questioned by the teacher, I admitted to not having done anything. No writing, no reading — I had not even borrowed any books from the school library, as I was meant to. The teacher gave me an extension and she even got me a book from the library — James Cook, Captain, R.N. by C.A. Burland.

I still did not do the project. In fact, I never even read the book. I remember the teacher asking me a couple more times about it as the year progressed. And each time I made up some excuse. Eventually the teacher stopped chasing me. Either she forgot about it, or she simply gave up on it as a lost cause.

In all honesty, I have no recollection of why I did not do the assignment. It’s not as if I was a disobedient student. It’s not as if I was incapable of the work. I usually did my homework and I remember being rather proud of numerous projects I handed in over the course of my primary school life. So it beats me why I did not do this particular one.

What I do remember is the fear — the fear that the teacher would eventually tell my parents. So when the teacher appeared to have forgotten about the work I had not even started, I wanted to make damn sure I didn’t remind her. And so, I never returned the book. The librarian never reminded me about it, because I had not officially borrowed it — the teacher had gotten it for me. And I couldn’t return it, in case her memory was jogged. I did not want to steal the book. I had no desire to read it. But I did plan never to return it. In fact, I hid it. And every time I came across it, I felt a moment of panic about the project that never was and a pang of guilt about the theft.

Just a few weeks ago I found that book. Although the panic was no longer there, the guilt was. That guilt was then intensified by my 2-year-old, who managed to get a hold of the book and separate it from its cover. So now I had a stolen, vandalised book. What was I going to do?

Well, there really was only one thing I could do. And that was… to finally read the book!

It was a rather interesting read. Published in 1967 by Hulton Educational Publications in London, it was very obviously a school reader — full of facts and figures, but with quaint, jolly storybook overtones that help to gloss over any of the nastier elements. Definitely sanitised history!

James Cook, and indeed all the English explorers, is presented in a heroic light. Cook is referred to as “a good Captain, a brave and wise man who was kind and helpful to every one he met.” In fact, the book recounts numerous incidents of him making friends with the native inhabitants of the lands he visited.

There is one passage that sticks in my mind, relating to Cook’s time in Tahiti…

“There were a few quarrels, often due to the Tahitians trying to steal iron from the sailors. Usually they were sent off with a warning not to do it again. But one man kept on stealing things.

Captain Cook decided he must be taught a lesson, so when he was caught one night, he had him taken to the ship’s barber, who shaved his head quite smooth. He never stole anything more because his own people had never seen a bald man before and laughed at him so much that he ran away and hid.”

It is accompanied by this illustration…

Seems like it was all jolly good fun!

If you’re interested in reading up about James Cook, there are only 11 days left until the release of Frank McLynn’s new book Captain Cook: Master of the Seas.

And for some more jolly good fun, tune in next time to find out about Department 19.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

The Flood

The FloodBrisbane is back on its feet, relatively speaking, but spend any time in the city and you’ll quickly realise that the recent flood is still very much on residents’ minds.

Conversations which are entirely unrelated veer back to the flood. Complete strangers share their own stories or offer condolences and sense of shock and awe. And cafes and restaurants that were flooded but that are now up and operating, pin snaps of the floods to their industrial-sized coffee-making machines—that’s, of course, the direction in which the waiting-for-coffee conversation flows.

I’m part of those conversations, having been evacuated from a client’s at West End, which was badly affected, to my own home at Windsor, which was flooded too. There’s no need to recount my tale here, because I blogged about my experiences at the time. This time I’m blogging about others’ accounts of the floods that affected the greater part of the supposed Sunshine State.

Thanks to HarperCollins, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Flood, a book that they put together in partnership with the ABC. It contains a foreword by Premier Anna Bligh, whose accomplished handling of the event and rousing speeches—not least the cheesy, but precisely what we needed tenet that ‘we’re the ones that they knock down and we get up again’—warmed our hearts, raised our spirits, and had many calling for her to be PM.

The books’ royalties go to the Premier’s Flood Appeal, making its purchase feel good as well as, frankly, kind of like a keepsake of an event that will be etched as strongly on this generation’s memories as the ’74 floods were on the previous ones’. But the real winner for me is the fact that the accounts within it are written by ABC journalists I’ve come to know and love.

I navigate my days by the likes of Richard Fidler and Spencer Howson, and their calmness and information-rich ABC Radio efforts steered me and many others through the floods (refreshingly absent of some of the hysteria and ratings grabs that gripped some of the commercial media). What we didn’t get from many of them was their personal accounts and reflections. This book, a few months and the need to communicate weather, tidal, and clean-up-volunteering information immediately removed, gives them that chance.

Most striking, though, are the images of flood-affected Queensland. My first-hand experiences were confined to Brisbane, and even then to the few streets around my home. Some friends of mine did some sightseeing and, while we were all discouraged from doing so, I also understand why they did.

I didn’t and couldn’t leave my home, so this is the first time I’ve seen some of these images. They’re incredible and almost inconceivable—even to someone who waded through water, shifted sludge by hand, and who still looks out her kitchen window the high-tide stain on her neighbours’ house. If there’s anything I’m learning, it’s that there’s no such thing as too many images of the floods.

I’m not sure whether it was because I was personally affected, having to sandbag my home and watch the floodwaters rise and swallow the first few feet of it for days, but I got a little teary leafing through this book. It brought back some of the memories and emotions that were so raw that week, but it also made my heart swell with pride at Queenslanders’ (indeed Australians’) no-nonsense pragmatism and stoicism.

But that’s not selling the book well, and I should note that some of the images made me chuckle—it seems you can throw a disaster at Australians, but you can’t wash away their sense of humour. This book reminded me of the floating walkway, the aptly named Drift restaurant, the little tug boat that saved the day.

It also reminded me that we (and I mean Brisbane, not Grantham or Toowoomba) got off relatively lightly, especially when you compare our flood to the recent earthquakes in Christchurch and earthquakes, tsunami, and near-nuclear disaster in Japan. Relatively light or otherwise, the 2011 floods will be etched on our collective consciousness for years to come, and Flood goes a long way to documenting and commemorating it. It’s one worth investing in to both capture the moment and to contribute to Queensland’s rebuilding process.

2010’s Top 10 Most Complained About Books

Brave New WorldI’m a fan of top-10 lists at the best of times, but even more so when it’s the list of top-10 most complained about books. Emanating from America (where else?), this annual list ranks the books that most offended conservative sensibilities and, frankly, inspires my next years’ reading list.

When will the self-appointed gatekeepers of our moral chastity learn that there’s no such thing as bad publicity and vocally, publicly calling for the ban of a book causes us not to shun the book with moral indignation but rather run towards with open eyes and arms?

And when will they realise that they might be complaining not because books are bad, but because they hold up a mirror to the less-desirable aspects of our lives; that they contain and force us to acknowledge and address some uncomfortable truths?

I like to think I’m across most new releases and books earning others’ ire, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I know just two of the books on the 2010 list.

Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World came in at third for insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexual Lord of the Fliesthemes. I’m scratching my head about what’s so overwhelmingly, ban-worthy offensive of any of those aspects, but particularly the ‘insensitivity’ one. Insensitivity? What kind of offence is that?

Brave New World has always felt like a book that had to be read during school—everyone else seemed to do it, but it wasn’t on my school’s reading list—and the book seems to have passed my reading habits by. About a year ago I even bought a copy, but it’s gotten no further than staring down accusingly from my bookcase.

Its inclusion on the Won’t Somebody Think of the Innocent Children list (or something equally moral-panic appropriate), however, has snapped me to attention. Enough fiddle farting around: You try to ban it? I’m inspired to down tools and read the book immediately.

Clearly I’m not the only one who finds this list inspiring. There’s an annual Banned Books Week (running from 24 September – 1 October 2011), which supports and celebrates the freedom to write and read what we like (or sometimes what we don’t like but can learn from). Moreover, the list of most-moaned-about books of all time actually reads like a what’s what of our great literary works: The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Catch 22, Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Lord of the Rings to name but a few.

Catch 22Whether the complaints helped catapult these books into popular consciousness and popularity or whether one person’s ban-worthy book is another’s treasure, I don’t know. Admittedly, not everything that’s on the 2010 list is going to be heralded as great writing in years to come.

Speaking of which … Twilight (the only other book I recognised) rounded out the top 10. I’m not surprised that there were complaints about it, although for most people those would be confined not to if-you-read-it-backwards Satan-laden messages, but to the fact that it’s so very badly written and so incredibly, clunker-laden clichéd.

Besides, it’s largely sex-less, with characters adhering to old-fashioned Mormon values like their author. It’s amusing to me, then, that the complaints camp are essentially trying to ban a book by one of their own.

My friend and fellow writer Ben told me he once had a teacher who asked everyone to point out the naughty parts of the book. This sent the students scurrying to not only absolutely devour the book, but to pay very close attention to it. It was a win for all parties and a reading equivalent of sneaking the vegetables past the fussy eaters—something that I think should be applauded. If it takes a couple of swear words to do so? That’s ok with me.

Slaughterhouse FiveMe? I’m adding the 2010 books on this list to my to-be-read pile (that is, after I add them to my how-did-I-not-know-about-them one). And for the record: if I ever get a book published, I’ll be hoping, wishing, praying, and anything else in between that someone tries to ban it.

REVIEW: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true. And now, here is her story.

My more usual reviewing gig is speculative fiction with occasional diversions into history. So why am I reviewing this autobiography by Tina Fey?

Well, firstly, only ten copies were being made available to blog-based reviewers in Australia. I put my hand up for a copy, not expecting to get one. It was a rather delightful surprise to receive an email a few days ago that a copy had been tossed into the post for me. Next, Fey is a writer and I believe in learning what we can from those who have gone ahead of us on the writing journey. Finally, I think Tina Fey is very funny and talented. And cute. There. I said it, OK?

When I first elevated myself to the luxury of pay television here in Australia, The Comedy Channel was running old episodes of the long-running US comedic icon, Saturday Night Live. The humour did not always do a lot for me but it must be incredibly difficult to keep turning out comedy sketches year after year. My favourite part of the show was easily the Weekend Update piece featuring a quirky, bespectacled lady who was not above throwing the occasional comment to the audience.

To many people, Tina Fey is “that” woman who did the impersonations of Sarah Palin even though this was just one small part of her story, albeit one that brought her a much wider audience and attention.

This was a very entertaining book. While some cultural references are naturally US-centric and I did not necessarily always get them, it is fast-paced and very easy to get right into. It is a confession, the story of a journey, an account of life in the entertainment business, genuine admiration of others, biting sarcasm, self-deprecating humour and some lovely lunacy.

With all the many people Fey has worked with, particularly the special hosts on Saturday Night Live, there must have been a temptation to do a ‘tell-all’ about some of the ‘d-bags’ (Palin’s expression) but she has resisted that. But some people from earlier in her life come in for some biting sarcasm and ridicule but are generally kept anonymous.

I am left with the impression that Fey is a bit puzzled by the attention she has received in more recent years as an attractive woman. Her list of self-perceived body flaws includes her feet.

“My Father’s feet. Flat. Bony. Pale. I don’t know how he even gets around, because his feet are in my shoes.”

I was also a little puzzled by Fey’s references to the alleged low popularity of her current creation, 30 Rock. That is easily one of my favourite programs.

As a biography, Bossypants will appeal to more than just Tina Fey’s fans. It is a delightful reflection by a very entertaining and perceptive person and keen observer of life, not to mention giving an insight into life working in comedy and television.

I have also reviewed this at and my own blog, Words by Ross.


All You Need Is Overalls (And A Good Story)

LOTRIt sounds odd to tell you that an unassuming guy wearing non-descript industrial overalls reminded me of the simplicity and power of storytelling, but that’s exactly what happened to me. Twice, in fact, with the second time being just this week.

I stumbled across Charles Ross a couple of years ago when he was touring his One-Man Star Wars show (here’s a sneak peak). How one guy could portray all the characters of all three films had me intrigued. The answer, I found, was by stripping back the trilogy to the bare, but extremely important, bones of the story.

We’ve come to expect big-budget, CGI-enhanced, three-dimensional blockbusters and, while those are fun, they can sometimes get in the way or come at the expense of the story itself (Peter Jackson did a good job of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, but I am thinking of films like Avatar, which were a very expensive, over-the-top, unoriginal version of pretty much every cliché. Besides, pretty sure it was just a reworking of kids flick Fern Gully).

Portraying a trilogy in 90-ish minutes warrants stripping the story back to the key moments, which is refreshing in these days of extended versions, directors’ cuts, commentaries, and Easter eggs. Clad in overalls and a Madonna microphone, Ross’s applies his  skills to a brilliant, brilliant story (as he notes, Star Wars and LOTR are basically the same story—one’s set in outer space, the other in Middle Earth). It’s the kind of show you have to see to believe (here’s a wee taste), but either way you’ll be held captive.

Nailing the voices alone would be difficult, but Ross cleverly conveys characters differences or distances through subtle gestures. His Gollum was pitch perfect; indeed, all the voices were spot on and segued seamlessly between. There is one moment where Ross singlehandedly portrays an entire orc army marching from far away to launch an assault. Yep, one guy = entire orc army.

Oh, and he’s hilarious, taking the mickey out of some of the ridiculous plot holes in the story or where the film got it kind of wrong. Legolas’ insanely long, in-the-way hair? Absolute gold.

Watching Ross’ performance, with its pared-back storylines, reminded me of when I read Tolkien’s books. I couldn’t stop reading, but was plagued by the urge to edit them. Were I Tolkien’s editor (and it’s just as well I wasn’t), the trilogy would have been a single book minus the insanely long walk and made-up language guff. Blasphemous, I know, but bear in mind that I’m not a spec-fic reader and that I have little (read: no) patience for books that have 17 different names for one character. Aughh, call them Bob and move on.

I mean, really, the LOTR’s two bad-guy wizards are basically the same character and with similar-sounds names, motives, and actions that are interchangeable. And the backstory asides that talk about how the languages were created by Oompa Lumpa twins who were separated at birth for safety, who paddle down a chocolate river with light sabres and sing to themselves? Ok, so maybe I’m mixing my stories. Either way, I only want to read stuff that advances the plot.

Tolkien was a linguist who created a language and then added a story around it to bring the language to attention, rather than a brilliant story enhanced by the addition of the language. But it’s also testament to his writing skills that I read the books in spite of what I considered were flaws. Besides, as my fellow editor and friend Helena pointed out, fans revel in the beautiful redundancy of Tolkien’s writing.

Seeing Ross’s show inspired me to revisit both the books and films—my memory has softened and his show has reignited my enthusiasm. That’s the power of a good show or even a good film adaptation—it sends you rushing back to the books.

Amazon Intros Ad-Supported Kindles

Well, it was always going to happen – and I’m not surprised Amazon did it first. Since ebooks first launched people have been predicting that ads would be unceremoniously inserted into their reading material. They were right. The question is – are we bothered? As the focus on books, particularly ebooks, has become more and more about price, readers may well welcome the opportunity to decrease the price of both the books they buy and the devices they read them on.

First the facts. The Amazon offering, with the Orwellian name of Kindle With Special Offers, will be sold from May 3 for $114. This new Kindle is essentially a six-inch WiFi only Kindle with special software, without which it usually sells for $139. The ads it will load up, as shown in the image above, will be restricted to the screensaver (which only pops up when the device is turned off or goes to sleep), and in a discreet (it is to be hoped) banner along the bottom of the home screen. Ads will not be served up within books, so the reading experience is preserved. According to Russ Grandinetti, the vice president of Kindle content, the company has no plans to launch ads within books, and told Business Insider that the company is sceptical that ad-supported ebooks are something customers would be interested in buying. Amazon will be promoting some of its own deals using the advertising, as well as ads from early sponsors such as General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Visa.

So now to the questions. Is a $25 saving really enough to opt in for these ads? Personally, I don’t think it’s enough for me to risk having my reading experience compromised. Make the Kindle under $100, though, and you might have yourself a deal. But perhaps that is Amazon’s ultimate goal, and it is merely waiting to see how successful these ads are before dropping the price further (or waiting until the release of a new model of Kindle to drop their prices further). There is also a chance that Amazon is looking to sell advertising on the Kindle apps for other devices such as iPhones, Android smartphones and iPads.

Another question: why is Amazon ruling out the possibility of ad-supported ebooks? Although I’m not personally interested in subsidised pricing, it seems like an option some people would be willing to take advantage of. Price is fast becoming the hot button issue for all books, but especially for ebooks. If you could get free or very cheap books with the occasional discreet advertisement – so long as the option was there for to buy the full priced book – I really don’t see the issue. For some books, especially reference titles that contain info I’m used to seeing on the internet (supported with ads), I wouldn’t mind getting cheaper prices and seeing a few ads. What do you think of advertising in ebooks? Would you ever opt for ads to get cheaper books or a cheaper reading device? Do you think advertising and books can ever go together – or does it somehow spoil the whole enterprise? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

Narnia Read-Along: The Horse and His Boy

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis.

The Horse and His Boy represents a different direction for the Narnia books. The two previous works have chronicled ordinary children from an ordinary world – but this time, the third time, we’re thrust into Narnia without an introduction. After all, C.S. Lewis thinks, we should be used to Narnia by now! In fact, readers are expected to have become so familiar with Narnia’s otherworldliness that the protagonist, Shasta, and his talking horse Bree – the characters the reader is to identify with and empathise with – are Narnians themselves.

And yet, there is something decidedly different about this Narnia. The land is exotic; think less ‘English woods’ and more ‘Arabian desert’. The Calormen people have slaves. But if you take away the difference in landscapes, the difference in ‘people’, and you’ll find that The Horse and His Boy stays faithful to the core Narnian values and plot points. The hero, Shasta, is about to be sold as a slave to a passing soldier. Turns out that the soldier’s horse (named Bree) can talk, and suggests to Shasta that they escape to the freedom available to them in the land of Narnia. So far, it is similar to the rest of the Narnian series so far in that it is an ordinary boy, chancing upon extraordinary things, and given the chance to visit Narnia. Which Shasta promptly takes. And, like in The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a grand adventure must be had before the story is over.

A particularly fascinating aspect of the book is its similarities to exotic locales of our own world. Living in Western society, most of us have certain ideas – and perhaps even judgments, for the more honest among us – about those who are different. The author doesn’t attempt to direct the reader to feel empathy for the Calormen people: we’re meant to side with the more humane population residing in Narnia. Such an observation is interesting from the perspective of current times, where authors strive to create that empathy for those different from us. I think it’s worth keeping in mind as you’re swept away by the story itself.

The Horse and His Boy is, arguably, the book that could most work as a stand-alone book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. And it sometimes gets a bad wrap, because of the way it deviates from the tone of much of the rest of the series – its laidback humour and strange setting sometimes works against it with the more ‘conservatist’ Narnia fans. But of course I will disagree with its critics: The Horse and His Boy slowly but surely won me over after many rereads, and I find it to be perhaps the most ‘truthful’ and real-to-life of all the books in the Narnia series.

The men behind the myths – Scott Bennett on Pozières: The Anzac Story

In 2003 Scott Bennett visited the Great War battlefields in France and Belgium to retrace the steps of his great-uncles, who had fought there. What he found led him to examine and question the Anzac legend, the battle of Pozières and the stories of his own family’s heroes. In Pozières – The Anzac Story he draws on the letters and diaries of the men fought at Pozières to tell their story, shedding light on the people behind the official history and the legends that grew up around them.

Pozières is a very moving book – how did you find the process of researching it? Did it affect you?

Reading the handwritten letters of parents who had lost sons at Pozières always moved me.  Now I have children, I can only imagine the grief that consumed them. There are still sections of the book that, despite reading numerous times, still affect me. At a military cemetery on the Somme one Australian had written in a Visitor’s Book– ‘Please never again’ – just three simple words that sum up the reality of war.

This book was prompted by interest in your own family who had fought at Pozières – how have they reacted to the book?

My mother’s family was like so many of the families of soldiers in the first world war, who grew up believing, and being told, that their son, brother, father, uncle, grandfather or great uncle was a hero.  Maybe, because I am more removed, I have been surprised by my mother’s sensitivity to what I discovered and have written about her uncle, Ernie Lee, even though it almost 100 years ago.  He enlisted as a 14 year old and while being portrayed a courageous young soldier, was actually charged with threatening to shoot his corporal.  She does not see the purpose of revealing the darker elements of his past and to be honest, I’m not sure whether I would have had the courage to expose his past if my grandmother was still alive.

The Anzac legend is something you talk about a lot. How did you feel when you first realised that you would be writing a book that saw it and the Australian soldiers from a different perspective?

One of the issues that prompted me to write the book was I felt many portrayals of the Anzacs were one-dimensional – the typical rugged, square jawed young man from the bush, relishing the chance to charge into battle.  When you read the soldiers first-hand account of what it was really like and how the soldiers really felt, you realise that there was so much more diversity. I was keen to present a more rounded and textured view of the Anzacs – to me that was much more interesting.

Your background is in management – has writing always been a passion of yours? Did you always plan to publish this story?

It was not so much that writing was a passion, but the challenge of being able to distil something complex into a clear and persuasive story.  I have to do this on a regular basis in my work life, and when I started to research Pozières and discovered the many challenges and issues that the Anzacs faced I was intrigued to find the real story. It really started as a hobby.  In 2003, I finished my MBA studies and suddenly had all this spare time. After reading dozens of books on the Somme, and visiting Pozières and being deeply moved by it, I thought that writing a book on it would be a challenge. My goal was to complete a manuscript that I was satisfied with – getting it published was always a bonus.

What do you hope readers will take from Pozières?

I hope that readers develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of war and this particular battle, an appreciation of the many challenging and sometimes impossible issues that officers and commanders (of all nationalities) grappled with, as well as the broad range of (and less mythical) experiences of the soldiers on the front line.


I was at the recent launch of Ella Kazoo will NOT go to sleep so I was fortunate to see the book read aloud by Lee Fox and performed by a talented group of actors including the author’s own daughter.

Young readers were introduced to the lively and lovable Ella Kazoo in Ella’s adventure, Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair and it seems that this young lady has plenty more antics up her sleeve.

One of the things I like about Ella Kazoo is that she’s not nasty or very naughty, she is just busy and has a mind of her own, like most kids her age.

Everyone in the household has settled down to sleep, but Ella is wide awake and ready for adventure.  She will do almost anything to get out of going to bed. She wants a drink, she listens to music, she plays dressups – anything to stop herself from falling asleep. It’s up to Captain Shut-eye to try and change her mind.

Author Lee Fox launched this book in front of about 70 kids (many who were dressed as pirates in the theme of the book) and they were enthralled by the story, giggling and shouting out from start to finish.

With the humour and action Ella Kazoo will NOT go to sleep, it’s easy to see why it keeps young readers engaged. Ella is such a ‘real’ character too. Kids can really relate to her humour and sense of fun.

Once again, I loved the illustrations by Cathy Wilcox.  Her pictures are full of fun detail like Ella’s free-spirited hair which matches her personality and the book Mum carries around in her dressing gown pocket, “Peaceful Getaway Holidays”.

Both the text and pictures  in Ella Kazoo will NOT go to sleep have action and expression to carry the story along.

I can’t wait to see what Ella Kazoo gets up to next. Ella Kazoo will NOT go to sleep is a picture book for young readers published by Lothian Children’s Books.

Running The Zombie Gauntlet. Jumping The Zombie Moat (AKA Why I Don’t Read Stephen King)

On WritingI don’t read Stephen King. Not out of some high-literary disdain for someone who’s written so much and sells so well to the general Joes. Not because he’s not a good writer. But precisely because he is.

King has proved himself time and again throughout his 50-something books that he can create an intensely believable world, grip you, and then terrify your pants off. Me? I’m easily pants-off terrified.

Two films dominated the sleepovers of my youth. One was Child’s Play (the original, although I’m aware there are more tenuously linked, money-milking, spin-off sequels than in even the current Saw series). The second film was Stephen King’s It, and I am now pathologically afraid of clowns (which I’d previously thought to be friendly critters) and stormwater rains.

All the other kids seemed to revel in being scared witless. Me? I considered—consider—it a form of torture. I am an ashamed but incurable scaredy cat with a vivid and uncontrollable imagination.

CarrieI’ve steered clear of scary books and movies every since those sleepovers where wussing out would have seen me tumble down the schoolyard social order. The exception has been Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but I was fooled because it was sold to me as a zombie romance that was written by a fellow wuss. I thought it was about zombies giving up their quest for brains and falling in love. I thought I was in safe, scaredy-cat hands.

I am almost too embarrassed to admit that I have to run the zombie gauntlet back from the bathroom in the middle of the night and jump the zombie moat which occupies the one-metre perimeter around my bed (The jumping on the bed went down a treat with my now ex-boyfriend, I can tell you).

The point of this long-winded background is to explain why I’d, until recently, never read King’s On Writing. I figured it would scare the bejeepers out of me, and I need to cure my irrational, zombie-gauntlet-running, bed-moat-jumping fears, not acquire new ones.

But I picked On Writing up this week, a time when I was feeling flattest about my own (lack of) talent and dim career prospects—can anyone truly make a decent living out of this difficult craft? The book’s been a revelation. I don’t for a moment consider myself in the league of this bestselling master crafter, but what King conveys through his book is that bestselling author or emerging one, we’re all facing the same struggles.

The TommyknockersA memoir of his own writing journey (just writing that sounds naff, but sorry, I’m sticking with it), On Writing outlines King’s career and inspirations and influences. How the seeds of ideas were shaped into hits like Carrie, The Tommyknockers, or The Shining. On Writing is a stellar read—King writes so well it makes me wish I could read his other work.

The books mirrors many (in fact, most) of my own experiences, from the first stories shamelessly borrowed from what he was reading at the time to the volume of rejection letters to the first taste of success to the flow-on effects of a little success—once you’ve ‘proved’ yourself through a few quality publications, it’s amazing how other publications, which had previously rebuffed you, are willing to take you on. There isn’t, King explains, a magical writing process, and there’s a lot of hard slog, refinement, more slog, perseverance, and a bit of luck.

I ate up this touchstone of a book and dog-eared almost every second page because I wanted to remember and refer back to the many, many gems of wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement contained within them (Please spare me the anti-dog-earing emails—I dog-ear books I love; it’s a compliment; it’s my thing).

ItOn Writing is perhaps a book for aspiring writers, and for emerging and mid-career ones too. I’m not in the realm of King and am unlikely to ever be there, both because I don’t have his talent and I’m completely terrified of anything scary like a zombie. But I am heartened that when you strip away the number of books published and the vast readership he has, our writing processes and experiences are similar. That ideas comes from anywhere and everywhere and fit together Tetris-like and surprising when they don’t at first appear to fit at all. That writing is as much about taking words out, keeping the words left in simple.

I might not be able to read his other books, but I will often revisit or simply dip into this dog-eared and now completely revered one. King fan or not, I recommend you do too.

Just a few more book trailers

Yes, that’s right, MORE TRAILERS! I can’t help myself… I love watching book trailers. Whether they entice me to get the books or not, they are an art form in their own right and I enjoy sharing them.

In my last post (The author in front of the camera), I showed you an author promo by Charlie Higson for his YA novel, The Enemy. The book is about a disease that turns adults into bloodthirsty zombies, but leaves all the kids unharmed. The kids then have to learn to survive in this new dangerous world. The author promo is very effective, as Higson slowly succumbs to the disease while he tells you about the book. Bits of that promo have been re-cut into a shorter promo and also into a book trailer. But there is also a trailer for the follow-up book, The Dead. This trailer takes a different approach. There is no sign of the author. Instead, we have a scared kid on webcam, telling us what’s happening to all the adults.

Also in my last post, I included a couple of vids from Eoin Colfer for his book Airman. Colfer is best know for his Artemis Fowl novels, and the publicity machine for that series rocks on — literally, with a rock music video to promote the book series. Call Me Artemis Fowl, a catchy little number by Josh Fix, is combined with comic book style images to create a really good promo.

And if that’s not enough? Artemis also has a computer animated trailer…

Time to change the pace a little. Here is a beautifully created trailer combining live action and shadows. It’s for Ryan Van Meter’s essay collection, If You Knew Then What I Know Now, and is specifically based on the essay “First”. How do you turn an essay into a trailer? Watch and learn…

And to finish up… something completely different. In fact, this isn’t even a book trailer. It’s a beer commercial. But it’s a beer commercial with a very different take on a piece of classic literature — Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Extremely silly and extremely amusing!

And I really don’t think there’s much more I can say after that.

Tune in next time for a post without videos.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll find some more beer commercials to show you.


Gorging on Marie Antoinette (Again)

By now, I suspect you’re well enough acquainted with my passion for Marie Antoinette. Since she turned up randomly in an illustration from my Treasury of Fairytales when I was quite small I’ve been a fan, and since then my love has grown – I’ve even got two pug-breed dogs in honour of her own love for pugs (ok, so maybe Philip Pullman also has two pugs, and my big celeb crush Gerard Butler ALSO has a pug – are we sensing a pattern here?)…EITHER WAY, it should come as no surprise to you that there are a couple more novels on Mrs Maria Antonia that I’ve found hidden in my well-frilled sleeve.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran is a book I have been savouring since finishing her other three books in order: Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s Daughter. This will be the first time Michelle has extended her craft to a subject matter newer than ancient history, but I am 99% sure she will handle the palace of Versailles with ease. Madame Tussaud doesn’t bother herself with the early years of Marie Antoinette’s reign – the Queen already has her children and France is already lining up at the bakeries for hours hoping to strike it lucky and carry a breadloaf home with them to their starving families. I’m especially looking forward to this book – it’s from the perspective of that famous waxwork madame, Madame Tussaud, who was a contemporary of Marie, and there’s a foreword in the book assuring the reader that all major events in the novel happened true to history.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is classified as Young Adult fiction, but of course that doesn’t stop me when the book in question has been generating excellent feedback.

In Revolution, the life of a modern teen is intertwined with that of a girl having lived through the French Revolution. Loved for its intensity of emotion and admired for its meticulous research, I am salivating at the thought of reading what is sure to be a (relatively) hidden gem.

Has anyone else seen the movie The September Issue? There’s this fabulous scene where Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue, is at the palace of Versailles, overlooking those fabulous gardens and contemplating their history. What I wouldn’t give to be there myself! And I will, one day. In the meantime I can satisfy my cravings for the palace with the book Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden of Versailles by Christian Duvernois. It doesn’t come cheap, but the book is more than what it may first appear – yes, readers appear interested by the pictures of the gardens surrounding the palace, but they are awed by what the gardens reveal about Marie Antoinette’s style and sensibilities. Sounds like my kind of book.

Something tells me I am not going to have to suffer Marie Antoinette withdrawals for a time yet…


Zou and the Box of Kisses is a beautiful new picture book written and illustrated by Michael Gay about a situation that every kid is faced with at some time in their life – spending their first night away from home.

Zou is preparing to leave on school camp and doesn’t want to seem like a baby, but he knows he is going to miss his daily dose of kisses. So Mum and Dad make dozens of paper kisses and put them in a box for Zou to use whenever he feels lonely. Mum kisses one side of the paper and Dad kisses the other. Then they fold each piece of paper three times and tuck them into a stripy box – which is particularly appropriate seeing as the characters in this story are Zebras.

Inside the box is a kiss for every night and a kiss for every morning, and a few spares, ‘Just in case’.

It turns out to be just as well there are a few spares because Zou soon discovers that he’s not the only zebra on camp missing his family.

Zou and the Box of Kisses is an endearing story about a little zebra who finds comfort in sharing. This is a great read aloud book and there are plenty of themes to discuss with young children including comfort, empathy, train rides, sleep overs and separation anxiety.

Zou and the Box of Kisses is full of gentle humour and the simple, colourful illustrations clearly express the emotions that a young child would feel on their first trip away from home.

Michael Gay lives in France and is the illustrator and author of more than 60 books for children. Zou and the Box of Kisses is published by Gecko Press which specialises in English versions of books from around the world.

Zou and the Box of Kisses is a book of sensitivity and charm for children aged 4+

Rundown reading

If you’re yearning for some great non-fiction, check out Boomerang’s latest promotion. We’re giving away a pack of new releases, including Kay Saunder’s Notorious Australian Women, a thrilling compendium of female derring-do replete with First Fleeters, courtesans, rebels and revolutionaries. If you’re looking for something more contemporary you can check out Hotel Kerobokan, the inside story of Bali’s most notorious jail.  Or you can find out exactly what makes for a Happy Economist. (The answer to that one isn’t, surprisingly enough, more money. We were surprised too.)

To be in with shot, complete the entry form on the Boomerang giveaway page before 5pm on Friday the 15th and you could be flicking through some great non-fiction before the month is out.

If you are wondering if you really have a chance of winning, you at least have one fewer competitor to worry about; I won’t be entering the competition or reading any non-fiction soon. I’m off the big brain books – no new non-fiction for me this week. This doesn’t mean that I have given up on my area of choice, or decided to quit the pop-psychology for Lent. I am not sidestepping into reading only novels or flirting with reviewing Paranormal Romance, I’m just not interested right now in reading anything that challenges my brain, be that fiction or non-fiction alike.

The reason for both the recent radio silence on this blog and the sudden non-interest in new books is pretty simple – I am, as we say in Ireland, as sick a small hospital. I have some sort of coldy-fluey-sinusey-evildeathbug thing that has turned my brain to mush and my body into an immobile sack of aches. If I was a horse, they would have shot me. I’m as sick as a dog and about as appealing generally as Shane McGowan’s teeth. I am a complaint wrapped in a misery inside an influenza, and all of them baying for more Lemsip and something to read that doesn’t require more than one brain cell to appreciate.

You get the picture.

I’m ill.

There are those who bear their illness well and stoically. They muster up their positive face, grab that glass half full of electrolytes and use the whole being undead thing as a chance to catch up on their reading, clean out their cupboard and learn Spanish, Mandarin and Turkish while they have a few moments to spare.

I am not one of those people. I’m one of the ones who like to fill that half empty glass with a hot toddy and settle in to read an favourite old book. There are times when I want to be stimulated and fascinated by amazing facts, but this is not one of them.

Great hot piles of comfort food and comfort reading, that’s what I am after. I’m rereading all my Terry Pratchett’s and Douglas Adam’s and I feel no guilt whatsoever about all those shiny new titles I could be perusing instead. They’ll wait. Right now, when I feel this low, I love the company of some of my best-loved books. You know, the ones that are so well-thumbed the pages are loose.  I’ve read them so often I barely need to follow the words to know the story.

If anyone wants me, I’ll be curled up with a good book. How about you?

The author in front of the camera

Not every author can be as charismatic as Neil Gaiman. When Mr Gaiman talks, everyone listens… especially when he is reading from his own writings. He has a presence and a real sparkle in his voice. He makes it all look so easy. But, of course, it’s not.

Authors are constantly asked to sell their work and to be the public face of their writing — Public appearances, readings, school talks… and even promotional videos. There is a real interest from readers to see the person behind the books they read. But honestly, some authors are better off NOT appearing in the promotional videos for their books.

Go to YouTube and search under “author videos”. You’ll find a fair few videos that fall somewhere between not very good and downright embarrassing. You’ll find a few that range from good to excellent. But the vast majority will simply be rather ordinary. The author may speak well, the author may have something interesting to say — but the author fails to truly engage his/her audience.

Here’s an example. Eoin Colfer. He’s an author who has had enormous success, particularly with his Artemis Fowl books. His stories are loved the world over. But this video for his book, Airman, is rather ordinary…

But… take the same author, direct him a little, add some visuals and music, and do a bit of editing. Suddenly you have something that’s a little more interesting…

I thought that little bit of humour in the last few seconds of the video was a really nice touch. Humour is a powerful way for a speaker to get the attention of his listeners. Here’s a rather brilliant example of an author video that uses humour. Libba Bray talks about her YA novel, Going Bovine, while dressed as a cow. Very entertaining!

Of course, humour is not going to work for every author and every book. So what do you do when you’re promoting a book in which all adults fall victim to a terrible disease that turns them into zombies? Well, in this video, as Charlie Higson tells you about his YA novel The Enemy, he gradually succumbs to the disease. Well acted, nicely directed, with some good make-up effects, this production is a benchmark for author videos.

So, does anyone out there have any author videos they would like to share? Something brilliant? Something tragic? Leave a comment.

And tune in next time for one more post about videos. Come one, you know you love them!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll post a video of myself telling you why you should follow me on Twitter.


Thoughts on: Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

There is nothing more unbecoming in a lady, not thievery, not fraud, not murder, than being held accountable for the crime. Or so it seems in the Victorian sensationalist novel, Lady Audley’s Secret.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the famous author of this book, made a practice of writing stories that were considered popular culture for the time. Lady Audley’s Secret is considered to be the most loved of all her works (some 75 of them!), and which I think is best described as ‘a murder mystery obsessed with manners’.

From the title itself, I don’t think it’s much of a giveaway to say that Lady Lucy Audley, the new, pretty young wife of Sir Michael Audley, is the woman under scrutiny. The book makes consistent reference to Lady Audley’s doll-like features, her halo of blonde curls and her sparkling blue eyes, and the way both women and men yearn to be near her. The only woman who appears to be unmoved by her charms is Alicia Audley, the fiery brunette daughter of Sir Michael, who chocks up her discontent to a mere difference of personalities: even she is unaware of Lady Audley’s disastrous (and potentially dangerous) secret. But when a good friend goes missing, Sir Michael’s nephew and lazy would-be barrister Robert Audley begins to suspect something murderous.

Lady Audley’s Secret is a comment on the conventions of Victorian society and the way they shape the Victorian stereotypes of gender and class. In particular,  this book is a practice in turning and twisting the idea of female perfection on its head, which is sure to have both shocked the readers of the time, and also made it compulsively readable. What more could the people under Queen Victoria’s rule want, than whispers of a woman who is in reality dual in nature, a villainess posing as virtuous.

As far as the actual prose goes, I found Lady Audley’s Secret to be an easier read than Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. There were no laboured paragraphs, and the developing story is the perfect tug-of-war between suspense and knowledge.

In short, Lady Audley’s Secret was such an enjoyable, gratifying sort of escape – I can imagine many a young woman back in the day voraciously reading this on the train, and then hiding the book under her pillow at night (wouldn’t want to give hubby the wrong idea!). Far from seeking justice, by the end of the story see if you, too, fall for Lady Audley’s charms.


Disclosure: Bought.
Year of Original Publication: 1862.
Year of This Publication: 2010.
Number of Pages: 512.
Book Challenges: Chunkster Challenge 2010; Victorian Literature Challenge 2011.

How to Use Google Reader Pt 2

In my previous post, I introduced the wonders of Google Reader, a fast and easy way to keep up with your internet reading – be it blogs, newspapers, long form journalism or any content that updates regularly. In this post I’ll cover off how to save and share your posts, and a couple of extra tips that makes using Google Reader a bit easier.


Saving and sharing posts

If you come across a post that you’d like to save to read later the easiest way to save it is to use stars.




You can access your starred items at any time by finding it in the left-hand sidebar. Your starred items will remain here until you unstar them.



Sharing posts works in much the same way. You can choose to follow other people who use Google Reader, or allow other people to follow your shared items by clicking on ‘People you follow’ —> ‘Sharing Settings’. When you first sign up to Google Reader, you’ll be prompted to add people to share with (and to share from). You can import friends from your Google address book if you’re on Gmail, or using their email address if they’re not. Shared items on Google Reader also sync directly with Google Buzz, Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter.


Advanced Hints and Tips


Keyboard Shortcuts

Like all Google apps, Google Reader has a full suite of keyboard shortcuts, which you can check out by clicking here. However, if you’re just looking for the basics, the basics are full screen (hit F), scroll down (hit the spacebar), next item (hit J) or previous item (hit K). You can also star items by hitting S, and share an item by hitting shift+S.


Forcing a feed to be full text

Use or Simply copy and paste the URL of the feed you want to get in full text, hit enter and either of these two sites will produce a new URL. Plug that into Google Reader’s ‘Add Subscription’ box and you can read that blog’s full text without having to open a new window.


If you’ve got no idea what the feed URL is – click on the feed you want to expand in the left-hand sidebar on Google Reader. Click ‘Show Details’ in the top right-hand corner of the feed, and the Feed URL will be at the top of the page.


Sharing with other social networks

Go to Reader Settings (top right corner) —> Send To to set up other social networks. All the big sharing sites are already set up, just tick the boxes and authorise Google to access the site and you can share directly from Google Reader with one click.


That about covers the basics, and a bit more to get you on your way. If you have any further questions about feeds or Google Reader, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

A Scent-sual Read

They say the sense of smell is the most powerful of our five human senses, because it’s most strongly related to our understanding of memory. I’m inclined to agree – one whiff of Australis Waterberry deodorant, for example, and I’m transported immediately into our Year 9 post-P.E. girls changerooms (not the best memory, but hey, it’s what comes to mind). I still remember the delight in receiving my first expensive perfume from my mum at age 15 (Estee Lauder’s Pleasures) and since then my passion for scent hasn’t wavered for a second.

Heading into winter, where colours, scents, sounds become (depressingly) increasingly muted – it seems my fanaticism for fragrance has become ever more fervent. Fellow lovers of fragrances – have you ever read the classic Perfume – The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind?


You MUST. Whether you love perfume, red hair, murderous French people or just plain beautifully-vivid imagery in books, Perfume – The Story of a Murderer is an assault to all five senses, in all the very best ways.

The story of Perfume is hard to summarise, perhaps because the story itself is so dark, the protagonist so twisted, it is difficult to explain how the grotesque details are often the most beautiful in this eerily passionate read. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a man without a scent, but who is accosted by the scents of everything around him, including people. With the capacity to become the most sought-after perfumer in France, Jean-Baptiste is not content with providing lushly sweet fragrances for the aristocratic stock, and instead becomes obsessed with finding perfume perfection – the celestial smell of the pure-white virgin. Up until now in the story, Jean-Baptiste is just a strange, anti-social human being. It is how he intends to create this perfume which makes him a monster.

My version of Perfume on the bookshelf is a muddy hardcover, a fifth-hand version given to me by a friend who shares my love for hidden beauty, a fondly-fingered and somewhat tattered read. It will always have pride of place amongst my very favourite editions, but of course there is a new edition that has caught my eye:

Everything about this cover evokes the gorgeously morbid story pressed between its pages: the heady white flowers, the skulls, cradled by the snipping scissors entwined with tendrils of ribbon-red hair. Sigh.

Perfume – The Story of a Murderer changed the way I read. It is elegant and darkly ironic and a number of other wonderful things, and I urge you to read it as well…if you dare.

Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man (AKA Why I Broke My No Re-Read Rule)

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManI broke my no re-read rule again this month, which yes, kind of made me wonder why I ever came up with it. But as with the others, this re-read was warranted. I’d nominated John PerkinsConfessions of an Economic Hit Man to a friend in a list of Books You Must Read Before You Die (death deserves capitals, don’t you think?). When she came back to me outraged, having followed said reading recommendations, I realised that my recollection of the book was hazy.

I should say now, before we go any further, that she was outraged in the best possible way. As in shocked and appalled at the truth the book reveals, embarrassed and disillusioned that the activities it unveils are going on and that people are capable of such unethical horrors, and confused and uncertain about the world in an axis-shifted kind of way. You know, that kind of outrage. Precisely the kind of outrage, it should be noted, that the book set out to provoke.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man adds a kind of ‘aha’ layer to the world’s workings and the historical events of, say, the last 50 years. Although not a household name, Perkins (and other faceless guys of similar ilk) played a key role in many of them. They were ‘economic hit men’: guys with a James Bond-like job title whose jobs were pretty much aligned with the fictitious character’s.

Nobody really knew about them and they didn’t officially exist, but they shaped high-stakes world events by coaxing, cajoling, or simply coercing world leaders and those who sat on key oil deposits or whose landed abutted crucial ports, to sign over the rights and control to the US empire.

These leaders included the guys who were in control of what are now pretty much the world’s least stable regions: Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, parts of South America. You name the country that has vast, untapped oil deposits or that’s been brought to its knees by foreign debt, and Perkins demonstrates how he and his cohort buckled those knees.

Perkins’ amenable-sounding job as an economist was to produce inflated reports about opportunities for growth in a region, and to then get the country to sign on the dotted line for loans to help them erect the infrastructure to support such growth. The money from the loans, of course, poured straight back into the pockets of global engineering and construction firms which, under the terms of the contracts, had to be the ones to carry out the work.

Cue loan defaults when the promised wealth never materialises and the country is crippled by repayments, and the US steps in to extract a pound-of-flesh payment through such resources as oil. Resistance to signing the contracts is useless, though, as those who politely and repeatedly said no thanks meet untimely, firey, mid-air plane crash ends courtesy of the guys one step up from the economic hit men (who have the even more mysterious title): the jackals.

Perkins found these activities unconscionable, but was nonetheless caught up in them. It’s easy to say we don’t and wouldn’t allow ourselves to be so compromised, but the truth is, we all play our part, often through our buying decisions or unwillingness to investigate or demand ethical actions from companies.

This book, which is Perkins’ attempt and atonement or to at least in part put right what he helped put wrong, undoubtedly doesn’t seem real to you—it didn’t and still doesn’t to me. But it is, and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man warrants a re-read or three if that’s what it takes for the reality to sink in. It also warrants being outraged, angry, and inspired to take action.

2011 Tasmanian Book Prizes winners announced

Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan has won the top award at this year’s Tasmania Book Prizes, presented as part of the Ten Days on the Island festival.

Flanagan was awarded the $25,000 prize for best book with Tasmanian content in any genre for his book Wanting (Vintage).

The $5000 Margaret Scott Prize for best book by a Tasmanian writer was awarded to Kathryn Lomer for her young adult novel What Now, Tilda B? (UQP).

The University of Tasmania prize for best book by a Tasmanian publisher, also worth $5000, was awarded to independent publisher Pardalote Press for Postcards from the Asylum by Karen Knight.

Judge Anna Johnston from the University of Tasmania praised the strength and diversity in this year’s awards, which attracted close to 70 entries.

‘The rich, imaginative and intellectual climate that Tasmania provides for its writers has been evident across the books submitted for the prizes,’ said Johnston.

The Tasmania Book Prizes are presented biennially by the Tasmanian Government through Arts Tasmania and the University of Tasmania in association with Ten Days on the Island. The awards are designed to recognise excellence in writing about Tasmania, and by Tasmanian writers and publishers. The titles shortlisted for this year’s awards can be seen here.

Hey… time for some book trailers!

Every now and then, someone will FaceBook or Tweet a really good book trailer. If I particularly like it, I’ll bookmark it. And when I have enough of them, I put together a post like this… A post in which I don’t really say very much other than, “hey, take a look at this cool trailer!”

So, the first cool trailer for today’s post is for Stephen King’s Under the Dome. At 31 seconds it is short, to the point and very effective. A lot of would-be trailer makers could learn from its brevity.

While we’re in King territory, here’s the trailer for Duma Key. Not quite as good as Under the Dome, but still punchy and effective.

Next up we have a rather beautifully realised trailer for John Stephens’s The Emerald Atlas. I love the whole storybook approach, with the use of limited but stylish animation.

This trailer is part of a campaign with includes several more mini-trailers that introduce you to specific characters from the book. All the mini-trailers utilise the same storybook format and the same style of animation. A very well thought out series of trailers.

Meet the Countess…

Meet Dr. Pym…

Meet Gabriel…

Here’s a multi-book trailer for the Steampunk novels published by Carina Press.

And sticking with the Steampunk genre, we’ll finish up with the trailer for a mash-up novel, Android Karenina. Some may say that mash-up novels are being overdone… but they do inspire some rather good trailers.

Have you got a favourite book trailer? Post a link in the comments and share.

And tune in next time when I say: “Hey, look at this… another video!”.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.


How to Use Google Reader Pt 1

Virtually every site on the web nowadays that serves up content has a feed. That feed is a way for people to keep up to date with their favourite blogs and news sites without having to visit twenty different websites a day. There are basically two kinds of feeds – RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom. For the purposes of the general (non web-developer) reader, they’re pretty much the same, and Google Reader can use either one.

Google Reader is probably the best known feed reader, but there are lots of others, including some that live on your computer desktop.


Logging in for the first time

For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll assume that you’ve already got a Google login. If you don’t, you can sign up to get a Google account by clicking here.

Once you’ve got your email login and password handy, visit to go to Google Reader.



This is the screen you’ll see when you first log in. Feel free to scroll through the first few introductory posts and have a read.


Adding a Feed to Google Reader

There are two ways to add feeds to Google Reader. The easiest way is to click ‘add a subscription’ in the top-left hand corner of your Google Reader account.








Sometimes for whatever reason, Google Reader can’t find the blog you want to subscribe to. In this case, you can click on the feed icon It’s a little different on each website, but the key is to look for the icon below or the words ‘Feed’, ‘RSS’ or ‘Atom’. They can usually be found at the top, bottom or on the sidebar of most blogs and news sites.




Here are a few examples.

The Guardian’s webfeed:


The Sydney Morning Herald feed can be found at the very bottom of the main page.



As can the feeds for ABC News:


Many bigger sites provide multiple feeds depending on the kind of content you’re looking for. Once you’ve found the feed you’re after, click it and you’ll usually get a jumble of code that looks a bit like this:



To get it into Google Reader, just copy and paste the URL into the ‘Add Subscription’ window on Google Reader and click ‘Add’.


Some websites are a bit more clever, and give you options to subscribe using a particular reader. In these cases, just click on Google.



Viewing and sorting subscriptions

Once you’ve subscribed to a few of your favourite blogs, you’ll probably want to start reading them.


I’d recommend using the All Items view to see all your subscriptions together. You can scroll through each new post using your mouse, or by hitting the spacebar to move a bit more quickly.


As each new item is viewed a blue box will surround it. This indicates that you have read the item, and after you’ve done so it won’t appear in Google Reader again.




You can also view each website by its source by clicking on the individual feed in the left-hand sidebar.

Once you add a few feeds to Google Reader, especially if you go on holidays or don’t have time to check it for a few days, you’ll learn that your unread feeds can skyrocket very quickly. The last thing you want a piece of technology to do is to make it more difficult to keep up with the news you visit.







Neat freaks

There are plenty of ways to keep your feeds organised – you can use folders and tags. To access these settings just click on the small blue down arrow in the sidebar and navigate to ‘Manage Subscriptions’.


Full text vs Brief

You’ll notice that depending on the source, you won’t get the full news story in Google Reader. This is a way big news companies have of forcing you to go to their website to view their advertising. Some sites only show the headline. There are a couple of ways around this, in my next post I’ll cover a quick way of getting around this. Most blogs, however, will have the full text of every post up in their feed.


Alternatively, if you like viewing your feeds as headlines only, you can remove the briefs by clicking ‘List’ in the top right of Reader.






DOUG-DENNIS and the FLYAWAY FIB is a picture book that’s fun for young readers but will also invite some interesting discussion in the classroom.

Doug-Dennis the sheep and his friend Ben-Bobby the elephant are bored. And what happens when we’re bored – we sometimes do things that get us into trouble?

That’s what happens to Doug-Dennis. He and his elephant friend go to visit the circus. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself except that Doug-Dennis eats all of Ben-Bobby’s popcorn and then fibs to him and says that a monster ate it.

Doug-Dennis’ fib gets bigger and bigger and in fact he gets carried away by it – literally. He finds himself floating in the sky attached to the balloon of this fib.

There in the air everywhere he looked…were people of all shapes and sizes…still talking…still attached…to their still-growing fibs.

DOUG-DENNIS and the FLYAWAY FIB is written and illustrated by Darren Farrell and it’s a very clever book. In a very visual way it shows how one fib can lead to another. And how the truth can be stretched until it becomes A BIG FAT LIE.

DOUG-DENNIS and the FLYAWAY FIB shows kids the importance of honesty in a friendship, but it is in no way didactic. In fact when Ben-Bobby confesses to stealing the popcorn and lying about it, Doug-Dennis responds with:

That’s okay. While you were gone I ate your chocolate

DOUG-DENNIS and the FLYAWAY FIB is like a combination of a PB and a graphic novel. While there’s an underlying narrative, there are lots of speech bubbles and quirky asides for kids to enjoy.

Kids will enjoy poring over this book themselves, but it’s also a fun one to read as a whole family.


The Ottoman Motel (An Unexpected, But Stoked Part 2)

The Ottoman MotelYou know how sometimes someone unveils a secret so spectacular and so heartwarming that you’re blown away? That you then relive every email and conversation you’ve had with them in the preceding weeks and marvel at how they managed to keep such a fantastic secret? Well, I’m experiencing that now, having interviewed talented Brisbane writer Chris Currie about his forthcoming first novel, The Ottoman Motel.

The blog went live just a couple of days ago and I saw Chris (it feels weird to say ‘Currie’, even if that is the correct format) a day or so later and had a brief conversation about whether the whole book thing feels real yet. He said he was probably going to receive a finished copy soon and that the reality would then probably start to sink in.

What he didn’t mention is that he’d crafted a brilliant plan to propose to his long-term girlfriend and that this finished copy was to play an integral role …

Congratulations! Can you tell us how you came up with the idea?

Thank you very much! I had known for a while that I wanted to ask Leesa to marry me, but of course I wanted to make my proposal special. I was coming towards the final final (final) rewrites of my book, and knew I still had the acknowledgments yet to write.

I thought to myself: I’ll only get one chance to write my first book, and I’ll only get one chance to propose to the love of my life, so why not celebrate both? After consultation with my editor, I worked out I could get a finished copy express posted to me in time for Leesa’s birthday, and the plan was set …

I get the sense you kept this one to yourself—not even your closest friends knew. Was it difficult to keep this under wraps?

It was really, really hard. Leesa is not very good at waiting for surprises, and very good at guessing them (try spending Christmas Eve with her …), so I wanted this to be the ultimate surprise. As it was her birthday, I was deliberately vague about what we were doing, only that I was taking her somewhere nice, thus hiding the real surprise inside another surprise.

Plus, it was an arguably foolhardy thing to do, and I didn’t want to get talked out of it! I worked it out yesterday, and it was over a month from when I sent in the acknowledgments to when I got to spring the surprise!

It is quite possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard (especially for a writer). What sort of response have you received?

I don’t know what that says about writers, but it just seemed like a really nice way to show my love and commitment. I’ve had an overwhelming response to the news. It’s been wonderful, even from people I don’t know commenting on Twitter!

What would have happened had she said no (not that we think for a moment that she would have!)? Was there a contingency plan for pulping?

As I said, it was a possibly foolhardy act of pen-to-paper commitment, because no, there was no back-up plan. Once it was printed, it would be there forever. As one of my friends suggested, the perfect reply would be ‘I’ll write a book and then give you my answer.’ Luckily for me, her response was ‘Of course I’ll marry you,’ which made it all the waiting and the worrying worthwhile.

Can you run us through the moment/her reaction?

We were on the rooftop of the hotel I’d booked, with a bottle of champagne. It was a bit breezy, so I said I’d go and get our coats, which of course was a ruse to fetch the book and the ring.

I said, ‘I know I said I wasn’t going to get you anything for your birthday,’ and produced the book. She seemed chuffed enough, but then I told her to read the acknowledgments. She said later she saw the word ‘marry’ straight away. She said yes, even before I could get down on one knee and produce the ring.

I think this is going to become a collector’s edition. You do realise that you’re going to have to come up with something as romantic and spectacular for the second book …

I realise I’ve set the bar quite high. I’m sure inspiration will hit when I most need it, though …

I’m sure you will. Congrats again. Just quietly (and I think it’s ok to generalise here), we’re all really stoked for you.

Lost Dr. Seuss books to be published

HarperCollins Children’s Books is thrilled to announce the publication of THE BIPPOLO SEED AND OTHER LOST STORIES by Dr. Seuss – a collection of seven stories by the iconic author and illustrator that were originally published in magazines between 1950 and 1951, but never before in book form. THE BIPPOLO SEED AND OTHER LOST STORIES will be available from the 30th September 2011.

“As more and more Australians discover and indeed re-discover Dr. Seuss every year, it is a real treat for us to be publishing this amazing new collection of stories. We’re confident it will be eagerly received by Dr. Seuss fans of all ages,” said HarperCollins Australia Head of Children’s Publishing, Cristina Cappelluto.

THE BIPPOLO SEED AND OTHER LOST STORIES features the following seven stories, “The Bear, the Rabbit, and the Zinniga-Zanniga” (about a rabbit who is saved from a bear with a single eyelash!); “Gustav the Goldfish” (an early, rhymed version of the Beginner Book A Fish Out of Water); “Tadd and Todd” (a tale passed down via photocopy to generations of twins); “Steak for Supper” (about fantastic creatures who follow a boy home in anticipation of a steak dinner); “The Bippolo Seed” (in which a scheming feline leads an innocent duck to make a bad decision); “The Strange Shirt Spot” (the inspiration for the bathtub-ring scene in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back); and “The Great Henry McBride” (about a boy whose far-flung career fantasies are only bested by those of the real Dr. Seuss himself).

About Dr. Seuss

Theodor “Seuss” Geisel is quite simply one of the most beloved children’s book authors of all time. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, an Academy Award, three Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, and three Caldecott Honors, Geisel wrote and illustrated 44 books for children. Hundreds of millions of copies have found their way into homes and hearts around the world. While Theodor Geisel died on 24 September, 1991, Dr. Seuss lives on, inspiring generations of children of all ages to explore the joys of reading. For more information about Dr. Seuss and his works, visit

We love you, Alice B. Toklas

Adelaide’s Wakefield Press recently sent out notification of their new and current publications, which included a few re-releases of some older titles.  They have some delightful titles in their new editions and I urge you to pop over here for a look, but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a closer look at a couple of the older books.  Theses books both contain recipes, but both offer the reader much more than just the promise of a good meal.

Kafka’s Soup by Mark Crick

The cover of this slender little volume promises “A complete history of world literature in 14 recipes” – a surprising claim in anyone’s estimation, but if you are lover of both food and literature you won’t be disappointed.  Now, I can’t claim an utterly comprehensive knowledge of the history of literature, but it was pretty clear to me that Mark Crick, the author, has certainly done his English homework.

Each of the 14 recipes in the book is written in the style of a different, noted literary author and the results are very funny and very clever.  Homer shares a delicious recipe for the Maltese dish, Fenkata, John Steinbeck depresses us with a Mushroom Risotto and dear Jane Austen takes four and a half pages to deliver a recipe for Tarragon Eggs.  Contemporary authors are not left out with  Irvine Welsh’s outrageous recipe for Rich Chocolate Cake my favourite by far.  Crick accompanies each recipe with one of his own original illustrations or photographs in exactly the manner of the original works, suggesting that his skills are not at all limited to writing.

This little book had me  in stitches and was quickly appropriated by my daughter whom I later  found giggling in a corner over it.  A perfect gift for the bookish foodie in anyone’s life.

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook by Alice B. Toklas

Alice was the life partner and lover of the well-known writer, poet and art collector, Gertrude Stein, with whom she lived in Paris until Stein’s death in 1946.  She wrote her cookbook some years later, when seeking something to occupy her while she recuperated from an illness.  This book is really something of a memoir as it mingles recollections, reflections and recipes from Toklas’ life and travels with Stein during and after the war.  Toklas and Stein were famous for their Paris salon where they entertained some of the leading literary and artistic personalities of the time and, while Stein is remembered for her art collection and writings, Toklas’ legacy is a little more obscure.  She was quite satisfied to stand in the shadow of Stein, undertaking the role of secretary, cook and general support – hence her interest in culinary matters.

First published in 1954, the chapters of the book are divided into some very interesting categories, listing things like “Dishes for Artists” with details of Bass for Picasso, food during the Occupation and food in the US in 1934 and 1935.  There is one recipe included for which the book is quite notorious.   Haschich Fudge is a blend of spices, nuts and fruit to which is added “a bunch of canibus sativa” and which “anyone can whip up on a rainy day”, although Ms. Toklas does point out that obtaining the canibus (sic) can present some difficulties.  This recipe alone ensured that her name was remembered well into the heady days of the 1960’s and ’70’s when it was lent to a range of chemically enhanced baked goods.

Notoriety aside, the book is a warm and charming account of travels and meals with her beloved companion (who is always given her full title, Gertrude Stein, in the narrative) with the original recipes of the time.  On a sad footnote, Alice B. Toklas died in poverty (Stein’s family took the artworks which she had willed to Toklas) in 1967 at the age of 89 and is buried next to her lover in Paris.

Alice B. Toklas by Carl Van Vechten, 1949


This Isn’t A Blog Encouraging You To Rush Out And Buy His Books

Deer Hunting With JesusI’m pretty cynical about the interest in an author immediately following their death—I find it tasteless, especially when retail stores quickly order in stock and set up a display to capitalise on that short-lived interest—so I’m fairly reluctant to be writing a blog about Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus and Rainbow Pie.

But then I’ve spent the last few days thinking about Bageant almost non-stop since his death a week ago. I wasn’t aware he had been unwell (apparently he’d been battling cancer for the last four months). Nor was I aware that the 2010 Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) would be the last time I saw him.

I first discovered Bageant via the affable, insightful interviewer Richard Fidler, whose ABC Radio show is my first-downloaded, first-listened-to podcast each week day. My brother and father heard the same podcast and we haven’t stopped rabbiting on about Bageant (and Fidler too, for that matter) ever since. Bageant is that kind of writer—once you encounter him and his work, your outlook on the world is never quite the same.

I might have earned a reputation as a book thief, but I chuckled when my brother bought my father Bageant’s most recent book, Rainbow Pie, ‘for his birthday’ and then promptly ‘borrowed’ it back. The book hasn’t made it back to my father yet and we all know and are amused that it won’t. Fortunately he’s a fast reader and managed to inhale its words before my brother snarfooed it. For the record, I reckon that every book my brother steals from my parents is a book I’m entitled to steal from him—it’s karma and simply balancing the book-thieving scales.

Rainbow PieBut I digress. I can’t claim to have known Bageant personally, or any more than any fan of his work can. But I exchanged a brief few words with him after his session at the BWF which have stayed with me. I was sitting reading a book between sessions, soaking up with warm, spring sun when I saw him heading towards me. I smiled, made eye contact in that you-don’t-know-me-but-I-know-you way and, when he was close by, said, ‘I really enjoyed your session’.

He smiled widely, nodded, and said ‘Thank you very much’ in his gentle, Southern drawl. I went back to my book and he continued on his way. He reappeared a few minutes later to ask me for directions to the taxi rank—he’d lost his bearings and I was happy to be able to help out. He thanked me again, we exchanged some laughing remarks about how easy it is to get distracted by the surroundings of the beautiful State Library of Queensland and Gallery of Modern Art, and he headed off to catch a cab.

They were two small moments, and ones that he probably subsequently forgot, but that left me simultaneously excited and humbled. I didn’t gush or convey in those two moments how great a hero he was to me—how through him I’d gained an appreciation for the true origins of America’s so-called ‘rednecks’ and how they aren’t stupid, but rather are trapped by a complex machinery of capitalism and other, difficult-to-discern factors. Nor did I say I also admired his charity work in Mexico, his incisive intellect and wit, and his utter lack of pretence. But I hope I conveyed some sense of how much his work had inspired me.

This isn’t a blog encouraging you to rush out and buy his books (and, as you’ll have noted by now, it’s absent of its normally tongue-in-cheek style), but it is a blog asking you to consider reading them at some stage (and if you happen to want to buy them, that’s ok too). Were he writing this blog, I’m sure Bageant would end it with a laconic observation that cuts through to the heart of a matter and frames it in a perspective-changing way. Me? I’ll simply say that his death is a tragedy and that a read and a re-read of his books is worthwhile.

The Power of Good

The Power of GoodThe kindness of strangers is something that’s brought into sharp focus when you’re travelling, most likely because you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re aware and attuned to your surroundings, and you’re often relying on others to help you make your way. It’s fitting, then, that a random act of kindness by a nameless stranger is what inspired this, well, inspiring book.

Best known to us for his insightful social research, Mark McCrindle was touched by the trip-saving actions of a stranger. McCrindle and his wife were backpacking and found themselves a way from the airport close to departure time and no way of getting there when a young tradie in a ute pulled up next to them. He asked if they were ok, they explained their dire circumstances, and he then jumped out, lobbed their backpacks into the ute tray, and whisked them to the airport in time to make their flight.

It was generous beyond fault but, as McCrindle notes, ‘the man probably cannot even remember the deed he did’. Nor would he have any inkling that he inspired a book celebrating the small, but powerful, acts of kindness that are carried out around us each day. Working with freelance writer Emily Wolfinger, with whom he also collaborated on The ABC of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations, McCrindle asked some famous (as well as some not-so-famous) Australians to contribute stories that celebrate the power of good.

ABC XYZFormer Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer pitched in the foreword, McCrindle and Wolfinger outlined some of the stats, social research on, and history and impact of acts of good. They then opened the floor to the likes of Youth off the Streets’ Father Chris Riley, writer, actor, and comedian Jean Kittson, MP Pru Goward, mountaineer Michael Groom, The Footpath Library founder Sarah Garnett (from whom I found out about this great book—thanks!), writer and former rugby great Peter Fitzsimons, and journalists Simon Reeve, Anton Enus, and Tracey Spicer.

Kind of Chicken Soup for the Soul in style, but with a more pragmatic, less-gushy Australian-ness about it, The Power of Good serves up bite-sized anecdotes that you can fit in your handbag and read between bus or train stops, but that will stay with you for the rest of the day. I dipped in and out of this book over a succession of trips and days. Some stories made me smile, some made me think about the complexities of life and the simplicity of showing others kindness; still others left me—always embarrassing on public transport, but in the best way possible!—slightly teary.

I’m pleased to say that Boomerang Books has some copies of the pocket-sized The Power of Good to give away. Head to the Giveaways page for more details on how to be in the running for one. You can also become a fan, RSVP to attend the book launch on 14 April, and submit your own stories of the power of good via the Power of Good website.


Dogs seem to be a popular feature of kid’s books lately and being a dog lover from way back, I can see why.

Aussie Dog is a new book by Eleanor Nillson and Beth Horling from Scholastic’s Mate’s series.

I think every kid has a dream dog (mine was a dalmation) and Sophie is no exception. She wants a Kelpie. She already has a name picked out (Red) and has been collecting a pile of sticks to throw to her pooch when she gets it.

Red the Kelpie is on Sophie’s birthday and her Christmas wish list (just to make sure).

But things don’t go quite according to plan. For starters, Mum and Dad are adamant about ‘no Kelpie’, and then Mrs Kirsch from next door gets sick and Sophie is charged with the task of looking after Mrs Kirsch’s dog, Boris. At first Sophie resists. Boris is not the dog she wanted. He is not a fit, fast dog and he doesn’t fetch sticks.

He is a small, scruffy, not very fast Australian Silky Terrier. But Boris is loyal and persistent and affectionate and desperately missing Mrs Kirsch and somehow he manages to worm his way into Sophie’s heart.

Aussie Dog is another gentle story for 6-8 year-old readers. Beth Norling’s simple but expressive colour illustrations add layers to the text.

Aussie Dog introduces some great new vocabulary to young readers and Teacher’s notes are available at