If it Looks Like a Publisher and Smells Like a Publisher – is it a Publisher?

Apple, the world’s biggest technology company, have often claimed that they are at the metaphorical crossroads of technology and liberal arts. Amazon, it could be said, are positioning themselves at a different crossroads: the place where technology and consumerism meet. And Amazon are scarily good at what they do. They’re adept at predicting and exploiting the appearance of that peculiar space where technology and retail meet. And now they want to publish books too. I’ve written before about why I think Amazon might fail at publishing books. But I was wrong. Amazon won’t fail. But they may not completely succeed either.

For the past month or so, Amazon’s publishing announcements have come thick and fast. First it was Montlake (a romance imprint) and then Thomas & Mercer (a thriller imprint). Then they announced they were hiring old-school publishing bigwig Larry Kirshbaum. We can probably expect other announcements to follow. According to the article linked to above, one New York agent summed up the US trade’s response to Amazon’s announcements in one word: “anxious”.

Should publishers be anxious about Amazon moving into the publishing sphere? The short answer is yes, probably. But the full answer is more complicated than that. Amazon seems to hold all the cards when it comes to their newest venture. They have a powerful and vibrant vertical retail presence. They have enviable access to their customers’ personal information – both buying and reading patterns. They are young and technologically adept in a way that big old traditional publishing houses are not.

So why do I doubt they’ll succeed at publishing? The answer is going to sound a bit namby-pamby. But it’s true nonetheless. Amazon lacks passion for books. They may like selling books and they’re clearly very good at it. But from the word go, Amazon have seen books as just another product to drive traffic and make money, along with milk, bicycle tyres and modular arch-shaped window shades (thanks, Amazon!). You only have to look as far as the initial acquisitions made by Montlake and Thomas & Mercer to see this pattern. All of the authors picked up by the new imprints are authors with track records selling books.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with acquiring books that you know will actually sell. Most publishers would probably love to do nothing but that. But there’s not a word about first time authors. There’s nothing in the marketing bumpf about developing or discovering new talent. And as any publisher will tell you, you can’t make a publishing company work long term without finding new authors. Bestselling authors make companies profitable – but if publishers stopped publishing everybody else, there would no longer be an industry.

So here’s how I see things proceeding. Amazon is going to keep the bastards honest. All the people who complain about publishers not tightening their belts will certainly see that happen in the next couple of years. Prices will drop. Print books will go the way of the vinyl record. And it will all be in the name of competing with Amazon. But publishers will survive, and they will modernise. And they’ll continue to find new authors, and develop existing authors in just the same way as they always did. Those authors will still be loyal to the people who found and nurtured them.

Publishing books is not just about selling product, it’s a labour of love, even if sometimes the emphasis is heavy on the labour and low on the love. It’s true that geniuses are sometimes born, but they’re far more often made – an idea that is very unpopular in this new democratised, self-publishing-is-the-future digital world.

So Amazon will keep selling books. They may even keep publishing them. But long term? Until Amazon starts actually contributing to the literary heritage of great authors without just buying them from other publishers or skimming them off the top of the self-published list, I won’t believe they’re anything but a digital clearing house with deep pockets and a really good fake tan.

Pet Shop Pop

My last post compared authors to pop musicians. This time I’m just writing about pop music — specifically, a particular pop duo. A duo that formed in the early 1980s, continued their popularity into the 1990s and progressed into the 21st Century, where they are quite happily creating more music. They are a pop duo whose music has gone beyond standard pop, with films, a stage musical and now a ballet. They are, in my humble opinion, the greatest pop musicians ever to walk the face of this earth. They are … (drum roll) …


Pet Shop Boys are the perfect example of how important image is to selling pop music. Right from the release of their first single, West End Girls, they have cultivated an aloof, detached and slightly offbeat image — an image that complements their music, usually performed with unemotional vocals, despite the often emotional lyrics. And even though they have gone through visual metamorphoses, that detachment has remained.

Pet Shop Boys are Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Despite being a pop duo, they have never allowed the industry to dictate what they have done creatively… even if it meant losing money. From theatrical concerts to involvement with music outside the pop industry, they have never failed to surprise. In 1987 they starred in a feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here, based on their album, Actually. In 2001 their stage musical Closer To Heaven, co-written with Jonathan Harvey, had a six-month run in London. They have also written music for theatre and film soundtracks. Most recently they composed the soundtrack for The Most Incredible Thing, a ballet based on a Hans Christian Andersen story

Pet Shop Boys are also known for the distinctive style of their album and single covers — often minimalist, sometimes downright bizarre, but always eye-catching.

In addition to listening to their music, I enjoy reading about Pet Shop Boys. There have been a number of books written about the various aspects of their career, but there is one in particular I’d like to mention — Pet Shop Boys Catalogue by Philip Hoare and Chris Health. This book traces the development of their visual style and design, with lots of photos and all their album and single designs. Even if you’re not interested in their music, this book is a fascinating look into the world of pop music image.

Published in 2006, it doesn’t cover their most recent stuff. But after reading this book, you can see how their latest album and singles continue their established image, while giving them quite a distinctive look. Tennant and Lowe are now in their 50s. It will be very interesting to see how they continue to deal with the image of Pet Shop Boys as the two of them move into their 60s.

So, who’s your favourite pop musician? Are there any good books about them? Leave a comment and share.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.


Apply Within: Stories Of Career Sabotage

Apply WithinI finally got around to reading Michaela McGuire’s Apply Within: Stories of Career Sabotage today, in part because it was just returned by a friend, and in part because I was struggling to find the enthusiasm to finish a Book That Should Be Read.

I’m not sure why ‘worthy’ books are often watching-paint-dry dull, and you know I’m struggling to get through one when I scroll aimlessly through my iPhone, repeatedly checking emails and social media news feeds instead of cracking said book open on the train. Were the book Vampire Academy or the like, I’d be ditching the phone and praying for a longer ride.

Not so with this one, I’m afraid. The dry, dull book currently in question is David Borstein’s earnest-sounding, earnest-in-execution How To Change The World. I hand-on-my-heart want to like and finish it, I really, truly do. But I allowed myself a reading reward, having made it approximately half way through.

The reward was Apply Within, a book of short stories of the soul-destroying casual jobs McGuire’s held during her time at uni and beyond. It’s a book I (and indeed any current or former uni student) can relate to well, and that I could have written myself. But that’s what everyone says when a book based on a simple concept and experience we’ve all had comes out, isn’t it?

Apply Within emerged from a blog McGuire originally kicked off on the same theme, and it spans her time working for a federal Liberal MP during what turned out to be the Kevin ’07 juggernaut of a Labor campaign, as well as stints cleaning ash trays at the casino, selling ‘green power’ door to door, arranging a solicitor’s butterfly collection during temp work at a law firm, and booking lap dances during her time at a strip club.

I’m not going to claim Apply Within is a great literary tome, but it’s important to note that nor does it set out to be. Throughout it McGuire succinctly, dryly, captures the mundane, often inane work experiences we’ve all had, from dodgy bosses to overzealous workmates who take their menial jobs far too seriously. Her wry, outsider–insider approach to the tales kind of makes you think it was the this-is-grist-for-the-mill way she coped with these mind-numbing, soul-sacrificing jobs.

Zigzag StreetIt’s also worth noting that McGuire’s gone on to do some cool stuff since the book’s publication, including setting up the Women of Letters literary events I recently attended for the first time and blogged about. In short: she got out.

I’d sit Apply Within alongside John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, which recounts the horrors of sharehousing with people whose habits and cleanliness aren’t always above board.

I’d also liken it to Nick Earls’ breakout book Zigzag Street, which likewise put some parts of Brisbane on the map. This in no way means that non-Brisbane-ites couldn’t and shouldn’t read it, because the dead-end job theme is one that transcends city and state borders. But it’s rare for Brisbane to feature in books (or books you actually want to read), so it warrants mentioning.

Having raced through Apply Within in three too-short sittings (it’s just under 200 pages long), I’ve enjoyed my sugary reading treat and am heading back to the not-so-sugary How To Change The World. Wish me luck. I’m determined to finish it; I just might not enjoy it.

This Isn’t A Blog About Books

This isn’t a blog about books. It’s a blog about ideas. A festival of ideas, to be specific. I spent two days last week at Brisbane’s Ideas Festival and, frankly, my mind is still reeling from all I saw and heard there.

It reminded me that I in some ways can’t wait to be a retiree who can attend all the writers’ and ideas festivals she can possibly fit into her calendar and hours her butt can stand sitting on hard, fold-up seats. I mean, there’s something so incredibly inspiring sitting in a room listening to someone who’s an expert in their field and whose ideas turn my own on their head.

For this reason I’m breaking out of my usual books-focused blog mould and giving you a small sense of what I encountered there. The first session I lobbed into was McMansion to Micro Mansion: How do you challenge the Great Australian Dream? I can’t recount the session’s brilliance in full, but some highlights include:

  • the inverted sentiment that I want my next house to be more modest than my last one (do I hear an environmental sigh of relief?)
  • our new houses are the largest in the world—even larger than the US’s new houses (I actually emitted an audible sound of shame at hearing this one)
  • we have on average houses that allocate a whopping 83 sqm per person (enough to swing more than a few proverbial cats without touching each other or the walls)
  • by 2026, 60% of Queensland households will comprise just one or two people
  • we have given over an inordinate amount of space to roads and freeways
  • we seem to crave big, spacious homes, but when we’re on holidays we happily camp in cosier, more cramped tents, caravans, and the like (does this tell us that we’re actually good in and enjoy small, warm spaces?)
  • we’re having a ‘Katrina moment’ (as in, a rethink of our homes and practices post-natural disaster)
  • many famous writers wrote in really small, modest spaces, including Martin Heidegger, Roald Dahl, and George Bernard Shaw.

The second session saw me go from not knowing who the speaker was to wanting to finding out as much as is humanly possible about him. Anthony Ryan has carved out an impressive (if that’s the most apt description) career working with homeless and marginalised people, and is known particularly for setting up Eddie’s Street Van. His insights?

  • The key to working with the disempowered is presence: making it clear that when you’re with them, there’s no place you’d rather be.
  • Stereotypes are wrong. We need to get past the romanticism of the poor.
  • We need to develop that sense of carpe diem. All of us are going to be dead in the next 100 years. What are we going to leave as our legacy?

There were more points worthy of coverage, but I didn’t write them down—Ryan reduced everyone in the room to tears with some knock-out stories and I, well, I was kind of distracted ferreting around in my bag for tissues and dabbing my eyes.

What followed him were two inspiring sessions with the creative directors of Ideo, a kind of design slash consulting agency that’s doing some pretty mind-blowing work with regards to social change.

One session focused on crowdsourcing (although the Ideao guys said they hated that term—it sounds too much like a one-way transaction, when the reality of this action is that you too give something back). The second was on the theme that small multiplied by many equates something really large.

I have too many notes on these ones to include them all, but here’s a wee snapshot:

  • Netflix crowdsourced an improvement to their ‘you might like this’ algorithm by offering $1 million to the person who could improve it by just 10%. The entry that won merged everyone else’s suggestions, effectively.
  • Microsoft thought they had the market sewn up with Encarta ’97. Then came Wikipedia, a crowdsourced site that doesn’t pay its contributors. The result is that Microsoft went from being the cat who got the cream to the company plagued by the blank response: ‘Encarta who?’
  • Crowdsourcing and social media recently helped create a revolution in Iran.
  • Companies have historically used a sort of one-way monologue to communicate with fans and users. These days it’s a two-way conversation.
  • Valuing the journey is as important as valuing the destination—sounds guffy, I know, but their point was that they learnt as much during their research as at the end of it.
  • Everyone has access to ideas—the value is in the execution (said in response to the thousandth ‘Oh I had that idea’).
  • Don’t worry about the world ending today—it’s already tomorrow in Australia (teehee, especially in light of the supposed rapture).
  • Never waste a crisis (might have been espoused by Winston Churchill).
  • The future can’t be designed in Excel. In short: spreadsheets are the enemy.
  • Small x many = big/(simple + tomorrow) = answer.
  • The key is: how small and how quickly can you start?
  • People need simple ways to engage. This could be as small and straightforward as applying a sticker that says ‘fix this’ in their neighbourhood.
  • Connect the littles to become bigs.
  • Somebody has to start leading a different conversation so everyone can point at it and say: ‘That’s what I want’.
  • We’re too often sticking together feathers and hoping to get a duck—you need to have a strategy; you need to know what the answer is.
  • If you care about the solution, you don’t care who comes up with it.

This wasn’t a blog about books, but it was a randomly assembled blog about ideas that inspire books. The Ideas Festival has definitely given me plenty to think about in recent days as well as next year’s festival to look forward to. I think this warrants attending as many festivals in the interim as possible, and commencing my hard-seat-sitting training now…

Delightfully Haiku

Delightfully Haiku by Donna Smith is a 60 page pocket-sized book full of simple poems that celebrate life’s pleasures.

According to the author,

The book is inspired by family and the natural beauty that surrounds people every day.

As the author states in the front of the book, “Haiku Poetry is very much like a piece of artwork as it captures the feeling and emotion of the moment.

As in the traditional style of Haiku, the poems are simple, but they are also evocative.

Delightfully Haiku has poems for many occasions and themes including seasons, fruit, weather, birds, animals and emotions.


Dew kisses the leaves,

Early morning sunrise

Peeping through the blossoms…

The book is illustrated by Matthew Shires and edited by Tasmania’s most published children’s author, Sally Odgers.

Delightfully Haiku has a blog offering writing tips, mini workshops and competitions at www.delightfullyhaiku.wordpress.com

It also has its own Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Delightfully-Haiku/100479353349360?v=wall and is now available as an e-book.


News Round-up: The Consolation Prize Edition

So this week brought not one, not two, but three updates to major e-reader devices from (arguably) three of the biggest players in the market. None of the three are groundbreaking updates, but three in one week? That’s … well, actually that’s pretty common. There are so many e-readers out there now that they’re bound to start stacking up on top of each other. But they are beginning to feel like consolation prizes without any major changes.

The first update of least import: Amazon Kindle‘s ad-supported model (called the Kindle with Special Offers) now includes the 3G model as well as the Wi-Fi only. The new model will be $164 – yet another $25 saving from the version without ads. As I’ve said before, I don’t really think $25 is enough of a saving to feel like a complete sell-out, but Amazon is making a case that there are some people out there who want the ads. Their argument is that the ‘Special Offers’, like shopping centre coupons, will attract the thrifty – presumably a key Amazon market. Another argument has it that Amazon might be trying to startup a Groupon-like deal network. (Groupon is called ‘Stardeals’ here in Australia).

Kobo is also issuing an update to its e-reader. The new Kobo sounds pretty good, but until I’ve played around with it I’m still feeling a bit suspicious. The original Kobo reader felt a bit on the cheap and nasty side and the software was low on basic e-reader functionality. The new one, called the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, definitely sounds better: unsurprisingly it offers a touchscreen that is used to flip pages. Initially shipping to North America, it’ll be priced at $130, with the original Kobo slipping down to just $100.

Last, but certainly not least, is Barnes & Noble’s new Nook, apparently subtitled the Simple Touch Reader. This one has, you guessed it, a touchscreen. But it actually looks pretty good (pictured at the top of the page). The market B&N are aiming for here is the same as the Kindle. The new Nook is dead simple: no hardware keyboard, a simple interace, very light in the hand (lighter than the Kindle 3, I believe) and matching the Kindle 3’s excellent battery life. It has Wi-Fi only, and will sell for $139 (though only in the US for now). It claims to have only one button, but the press release also says there are ‘side buttons’, so I’m not sure if there’s a wire crossed there or what. It illustrates an interesting trend, though, towards touchscreens.

Personally, I like a touchscreen on a device that I can actually interact with at a reasonable speed – like Apple’s iPad. But on an e-ink reader? I’m actually kind of fond of the buttons on a Kindle, knowing that when it’s pressed, it’s pressed. The delay (and there will always be a delay with e-ink) doesn’t bother me as much because I know I’ve pressed the damn button and it’ll respond eventually. When I’ve played around with Sony Touch e-readers before there is sometimes a frustrating delay between swiping to turn a page and the device responding. What do you guys think about touchscreens on an e-ink reader? Touch is the preferred interface method with Sony’s readers, and people seem to love them – so perhaps I’m dead wrong. Sort me out in the comments below.

Pop Star Authors

Authors are a bit like pop musicians. No, really… they are more alike than you might first think. Both tread that fine line between art and making money. Good books and good music are often never released because they are not commercial enough. Just as authors are often at the mercy of large publishers, musicians are often at the mercy of large record companies. (Hmm… are they still called record companies even though its now mostly downloads and CDs?) And the promotional steamroller drives sales in both industries.

As time marches on, writers are becoming more like pop musicians. In this day and age writers need to become personalities. They need to get out there and promote their books. They need to promote themselves. The image of the writer is becoming as important as the books they write.

Jack Heath (author of The Lab) sold his first book at the age of 18. His youth certainly helped the sale of his books. That’s not to say he doesn’t write really good books — he does. But selling books requires more than the ability to write good books. Health’s youthful image made for good promotion. Now, six years down the track, Heath still manages to maintain his image. Check out his YouTube channel to see how he promotes himself, more than his books. And his website still makes reference to his youthful start in the industry…

“He started writing his first novel, The Lab, at age 13, and earned a publishing contract for it at 18.”

Publicists have had a field day with JK Rowling’s image of the struggling single mum who hit it big. And Stieg Larsson has shown how dying prior to the publication of a trilogy can enhance an author’s image.

The simple fact that authors need promotional photos is a testament to the importance of image. Author Shirley Marr even blogged about her author photo shoot, which resulted in some very glam, fashion-model images.

Shirley Marr, author of Fury. Photograph by Red Images Fine Photography.

Or has image always been friend to the author? Certainly Ian Flemming’s past as a Naval Intelligence Officer probably helped to promote his Bond books. And the glamour image of Jackie Collins hasn’t hurt her career.

Pop stars are forever in the public eye — image often eclipsing the music. Lady Gaga springs to mind. Of course, pop stars can also use their fame to become authors. Look at Madonna — pop icon and children’s author. Hilary Duff has also gotten in on the literary act with a novel titled Elixir. And did you know that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, used to be a pop singer and songwriter? He even released an album called Angels & Demons — that’s right, the same title as one of his books.

If only we could turn things around and see some authors cross over into pop music careers. I have this image of Stephen King doing a cover version of Werewolves of London or Bad Moon Rising. 🙂

Oh wait, King’s already in a rock band. True! He’s a member of The Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of published authors. Don’t believe me? Check out this clip…

Tune in next time for more pop music.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll sing at you! And believe me, you don’t want that.



I’ll admit that Mole Hunt, Paul Collin’s action packed new sci fi adventure isn’t the sort of book I normally read.

It’s set in a world I have no experience of, with rules and customs quite foreign to the way I live. Needless to say, I couldn’t put Mole Hunt down.

Maximus Black and his ruthless intentions had me hooked from the first page. I can’t say I liked Max as a person, but he is a very compelling character and I really wanted to know whether he would succeed with his mission.

Maximus is the classic action hero in terms of his intelligence and abilities, but he’s more of a Dexter than a James Bond. In fact, he’s a devious pyschopath, but that ‘living on the edge, take big risks quality’ is what keeps the reader riveted.

Max is RIM spy agency’s star cadet, but he’s also a mole, using the organisation for his own devious purposes. In the Mole Hunt world, unless you’re dead, you can pretty much be repaired so people take big risks and there’s a lot at stake.

Paul Collins gives the reader just enough information to hint that life has not always been kind to Maximus. This suggests a vulnerability that redeems Max to some extent for the reader, but also foreshadows that this could lead to his downfall.

Max has his own agenda – to get his hands on a cache of Old Empire weapons, giving him control of the galaxy and allowing him to extract revenge for the murder of his parents when he was six.

He pits his wits against Anneke Longshadow, one of RIM’s  best agents and someone who also harbours a difficult past. But Anneke’s on the good guy’s side and when her Uncle is murdered, the hunt for The Mole becomes personal.

World building is one of the things that Collins does best and in spite of the unfamiliar names and customs, I found myself totally immersed in the world of Mole Hunt.

Every detail has been meticulously thought out and intertwined with the action to draw the reader into the world of the story. The technological information is authentic and it’s almost as though the setting is another living, breathing character.

The action is non-stop and the dilemma for the reader is who to barrack for – the ruthless but damaged Maximus Black or the equally scarred but righteous Anneke Longshadow. Both character’s points of view are presented to us and like the protagonists, we have choices to make.

I’m looking forward to seeing the tussle between these Max and Anneke in the next book in the Maximus Black trilogy, Dyson’s Drop.

Mole Hunt has strong themes of good and evil, loyalty and identity. It gives the reader plenty to think about including how circumstances and background contribute to who we are, but it’s the choices we make that shape our lives.

This book is recommended for readers 12+, but would also be enjoyed by adults who love the sci-fi genre.

Mole Hunt is published by Ford Street and is due for release in June 2011. Teacher’s notes are available from the Ford Street website






Do you know where your towel is?

One of the nice things about being in Australia is living in the future, and getting to celebrate occasions before everyone else. My friends in Ireland are currently 9 hours behind, and people I know in the States are up to seventeen hours behind me.

This means that they all have to wait for May 25th to roll around in their own country while we get to start celebrating Towel Day right now.

Towel Day, for those of you wondering what the obsession with all things fluffy and drying in an annual celebration, held on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late and extremely great Douglas Adams, a man of many talents. He was not only a writer for books, radio and the screen, he was an environmental activist (he climbed Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit for Save the Rhinos and wrote Last Chance to See) and musician. Adams loved also technology and his essay – DNA/How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love The Internet – published in 1999, demonstrates he was a visionary thinker, who saw the amazing potential in the future that he is, sadly, not here to share with us.

Why a towel? Well, as any reader of the Hitchhiker’s Guide (referred to as H2G2 by some fans) can tell you, being someone who knows where their towel is marks you out as both a lover of his books and a person of forethought, gumption and organisational skills even – in fact, especially – if you are not in possession of any of those things.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet,: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

From Chapter 3 of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

For those of you who would like to join in, you will find events over Australia and further afield on the Towel Day site. Venues in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney are offering discounts for people who wear a towel and the internet will celebrating too. It’s also an excellent excuse to curl up with your battered and beloved Adams’s books. Settle into your favourite comfy chair, with that cup of tea that Arthur Dent so longed for, and sink back into the worlds that he created. Just remember to keep your towel on while you do it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books

Another Sydney Writers’ Festival comes to a close, and yet another talk about the ‘future of the book’, this time by acclaimed science writer James Gleick in the closing address of the festival tonight. Gleick’s talk drew heavily from his new book, Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. Talks of this nature have become so commonplace at writers’ festivals and in publishing circles that a significant amount of time was set aside to debunk, ridicule and then gently agree with some of the more egregious clichés in this particular genre of literary talk.

To wit: a certain amount of rambling about the smell of books. I’ll be eternally grateful to Gleick for introducing me to the term biblionecrophilia (borrowed from Ben Ehrenreich at the LA Review of Books). However, while he did a good job of making the smell of books feel like an unimportant issue, he spent a good ten minutes on the topic and still left me with the impression that he secretly loves a good whiff of the pages of a slim leatherbound volume. I can’t blame him: I don’t mind the occasional whiff myself.

Gleick also spent a lot of time on the myth of the death of the book. He rounded up a whole herd of related tropes: the death of publishing, printing, the author, the written word and the ‘long form narrative’. All were given a reprieve, thankfully, though he does think some traditional publishers might not “yet think that the experience of ebooks should be beautiful.” He also believes that the publishers who triumph will be those who “regain confidence in their traditional virtues”, especially the “art of editing”. I couldn’t agree more with both assertions, though neither are breaking new ground, as far as observations about the future of the book go.

Having said this, Gleick stopped short of allowing that the form of the book – whether it is within the container of physical pages or inside an e-reading device – will ever change dramatically. The book, he said, is a “narrow communications channel” – and that is a good thing. While he seemed emphatically against the idea of hypertext fiction, he seems to assume that the failure of that venture to make in-roads into serious literature therefore means that interactive fiction never will – and will always be something separate from ‘the book’. The videos, animations and other graphical quirks of ‘enhanced’ ebooks, are no more than improved versions of the photographs and line drawings found in traditional non-fiction books. “Books, after all, have contained pictures, along with words, from the earliest times.” However, he says:

I don’t want hyperlinks in my books, or in the books I’m reading; I don’t want social bookmarking, or opportunities for online dating, or any other form of multitasking. I don’t need a chance to create avatars for my favourite characters. I don’t want anything, that is, to take me out of the book. The book is not a multimedia spectacle with subtitles … They talk about mash-ups, where the creative user can mix and mingle fragments from books at will. They encourage user interfaces that allow annotations by the reader, not just in their private margins, but collective sharing … Books are to be liquefied, seeped out of their bindings. There are smart and famous people who talk as if this is a good thing. I think they couldn’t be more wrong about what books are and what they are destined to become.

Although I’m of two minds myself about the book transforming into a multimedia spectacular, I don’t rule this out as either categorically a bad thing or an impossible one. Not only that, but many of the features Gleick outlines as being both undesirable and impossible have already been implemented by Amazon and others in e-readers that are available for purchase right now. Yet the author, for all the research and historical evidence he has accumulated demonstrating time and again the inevitability of change – still firmly believes that the narrative long form book is both superior to other forms of storytelling and will not ever be superseded. Does this come from any kind of evidence? Or is this just what James Gleick wants to happen?

My question for you all today is what we talk about, now and in the future, when we talk about books. It seems clear that the establishment is (reluctantly) ready to accept the ebook as a tolerable receptacle of book-like knowledge – but what about the enhanced ebook? What about fully interactive book apps? Where do you draw the line? And how much do you think the boundaries of what we consider a book now will change in the future? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

The Devil Reads Vogue?

The Devil Wears PradaI’ve never understood the obsession with and reverence to Vogue. Frankly, I’ve always found there to be too many ads and not enough coherently-strung-together words. That and the ‘fashion’ contained within the pages is so preposterous, expensive, and un-wearable I’ve never been convinced that they’re not taking the p&%s.

I did, however, surprisingly enjoy both the book and the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada—guilty, simple-carbohydrate reading and viewing pleasures that both appealed to my sense of Vogue’s over-the-top ridiculousness and indulged my abject, albeit disconnected, fascination with magazines in general.

This impression was probably helped by the fact that I was at the time having my own devil-wears-Prada moment in an all-consuming, high-pressure work situation that I thankfully extricated myself from some months later.

But even I couldn’t resist gaining some insight into the arctic Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour courtesy of The September Issue. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if she’s really as influential and as scary as they make out?

It took me until this Friday night just past to get round to watching the fly-on-the-wall documentary, and I was desperate to know how close The Devil Wears Prada was to the ‘real’ story of Wintour. And I say ‘real’, because you never can know how much the camera got to see or how much the documentary shows.

What struck me first was how the positioning of Wintour’s desk was identical. Small stuff, yes, but striking for me nonetheless. I quickly realised what a Vogue rookie I was, though—the September issue is not just one of 12 they do a year; it’s a full-blown, highly anticipated magazine extravaganza.

Fans and media alike salivate over the ultimate annual issue, which grows in size and scale each year and which one designer quipped would soon be a ‘phone book’. I kind of think that’s not an entirely bad thing and that the breathless excitement that surrounds it is not dissimilar to that that accompanies the release of a Harry Potter (or similarly popular installation of a long-running series).

I was also amazed that despite Wintour getting all the press, she was far from the most talented or even the star of the show. That mantle is held by Grace Coddington, the creative genius behind the best of Vogue and whose brilliant work Wintour seemingly regularly threw out. Was it just me, or did you start to doubt Wintour’s taste watching the film? Did you start to wonder just how good the magazine could be were Coddington at the helm?

What also amazed me was that despite my meh-ness about Vogue (seriously, they won’t ever attract me as a reader unless they ditch some ads and couture and deliver some intelligent, world-changing content) was how caught up I got in the work that goes into the making of the publication. It’s something I’m a part of daily, but the amount of work that goes into something that appears small or seamless and that in coming together often in the nick of time continues to blow my mind.

I was also reminded that my jury’s still out when it comes to magazine reading. I see it as a secret (and secretively-carried-out) indulgence that’s slotted in ever so occasionally between reading ‘serious’ non-fiction tomes that skewer the world’s problems and that often simultaneously depress and inspire me.

But I’m wondering if that view is misguided or misplaced? We all enjoy a good mag (even if Vogue isn’t my first or ever choice) and I perhaps shouldn’t consider such reading devilish. After all, any reading is good reading, isn’t it? Can we have our books and mags and read them too?

Go the F**k to Sleep – teenager sing-along edition

On Friday I posted about the expletive-laden bedtime book that became a smash hit after being leaked as a PDF and sold more than 100,000 copies in pre-orders, “Go the F**k to Sleep“.  The brainchild of  novelist and toddler parent, Adam Mansbach, this book contrasts sweet nursery rhymes about animals and heart-warming illustrations by Ricardo Cortes with the exhausted profanity of a parent who is clearly hitting the end of their tether trying to establish a sleeping routine.

One of our readers, Jaki, said she found the book very funny but she’d like to see a version for the parents of teenage kids who, far from sleeping too little, can’t be hauled out of bed in the mornings without the aid of a forklift and twenty bottles of Coke. “Parents of teenagers who are still up and wandering around the kitchen at 1am, and then like dead logs when you attempt to drag them out of bed for school in the morning, would certainly love to see this book redone for teenagers.”

So, without further ado, and behind a cut for those of you who would rather not see all that swearing, I give you, “Get Out of F***ing Bed”.

This is what I came up with, but I’m sure there are plenty of talented poets out there who can add their own experiences and stick them in a nifty rhyme. Feel free to compose your own verses, and leave them in the comments for people giggle at. Warning, there is lots of strong language behind the cut. If that’s not your thing, please don’t click that link or read on past this point!

Continue reading Go the F**k to Sleep – teenager sing-along edition

Sundays are for Fairytales

I reserve Sundays for fairytale reading. Whether it’s a traditional Grimms’, or a new adaptation of a known tale, there’s nothing better than curling up with a hot chocolate and a cupcake in your favourite chair, and following that breadcrumbed path through the woods, and out into another world. And I figure – since I always end up relaxing with them on the weekends – why not share my Fairytale-filled Sundays with the rest of you? Who knows, we might start a phenomenon.

So from now on, every Sunday, expect a fairytale-related post on Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars. And if you have any suggestions for future posts, or fairytale-related things you’d like me to read, please let me know in the comments.

To kick us off on this fairytale frenzy, I’d like to discuss Beastly, by Alex Flinn. I haven’t actually had the expected pleasure of reading the book, but before any Beastly fans out there protest too loudly, I have recently seen the film version. I’m the first one to say that films and books do not compare – much of the time (in my opinion) film adaptations do not do the book justice. More rarely, sometimes the film adaptation actually does the book more justice than it deserves. For today, I’m just going to pick up on the themes that were interesting, and if I refer to anything that is changed – or not even present – in the book, well – you can politely ignore it.

The story of Beastly borrows the story of Beauty and the Beast and places it in a modern context. Kyle is the most-sought after boy at school, but he knows it. After humiliating a fellow student (who happens to be a witch), the girl seeks her revenge on Kyle by making him ugly in appearance, to reflect his ugliness inside. He has one year, so the spell goes, to make someone love him for who he really is, or else he stays ugly forever. Taking the opportunity to save a maiden in distress from a dangerous situation, beautiful fellow teen Lindy is put under house arrest and forced to interact with the shame-faced Kyle. And you can guess what happens from there…

Despite its many adaptations, I found Beastly to be a surprisingly refreshing spin on the traditional tale. But it is perhaps even more surprising how apt the story is to current-day teen relationships. The need to be accepted is at no age more prominent than during the teen years, and it evokes the right amount of sympathy for Kyle (who truly is a horror at the beginning of the story). We’ve all seen how popularity can turn people’s heads, and most of us have at some stage experienced what it’s like to be an outsider craving to be an insider, as well. I was impressed that the story appeared to be from the male point of view as well – because Lindy (Belle) by herself would have been a little weak, and we would have missed out on all that teen anguish and transformation that works so well through Kyle.

All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing how true the film stayed to the book, because the film wasn’t too bad at all.

Have you read or seen Beastly?

Gaiman and the Doctor

Last night, here in Melbourne, Australia, the ABC treated us to one of the most awesome Doctor Who episodes ever — “The Doctor’s Wife”. What made it so awesome? Well…

Excellent characterisation. Subtlety. Witty dialogue. Great acting and excellent direction.

And most importantly — A BRILLIANT SCRIPT

In a nutshell, it is the story of the TARDIS personified as a woman. How’s that for an amazing premise on which to base an episode? Who could possibly come up with a concept so stunningly simple and complex at the same time?

The answer: Neil Gaiman!

Yes, that’s right, THE Neil Gaiman — the writer who gave us the Sandman comics as well as bestselling novels such as American Gods and The Graveyard Book. Although he has dabbled in script writing before, it’s not something that he’s particularly known for. Pity. Because he is rather good at it. Anyway, since Gaiman is mostly known as a novelist, I thought it was a pretty good excuse for me to pen a Doctor Who post for this bookish blog.

Okay… so you may have guessed by now that I am a fan of Gaiman’s writing. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you must know that I am an enormous fan of Doctor Who. So the two of them combining was a big thrill for me. The episode is sitting on my TiVo waiting for a second viewing. And, of course, I’ll get the DVD when it’s released. And if Gaiman happened to write a book about it… I’d buy that too. 🙂 Yes, I’m a sad fanboy.

Television writing often seems to suffer from a lack of attention to detail and plot points being resolved either too neatly or without due logic. The previous week’s episode of Doctor Who, “The Curse of the Black Spot”, is a good case in point. Gaiman’s episode, however, has none of these flaws and is, in many ways, a perfect Doctor Who episode. It is a self-contained episode and yet it adds significantly to the series mythology. It is, at heart, a simple concept, but it is handled with wit, subtlety and a degree of complexity. It is fun, exciting and emotional. Everything you could possibly want.

I think that what this episodes shows, is that a good writer is a good writer no matter the medium he is writing in. Gaiman has proved, over and over again, that he is equally adept at handling comics, short stories, novels and scripts. Long may he write!

I also get the impression that Gaiman must be a fan of the show, as his episode was sprinkled with references to the show’s past — from the sounding of the cloister bell to the junkyard setting which harkens back to the very first episode of the series.

With “The Doctor’s Wife” now over, I am hoping desperately that this will not be Gaiman’s only encounter with the Doctor. I would dearly love to see him write more episodes. I would also very much love to see him take on a Doctor Who novel. Time will tell! And I shall hope.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll write another Doctor Who post.



The Whale Warrior

Whale WarriorThe name ‘Pete Bethune’ might not ring a bell, but the incidents he was involved in most certainly will. The first was when the Japanese rammed his boat, the Ady Gill, during the recent whaling season in Antarctica.

The second was when Bethune boarded their ship to make a citizen’s arrest of the captain for ramming and sinking his $3 million boat. The incidents made headlines worldwide and catapulted him from unknown to most hated man in Japan (my guess is Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson previously held that mantle).

I’ll state right here that I’m very much anti whaling and pro Sea Shepherd and have long planned to one day get myself aboard the boat for one of the missions (this despite hating being cold or not showering, and being a pretty useless sailor).

But even I rolled my eyes when I heard that Bethune had released a book after these incidents and his incarceration in a maximum security Japanese jail. He wrote a book? Of course he did.

Like most people (and yes, I’m taking a punt and making a sweeping generalisation), I expected to find the book poorly written and Bethune a bit of an arrogant, reckless cowboy.

I chuckled because he writes early on in the book how although he is entirely behind Paul Watson in principle, he wasn’t sure he was actually going to like him in person. Instead he found he did, and that Watson wasn’t quite as tall, imposing, or gruff as he’d envisaged.

I had a similar experience with Bethune, through whose writing I found to be smarter, more composed, wiser, funnier, and more reasonable than I’d expected. I subsequently checked my eye rolling at the first chapter and hunkered down for the reading ride.

Bethune entered the anti-whaling campaign with a high-speed, record-setting, carbon-fibre, more environmentally sound race boat formerly known as Earthrace, but rebadged for the campaign as the Ady Gill. Whatever its name, it was to act as a speedy, interference-creating distraction and disruption to the whaling.

I say ‘was’, because it met an untimely and tragic end when the Japanese security boat, which was acres larger, smashed into it. Without getting bogged down in details, the Ady Gill was stationary and the crew not provoking the Japanese at all.

Positionally, under maritime law, the Ady Gill had right of way and the Japanese turned into them. It was perhaps to scare them, but the Japanese completely misjudged the angles and it was complete carnage instead. The footage captured shows all of this precisely. It’s a wonder and a miracle that no one was killed.

Bethune boarded the Japanese security ship (a huge, James Bond-worthy feat in and of itself) to perform a citizen’s arrest of the captain for destroying his boat and endangering his and his crew’s lives. This caused much confusion with and embarrassment to the Japanese, and resulted in Bethune being taken back to Japan and tried as if he was the baddest of the bad bad guys.

Whale WarriorsIt was this part of the book that surprised me most. I’m well acquainted with the arguments about whaling, as well as the Sea Shepherd’s stance on it all—one of my bibles is the similarly named Whale Warriors (note the ‘s’) by National Geographic writer Peter Heller.

Although a couple of years old now, it gives a comprehensive examination of the organisation, Watson, and the myriad laws the Japanese are thumbing their metaphorical noses at by raping and pillaging the whale sanctuary for entirely unfounded, unethical, cruel, and immoral means…but I digress.

The surprise? Bethune has an interesting tête-à-tête with that Japanese journalist, and I think both sides gained insight into each others’ vexed positions. That’s also perhaps the thing that most surprised me about Bethune and this book—he’s been made out to be the most-hated, hair-brained, two-dimensional anti-whaler this side of, well, the debate, and yet his book delivers some of the most humble and humanising insights into the issue and the people battling over it.

My favourite part of the exchange? When the journalist asked what he’d say to people who might lose their jobs if the whaling industry was wrapped up? ‘Well, the Second World War employed a lot of people as well.’ Touché.

There were quite a few funny moments in the book, including the references to and explanation of the term ‘hamster’ (it’s so wrong it’s right, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise). There was also the time when the Sea Shepherd activists wrote messages on the bottles of red, blood-like paint that were going to be lobbed at the ‘research’ words painted on the side of the Japanese ship (stop reading now if you’re under 18 years of age): ‘Eating whale will not make your penis any bigger…or harder’.

I also chuckled at the instances where Kiwi Bethune was confused for being an Aussie, such as when someone raised the old, ‘but you kill kangaroos’ argument. I loved that he quashed it (and again, sorry, but I’m not telling you how) and went on to buckle a few other long-held, oft-trotted-out arguments, such as that whaling is traditional for the Japanese.

Er, it’s not, barring a couple of coastal towns. It was actually encouraged by the Americans after the Japanese ran dangerously low on food during and immediately after WWII. He further points out that the Sudanese practice female circumcision and we once killed Aboriginal people—neither is A-Ok.

Funny parts and squashed arguments aside, I was incensed—as you will be—at the apathetic, rollover ‘tactics’ employed by the lawyers who were apparently hired to represent Bethune. Japan has a 99% guilty rate and it’s easy to see why—the defence lawyers quite literally don’t defend.

But this blog is long enough and I’m in danger of hopping back up on my soapbox, so I’ll leave you with this instead: Both Bethune’s Whale Warrior and Heller’s Whale Warriors are must-reads, as both give invaluable insight into the complicated, emotionally fraught whaling issue.

My hope is that with enough informed readers and enough brave activists like Bethune who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in but to also endeavour to understand the other (albeit still completely wrong) side, whaling will be peacefully wiped out before the whales are.

The book they had to write

It started as a joke and it’s not even out yet but Adam Mansbach’s expletive laden children’s’ bedtime tale is already at the top of charts, selling more than 100,000 copies in pre-orders since it surfaced as a pirated pdf less than a month ago.

This tongue-in-cheek bedtime book for parents was the sleep-deprived brainchild of novelist Adam Mansbach who, frustrated at trying to get his own daughter to nod off night after night, joked to friends that his next book would be called “Go the F**k to Sleep“.

He meant it as a joke, but soon realised that he was on to a winning idea with Akashic Books taking an interest. Originally due out in October, the book became famous when a pirated PDF of it went viral and hit a chord with tired parents everywhere.

Not that you are meant to use the book to send your little ones to the land of nod.  Contrasting cutesey ryhmes and stunning illustrations by Ricardo Cortes with exasperated and exhausted profanity, it’s “definitely not a book to read to your child”, said the publisher in an interview with The Guardian, but “it will resonate with anyone who has ever spent 20 minutes, 40 minutes, four hours reading ‘just one more bedtime story’.”

For something that started as a joke, it’s doing pretty well in the real world. Pre-order sales of the books have taken the top spot on Amazon.com’s bestseller charts before it was even officially released, film rights have been optioned by Fox and the book has sold more than 100,000 copies in pre-orders since it surfaced less than a month ago. It’s easy to see the appeal, if you just read one of the sample verses. (Profanity has been carefully occluded, but you can use your imagination. The writer certainly does.)

The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the <bleep> to sleep.

Joel over at BookU has already written at length about the book, and the implications that it has for evaluating the effects of piracy on book sales, but mainly I’m hoping that it will set off a spate of other books that I have longed for since people joked about them.

Chief amongst those is a books of poetry by cats, called “I Could Pee on This“, but there are plenty of other fictional books that I’d like to take a look over. JK Rowling has already published one such book that was originally just a fictional book, the Tales of Beedle the Bard. Maybe it could be the coming trend?

Wikipedia has a massive list of books mentioned but not yet penned, but my vote for the first one I’d like to see off the press has to be an actual copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, complete with DON’T PANIC written in massive letters on the front. Which is advice that the poor parents currently reading Go the F**k to Sleep could probably do with.



You know that Camp Croc is going to be full of action from the title and the graphic picture of a giant hungry looking crocodile on the front cover.

I was also drawn to the main character, Daks. Who could not love a kid with a name like that? And of course, Mr Longbottom is the ideal name for a teacher – especially from his student’s point of view.

Daks and his mates are off to a once-in-a lifetime orienteering camp but they’re going to find more than they bargained for.

When the kids find a sign, “Danger! Your safety cannot be guaranteed beyond this point. Students must stay within camp boundaries at all times”, you know something big is going to happen.

What starts out as a bit of a lark turns dangerous when the kids come across wildlife smugglers in the bush and it seems that their only means of escape is across crocodile infested waters.

And when the plan they come up with backfires they seemed destined to become crocodile dinner.

This is a truly Australian story and I couldn’t help giggling at Trewin’s lively turn of phrase.

“I was swimming one day – in the stinger net – thinking I was as safe as broccoli at a birthday party, when I bumped into a log. Except the log was a five-metre-long crocodile.

Trudie Trewin’s humorous text and great cliff hanger chapter endings keep the reader turning the pages, and despite the heart pounding action, she manages to keep the laughs coming.

The text is broken up with Dak’s hilarious and perceptive Dak’s facts. A school camp is something readers will relate to and the destination, Cape Tribulation provides an ideal backdrop for adventure.

Author, Trudie Trewin seamlessly incorporates the setting detail into the story so that readers can picture themselves there but aren’t distracted from the action.

There’s also the odd gross description to appall and delight readers.

Camp Croc is a hilarious adventure story that will captivate readers. The text is simple, the dialogue realistic and the action non-stop – making it a great choice for reluctant readers.

Camp Croc is published by Walker Books in their Lightning Strikes series. Teacher’s notes are available from the Walker Books website


News Round-up: The Go the F**k to Sleep Edition

Lots happening around the ebook traps this week and last. You’d have to be living in a ditch not to have at least heard someone mention Go the Fuck to Sleep, a humorous children’s book that has gone viral on the internet. What’s interesting about this particular development is that the full colour, full text PDF of the book has been circulating via email and is freely available on the internet, yet that has not stopped the book from going to number one on Amazon. Now seems to be the perfect time to re-link to this post and re-iterate the argument I made therein: if your book has been pirated 500,000 times, you are not in danger of never making any money from it.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has basically come out and said that the company will be making a tablet this year, and rumours are flying that they’re not making one tablet but several (or at least two), with different screen sizes and processor speeds. Their product codenames are “Coyote” and “Hollywood”, proving that no matter how cool the news gets, codenames will always be cooler. And if that news didn’t convince you that Amazon is trying to take over the world, then check this out. If they don’t own your soul yet, they soon will.

More news on the Apple 30% vig stories. The app (and store) iFlow Reader has decided to close its doors due to Apple’s policy. In case you don’t remember me writing about this earlier, Apple has introduced a policy (or, more accurately, begun enforcing an old policy) whereby digital content apps, including all book reading apps, must go through Apple’s in-app purchasing system in order to on-sell their content. Apple’s in-app system skims 30% off the top of all sales, making it impossible for smaller businesses (like iFlow) to make the numbers work. Apple will begin enforcing this policy from June 1, so there’s likely to be a bit of news about this in the coming week.

Despite this, other rumours have emerged that there is a loophole to this rule – companies that would like to allow their content to be read on iOS devices but not purchased need only remove any link to their store. So, for example, those of you who have used the Kindle app on their iPhone or iPad will likely see a little “Kindle Store” icon in the top-right hand corner of the main screen. Using the new loophole, Amazon would only need to remove this link in order to make the app compliant. I guess you could argue this is a good thing, but you have to wonder who this is really hurting. Are Kindle shoppers really going to stop buying Kindle books because the link is no longer inside the app? No, probably not. But smaller indie publishers and retailers with extremely low margins and non-existent brand recognition will likely close down or labour in obscurity until they fail. This move by Apple is anti-competitive, anti-user and ultimately bad for everyone except Apple. If you’d like to complain, you can do so here.


Today, we welcome Queensland author, Trudie Trewin to Kids’ Book Capers. She’s here to talk about her writing adventures and her hilarious new children’s book for readers aged 9-13, Camp Croc.

Writing is something that Trudie says she always thought she’d have a go at “one day”.

But I had imagined I would write for adults. A random comment about children’s stories by a co-worker when I left for maternity leave got me thinking. Eventually, the thinking turned to doing, and I found that writing for kids was something I loved.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

Having an excuse to daydream! The freedom of being able to work anywhere, anytime.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Convincing my family that lazing by the pool is how I mull over and fix up a plot I’m having trouble with!

What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?

In reality, I worked in finance, but if I could have my choice of any career…I’ve always thought being an astronaut would be pretty cool.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

Okay, this is pretty hard to admit, but I’m naturally lazy – so every time I move from just thinking about a story and jotting down notes, to the moment I have to actually sit down and write it all out is quite an achievement for me!

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Read lots, write lots, talk to other writers lots, accept constructive criticism, and follow your heart.

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

I love to sing, but I am truly terrible at it. When my boys were babies I used to sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to them at bedtime, and without fail they would always put their hand over my mouth, and as soon as they could talk, they would say ‘stop’ as well. Now I sing just to embarrass them!


It’s about four mates who sneak away from a school camp, only to find themselves getting into hairy situations, or should I say, scaly situations, with both local wildlife and some wildlife smugglers.

What inspired you to write this book?

I read a newspaper article about a woman who went for a swim in one of our local beaches, and really did bump into a crocodile – and lived to tell the tale. I couldn’t stop thinking about what must have gone through her head when she realised that she was face to face with a croc – so I wrote a scene where a boy swims into a crocodile, and Daks was the character that bolted out of the water. I knew then that any character that had been through that ordeal deserved a whole story, not just a scene!

Can you tell me about the main character and what you like/dislike about him/her?

Daks has a somewhat dry sense of humour, enjoys the company of his mates, and has an adventurous streak – but like all kids his age, his taste for adventure grows considerably in the presence of his mates. He can be hesitant to make new friends, but once he has he’s very loyal.

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

Yes, on the Lightning Strikes website.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

Probably the humorous observations Daks and his friends make. Even in the face of danger they manage to find something funny to comment on.

What did you enjoy most about writing Camp Croc?

The action in it. There were times when my heart hammered faster than the keyboard as the boys lurched from one dangerous situation to the next!

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Trying to work out how the boys were going to get free when they were tied up to the trees. I even tied my boys up to trees to see if what I described was possible! Oh that reminds me…. better go and untie them now…

Camp Croc lovers will be pleased to know that Trudie is currently working on another story involving Daks and his mates.

On Friday we’re reviewing the hilarious Camp Croc here at Kids’ Book Capers.

Pics for this post were supplied from Trudie’s blog.

The Trudi Canavan Project

Photo by Paul Ewins

I have a rather special post today. Some practice video interviews with bestselling fantasy author Trudi Canavan. Let me explain…

At Aussiecon 4 last year, I videoed a few authors talking about their favourite books and then posted them on Literary Clutter. Trudi was one of those authors. Knowing that I had a little video camera and a blog on which to post the results, she asked me to assist her with some practice interviews.

Trudi is currently on a book tour around Europe and the UK promoting her latest novel, The Rogue. Not having done very many video interviews, and knowing that she was likely to be put in front of a camera at least once or twice on the tour, she wanted to practice before she left.

We decided to do three different types of interviews, hopefully covering all likely bases — the generic interview; the informed literary interview; and the informed fantasy interview. And then we also decided to shoot them in three different ways. So, with my wife behind the camera directing us, this is what we came up with…

Interview 1

This is the generic interview. The idea is that the interviewer knows little about Trudi or her books.

The camera stays focussed on a fairly close shot of Trudi, with the interviewer asking questions from off-camera.

Interview 2

This is the informed literary interview. We assume that the interviewer has read at least one of Trudi’s books and is familiar with the literary scene. The questions are the sort you would expect from the host of a book show.

We’ve shot this one in a more formal interview style, the sort you might get on 60 Minutes — interviewer and subject facing each other and the camera cutting between the two. Please forgive my editing… I’m a writer not a filmmaker. 🙂

Interview 3

This is the informed fantasy interview. We assume the interviewer is familiar with the fantasy genre and has read several of Trudi’s books. The questions are the sort that are likely to be of interest to fantasy fans and more specifically, to fans of Trudi’s books.

We’ve shot this one in a relaxed style — seated outdoors under a shady tree with cups of tea at the ready. We were aiming for a breakfast show feel.

So there you have it… three different interviews with the same person. I think Trudi did really well and is going to wow the audiences on her tour. Hope you enjoyed them. If you’d like to keep track of Trudi’s promotional tour, check out the blog on her website.

This little project turned out to be quite a learning experience for me. And I think I’ve still got a lot more to learn about producing blog videos. If anyone out there has any feedback, please leave a comment.

The main thing I discovered from all this, was that I rather enjoyed the whole process — from writing the questions, to conducting the interviews, to editing the vids. This, of course, means that I’m likely to inflict some more videos on you in the future. Be afraid… be very afraid!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll interview myself.



To smut or not to smut?

I was really enjoying Ken Follett‘s Pillars of the Earth. Right up until the moment where the hairdresser started reading it over my shoulder.

Pillars of the Earth is an epic book covering many topics; about religion, philosophy, politics and architecture. It explores treachery, pride, revenge, love, and grief.  It includes mammoth descriptions of life in the middle ages, warts and all. And it includes a few – a very few in over a thousand pages – brief sex scenes that take up a couple of pages.

So, guess which ones I ended up reading at the hairdressers? The saucy bits. Much in the manner that random play on your MP3 player only selects Baby’s Got Back from three thousand other songs when Grandma is in the car with you (and worse yet, knows the words), Pillars of the Earth decided to wait until I was out and about and had someone close enough to read it over my shoulder before whipping out the four letter words and lurid descriptions. The hairdresser was amused at my embarrassed page flicking. “Enjoying your book?” Um. Not really. Well, not anymore.

I’m not a massive fan of love scenes in books generally. Sex sells, I am sure, but not to me. It’s something I tolerate in a book, if it’s necessary to the story. It’s not just that the sex scenes will wait until you are in the middle of a big group – reading on public transport, squashed book to nose on an airplane etc – to flash their bits. I’m not that fond of the language used, all that heaving and throbbing and attempts to describe women’s genitalia that end up sounding like someone took LSD and then got lost in a florists.

I’ve also never been convinced by a lot of stock phrases used, such as those that liken erotic touch to sticking your fingers in the plug socket, you know, “his touch coursed through her like an electric current.” I’ve been electric shocked on several occasions, and I can say that none of them were much fun or erotic in any way. Police are issued with ‘tasers for a reason and that reason isn’t to bring joy to miscreants everywhere. I mean, you don’t see people sitting on electric fences going; “Eeek! Mmm. Eeek! Mmm!” Well, I don’t. Maybe I just don’t know about those sorts of farms. Perhaps if I read more books about it I’d be more au fait with the sensual use of the electric cattle prod. But something about the average sex scene just causes me to put the book down before my mother looks over my shoulder when I am reading it and asks what a merkin is. (Don’t google that one at work. Or at all.)

I have some company in my prudish dislike of overblown sex-scenes. The Literary Review is up to the eighteenth annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, inaugurated in 1993 in order to draw attention to, and hopefully discourage, poorly written, redundant or crude passages of a sexual nature in fiction. Last year’s top place was taken by Rowan Somerville, whose novel The Shape of Her included phrases such as, “Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”  Somerville insisted the scenes were perfect for the purpose, responding, “‘There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the nation, I thank you.” (This is slightly more amusing when you realise Somerville is, in fact, Irish.)

So, what do you think? Do books need more sex? Less sex? Should the scenes fade to black or do you demand a full run-down of the action (oh my).

And does anyone know where I can find a new hairdresser?

Past The Shallows

Past The ShallowsFavel Parrett is receiving positive reviews all round for her first novel, Past the Shallows. I caught up with her to find out about how important a mentorship is for emerging writers, what it’s like to have your own writing room, and why she could possibly need an edible hat…

Let’s get this one out of the way up front. How do you pronounce your name? Can you tell us a little bit about it? I love it (it’s much more exciting than Fiona Crawford)!

It’s pronounced Fay–vel (like ‘navel’). The very old legend goes that there was a chestnut horse called Favel and if you brushed the horse and asked for a favour it would be granted. I used to really dislike having an unusual name, but now it seems right.

Can you please outline briefly what the book’s about?

To me Past the Shallows is a book about love, loss, and the bond between brothers. It is also a story about how secrets can destroy a person and, ultimately, a family. Place is almost one of the characters. A place at the very end of the earth.

What inspired it? You’ve mentioned a town you once visited…

Tasmania had a huge effect on me when I was a kid. I moved to Hobart when I was about eight with my mum and my brother, and later we moved much further south to Franklin. I had never been anywhere that felt so ancient, so isolated, so wild.

Water is everywhere in Tasmania. Everywhere. You can smell it, feel the salt in the air. It rusts cars and everything it can get its teeth into. Snow on the mountain, grey skies, forest as old as the world. The Southern Ocean—clean and beautiful and terrifying.

I also find Tasmania has a certain sadness—an incredible beauty and a sadness there in the earth, in the stone cottages and the timber farmhouses. The past right there. The past still there.

How many years and incarnations has the book been in the works? Has it changed much during that time?

I draft so heavily. Every scene was re-written so many times before it even got to an editing process. I started a TAFE course in Professional Writing in 2006 and I never thought I could write a novel. I wrote a short piece set in Tasmania that had the very beginnings of Miles and Harry in it.

In 2007 those two boys were still with me, and I realised there was a much bigger story there. I just kept writing about them. I wrote about them for years. The book has changed so much since the start and yet the essence of place and of Harry and Miles is there in the very first draft—the very first words I wrote.

If you had to sum up the book and its target readership in a couple of sentences, what would you say?

I never thought about a target readership while I was writing. I guess I thought that if it ever got published (and I didn’t think it would), then my publishers would know where to place it and how to market it. I just hope that people find something meaningful in the book—that they feel a connection when they read it and that it stays with them.

You wrote in a blog for Readings that you started off with a location, then found the characters, then wrote scenes out of order (including writing the last scenes first). Did this make the journey easy, exciting, or frustrating, or a little of all three?

Frustrating! But I think all writing is frustrating and hard. It is for me, anyhow. I also think that my brain likes the challenge—the problem-solving aspect of writing. It is really magic when it comes together and parts make sense. When things become clear. That part of the process is exciting.

You like surfing and you’ve written about a character who’s afraid of the water. Is that based on anyone you know?

Before I surfed, I never thought much about the water. I knew it was cold and could be dangerous. I was scared going on the boat to Tasmania from Melbourne because the crossing was very rough. I had never seen ocean like that—boiling and wild. My brother and I were really seasick and pretty scared. I probably used that memory for Harry, but mostly, it just seemed to be a natural part of the story. Part of Harry’s story.

You have a studio space in which you write—your very own writing room. Can you describe it/tell us about it? How important is it to your writing process?

I actually share it with two other writers—Kim Bear and Robyn McMicking—but they work full time, so I have it to myself most of the time. It has become very important to me to have a space just for writing. To say: ‘This is important. This is my job. I will take it seriously.’

When I go to the studio the intention is set. I am going there to work. There is no internet and I turn my phone off.  It is in an old art deco building that has caged lifts and dark corridors, but my room is light and bright and feels like home.

How important was the Australian Society of Authors mentorship support during this time? Can you tell us a little about what this involved? How important do you think a mentorship/mentoring is for emerging writers?

I was lucky enough to be mentored by an editor called Julia Stiles. We had many conversations on the phone before she read my manuscript. Then she sent me back a report and a structural edit. We talked on the phone a few more times and had quite frequent email discussions. I spent many months working on the ideas and changes we talked about.

We were going to go through the whole process again, but I got a two-book deal with Hachette and Julia and I had to part ways. She is an incredible editor and it was a wonderful experience. I think these opportunities are so important for emerging writers. I would encourage anyone to apply.

I’ve noticed you have a book trailer (and that lots of writers are starting to pursue this avenue). How did you come up with yours? Do you think it attracts a different readership than traditional text-based information and reviews?

I was so surprised to see this beautiful trailer. The team at Hachette made it and I knew nothing about it. It was early on, before any reviews or press, and it made me feel great. I think visuals attract attention. That is why book covers are so important.

Likewise with QR codes and your website. How important do you think these are to getting your name/brand/book out there and fostering a conversation about the book and a fanbase for the future?

It seems to be important—Facebook/Twitter/websites. It seems to be part of being a writer today: connecting to the public in different ways.

You’re a keen traveller, including to Africa and Bhutan. Might we see these appear in future work?

They have both appeared in published short stories and I am sure they will appear again. Bhutan is part of my life, as the friends I have over there have become like family. And Africa totally changed my life. I have been lucky!

I have written a lot of stuff set in Zambia, enough that it may become a novel at some point. Right now it is just short stories and scenes, but the energy is definitely there. It is there and you can’t turn your back on that.

In December I am going back to Kenya to see some of the children I sponsor through a grass-roots foundation called Lolida School Fund. They are graduating from high school this year. It is a massive deal—their road has been extremely rough and I am very proud of them.

Four years ago I promised that I would learn Swahili if they got through school. Now I only have six months so I’d better get cracking!

Christopher Currie (author of the newly released The Ottoman Motel, and about whom and which I’ve previously blogged) stated on Facebook that he’d eat his hat if you didn’t win the Miles Franklin. That’s a glowing endorsement. Care to comment on that?

Chris is an amazing writer and an incredible friend. I feel so lucky that I met him in 2008. I honestly think there is no chance that my book will win or even get shortlisted. I think I better buy Chris an edible hat!

You’ve received some glowing reviews for the book. Is that exciting or humbling or…?

It’s amazing. I really couldn’t have asked for more. Everything that has happened so far is way more then I expected. I have been very lucky.

You’re working on your second book. Care to give us some hints on what it’s going to be about?

Sure. These are the things I know so far:

  • A young girl and her brother try to find their way in a new place.
  • A stone city full of ghosts and empty streets. A place where the wind blows in cold and from the south.
  • Everything gets brighter when the vikings come to town—the men who work on an Antarctic supply vessel from Denmark. They are giants and they breathe life into Hobart. Chasing the light from the Arctic to the Antarctic, they sail the world end to end, never stopping for long enough for the darkness to catch them.
  • But there is a terrible accident off Macquarie Island. And nothing is ever the same.

Thanks Favel. I’m looking forward to it already! I also have some great news:

  • Favel will be talking about her book at Avid Reader (Brisbane) this Thursday night. Details of the event (including how to RSVP) are available here.


Boomerang Books has a new Schools Program designed to benefit students, parents and teachers.

Schools that register with the program will be given a promotional code that provides 15% book discounts for library, teachers, parents and students. Schools will also be entitled to a 5% credit on orders and a 3% donation to their chosen charity will be made with each order placed.

According to Clayton Wehner, Managing Director of Boomerang Books the program also has benefits for the environment and the Australian publishing industry.


Boomerang Books is a carbon neutral online bookstore and offsets the environmental emissions of every order through the purchase of carbon credits.


Boomerang Books is an Australian business located in Australia and selling predominantly Australian books to Australian people. They support Australian authors and buy books from Australian publishers and distributors. Unlike foreign online bookstores, Boomerang Books pays GST, employs Australians and pays Australian contractors.

Boomerang Books is also a member of the Australian Made Retail Supporter program. For more than 20 years, the Australian Made, Australian Grown Campaign has been helping consumers to exercise their preference for buying Australian, and promoting Australian products in Australia and increasingly also in export markets.

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Cue Full-Blown Adult Tanty

One of my deepest, darkest secret shames has to be that I am completely, utterly, and embarrassingly bad at Scrabble. So bad, in fact, that it actually makes me angry.

Sure, Scrabble’s a board game and is (apparently) fun. But the latent, almost physical frustration I feel at not being able to mentally manoeuvre single blocks of letters into witty, wise, or obscure words that are proved right by the dictionary (much to my opponents’ surly indignation) gives me the absolutely willies.

I’m not sure why I’m so rubbish at Scrabble. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that I was born without that spatial thingy that would give me the ability to first visualise and assemble word possibilities from the letters before me in my little, upstanding tray, and second, to see a spot where those word and letter possibilities can fit in with those already laid down on the board. I also doubt either is helped by the brain-freezing, weight-of-expectation anxiety that even thinking about playing brings upon me.

The frustration at not having/being able to do whatever this game requires of me is compounded by the fact that being a writer and editor and all means that everyone a) expects me to be completely kick-ass at it and b) wants to beat me.

I’d say it’s a pretty hollow victory for them when my opponents realise their apparent Goliath of an opponent is a whimpering ninny. Case in point: my friend Tahnee put down ‘bristle’ on her very first go last time we played. She earned herself something like a triple word score for her savvy placement plus 100 bonus points for using up all her letters. Suffice to say, I never even came close to competing.

For most people, though, they’ll never get a chance to find out, because after too many games of voluminous embarrassment and frustration that I know is irrational and juvenile but that sees me get so frickin’ angry that I want to fling the board and letters across the room and throw myself on the floor in a full-blown adult tanty, I now refuse to play. At all. Ever. So please stop asking me.

The latest incarnation is apparently Words With Friends, a seemingly innocuous-sounding, potentially copyright-infringement-avoiding name for what is, for all intents and purposes, a version of Scrabble. Please see above paragraph re: I refuse to play. At all. Ever. Please stop asking me.

Also while I’m getting my grump on, please stop sending me the Crikey article that heralds the news that the official Collins Scrabble dictionary has added almost 3000—yes, folks, 3000—new words to its almost a quarter of a million existing permissible words. This means 3000 new words that are guaranteed to outrage your opposition, who’ll argue that you can’t have them and then have to eat their words when you prove to them that they are, in fact, in the dictionary.

While I love the idea of these additions—you would think that the availability of more words would ease my anxiety—the reality of it makes no difference to me. It’s not that I don’t have enough word combination possibilities; it’s that I have too many. My brain seizes up and freezes up or attempts to put down words for which I’m missing one crucial letter or for which there’s no actual space on the board. That or I simply can’t see visualise the word to begin with.

What I will leave you with, though, just in case you’re a keen Scrabble player, is a selection of the newly acceptable words and their point values. Methinks there’ll be some chagrin from old-school Scrabble players who think this is lowering the tone and literacy levels. Me? I think these words are kind of funny:

  • innit (5)
  • thang (9)
  • Facebook (19)
  • MySpace
  • bling (12)
  • tik, tina, gak (7, 4, and 8, respectively; they’re apparently drug terms, although I’ve personally, in my naivety, never heard of them)
  • inbox (14)
  • vlog (8)
  • wagyu (12)
  • webzine (21)
  • wiki (11).

Body-snatching with Doug MacLeod

Last post I reviewed Doug MacLeod’s YA novel The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher. Today, I’m very pleased to welcome Doug to Literary Clutter for a little chat about his book.

Hi, Doug. Thanks for dropping by.

My pleasure. A very cosy corner of cyberspace you have here.

Thank you. You’re much too kind. So Doug, when did you develop an interest in body-snatching?

Very recently. I read The Resurrectionist by Australian author James Bradley, and enjoyed it — even though it was a little gruesome for my tastes. I also watched a documentary by English broadcaster Dan Cruickshank on the subject of the English medical schools of the early eighteen hundreds, and how there was a great need for freshly deceased bodies to be dissected by the students. In fact I named one of my characters in honour of Mr Cruickshank — though I’m not sure he would regard it as an honour.

In your last post you described a scene where our characters wade through human head sludge. I’m afraid that scene really does happen in the book. It makes perfect sense. It wasn’t just included for shock value. But after I’d written it, it occurred to me that I might have created something disgusting. However, the two boys are so wonderfully chipper about the horrible situation in which they find themselves, and so supportive of each other, that I think I get away with it. The book is more about the importance of friendship than digging up bodies, although quite a bit of the latter does go on. I didn’t write the book to offend people. My intention was to be funny rather than shocking. I wanted people to fall in love with my characters in much the way I did. They took me by surprise.

You probably did a lot of reading about 19th Century body-snatching in preparation for this novel. But did you have to do any practical research into resurrectionism?

I did no practical research whatever. I’m actually very squeamish. There are scenes from the last Monty Python movie that I find impossible to watch. And I find Justin Bieber chilling.

The questionable teaching methods of your character, Mr Atkins, bear a striking resemblance to those of a teacher who once ‘taught’ me back in the early 1980s. Are Mr Atkins and his methods purely the result of your demented imagination or is there some real life inspiration?

Oh my god, who was the monster who taught you? I hope you weren’t ‘the chosen one’ because you seem a gentle soul. My imagination isn’t nasty enough to invent such a hideous teaching method. In a recent biography about a prominent Australian broadcaster, it was heavily implied that during his time as a teacher of teenage boys, he used the technique described in the book.

Fear not… my teacher wasn’t as bad as Mr Atkins. And I managed to survive.

In your novel, Mrs Greenough has a weakness for alcohol whilst Mrs Timewell prefers laudanum. What’s your preference?

I’ve never tried laudanum. Since it’s basically heroin diluted with alcohol I think I am unlikely to do so. Victorian theatres used to have ‘retiring rooms’ for the ladies who wished to indulge in the stuff. It was all proper and above-board. They would go to these rooms during the interval and get retired off their faces. I, on the other hand, favour a nice drop of red. I did drink a glass of Absinthe once in the hope that it might turn me into a French impressionist painter. It didn’t.

It is pointed out in the book that each body-snatcher must choose a resurrectionist name (such as Plenitude, Tolerance and Clemency), or have a name choose them. What resurrectionist name would you choose for yourself?

The idea is that a resurrectionist’s name should be beautiful; a noun with positive connotations. I was very happy when I came up with the name ‘Plenitude’ for my main character, until I discovered it’s a brand of eye make-up. I’ll have to wait for my resurrectionist name to choose me, for I am at a loss to make the choice myself.

The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher successfully combines humour with tragedy. Not an easy task. What in the world possessed you to attempt it?

George, I really don’t know. I started writing a black comedy then realised there was a lot more to this story than I had plotted. I felt I owed it to my characters to give them compelling reasons to act the way they did — and that necessitated a certain amount of tragedy. I’m sorry, I know that sounds pretentious. It’s an odd book, so I’m very gratified that you enjoyed it, and that the CBCA decided to include it on their shortlist. Though I get the feeling that if I win, I will be torn into tiny pieces by fans of Cath Crowley and Melina Marchetta — both of whom are indeed smashing and more deserving of the honour than I. If I could cast a vote myself here, I think I’d plump for The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett.

Thank you, Doug, for stopping by and giving us an insight into your writing and into body-snatching.

To find out more about Doug MacLeod and his writing, check out his website and his blog.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on twitter… or I’ll dig up your grave!


Winter Warmers and writing festivals

Baby, it’s cold outside.

The skies might still be blue but, with the temperature dropping to the chilly depths of the low teens, winter has arrived in Sydney.

Walking to work this morning, everyone I passed was bundled up in hats, wool coats and scarves, except for one confused looking group of Irish backpackers I passed who were happily running around in t-shirts and shorts and admiring how warm it is.

I used to think 13C was warm too – in Ireland, 23C is hot and over 25C is sweltering. I’m not joking – we once had a “heatwave” where noon temperatures stayed at 27C for a week and doctors were issuing medical advice on sunstroke and dehydration to a confused populace from every radio and TV. When I first arrived in Sydney I basked in the sun even in the middle of winter. Sadly, I have now been in Australia for long enough that when the temperature drops below 15, I get chilly.

The Queenlanders are rubbing it in too – happy Facebook and Twitter updates on how balmy it is, people talking about strolling in the sun at South Bank. In return my Sydney and Melbourne friends write unhappy little comments on their Facebook, and then we all get together and tease poor Canberra for its sub-zero temperatures at night.

On the plus side, all this cold is perfect reading weather. What could be nicer than curling up under a blankets with a really massive book? I’m back on my epics again – (rereading Game of Thrones, and catching up on the new Robin Hobb’s) and getting stuck into some non-fiction too.

That said, I may be longing for the sun but next week there is nowhere better to be in Australia for the annual Sydney Writers’ Festival at Walsh Bay. Fatima Bhutto  whose powerful memoir “Songs of Blood and Sword” explores of one of the world’s best known political dynasties and the tumultuous nature of life in Pakistan, will give the opening address setting the stage for a festival that explores the topic of power. Talks and panels will explore various diverse issues under this big umbrella, from reactions to Wikileaks, dealing with China’s growth in wealth and power, leadership and climate change.

The festival casts a broad net, taking in fiction and non-fiction, and inviting everyone from AA Gill and Anthony Bourdain to discuss food and life (sadly,  sold  out) to poets and political analysts to showcase their work.  If you are interested in climate change, don’t miss a chance to see paleoclimatologist Curt Stager (whose recent release, Deep Future, is currently keeping me company under the doona for evening reading) and others will talk about current issues and the future of action on climate change.

If you can’t make it to Sydney, (perhaps it’s just too cold for you here) you can still catch plenty of the highlights as the ABC will be broadcasting on Saturday and Sunday May 21 and 22 from the festival. You can also still find a lot of content from from 2010, allowing you browse your reading interests from under your doona. It’s enough to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.


When I picked up Our Gags, by Catriona Hoy, I thought this is going to be a book full of jokes, but it wasn’t.

Our Gags in this instance are not pranks or puns – Our Gags is ‘our grandmother’ and even though this book isn’t full of jokes, it’s still hilarious.

Our Gags is in the Walker Stories series so its three small stories about the one person – Gags.

In the first story, The Gags Machine, “Our Gags” takes over the running of the house while Mum looks after the new baby.

Gags has it all under control – the housework, the cooking, the dress ups. Clearly, every household needs a Gags Machine.

In the second story, Gags Ahoy, Gags shows that she’s more than just a machine. She also loves to play. Gags is the troll under the bridge, she walks the plank and pretends to be sat on by an elephant – she’s even part of the pirate crew.

Finally, the reader is introduced to Gags on Holiday. Gags goes to the beach, she makes funny faces to distract the baby, she plays ball and makes a great audience for an impromptu show.

Gags is the sort of grandma that everyone loves – busy, funny and full of fun. Young readers will love hearing about her antics. Those who don’t have a grandma like Our Gags will definitely want one.

I love the action and imagery in this book.

“Hmph,” says Gags as she loads the washing machine. I help her chase the socks that have escaped into the hall.

This is a simple story brought to life by Catriona Hoy’s witty text and Annabelle Josse’s gorgeous black and white illustrations.

With three entertaining short stories designed to build reader confidence, The Walkers Stories are the ‘perfect first step into fiction’.

With it’s hilarious illustrations and heartwarming text, Our Gags is another great addition to the series.


Enter the competition at Catriona Hoy’s blog today www.catrionahoy.blogspot.com


The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher

Ever wondered what it would be like to dig up a fresh grave and snatch the body? Well… even if you haven’t, I can still highly recommend Doug MacLeod’s The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher.

I picked up a copy of this YA book for two reasons.

  1. I really liked the cover. Yes, a rather superficial reason — but I can be as superficial as the next person (depending, of course, on who that next person is). Anyway, it is a rather atmospheric cover, and I thought the contents deserved a chance.
  2. I met the author, Doug MacLeod, at a book signing. I had a chat with him and decided that since he was witty and interesting, so too might his book be. And guess what? It was!

Thomas Timewell’s grandfather has died. The old man had wanted his body donated to science, but Thomas’s mother circumvented the will and had him buried. So Thomas decides to dig him up in order to fulfil his wishes. As he is doing so, Thomas encounters a body-snatcher (or resurrectionist) calling himself Plenitude. This meeting results in Thomas’s life taking an unexpected turn. Embarking on a resurrectionist career, he finds himself pursued by murderous rival body-snatchers, an insane, devilishly tattooed gypsy, and even the Grim Reaper himself. Along the way he manages, amongst other things, to contribute to the death of a schoolteacher, wade through human-head sludge, defend his best friend, insult a famous author, buy a dozen oysters and even fall in love.

Wit, drama, tragedy and pathos combine in this difficult to put down book. The humour is an integral part of the story but is never self-conscious or distracting, and the other elements of the story work very nicely with it. The historical detail is terrific and you really get a sense of being in England in the early 19th Century.

There is much to recommend this novel, but it is the characterisation that makes it sparkle. Thomas Timewell, the titular teenage body-snatcher, is likeable and interesting. It is easy to sympathise with his woes, chuckle at his wry observations and cheer him on in his endeavours. Plenitude, the resurrectionist, is also likeable despite his occupation (perhaps even because of it) and the doubts cast over his actions and motivations. There are also a host of supporting characters, each with their own little quirks. And although the character oddities are humorous, they are never so over-the-top as to render the characters unbelievable.

My particular favourites are Thomas’s mother, Mrs Timewell, and her two friends, Mrs Greenough and Mrs Tilley. Mrs Greenough fervently denounces all those who drink alcohol while spending most of her time somewhere between tipsy and sloshed. Mrs Tilley takes a little too much interest in Thomas, and indeed, any other good-looking teenage boys she encounters. Meanwhile, Mrs Timewell’s addiction to laudanum plays havoc with her memory, resulting in her need to write everything down in a journal. She is a particularly well-rounded character for whom I came to feel greatly, especially upon the revelation of the reasons for her addiction. Balancing humour and tragedy is no easy task — but MacLeod makes it appear effortless.

Can you tell that I LOVED THIS BOOK! Go out and buy a copy… right now! In fact, why not buy two? You never know when a spare one may come in handy.

And tune in next time for a visit from Doug.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on twitter… or I’ll insist you buy me a dozen oysters.



We Need To Talk About Kevin. We Also Need To Talk About Where My Book Is.

We Need To Talk About KevinNothing invokes excitement and then indignation like finding out one of your favourite books that you think would make an interesting movie is, indeed, being made into a movie and that said favourite book is, in fact, missing from your bookshelf.

The book in question is Lionel Shriver’s award-winning and eminently controversial We Need To Talk About Kevin, and a film starring Tilda Swinton as the film’s tortured, complex protagonist and narrator is reportedly going to air shortly at Cannes.

Had I been able to, I would have given myself a reading refresher of the book before writing this blog. Given the book’s fraught, finely woven, hair-raising themes (stop reading now if you haven’t read it and don’t want to hear its major premises before reading it or viewing the film), someone reading this blog likely to be up in arms by the mere fact that I said I love it.

Note to those up-in-arms people: Please hold fire on the emails about how Shriver is the anti-Christ and her book will forever burn in hell. I don’t have a direct line to Shriver. Besides, pretty sure she’s heard it all before.

Among the myriad complaints people have about WNTTAK (sorry, but writing it is exhaustapating for my fingers on this cold, wintry eve) is that the book is based around letters a woman is writing to her absent husband about their son Kevin. Simple enough stuff, except that Kevin has perpetrated a Columbine-style massacre at his high school.

Double FaultThe woman/mother/I’d use her name but someone has made off with my copy of the book is both now Public Enemy #2 (after Kevin). As well as copping abuse from the community, which include splattering her house and car with red paint, she’s abusing herself over whether it’s her fault that Kevin did what he did.

The book complaints range from the fact Shriver may or may not be being insensitive to those who’ve experienced Columbine (or any of the other number of the school shootings that have taken place over the years) to the fact that she’s not herself a mother and couldn’t possibly understand.

I don’t think there’s much merit to either of these complaints, and think people are offended simply because Shriver’s written the things we’ve all thought but daren’t say, and because she’s done such a good job of  it that it cuts, er, a little close to some people’s bones.

Shriver is renowned for her extensive research, and it’s clear she was obsessed with the themes underpinning this book and went out of her way to understand, inhabit, and challenge these issues and this tale.

WNTTAK wrestles with such elusive, big-picture questions as whether evil is inherent or acquired throughout our lifetimes, why parents can’t ask for or receive help when they really need it, what warning signs are there before such a massacre, and how responsible parents are for their children’s actions.

They’re worthy, difficult questions and Shriver handles them with gloves-off fierceness and intensity, making the book at-times tough to read but one that simultaneously leaps off the page.

You don’t raise WNTTAK in general conversation or loan it out to someone without knowing its mention or return will be accompanied by a long, passionate, philosophical discussion about the nature of good and evil and life as a whole.

Note to whoever I ‘loaned’ the book out to: Please return it. We can, like, talk (about the book).

While I hadn’t spent hours pondering who best to cast in which role, I have to say I think Swinton is the impossibly perfect choice for the lead. Her ability to play austere, ambitious, intelligent, strong, and simultaneously fragile with a spareness of action and emotion (if you’re still with me—perhaps that description is off the wall) will see her inhabit this ‘bad mother’ character and bring her to life exactly how I’d seen envisaged her in my head.

Because meeting my expectations is clearly all that matters.

But enough confusing rabbiting on from me. You can catch some snippets of Swinton’s efforts and the film’s look and feel via these three trailers. Complain if you will: I’m breathless with anticipation of the film’s release and am hoping to locate my missing copy of the book in the interim.

Final notes:

  • If you want to talk complaints, mine is that WNTTAK is Shriver’s best book. Double Fault is decent too, but the others don’t hit quite the same compelling chord.
  • I’m sorry I used so many ( ). I couldn’t help myself.

Booku features in Weekly Book Newsletter



From the Weekly Book Newsletter, 11 May 2011:


Australian ebook retailer Booku has reported strong sales in its first two months, with close to 2000 ebooks sold since its launch in March.

Booku managing director Clayton Wehner said in a statement last week that the company, which also owns online bookstore Boomerang Books, has been ‘pleasantly surprised by the website’s traffic and sales to date’ given that the company ‘fully expected to lose money for a good twelve months’.

‘We’ve actually achieved positive cash flow in just our second month,’ said Wehner. ‘Clearly, there is an emerging market out there for ebooks.’

Wehner said that Booku received more than 1360 orders and delivered more than 1700 ebooks in its first two months of operation. ‘In April, we quadrupled March’s revenue and we’re already on track to double that again in May,’ said Wehner. ‘Amazon sold one hundred and fifteen Kindle ebooks for every one hundred paperbacks in January this year–as a comparison, we sold eleven ebooks for every one hundred physical books in March and April.’

Wehner has also been pleased with the volume of traffic to the website, with Booku currently attracting approximately 8000 visitors per day and achieving a higher level of visitation than Boomerang Books.

Many of these visits are from international customers, with readers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, India and New Zealand buying ebooks from Booku. ‘One third of all orders have come from Australia, but we’ve had lots of orders from markets that are more mature in terms of ebook uptake,’ said Wehner.

Wehner said that the business will continue to expand, with plans to increase the amount of Australian titles available through the website and to open versions of the store in the US, the UK and New Zealand.


Trailer: The Spook’s Destiny

The Spook’s Destiny by Joseph Delaney is going to be the eighth book in The Wardstone Chronicles (The Last Apprentice in America), due to be released in June 2011.

The eighth book will feature the Spook and Tom confronting the Morrigan, the Old God of Ireland. Grimalkin is supposed to have a major role in the series, as she is one of the few that can battle the Fiend. At one point Grimalkin and Tom will have a great battle. The Spook, Tom and Alice have travelled to Ireland, fleeing from the war in the County. The only thing protecting Tom and Alice is the fragile and precious bloodjar. They must remain together and the jar intact – otherwise they are both at the mercy of the Fiend himself. The Spook discovers a new denizen of the dark – known as the Jibber, it’s terrorizing the Irish in their very own homes. And Tom is recruited to tackle the evil mage alliance. It’s a mission which ultimately leads him to a higher calling – the possession of the Spook’s dagger. The only weapon that has a fighting chance against the Fiend in combat. But first he needs training, and the only person who can help him is Grimalkin, the witch assassin. Will she come? And if she does, whose side will she be on? – Source Wikipedia

Here’s the trailer:

Teen Book Video Awards

Random House currently running the “Teen Book Video Awards”, a competition which challenges student filmmakers to create 90-second video trailers based on 16 children’s and young adult novels published by Random House Australia. There is a total cash prize of $1,000 for the winning entry and also $1,000 worth of books for the winner’s nominated school.

See Teen Book Video Awards Information (PDF) for more info.

Here is the trailer for the comp:


Catriona Hoy is the author of many much loved picture books including My Granddad Marches on Anzac Day, George and Ghost and Puggle. Her latest book, Our Gags is her first venture into longer works and it’s published by Walker Books.

Catriona has kindly allowed her main character, Caitlyn to visit Kids’ Book Capers today and tell us what makes her grandma (her Gag) so special.


Caitlyn, you are the main character in ‘Our Gags,’ tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

Well, I’m about four years old and we just have a new baby in our family. Mum used to have lots of time to play with me but now she’s really busy with that new baby. Luckily, we have Gags to save us.She’s my grandma.

Some days there is a lot of mess around….and smells. Who would think that something so small could smell so bad! Gags comes around to help mum with the house but really she comes to play with me. She is really good at playing games.

Why do you call your grandma ‘Gags,’ is it because she is funny?

She is funny but that’s not why I call her Gags. Mum says, when I was little, I used to say ‘ma ma’ for Mum and ‘da da’ for Dad and ‘ga ga’ for Grandma. So I kept calling her Gaga, even when I was quite big. Now I am really grown up though, I call her Gags for short.

Are all the stories in the book true?

Most of them, especially in the first story. Mum wrote that one first. Gags is really good at cleaning things and she doesn’t like mess. She finds things that are lost, she can make play doh and she loves dressing up too. Gags is also really good at the playground because she plays billy goats gruff on the wobbly bridge. Mum pushes the pram but Gags and me are very busy having fun.

Even the dog in the book is our dog, Leisha. She is a labrador and she loves to eat and eat. She came on holiday with us when we took Gags.

And my Dad really loves the smell when he walks in the door when Gags has been visiting. It smells like cleaning and cooking! Dad doesn’t mind vacuuming but he likes it better when Gags does it!

At first, you don’t seem to find the new baby very interesting, what do you think now?

She was really boring at first. She just slept and ate but it was a lot of work. But then, she got more interesting and I could help feed her and change her nappy. Sometimes I play with her too and can give her a cuddle. She can be part of our games and get eaten by wild teddies and things.

What’s your favourite part of the book.

Hmm, I like the part where Gags is playing that she is being sat on by an elephant and a man comes along and thinks she is having a heart attack.

The author, Gags, Caitlyn (now 13) and that baby Kiera (now 10)

What does Gags think about her story?

Gags is a bit proud that she is in a book. She made mum change some bits though. Mum was trying to make a good story, so she made Gags get stuck in a slide at the playground. Gags didn’t like that so Mum had to change it. That’s why she put the elephant book in. Mum hopes Gags knows she loves her when she reads the book.

Our whole family was at the book launch for our book and Gags was very happy!

(note: Caitlyn is now in year 8, her sister is in grade five and we still call grandma ‘Gags.’ We have a new labrador called Millie, who still likes to eat everything. Sadly, we have to do our own vaccuming now….but Gags still comes to visit.)

On Friday, we’ll be reviewing Our Gags here at Kids’ Book Capers.

Why Nobody Blames Authors (And Why You Should)

Whether it’s geo-restrictions, digital rights management (DRM), ebook pricing or ebook quality, it’s rare to hear a reader blame an author for the state of an ebook (unless it’s self-published, of course). And I can see why. Authors are the public face of what readers love about books. They are the creative geniuses behind all the amazing books you’ve ever read. And it’s not just that. Writing books is really hard, and most authors only do it for the love of it.

It’s for these reasons and many more that the last thing we want to do is hang all the things we hate about ebooks on our favourite authors. Especially not when there are publishers, agents and ebook vendors who perform that role very well indeed thank you very much. None of this, however, changes the fact that a big chunk of the blame for why the publishing industry is as slow-moving, old-fashioned and afraid of change as it is lies at the feet of authors. I’ve written before about the Luddite nature of most book editors. But that’s nothing in comparison to authors. Nobody talks about the smell of books more than traditionally published authors. Nobody is more wedded to the comfortable, cyclical traditional publishing model than authors. Most authors love book launches, writers’ festivals, tours, publicity and going into physical bookstores to sign copies of their books for their fans, despite what JA Konrath might say. A huge chunk of authors either support DRM or don’t know what it is, despite the fact that most authors have more direct contact with their readers than their publishers. Many authors don’t care about ebooks, or are afraid of them, and certainly don’t read ebooks themselves.

And then there are the digital holdouts. Publishers don’t like to talk about them, because at the end of the day, most publishers would prefer to protect their authors and keep selling their books than drag their names through the mud in order to deflect the blame. But there are more than a few authors out there who don’t want to sell their books as ebooks at all, and refuse to make them available out of fear, snobbery or greed. Some of them are very big. JK Rowling is perhaps the most high-profile of these, but there are others. Some of them are even Big and Fancy Australian authors.

The fact of the matter is, the reason many of the annoying things about the publishing industry exist are to protect or promote an author’s copyrighted material. Many of these things are not bad at all for authors. Geo-restrictions, as frustrating and exhausting as they are for global ebook readers, are the result of authors protecting their copyright. Authors have the right to sell their copyright in different countries to different companies. Those companies are sometimes in direct competition with one another. This means authors get better deals, are treated better and are publicised and distributed more widely than they would otherwise be if they were sold globally by one single company.

So next time you start working yourself up into a rage about the greed of publishers, agents, retailers and all the other ‘middle men’, ask yourself what the author you love has to gain from the situation they are in. If self-publishing ebooks were as easy and inevitable as it is often made out to be, why aren’t there more authors who are self-publishing ebooks without DRM at super-low prices? The answer is simple: because they’re getting as much out of it as their publishers.

And if you’re a traditionally published author reading this and thinking, ‘That’s not me! I love my readers! I want my ebooks sold at $0.99 without DRM internationally!’ Then please, comment below. And more importantly, speak to your publisher. Educate yourself about ebooks and digital publishing, and you can take advantage of the changes sweeping the reading world. Because ultimately it’s your book, and you get to decide how it reaches your readers.

Subjective Honour

Literary awards are funny things. I mean, how can you measure literary merit? Literature is an art form and as such, its appreciation is subjective. Therefore a literary award is a subjective honour. That’s not to say that having a literary award bestowed upon you is worthless. It most certainly is not. It’s a recognition of your work. As a writer, knowing that someone out there is reading and liking your work, is pretty fantastic. A subjective honour is, after all, still an honour.

Recently, at this year’s National Science Fiction Convention (Swancon 36), the 2011 Ditmar Awards were presented. The Ditmars are the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards, with categories for both amateur and professional writing and art. Winners this year included:

Best Novel: Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Voyager)

Best Novella or Novelette: The Company Articles of Edward Teach, Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Story: “All the Love in the World”, Cat Sparks (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press) and “She Said”, Kirstyn McDermott (Scenes From the Second Storey, Morrigan Books)

Best Collected Work: Sprawl, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Artwork: The Lost Thing, short film (Passion Pictures), Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan (based on the book The Lost Thing)

You can check out a complete list of winners here.

There was a bit of a hoo-ha this year as some people complained that too many of the winners had an association with the organisers of Swancon 36. A rather ridiculous accusation given that almost everyone on the ballot could have been linked to the organisers in some tenuous way — the science fiction community in Australia is not that large, and the organisers of Swancon are very active. Frankly, as an Australian spec fic writer, it would be hard not to be linked to them in some way. I could be linked to them, and I wasn’t even on the ballot. The whole thing smelled of sour grapes and is best not given any further publicity. But it did get me thinking about literary awards.

Awards fall into two categories — popular vote and juried. Each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Popular vote awards are democratic and represent the voice of the readers… but only those readers motivated enough to nominate and vote. These awards will sometimes be representative of a very small percentage of the reading public. And there is always the strong possibility that voters may not have read all the nominated works, voting simply for their favourite authors.

Juried awards are decided by a panel of ‘experts’ who read all the nominated works. But what constitutes an ‘expert’? These awards are based on the opinions of a small, select group of people.

No award system is perfect. Does that mean we should stop giving out awards?

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to embrace the systems for what they are, rather than berate them for what they are not. If you get nominated or win… Fantastic! If you don’t… be gracious and don’t sour it for the people who have won. There is, after all, the distinct possibility that the winners actually deserved the accolade.

The Chronos Awards for excellence in Victorian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are coming up. They are the state-based, Victorian version of the Ditmars, to be presented at Continuum 7 (check out my post about C7).

I won a Chronos Award last year for Gamers’ Quest. I was rather surprised, but extremely pleased. None of my writing made it onto the ballot this year. And that’s okay. This year’s ballot contains some awesome writing from some very talented authors. I am pleased for each and every one of those nominees. I have put in my vote and I look forward to seeing the results. It’s a popular award and those I voted for may or may not win… but I will cheer the winners and acknowledge their talent and be pleased that we have this award to celebrate the pool of spec fic writing talent in this state.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.


Breaking up is hard to do (get the books before you go).

My first relationship cost me something very precious; about half of my Terry Pratchett collection.

We shared a love of the same authors but all the book-swapping in the world was not enough to keep us together. As the faster reader, I normally loaned him my books when I had finished them, meaning that a several much-loved texts arrayed his bedroom walls by the time we broke up.

Young love is not merely blind (and incredibly nauseating to have to sit behind on the bus) but also pretty stupid when it comes to thinking through that inevitable first-ever break-up. Alas, I was so unschooled in the ways of love that I didn’t realise it is vitally important that you begin smuggling your books out at the first sign that “together forever” is probably not going to make it past the end of the month, and that your plans for several tattoos, backpacking Central America and  being a writer are not compatible with their lifestyle choices of golfing, motoring a 4-wheel-drive around the city centre and actually getting a proper job.

Once the break-up drama was over and the dust had finally settled, I realised that his absence from my life was going to leave a massive gaping hole – right in the middle of my bookshelf. And I had no idea how to deal with it. I was a student, so replacing books I had already read was an extravagance I couldn’t condone (along with proper food and toilet paper – one of the perks of working for uni nightclub was that you were allowed take home the half-emptied giant rolls of toilet paper they replaced nightly, something valued hugely by me and the approximately ninety million students I shared a flat with). Our mutual friends were already completely over the drama, so asking them to get the books would have been bad form. His house had a guard dog which, far from being unfriendly, would bark delightedly at me and then lick me to death, so burglary was not an option.

I could have done the traditional asking for them back, but I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. (And also, they weren’t talking to me, and my first relationship was sadly pre-email, Facebook, Twitter and mobile phone, and all the other normal methods of contacting people who are ignoring you without you actually having to speak to them.) I probably should have just asked his mother, who would not only have removed all traces of me from the house but probably fumigated the rooms afterwards and written, “and stay gone” in big letters on the bag. But in the end I just gave up on them, and got around to replacing them over the next few years while I was in another relationship.

And then my second big relationship ended, costing me not only my rebuilt library of Terry Pratchett’s but also my Stephen King’s and several prize possessions – a copy of Michael Ende’s Neverending Story (with the original illustrations and changes of ink colour) and all of the original Game of Thrones series including a signed hardcover. And on it goes. The obvious answer is not to lend any books to your partner but when you are in the throes of passion, it’s near-impossible not to share your enthusiasm for the books you love with the person you love.

I estimate there are about 5 copies of Small Gods out there with my name on them, and the same amount of Good Omens, the book that I use as a litmus-test for prospective dates for whether we will get on or not. It was, in fact the first ever present that I bought my current partner. And how is that going? Well, he loved the book. And we’re getting married next year, so he’s clearly pretty fond of me too. Hopefully these are the final copies of these books I will purchase.

But if not, at least I am back on speaking terms with some of the others so I can finally pick up about 4 copies of each, should I want to.

So, after the break-up, how do you get the books back?

Women Of Letters

Apply WithinFor the most part, my reading and writing time is spent in silence, which is precisely the way I like it. In fact, my favourite after-lunch (or any-time) activity in primary school was what was called USSR, a play on the initialism for the former country that for us stood for Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading. For me, avid reader that I am, it was an immediate and welcome afternoon treat, albeit a too-short one.

Sustained, silent, and largely uninterrupted reading will always be my primary method of enjoying and absorbing words and language, but I was reminded yesterday of the joy of having others read to you. It was also a huge part of primary school, and listening rapt as someone read aloud to me was something that left a lasting, positive impression.

Primary school memories were not what I was expecting to have invoked when I attended the most recent adult—and by that I mean, licensed, ID-requiring, occasional but not gratuitous swear-word employing—Women of Letters event in Brisbane.

I missed the first one out of, well, a lack of getting myself organising to procure a ticket before they were all snapped up, and have rued it ever since. Everyone who went said it was brilliant, and that they laughed, cried, and were generally all-round inspired (my friend Kirsty wrote a particularly brilliant account). So when one of my friends offered to organise me by buying group tickets for this one, I jumped at the chance.

The premise of the Women of Letters literary event, just in case you haven’t heard of it, is an afternoon that celebrates talented women writers, musicians, comedians, and other professionals and the ‘lost art’ of letter writing. Each event is unique and the invited panel of fabulous women read out a letter they’ve written on a particular theme.

The event was thought up by two talented writers: Marieke Hardy, who you may be familiar with from Triple J, Frankie magazine, The First Tuesday Bookclub, and a variety of shows and columns she’s written; and Michaela Maguire, whose book Apply Within: Careers of Career Sabotage is one with which many of us who’ve worked some fairly horrid jobs while trying to make ends meet and study and just generally live can relate to. Proceeds go to Victorian-based animal shelter, Edgar’s Mission, adding a feel-good factor to the afternoon of inspiration and fun.

It’s incredibly difficult to convey in typed words how fantastic this event is, and I’m loathe to pull the you-should-have-been-there line. Think a cosy, dimly lit room packed to the max with eager ‘readers’ enjoying good food, good wine, and good company, being entertained by intelligent, savvy, witty, incredible women who offer their take on a given theme. The intimacy of letter writing coupled with the intimate venue in which they’re read out, I think, give you insight into these women’s most private, most honest selves.

The most recent Brisbane event’s (and Women of Letters plays out regularly in other cities too) theme was love letters, and the likes of Kate Miller-Heidke, Kris Olsson, The Greats singer Patience, and Morag Kobez-Halvorson wrote love letters to their 12-year-old self, the alphabet, New York City, and their absent health, respectively. This saw them:

  • liken a boyfriend to a Clydesdale and themselves to a vine that needed to be free
  • explain how they knew it was time to wean their child when they were old enough and articulate enough to tap the other breast and say in a ‘udder one’ in a lispy voice when one was empty (and yes, the inadvertent udder-for-other replacement was uncanny)
  • tell us that the letters of the alphabet are spelt out on the wings of butterflies (this one I don’t wish to double check because I so want it to be true)
  • point out how important it is to locate an ovary as a point of reference before intimating that you think there might be a five-centimetre, cancerous growth in the area of the roughly five-centimetre-long ovary
  • and show us how it’s possible to express your love for and connection to someone as ‘I need you like a tourist needs a toilet’.

Diverse, eclectic, impossible to predict, thought-provoking, entertaining, and distinctly their own voice and style, these ladies and their letters were all brilliant. I’ll be signing up early for this form of out-loud reading the very next time Women of Letters visits my town.

Book Trailer: My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks

Have you ever been kissed by a dog? Ever had to eat Vegemite off your sister’s big toe? Have you had a job delivering teeth? Has a bloodthirsty magpie ever been out to get you? Ever woken up to discover that everything hovers? And have you eaten 67 hot dogs in ten minutes? I have. I’m Tom Weekly. This book is full of my stories, jokes, cartoon characters, ideas for theme park rides and other stuff I’ve made up. It’s where I pour out whatever’s inside my head. It gets a bit weird sometimes but that’s how I roll. Illustrated by Gus Gordon.


It’s competition time folks!

If you’re into vampires (or fighting vampires), if you think secret government organisations are cool or if you just like a fun, thrilling read… then this is the competition for you.

It’s a chance to win a copy of Will Hill’s debut novel, Department 19!

Department 6 is the army.

Department 13 is MI5.

Department 19 is the reason you’ve still alive.

So what exactly is Department 19 and what does it do? It’s a secret British government organisation that fights vampires, of course! And they’ve just got a new member. Jamie Carpenter — the teenage descendant of Van Helsing’s valet.

Want to know more about this book? Read my review.

Want to win a copy of Department 19? Fill out this form. Entries close Wednesday 11 May 2011 at 5pm Australian Eastern Time. So hurry up!

Good luck and may the best vampire hunter win.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll enter the competition and win.



Dystopian Depression

I’m reading Oryx and Crake at the moment. Margaret Atwood is quite possibly in my top 5 favourite authors of all time (I count The Blind Assassin as my most cherished of her works so far, though I have the highest admiration for The Handmaid’s Tale and will be reading The Robber Bride next), but I am feeling thoroughly depressed by this latest grim dystopian.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t excellent and wonderful and thought-provoking and possibly brilliant (I haven’t finished it so I can’t say for sure just yet).


Riding on the bus to work last week, I was overcome with a melancholy sadness. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening in my life, so by my powerful and incredibly accurate method of deduction I realised it could only have been one of two things: Lady Gaga’s Judas warbling in my ear (dang it, that’s one catchy tune), or the book open before me, distorting my day with a future that seems to have already happened. It swiftly became clear: it was the book that was turning my mood sour.

And I’m left wondering: Is Oryx and Crake a little too close for comfort? Is there such a thing as too much dystopia in one’s daily life?

Maybe there is, when every day seems to bring a new natural disaster occurring somewhere in the world. Maybe there is, in places like Canberra, where mornings in Civic are icy and people turn the collars up on their coats to shut the wind – and you – out. Maybe there is, when a figurehead of ‘holy war’ is killed, and the Western public can’t trust their own government…the world is sad right now. Maybe sadder than ever.

I think I’ve missed a glaringly obvious reason as to why I enjoy dystopias so much in the first place. Not only do dystopians serve as a red alert about what ‘might happen’ if we keep doing things a certain way, they also are a comfort in that they haven’t happened yet. Not so comforting when you feel like it’s only a matter of time before your country is the next natural disaster zone (apologies for being so depressing – but this book was clearly poor timing)!

I think it’s safe to say that Oryx and Crake was – like milk – ‘a bad choice’. I’ll still read it through to the end, because quite frankly a depressing dystopian by Margaret Atwood is worth 100 frothy books by lesser writers. But if I’m expecting to ever be able to read a dystopian again, I need to be a little more cautious about what I read and when. The First Tuesday Book Club has suggested two books on my current to-be-read list, one which I will be reading for my own personal book club: Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. The other is that terrible beauty Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.

They seem to be completely different books from each other, but I’ve heard they’re dystopian-depressing, in their own way. Super Sad True Love Story is a future where books are pretty much non-existent (depressing), while Blood Meridian is considered Western dystopian, set 100 years ago, and somehow involves the Devil (depressing, and freaky).

So yeah. I will read them both soon, but maybe Blood Meridian can wait until I’ve had at least an hour of cuddling my two pugs. It’s hard to stay mad at the world after hugging a puppy, don’t you agree?