Will Digital Publishing Bring Back the Short Story?

Digital publishing gives authors, publishers and agents lots of exciting opportunities that they do not have in print. The ability to play around with form is perhaps one of the most interesting. Not only have we seen interactive books, book apps and ‘vooks’ since digital publishing began to take off a few years ago – we’re also seeing a massive increase in the amount of short stories and shorter works available.

The blog TheNextWeb reported last week that Ars Technica (a popular and very detailed tech blog) made more than $15,000 in 24 hours on the Kindle store by releasing the 27,300-word review of Apple’s latest operating system on the Kindle store as an ebook. The review was available for free on Ars Technica (all 19 pages of it), but it still made thousands of dollars for the blog.

Although Amazon (as always) isn’t willing to talk numbers for their curated Kindle Singles program, the fact that it’s still going (and bringing in around three new works per week) means that it must be making headway. And that’s only through the curated program. A brief flick through any ebook store’s pages and you’ll come across thousands of shorter works (or collections of short works) from self-published authors (see Blake Crouch’s collection above). Most are priced very low – between $0.99 and about $4.99 – but considering their length this is a far more profitable and reasonable amount of money than the low-priced full-length self-published novels.

It’s not just ebook vendors that are making these shorter works available. Boutique publishers like the Atavist and Longreads are putting longer works of non-fiction into the hands of readers. They’re doing it in different ways – the Atavist provides editorial feedback as well as curatorial work, while Longreads is a kind of archive for longer form journalism on the web. But both are ultimately aiming squarely at the attention spans of a newer generation of time-poor readers. Longreads even gives readers the option to filter the archive by the amount of time available for reading (less than 15 mins, 30-45, 45-60 and 60+).

The availability of shorter works of fiction and non-fiction to readers is a boon for publishers and vendors alike. It creates viable price points for work that is either simultaneously available for free or would otherwise not be able to be sold for any amount. The overheads associated with traditional publishing have long ruled short stories (and even anthologies) out of mainstream publishing houses in all but the most popular or worthy cases.

Of course there are problems associated with this brave new world. If shorter works and longer ones are all mixed in together on an ebook vendor’s store, how is a reader supposed to know that they’re not paying $2.99 for a novel rather than a 10,000-word short story? Although vendors are trying to get around this by getting publishers to include page-length information in their metadata, a cursory look of the reviews on some of the better selling shorter works on the Kindle store shows that some readers are not getting the hint.

Publishers and ebook vendors will have to work closely to ensure that readers are informed about their purchases before they lay money down – and before the confusion becomes a problem that puts readers off entirely. Readers, concurrently, will hopefully soon learn that ebook stores have all kinds of work available and make a point of checking the available metadata before purchasing.

Not every experiment in form will work. Not every experiment will produce something that works as content or makes money. But early evidence seems to be suggesting that people are willing to part with (small amounts of) money to buy shorter works of fiction, non-fiction and longer form journalism, and this can only be a good thing in this era of newspapers and magazines failing and the race to the bottom for pricing ebooks.

Sound off in the comments if you’ve read any interesting bits of short writing in the past few weeks that you’d like to share, or any other thoughts on the future of reading.

My Family And A Sausage

Lost and FoundA former work colleague has a drawing above her desk drawn for her by the child of a family friend. Entitled My Family And A Sausage (MFAAS) it is, as the name suggests, a stick-figure picture of the child’s parents, siblings, pet dog, and a, er, sausage.

We can’t pretend to understand children’s logic, but our adult estimation (because we feel the need to make sense of things rather than accept them for what they are, fun, random, and illogical though they may be) is that they drew too many roundish stick figures. Instead of scrapping the artwork, they incorporated the error: why wouldn’t a sausage appear in a family portrait?

It’s MFAAS thinking that’s required to create children’s books that capture our imaginations and our hearts. Oliver Jeffers has that in spades (that’s a compliment, by the way). Although I don’t have kids and don’t know or hang out with many of them either, I desperately want to buy and give away copies of his books to kids and then secretly buy copies for myself.

Up and DownYou’ve seen them, right? The ones with the penguins so cute you want to squeeze them. Like Lost and Found and Up and Down. While my stick figures (in fact, any attempt I make at art) are wonky and more than a little lame, Jeffers takes stick figures and makes them so cute they couldn’t not be published. Sigh. He can write. He can draw. He’s funny. And he’s retained that brilliant, upside-down, child-like way of looking at the world. Isn’t that exactly what every artist would love to do and be?

Thankfully Jeffers is sharing his skills. He dropped by The Guardian’s website the other day to give some advice on How To Draw A Penguin. With circles and a dab of colour, he makes it seem easy. Oh, and he incorporates sausages into his drawing. Clearly sausages are the key!

Goldie and the youngest cameleer

Goldie Alexander is a versatile Australian author of books for kids and teens. She has written both fiction and non-fiction, chapter books and novels, and everything from science fiction to historical fiction. Her latest book is a YA historical novel, The Youngest Cameleer, and she joins us today to provide a little insight into the writing of fictionalised history.

Creating characters from history
By Goldie Alexander

Until very recently history had fallen out of favour and it’s a pleasure to see it once again become important. The challenge is to make history less dull. One way is to use fiction as a means of transporting the reader back into the past. For an author this means creating convincing settings, characters and dialogue that are totally different to one’s own experience.

In Mavis Road Medley a ‘time warp’ novel for young readers, my two contemporary youngsters find themselves in the Princes Hill of 1933 at the end of the Great Depression. In My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove I invented a thirteen year old girl convict in the Sydney of 1790, when terrible hardships prevailed and the First Fleet felt cut off from the rest of the world. In Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance I took on the voice of a disabled eighteen year old living in Melbourne just before the outbreak of World War Two.

My most recent fiction The Youngest Cameleer has been one of my greatest challenges as I took on the personae of a 14-year-old Moslem. A lesser known exploration into the interior was led by William Gosse in 1873.  The various members of this exploration (both European and Afghan) did exist and my story is based on Gosse’s own journal and often using his own words. This expedition was the first non-indigenous group to stumble across Uluru.  Without the use of the Afghan cameleers they might never have survived the harsh conditions they encountered.  Some cameleers even lent their name to well know landmarks: Kamran’s Well. Alannah Hill.

My intention was to bring this expedition to life. In late 1872 Ahmed sails into the prosperous city of Adelaide to help look after four camels. But he has other things on his mind. What if his uncle Kamran isn’t as innocent of his brother’s death as he seems? As the expedition treks into the interior, Ahmed must cope with Jemma Khan’s enmity, his own homesickness, and the difficulties of exploring unknown territory.

If we don’t have Aboriginal ancestors, we are all migrants. My parents came from Poland in the late twenties. Our great migrant waves have occurred at various times: during the gold-rush, straight after World War Two, and in the seventies when the ‘boat people’ arrived. Given the current political climate, it is good to recall that Afghans have been responsible for opening up this vast continent and that without their camels the task would have been harder than it already was.

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Goldie for sharing her insights into writing characters for historical fiction. For more info about her and her writing, check out her website.

And tune in next time to fine out how JE Fison went from being a television news reporter to a children’s author.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.



iHarry is a hilarious new children’s book by Australian author, Laurine Croasdale.

It hardly seems fair. Harry’s dad designs mobile phones and Harry must be the only kid on the planet who’s not allowed to have one.

So when Dad is bedridden for a week after an accident on Harry’s skateboard, Harry makes the most of it. Dad has invented an amazing new phone. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to borrow it and take it to school just for one day would it?

At first things start out great! The phone seems like the best invention ever.

“It does his exam, plays his favourite songlist and orders pizza – but it has one MAJOR flaw. He can’t take it off. And that’s when the trouble starts…

When the school principal is sent a text saying her stories are boring, Harry is not going to admit that his super phone was responsible.

Then when the school bully, Bozo steals the phone, it seems things can’t get any worse.

Finally, Harry gets the phone back but it has been ground into the dirt by Bozo. How is Harry going to explain this one to Dad?

iHarry has plenty of tension and excitement to keep readers turning the page. The subject matter is topical and imaginative and the first person point of view brings the reader into the heart of the story.

I’m sure that lots of young readers will relate to Harry’s situation where doing something a bit risky turns badly wrong. They will enjoy the fun technology and what kid wouldn’t dream about having a phone that does their exams and pretty much anything they want it to do – even ask their class ‘crush’ out on a date?

iHarry is a fast-paced, easy to read contemporary story. The characters are well developed and believable and the Harry’s dilemma will appeal to its upper primary school readers; many of whom are desperate to have their own mobile phone.

The colourful and quirky cover illustration is by Heath McKenzie. iHarry is published by Penguin Group’s Puffin Books in their Aussie Chomp series.



Today at Kids’ book Capers, we’re talking with Australian Children’s author, Laurine Croasdale, about her writing journey and the inspiration behind her new Aussie Chomp, iHarry Laurine has published around fifteen books in a range of genres and topics.


Laurine started by selling ideas for non-fiction for kids, such as game books and activity books like the Play School Party Book and then she started writing fiction.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

The moment when you have a great idea and you can’t wait to start getting words on the page.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Making yourself write when you really don’t want to. Usually that’s the editing/rewriting process on very little sleep.

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

I’d love to think that I was a painter.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

Writing a book about bushfires that swept through the street where I grew up. Half the street got burnt down and the whole street was devastated. In the months after I collected everyone’s stories and put them into my book Red Golf Balls. My ‘street family’ loved it and over the years have always given me lots of support. They also put the book in the street ‘archive’ with some other key memorabilia they collected. It is wonderful being able to give people a voice.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have three projects on the go and am writing like an ipod on shuffle.

(Love that description, Laurine. That’s pretty much how I work.)

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Have fun, take heart – there is always room for a good story.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

I often write about people who are outsiders and people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. I like writing books that make me laugh and hopefully make the readers laugh too. Laughter is such a gift!

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

Writing has been a brilliant part of my life. Not only has it presented me with a puzzle that I have spent most of my life trying to unravel but it has brought me into contact with some amazing people, places and situations. Publication is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rewards and benefits of putting pen to paper.

ABOUT iHarry

What inspired you to write this book?

My son. He never gets off his mobile phone!

What’s it about?

iHarry is about a boy who ‘borrows’ his Dad’s futuristic prototype mobile phone and takes it to school. For a while it’s a dream come true but one day he discovers that it is stuck to his ear and his life goes into freefall.

What age groups is it for?

Upper primary.

Why will kids like it?

The kids I know who have read iHarry think it is fun and funny. It’s about the age group when most kids are desperate to have a mobile phone but have to wait until high school so it taps into their wish list and makes them think ‘what if’.

I did a virtual launch via a Literature Live! video conference to 450 kids and we had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for phones and phone apps and what we could do with them.

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

Harry is the main character. He is a decent guy and normally never does anything wrong so when he is tempted by the phone and takes it to school it goes against his moral code. He stuffs up, gets in trouble, fights with his friends and Dad, and bumbles his way through trying to sort it all out. He is like most kids you meet, a mix of fun, good will, mischief and WHOAAARH! Moments. It’s the WHOAARH! moment that brings him undone!

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

Yes, I have some brilliant teacher’s notes and am happy to send them to teachers if they want to email me l_croasdale*at*hotmail*dot*com. There are things to make and invent as well as questions about the social etiquette of mobile phones and their place in the public arena. In 2016 everyone on the planet will have access to a mobile phone network. The use and reliance on mobile phones has grown like lantana but there seem to be no parameters on how to use them appropriately. I hope iHarry makes kids and teachers start talking about that.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

iHarry is a fun adventure for both girls and boys, asks a few moral and social questions and provides a few laughs along the way.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I had fun dreaming up a mobile phone and apps that hadn’t been invented yet. It made me laugh when I wrote it and that’s always a bonus.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

There wasn’t really a hard part to it. I know, pathetic isn’t it? It would be much better to say I bled from the eyeballs but sometimes stories go your way and this is one of them.

(I’m really glad this story didn’t make you bleed from the eyeballs, Laurine:)

Laurine is available for classroom workshops and visits and more about her is available from the Literature Live website

Laurine also has her own website at www.laurinecroasdale.com

The pic is of Laurine at Berkelouw Books.

A friend told me that iHarry was No4 on their top ten selling books and I had to go and check that my mother had been in buying them all!

For a review of iHarry, come back to Kids’ Book Capers on Friday. Look forward to seeing you here.


Nothing Says Hooray Like Harry Potter

Harry PotterNothing says ‘hooray for getting in a draft of a really difficult project and giving yourself a couple of hours off from deadlines as far as the eye can see’ as going to see the breathlessly anticipated Harry Potter finale.

This is precisely the moment I need to issue an apology to those people—who read this blog and who will currently be cursing me via their screens—whom I’d promised I’d wait to see it with. I didn’t do it deliberately, honest.

I know you don’t accidentally fall into a movie theatre so ‘I didn’t do it deliberately’ might be stretching the truth. I was just so fatigued after submitting the millionth draft of a particularly long-running, particularly detailed project, and so dreading the next two that will kick off and be due tomorrow alone that I realised I had the choice between succumbing to a massive migraine or doing something to distract my brain for just under three hours.

Unsurprisingly I chose the latter.

Sorry guys. You should maybe stop reading here lest I spoil the film for you. For what it’s worth: I’m happy to go again. And I should probably shout you your tickets in a gesture of I’mreallysorryitwon’thappenagain goodwill.

So my verdict on the film of the doorstop of the final book that I raced through and yet never wanted to end? It was everything I could have hoped for. It was, in short, absolutely epic.

I say that, though, as someone who hasn’t read the book since it came out. I was caught by surprise at the beginning of the penultimate film. I was like: WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?!

I then realised both that I’d missed a film (and writing this I’ve realised that I still haven’t seen it) and that my memory was a little sketchy. Then I settled in to enjoy the film as if I were encountering everything for the first time.

Ditto for my experience tonight, although I was less WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?! and more how many of those horcrux thingys are there left? And what are they hidden in anyway?

Sounds dumb, I know, but it was actually brilliant. It meant that I was as in awe of the film as I was when I read the book, and I chuckled inwardly (and occasionally outwardly) at JK Rowling’s ability to insert plot twists none of us could ever predict. Especially those that explain or refer to key moments or mysteries carefully laid out, breadcrumb-style, in previous books.

It must be said that I was also in awe of the film’s scriptwriter, director, and cinematographer, who plucked out the book’s core and brought it to life with a light touch. It would have been easy to make this, the ultimate film, Sop Central. Instead, it was dark when it needed to be, but better still, heroic, heart-warming, fast-paced, and funny.

I actually had goosebumps when Professor McGonagall stepped up to defend Harry and then Hogwarts. Likewise when the statues came to life and marched down to guard the borders. And yes, I’ll admit I cried a bit too. Although not, it should be noted, as much as I thought I would.

The gaping ‘what now’ feeling I have now that’s identical to the one I had after finishing the Twilight and Vampire Academy series has one upside: with those two there either weren’t films or weren’t a complete set of films to revisit. The only thing left for me to do is to re-read the books I’ve clearly (see previous paras re: WTF?! Dumbledore is dead?!) forgotten.

Children’s Writing in the Spotlight at Ballarat Festival

Writers, illustrators and publishers from the children’s and young adult industry will appear at the Alexandria on Lydiard for the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival, September 2 and 3.

This year’s festival will have a theme of ‘Words and Pictures’.

Festival attendees are invited to submit the first page of their unpublished work for critique by representatives of three publishers of children’s and young adult books.

The event has been organised by Ballarat Writers Inc. and will feature author Maureen McCarthy as the key speaker at the Festival dinner on Friday 2 September. Maureen’s novels for young adults have been shortlisted for numerous awards and include the In Between series, adapted from scripts Maureen co-wrote with Shane Brennan for SBS TV; Ganglands; Cross My Heart; Chain of Hearts; Flash Jack; and When You Wake and Find Me Gone. Her bestselling book Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude get a life was made into a highly successful four-part mini-series for ABC TV.

‘We are thrilled to have Maureen as our guest. I’m looking forward to hearing her advice on how to succeed in the competitive world of children’s and young adult writing,’ said Nadine Cranenburgh, one of the festival organisers.

Maureen will also give the keynote address at the start of the Saturday program followed by a full day of panel discussions about the picture book market, writing for older children and young adults and current trends in the publishing industry.

Panelists include Penni Russon, Kirsty Murray, Michelle Macintosh, Chrissie Keighery, Steph Bowe, Tim Pegler, Gabrielle Williams, Karen Tayleur, Kim Kane, Nic Brasch, Christopher Milne, Dave Hackett, Simon Swingler, Ananda Braxton-Smith, Karen Healy, Carole Wilkinson, Ebony McKenna, Kate Constable, Leanne Hall, Corinne Fenton and editors and publishers Maryann Ballantyne (black dog books), Natasha Besliev (Hardie Grant Egmont), Hilary Rogers (Hardie Grant Egmont), Catherine McCredie (Penguin) and Alison Arnold (Text Publishing).

‘Illustrators, picture book writers, poets and writers of books for older children and young adults will find plenty to be excited about at the festival. Aspiring writers and illustrators are catered for too – they will discover just how the industry works and what publishers and editors are looking for,’ said Ms Cranenburgh.

July Special: Book for the festival in July and save $60 off the full price.  For more information or to make a booking visit  www.ballaratwriters.com.  Follow us on twitter @BallaratWriter.

It’s finally over

Over the weekend I went to see the final Harry Potter movie. The post-film discussions with family and friends made me think I should blog about it. I know I’ve blogged about the end of Harry Potter before, and at the risk of over-Pottering my readers, I’m doing it again anyway. 🙂

Firstly, let me say that I loved the final film and I can’t wait to watch it again. But I’m not adverse to discussing it’s cons as well as its pros.

There seem to be two major criticisms levelled at, not just this film, but the film series as a whole. #1: That they leave out too much, resulting in a product that is inferior to the books. #2: That if you haven’t read the books, you won’t properly understand the films.

Okay, let’s face it folks, I don’t think it’s possible to adapt a large book and get all the nuances into the film. And the Harry Potter books have gotten longer with each subsequent instalment, making it harder and harder for the film-makers. I am very relieved that they decided to make the final enormous book into two films rather than one. Imagine how much more they would have needed to leave out if it was just one film!

The film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows focuses primarily on the relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione, and the more visual aspects of the story, such as the retrieval and destruction of the horcruxes (magical objects in which Voldemort hid parts of his life-force) and the final battle. A LOT of backstory is left out — particularly in regard to Dumbledore’s younger days. Much as I was sorry to not have that in the film, in the end, it did not seriously impact on the main thrust of the plot.

The film that annoyed me the most with regards to what it left out was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Despite retaining the title of the book, the film left out most of the half-blood prince backstory. The film that I felt did best with what it left out was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — mostly because is was a very long-winded, waffly book full of stuff that didn’t really impact on the story.

Film is a very different medium from the novel. The key point to remember is that novels are adapted for film. Look it up in the dictionary. To adapt: to change to meet requirements. And film has different requirements to a novel.

Now, as for #2. Yes, I think this is, to a certain extent, a valid criticism. With this last film, for instance, if you haven’t read the books, you would be forgiven for thinking that Snape was actually Harry’s father. He isn’t… but the film version makes it look like he might be. It’s only if you’ve read the book that you’d know this isn’t the case. And there are similar instances with the previous films.

The Harry Potter films are unique in film history for the fact that they appear to be made for the fans of the books rather than for the general public. Perhaps because so many of the ‘gen pub’ have read them? I’ve discussed the films with several people who have not read the books, and in each case there were elements of the films that they found unclear or misleading.

So is it sloppy adaptation? Or does the widespread reading of the books justify this approach? On a personal level it doesn’t bother me — I’ve read the books and I’m happy with the films assuming that I have. If making the assumption that the audience already knows certain things, results in the films being able to include more plot and character development rather than exposition, I’m okay with that. And maybe, just maybe, those who are a little confused by certain points might be inspired to go off and read the books.

What do you think? Should the films have been made more accessible to people who haven’t read the books? Leave a comment.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I might start practising the Cruciatus Curse.


Plotting for a plane – big bad reads

This time next month I will be winging and training it all over the USA and Canada for two weeks, and with 70 hours of that time to be spent in transit I have one huge worry – what am I going to read?

I’d like to lie and say that I will be tackling big issues and learning Sanskrit and flicking through Hawking‘s Brief History of Time, but my holiday reading is usually selected for two things; is it long enough to get me through a twelve hour flights, and is it distracting enough to stop me worrying obsessively that every tiny change in engine pitch means the plane is about to drop out of the sky during that twelve hours?

Length is obviously needed when you are going to be spending twelve hours straight in a small and uncomfortable seat, so I used to select all my holiday reading by checking out if the book was long enough, and the text densely printed enough, to mean at least ten hours of reading. My old rule of thumb was that if it was under 500 pages I wasn’t interested, and over 800 was the ideal.

The problem is that longer doesn’t always mean better and certainly doesn’t mean engrossing. I used to always go for epics as holiday reading, regardless of how interesting they sounded, and it was the Lord of The Rings that finally cured me of it. I can appreciate the immensity and originality of Tolkien’s work, but I just don’t enjoy his writing style and before the plane was even in the air I was bored. I slogged through what felt like five hundred pages of Bilbo Baggins’s party and by the time the first of the Ringwraiths showed up to kill the hobbits, I was actively cheering them on. I failed to finish the book on that holiday, opting instead to read the inflight magazine and watch Terminator 2. Three times.

Terminator 2 is probably closer to my reading level on a plane than the non-fiction that I normally like to get my teeth into. I’m usually crampled and fretful, and in need of a book that will entertain and engross me rather than educate me. Stephen King is one of my favoured in-flight authors, as is George R. R. Martin, but King clearly wins on the grounds that he releases books more often that once every seven years or so. Sadly, I’m up to date on Stephen’s work and facing seventy hours with no ideas of what to read and the worrying feeling that I may end up watching Terminator 2 yet again.

What’s your preferred read when you’re up in the air or on a long journey? Do you settle in for a long-haul of brain-stimulation or are you all about the brain-candy? And can you recommend anything that will keep me off terrible action flicks?


(And yes, I know, one obvious answer to my issues is an e-book reader but the one I have my eye on has been unavailable in Australia for the last few months. I may pick one up in the USA, if I can find it, but that’s too late to prevent me gnawing my own arm from boredom on the way there. And then how will I be able to carry it?)

Bend/Bless It Like Beckhams

To Kill A MockingbirdAbout eight years ago, some friends of mine named their newborn baby girl Harper after Harper Lee, the talented author of the groundbreaking, heart-warming book To Kill A Mockingbird. I was both surprised and impressed at the name selection. Surprised because I hadn’t ever met anyone with that name (and, not knowing much about the author, I’d always assumed Harper Lee was a pen name. Come to think of it, I may even have thought Harper Lee was a guy). Impressed because the thought behind the name was incredibly noble and bookish.

I’ve always promised myself that if I ever had children—and that’s an almost entirely unfathomable scenario—I’d name them unusual, book-related names. That in part stems from my utter distaste for my own bland, run-of-the-mill name and from my love for authors and characters who have blown my mind with their finely crafted words and real or imagined worlds. Of course, as the chances of me having kids are almost zilch, so those names will be stored away and used for much-loved pets instead.

Either way, I was determined that any child/pet of mine (and I mean no disrespect by including them in the same breath, so please save the outraged you’re-likening-a-child-to-a-pet hate emails) would have a carefully considered name that had a good story behind it. Like Harper derived from Harper Lee.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the name Harper has taken off. It’s been Britney-fied, for want of a better term (read: become too popular and lost some of its shine). The tipping point for me was a dodgy chick I encountered who was pregnant, smoking, and screaming at her child who was wreaking havoc at the park. Turned out the kid’s name was Harper. I know that both because the mother was yelling it with a well-practised, projected roar, and because she had it tattooed on the inside of her forearm in massive, impossible-to-miss, just-in-case-you-forget-your-kid’s-name letters.

I still like the name, and my friends’ Harper is, for the record, a beautiful girl. But I did chuckle when the Beckhams announced that they’d named their child Harper. Yep, with their blessing the name’s truly gone mainstream.

The thing is, the Beckhams liking something equates to a spike in sales said liked thing. In this case it’s a literary-related name, which has seen a 123% increase in sales in To Kill A Mockingbird on bohemoth-bookseller and cultural-gauge Amazon. This has in turn rocketed the book back onto the bestseller list.

I’m acutely aware of the irony that the couple who perhaps aren’t known for their intelligence, grasp of the English language, or wide and voracious reading appetites are the ones who are single-handedly increasing book sales.

I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that’s not a bad thing. Sure, the name Harper is now off the cards as every Tom, Dick, and Britney will be copying it, but if in the process they read the great book by the author from whom the name is derived I think it’s a win.

Carol and Lili chat online

Sometimes talent runs in the family. Case in point: Australian author Carole Wilkinson and her daughter, author Lili Wilkinson.

Carole is best known for her series of Dragonkeeper children’s novels, which have won a plethora of awards over the years. She has also written a wide range of other books, including the YA novel Sugar Sugar and an award-winning non-fiction book about Ned Kelly, Black Snake.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lili is the author of five YA novels, including Angel Fish, Pink and her latest, A Pocketful of Eyes. She has also written a non-fiction book, Joan of Arc: the story of Jehanne Darc, as well as having edited Short, an anthology of children’s fiction.

As you would expect, Carole and Lili communicate regularly and often find themselves chatting online. Today on Literary Clutter we get to eavesdrop on one of their chats…

Lili: Mum! Aid my procrastination! What are you doing?

Carole: Celebrating.

Lili: Did you win something?

Carole: No

Lili: Hurrah!
Lili: Is this the first draft for the NEW DRAGONKEEPER BOOK?

Carole: Yep. Dragonkeeper 4.
Carole: It’s been hard work.

Lili: Is it more about Ping and Kai?

Carole: It’s 400 years after Dragon Moon. Ping is sadly long gone, but Kai is still around.

[Interruption from George: Set in ancient China, the first three Dragonkeeper books — Dragonkeeper, Garden of the Purple Dragon and Dragon Moon — tell the story of a young girl, Ping, who becomes a dragonkeeper, first looking after an older dragon named Danzi and then a young one named Kai. Carole also wrote a prequel called Dragon Dawn.]

Lili: So does Kai have a new dragonkeeper? Is he All Grown Up?

Carole: I don’t want to give too much away. He’s a sort of teenage dragon, and he’s sick of living at the Dragon Haven.
Carole: That’s all I’m saying.

Lili: Is he painting his bedroom black and listening to My Chemical Romance?

Carole: Something like that.
Carole: Sequels are hard. You haven’t ever done a sequel have you?

Lili: Nope, although I’m vaguely considering it at the moment.

Carole: Really what for? Hannah’s life in Australia? More stage crew hijinks for Ava?

Lili: There is a current possibility of a Pocketful of Eyes sequel. If enough people buy the first one. *hint hint*

[Interruption from George: Hannah is an English girl sent to Australia as a convict in Lili’s debut historical novel, Scatterheart. Ava is the lead character from Pink. And A Pocketful of Eyes is her latest book — a terrific page-turning murder mystery/romcom that everyone should rush out and buy right now.]

Carole: That’s exciting. So you hadn’t considered a sequel when you were writing it?

Lili: Not at all. Which makes it rather difficult.

Carole: Better to do it that way, I think. Otherwise you’re thinking, should I save that for the next one? Better to give the book you’re writing everything you’ve got.

Lili: So what happens now you have your zero draft?

Carole: Now the enjoyable bit starts. I have the story worked out, so now I have to reread it and basically make it better. It’s taken me 6 months but it’s very rough.
Carole: Even you don’t get to see my zero draft.

Lili: I don’t show anyone my zero draft. That’s why it’s called a zero draft instead of a first draft.

Carole: I am going to celebrate for at least 15 minutes. It’s too early for champagne, so I’m having a cup of tea. Orange Pekoe.

Lili: You should have CAKE

Carole: I have no cake.

Lili: A great tragedy indeed.

Carole: So apart from thinking about a possible, hypothetical sequel to PoE, what else are you working on?

Lili: I’m just about to start copyedits for Love Shy, my romcom about a high school wannabe journalist who discovers a boy at her school who is terrified of girls. It’ll be out next year.
Lili: And starting the first draft of the novel I’m writing as part of my PhD.

Carole: I wish I could do three things at once.
Carole: Are you happy with Love Shy?

Lili: Not even slightly, but hopefully by the time the copyedits are done I will be.
Lili: My books always get funnier during copyedits.

Carole: When do I get to read it?

Lili: Whenever you like.

Carole: Good. I need something to read.
Carole: I’m going to go and buy cake.

Lili: Good idea. Email me some.

George’s bit at the end

Thank you to Carole and Lili for letting us look over their shoulders as they chatted online.

For more info about Carole and her books, check out her website.

For more info about Lili and her books, check out her website.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll post an online chat I had with myself the other day.



Great suspense, quirky characters, action and humour are features of the six mind twisting stories in Head Spinners by Thalia Kalkipsakis.

Thalia is best known for her Go Girls and Girlfriend Fiction, but she’s really hit the boy’s market running with her new short story collection.

In Head Spinners, There are six engrossing tales featuring different characters and each one has a strange twist at the end.

The six tantalising tales are Tick-Tock Time Machine, It Began With a Tingle, Alive Again, Face the Vortex, Night Sight and Evil Eye.

There are time travellers, special gifts, limbs with an identity of their own, fish with strange secrets and an encounter with great grandma’s ghost.

These stories are fast-paced, funny and sometimes a bit scary. But the language is not complicated and they are easy read and enjoy. They’re told in the first person to draw the reader closer and each story hooks you right from the start.

“IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA at the time. Well no…if I’m being completely honest, I thought it was a risky idea that no one was going to find out about.” (From Evil Eye)

“LET ME MAKE ONE THING CLEAR: I didn’t steal anything from The Big Cow Cafe. Why would I? I don’t even like smoked-trout sandwiches, and I’d already had lunch – a steaming sausage roll with zigzag sauce.” (From Alive Again).

In Head Spinners, there are strong themes of friendship, loyalty, guilt, facing your fears, and standing up for what’s right. But they’re all really good fun stories. The dialogue is realistic and the family situations will be very familiar to many readers.

I loved all six stories and it’s hard to pick out a favourite, but I particularly loved the characters in Tick-Tock Time Machine and the dilemma that Sam the main character finds himself in.

Readers will still be thinking about Head Spinners long after they have turned the last page.

The stories are for mid to upper-primary readers, but they’re something parents will get a giggle out of too.

Head Spinners is published by Allen & Unwin.


Read to me – learning to love audiobooks

Being read was one of my favourite things when I was young but once I was old enough to read for myself (and conceal a torch under my duvet for late night reading binges) it became a past pleasure. Until recently, when a repeated spate of headaches highlighted that I need to give my poor over-reading eyes a rest occasionally. My problem was that I couldn’t think of a leisure activity to do around the house in the evenings that didn’t involve using them.

My eyes may get a break when I sleep but they spend most of my waking hours deciphering text or pictures. Between work and writing I probably spend 10 hours of my day staring at my computer screen and, as two of my favourite leisure activities are when not writing are reading and watching comedy, I probably often rack up closer to half my waking hours with my eyes on a screen of one type or another. I’m aware that knitting or similar is an option some people choose, but these are probably not people who naturally stab themselves with needles. I considered demanding my partner amuse me for 4 hours every evening, but realised he would probably end up stabbing me with the discarded knitting needles.

The doctor recommended less time straining my eyes but I was straining of something that I could do that didn’t involve them one way or another – until I rediscovered being read to in the form of audiobooks. It’s all the joy of a book without needing to stress your vision.

I’m not the only person who occasionally like my books read out, as I then remembered from when I worked for a company that wanted all senior managers to read a certain business book. I was in charge of the office library, and found that I had a far better better odd on persuading time-starved executives to take an audio-book on CD and listen to it on their commute than giving them a hard or soft copy. The  paper copies lingered on the shelves and in peoples’ briefcases, while the audio books were checked out, listened to, and returned in just a few days.

But, despite the obvious popularity of the audiobook in the office, I never got around to trying them out myself. I might have missed out on audiobooks up until recently but plenty of other people had it already figured out although you wouldn’t know it from the press about books. Plenty of articles have been written about the e-book share of books published but audiobooks generate a lot less noise, if you can forgive the terrible pun. 2009 figures in the US showed that e-books held around 3% of the market but audio books were pulling in 10% to 15%. That’s a lot of listening readers.

Many publishers view creating an audiobook as a natural accompaniment to a book release, just like making a e-book available. You can sample some sci-fi with the Sarah Jane Adventures (a Doctor Who spin-off series) read to you by Elisabeth Sladen herself or hear some of the best non-fiction out there, with Malcolm Gladwell reading one of his many books. Stephen Fry will read to you about his own life or Harry Potter‘s, depending on your mood. Whatever mood you are in, you find an audiobook to suit and soothe your ears while giving your eyes some time out.

But most of all, you can do other things while listening to a book. With both my hands and my eyes free, I can use the time to clean or exercise or just go for a walk. Which means I can obey my doctor’s orders and rest my eyes without giving up on my favourite hobby, or ending up being stabbed by a knitting needle.

Daleks and Cave-monsters

Last week I read and reviewed Michael Moorcock’s Doctor Who novel The Coming of the Terraphiles. I wasn’t especially enamoured with this book and had to follow it up with some classic Doctor Who novelisations — The Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks and The Cave-monsters by Malcolm Hulke.

I read both these books as a teenager and I remember them as being two of my favourite Doctor Who books. They are quite a different kettle of fish from a novel like Moorcock’s, which is based on the series rather than an adaptation of a particular televised story. As novelisations, both these books had to follow the scripted stories. Despite this, the two authors have approached them quite differently.

Terrance Dicks adapted Terry Nation’s script, which featured the second ever appearance of the Daleks on television in 1964. The first Doctor and his companions land in a future London that is under Dalek control. In fact, the ominous metal pepper pots have taken over the entire world. They have enslaved the human race and have them digging a huge tunnel down into the Earth. Their intention is to remove the planet’s core and replaced it with a drive system, allowing them to steal the Earth and use it as a mobile base in their plans for universal domination. Of course, the Doctor throws a spanner into their works and sends them packing.

This novelisation is, to a large extent, a ‘paint-by-numbers’ book, transcribing the televised story, scene by scene. It follows the script quite faithfully most of the time, and yet the Doctor’s famous speech from the conclusion, as he farewells his granddaughter, is reworded. The action of the script, hampered by limited special effects, is given greater scope in the book. And Dicks does fill out a few things, such as the romance between freedom fighter David and the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan.

While the writing style is quite straightforward and often plain, Dicks does show the occasional bit of flair. The opening sentence of this book is particularly memorable, and is on my list of all-time favourite opening sentences.

“Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.”

Malcolm Hulke had a huge advantage in that he wrote the original script which he than adapted into Doctor Who and the Cave-monsters. This story features the first appearance of the Silurians, a race of reptilian creatures who used to rule the planet Earth before humans came on the scene. When presented with global catastrophe they hid themselves in underground bases. Now, a new underground atomic research centre has woken them from their long sleep and they want their planet back. This story features the third Doctor during his days as scientific advisor to UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), and was originally broadcast in 1970.

Although giving us the televised story, Hulke presents it quite differently. This is not a scene-by-scene adaptation. We are privy to the inner thoughts of many of the characters and we also get a fair bit of backstory for some of them… which goes a long way to explaining their actions. Hulke also tells us more about the Silurians than the scripted episodes. The Silurians of the novel are much more individual than those of the episodes. Scenes that are only alluded to in the episodes are expanded on in the novelisation, while other scenes are shortened. Hulke obviously knows the different requirements of a script and a novel, and uses that knowledge to good effect.

Where this book falls down is in the odd way Hulke presents the Doctor. Actually referring to the character as “Doctor Who” really doesn’t work, and there are several occasions where he refers to him as human. This is rather odd … having written numerous scripts for the series, I would have assumed that Hulke would know the details of the show well enough to avoid such problematic descriptions.

Doctor Who and the Cave-monsters also contains internal illustrations by Chris Achilleos, and a laughable error on the back cover blurb, referring to the Tyrannosaurus Rex as “the biggest, most savage mammal which ever trod the earth”. LOL!

All up, I rather enjoyed taking the stroll down memory lane to read these books. They are by no means great novels … but they are fun. And I enjoyed them more than I did Moorcock’s novel.

Has anyone else out there in the blogosphere read Moorcock’s novel? Or any of the old novelisations? Opinions? Leave a comment!

And tune in next time as mother/daughter authors Carole and Lili Wilkinson stop by for a chat.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.



Changing Yesterday is the sequel to the highly acclaimed, Before the Storm and is the work of one of Australia’s leading SF and Fantasy authors, Sean McMullen.

It’s 1901, and Battle Commander Liore has travelled back in time to stop a war that will rage for over a hundred years. But time itself is against her. Whenever she changes history, a new beginning to the war emerges and the world once again teeters on the brink of disaster.

To make matters worse, Barry the Bag has stolen Liore’s plasma rifle, the most dangerous weapon in the world. The owner is on his trail, and she doesn’t take prisoners.

One of the things I loved about Changing Yesterday is that it’s a novel that breaks rules. It spreads across so many genres. Action, adventure, science fiction, dystopian, romance, humour – it has pretty much everything. This is a novel that cannot be put in a labelled box and for this reason it will appeal to readers with a diverse range of tastes and interests.

I also enjoyed the eclectic mix of characters – the pathetic unlucky in love Daniel who is stronger than he thinks, the unscrupulous but hopeless Barry the Bag, the treacherous Muriel Baker who the reader gets to know mainly through hearsay, the invincible Liore and the feisty and clever Madeline who I have a feeling may feature in Daniel’s affections in later books. Every one of these characters has their own distinct voice and individual traits that will endear them to readers.

I was very familiar with some of the towns in which the book was set so that was also something else I enjoyed.

Changing Yesterday is one of those rare books you read where you don’t get the feeling it’s the result of blood, sweat and tears. You come away with a sense that this is a book the author really enjoyed writing.

It’s a coming of age story in which the teen characters fight to save the world and find their own path into adulthood. They leave behind family and familiarity, take risks, live by their wits and make choices that will affect their futures. There are also themes of friendship, loyalty and trust. There’s a lot of travel happening in this book – through time – on boats – on trains – by horse – pretty much every mode of transport except planes but this is hardly surprising as the story is set in 1901.

There are plenty of references for the history lover and fascinating detail that kids will love.

Changing Yesterday is published by Ford Street.


Noni Hazlehurst Lays Waste to Our Collective Childhood



It was bad enough when Werner Herzog, professional hippy and filmmaker, read aloud the children’s-book-for-adults Go the F*** to Sleep and destroyed documentaries for me forever. But things just got worse and worse.

Even though I had heard Samuel L. Jackson, beloved star of such children’s classics as Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, drop the occasional cuss word, I wasn’t prepared for the aural onslaught of him reading Go the F*** to Sleep. University students the world over wept in their sleep as Pulp Fiction posters mysteriously dropped from dorm-room walls.


But then things got really bad. Noni Hazlehurst’s reading has literally destroyed my childhood. No seriously, don’t laugh or condemn my misuse of the word ‘literally’. It’s been several years since I watched Playschool, but I’m pretty sure it stopped existing when I stopped watching it. That’s how beloved children’s television shows work, right? At any rate, it was only right and proper that the boys at YouTube pulled the video off the site when they saw Noni destroying their childhoods as well. If you haven’t already seen it, and let’s face it, it happened a week ago now so you probably have, then just try to watch the video above and not cringe every time Noni’s gentle motherly lips frame the F-bomb.

What is next, I ask you? Barney the Dinosaur? The Teletubbies? Dame Judi Dench? Will the madness never stop? I think it would be best for everyone if we bring this evil to the surface now and then move on from the whole sorry business. So if you’ve come across any other readings of this vile piece of not-quite-children’s literature, please sound off in the comments below. And be sure to include a link.

If You Had $120 To Spend With Boomerang Books…

I’m turning this blog entry over to you in the hope you’ll let me pick your brains. I’ve got a $120 voucher to spend with this here good, carbon neutral, online bookstore but am completely stumped for which books to add to my cart. I have, quite incredibly, run out of ideas about books I want to buy.

It’s not exactly as though I’ve read all the books I’ve got—I’ve documented in previous blogs that I have so many books that I am both short on shelf space (and amusing people by stacking books in my pantry) and on time to read them all.

There have been plenty of awkward conversations where friends have asked for book recommendations and I’ve had to reveal that although I think books are good because I bought them and they’re sitting proudly on display on my shelf, I haven’t yet had time to read them.

I’m prepared to risk more of those conversations, though, because my need to buy books (and in fact, my need to spend book vouchers as soon as I have them in my hands) is greater than my need to get through the ones I’ve already got.

Yes, I’m acutely aware there’s something odd about that—I’d never buy this many new clothes or groceries or anything else you care to insert into this blog text in place of ‘books’. I’m also aware that the excitement of ordering the books and then waiting in breathless anticipation of their arrival is unrivalled. Is the sight of book deliveries poking out of your letterbox not one of the best sights ever?!

So, have you got any suggestions for me? If you had $120 to spend with Boomerang Books, which books would you buy? And which books would you recommend for someone who’s a massive non-fiction reader but who just might be interested in splashing out into other genres?

Subliminal Reading

Forget the the-sky-is-falling-in panic over the rise of e-books and the demise of p-books (a shortened reference to physical books that all the cool kids are using right now). Not only do I want books to go digital, I want them embedded in my brain.

Remember those tapes that promised you could lose weight/learn a language/do both subliminally and potentially simultaneously? Clearly they didn’t work, or we’d all be Kate Moss whippet-thin and speaking languages so fluently and so seamlessly we’d have no need for Google Translator.

But imagine if that technology worked? Imagine if it could be applied to books and reading?

I blame jetlag for such crazy thoughts (well, jetlag and the decadent German bakeries which have also seen me stack on weight and crave urgent I-need-to-fit-back-into-my-pants diet solutions).

Being time poor and darn tired mean that I’m not ploughing through nearly as many books as my head and heart desire. The number of unread books on my bookcase is getting to the point of embarrassing—I’m buying books much, much faster than I’m able to tackle them, and then having to endure awkward conversations when friends visit and peruse my collection.

They say: ‘Oh, I’ve been thinking of reading this one. What’s it like?’

I say: ‘Um, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.’

They say: ‘What about this one? I’ve heard good things about it.’

I have to say, after a pause: ‘Um, I haven’t had a chance to read that one yet either.’

I know. Awkward. And quite possibly damaging my reputation as a Big Reader.

Anyhoo, sleep is a time of rest and rejuvenation, and I think book reading is too. How fantastic would it be to be able to combine them? It might be the perfect solution for those people who don’t enjoy reading (crazy people that they are!) or those like me who worry that there are too many books and not enough lifetime in which to read them.

And can you imagine how well we’d score on those how-many-classics-have-you-read polls that are always floating around and making us feel bad for not having had time to tackle enough of reading’s greats?!


Silvermay is the first book in the Silvermay Series by acclaimed Australian author, James Moloney, and it’s going to leave readers wanting more.

Sixteen year-old Silvermay falls for Tamlyn, a handsome young refugee who comes to live with his ‘wife’ in the village. When the couple are forced to flee once more, Silvermay goes with them to care for the newborn child, named Lucien.

But Lucien is more than he seems and soon Silvermay finds herself in sole charge of him while ruthless forces come searching.

Whom should she trust? Tamlyn, her love, who has no wife after all, or an aging scholar who offers her escape?

I found myself totally immersed in Silvermay’s world. Felt I was side by side with her, battling those who want to take Lucien, the baby she has sworn to protect.

There’s plenty of action as Silvermay faces internal and external conflict, and her story raises moral dilemmas and issues of friendship, loyalty and trust.

There’s a lilting quality to this book; beautiful language and vivid imagery that draw you into the world of the story.

Silvermay is only 16 yet the weight of the world has been placed on her shoulders. She’s vulnerable and likeable. The first person style brings Silvermay closer to her readers and involves you in her feelings and emotions.

Silvermay’s voice helped me connect with her character right from the start. Brave, yet impulsive, wise yet naive, she is a complex mix of contradictions that make her believable and endearing to the reader.

Death had never once asked for my attention in the sixteen years I had spent learning to love the people closest to me. Now it demanded it’s due in one unbearable charge. Rage took hold of me. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, that someone as good as Nerigold could be snatched away, that all the years of love and kindness she would have given to the world would never be lived. If my eyes stayed dry as I leaned over her body, it was because I was willing her to come back and live those years.

I loved the world and the characters created by James Moloney in Silvermay and look forward to reading Book 2, Tamlyn and Book 3, Lucien.

Silvermay is published by Harper Collins and is intended for readers aged 10 + but I can see it appealing to older teens and adults as well. It’s an easy to read book so would also work well as a class text.


Interview with Larry Writer – author of Underbelly Razor

MD of Boomerang Books, Clayton Wehner recently caught up with biographer Larry Writer to talk about the impending Underbelly Razor TV series, which is based on Writer’s 2001 book, Razor.  A new TV tie-in edition of the book has been released as Underbelly Razor.

Thank you very much Larry, for the opportunity to speak with you about the upcoming release of Underbelly Razor.  The book Razor was first released in 2001 and it has now been ‘rebranded’ and re-released as ‘Underbelly Razor’ to coincide with the new 13-part Underbelly series on Channel 9.  How is it that your work has come to be adopted as an Underbelly ‘franchise’?

Last year Screentime, the producers of Underbelly, approached me and said they had been looking for wonderful Australian crime stories, and that Razor was one. I was delighted because the 13-episode format of Underbelly Razor has allowed the story of Kate Leigh, Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs between 1927-31 to be told properly with justice done to the fabulously rich characters and events that took place as well as to recreate the world of Depression-era inner Sydney where these people lived and loved and did battle.

Razor was your first foray into true crime (although you have written several crime-related books since).  You’ve previously written biographical accounts of sportsmen and entertainers, like John Newcombe and Chrissy Amphlett – why did you choose to delve into the world of true crime with Razor?

Rather than specialise in a genre, either sport or crime or show business, which admittedly are all passions of mine, I simply enjoy researching and writing about interesting people doing interesting things. Newc, Chrissy, Bumper Farrell, Kate and Tilly all fit the bill. I specifically chose to write Razor because I have lived most of my life in Sydney’s east, in the suburbs where the razor gangsters of the ‘20s and ‘30s existed, and I wanted to write about what I knew and loved. In 1997 I started doing a little research, then became entranced by the subject and three years later, after I had finished my research and interviewed many of the survivors of the era who were all in the last years of their lives, I turned all of the background I had accumulated into a book, Razor.

The Underbelly television series has been wildly popular in Australia.  Australians seem to be fascinated by gangsters, mafioso and underworld figures – why do you think that is so?  Are you similarly smitten by this fascination?

Like many law-abiding people, it is a guilty pleasure to allow myself to take a vicarious interest in people who do break the law. I enjoy true and fictional crime, and love crime films. There’s nothing nicer than curling up in bed with the latest Thomas Kelly or Don Winslow novel or watching Goodfellas on the VCR. That said, I have a responsibility when writing about law breakers not to unduly glamorise them, and I have tried hard not to do this in Razor. Rather, I attempt to portray them as real people and while not being reticent about describing their crimes, if they are good parents and true friends, donate to charity or whatever I have no problem in saying so. It’s about portraying them as accurately and multi-dimensionally as I can.

I understand that you went to school in Darlinghurst and you clearly have an affinity with the eastern suburbs of Sydney where the razor gangs ruled in the 1920s and 30s.  Today, this area of Sydney is significantly different – what remains there today that evokes the memories of the area’s colourful past?

The inner east is vastly different today: where once there were slums and poverty there is now multi-million dollar homes, galleries and restaurants. About the worst thing to befall someone walking the lanes at night is to step in designer dog poo. But back in the ‘20s the only people who lived in so-called “Razorhurst” were the criminal or those too desperately poor to escape to the new garden suburbs. But it doesn’t take much imagination to experience the miasma of the razor gang years. Visit Kellett Street in Kings Cross, Riley Street, Kippax St, Devonshire Street. Touch the old bricks on the Strand Hotel in William Street (where Tilly Devine’s gunman Frank Green shot Kate Leigh’s men Barney Dalton and Wally Tomlinson), the East Village pub in Palmer Street which was once the notorious gangster blood house the Tradesman’s Arms. Walk through the lanes that slither around Palmer Street. You’ll get a sense of the bad old days.

Your book centres around the rival crime matriarchs Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, who each controlled extensive prostitution, gambling, drug and sly-grog rackets.  Both were remarkable entrepreneurs of their time, both were high profile members of society, and both were charitable in spite of their criminal activites (more so in Leigh’s case). Having studied their lives, do you have any respect for Devine and Leigh?

I have respect of a sort… only because Tilly and Kate were very good at the business they chose to be in (running brothels, and selling sly grog and cocaine, respectively) and they were more ruthless, more ambitious and much smarter than the male criminals who tried without success over the years to divest them of their empires. They were pure spirits.

The Underbelly series to date has been the work of Melbourne journalists Andrew Rule and John Silvester.  Now that you have joined the Underbelly family, have you collaborated with Rule and Silvester?  Has your original book been adapted in any way to meet the requirements of the Underbelly brand?

No, apart Andrew and John’s title “Underbelly” being used in the new series, I’ve had no contact with these excellent writers. My book is a social history, the Underbelly writers have obviously created dialogue so that the characters rather than a narrator can advance the plot. Every word the actors utter, to me, rings true and is what the real life people in Razor said or would have said. The plot and events depicted are all true, as recounted in my book. The Screentime researchers went to enormous lengths to get it right. There is violence and sex in the series, as per the Underbelly template, but it would be strange if a story about gangsters and brothels didn’t have violence and sex.

Did you have an active role to play in the screenplay and is the series a true reflection of the book?

I was a consultant on the series, and my book receives a nice “based on” credit, and I spent many hours talking to the writers and actors and directors and sound people and props people about the characters and the era and what inner Sydney was like circa 1927-31. Yes, the series is a wonderfully true depiction of the book. It’s common for writers to grizzle about what “film makers” have done to their book, but to me everyone involved is a true professional with such respect and love for the source material. I could not be more delighted with the series.

Much of your biographical work has centred on rugby league figures – Kevin Walters, Rex Mossop, ‘Bumper’ Farrell –  but I note that you also ghost wrote the biography for AFL coach Paul Roos and his wife Tami.   How do you think the new Greater Western Sydney AFL team will go and will it have an impact on the dominance of rugby league in Sydney’s western suburbs?

Do I detect an AFL fan behind the question??? Well, I’m sorry but, as lovely as Paul and Tami Roos are, as a rugby league fan from childhood, who loves the game’s traditions and its role in our city’s life for a hundred years, I don’t welcome the AFL incursion, and while Australian rules has the potential to be a minor code, and a very minor code in Sydney’s west, I don’t believe that it will ever challenge rugby league in Sydney. Attendances at games, memberships at clubs and huge TV ratings back me up. That’s just the way I feel, and I’ll stand by my feelings.

Yes, you guessed right – I am an AFL fan 🙂 – Can we expect more true crime offerings from Larry Writer in the future?

I have no plans to write another true crime book. I’m happy having contributed Razor and Bumper to the genre. Still, if a good story drops into my lap and I feel I can do it justice, and electricity and phone bills keep on rising…

Thank you very much for your time, Larry.  I wish you all the best of luck with the release of Underbelly Razor.

It’s a pleasure, Clayton. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about what I do.


The best non-fiction of all time?

When lists are compiled of the “Best Books of All Time”, two things tend to happen. The first will be that, despite stating “of all time”, most of the books will be recent releases (for example when the Sydney Morning Herald published a list of the top 100 books of all time, and the Harry Potter and Twilight series took the top two spots). The second is that non-fiction rarely gets a look-in. When people say “book”, they usually mean “novel”.

So I was excited to see that the Guardian were putting together a list of the greatest non-fiction books ever written. Whatever about the paper’s politics, when it comes to books and culture, the Guardian is known for the thought and enthusiasm it brings to reviewing trends and books for their readers. And, even better, they clarified these books should not just be informative but really enjoyable reads, books that win over both hearts and minds. “The list we’ve come up with rewards readability alongside originality, heaps praise on perfect prose and rounds it all off with a dash of cultural significance.” A pretty lofty goal.

But after browsing the list I, like some of the readers, feel they have taken things to the other extreme. Far from being focused on the present, this list is firmly grounded in the distant past. Of their 6 biographies, 3 were written before the twentieth century and none were penned after 1933. Out of twelve recommended philosophy texts only one – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – was released in the twentieth century and that was published in 1962. Their only book on mind is by Sigmund Freud in 1889, and even their science section has nothing after 1988.

The Guardian blog contains a lively discussion, with plenty of people pleading my point that modern scientific books are horribly under-represented. But at least scientific books got a mention, as aficionados of sport, cookery and gardening point out – none of their areas (which make up a good half of the Boomerang Top 25 non-fiction books sold in 2010) even get a look in. Still, one hundred books may sound like a lot but when you try and include everything written under the broad banner of non-fiction you are going to end up with a lot of gaps, as the Guardian admits.

It’s clearly a mug’s game to make any kind of claim for definitiveness but, whatever you make of our list and its (doubtless many) omissions and imperfections, there’s no question that it features a whole heap of truly great books… As you’ve doubtless gathered, this is a very left-leaning, liberal, limey kind of list. But this is the Guardian: what else would you expect?

They have a point. The Guardian is a paper with a rich and long history. It was founded in 1821 so perhaps it’s only natural that they are comfortable looking back several hundred years to find most of their best non-fiction reads (and looking only in the English language as well). But I’d like to see what a reader with a more modern eye considers indispensable to a well-rounded and enjoyable non-fiction Top 100.

I’ll start the ball rolling with a few choice picks of my own:

  • Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel – This book on why history unfolded so differently on different continents ensures you will never look at any society quite the same way again, and Diamond’s prose is as polished as his name suggests.
  • Malcolm Gladwell – Blink – All of Gladwell’s books are well-worth reading as he renders the most scientific and abstract of concepts understandable and fascinating but Blink, a book of “thinking about thinking” is a stand out read in a stellar group.
  • Bill Bryson – At Home / Mother Tongue / A Short History of Nearly Everything – I’m struggling with Bryson, not because I can’t think of any books sufficiently good but because I can’t choose between several of his titles. Is the acerbic focus of Mother Tongue more worthy than the wide-ranging Short History, and is his recent release At Home really that wonderful or is its novelty blinding me to some older, better texts?

What do you think? Should we include some Bryson, some Sedaris or even some Jeremy Clarkson? Or did the Guardian nail your favourite non-fiction reads?

Michael Moorcock writes a Doctor Who novel

There’s long been a bit of a relationship between the television series Doctor Who and famous scribes. During his televised time travelling adventures, the good Doctor has met Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, HG Wells and even the great bard, William Shakespeare. And back in the 1970s and 80s, Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) wrote some Doctor Who episodes, as well as having a stint as script editor on the series.

These days, Doctor Who is still attracting famous authors. Earlier this year I blogged about Neil Gaiman and his foray into Doctor Who script writing with “The Doctor’s Wife”. He’s not the only one. Well-known science fiction author Michael Moorcock has now written a Doctor Who novel. The Coming of the Terraphiles was published late last year by BBC Books and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

I was rather disappointed! Perhaps I was expecting too much? Perhaps Moorcock’s style simply isn’t to my literary taste? Perhaps it just isn’t a very good book? Or maybe I’m being a little too harsh?

The story centres around a series of re-enactment games in the far-flung future, where people who are obsessed with Earth’s past, play a tournament for the fabled Arrow of Law. The games they play have been bizarrely altered by the passage of time and thus bear little resemblance to their original incarnations. The Doctor, with Amy in tow, has joined one of the sporting teams as he needs the Arrow of Law to stop the accelerated collapse of not just our universe, but all the multiverse.

At heart it’s a simple story, but Moorcock tells it in such an unnecessarily convoluted manner. The story would have benefited from being more plainly told, with greater punch and less waffle. It is repetitive in places, slow and lacking in any real excitement. It’s as if Moorcock has gotten so caught up in this universe he has created, that he’s forgotten about the plot.

The characterisation of the Doctor and Amy is rather patchy. At times, their dialogue is spot on… and then, a paragraph or so later, completely out of left field. Moorcock has, however, created some rather engaging original characters.

Moorcock certainly doesn’t take himself seriously. His tongue is firmly in his cheek as he introduces us to characters such as General Force and his Anti-matter Men, milliner Toni Woni and Bingo, Earl of Sherwood. But the humour doesn’t quite work for me — it feels forced and self-conscious, and there are times when he sounds like he desperately wants to be Douglas Adams (without quite making it).

“The Gargantua was a happy ship again. If space liners could smile, whistle and snap cheerful fingers then there was no doubt that the massive ship would soon be doing the hoochie coochie as she slipped magnificently through the star lanes.”

The novel is apparently written in a style that homages PG Wodehouse… but never having read Wodehouse, it’s lost on me. The novel is also apparently riddled with references to Moorcock’s past novels… again, this is all lost on me. I can’t help but wonder if Moorcock has alienated casual readers not familiar with his or Wodehouse’s work… not something you really want to do when your novel is part of an ongoing series.

The novel sits rather awkwardly within the Doctor Who universe. Moorcock’s use of the Judoon (a race of rhinocerid police), for example, seems like a misplaced attempt to tie the book in with series continuity — but the way in which he handles them is completely unconvincing.

The Coming of the Terraphiles is certainly not your average Doctor Who novel, either in style or content. It is a brave attempt to do something a little different. But it doesn’t quite work for me. And it seems to have divided fan opinion.

Having finished The Coming of the Terraphiles I’ve gone straight to another Doctor Who book. I’m now re-reading one of my childhood favourites, Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks. Does it live up to my memories? How does it compare to Moorcock’s novel? To find out, tune in next time.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

PPS. Look! I’m in the Herald-Sun!



Award winning author, James Moloney has 35 books published. Today he is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about his brand new Silvermay Series.

I asked him how he became a writer.

Once I began to enjoy books and reading, (about 16 years old) I started to think about writing. Early dabbling went nowhere, but when I became a teacher librarian I focused on children’s stories and found I liked it. An additional prompt came when I moved to an all-boys school and found the boys reluctant to pick up novels. The challenge was to get them in with stories I’d written myself.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

Not having to work! Actually, writing is hard work, except you have no boss but yourself. You are also living in your imagination instead of doing things that others want you to do which can become tedious or don’t really interest you.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

The isolation is hard, at times. Making yourself do it, having the discipline and patience is a challenge. The first draft of a complicated and intensely emotional book is harder than climbing mountains.

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

I was a primary school teacher and teacher librarian.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

I am most proud of A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove which won the Book of the Year Award, because it is a powerful story of loneliness and redemption.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am writing a story for 9 to 13 year olds called Only the Heart Knows about an Australian boy who discovers his great grandfather was an infamous stage magician who is thought to have committed a great crime.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Read, read, read, first of all. It is the best training there is. Write, too. If you don’t actually sit down and do it out of personal drive and interest, you are probably fooling yourself that you want to be a writer.

On the technical side, plan the ending before you start a story – otherwise you are lost right from the beginning.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

My fantasy stories are all a struggle between good and evil, which is kind of expected. I like to find different ways to explore this, however. Eg. In the Silvermay sagas, the Wyrdborn act so despicably not because of any evil force inside them, but because they are born without any compassion for others and the ability to feel love.

All my fantasies are all set in a Tolkienesque medieval world because I love shining armour, swords and the rest.

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

I have already written the sequel to Silvermay, titled Tamlyn and it will be released in June 2012. I’ll start the third book soon but it won’t be out until June 2013.

After reading, Silvermay, I don’t think I’ll be the only one looking forward to that one.


What inspired you to write this book?

The idea of the Wyrdborn as a race who aren’t evil, as such, but act in evil ways because they have no human feelings that guide others to share, to trust, to love etc. I was also keen to try a female protagonist, since that is a challenge for a man. I find new challenges inspiring and without that you can go stale.

What’s it about?

Sixteen year-old Silvermay falls for Tamlyn, a handsome young refugee who comes to live with his ‘wife’ in the village. When the couple are forced to flee once more, Silvermay goes with them to care for the newborn child, named Lucien. But Lucien is more than he seems and soon Silvermay finds herself in sole charge of him while ruthless forces come searching. Whom should she trust? Tamlyn, her love, who has no wife after all, or an aging scholar who offers her escape. This is a rollicking adventure with moments of high romance and the final scene will have readers on the edge of their seats.

What age groups is it for?

As young as 10, but more for 13, 14, 15 and up to adults.

Why will kids like it?

The fast pace, the warm-hearted romance, the mystery, the dilemmas Silvermay faces, her courage and inventiveness. It is not a hard book to read and will get readers in from the first page.

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

It is a challenge to create characters that aren’t simply clichés and stereotypes. I also don’t like female heroines who have to be ‘saved’ or protected by males eg. Bella in Twilight. I think Silvermay is a good balance between a feminine girl who cares about how she looks, but doesn’t count it as the most important thing about her, who can ride a horse and shoot an arrow, even to kill a man if necessary. Yet she cannot take a life without great pain to herself. If there is anything I don’t like about her, it is the way she treats a character called Ryall, a boy her own age who only wants to help, but at first she is mean to him.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

The exploration of evil as the absence of humanity, perhaps.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved getting into Silvermay’s head and giving her lots to do. She takes the lead more often than not and comes through, despite her fears.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Avoiding clichés that can crop up in fantasy – magical swords, the use of magic to get a character out of trouble as a kind of cop out.

Silvermay is a great read and I’ll be reviewing it tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers.



Recent Acquisitions (The Friends’ Recommendations Edition)

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

Turns out the guy who recommended Murakami for Book Club was right – Norwegian Wood is much better than Sputnik Sweetheart (thank goodness), and my review of it will be up soon. I’ve already been recommended another one by him, in fact – The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. A reasonably hefty book, I don’t think I can even try to explain it – and apparently that’s beside the point, anyway. Better not to question it and simply be carried away by Murakami’s brand of magical realism. Oh, how I love magical realism.

River of Smoke, by Amitav Ghosh

This author has the most beautiful covers on his books! Looking at this reminds me a little of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet cover, which is not so surprising, considering both stories are set in Asia and involve sea voyages! An historical epic novel about the opium trade that is the second in the Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies being the first). It all sounds incredibly glamorous, shipping and exchanging tea and silks from all sorts of exotic places. I don’t know much about the opium trade part of history, but I’m looking forward to learning.

American Tabloid, by James EllroyWhat on earth am I doing reading a crime novel, I hear you ask. I don’t quite know, exactly. I’ve just been told it’s a great way to nosedive into the crime genre, and I wouldn’t mind the chance to be more well-rounded in my reading. American Tabloid is a gritty, ruthless account of the glory days of America – the reign of John F. Kennedy leading up to his assassination in 1963, complete with a myriad of mob killings, extra-marital relations and underground conspiracies. Sounds delicious, don’t you think?

An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost has often been compared to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.. Since I haven’t read either, I am not sure the comparison makes much of a difference to me, except I know I’m meant to be impressed. Set in the 1600s, a man dies under suspicious circumstances and the story turns into something of a whodunit, involving four unusual characters who each identify their version of the events. Yet only one will reveal the strange truth. Ooooh, mysterious.


Have you read, or are you planning to read, any of the above books?


I’m reading seven (yes, SEVEN) books at the moment. It’s no better than a tragedy. I am shameless – I’m putting down one book for a moment only to rip into another book the next. I’m carrying a different one in my handbag on the bus and leaving it in my drawer at work so I can buy another one before I get home. I’m hoarding, over-indulging and bulging with stories and characters and genres and plots.

I’ve taken some time out this morning to ponder why I’m binge-reading so badly. And I’ve thought of a few reasons as to why this might be.

Number one contributor to my book-binging on a normal day is other book reviewers. I read many, many wonderful book blogs, but the one I look forward to the most is Books on the Nightstand. I know I’ve discussed a bit about them before – but my love for them needs to be discussed again, in the hopes that you can learn to love them, too. An American book blog hosted by two people who work in the publishing industry (Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness), Books on the Nightstand posts weekly on the up-and-coming ‘two books we can’t wait for you to read’. The site has become so popular since its launch that it has mugs, t-shirts and bags, and even hosts an annual writers’/readers’ retreat. Their most recent rave is The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan, which is becoming very hard for me not to buy – particularly when the hardcover version’s pages are lined with a beautiful blood-red (or so Ann would have me believe).

Very True Blood, don’t you think?

But we’re getting off the main topic here. Maybe the real reason my binge-reading has gone beyond ‘cute and quirky’ into the realm of ‘this-girl-needs-serious-help-or-we’re-going-to-lose-her’ is the loss of Borders bookstore. Writing for an Australian online bookstore blog, it might seem strange and slightly controversial to Boomerang Books’ marketing strategy to be talking about a tanker of a competitor, but as Borders has been so central to my reading experience for many years I feel compelled to talk about how I’ve been affected by the fall of such a giant in the commercial bookworld.

Borders, in all its red glory, was a haven away from the world of Brisbane when I first moved there. I didn’t know many people, and work was giving me a bit of a hard time. So after a long, difficult day, rather than catch the bus home straight away for a few measly hours of mind-numbing television, I’d head down to Borders to enjoy a white hot chocolate and peruse the shelves: my personal brand of meditation. I don’t pretend to like the fact that eBooks are in existence, and I feel that their invention is to blame for what happened. I’m going to try not to be bitter about it all, but walking into our local Borders store the other day and seeing the shelves stripped of books and the backs of the rooms being packed up made it very difficult not to cry.

I don’t know how long it will take before I feel ready to forgive the world for eBooks and the impact they’ve had on paperbacks. But I’m going to try and move on, by reading one (paper) book at a time and trying to rid myself of binge-reading once and for all. Heck, maybe one of these days I’ll even bring myself to buy an eReader. But for now, I need time to grieve.

Goodbye, Borders. You fed my habit of book-bingeing for a large part of my life, and I’ll always remember our time together fondly.

Rest in peace.


Do you ever binge-read? What are your reasons for doing so?

Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher

Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher is Swiss-born artist and illustrator, Céline Eimann’s first authored and illustrated book.

Céline says, When I was a child my father used to tell me many little stories. I grew up in Switzerland and there we have a saying that If you dig a hole through the planet and throw a stone in it will arrive in China! My father added that the Stone will actually never get to the other side as there is a  green beast called the Stone-Muncher who lives in the centre of the earth that will eat it first.

Lyli is a child with a big imagination and major curiosity, living in the distant planet of Motika, in a city surrounded by great crystal mountains. One day her mother tells her about a great Green Stone-Muncher who ate a path through the mountains.

Lyli knows she should be afraid, but she decides to set out in search of the Stone-Muncher. She takes her cat Tyki with her and finds the secret tunnel and the monster. But what is over the other side of the mountains?

Lyli’s emotions on her journey are clearly expressed and there is humour shown through the antics of Tyki. The big eyes on the monster make it more friendly than scary so young readers will want to go on the journey with Lyli and the Stone-Muncher.

This is an adventure story that also reads a bit like a fable. Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher is imaginatively illustrated by Celine Eimann in a unique style involving various mediums including pencil, collage and other media.

The pictures are full of interesting detail for the reader to explore and enjoy.

There are a number of themes in the book to discuss with young readers including friendship, bravery, the environment and finding your own path.

Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher is for children aged 6-10 and is published by IP Kidz.

It is for parents who wish to give their kids great places to seek out, or encourage them to use their imaginations, looking for ‘monsters’ of their own.



Céline Eimann – Author and Illustrator

Today we’re talking to author and illustrator, Céline Eimann about her two new books with IP Kidz and her first foray into writing.

How did you become a writer?

I’ve always considered myself as a visual artist, so it almost came as a surpise to become an author. I just had this story in mind and added text to the illustrations. Since I completed this first one many more came to my mind.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

I have a lot of fun creating characters and the world they live in.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

I think the hardest part is the rejection of your manuscript as it’s always such a personnal project.

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

I’ve been many things (waitress,receptionist,nanny), but mostly a graphic designer.

What is your greatest writing achievement?

So far ‘Lyli meets the Stone-Muncher’ is my greatest achievement. It first started by winning the first prize at the CYA conference in 2009 to now having it published by IP Kidz. It’s a dream coming true.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on two other picture books. The first one is about a little fairy, the other one about a little girl in trouble. The text part is done, but I’m still working on the illustrations. I’m exploring different visual effects to express the emotions throughout the books.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

I think the best tip in any creative endeavor would always be to believe in yourself and your work. Creating a book might be an overwhelming task but with perseverance, once step at a time you can make it happen.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

One strong theme in all my stories is friendship even though they all have very different universes.

How many books have you had published?

‘Lyli meets the Stone-Muncher’ is my first book published as an author.
I also had the honor to illustrate the ‘The Sky Dreamer’ written by Anne Morgan both published by IP Kidz and coming out in February 2011. In Switzerland I’m working as an Illustrator for ‘les Editions Notari” which is publishing two books for adults that I illustrated this year as well.

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

We are working on a bilingual version of ‘Lyli meets the Stone-Muncher’ in French and English. I’m very excited about this part of the project as I learned English by reading books myself. I think they’ll become great learning tools.


What inspired you to write this book?

When I was a child my father used to tell me many little stories.

I grew up in Switzerland and there we have a saying that If you dig a hole through the planet and throw a stone in it will arrive in China!

My father added that the Stone will actually never get to the other side as there is a  green beast called the Stone-Muncher who lives in the centre of the earth that will eat it first.

When I moved down under, this became a running joke between us. Anytime we’d message each other we would add a post scriptum saying I hope the message gets to you before the Stone-Muncher eats it. At first I wrote and illustrated the story just for him.

What’s it about?

It’s a story about friendship, adventure and extending your horizons.

What age groups is it for?

6 to 10 years old

Why will kids like it?

I think they’d like that Lyli is so adventurous and a little stubborn.

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

I like that she’s curious of the world she lives in and ready to go further than anyone before her.

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

Not at the moment.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

The characters evolve in a universe that is very unique visually. I also like to think that the story is quit lively and inspiring.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Creating the characters, their personality and relationships was the best part. This was the first time I wrote a story. I loved the whole process of adding words to the images in my head even though it was challenging at times.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

As this is my first experience as a writer, the whole process was challenging and completely out of my comfort zone. On top of the lack of experience, another difficulty was the fact that English isn’t my first language. I felt a little bit uneasy with getting the right words sometimes. The process of writing is simpler now, I must be learning with practice.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, we’re reviewing Lyli Meets the Stone-Muncher.


The Freebie Condundrum

One of the long-running and most frustrating aspects of being a writer is that everyone expects you to work for free. I’d argue that it happens more in this industry than in any other.

The freebie conundrum is something that I’ve noticed more and more writers discussing in recent times—either it’s because a) I and my peers are at the points in our careers where we’ve got a bit of work under our belt and we’re getting a bit older and sick of two-minute noodles, or because b) we’re finally realising that this slave-labour thing is quite pants.

You can do unpaid writing work when you’re a skint, starting-out uni student, but there comes a time when you get sick of being poor. Your mates, who studied safe, linear degrees like medicine or law are seeing their earnings rocket up, while yours, despite you now having plenty of experience and publications to show, are piddling along.

I used to really resent having to do freebies—and in a lot of ways I still do—but I resigned myself to the fact that they were really the only way to get a foot in the writing door. I would be the first to admit that the freebies I’ve done have been integral to my skills development and increased profile, and have led to paid work. What I want to know, though, is if or when having to do the freebies will stop? After all, even big-name authors still get asked to do them.

Some writers are starting to fire up about this. They’re arguing that we’re undervalued, but also that until we start valuing ourselves (read: refusing to do freebies), no one else will. It’s that double-edged sword, of course. You might say no to a freebie, but 20 other writers will say yes. Clients and publishers know that, and the flow-on effects on the industry are huge.

The average freelance writer in Australia earns something as measly as $6000 per year. That doesn’t cover mortgages or the expenses of laptops or professional development courses that writers incur in order to do their jobs well. Book advances too reflect that paltry sum.

Clearly I’m not the only one grappling with the freebie issues: someone’s elucidated it more cleverly graphically on the perfectly named site www.shouldiworkforfree.com (and I must credit talented writer and fellow freelancer Benjamin Law for bringing it to my attention).

It’s answered some of my questions and at the very least reminded me that I’m not facing this issue alone (and before you ask: yes, I’m ordering the print. I will be hanging it on my wall and following its advice when the next freebie request arrives).

Are you by chance a freelancer? Any gripes about, ideas or suggestions for, or comments on the freebie conundrum?

Deal with the Devil – Ebooks and Exclusivity

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about exclusivity when it comes to ebooks. Self-publishing mavens Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, in one of their increasingly long but still interesting chat logs, recently discussed the decision by Eisler to sign his ebook rights exclusively to Amazon; a decision he decided to make almost entirely on the perceived economic benefits. JK Rowling is making her books available exclusively through her own portal, Pottermore, and cutting out all the ebook vendors. And then there’s the post by Ginger Clark, an agent with Curtis Brown US, who wrote in Publishing Perspectives a week or so ago warning authors against global deals, espousing the potential gains authors can make by diversifying their rights around the world, ensuring that their books have publishing people on the ground in each territory they sell to who understand each market.

So who’s right? Is it better to sign a deal with an ebook publisher (or vendor) who can deliver your book to a worldwide market as one unified whole, or are you better off splitting your rights into portions and selling them separately everywhere? Is there any other option? Or is this even a choice open to most writers in a world where selling rights is more difficult than selling books?

Personally, I can see the benefits of Ginger Clark’s argument. If you can get multiple deals around the world, then you get multiple advances and marketing teams based on home turf. The problem with territorial fragmentation of ebooks is that it disadvantages the author until a book sells in a particular territory, particularly those in Australia, which has a relatively small local market. For example, an Australian author with an Australian publishing deal will generally have their ebook rights restricted to sell in Australia only – unless they have publishing deals in other territories. But there’s no reason why an Australian publisher shouldn’t make an Australian author’s ebooks available globally (and non-exclusively) until an exclusive deal has been struck with an overseas publisher.

The received wisdom from agents about this setup is that having an ebook for sale in a territory makes it almost impossible to convince an overseas publisher to buy the rights, but I’m yet to hear any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, of this actually taking place. (Though please do chime in if you have some – I’m intensely curious!).

The UK, Australian and US covers of Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.

Gosh, English-speaking markets really are completely foreign to each other.

It’s in an agent’s interest to chase advances rather than individual ebook sales, and in a publisher’s or ebook retailer’s interest to maximise sales – so it’s difficult to see where the sales pitch ends and the actual sales begin. Nonetheless, I do wonder whether authors are even going to have a choice in a shrinking Australian market. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to get a local publishing deal, and perhaps even more difficult to find an international deal on top of that. Are authors limiting themselves to Australia in the vain hope of securing a big advance overseas just deluding themselves and losing potential sales in the meantime? Or is this just sensible business practice, and I’m being a digital ideologue? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

A chat with Tristan Bancks, part 2

Last time around, Tristan Bancks talked about his transition from actor to children’s and YA author, and one of his new books, Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space. Now he’s back to tell us a little about his other new book, My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up, as well as some of his older books. Welcome back…

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is a short story collection. But the stories are linked by the character of Tom Weekly. Can you tell us a little about Tom and how you came up with the character?

Tom is, essentially, me. His experiences in the stories all began with something that happened in my life or that felt close to me. Those things are then heightened and embellished in the stories but they carry the seed of me. I didn’t have to write many ‘character notes’ on Tom because I knew him. I was a little boy, too, and, in some ways, I still am. Gus Gordon, the illustrator, also felt very close to the character so, together, we are the two halves of Tom Weekly’s brain. It’s quite a frightening image, actually.

What was it like collaborating with fellow actor/author Tempany Deckert on the YA novel It’s Yr Life?

It was fun. The book was written via email between Byron Bay and L.A. It’s about two high school students, total opposites, forced to email each other for a school English assignment. Tempany would email me from L.A., in character. I would get her email in the morning and email her back in character, and on it went. We discovered the story through these interactions. The first draft was fun. The consecutive drafts were more challenging because every change by one writer would have ramifications for the other author down the line. But I often get positive comments about the book. We’re currently re-working it and re-packaging for a North American ebook release.

You’ve written a couple of books about Nit Boy. What made you want to write about nits? Personal experience perhaps?

I had a deeply disturbing, nit-addled childhood and I needed a place to vent my harrowing experiences. Just kidding. I only had them once or twice but they’re all the rage now. You’re nobody in the playground if you don’t have nits. It was particularly enjoyable to write a non-human hero. I scratched for an entire year while writing those books.

You’ve written both short stories and novels. Do you have a preference?

Short stories are deeply refreshing after writing a longer book. They often arrive in one lump. Not that they are perfect at first draft, quite the opposite. You spend much more time polishing and refining with a short story rather than trying to tie disparate story threads together. But I wouldn’t want to only write short stories. A balance of the two is perfect for me.

Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? (Or is it Top Secret?)

Top Secret. I could tell you but I’d have to kill you and I don’t want to do that. You’re a nice guy. OK, I’ll tell you. It’s a story about a kid on the run, forced to become a detective as his life falls apart around him. I think it feels different to my other books and the writing process is vastly different, too.

What sort of stuff do you like reading and what book are you reading at the moment?

I read lots of stuff — children’s and YA fiction, books on Buddhism and creativity, biographies and adult fiction. I am currently reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a book on happiness and the creative process. I’m also reading The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi (Spiderwick Chronicles author), which is fun.

George’s bit at the end

Tristan is about to set off on a literary tour with the Get Reading! programme. For a full list of his events around Australia (as well as other Get Reading! events), check out the Get Reading! website. Also, don’t forget to take a look at Tristan’s website as well — it’s packed full of info, writing tips and videos.

And tune in next time for some Doctor Who.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.


Anne Morgan’s Brave Picture Book

Anne Morgan is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about being an author and the difficult journey she took writing her picture book, The Sky Dreamer, published this year by IP Kidz. Anne is the author of seven children’s books and a book of poetry.

As a teenager I used to read bedtime stories to my young brothers. This suited me well, for I was a studying drama teaching at the time, and reading children’s stories aloud provided the perfect opportunity for me to practise my character voices in front of an appreciative audience. Later, when I had children of my own, I spent countless more hours reading aloud to them. One thing led to another and I was soon writing children’s stories for my children and sending them off to publishers. In 1999, seven years after my first tentative submission to a publisher, I had my first book, The Glow Worm Cave, published by Aboriginal Studies Press.

Anne has worked as a pharmacy assistant; speech and drama tutor; kitchen hand; library assistant; English, Social Science, Mathematics teacher; university tutor in educational philosophy; (all in Tasmania); English as a Second Language teacher (NT and China); professional actor (Queensland and Tasmania); waitress and youth hostel receptionist (Ireland); grape picker (France); community development volunteer (England and Belgium); shop manager (NT, for a week ); public administration officer;  journalist; education officer; staff trainer (all in Tasmania) and academic researcher (Tasmania and WA).

She says her greatest achievement has been winning a university medal in 2009 for her PhD in Writing. At the moment she is working on a musical theatre adaptation of her junior novel, Warts ‘n’ All.


Publishing books is a substantial financial investment. When you ask a publisher to publish your work, you are asking other people to put up thousands of dollars of their money on what is ultimately a gamble in risky financial environment – so try to imagine yourself behind the publisher’s desk before complaining about them not accepting your brilliant manuscripts.

Because publishers have to be ultra-cautious about the manuscripts they accept in order to avoid bankruptcy, it is much harder for an unknown writer to gain a publishing contract than it is for a bestselling author. A new writer, therefore, should aim to produce a manuscript that will, figuratively speaking, leap out of the slush pile and turn summersaults under publishers’ noses, crying,  ‘publish me! I’m going to be the goose that lays golden egg for you! ’

I advise my writing students not to invest too much hope in any one manuscript. Keep writing new manuscripts and polishing old ones until you win that elusive contract. Call it a chook raffle if you like, but having many different manuscripts out there definitely increases your chances of publication.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

Boats and the sea are a frequent source of inspiration to me. I can’t explain why – perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my surname, Morgan, means seafarer, and Welsh-Irish ancestors reputedly sailed a vessel named the Morgan Rattler.

You can find out more about Anne and her books at  www.annemorgan.com.au.


Anne’s poignant new picture book, The Sky Dreamer is based on personal heartbreak and today Anne is sharing this very special journey.

What inspired you to write this book?

The Sky Dreamer is the book I wish I never had to write, for the story was born out of my own journey of grief after my beautiful 18 year old daughter, Miranda, died in a car accident four years ago. During the harrowing times that followed her loss, I sought comfort in poetry, and discovered ‘Beannacht’ (Blessing) by Irish poet, John O’Donohue. O’Donoghue’s verse, and another poem by Seamus Heaney about a group of meditating monks who see a ship appearing in the air above them (Lightenings: VIII), provided the creative sparks for The Sky Dreamer.

As I was writing The Sky Dreamer, I remembered, too, the dreadful impact the death of our family puppy had on me at the age of seven, and I decided that this would be a story for all children who have suffered grief, regardless of whether they have lost a pet, a friend, a sibling, parent, grandparent, or an acquaintance.

What’s it about?

After Liam’s sister Cassie dies, he spends hours watching the wintry sky, hoping that Cassie is out there somewhere. Just before his birthday, Cassie sails a The Sky Dreamer through the night sky and invites him to climb on board and take the wheel.  Liam sails through thunderstorms and a meteorite shower, and begs Cassie to help him sail the boat – but she is too busy sewing. Liam eventually learns that Cassie will not come to his aid and he must conquer his fears and sail solo. Once he has learned to hold the wheel firmly, his world begins to brighten. When he finds himself at home in his bed again, he feels Cassie’s birthday present around him, and sees the world through different eyes.

What age groups is it for?


Why will kids like it?

The Sky Dreamer is a heartbreakingly beautiful and ultimately comforting fantasy about a grieving child who learns how to take control of his life. The book is brilliantly illustrated by the gifted young Swiss illustrator, Céline Eimann.

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

Liam’s grief is so much like mine. I was paralysed with grief after the death of my daughter, Miranda. About a year after she died, I realised I had to choose whether or not I was going to become permanently disabled by misery. In the end I decided that the only way I could cope with her loss was to make a conscious effort to see, hear and experience my daughter in every beautiful moment this life has to offer me.

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

Check my website www.annemorgan.com.au for teacher’s notes from March 2011.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

There are mythical, philosophical and poetic elements to The Sky Dreamer, for this is a story about a child grappling with the ultimate mysteries of life, death, time and space, and how to live one’s life after the loss of a loved one.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Dealing with my own grief, while trying to provide comfort to children who are also grieving.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Dealing with my own grief, while trying to provide comfort to children who are also grieving.

Thanks Anne for so bravely sharing your experiences with us.


The Sky Dreamer is a touching picture book for readers aged 8 to 12 and I can see this story being a wonderful tool in helping them cope with grief in their life, particularly the sudden loss of a loved one.

When Liam’s sister, Cassie dies, he has to find some way to cope with his grief, and sailing the Sky Dreamer helps him find comfort and take back control of his life.

Colour is an important feature of this book with Liam’s grief shown in the greyness of earlier illustrations that contrast with the bright colours of the rainbow and the world of The Sky Dreamer.

It tackles a difficult subject with sensitivity and imagination. Jack has to weather all sorts of elements while sailing The Sky Dreamer, in much the same way as kids have to navigate the difficulties of life and death. There’s also an astronomical element to the book that will appeal to young readers.

It encourages kids to explore their feelings and find ways to cope.

The Sky Dreamer is published by IP Kidz and the illustrations that effectively complement the text are the work of Céline Eimann.

Readers can meet  Céline tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers and on Wednesday we’ll be reviewing Lyli Meest the Stone-Muncher which she wrote and illustrated. Hope you can join us then.




From book to screen – fandom, fanaticism and Game of Thrones

Season one of George R. R. Martin‘s excellent Game of Thrones has just finished and, like most of the fans of the books, I am thrilled with how it was interpreted.

In fact, like many fans of the books, I have been insufferably excited by the whole thing. I keep getting into long hyperbolic conversations with other people who have read the series to debate every twist and turn and boring the bottom off my poor partner, who has never read the series. My enjoyment of the HBO’s adaptation inspired me to reread the entire series of the books (and pre-order my copy of Dance With Dragons, which is out next week) and I can’t wait to see their take on book/season two.  Like Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings the screen version of Game of Thrones has been lauded for its casting and vision, managing not to alienate the loyal readers of the series in its portrayal of Martin’s epic tale.

But unlike the Lord of the Rings adaptation, it’s making some big tweaks to the story. Coming from a recent rereading I can clearly see changes to both some of the characters and the narrative, that I assume HBO have done deliberately to take us to places that the books didn’t. (I won’t spoiler them here, but feel free to ask me about these in the comments or advance your own theories on the changes of direction.)

Any avid reader of the series can see that HBO are not doing a completely faithful adaptation, but very few texts that are transitioned to screen make it there unchanged. Most books need to be altered extensively and most authors – and readers – have to accept that. True Blood author Charlaine Harris was philosophical about the changes that would need to be made when her Southern Vampire series was adapted for the small screen. “I had to hand all control over to Alan Ball. But having said that, I was pretty careful about who I handed it over to. So I really can’t complain about what he’s done and in fact I’m very happy.”

That adaptation – True Blood – made some sweeping changes, with numerous minor characters being fleshed out into starring roles and a complete departure from the books’ versions of events.  This can confuse the hordes of new readers who decide to buy the books, based on what they have seen on TV, Charlaine finds. “It’s delightful from a sales point of view, but they do tend to bring a different expectation. They do have the tendency to see the characters as the actors on television, which was not the original intent. Every now and then there’s the tendency to get the action in the books confused with the series, which is quite different.”

When done well the changes that seasoned script-writers and directors make to books make for excellent viewing. Not all authors react with such equanimity when confronted with change to their works, even when those changes are quite minor. Anne Rice was so loudly dissatisfied with some of the casting for the adaption of her novel, Interview with a Vampire that she took out an advertisement to complain, stating that Cruise “is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler.”

After viewing the film, however, she became a convert to the changes that had been made, praising both inserted scenes and Tom’s performance with an enthusiasm that puts even the most avid Game of Thrones fans to shame. “I’m no good at modesty. I like to believe Tom’s Lestat will be remembered the way Olivier’s Hamlet is remembered. Others may play the role some day but no one will ever forget Tom’s version of it.”

Things That Make You Go Phwoar

This blog comes in three parts and features things that make you go phwoar.

Part One

Travelling for work to somewhere where you’re both insanely busy and don’t happen to speak the language mean that you invariably exist in a media-blockout bubble. So when things happen that would normally make you go phwoar, they kind make you go phwoar doubly so.

I’m a few days late to the phwoar party, but I can’t actually comprehend the news that’s finally filtered through to me that Amazon will be swallowing The Book Depository. Nor am I sure what to make of it.

On one level, it’s heartening to see that a company can successfully develop itself to the extent that it’s sought after and purchased by larger companies. On another, it’s frightening to see companies swallowed up by multinationals that dominate the market and stifle competition.

Methinks that many customers went to The Book Depository because it offered an alternative to Amazon. I wonder what they’ll do now. I wonder what this means for writers and publishers? And I wonder what this means for The Book Depository itself? Will it continue to run as is? Will it continue to be innovative and worldwide shipping free?

Honestly (and this isn’t just because I blog for this good online bookstore), now more than ever I’m pleased that I buy my books from Boomerang Books. And I will continue to do so. They’re Australian-owned, they’re environmentally friendly (in fact, they’re Australia’s first carbon-neutral bookstore), they offer great service, and they’re competitively priced.

I’m not anti-Amazon, but I do think we need some alternative options, particularly ones that align with our principles ethically. Who knows? One day Amazon might be looking to buy Boomerang Books.

Part Two

Irony is an English-language section in a German bookstore when you’ve already got too many books and too little time in which to read them.

Not only did a German bookstore I stumbled across in Augsburg (renamed ‘Ausburg’ by the Australian football fans) and get sucked into via its books gravitational pull have English books, they had them front and centre in their most prominent, front-of-shop bay. Sigh. It took all my willpower to walk away.

And yes, I wondered why I didn’t stumble across such a nirvana when I was book-less in South America last year.

Part Three

Ok, this isn’t strictly book related, but given that it’s an important life lesson, I think it’s worth a mention: Make sure you’re fully clothed when you go near your open hotel room door. Those doors are well oiled and prone to swinging shut (a more cynical person might say deliberately so), and few things are more embarrassing than a dodgy-pyjama walk of shame down to reception.


Golden Bat is the sixth book in Sandy Fussell’s widely read Samurai Kids series and its lively characters, strong themes, fascinating setting and fast-paced action give the book sparkle from cover to cover.

Golden Bat features Sandy’s popular characters; Kyoko the albino girl, Mikko the one-armed boy, Niya, the one-legged boy who narrates the story, Yoshi the boy who doesn’t want to fight, Taji the blind boy and Chen, the young Chinese boy from the streets of Beijing.

Dreaded Oong, the feared pirate captain is holding Mikko hostage and wants to trade him for his own nephew, Yuri who has been kidnapped by a corrupt magistrate.

The Samurai kids have only eight days to complete their mission and their situation isn’t helped when Sensei is seriously injured by a rogue bear and they are forced to seek the help of the Mountain Healer Iseul. Never before has Sensei been so vulnerable or needed the will, determination and courage of the Samurai Kids.

Taji is the central character in Golden Bat and he faces major internal and external dilemmas. The Mountain Healer may be able to restore his sight, but what will that do to Taji’s other talents? He must decide whether to get his sight back and lose his spirit or leave things as they are.

What makes the Samurai Kids’ books unique is that although the character’s lives are far from ‘ordinary’, they face dilemmas and fears that are very real and believable.

Golden Bat is another action-packed Samurai Kids adventure to keep young readers turning the pages; wondering what will happen next and what new dangers await the young Samurais.

It’s an evocative book full of vivid descriptions that place you right into the setting:

“We walk with ears wide open. When you are wary, the night is full of shadows and the forest is filled with whispers. Even our ninja footfalls ring loud in the silence.

The characters are well drawn, each with their own particular talents and flaws – each unique in how they respond to the challenges they are faced with.

Author, Sandy Fussell is meticulous with her research and provides an authentic feudal Japanese setting for Golden Bat.

As always, Rhian Nest James artwork is stunning and beautifully compliments the text.

The Samurai Kids books are lively historical fiction for readers aged 8+. They are published by Walker Books Australia.


A chat with Tristan Bancks, part 1

As an actor, Tristan Bancks is best known for playing Tug O’Neale on the popular tv series Home and Away. But that was way back in the 1990s. These days Tristan is an author and he’s had two books released this month — Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space and My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. So I thought now would be a good time to have a chat with him about his change of career and about his new books…

Welcome, Tristan, to Literary Clutter. Can you tell us how you came to have your first book published?

I was writing lots of freelance articles on the Australian film industry, interviewing actors, directors and so on, while making my own short films. I heard about a publisher looking for authors for a new educational children’s series for Scholastic. I had worked a bunch in kids’ TV in the UK and I can easily tap into my childhood, so I pitched the publisher lots of ideas. They asked me to write four short non-fiction books of around 1500 words each. That was my ‘in’ and I loved it!

You have a background in acting. How did you come to switch from acting to writing?

I have always written alongside acting. Even at school I acted and wrote and made little films with friends. After school, writing was a constant sideline while I pursued acting and filmmaking. Finally, once I wrote my first children’s book, writing became my focus. I like the lifestyle of the writer more than that of the actor. When writing or performing you are always looking for that moment when you forget the world and forget about time and you are totally immersed in the story. So, at bottom, I think the two are quite similar.

Has your acting background been a help to your writing career?

I’m sure it helps me when writing dialogue and trying to understand a character. I also think it’s handy when editing because actors are always trying to interpret a story so you hone that ability to ‘read’ a story. I think writing short screenplays and material for TV has helped a great deal in editing my own work as a writer. In film anything that doesn’t have to be there must be cut. I take that approach when writing books, too. It keeps things lean.

Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space is about an Aussie kid attending Space School and learning to be an astronaut. Is this book the result of a personal dream to go into space?

Yes! But, while writing, I started to wonder if I would really have the guts to do it — to actually leave our atmosphere, to head out into the great unknown. So the book began to be about breaking through fear. It came to be about whether you are prepared to overcome enormous obstacles in order to achieve your dreams. I can relate deeply to this. Creative careers are all about walking steadily forward into the dark, having the courage to keep moving forward. I have spent much of my adulthood trying to live the dreams I had when I was a kid.

How did you go about researching astronaut training?

This book involved TONS of research, including:

Reading about all the civilian space travellers who have been to the International Space Station. I read their blogs and watched videos of their journeys and their training. I met Alexis, a French fighter pilot, who provided lots of insight into what it’s like being a young boy with serious dreams of flying aircraft. He gave me insight into what first sparked his interest right through to the grueling selection and training process and the dangers of flight. I went to a friend’s place in the hills and used his high-powered telescope. I went to Sydney Observatory. I flew in many planes and took notes. I read books on space travel and I thought a lot about my own feelings, fears and desires. I collected hundreds of space travel images and pics of space stations past, present and future. I gathered images of the Mojave Desert where the book is partially set. I researched cool HeadQuarters like the Googleplex and Pixar HQ when I was creating the world of my spaceport. I listened to music by Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks, French band Phoenix and UK band Keane as I wrote. The energy of their music dictated the high-energy pace of the story. I also listened to Tibetan chants, which somehow tapped the mythical aspects of the story.

George’s bit at the end

Wow, that’s a lot of research! I’m exhausted just reading about it. But research is such an important factor in writing a novel — especially one that is set at least partly in reality. It can make the difference between an average read and an engrossing one.

My thanks to Tristan for sharing his insights on Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space, which hits the bookstore shelves today. Interestingly tomorrow will see the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, in what will be the final launch for the space shuttle program.

Tune in next time for part two, as Tristan talks about nits, stuff he made up and working with fellow author/actor Tempany Deckert. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about him and his writing, check out his website.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.



Today, Julie Nickerson is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her new Aussie Nibble about the delightful Pippa from Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail.

Pippa’s new adventure, Pippa the Perfect Flower Girl is about Pippa’s very important job as flower girl at Aunty Sophie’s wedding and of course Pippa wants everything to be perfect – but does it turn out that way?

Meet Pippa’s Creator

Julie Nickerson always wanted to write a children’s book, but she didn’t know where to start.

Once I had kids, children’s books filled our home and the desire to write became stronger. Eventually I realized that starting to write is easy – you just need a pen and a piece of paper. I then attended many writing classes and seminars and learnt all I could about the publishing industry. Getting a book published may not be easy, but writing is – you just need to pick up that pen. If you’re a real writer, you won’t be able to put it down.

Julie can you tell us the best and the hardest parts about being a writer?

This is the first job I’ve had where I get to be creative all day, and that’s a lot of fun.

Writing is a very solitary task and sometimes it gets lonely spending all day in your own head. But once your characters come to life, it’s not so lonely.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on another Pippa story as well as a junior novel set in Japan.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Read! Especially the types of books you’d like to write. Reading is a great way to learn how other authors construct their stories. Plus, reading is fun.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

My stories always have some level of humour in them. Laughing is good for you, and if I’m writing a story that makes me laugh, then hopefully it will make other people laugh as well.

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

I talk to myself when I write. No, I’m not crazy, but I like to hear how the words sound together; seeing them on the page isn’t enough. This is why I’d never go to a coffee shop to write like some writers do.

I’m so pleased you said that, Julie. Not many writers admit to talking to themselves, but I’m sure most of us do.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had already written one Pippa book (Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail) and enjoyed working with her character so much that I wanted to write another story about her. I was delighted when my publisher said they’d like to see more of Pippa as well!

Why will kids like it?

Pippa wants everything to be perfect, but as is often the case in real life, things sometimes don’t go according to plan. But Pippa is a resourceful young girl and finds interesting ways to solve her problems. Janine Dawson’s wonderful illustrations add to the humour of the story.

Can you tell me about Pippa and what you like about her?

I like that Pippa is resourceful and looks for solutions for her problems. I dislike that she lives in a house with a cook and I don’t. In my house, the cook is usually me and I don’t find my own cooking very interesting. Either do my children.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

I think Janine’s illustrations make this book very appealing to young readers. She has added so many little details that add to the story but don’t appear in the words. For example, if you look closely at the picture of the wedding, you’ll notice a very special wedding guest. Hint: I want its tail.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Because Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail was already published, I had a clearer image in my head of the characters and the surroundings so I was able to really imagine how the book might look. Imagining Janine’s illustrations made me smile as I wrote it. Also, I’ve never been a flowergirl so I had to imagine what it would be like. I wanted to skip around the room, pretending to throw flower petals. But I’m not going to tell you if I actually did or not …

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The first idea I had for this story was Pippa playing a game of hide-and-seek, with Pippa going missing when she finds a perfect hiding place. But it wasn’t very interesting and I needed to add another layer to the story. It took me a long time, but I eventually came up with the idea of there being a wedding, with Pippa being the flowergirl. Having the flowergirl going missing just before the wedding raised the stakes and gave me a lot of room to play with different ideas. It was lots of fun to write after that.

A Review of Pippa the Perfect Flower Girl

In Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl, Pippa is once again, ‘perfectly endearing’.

It’s Aunty Sophie’s wedding and Pippa has been asked to be the flower girl and of course she plans to do it perfectly. But typically for Pippa, nothing goes according to plan. While playing a game of hide and seek, she falls asleep and almost misses the wedding altogether.

She manages to get her dress and hair under control but in her rush to get ready, she has forgotten her basket of red rose petals – the ones she practiced scattering all morning.

Pippa loves Aunt Sophie. How could she possibly be Aunt Sophie’s perfect flowergirl without a basket of petals?

Pippa is devastated, but with her customary resourcefulness, she bounces back and finds the ‘perfect solution’ to her problem.

Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl is a simple story, but it has a strong plot arc and presents experiences and feelings that young readers will easily connect with. There’s rising tension as Pippa races against time to solve her predicament.

I love the optimism of this story. And I admired Pippa’s resilience and the way she doesn’t stop till she finds a solution. She doesn’t dwell on her own predicament but her focus is on making everything perfect for the Auntie she loves.

Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl is a tightly written story and Pippa’s character is strongly drawn so that readers empathise with her and care about what happens to her.

Janine Dawson’s lively illustrations complement the text and bring out the feisty, fun side to Pippa’s character.

Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl is another great Aussie Nibble from Puffin Books, aged for readers 6+. I look forward to seeing what Pippa gets up to next.

Pearson, REDgroup, Amazon and the Depository: The Market Concentrates

Big news the past couple of days! So very big that I’m still having trouble digesting it all. But here it is – Pearson, the parent company of Penguin Australia – have bought the online arm of the bankrupt REDgroup (that is, Angus & Robertson and Borders). That was a couple of days ago. And then in unrelated related news, Amazon bought the Book Depository – the only real international competitor they have for selling books.

This is big news for everyone in the Australian book industry (and possibly everywhere else). But particularly the Australian industry. The Book Depository represents only a small part of international book sales – and still only a small proportion of the UK book market, where the company is based. But in Australia? A massive chunk. Forget Amazon. The reason local booksellers are threatened by online bookselling is largely to do with the Book Depository and their loss-leading free-shipping tactics.

So what the hell is going on? Was there monopolistic Kool-Aid in the water supply over the past week? Or am I cynically bundling two vaguely related stories into one neatly packaged blog post? You be the judge.

Let’s start with Amazon and The Book Depository. The Book Depository was founded by ex-Amazon people, and I’ve always secretly thought they didn’t see the business model as particularly sustainable, and were waiting to be snapped up by Amazon at a later date and a decent profit, once they’d had off with as much investment money as they could garner (which, I should point out, they’ll pay off in spades with the sale of the company to Amazon). There’s no evidence I can find that they were profitable yet – though they may well have been eventually (or might have been already – I’m not one of their investors). According to some reports it appears that they were somewhat dependent on a massive discount from the Royal Mail – which they may not continue to get with Amazon in charge. At any rate, there is already speculation about investigation from various trade commissions into this new potential monopoly.

Either way it’s quite possible that the Book Depository will cease to be as good as it used to be at doing what it did best. And what the Book Depository was very good at doing was stealing market share from Amazon. That is without doubt a blow to competition. It’s certainly true that since the Depository has been around, books have been available more cheaply to readers – especially in Australia. But there’s also an argument to be had here that this was a bubble that was always going to burst – based as it was on investment rather than profit – and in the meantime it has contributed significantly to the decline of local booksellers (both on and offline).

Now to the Pearson–REDgroup Overmind. This is a real noodlescratcher. There’s a diversity of opinions here. Peter Donoughue over at Pub Date Critical believes that it’s a stupid move by Pearson. The intricacies and subtleties of running an online retailer are too great a burden for a mere publisher, he says. On top of that, it might be that the dual (and sometimes conflicting) responsibilities of being a publisher and a retailer will be too much for one company. But I guess if they run into trouble, they might ask Amazon for advice. It’s very likely that some publishers, as Donoughue says, will be deeply suspicious of Pearson’s intentions, and may refuse to work with them. Just as other book retailers have been unwilling to stock the books that Amazon’s publishing imprints are beginning to put out in print.

Once again, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, it seems to me that a massive corporation like Amazon needs to have competition from someone – and perhaps one day that’ll be from someone like Pearson. On the other hand, however, all this concentration of power into the hands of fewer owners doesn’t seem to me to be a good thing for anyone except the owners. Cultural diversity is a beautiful thing. Being flexible and nimble is also a good thing. Monopolies are traditionally not very good at fairness for their customers in the long run, nor at adapting to change. This has been the whole problem with publishing companies in the past few years – too slow to react, too massive and too conservative to change when a reaction is deemed necessary. You can see the Big Six publishers in the US (and Australia) are struggling under the same conditions now. Does it really make sense for Pearson and Amazon to be getting bigger and even more burdened by conflicting responsibilities in this climate? As always, I do not have the answer. But I’ll admit that this news makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Special thanks to Twittervirate @ryanpaine, @mrconnorobrien and @felicetherese for the long email conversation this evening. Most illuminating.

I Have A Book Type

I’ll keep this blog post short and sweet for a few reasons:

  1. it’s late in Germany
  2. I’m completely mentally and physically shattered
  3. I don’t know what day it is
  4. I’m in my 6th hotel in 11 days
  5. I’m still grappling with what one clever tweeter dubbed the ‘Hand of OMG’ (if you’re not following the Westfield Matildas’ 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign, here’s the abbreviated version: the referee missed a massive and obvious hand ball in the Matildas’ game against the already controversial Equatorial Guinea)
  6. I still (still!) haven’t managed to get any book reading done here in Germany.

This reading drought/abstinence/whatever you call it has made me realise one thing, though: I have a book type. Just like people go for the same type of guy (the bad guy, the unavailable guy, the nice guy—ok, never the nice guy, but we really should), we go for the same types of books over and over again.

I don’t think this is as detrimental to us as always going for the guy who doesn’t treat you well. But it does mean that you don’t appreciate what the others have to offer or to find one that blows your mind in ways you never knew how.

My book type is creative non-fiction which tackles social and environmental issues, history, social science, or popular science. This means I’m constantly reading pretty serious books about global warming, human trafficking, social enterprise, or quirky social trends.

I love, love, love this genre and won’t be giving it up for nuts. But I do need to branch out a little more (particularly when it comes to getting on long-haul flights, where I need something a little lighter and easier to read in a packed cabin when I feel so claustrophobic I think I’m going to die).

Have you got any suggestions for me?

Poetry in slow motion

If you pause

at the right time

almost anything

can become profound.

Just ask Sarah.

Normally the words “Sarah Palin” and “book” combined in a sentence is all I need to run screaming from the conversation but a recent e-book release managed to not only intrigue but entertain the hell out of me. I Hope Like Heck: The Selected Poems of Sarah Palin, is what’s called “found poetry” – assembled from the emails of the former Alaskan governor which were released in June.

While many readers of her emails sifted for secrets and (yet more) way to discredit Sarah Palin, one man looked through her emails and saw poetry. Michael Solomon created 50 poems from Palin’s missives by taking whole passages of her idiosyncratic text and reframing them into poems by making changes in spacing and pausing.

The hit ratio wasn’t great, it must be said – more than 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin’s emails were released and only 50 poems were found. And, it must be admitted that Soloman was less interested in leaving a poetic legacy than having some fun, as he makes clear in the forward when he writes, “Verse, like America, yearns to be free. Few twenty-first century poets understand this better than Sarah Palin. Not since Walt Whitman first heard America singing has a writer captured the hopes and dreams of her people so effortlessly—and with so many gerunds.”

The terrifying thing is that Palin’s choppy text becomes poetry all too easily. Here’s one offering – “Where There’s Smoke”.

Nope, I refuse to link to her. Have some Micheal Palin instead.

One of Lyda’s aides stopped me in the hall
To say the building was getting a kick
Out of my ‘burnt toast’ episode this morning
That caused the fire alarms to go off
For 20 minutes
And caused an evacuation.
She thought it was funny
I was cooking breakfast in the capitol
And burnt it.
I assured her
I was not in the building this morning,
I was not cooking breakfast here at any time,
And I did not burn any toast.
She looked at me warily,
I doubt she believed me.

The most amusing thing is that the found poetry method taps into our brain’s expectations of free verse and works it’s evil magic on almost any text, changing the most prosaic thoughts into what reads like a poem. If you put in enough pauses it works on almost anything. Try it.  Here’s Jamie Oliver, talking about onion soup.

There’s something so incredibly humble

about onion soup.

I only ever get to make it in the restaurant

or for myself

as the missus thinks she’s allergic to onions.

(She’s not

because I whiz them up into loads of dishes

without her knowing.)

Or, from the opening paragraph of Twilight:

I was wearing my favorite shirt –
eyelet lace.
I was wearing it as a farewell gesture.
My carry-on item
was a parka.

Or Joyce Kilmer’s “Tree”.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

No, wait, that’s meant to be a real one. But the point stands. Look hard enough and you can find poetry and profound thought anywhere.

Even in a politician’s emails.


There’s something so incredibly humble

about onion soup.

I only ever get to make it in the restaurant

or for myself

as the missus thinks she’s allergic to onions.

(She’s not

because I whiz them up into loads of dishes without her knowing.)

Sean McMullen changes yesterday

Australian speculative fiction author Sean McMullen was recently nominated for a Hugo award, the granddaddy of honours in the international science fiction scene — a huge achievement for which Sean deserves much congratulations. But that’s not what this blog post is about. Today, Literary Clutter is focusing on Sean’s new book Changing Yesterday. It’s a sequel to his YA, SF, time-travel, historical, adventure novel, Before the Storm. And so I’ve asked Sean to tell us a little about this new novel…

Changing Yesterday
by Sean McMullen

The setting for Changing Yesterday is 1901, and this is not a time that’s been explored much in Australian fiction. I like it because we see a combination of really old-fashioned attitudes and social values with the really early versions of what we take for granted today — like radio, cars, motorbikes, and safe international transport.

There is some back story to Changing Yesterday. Australia’s first parliament gets bombed — the roof falls in, killing most of Australia’s political leaders and some British royals. Evidence is found that links Germany to the attack, and this sets off a world war that lasts over a hundred years. When experiments are done to send nuclear weapons back through time, two idealistic cadets, Liore and Fox, decide that enough is enough. They travel back through time to stop the bombing of parliament and prevent the war. They are aided by four Melbourne teenagers from 1901, Daniel, Emily, Barry and Muriel. In the previous book, Before the Storm, they prevent the bombing and discover that Germany had nothing to do with it. A British secret society, the Lionhearts, bombed parliament to start the war and unify the British Empire.

By the beginning of Changing Yesterday, the Lionhearts are still trying to start their war, but the alliance of teenagers is falling apart. Muriel and Daniel had been dating, but she dumps him and runs off to Paris with Fox to become an artist. Daniel falls apart pretty spectacularly, so his parents send him to an English boarding school to get a bit of discipline beaten into him. While all this is going on, Barry steals Liore’s deadly plasma rifle. This is a weapon from the future that can sink a ship, so its theft is a big issue. Barry sails for England on Daniel’s ship, and plans to sell the weapon to the king. The very angry Liore goes after Barry on another ship, but the Lionhearts now know about the weapon, and are also after Barry. They think the weapon would be ideal to trigger the war between Britain and Germany, and they are right.

Most of the story happens on steam ships travelling from Melbourne to London, and this was a problem for the plotting. Imagine the flight from Melbourne to London on a 747. Now change the 747 into a floating hotel, make the trip fifty times longer, and remove the air conditioning. That’s right, the voyage was very long, seriously boring, and pretty uncomfortable in the tropics. Once I started doing some research I found that it was not quite so bad, though. The ships arranged a lot of entertainment like concerts, banquets, dances and deck games, and a lot of romance went on as well.

In Changing Yesterday I had Barry Porter, a sort of teenage criminal-in-training, traveling first class on stolen money, and because he is rather short on manners and is right into petty theft, there is a lot of scope for comedy. Daniel is almost as good value, because he is trying to pine for his lost girlfriend on a ship where there are way more girls than boys. Most of them are bored out of their brains, and the handsome and talented Daniel looks like he could be a lot of fun if he could be persuaded to forget Muriel.

When Daniel’s ship reaches Colombo, Liore and her new friend Madeline come aboard, and the story becomes a bit like the Terminator on the Titanic. Several Lionheart agents also come aboard, but Liore has more fighting skills than they ever knew, and one by one they go over the side. Meantime Barry jumped ship with the weapon back at Colombo, and is ahead of them on a tramp steamer. When the Lionhearts catch up and relieve him of Liore’s weapon, it seems that all is lost, but Liore has a cunning plan. It might sink the ship, but it would definitely end the Lionheart threat forever.

Although Changing Yesterday is an adventure that stretches halfway around the world, it is also a novel about growing up. Barry does not want to grow up, because he’s too good at being a ratty street kid. Liore was never really a child, and she is already perfect as a warrior. Madeline had to leave school to run her mother’s shop, so she has grown up already. Daniel is fifteen, but has always been held down by his parents and older sister. Putting him on a ship, alone, is his family’s biggest mistake, and over six weeks he becomes brave, resourceful and quite independent. This sort of journey is one that we all make at one time or another, and although Changing Yesterday is set in 1901, the characters still make the same mistakes as we do.

George’s bit at the end

Given the fact that I LOVED Before the Storm, I am very much looking forward to reading Changing Yesterday. In fact, it’s already sitting in my must-read-soon pile.

Changing Yesterday was released by Ford Street Publishing on 1 July. For more info about Sean and his writing, check out his website.

And tune in next time for a visit from author Tristan Bancks.

Catch ya later,  George

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