Traveling with style

Breaking out the travel guide  is a great way to pass the time plotting and planning your dream vacation until you’re actually there. But many guidebooks either assume that readers are either wealthy beyond belief or willing to walk ten miles to save 20 cents on dinner; it’s all 5 star hotels at one end and sleeping on mud floors at the other. Where are the guides for those of us who like the middle road of boutique hotels and local style secrets and a little luxury at a reasonable price?

That’s where the Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, New York, London and Rome comes in – if you are visiting one of those cities, obviously enough. This compact guide contains the combined wisdom of a whole group of holiday goddesses who have been there, done that and  found the 75% off sale while they were there. It started life as the diary of editor Jessica Adams who passed it around to pick up advice from those who make traveling with style their business; Vogue contributors, Lonely Planet writers, novelists and more.

After a year of traveling through handbags in Melbourne, London and Paris, the Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, New York, London and Rome was filled with hard-won tips and secrets; where to stay chicly but cheaply in some of the world’s most expensive cities, how to find the best cocktails, the vintage markets, the best local brands. As being full of information it’s a visual treat; packaged in red linen and filled with gorgeous and iconic illustrations. That cute cover has a practical side too; the guide can take a beating in your bag and still look good when you pull it out later.

I caught up with Jessica to ask her a few questions about the book, the cities in it and, of course, handbags.

Q. What was the most surprising tip you received? And the most useful?

A. The most surprising tip we received about travel, was to volunteer at an animal charity (like the RSPCA) because the best house-sitting opportunities involve animal care, and owners feel reassured if their pets are in the hands of women who can prove they’re experienced with cats and dogs. The most useful tip we received about Paris, London, New York and Rome was this – always go in winter – cheap seats, often two-three seats to yourself on the plane and far smaller queues at major attractions.)

Q. The Holiday Goddess reviews Paris, London, New York and Rome – if there were to be Southern Hemisphere edition, what cities do you think would be in the running?

A. I’d personally like to cover every Australian capital city, and also some female traveller favourites, like Byron Bay and the Blue Mountains. I’m sure the other editors would have some fascinating ideas, though, as many of them live from Perth through to Melbourne.

Q. I’m going to have to ask – what sort of handbag do you yearn to put your copy of the guide in, and what other items are indispensable to holiday goddesses?

A. My favourite handbag of all time is a vintage Hermes Kelly. If I find that at a charity shop in London any time soon, I’ll let you know! Holiday Goddess editors find their notepads (paper not computer) indispensable, and illustrator Anna Johnson and I have a lot of them. Scribbling and sketching is the new black!

Q. The book itself is packaged in red linen and contains some amazing illustrations – in this age of the iPad, what made you decide on old world chic and a book?

A. After three years of being exclusively electronic and online, Holiday Goddess editors longed for paper and linen! But we are exploring apps for the iPad too. Holiday Goddess is three years old on November 28th and as so many of the people involved were authors or book editors, we had always secretly hoped it would turn into a book.

The book also has an online aspect at where you can find things to smooth your own travels, from podcasts to printable guides and (my favourite) customisable luggage tags. Jessica Adams is the managing editor of the site which recently celebrated its third birthday. It’s an evolving site that depends on its readers for all its secrets and tips. If you’d like to take a peak through their top picks, or even send in a few suggestions of your own, you can catch the goddesses online at or on Twitter.



Aleesah Darlison is the author of the new Unicorn Riders series from Walker Books for readers aged 8+.

Books 1-4 have just been released and Aleesah is currently working on books 5 & 6 in the series. Today she visits Kids’ Book Capers to talk to us about her magical unicorn journey.

What inspired you to write this series?

I was always fascinated by the beauty, majesty and magic of unicorns as a child. I don’t think I’m the only one who has wished they were real! I used to collect unicorn figurines, stickers, paintings, pens – anything to do with unicorns, I kept. Often when I’m writing for children, I look back to my own childhood for inspiration. It’s the old adage: Write about what you know. Write about what you love. I’ve always loved unicorns so it seemed natural for me to write stories about them.

What’s it about?

Unicorn Riders is set within the make-believe kingdom of Avamay where anything can happen. Avamay is a magical yet dangerous place where the Riders and their unicorns serve as peacekeepers, rescuers and protectors. With the help of their magical unicorns, Riders face challenges and enemies that threaten to undermine the Queen and destroy peace within the realm. There are four Unicorn Riders: Willow (Head Rider), Quinn, Krystal and Ellabeth and four unicorns: Obecky, Ula, Estrella and Fayza. Each unicorn has their own unique magical ability. You can find out more about the characters in the Unicorn Riders series here:

What age groups is it for?

The series is for girls aged 8 years and over.

Why will kids like it?

It’s full of action, adventure, laughs and strong characters. Oh, and unicorns too!

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

There are four main characters: Willow, Quinn, Krystal and Ellabeth and I love them all. There are tiny pieces of me, and tiny pieces of people in my life, in each of the characters. Willow is the capable and fair leader, everyone loves and respects her, but sometimes she faces challenges she fears she can’t overcome. Quinn is small for her age and has had a tough upbringing, but she’s clever and gentle and generous despite it all. Ellabeth is feisty and courageous, but sometimes she rushes in or says things she shouldn’t. Krystal is beautiful and intelligent, but can occasionally be a self-absorbed. The girls are all courageous but are still fallible. They’re just like real people.

Is there something that sets this series apart from others?

The Unicorn Riders books aren’t your typical cute and fluffy or benign unicorn and fairies stories – they’re about strong, independent girls protecting their kingdom and their people from evil threats. The characters are strong role models and I think they have a lot to offer modern readers.

What did you enjoy most about writing this series?

The whole process has been a blast. In terms of writing the stories, the elements that most excite me are the planning of the action sequences, throwing challenges in the way for my characters to overcome, cooking up cliffhangers, creating new fantasy creatures (which are then brought to life by Jill Brailsford’s illustrations) and developing the relationships between the Unicorn Riders themselves.

What was the hardest thing about writing these books?

Meeting all the deadlines! To launch four books at once often Mary Verney, the editor for the series, and I were working on several books at once, writing or checking text and illustrations, of which there are quite a few in each book. There’s a lot to keep track of – and make sure it’s all done in time. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Friday, The Unicorn Riders series is reviewed here at Kids’ Book Capers.


Sins of the Father – the untold Schapelle Corby story

Sins of the Father: The untold story behind Schapelle Corby’s ill-fated drug run
by Eamonn Duff
published on Wednesday, 9 November at 10.00am

Buy it here…

Embargoed until today, Allen & Unwin today releases one of the most explosive titles of the year – up until now the book has been referred to as ‘Project A’.

This is the story behind Australia’s most famous drug case.

A reckless father, his dark past, an Adelaide drug trafficker and the Gold Coast beauty school dropout who kept her mouth shut. This is the explosive untold story of Schapelle Corby and how she took the rap for her father’s drug syndicate.

The result of a three year investigation, Sins of the Father returns to the beginning of Australia’s most famous drug case, to a time when nobody had ever heard the name Schapelle Corby. Finally, the missing pieces of the jigsaw fall into place as we are led, step by step, through the important weeks, days and hours leading up to her dramatic arrest.

Shedding new light on her long-held claims of innocence, this is the book Schapelle’s army of supporters do not want you to read.

Eamonn Duff has been a journalist for more than twenty years. As a senior investigative journalist at Fairfax for over a decade, he has broken many major stories in areas as diverse as sport, crime, politics and national security.

Buy it here…

More poetic musings

Today, there are two books I want to write about — The Norton Anthology of Poetry and The World’s Contracted Thus.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry. If you look it up on the Boomerang Books database, you’ll see that it’s up to its fifth edition, published in 2005. I own a copy of the third edition, published in 1983. It’s a second-hand copy I purchased for Lit at Uni, back in the late 1980s.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry. It’s a BIG book! The third edition runs to 1452 pages, and is chock full of … yep, you guessed it… poetry. 🙂 Starting with anonymous verses from the 13th Century, it finishes with the mid-20th Century poetry of Leslie Marmon Silko.

But before Norton’s, I owned The World’s Contracted Thus — a shorter anthology of poetry with a mere 386 pages. The second edition was published in 1983 and covers roughly the same time-period as Norton’s, but in less depth. My parents bought it for me in 1984 for high school Literature.

I have never read either of these books from cover to cover, and I doubt I ever will. Back in high school, I wouldn’t be caught dead even glancing at any poems other than those that were required reading. When at Uni, I would occasionally seek out a few more by any poet we were studying in depth. Since Uni, these two anthologies have become the sort of book that I’ll occasionally take down from the shelf to do one of three things with…

1. Randomly select a page and read whatever poem happens to be there. This can be rather interesting.

2. Select a poem I know I like, but have not read in ages, and re-read it. And there are LOTS of really good poems within these books. Let me quote a few of my favourites.

“To his Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

But at my back I always hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Looks upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

“Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin translates as “Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country.”

“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

There are so may more — from “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning (1812-1889), to “An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow” by Les Murry (b.1938). I could go on and on. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll move on to point three…

3. Research. Yes, I have occasionally needed to quote a poem in something that I am writing. The first time I did this was with my very first book, a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention. The final story in that book, “The Writing’s On The Wall”, is about a person engaging in some creative graffiti, which includes poetry. And so I got to include my all time favourite lines of verse, from William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”…

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

More recently, I got to quote these exact same lines in a novelette called The Bookworm Mystery, in which a couple of kids follow clues left in library books as they search for treasure.

I’m sure I’ll continue to quote poetry in the future. Keep reading Literary Clutter and you’ll probably see me doing it here again, some time.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… where I rarely quote poetry.

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review – Doctor Who: Mara Tales





Author Interview – Emma Quay

Hello, Emma, and welcome to Kids’ Book Capers! Tell us a little about you.

I grew up in the English countryside with my sister Lucy, my music teacher mum, psychologist dad and two cats. I have always had an obsession with drawing and telling stories through pictures. At school I would draw for my classmates to entertain them, and by the end of primary school I was charging for my services as an illustrator and calligrapher of covers for projects – not my proudest memory, but my fees were low (a mere pencil sharpener or rubber).

I studied Graphic Design at college in the UK, specialising in illustration and printmaking, before embarking on a career as a freelance illustrator, whilst also exhibiting my monoprints and charcoal drawings. My earliest illustration projects were for educational publications, and often in black and white, but I dreamed of picture books, with sumptuous colour, beautiful binding, freedom to splash out…

I met my Australian husband in India, and when I moved to Sydney I was introduced Mark Macleod who was the children’s publisher at Random House at the time. He offered my first trade picture book. It was a very exciting moment!

Since that first picture book, in 1998, I have illustrated fourteen picture books, a handful of early readers and also written several picture book texts for very young children. I still live in Sydney and have two daughters.

What genre do you generally write and illustrate in?

For me, there’s nothing quite like early childhood picture books; I feel lucky to spend much of my time immersed in that world. I have [also] illustrated chapter books, book jackets and CD covers for audio books, but I always long to return to the colour and open space of the picture book format.

I have been so absorbed in my illustrative work, printmaking and painting has been put on the back burner for a few years. I hope to remedy that.

What do you love about writing and illustrating for children?

I know a picture book can whisk (or sometimes gently scoop) people up and carry them along with it. It can make them laugh, cry, feel, relax. I love to reach children in this way. I am often reminded that a picture book has a life beyond its creators: I hear about children who request Good Night, Me every evening as their final book before falling asleep, and mimic the little orang-utan’s actions; children who think of Bear and Chook as their own friends. This is the most rewarding element of my work – knowing my books are a part of people’s lives, and being shared together by parents and children.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

I remember trying to write stories before I had learned to write. I would sit in my bunk bed, drawing rows of sequential pictures. They showed little girls getting into scrapes, and little boys were always the baddies. They weren’t cartoon strips, but I think ‘graphic novel’ would be too grand a term! I had a need to tell my stories, and I guess I still do.

You write books with an inherent understanding of the very young. What inspires you to write and illustrate so creatively?

That’s a hard one, but I think it might be memory (I can remember vividly what it felt like to be every age I have been so far), and (perhaps more importantly) observation – really looking. I have always noticed little details rather than the big picture. As a result, I think my books are probably about small moments in small people’s lives.

Which comes first – the illustrations or the writing of a book?

It’s difficult to know whether an idea arrives in words or pictures, but I’d say both go down on the page together as sketches and jotted words in a sketch book. A text, characters and illustrations grow from there (or don’t, if the idea isn’t up to scratch).

You can see some of these sketch book scribbles on the ILLUSTRATING PICTURE BOOKS page of my website.

Can you tell us about your illustrating process?

My favourite stage is when the book can be anything – the early stages, when I’m scribbling away and not worrying what anything looks like: just getting the ideas down quickly. These then start to get weeded out and tidied into the tiny thumbnail sketches of a storyboard, followed by larger pencil roughs. The editor and author (if it’s not me), will have a say at these stages, before I embark on the final artworks. I often use the outlines from these roughs for the finished art to try to retain the freshness I seek in my printed work.

Which mediums do you prefer to work in?

I enjoy trying new media or combinations of media with each new project, and each new text will suggest a distinct illustrative approach as I read (or write) it. As a result, my work can sometimes have a quite different look from one book to the next. I like to challenge myself, and avoid becoming too slick in the execution of any one medium. I know I’m not making things easy for myself, but once I’ve tried something and it has worked, I’m looking for a new challenge.

Some media I have enjoyed using are acrylic paints, brush and ink, soft pencils, wax crayons, chalk pastels, charcoal, relief printing and Photoshop. I find similarities between the building up of layers in Photoshop and the separate inked plates or screens of some of my favourite printmaking techniques… but Photoshop is nowhere near as messy.

What inspired your new book Rudie Nudie?

The book was inspired by the children of family friends – boys and girls – who would come for sleepovers and insist on doing a nudie dash after their baths. Even the shy ones couldn’t resist.

Two little children – a girl and a boy – enjoy their bath time. But it’s when they hop out of the bath that the fun really begins, as these two rudie nudies soon escape their towels and dance out of the bathroom. While Dad makes the beds and Mum waits with their pyjamas, the little girl and boy skip and roll and prance around the house, and around the garden … until mummy calls them, and it’s time for bed.

I get such a response from people when they hear the title of the book. Everyone seems to instantly recognise the term, Rudie Nudie.

Do you have a particular fondness for one of your book characters?

At the moment, I am particularly fond of the (unnamed) older sister in Shrieking Violet. Although it is her voice we hear throughout the book (she tries to draw our attention (and Mum’s) to her achievements as she leaps and rolls across the left side of each spread), she is invariably upstaged by her noisy little sister, as our eye is invariably drawn to toddler Violet and what she is getting up to on the right hand page.

Perhaps I always go for the underdog (I’m rather fond of Chook, too), but I did make sure I let Violet’s sister get the upper hand towards the end of the book. She suggests the two of them put on a show, but it is obviously a rouse to steal a little more of the limelight for herself. Violet is assigned a non-speaking role, and when the sister flings off her cloak to reveal that indeed she is star of the show (and therefore the book), the cloak falls over Violet’s head. The sister will assure Violet she is a much more convincing tree with a green cloak draped over her head… and perhaps Violet will believe her!

I am an older sister: that might have something to do with my choice. As a mum, too, I feel great sympathy for the exhausted but patient mother in the book.

Describe one of your favourite ‘fan’ moments.

I visited a remote school in north-west New South Wales a few years ago. The school had one class of ten students of various ages from Kindergarten to Year 6.  I was drawing on a white board to show the children how one can use lines to change the expression on a character’s face to show how they feeling. I was using one of the pigs from my picture book, Reggie and Lu (and the same to you!).

The kids watched in seeming awe as I turned the pig from happy, to miserable, to angry with a few flicks of my pen. I asked for a last request for an expression and a small, seven-year-old girl asked for ‘surprised’. I rolled out the wide open eyes and O-shaped mouth of the usual surprised-looking face, and turned around to see the girl looking utterly dissatisfied with my attempt. She assured me that pigs look nothing like that when they are surprised, and she knew because she and her dad surprised pigs all the time. I invited her up the front and she produced a stunning and graphic depiction of a wild pig caught in the glare of the hog lights and about to be shot!

What’s a typical writing and illustrating day?

I work from a studio in my home, and try to work on one book at a time. When I tell people what I do, they often say it must take a lot of discipline to stay on task and not wander off to the fridge or into the Internet. In my experience, the opposite is true. I get so engrossed in what I’m doing, I have to make myself get up and stretch or eat or answer some phone calls, to make sure I don’t end up with a hunched back and a twitchy eye.

If there is typical working day for me, it would be spent alone, and involve a lot of sitting down at a computer or a drawing desk, sometimes with podcasts playing on my iPod but often in silence. (Gosh, my life sounds thrilling!)

I love working on my own, but I also enjoy emerging from my studio for outings to the city to meet my agent, Selwa Anthony, editors and publishers. There are great contrasts in this job – I spend an age creating something, holed up in my studio like a hermit, and then (because of that something), I might be invited to a glitzy event which is so far from my studio it sends my head into a spin. I welcome the contrast, and enjoy both.

What books did you read as a child?

My favourite books were Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids and Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas. I was also a huge Snoopy fan, and spent hours with my Peanuts books. When I was very young, poor Dad had to read me The Elves and the Shoemaker over and over again. I can see a little bit of that naked scampering in Rudie Nudie.

What else do you like to do, other than write and illustrate books?

I like to do Pilates to iron out the kinks, play the flute, go to the cinema, eat and laugh with friends and family, travel, and visit inspiring art exhibitions.

What advice do you have for those wanting to make a career of writing or illustrating?

I wrote many, many letters when I first started out, enclosing colour copy after colour copy of my college illustrations (thank goodness for jpegs and e-mail now!).

My advice would be to keep going, even if you keep hearing ‘no’. Don’t sit and wait for one reply at a time. Even while you’re waiting for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from one publisher about one project, don’t sit and wonder – start the next project. Keep creating: working, drawing, painting, writing, brainstorming.  Hopefully you’ll be so inspired by the new work and ideas, comments from publishers about the ‘old’ work won’t dent your enthusiasm too much, and you’ll have the strength to keep going. If you don’t keep going, there definitely won’t be a ‘yes’.

Oh, and by the way – I still hear ‘no’.

What five words best sum you up?

Bigger on inside than outside.

What’s next for Emma Quay?

At the moment I am working on the illustrations for another of my own picture book texts, called Not a Cloud in the Sky. It’s about a friendship between a bird and a cloud, and will be published by ABC Books/HarperCollins Australia in 2013.

Learn more abut Emma and her beautiful books at

Real politicians, sex scenes and Dad: Jess Rudd

Jessica Rudd.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Jessica Rudd’s latest book. We asked Jess a question or two on the eve of the publication of Ruby Blues (and if you’d like to win a paperback edition of the book and its predecessor, just leave a comment below explaining why you think she’s good for politics). You can read a review of the book below, and of her first novel, Campaign Ruby, here, too.

1. How successful was your first book?

Trade sales of Campaign Ruby are over 15,000 copies [this answer came from the publisher rather than Jessica, and means VERY – many well reviewed literary fiction works sell somewhere between 2000 and 5000 copies].

2. What’s the next book going to be about?

Who knows! I’m pretty focused on launching this one at the moment but we’ll see what comes out when I return to Beijing, flip open my laptop and get cracking again.

3. Is Bettina based on a real person you’ve met while living in China?

No, Bettina’s made up but I think we’ve all worked with someone as annoyingly enthusiastic as Bettina. She’s the one who takes Secret Santa uber seriously, delights in Microsoft training sessions and volunteers to be the fire warden with a huge smile on her face.

4. How much longer will you be based in China?

Good question—I’m sure my Mum would like the answer to that one too. Albert and I are really happy in Beijing. We have a terrific group of friends, I have the luxury of writing full-time and home is just nine hours away. We want to move back home one day, but we don’t have any concrete plans to at this stage.

5. What will you do when you get back to Australia? Is writing it for you?

At the moment, I love to write. I’ve promised myself that if that love subsides I’ll ditch it for something else. I don’t want to exhaust my creativity, I want to make the most of it but not to the point of producing work I won’t be proud of. Right now I’ve got many more stories to tell so I’m going to keep on telling them.

6. Would you ever go into politics yourself? Why/why not?

I don’t think so. I’ve always been interested in politics the same way you might be interest in AFL if you grew up with a coach for a mum or dad. Helping out on an election campaign is one thing. Putting yourself and your family out there requires a real commitment and a sense of vocation. I see the purpose with which Dad does his job—he knows how he wants to make the country a better place. I don’t have that so I think I’d be better off cheering from the grandstand.

7. What did your parents think of the opening sex scene? Was it hard to write and keep in the book?

Dad hasn’t read it yet. Thank God. Mum read it but I made her swear she wouldn’t read it to Grandma. When my Dad and brothers read it I’ll glue the first few pages together and give them a quick synopsis, something along the lines of, ‘Ruby is very tired at work and this has been detrimental to her personal life,’ and encourage them to move on to Chapter 2. Swiftly.

8. What does your dad think about your premise that for the PM to regain popularity, he has to be more real/genuine?

My Dad hasn’t read the book yet. Maybe ask him when he has, but I think he’ll tell you that what makes my work fun is accident-prone Ruby, her family, her love life and Bettina, the peppy intern.

9. Is Max’s comment that he’s too busy convincing everyone he’s the guy to actually do anything channelling your dad?


If some of those questions (or answers) seem a bit out of context, you might like to read my review of Ruby Blues (first published in The Canberra Times). The book was published on October 31 by Text Publishing, with a recommended retail price of $29.95.


Jessica Rudd is a brave young woman – the daughter of the foreign minister, she writes about Federal politics through fiction, and opens her second book with a sex scene.

China-based Rudd, 27, has set Ruby Blues in the Prime Minister’s office, despite the fact that its eerily prophetic predecessor, Campaign Ruby, contained a plot twist in which an Australian prime minister is ousted by his female treasurer.

Text published Ruby’s first outing not long after Julia Gillard replaced Rudd’s father Kevin in the top job last year. The scenes in question were written before their real life counterparts took place, but that didn’t stop the hype. The sequel features a disclaimer: “No crystal balls were gazed at in the making of this novel.”

And the sex scene? Is Rudd in the running for the 2011 Bad Sex in Fiction award (previous winners include Melvyn Bragg and Sebastian Faulks)?

As the book opens, prime ministerial strategic communications adviser Ruby Stanhope has just yawned in her boyfriend and ex-boss Luke Harley’s face. She is wearing an anti-tooth-grinding mouthguard and a greying, oversized old t-shirt and her armpits sport pom-pom like tufts of hair. None of that stops Ruby’s bad-tie wearing lover, and in the end, she’s not complaining.

“I love it when he does that! Just go with it, Ruby. Fuck, for fuck’s sake. Release some of that tension,” Rudd writes.

“Luke headed south. My body rejoiced.”

Not sure I would’ve been so keen on mum and dad (Therese Rein is first reader according to Rudd) reading those lines. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks her brothers for skipping the sexy bits.

There is, of course, much more to this book than sex. Rudd is a true insider: born in Canberra, she’s worked in politics (as well as in PR and as a lawyer) and her family has lived at the Lodge. This is evident everywhere, from her descriptions of political machinations to those of the PM’s residence in the capital.

The hours of a staffer to a first-term PM are, true to life, absurdly long. Ruby’s relationships with Luke, who has chosen to leave politics to improve his work/life balance, and her family are suffering. So are her personal hygiene and wardrobe.

So frustrated is Luke with Ruby’s absences that when he proposes to her on the eve of her 30th birthday, he includes an ultimatum: she must quit her job. It’s a prospect she finds unthinkable, so Luke walks out. Ruby buries herself in the world of plummeting polls, damaging leaks and a mysterious blackmail campaign against her chief of staff.

By her side throughout is intern Bettina Chu, a peppy preppy West Wing fan whose kooky outfits are matched by a taste for stylish stationery and a designer tote that’s handier than Felix the Cat’s magic bag of tricks.

Bettina is starry-eyed about her new gig and regularly records audio notes about it to form a time capsule. She is the founding administrator of a Facebook page called The Nation’s Treasurer is a National Treasure.

The petite intern’s naïve blunders infuriate Ruby. When she opens Luke’s birthday present on the way to New York to discover only a to-do list and their house key, the unwitting Bettina asks, “Is it the key to a secret garden he planted for you in Provence?”

Later, our heroine gives Bettina, whose honours thesis was on social media etiquette, access to the PM’s Twitter account. Using Tweetdeck, software for managing multiple accounts (including her personal profile), the intern accidentally sends this message:

“@MaxMastersPM: Hanging out for my mani/pedi this Sunday. #pamperporn”

Chu is a beautifully drawn character. Her relationship with Ruby is one of the most engaging aspects of the book.

Of course, this is chick lit, so an alluring assortment of potential suitors (a New York film director, a very sexy vet, ex-fling TV journalist and Celebrity Dancefloor contestant Oscar Franklin – the recipient of most of the leaks, and, Ruby momentarily suspects, another adviser, a woman – “rumours about her sexuality did the rounds like a public servant on the Lake Burley Griffin bike track”) wander through the pages to distract Ruby in Luke’s absence.

Will Luke return? Will Bettina survive her internship? Will she and Ruby track down the blackmailer? Will the PM regain the respect of the Australian people and fend off leadership challenges? Is there a message for Julia Gillard in his actions? (Oh, yes, there is, and it all comes down to being real.) Is Rudd’s fictional PM channelling her father or Gillard with this line: “I seem to spend more time trying to convince everyone I’m the guy for the job than I spend actually doing it.”?

Most importantly, what will all the female characters wear to the Midwinter Ball?

Ruby Blues is a delight to read. Beyond the laughs, it contains some serious messages for us (about our priorities) and for our leaders (about being themselves rather than just spouting predictable talking points).

Will someone please buy the PM a copy?

This review was first published in The Canberra Times, on Saturday, October 29.

Doin’ it for the kids – the Boomerang Annual Survey

It’s that time of year again – time for 2011 Boomerang Books survey, their Christmas advent calendar count-down, and the time when I traditionally reveal my lack of knowledge of Australian literature.

This time it’s kids’ books exposing my ignorance. Boomerang have compiled a list of 85 of the most-loved Aussie Kid’s Books and are looking for responses to help them decide on the most popular kid’s books for a literary countdown from 1 December until Christmas Eve.  Their criteria for working out the popularity is pretty simple – the survey just asks did you read these books yourself or read them to children.

Have you happy memories of reading Australian books as a child or reading these books to your own kids and grand-kids and other assorted ankle-biters? If so, get over to our website and take the survey and you’ll be in the running to pick up $500 worth of books.

It’s a bit embarrassing – I have only caught from from last year’s survey which revealed to me that, out of 120 of Australian authors’ best known titles, I had read not even enough to get a pass rate. I’ve spent a bit of this year catching up on them only to find that this year’s exam will be on kids’ books where my knowledge is still severely lacking. I may not have read so many of these famous Australian kids’ books – I’m not sure why Cuddlepot and Snugglepie are so beloved or why a wombat would keep a diary – but if nothing else this lengthy list of books I have missed will give me something to browse next time I call over to one of my friends with small kids, and hopefully a few ideas for gifts to bring them when I go.

I do at least have an excuse. I grew up in Ireland so many of the books are a mystery to me but I was chuffed to realise that I did recognise a few of the titles, from Shaun Tan’s moving Arrival to Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie BowIn fact, one of the books was a childhood favourite of mine – Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series.  Her beautiful descriptions of the wildlife and landscape of the Snowy Mountains was one of the reasons I ended up (nearly fifteen years after picking up the book in Cork, Ireland) booking a ticket to Australia to see the country for myself.

The moral of the story seems to be that reading Australian kids’ books makes them move to Australia  a few decades on. Something to be careful of when you are sending books to less than beloved nieces and nephews over-seas perhaps. You could send them something from New Zealand perhaps? Close enough to see occasionally, far enough that they don’t call in twice a week.

If you want to take part in deciding Australia’s most popular children’s novels, and possibly win $500 in Boomerang Bucks to spend on the site, you can find the survey here. (If you worried your memory might need a jog, you can review the book cover images here first.) The survey closes at 5pm AEST on Wednesday 30 November 2011.  Get ready to reminisce and click here to enter the competition.

Poetic musings – TS Eliot

I don’t read a lot of poetry. It’s not that I don’t like it. In fact, I really enjoy reading a good bit of verse. Mostly it’s because I don’t think to. My recent reading of TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was prompted by my daughter, and my reading of Amy Allen’s This Little Piggy Went to Prada was coincidental. (I blogged about these two in “From practical cats to piggy Prada”) Having read and blogged about these two books has inspired me to look back at the poetry I’ve read in the past. So today, sticking with the ‘old possum’, I’m gonna reminisce about TS Eliot.

TS Eliot is a poet I studied in high school and again at Uni. I’m not sure that I liked his stuff all that much when I first read it, but then again, I did my best to avoid poetry in high school (unless it began with the words “There was a young man from Nantucket”). By the time I re-read Eliot at Uni I was converted. I still have my copy of TS Eliot: Selected poems, the margins crammed full of scribbled notes. I can barely decipher some of those notes, and others simply no longer make sense to me (who knows what was going through my mind back then). Re-reading the poems now, they still manage to take my breath away.

My old copy of TS ELiot: Selected Poems

I love Eliot’s imagery — often unexpected and incongruous. Michelangelo, Prince Hamlet and the etherised patient in “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”; the lilacs in “Portrait of a Lady”, their stalks slowly being twisted; the street-lamp and the madman shaking a dead geranium in “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”. He can make the most ordinary of things seem extraordinary. Fog, for example, in “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”…

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

My favourite of Eliot’s poems is one that I actually liked the first time I read it in high school. Death and desolation, violent souls, the twilight kingdom and what is, perhaps, the best ending of any poem EVER… “The Hollow Men”. And so, I’ll leave you with those oh-so-final words…

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… I promise not to whimper.


Check out my DVD blog,  Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review – Outcasts: the complete series






Mr Sergeant and the Dodgeballs of Doom is a hilarious new book by Matt Porter set at Outback Creek Primary School.

It features Steele Buckle, class leader of Grade 6 B, in charge of a mission – to defeat the Dads in the annual Dodgeball Challenge.

The kids have never won and Steele knows that victory is not going to come easily. The Dads are prepared to fight to the death – even cheat to win.

To make matters worse, all the kids are not on Steele’s side. Radley and Weasel have always hated Steele and it seems as if they don’t care if the dads win or the kids get wiped out in the process.

And Steele doesn’t think the crazy new relief teacher, Mr Sergeant is going to be any help either. Mr Sergeant is ex-military and thinks the class needs to be run like a battalion. He also has weird ideas like “Bricks deserve respect.” Mr Sergeant even gives the bricks names like Barry and tells Radley and Weasel, “You’ll never be half the brick Barry is.”

But Steele soon realises the the Crazy Relief Teacher’s skills might be just what they need to win this war and that smart thinking could win the day.

Mr Sergeant and the Dodgeballs of Doom is full of funny and likeable characters and there’s plenty of action to keep readers entertained.

Author, Matt Porter is a primary school teacher and his grasp of the classroom and the players in it is very evident in the Dodgeballs of Doom. Clearly he knows just how schoolyard politics works and the quirky Mr Sergeant and loyal Steele will endear themselves to readers.

Mr Sergeant and the Dodgeballs of Doom is published by Celapene Press for readers aged 8+.

I can see this being a book that kids who love sport but not necessarily reading, would be happy to take home.


Inheritance only 6 days away

There are only 6 days to go until the Day of the Dragon dawns for the final time in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance, which is released on 9 November 2011. You can order it now here…

Not so very long ago, Eragon – Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider – was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now, the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders. Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances. The Rider and his dragon have come farther than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaesia? And if so, at what cost?

If you’re a fan, you should become a fan of the special Inheritance Facebook Page, which has over 200,000 fans!

Australian distributor Random House have released some handy Inheritance resources, including a quiz, t-shirt transfers and temporary tattoos which you can download right here:

Inheritance Quiz Questions

Inheritance Quiz Answers

Inheritance Tattoo

Inheritance Transfer

How to host an Inheritance Party

Win! Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay


′One, two Rudie Nudie, Rudie Nudie in the bath…′

Emma Quay captures all the joy and energy of childhood in this irresistible rhyming tale, featuring striking colour-blocked illustrations and priceless scenes that will have both tots and parents smiling from ear to ear.

In celebration of the release of this gorgeous hard cover book, and thanks to HarperCollins, KBC has THREE copies, valued at $24.99, to give away!

All you have to do is tell us, in 25 words or less, why your kids love a rudie nudie dash.

Type Rudie Nudie in the subject line and email your answer to Be sure to include your full name and address with your entry. Competition closes 11.59pm Sunday 13 November 2011. This is a competition of skill. Winners will be decided by Kids’ Book Capers, and no correspondence will be entered into.

Good luck!

Don’t miss our interview with Emma Quay and a review of Rudie Nudie next week on KBC!

Unveiling my new blog!

Hey folks — guess what? I’ve got a new blog. That’s write right, I’ll now be writing two regular blogs. Want to know more? (Of course you do!) Read on…

Inspired partly by fellow author and Boomerang blogger Dee White, who writes three different blogs (And all three of them are pretty damn good. Go on, check ‘em out — Kids’ Book Capers; Dee Scribe; and Writing Classes for Kids) and partly by my desire to have all my DVD reviews in the one location, I now have my very own DVD and Blu-ray reviews blog attached to my website.

Being a highly imaginative and creative sort of person I decided to recycle the name of this blog, Literary Clutter, and name my new blog VIEWING CLUTTER. Aren’t I clever?

Anyway, if you enjoy reading Literary Clutter, then why not give the new blog a look. There’s only one introductory post there at the moment, but the reviews will be rolling out pretty soon — starting tomorrow with a review of the British series Outcasts. And for the literary-inclined, upcoming reviews will include the BBC Charles Dickens collection.

Tune in on Friday when Literary Clutter will return to its regular programming.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

PPS. So, have you gone and had a look at Viewing Clutter yet? 🙂



All I Ever Wanted is the debut novel of Vikki Wakefield.

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go – anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison. She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them.

All I Ever Wanted really resonated with the teen in me. As teens we have big dreams of the future beyond our existing lives, leaping into the adult world where we can escape the restrictions of home and anything seems possible.

Vikki Wakefield captures this teen feeling so authentically in her main character, Mim who others see as brave and fearless, but who has her own insecurities and dreams.

Mim lives in a household where drugs are bought and sold, where classmates are intimidated by her family’s reputation. She fights against her upbringing and everything her family seems to represent. Her new friend Kate comes from a completely opposite background but she doesn’t fit in either.

Kate describes it as being, “Like being stuck where everyone else fits, but you don’t.”

Mim makes life work by creating rules for herself that set her apart from the family she is being raised in.


I will not turn out like my mother.

But Mim discovers that her rules might not be practical in the real world and that her family are not as black and white as they seem.

Mim has more power and control over her life than she realises. As Kate says, “You’re brave. You’re honest. You affect people….You’ve changed me already.”

I like the way Mim makes new friends but is able to expand her circle to include her old ones as well.

All I Ever Wanted is a powerful story told with reality and humour. Vikki Wakefield combines page turning tension with beautiful language and setting descriptions so vivid that the reader feels they are sitting in Mim’s bedroom, sharing her life.

The only corner that’s really mine has my bed, a three-legged bedside table and a dressing table with a mirrorless frame. I still have the Eiffel Tower quilt cover from my eleventh birthday and an original lava lamp that was Mum’s when she was a teenager. A World globe with a skewer stuck through it hangs above my bed by a strand of fishing line. The opposite corner is empty, but there’s a smoke blackened stain that flares up to the ceiling like a ghost, from when Tahnee and I set a toaster on fire after a night out. Only my bookcase stands new and tall, everything at right angles, each book in its place.

All I Ever Wanted is a gripping thriller with strands of first love and friendship deftly woven through it.

It brings change,  revelation and hope for main character, ‘almost seventeen-year-old’ Mim, and also for the reader.

All I Ever Wanted is published by Text Publishing



Taking the Nano-vella-wrimo challenge

Do you love books?

Silly question. You’re reading a blog all about things related to these literary objects of desire. Of course you do.

If you’re as much as a book lover as me, you’ve probably contemplated boosting your involvement with books by opening a bookshop (or working in one or spending all your disposable income and then some in one), starting a small book publisher (or working for one of any size), working in a library (or spending all your spare time in one), or writing a novel (or just writing about them as I have done as a literary editor, reviewer and blogger).

I’ve dreamt about becoming a bookseller (with a vegetarian café/wine bar on site), publisher (or commissioning editor) and novelist ever since I can remember.

In my first year at school, I devoured the “readers” (I think we started with a series about a dog called Digger), getting way ahead of many of the others by spending lunchtime in the library (my favourite read in that library was a little book called Lyrico, about a winged horse) and afternoons inside reading. Back then, I looked up to our school librarians, Mrs Goodes and then Mrs Dartnall, and thought I might follow in their footsteps one day.

At around that time, my mother bought a children’s wear shop next door to the original Paperchain Bookshop in Manuka here in Canberra. I used to browse for hours while she worked, pondering which series I’d read next – from Beatrix Potter and the Mr Men books through to Enid Blyton, Elyne Mitchell, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. It was a magical place for me, and may have something to do with my passion for shiny new books. I’ve never been big on second hand books or libraries since, which is great for the book industry but not for my bank balance.

I do still have romantic pipe dreams about owning a bookshop (though these days I’m thinking more of an ebookstore). Hey, I finally work for one at least – with this blog – after all these years. Paperchain never would give me a summer job back in my student days. I’d still love to become a book publisher (and if I play my cards right with my current day job employers just might manage this in the next year or so). And after decades of talking about it, and one or two aborted attempts, it’s probably about time I sat down and wrote a novel too.

That’s where all this is leading. I’m going to try my hand at a lite version of the US’s National Novel Writing Month. The full commitment, to write 50,000 in a month, won’t work for me this year. I have uni marking to do, two magazines to put out, a toddler to hang out with, and blog posts to write.

So I’ve decided instead to focus on writing a novella of say 20,000 words, with as many of these as possible coming during November, and the rest by the end of the summer.

If you’re contemplating writing a longer work of fiction, there is no better time to start than today – November 1 is day one of the international challenge. Check out the Nanowrimo website for details. Connect with fellow would-be churners from all over the world – or just around the corner. Sign up and get writing.

From practical cats to piggy Prada

Today’s post has a bit of a poetic slant, inspired by a birthday present and my daughter’s school reading. Two books of poetry that couldn’t be more different — TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and Amy Allen’s This Little Piggy Went to Prada.

My eldest daughter, Nykita, recently attended a special school programme on writing poetry. During one of the classes they read and discussed “The Rum Tum Tugger” by TS Eliot. This inspired me to hunt through my library and pull out my copy of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the collection from which the poem comes.

This book is now probably best known as the inspiration behind Andrew Llyod Webber’s smash-hit musical, Cats. And, as it happens, I was introduced to the book because of the musical. Here’s the story…

Way back when I was in high school, we spent some time in Lit class studying the poetry of TS Eliot. One of the poems that we studied in depth was “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”. Although Cats is primarily based on the poems in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the song “Memory” is an original song that included some lines derived from  “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”.

Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

So, the Lit teacher brought in the soundtrack from the musical so that we could compare the song with the original poem. I ended up listening to the whole soundtrack and loving it. And so I ended up buying a copy of Eliot’s book.

The poems were written by Eliot in the 1930s, in letters to his grandchildren. They were then collected and published in 1939. They are a delightfully whimsical set of poems about cats and their secret lives. I love this book and I’m so pleased that my daughter has now read it. It’s a must for all cat people!

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

It was my wife’s birthday a couple of weeks ago. One of the presents she received was a copy of This Little Piggy Went to Prada by Amy Allen. Subtitled “Nursery rhymes for the Blahnik Brigade”, it is a collection of traditional nursery rhymes, re-written for mothers with an eye for fashion labels. Now, the only reason that I know that Blahnik is a designer shoe, is because I’ve seen Sex and the City. Since I was able to make that connection when I glanced at the cover, I thought I might have a read. (And besides, it was only a 15 minute investment of time.)

It’s quite a nice looking book with some lovely ink and watercolour illustrations from Eun-Kyunh Kang. But really, it’s a one-joke collection.

The rhymes are cute, but for the most part, uninspiring. Okay, so I’m not the target audience (I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination), and designer-label-obsessed mothers may find this collection more clever than I — Allen does manage to squeeze an extraordinary number of designer labels into the verses. My recent reading of Eliot may also have tipped the scales against the piggy Prada book. Comparison can do a lot to sway one’s opinion.

For me, there really was only one rhyme that hit home…

Pop-a-cork, pop-a-cork, Champagne man,
Pour me a glass as fast as you can.
Cristal or Jacquesson or Clos St Hilaire,
As long as it’s vintage, I really don’t care!

Well, it’s not Eliot… But then again, I do like a good bubbly. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll write you a rhyme about my blog.