Goodbye 2011

I’ve just popped a bottle of really nice bubbly into the fridge for tonight. I intend to welcome the new year with glass in hand. But the old year still has a few good hours in her. And as those last hours of 2011 tick by, I’m sitting at my computer thinking back on the year. For me, it’s been mostly a good year — both personally and professionally. And whether you like it or not, I’m gonna tell you about it. 🙂

I’ve had quite a few books come out this year. Top of the pile is my teen novel Gamers’ Challenge, which was published in September by Ford Street Publishing. It seems to be selling well and it’s been getting some pretty awesome reviews. I’m happy about that. Earlier in the year I had a six book series, What’s In My Food, released by Macmillan Young Library. It’s a nice looking set of hard cover non-fic books aimed at about Grade 2 level. And there was also a whole batch of school readers.

Then there were a bunch of short stories appearing in magazines and anthologies, including Dead Red Heart, Monk Punk, Basics of Life, [untitled] #4 and Midnight Echo #5. And in September, one of my 2010 stories (“Trees” from Short and Scary) was put onto the Recommended Reading List by the editors of Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 — a very nice honour, indeed.

And I launched a new blog, Viewing Clutter, on which I review DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

With the release of Gamers’ Challenge I ended up doing a lot of school visits and bookstore signings. The highlights were the Literary Festivals at Catholic College Bendigo and Yarra Valley Grammar, both organised by the Creative Net (I’d highly recommend checking out Creative Net if you’re looking to book an author or illustrator to speak.).

Between all the writing and school visits, I ended up reading less this year than I normally would. I did, however, manage to read quite a number of really good books. Last year I gave you two Top 5 lists — books publishing in 2010 and those published in previous years. This year, I won’t separate them — just one list of all my favourites. I’m not going to restrict myself to five books and I’m not going to number them. I had a really hard time ordering them last year, and I don’t want to do that to myself again. So…

Here are my favourite reads of 2011. These are the books that I thought were better than just good — each of these had that extra spark, that something special, that made them stand out from the crowd.

  • Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (Illustrated by Keith Thompson), 2011. (see my post “Goliath was worth the wait”)
  • Liberator by Richard Harland, 2011 (see my post “Richard Harland and Liberator”)
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Dave McKean), 2008. (I’ll post about this one soon.)
  • Blaze of Glory (The Laws of Magic Book 1) by Michael Pryor, 2006. (see my post “Michael’s Blaze of Glory”)
  • Edsel Grizzler Book One: Voyage to Verdada by James Roy, 2009. (see my post “Catching up with Edsel Grizzler”)
  • Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger, 2011. (see my post “Darth Paper Strikes Back”)
  • The High Lord (The Black Magician Trilogy Book 3) by Trudi Canavan, 2004. (see my post “The Black Magician trilogy”)
  • Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier & Holly Black, 2010. (see my post “Zombies vs Unicorns”)
  • Changing Yesterday by Sean McMullen, 2011. (see my post “Changing Yesterday”)
  • Vampyre by Margaret Wild (illustrated by Andrew Yeo), 2011. (see my post “Vampyre picture book”)
  • When I Grow Up by Al Yankovic (illustrated by Wes Hargis), 2011. (see my post “Weird Al’s picture book”)

There were, of course, many other excellent books published during 2011 that are not on my list. That’s ‘cause I haven’t read them yet. I’m sure some 2011 books will show up on my list at the end of next year. In fact, I’ve just started reading Elisabeth Sladen: the autobiography, and I’m loving it. I’m not even a third of the way through, so I’ll count that as a “read in 2012” book.

Next year is certainly shaping up to be an interesting one. I’ve got quite a few school readers scheduled for publication and I’ve already been commissioned to write a few more. There are also some other writing projects on the boil. And my must-read-soon pile is very high, teetering precariously with the weight of many interesting books.

2012 is also the National Year of Reading. I’m VERY excited about this, especially since I’ve been appointed Patron Mentone Grammar Reading Ambassador by my old school. So it’s gonna be a big year! I can’t wait!

Okay, I think I’ve probably waffled on long enough. That’s it for this year. I need a drink! I wonder if that bottle has chilled yet?

Catch ya in 2012,  George

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Tropical Trouble is the third book in the Totally Twins series written by Aleesah Darlison and illustrated by Serena Geddes.

Persephone and Portia Pinchgut are going on holidays to Fiji with Grandma. The only problem is they have been forced to take their annoying 7 year-old neighbour, Dillon Pickleton with them.

Things don’t start out well when they land in Fiji and the twin’s luggage is missing. And that means buying new clothes in Fiji that aren’t to Perse’s fashion taste at all.

Almost as soon as they arrive at the Coconut Cover Resort, the outgoing Portia makes friends with Rushani and Gigi, two girls their age. But Persephone, being the shy twin feels left out again.

I love the way author, Aleesah Darlison gets into the head of Portia and Perse and even though they are twins, they are clearly, very different.

The story is told through Perse’s eyes as she writes down everything that happens in her ‘Fabulous Diary’. Once again, Perse’s voice is very strong and her humour and self-honesty endear her to the reader. She admits her own faults and this makes her real and allows the reader to empathise with her.

We also empathise with Perse because we can see that she cares about others, and she’s the one who looks after Dillon, who is feeling homesick. It’s also Perse’s kind nature that attracts the interest of Ashton whose parents manage the resort where they are staying.

The relationship between the twins is realistic and even though they have their differences, there is clearly a strong bond between them.

Travel writing Grandma who has taken them to Fiji is a great character who never takes sides.

The Pinchguts are a quirky but loveable family and I like the way author, Aleesah Darlison has created such authentic relationships between the various members.

Tropical Trouble is another entertaining and engrossing book in the Totally Twins series written by Aleesah.

Complimenting the text are the hilarious illustrations of Serena Geddes who accurately captures these characters and their personalities with simplicity and wit.

The Totally Twins series is published by New Frontier Publishing and there are more titles coming in 2012.


Review – Pizza Cake by Morris Gleitzman

Kids love funny. Kids love short stories. Kids love great writing. Enter Pizza Cake, a collection of 10 short stories from the master of pleasing kids – Morris Gleitzman . . . an author who also happens to be a master at pleasing adults (as evidenced by the fact that I had to tousle over this book with my 11-year-old daughter).

In Pizza Cake, Gleitzman takes kids through a series of stories to delight, entertain and most subtly educate. In Saving Ms Fosdyke, Gleitzman’s subtleties and humour are in peak condition as we learn about the imminent departure of the coolest, most wonderful teacher at Emmy’s school. But Ms Fosdyke is not leaving for any flippant reason. She’s leaving because she’s needed by a school who can’t afford really great teachers – and she’s leaving for the petty sum of just $50 million.

Of course, the best teachers, the highest-paid job in the world, easily pull over $100 million in salary, and Ms Fosdyke is up there with the best. Emmy is devastated and sets about blocking her teacher’s move to the new school. Can she pull off a miracle?

In Secret Diary of a Dad, we meet a bumbling father who can’t do anything right. Told in the first person, his antics had me laughing out loud.

And in the book’s title story – Pizza Cake, we meet young Glenn, cricket fanatic, with a secret weapon – candy-covered pizza slices. That’s right. Pizza cake; a recipe handed down from his grandfather, who once convinced Glenn he could do ANYTHING so long as he had a slice of this pizza on hand.

When Glenn’s schoolmate Dougal has the daunting task of speaking at his Nan’s funeral, Glenn highly recommends taking along a slice of pizza cake – for bravado. Dougal does, but when Glenn unwittingly discovers that his grandfather’s ‘pizza cake’ is really just a play on words inferring something can be easier than it seems – ‘it’s a piece of cake’ – he knows Dougal’s in trouble. Can that fake talisman, a slice of candy-covered pizza, get Dougal through his Nan’s funeral?

At once touching, hilarious, cleverly-crafted and superlatively imaginative, Gleitzman has done it again with this wonderful collection. Presented in bite-size pieces, it’s guaranteed to both regale book-lovers and heartily encourage book-reluctants. If you or your kids want the corners of your mouth to be pulled up at the corners just moments into the first story, then this is absolutely the book for you.

Pizza Cake is published by Puffin. See more on Mr Gleitzman right here.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningThere were probably a few warning signs that I wasn’t going to enjoy Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR).

The first is that I hate running. As in the very theme that, er, underpins the book. The second is that I expected Murakami’s WITAWITAR book to be of the ilk of Stephen King’s On Writing, which is something of a writing-inspiration masterpiece. The third, and probably most telling, is that I hated the only other Murakami book I’ve read. Hmm.

I’m not sure where Kafka on the Shore sits in Murakami’s hierarchy of masterpieces, but methinks that doesn’t matter—I can’t stand tales that include off-the-wall moments that aren’t ever embeded in some sort of believable context. Sure, fiction is made up, but it still (to borrow a trite cliché) needs to be believable enough to take you on the journey. Suffice to say, me and Murakami are probably incompatible.

Still, I thought, WITAWITAR is non-fiction and focuses on how running informs and impels Murakami’s writing process and subsequent success. Surely if I replace ‘running’ with ‘football’, ‘netball’, ‘walking’, or ‘doing Pilates’, I’ll be able to appreciate his technique and discipline and potentially pick up a few tips. Hmm again.

Murakami says on page two that ‘…this is a book in which I’ve gathered my thoughts about what running has meant to me as a person. Just a book in which I ponder various things and think out loud.’ Ponder he does, although I might risk blasphemy and hate email by saying that he probably shouldn’t have published the ponderings. As I explained it to some writer and editor friends, I guess that’s what happens when you get to a certain level of success: you can put poo on a page and they’ll publish it.

My main gripes with WITAWITAR is that the book reads a bit like a randomly organised stream-of-consciousness diary entry, and it drives me batty with its random tense changes and leaps back and forth in time. Nor does it contain anything particularly insightful or profound. Murakami includes excerpts of some articles he’s written for top-tier magazines about running. And those excerpts are not very good. Sigh. See note above about poo on a page.

Kafka on the ShoreI’m also not sure Murakami’s methods would necessarily work for me. For example, he stops each day when he feels that he could write more, saying that it makes the next day’s writing easier. Really? I reckon I’d spend the night trying desperately not to lose the ideas and momentum that threatened to evaporate like mist. And I’d probably spend the next day agonising over the fact that they had.

If I’m really honest, I might also say that I think writing and writing success have come too easily to Murakami for me to truly respect him. He simply sold a jazz bar he owned and operated and, without precursor, decided to write. His first manuscript was immediately published. The book won an award and was critically acclaimed and just about every other book he’s written with near-mechanical method ever since has met with similar applaud.

It’s a one-in-a-billion kind of success and is misleading for newbie or wannabe writers—not even JK Rowling, the other author whose success has inspired (and continues to inspire) legions of people to take up pen and keyboard and write, was so fortunate. Her book was rejected by some record number of publishers (who are now likely crying themselves to sleep every night over the career-limiting move they made and the millions of dollars of revenue they’ve missed out on) before Bloomsbury, a then-small publishing house, decided to pick it up.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh. No writer can extol guaranteed secrets to writing fame and fortune in a short book (or even a long one)—if they could this topic would be done and dusted and there would be a bestseller bonanza as everyone applied the secrets to their writing trade. Besides, there were a few gems within the pages of WITAWITAR, even if I’d argue they weren’t worth the resources expended to uncover them.

For example, Murakami advocates making writing (like running) a habit. He follows Raymond Chandler’s advice to sit down at your desk and concentrate every day, even if you don’t write. I follow this too (well, for the most part or maybe occasionally with aspirations to do it much better). Murakami also says that the ‘most important thing we ever learn at school is that fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school’. I’d second that, although I wish someone had told me that while I was at school…

Have you read WITAWITAR? What did you think? Am I being too scathing? Did I miss the point along the way? Or are Murakami and I incompatible, whether under fiction or non-fiction reading and writing circumstances?

Review of The Spider Goddess

First posted at

The Spider Goddess- Tara Moss
Pandora English 2
Pan Macmillan

There’s a new designer in town- and she has Pandora in her sights. Who knew the fashion industry could be so venomous.

It’s now been two months since Pandora first moved to the mysterious Spektor to live with her equally mysterious Great-Aunt Celia. And it’s certainly been anything but boring. She’s encountered counting-obsessed vamps, ghosts, zombies and a myriad of characters she never thought possible.

Now there’s a new threat to New York, and Pandora seems to be a beacon for the strange and unexplained.

I had mixed feelings about the first in the Pandora English series but my final feeling was that I was looking forward to seeing the next in the series.  Unfortunately the old brain box was working rather sluggishly for a while there after the brain surgery and only now am I getting to writing up my review of this second Pandora English novel. Sorry about that.

I suspect one of the reasons, probably the major reason, why I had those mixed feelings about The Blood Countess was that I was not expecting this from Tara Moss, being used to and a fan of her crime novels.

With The Spider Goddess, I was much happier. I felt some of the problems I had with its predecessor had been addressed (not that I am arrogant enough to suggest I am the reason why they were addressed!) and along the way, these added to the greater development of the larger plotline. For example, cartoonist Charles Addams gets a mention in such a way that I half-expect him to play some sort of role in a future novel.

There is definitely a creepy feel to the story but not to the point that I would be uncomfortable with younger readers getting their hands on the story. I have given a copy to a young friend, fully expecting this young adult to also enjoy it.

I felt Pandora was a stronger character this time, adding to the story. I also liked Moss’s exploration and use of various mythologies. But it is a paranormal story, after all. I even found myself feeling a little sorry for Pandora and her feelings for the deceased Lieutenant Luke – bit hard to see a relationship developing with a ghost who only seems to be able to appear in certain places.

I enjoyed this novel and read it quite quickly.


Ross Hamilton


The Key to Starveldt is book two in The Rare series by Foz Meadows and it’s a gripping read.

Solace Morgan was born a vampire.

The castle of Starveldt is waiting. Having escaped once from Sanguisdera, Solace and her friends are in desperate need of guidance.

Seeking to unravel a cryptic prophecy, they travel to the Rookery, an otherworldly place governed by the enigmatic Liluye. Magical and wiild, the Rookery tests them all in preparation for the crossing to Starveldt. But the group is starting to fracture.

The threat of Lord Grief continues to grow; old betrayals, lies and secrets boil to the surface – with startling consequences.

As danger closes in, can they make their peace before everything falls apart? Or will the Bloodkin triumph?

I love the twists and turns of the plot in this book and the way the setting is so integral to the story and has been given so many dimensions and nuances that it becomes like another character.

Foz Meadows uses humour to make the characters more real and it also helps build the suspense.

There are plenty of surprises and characters who are not who or what you think they are. The Key to Starveldt has disappointing betrayals and unflinchingly loyal characters prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

I enjoyed the unique world of this story. Foz Meadows makes these unfamiliar places seem believable and enables you to picture yourself there side by side with Solace as she battles terrible foes on her quest.

Although there are a number of characters central to the story, each has a unique voice that sets them apart. The third person omniscient point of view allows the reader to get inside each character’s head and experience their thoughts and emotions.

Each character has rare and unique qualities that make them an asset to the group and help them combat ongoing danger.

The Key to Starveldt is a compelling novel for young adult readers with strong themes of friendship, loyalty and belonging. It is published by Ford Street Publishing and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Falling into Midnight.



Digital diary dates for 2012

Photo: Wolf Concepts' award-winning Caesar's Filofax ad (
Have you started filling in key dates for 2012 in your digital diary yet (read on for a list of ebookish events)?

I switched to using Calendar on the iPhone earlier this year and still miss my Filofax terribly. I am convinced that the act of physically writing an event into the diary ensures its details are etched into my memory too. Typing something in via a touchscreen doesn’t seem to have the same effect at all.

In fact, I’ve just read a blog post that explains why this is indeed the case very well, here on

“With writing, you use your hand to form the letters (and connect them), thereby more actively engaging the brain in the process. Typing, on the other hand, involves just selecting letters by pressing identical-looking keys.”

The trouble is, the Filofax is too heavy to carry around everywhere, whereas the iPhone is always on hand. Sigh.

But back to key dates. There are already plenty of 2012 dates for digital publishing fiends to add to their diaries, written or otherwise. Here are just a few for you to ponder entering:

  • The Australian Society of Authors’ E-Exchange forum, February 18, Sydney, with other states to follow through the year.
  • Copyright Agency Limited member seminar and digital publishing guide launch, including guest speakers Mark Tanner (Google eBooks) and Sabine Heindl (NBN Co) February 23, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.
  • Perth Writers Festival, February 10-March 3.
  • Adelaide Writers Week, March 2-18, 2012
  • The Australian Society of Authors’ Creating and marketing an app, March 16, Sydney, with other states to follow.
  • Creating your own ebook workshop, March 23-24, Melbourne, with other states to follow.
  • Sydney Writers Festival, May 14-20.
  • Australian Publishers Association’s ebook essentials for editors seminar, June 5 (Sydney) and June 7 (Melbourne).
  • Australian Booksellers Association annual conference, June 17-18, Sydney.
  • Emerging Writers Festival, TBA June, Melbourne.
  • How to publish your ebook course, University of Technology, Sydney, Tuesdays, 6-8pm, from mid-year with dates TBC.
  • Australian Society of Authors’ How to publish your ebook – six-week course (identical syllabus to UTS course above), from July 4, Sydney.
  • Australian Publishers Association digital marketing seminar, July 5 (Sydney) and July 10 (Melbourne).
  • Byron Bay Writers Festival, August 3-5.
  • Melbourne Writers Festival, August 23-September 2.
  • Brisbane Writers Festival, TBA September.
  • Various must-attend if:book events, dates and venues TBA.

    I’ll try to keep this page (and my iPhone calendar) up to date as the year goes on, and hope to see you at some of these events.

  • Bah! Humbug!

    Are there any words out there that create images of Christmas in quite the same way as “Bah Humbug”? The immortal words of Ebenezer Scrooge, uttered in rebuke of Christmas, have come, for me, to symbolise all that I love about Christmas. Why? Simple because I immediately associate them with watching A Christmas Carol.

    I’ve always loved Christmas! And now that I’ve got kids, I love it even more. I love the food, the presents, the tree and decorations, the songs, the fun… and most of all, the company of family and friends. One of the things that my family and I do year after year, is watch Christmas television — anything from the Video Hits Christmas Special to repeats of It’s a Wonderful Life. Undoubtedly, Christmas viewing usually involves at least one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol (with The Muppet Christmas Carol and Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol being my personal favourites).

    Despite having seen so many adaptations of A Christmas Carol, I had never read the original novel by Charles Dickens. So this year, I decided to read it as part of my Christmas preparations.

    Reading the book was a slightly odd experience. Even though I had never read it before, I was very familiar with the story and so found myself constantly pre-empting things. It felt a bit like re-reading a familiar favourite.

    Despite this, Mr Dickens still had a few surprises in store for me. There were a number of occurrences and scenes that I had never seen in any adaptation. Most notably, when Scrooge goes for a wander with the Ghost of Christmas Present. They actually drop in on considerably more people than just Scrooge’s nephew Fred and employee Bob Cratchit. In between these two visits, they also go to see some miners, the people in a lighthouse and the crew aboard a ship, all celebrating Christmas.

    Then there is the rather disturbing appearance of a young boy and girl clinging desperately to the Ghost of Christmas Present — “Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish”. They are Ignorance and Want, the children of Man.

    Dickens’ turn of phrase is often tediously long, but also wonderfully descriptive. And there is a great sense of humour in his writing, particularly his descriptions of certain characters. A lovely moment is when he comments on how much Bob Cratchet is paid by Scrooge…

    Bob had but fifteen bob a-week himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his Christian name

    My absolute favourite description is that of a man Scrooge passes in the street while travelling with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come…

    a red-faced gentleman with a pendulous excrescense on the end of his nose, that shook like the gills of a turkey-cock.

    It’s well known that Dickens often used his fiction to push his political and social barrows, and A Christmas Carol in no exception. Its primary message, of course, is that charity and kindness and happiness are so much more important than material wealth. But there are references to prisons and workhouses and other institutions that Dickens had issues with. Mostly they work within the context of the story. But there is one incongruous diatribe about a parliamentary bill to close bakeries on Sundays. It seems completely out of place and I had to do a bit of research to find out what it all meant. Apparently, Dickens was vehemently apposed to this bill, because it disadvantaged the poor, who were generally only able to visit bakeries on a Sunday because they were too busy working the rest of the time.

    All up, it was a fascinating and enjoyable read… although, it has not inspired me to go out and read any more Dickens. This is the shortest of his books, yet it still gets a bit waffly in places. So I’m not sure I could deal with one of his more verbose offerings.

    Anyone out there read A Christmas Carol? Opinions? And what’s your favourite adaptation?

    Anyway… time for me to go and return to the Christmas festivities. More food… and a chance to watch the new Doctor Who Christmas special that TiVo recorded for me. 🙂

    Catch ya later,  George

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    “As an invasion weapon, you’d have to agree that it’s about as offensive as a chicken vol-au-vent.”




    Interview – Author Dianne Bates

    KBC warmly welcomes prolific author, philanthropist and children’s literature champion whith this enlightening interview. Take it away, Di!

    What is your name?
    Dianne Bates, though everyone knows me as Di.

    What do you do?
    I’m a children’s author of over 100 books.

    Tell us a little about your life.

    My husband, Bill Condon (an award-winning YA novelist) and I live a quiet life with our dog Sassy in the northern suburbs of Wollongong, New South Wales, near the ocean. I had a very abusive childhood, my only ambition being to leave home, which I did as soon as I could.

    I’ve had many jobs including factory worker, kitchen hand, nurses’ aide, journalist, regional newspaper and national children’s magazine editor, teacher, bookseller and schools’ performer.

    Bill and I have fostered children; currently we’ve been adopted as grand-parents to five neglected local children. My youngest daughter, Kathleen, was killed at the age of two; my other daughter, Claire, lives permanently in Canada.

    What genres do you write in?
    Much of my earlier writing has been humorous (for example the Grandma Cadbury and the fictional Bushranger series), but I’ve written half a dozen social realism novels for older readers, plus a lot of non-fiction for the educational market.

    Which do you prefer and why?
    My latest YA novel, Beyond the Locked Doors, is a psychological thriller. I enjoyed writing it so much I plan to write some more thrillers, but having said that, I do enjoy writing funny books for younger, reluctant readers.

    How long have you been writing?
    My first children’s book, Terri, was published by Penguin Books in 1980. At the age of 29, I decided to write a book: it was published two years later.

    Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
    As a child I was a talented writer, but in fifth grade, falsely accused of plagiarism, I didn’t do much writing thereafter until I was in my late 20s. Then, when I was teaching primary-aged children, I used to write humorous plays for them to perform.

    What inspired you to first write for children?
    Moved by the desperate efforts of reluctant primary-aged readers that I taught, I wrote books which I thought would interest them. Many of my books appeal to these readers.

    How did you get your first book published?
    While writing my first book, I met the late Michael Dugan at a writers’ festival: Michael was then editor of Puffinalia, a national children’s magazine published by Penguin Books. Michael published my first children’s stories, read my book manuscript and passed it on to the Penguin children’s publisher who accepted it for publication. Years later, I co-edited Puffinalia with Doug McLeod! Later I was editor of the national children’s magazine, Little Ears.

    How has the children’s literature scene changed in the past 10 years and where do you see it headed?
    Increasingly it is becoming more difficult to get books published in print; however, it is easier than ever to convert one’s work to e-book format. One high school in Victoria (Aquinas College) is going paper-free from 2012, and I think this is the way of the future. This means that e-book authors will need to rely more and more on marketing their work through social media. Not such good news for older authors, such as myself, who first began writing on non-electric typewriters and who are not as experienced in handling e-publishing and promotion.

    I know of several former print book publishers who are learning as much as they can about e-books with a view to becoming e-book literary agents. Bring them on!

    What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
    Rewrite and edit ruthlessly. Find a mentor (and make it a two-way relationship). Network widely through social media and by attending conferences and festivals. However, more importantly than all of this, persevere. Have faith in yourself and your abilities because no-one will care more about your work than you.

    What interests you, beyond writing?
    I love to paint and to make. I spend a lot of time interacting with children and also working in schools as a performer and writing teacher. I love my home and pottering around in it, spending time with my husband, Bill. And I love meeting up with friends for lunches and going to the movies with them.

    What books did you read as a child?
    Sadly there were no books in my home, and we had no school library. I borrowed from a municipal library as often as I could, mostly Enid Blyton books. Nobody ever encouraged my reading, but somehow I found my own book path.

    Novels I loved as a child were A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Swiss Family Robinson, How Green was my Valley, Heidi, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. On a rubbish tip I once found a tattered book of poetry and read it over and over. To this day I love poetry, both reading and writing it.

    Why do you write?
    Stories find me and compel me to write them. I love words, both in the reading of them and in the writing. My husband, Bill Condon (winner of the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for YA literature) and I are both writers – we live among words every day; they are our life.

    What five words best sum you up?
    Resourceful, dogged, reliable, optimistic, creative.

    Learn more about Di and her wonderfulwork at Enterprising Words.

    And to all a good night (whatever you’re celebratin’)

    ‘Tis the night before Christmas here in Europe and all through the house everyone is stirring in a desperate effort to get closer to the fireplace. It’s really, really cold, especially for those of us who have acclimatised to the Southern Hemisphere and are now being called wusses by all our Northern Hemisphere friends and family.

    It’s the morning of Christmas for all of you in Australia and I suspect – I certainly hope – you are all a good deal warmer than me. Most of you are probably still in bed (funny how getting up at 5am to open presents seems less reasonable as you get older) and this message will reach you at some stage over a few lazy days spent relaxing and doing whatever you most enjoy in this lull at the end of 2011.

    The business of the year is near wrapped up; the last of 2011’s books have been released, the bookshops are taking a well-deserved break and Possum Magic has topped the Boomerang Annual Advent Poll as our readers’ favourite Australian Children’s Book. Soon my email will be over-flowing again with announcements from publishers about 2012’s shiny new books but right now, with most businesses taking a few days off, it’s peaceful and – like the Christmas eve house in the poem – my inbox isn’t stirring.

    I’d like to mark the occasion of this unusual and welcome time of peace and goodwill even if, like many others, I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional Christian sense. Whether it’s a holiday for Horus, Mithra, Bacchus or Dionysus, whether it’s the Festival of Lights or the winter or summer solstice or just a couple of well-deserved days off work with your nearest and dearest, I hope you enjoy it.

    Damien Kelly, a Northern Irish writer (who just released a Christmas-themed set of horror and suspense short stories this year called The Christmas Gifts, with plenty of ghoulish and creepy festive fare) blogs over at has this greeting for everyone, and it’s so perfect for the occasion that I just have to share.

    Because you’re great, it bears relatin’
    Happy What-You’re-Celebratin’
    From me to you, it’s worth restatin’
    Happy What-You’re-Celebratin’
    Raise a glass, invite your mate in
    Whether or not the date’s worth ratin’
    Take a break from What-You’re-Hatin’
    Happy What-You’re-Celebratin’.

    Have a wonderful few days, whatever you are celebrating. I wish you a fantastic new year, filled with great releases from all your favourite authors, discoveries of awesome new authors and books and, of course, plenty of cash to pay for them all. A happy holidays to you all.

    Number 1 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #1

    Possum Magic by Mem Fox and illustrations by Julie Vivas

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    78.7% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.



    Number 2 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #2

    Animalia by Graeme Base

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    69.2% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.



    Dennie is a Stresshead, and she has a lot to stress about. Things are not going well with her long time boyfriend Jack and her Year 11 results are due out, and being part of a high achieving family, she feels a lot of pressure to get good marks.

    On top of that, her pilates loving, veggie eating, health freak Mum is suffering from the same illness that killed her grandmother, but Mum’s keeping it to herself and seems to be in denial about the whole thing.

    And her best friend Kat has always been there for her, but now Kat appears to be having problems of her own.

    When Dennie is suspected of cheating on one of her Year 11 exams she’s not sure what to do. Who can she go to for advice when everyone is deeply immersed in their own issues?

    I’m TOAST. I’m burnt toast. I’m the charcoal you scrape off the toast with your knife. OMG. Year Eleven results are out TODAY, my boyfriend is MIA and my mum is acting TOTALLY WEIRD. I’d turn to my BF, Kat, but her life has gone from hero to ZERO. I don’t know who to talk to and everyone’s got their own problems. Would life be better if I wasn’t such a STRESSHEAD?

    STRESSHEAD is written by Allayne Webster and published by Scholastic. It’s a very realistic account of the turmoil of a teen who finds her life unravelling as things just don’t seem to be working out as planned. Dennie is forced to work through the turmoil and find a way to accept the things she can’t change and be proactive about the things she can.

    She’s an empathetic character who clearly has a lot going on in her life, but faces up to her realities with honesty and maturity.  Things are changing for Dennie and she has to learn to adapt. She’s a strong character with her own ideas, but she cares a lot about people and that’s what makes her life so difficult. She also finds that she’s made her own assumptions about people like Mum’s best friend Clara, that are quite far from the truth.

    STRESSHEAD is a compelling coming of age story about a teen facing up to some difficult decisions in just about every aspect of her life.

    Allayne Webster is a South Australian writer and more about her work is available from her website.


    Please don’t buy a Kindle this Christmas

    I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with the Kindle. It’s a nice gadget, and I like nice gadgets. But Amazon makes it hard for Australians to buy the model of their choice (the white Kindle 3 wasn’t available here, the Kindle Fire isn’t available here, the Kindle Touch isn’t available here).

    In my view, as such they treat rest of the world non-American customers as second class citizens.

    And once I actually got my hands on the model I wanted after a friend visited the US last year, I found the buttons clunky, the shape unwieldy for handbag carrying, and the lack of Australian content infuriating. I sold it on eBay two weeks later.

    This Christmas, my feelings have swung further to the negative, so far, in fact, that I can’t see any way back.

    When I discovered that my film director and academic sister, who loves indie bookshops nearly as much as I do, had bought her second Kindle, I felt the muscles in my shoulders tense.

    When I learned that the communications director of a nearby not-for-profit writers centre had bought a Kindle for her partner for Christmas, I scolded her publicly.

    But when I saw that the Copyright Agency Limited was giving away five free Kindles to entice members to fill out a survey, I was livid. Furious. Incredulous. I mean, seriously. As far as I’m concerned, the non-profit rights management organisation giving away Kindles is like the Slow Food Movement giving away McDonald’s vouchers.

    After learning that Amazon has some 60 per cent of the US ebook market and perhaps a similar stake here, I decided the time had come to take anti-multinational giant action, so here I am, imploring you to reconsider your ebook and ereader buying plans.

    Sure, Amazon’s books are cheap, but are you willing to sacrifice the livelihood of all our indie booksellers for the sake of a few bucks? When did you last attend a book launch, with free wine and cheese, in an Amazon store? And do you really want to own an ereader that locks you in, preventing you from buying and reading ebooks from other retailers like, Gleebooks, Readings, Pages & Pages, Avid Reader, Shearers, Books for Cooks, Kobo, Apple and Google?

    Can’t you see that it is the people behind our indies that promote great Australian writing? When did you last receive and act on a personal recommendation on an Aussie novel from an Amazon staff member?

    I’m hoping you’re keen to buy books from a variety of sources, to support diversity in bookselling and in our literary culture. And I’m imploring you this Christmas to consider an iPad, an Android tablet, a Sony Reader or a Kobo instead.

    There’s a red Sony Reader in my Christmas stocking, and it’s lighter and better looking than the Kindle (review coming soon). I’m just about to unwrap the Kobo Vox, which looks like a great low-cost tablet option too (review coming soon too).

    The D Publishing furore, exciting Earls news and if:book’s ebook

    So, surely the digital publishing world is winding down for Christmas? The list of announcements and industry stoushes must be coming to an end? Nope, not if the buzz around D Publishing’s contracts, Exciting Press’s Nick Earls deal and if:book Australia’s first ebook are any indication.

    According to Crikey’s new Lit-icism blogger, Bethanie Blanchard, the furore over Dymocks’ D Publishing venture’s author contracts continues. She provides an excellent analysis here. D Publishing is a new venture for the book retailer, launched only a few weeks ago. Bookish social media users have been in a flap ever since with warnings for authors over what has been described as “Australia’s worst publishing contract”.

    I haven’t seen one of the contracts, but would argue that any author can negotiate with any prospective publisher, and if that publisher won’t budge on clauses of concern, then they’re probably not going to care much about the author and their book/s in the future either, so the author should look elsewhere. Smashwords might be a good start, though it is possible to go it alone too. Services like BookBaby and Lulu are other options to consider.

    If they’ll have you, the mainstream publishers still seem to be the best bet in terms of creating a professionally edited, well-designed and marketed product, though Australia’s own Nick Earls has just spurned the legacy publishers to sign a 12-book digital distribution deal with a small US start-up, Exciting Press. Bet they’re excited!

    Meanwhile, the good people at if:book Australia have just published a free ebook, Hand Made High Tech, containing ten essays from Australian writers on the future of books and reading in a digital world. It’s edited by if:book Australia manager Simon Groth, and published using the WordPress-powered PressBooks platform. You can download it free for Kindle, as an ePub file for your e-ink reader, as a PDF, or read it online. There’s a hashtag, #ifbookessay, so you can join the conversation while reading too.

    The opening chapter is by Associate Professor Sherman Young, author of The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book (UNSW Press 2007) and Media Convergence (Palgrave, 2011). I haven’t yet read the latter, but recommend the former to anyone who is interested in the future of the book. Sadly, it is not available as an ebook, but you can order the print version. It’s a very beautiful object as far as printed book go.

    I’m looking forward to reading the second chapter, by Australian publishing veteran Peter Donoughue, the former managing director of John Wiley & Sons Australia blogs about industry developments at Pub Date Critical. It was one of his posts that finally helped me get my head around the wholesale versus agency models for book distribution.

    The other essayists are author John Birmingham, founder and CEO of Norg Media Bronwen Clune, digital poet Jason Nelson, journalist, novelist and podcaster Myke Bartlett, comics guru Jackie Ryan, writer and game developer Paul Callaghan and author of the Writer’s Guide to Making a Digital Living Christy Dena.

    A very appy bear called Paddington

    Nostalgia reigned as I first shared the new iPad app edition of the 1958 children’s classic Paddington Bear with my son.

    I suspect the same would be true for most of you.

    A copy of follow-up title Paddington in the Garden is among the favourite children’s books to have survived on my shelves for decades, having inspired me to take ownership of my own little corner of the garden as a child.

    The next generation will be no different. I bought a little Paddington toy a year ago for my son, and was touched to find upon reaching my desk one morning that at age 15 months, he’d thoughtfully popped it into my handbag to take to work.

    HarperCollins Children’s Books (UK) is the publisher of the new iPad edition of Paddington Bear ($A1.99 from iTunes), having partnered with youth digital specialist Bold Creative on the software, and a fine job they’ve done in putting it together too.

    The design is stunning. The digitised RW Alley illustrations are crystal clear, with bright colours and plenty of white space to boost their impact.

    There are lots of in-app options: to buy the printed version, to appear in a portrait with Paddington, to record your own reading of the story, to send a message to author Michael Bond (who lives near Paddington Station in London himself, these days), to share news of the app’s arrival via email, Facebook or Twitter, and to be read to or read on your own.

    The text appears on each page in a horizontal box that can be dragged off, to leave the illustrations in full view.

    The app is full of very cute, yet simple, interactive animations. Touch a pigeon to giggle as it defecates on the footpath. Tap your finger on Paddington as he sits on a cafe table, and watch him fall over on, thus covering himself with, cake. Readers can tap on a London bus to hear a bell, or on a black cab to hear its horn toot.

    My son loved all of this, but especially the pigeon animation, which he takes much delight in activating over and over again.

    Watching him play with these elements reminded me of the fun he had with books like Spot’s Noisy Car – before he tore the flaps off and wore out the horn button.

    The iPad can never replicate the fun of little fingers poking their way through the holes in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but it has other benefits Eric Carle may never have imagined.

    Number 3 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #3

    The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    65.3% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.

    Favourite Vintage Christmas Books

    I must admit, I have a ‘thing’ for vintage and reproduction vintage children’s books. There’s something timeless and inherently beautiful about them – most especially at Christmastime. The following are books you may – or may not yet – know. All are resplendent with that typical retro feel – from the illustrations to the classic storylines that send you winging back to your own childhood. Enjoy this peek at Christmas past.

    The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna

    Whatever your religious incarnation, it’s so nice to read the Real Story of Christmas… not a ho-ho-ho or wishlist in sight. Originally published in 1964, this classic book has been reissued with Bruna’s iconic illustrations, scrumptious for its colour, its simplicity, its heart. From the shepherds herding their sheep to the angel and the star over the stable, this is a priceless addition to your family’s Christmas book collection. Classic, retro literature at its best.

    Eloise at Christmastime by Kate Thompson

    First published in 1958, this timeless book features the irrepressible Eloise at her very best, living it up at the Plaza Hotel with her nanny on Christmas Eve – and of course – causing all kinds of mischief with the staff and guests. Showcasing Hilary Knight’s iconic illustrations, the black, white and pink colouring lends a decidedly festive feel – and children will love exploring the hotel’s floor plan as Eloise sets about on her skibbling, zapping and zimbering rampage. Vibrant and utterly adorable.

    Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs

    Reissued in 2004, this glorious 1973 book utilises the almost wordless, comic strip style Briggs is renowned for. When Santa wakes on Christmas Eve, he realises Christmas is here again (groan). He dresses, puts the kettle on, feeds the reindeer, washes his face, makes eggs and bacon, stacks the sleigh, says goodbye to the dog and cat before loading up the sleigh – all the regular stuff he’s been doing for so very long. Ah well, best get on with it. The comfort and joy of this book reminds us of the magic in the everyday and the everyday in magic.

    The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore

    It may not be a vintage book per se, but this rendition is certainly a timeless version of Clement C Moore’s renowned Christmas rhyme. Opening with a short biography on the author, it’s fascinating to learn this poem was first read to Moore’s nine children on Christmas Eve 1822, and was sent to a New York newspaper by a family friend, where it was first published anonymously under the title A Visit from St Nicholas. Australian artist Robert Ingpen’s mesmerisingly gorgeous illustrations create a breathtaking version of a time-honoured classic.

    Christmas with Little Golden Books

    Little Golden Books have been a staple on children’s bookshelves since 1942, when each book cost just 25 cents. Today, these still-affordable books stretch the gamut of characters and styles, and continue to provide both vintage and modern Christmas tales. In this mini tome of stories, kids can enjoy three stories – The Animals’ Christmas Eve, The Christmas Story and The Night Before Christmas.

    The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M Scarry

    Oh my goodness, I can still recall the scents as I pushed my nose into the gingerbread men and candy canes in this adorable book. I can still roll my eyes in joy at the pine tree. It’s all coming back to me now. An original scratch-and-sniff (when such things were new and fandangled), this precious book will enchant your children if only for the retro pace. No bells and whistles here. Just the memory-making visual and sensory thrill of a beautiful book.



    Number 4 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #4

    The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    64.4% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.





    The Friendship Matchmaker – Review

    I remember Grade Five as being one of the hardest years of my school life. I’d just started at a new school and everyone already had firmly established friendship groups that didn’t seem to be able to make room for me. So The Friendship Matchmaker by Randa Abdel-Fattah was a book that really resonated with me as I’m sure it will with many young readers.

    Lara Zany is Potts Court Primary School’s official Friendship Matchmaker. She is certain her Friendship Rules work. She can take the Loneliest Loser (LL) and help make them a best friend.

    Lara has built herself a reputation for helping build great friendships, and helping friends get over their differences. She appears to have it ‘together’, but Lara has some friendship scars of her own – and these are what motivate her to help other people.

    Although Lara’s methods aren’t always foolproof, her heart is in the right place – and although she does some things that make the reader cringe, she’s a character that endears herself to us very early on.

    Lara tackles friendship problems that most readers would have come across in the playground at some time.

    She’s writing a manual to help the friendless and shows empathy for fellow students, and understanding of the complexities of friendship.

    She says, “If you’re reading this Manual it’s probably because you’re sick and tired of feeling lonely. Or maybe you have a friend but you’re not sure where you stand with them. Or maybe you’re the third wheel in a trio. Or can’t work out how to strike up a conversation with someone in the canteen line. Maybe you’re the one who gets picked last at sports.”

    From the first page, Randa Abdel-Fattah has found common ground with her young readers.

    Lara has a ‘heart of gold’ like she mentions a number of times in the book, but she runs into trouble when Emily Wong shows up. Emily breaks all the rules and to make matters worse, she has challenged Lara to a ‘Friendship Matchmaker’ contest that’s going to put her rules to the test.

    Lara discovers that she has a lot in common with the socially awkward Tanya who she has to find a best buddy for if she’s going to win the challenge with Emily.

    Lara has to decide whether to break one of her own rules and become best friends with Tanya. Not only that, she must decide whether she can move on from a bad personal friendship experience and whether she’s ready to take the emotional risk that comes with having a best friend.

    The Friendship Matchmaker sensitively handles an important topic in young reader’s lives. Randa Abdel-Fattah uses humour to build the tension and bring the characters closer to the reader.

    The Friendship Matchmaker is an entertaining read which tackles important subject matter. It is published by Scholastic.


    Number 5 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #5

    The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    59.5% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.




    Stoppard and Gaiman, with a dash of Palmer

    Last week the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne hosted a rather awesome literary event — Tom Stoppard and Neil Gaiman in back-to-back appearances at the Athenaeum Theatre. I was there! 🙂

    Stoppard is well known and well respected for his many plays, including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Real Inspector Hound. (When I was at drama school, I was always hoping we’d get to perform The Real Inspector Hound as I had a great desire to play the part of Moon, the second-rate theatre critic. Alas, it didn’t happen. 🙁 ) He’s also done a fair bit of script-writing— Shakespeare in Love, Empire of the Sun and Enigma immediately spring to mind. He has also written one novel, a black comedy called Lord Malquist and Mr Moon, which I’ve not read. In fact, I didn’t even know about it until just before going to the show, when I Wikipedia-ed Mr Stoppard.

    He was interviewed by Alison Croggon, a local writer and critic, who did quite a good job… although she did seem a little disconcerted by his ability to answer more than just the question put to him and she referred to her notes a little too often. Stoppard was an interesting speaker, talking about his past, his writing and his relationship with actors and directors. His story of how he came to work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was particularly amusing. Apparently, when Sean Connery was cast, he insisted that the producers hire Stoppard to re-write his dialogue. And then, when Harrison Ford found out about it, he demanded that Stoppard also re-write his dialogue as well.

    Fifteen minutes from the end, questions from the audience were taken. This proved to be a mistake, with numerous long-winded questions traversing ground already covered.

    Then everyone was herded out of the auditorium. Those who had bought tickets for Neil Gaiman as well, got to remain in the stuffy and fairly small inner foyer. Due to the fact that it was general seating, we all wanted to stay close to the doors to make sure we got good seats. Thankfully, we got a little bit of an impromptu performance while waiting. Gaiman’s wife, singer Amanda Palmer, appeared out of nowhere, climbed up onto the bar and performed “Ukulele Anthem”. This was so cool! I’ve never really taken that much notice of Amanda Palmer before… in fact, I couldn’t name a single song. But after this superb little performance I’m gonna seek out some of her stuff.

    The Athenaeum staff then sneakily opened the doors while Amanda sung, thus avoiding a crushing surge… well, at least until she finished her song. Thanks to the kindness of friends, who dashed in and secured seats, I had a front row view… right up Mr Gaiman’s nose. 😉

    Gaiman was, as always, polished, interesting and utterly brilliant. (Yes, I’ve heard him speak before.) He has this amazing ability to deliver thoughtful, considered answers with an easy, off-the-cuff manner. He was interviewed by Melbourne writer/critic, Clem Bastow, whose style was laid back and conversational and perfectly in tune with Gaiman. It was working really well, until… after fifteen minutes, she announced they would take questions from the audience. [insert gasp of horror] I was fearing a recurrence of what happened with Stoppard, but Gaiman wisely defined for the audience, exactly what a question was, and how it should be delivered with brevity. The definition was greeted with much applause and relief… and it worked! People got to the point and asked short, interesting questions to which Gaiman gave long, interesting answers.

    During his talk, Gaiman announced that early next year he would begin writing a sequel to American Gods. This seemed to get a lot of people rather excited. He also talked a bit about what it was like writing an episode of Doctor Who, and he finished up by reading his Australia Day poem (which he had previously read at the Opera House gig he did with his wife).

    Since I was reading Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book on the train that day, and I had it in my bag, I thought I’d stand in line and get him to autograph it after the show. But I was in the front row, so I was one of the last to get out of the theatre and by then the line stretched the length of the foyer, out the door and down the street. So I changed my mind… after all, I already have his autograph in other books. 🙂

    All up it was a fantastic night. We are very lucky to have the Wheeler Centre here in Melbourne to organise things like this. The only negative thing was the fact that the event had general seating, resulting in long queues and people jostling for seats. Numbered seating would have been a much more civilised option.

    I forgot to take my camera with me on the night, but many others were snapping away. Many thanks to Paula McGrath for letting me use her pics on this blog post.

    Catch ya later,  George

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    Australian Authors and their Favourite Christmas Books

    Isn’t it a fascinating thing to learn about the favourite books of others? Most especially, I must admit, when it comes to authors, illustrators and publishers – whose world is saturated with so many glorious tomes. Here, KBC shares a glimpse inside the hearts of some well-known talent from the children’s book industry – and learn more about either their favourite Christmas titles or their favourite bookish Christmas gifts. Enjoy!

    Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard (ABC Books)
    Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s gorgeous Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is an Australian take on the traditional Christmas story, set in the aftermath of bushfires. Glenda’s beautiful language and Stephen’s gentle art make this a story to treasure forever. – Claire Saxby, author

    For All Creatures by Glenda Millard (Walker Books)
    This beautiful book, by the team who produced Isabella’s Garden, pays homage to all creatures, to love and life, to kindness and gentleness and to the miracle of being alive. The language is rich, tender and warm, and wonderful to read aloud. The superb illustrations (by Rebecca Cool) are dramatic and varied. Every double-page spread is a surprise and a wonder. – Margaret Hamilton, AM, publisher

    Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson (Little Hare)
    A truly delightful book from this well-established author and illustrator partnership – Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. It’s about children who find a book which takes them on a wonderful journey, as books can. They love it and care for it so that they can enjoy it again and again. Engaging and evocative. A joy for all those who fear the death of the book! – Margaret Hamilton, AM, publisher

    Grug’s Big Book of Fun by Ted Prior (Simon & Schuster Australia)
    It’s fabulous that Grug is available again for a whole new generation. New books are extending the series, but this 160-page activity book is a winner. It’s got everything to keep a young child busy: games, mazes, dot-to-dot, drawing, colouring-in, stickers, puzzles. Who could ask for anything more in their Christmas stocking? – Margaret Hamilton, AM, publisher

    My suggestions for Christmas books are a little different. How about making WITH the family, your own books?  You can use existing photos, children’s illustrations or even ‘feelie’ collages of stick- on textures like feathers or fur. They can be e-mail (digital) or print or even audio. Make it a non-commercial ‘sharing’ experience, so the collating is as important as the reading. Here are suggested titles: The Best Things About Our Family Christmas,  What Went Wrong at Christmas,  An Unexpected Gift. Grandparents or parents can draw on family historical anecdotes (true or tall storied). Make them a family gift! – Hazel Edwards, author

    I would say How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is my favourite Christmas book. I love it because it’s Dr Seuss, and he would have to try very hard to write a book I didn’t like. The Grinch got me in from the moment I read the lines … But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small. It is also brilliant how Dr Seuss gets the message that Christmas is so much more than just presents across without getting too syrupy and blecccchhhy. – Adam Wallace, author

    I love The Snowman, a children’s book by English author, Raymond Briggs, published in 1978. Most people would know it from the 1982 animated film. The book is wordless and the film is most known for its beautiful theme song, Walking in the Air. The story is joyful, filled with wonderful images of a winter wonderland, a special connection between a small boy (who looks awfully like a child version of the author) and with the feeling of loss at the end when the snowman melts. Beautifully done as only Raymond Briggs can. The movie version inserts a visit to Father Christmas who gives him a scarf – I guess they thought the movie-going public couldn’t cope without a happier ending. – Sheryl Gwyther, author

    I adore the perennial and everlasting novel, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. On the surface it appears to be the story of a miserable, stingy old man, Ebenezer Scrooge who, on Christmas Eve is visited by Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. They show him his present, lonely, friendless life and how it will end if he doesn’t change his ways. The undercurrent of the story shows Dickens’s sympathy for the working poor and the downtrodden of Industrial Capitalism in Britain in the 1800s. Some even say the story, and the various plays spawned by it, helped restore the holiday, the merriment and the festive feel of Christmas in Britain and further afield. The book has never been out of print. – Sheryl Gwyther, author

    Number 6 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #6

    Storm Boy by Colin Thiele

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…

    55.8% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.



    Number 7 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #7

    Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan and illustrations by Pamela Lofts

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…

    53.6% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.


    Number 8 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #8

    Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and illustrations by Judy Horacek

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…

    45.6% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.

    Type, Click, Eat

    I’ve been meaning to ask fellow writer and editor Carody Culver to write a guest blog for an age. With Christmas just around the corner and food, glorious food on my mind, as well as my complete inability to cook (with the latter quashing the excitement about the former), I realised now was the perfect time to ask Carody to put something together. Her expertise is all things cooking and cookbooks. Not only is her blog post incredibly helpful, offering a way to overcome the ‘but that requires me, like, flicking through lots of pages to find something and then making sure I have all the ingredients’ dilemma that often defeats me, but it reveals why Carody and I get along so well: we’re both complete and utter book addicts…

    There’s only space for one bookshelf in my tiny apartment. It’s tall and old and its shelves are bending beneath the weight of its contents: approximately 120 cookbooks, my not-so-secret shame.

    While my other books are variously piled up in my storeroom, boxed up in my parents’ house, or stacked up around my apartment (I like to call it ‘books-as-furnishings’—hardbacks make very spacious coasters and slightly hazardous footrests), I gave the cookbooks pride of place—partly because I’m writing my PhD thesis about them, but mostly because I love to cook and the bookshelf is conveniently located next to the kitchen. When I moved in, I had visions of myself casually browsing the pages of my culinary collection, selecting the perfect recipe, and then stepping approximately two feet to the right in order to begin cooking it.

    It didn’t quite work out this way. Sometimes—OK, often—I berate myself for not making more of an effort and actually using my cookbooks. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way—while part of the joy of cookbooks is simply browsing them and seeing things you want to cook, most of us don’t have time to do this every night. If you’re me, you’ve also spent your entire pay on clothes and books again and are thus forced to use the existing contents of your fridge and pantry as cooking inspiration.

    Well, no more. A friend showed me an article recently that sang the praises of a website called Eat Your Books, which lets you create an online index of your cookbooks, food magazines, and recipe blogs. Annual membership is only $25, which is less than the price of a cookbook these days.

    Once you’ve signed up, you can create a virtual bookshelf of all the cookbooks and magazines you own and the blogs you follow, and then search it by ingredient or recipe name. So, on nights when I open my pantry and am faced with little more than the poor-student-staples of lentils and tinned tomatoes, I can look up both on Eat Your Books and see, at a glance, what recipes I have that allow me to work some culinary magic (trust me, lentils and tinned tomatoes truly are the gift that keeps on giving).

    The nice thing about Eat Your Books is that it has no intention of stopping you from physically picking up your cookbooks, since it doesn’t give you complete recipes. I admit that I initially added about five books that I don’t own to my virtual bookshelf in the hope that I could access their recipes for free; my plan failed (yeah, there is that thing called copyright).

    How To EatWhat actually happens is that when I do a keyword search for, say, salmon, the first result I get is the salmon fishcakes from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat. I can see the ingredients and the type of meal it is—a main course—but that’s all. Now I can pop to my bookshelf and find the recipe in the actual book. Eat Your Books just makes the searching process a lot quicker, which means I get to eat sooner. Everyone wins.

    Part of me thinks it’s a shame that things like this encourage us to be more reliant on technology to do the simplest of tasks for us—honestly, how taxing is it to take a few books off your shelf and flick through them to find a recipe? Truthfully, though, when you have a shedload of cookbooks, or not enough time, or both, Eat Your Books is a godsend. Laziness, apparently, is the only way to get me using my cookbooks more, and also to potentially justify the purchase of yet more cookbooks. Hurrah!

    Still, it’s interesting that at a time when many cookbooks are becoming less practical—bookshops are filled with pricy tomes that are more like coffee table books than anything you’d want to actually bring into your kitchen and risk spilling food over—a tool like this comes along that renders the non-pragmatic element of cookbooks a bit obsolete.

    Will websites such as Eat Your Books, alongside the numerous cooking apps available these days, push us towards the inevitable digitisation of cookbooks? I hope not; I like to think that we’re too attached to the physical appeal of the cookbook, and to all of those non-recipe elements that make you want to take it off the shelf and buy it: the design, the images, the heft of it in your hands. I hope it stays that way for a while.

    In the meantime, I’m off to see what I can make for dinner before those leftover tinned tomatoes in my fridge start creating new bacterial life forms.

    You can read more of Carody’s book blogs here.

    E-reader, I married one

    So, after over a year of dithering and over-thinking and hestitating and general procrastination, I am finally the owner of an e-reader.

    It was an early – very early – Christmas gift from my partner who realised that if he were to wait until December 25th to give it to me, he would once again be assisting me in lugging approximately 40kgs in books around the globe and getting cross-examined repeatedly by customs officials who don’t  believe anyone can read that much and there must be drugs in there somewhere. They always stop people carrying weighty-looking bags with straining straps and unusual pointy bits. Go figure.

    This is it – a Sony Reader Wifi Touch. It’s incredibly light, wonderfully clear to read and allows to me look up Google, Wikipedia and the dictionary when I find a word that doesn’t seem cromulent.

    It has a few flaws – the billed “red” colour is a more than a bit pink looking and the cover has nowhere to fit the stylus, for example – but it looks simply dashing in its leather cover and – importantly for someone as hamfistedly impatient as me (whacking the pedestrian crossing button makes the lights change faster, right?) – it is quick as a flash to boot up, close down and turn pages.

    I am, it must be said, thoroughly in love. I have loaded it with 20 – 20! – big books and it’s still crying out for many more with less than 4% of the storage card used. I can bring all the books I want to read on this trip instead of limiting myself to what I can swap for in hostels and hotels – there is no need to rely on the vagaries of what other travellors have left behind them, condemning myself to reading the middle books in trilogies and endless amounts of Tom Clancy.

    Will it replace paper books for me? Probably not. Much like audiobooks, I find there is a time and a place for both. While I am utterly enamoured of the facility to carry massive epic books without lugging their size and weight (Take that, Stephen King! Have at you, Robin Hobb!) around, it still has a few disadvantages over the good old paperback.

    You can’t throw them at the wall. You don’t start interesting conversations with other travellers who are intrigued by the cover of Hung Like an Angentine Duck. I’d be nervy taking it to the beach or into a very humid environment. Having it stolen would be a pain, accidentally getting coffee on it would be a disaster, and I feel oddly restrained from belting the local insect life with it.

    But for all that, this lightweight gadget is a great travel companion, amusing me though endless long-haul flights and ensuring that both my partner and I arrive at our destination upright and unmolested by customs. If you’d like to save your back – and your partner’s sanity – this Christmas, I can thoroughly recommend having a look at one. Just remember that the red looks, well, a little bit pink.

    Number 9 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #9

    A Bush Christmas by C.J. Dennis and illustrations by Dee Huxley

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…

    43.6% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.



    Recon Team Angel, Assault is the first in a trilogy by the master of action and suspense, Brian Falkner.

    The year is 2030 and the world is at War with an Alien Race, the Bzadiens. The battle ground is earth.

    Recon Team Angel, Assault (Book 1 in the trilogy) is a science/fiction paranormal for readers aged 14+. It stars an impressive list of 16 year-old characters trying to infiltrate the enemy camp inside the belly of Uluru, and save the human race.

    There’s Lt Chisnall, his second-in-charge, Brogan Hunter, Price and Monster. They all have their special skills and talents. The problem for Chisnall is that one of his team is a traitor intent on sabotaging the mission.

    In order to outwit the enemy, Chisnall and his team have undergone extensive training and a physical transformation to disguise them as Bzadiens. They’ve even learned the Bzadien language and customs.

    But it just takes the smallest slip in detail to blow their cover, incur the suspicion of the enemy and bring on life threatening consequences.

    Recon Team Angel has to blast and shoot its way into Uluru and once they’re inside, they make a shocking discovery.

    The Bzadiens have been hiding a terrible secret, and their devious plan to destroy the human race has been going on a lot longer than people realise. It’s up to Recon Team Angel to put a stop to The Bzadien’s plans and save the human race.

    Uluru makes a great backdrop for this thriller and the author is masterful in the way he weaves the setting into the plot.

    Recon Team Angel is full of quirky characters and non stop action covering a five day mission that leaves you breathless.

    Brian Falkner has paid a lot of attention to detail with everything from weaponry to clothing, food, sleep and technology. He has built a fascinating but believable world for the reader.

    Recon Team Angel is a group of the most disciplined, highly trained, tech savvy, strategic teens I’ve ever come across – and that’s what makes these characters so impressive. They also have great human quirks that make them individual.

    Can’t wait to read the next adventure of Recon Team Angel.






    Number 10 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #10

    Dot and the Kangaroo by Ethel Pedley

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    42.4% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.


    When God Was A Rabbit

    When God Was A RabbitWhen God Was a Rabbit (WGWAR) would have bypassed me had a friend not told me she bought it and loved it—cried with laughter, in fact—after spotting someone reading it on a plane. And had I bothered to research its author and plotline before buying it on this recommendation, I probably would have bypassed it. Thankfully there was no bypassing by either the book or by me, and WGWAR captured my attention fully.

    WGWAR is a Sunday Times bestseller and its back cover contains rave reviews from the likes of the Observer, Daily Mail, and Guardian, which variously and respectively espouse that the book is: ‘Captivating…rendered with an appealing frankness, precision, and emotional acuity’; ‘Beguiling…you can’t quite get the voice out of your head’; and ‘Sharply funny, whimsical and innovative’.

    It’s all of those and more, but because I can’t summon anything more insightful or intelligent than those above, I’ll simply give you a synopsis of the tale and author. Sarah Winman is an actor turned writer, with WGWAR her first book. That alone would have put me off summarily with an eye-rolling scoff and healthy dose of envy that she should achieve such success at the first turn of her hand. But digging a little deeper I found an actor whose career hasn’t been as successful as she’d have liked and a writer all along—Winman has penned a number of scripts and WGWAR is simply her first novel.

    She also has an incredible grasp of language, with the words she’s chosen to convey her tale at once both perfectly flawless and timed. That’s perhaps what gets you in the most because the tale itself is simple (or at least, deceptively so). Its protagonist is a girl and it centres on her, her brother, her parents, her best friend, her brother’s best friend, their aunt, and a small number of other characters that come to be part of their lives. Their lives are fairly small, the book focusing on the minutiae of their existences. At the same time, this narrow focus allows the complex stories of their lives to unfold.

    I’m still not sure which parts were so funny they warranted my friend absolutely cacking herself over them. Sure, there were plenty of parts that I found mildly amusing or that impressed me, but none that had me laughing out loud. More surprising, was at how Winman tugged at my heartstrings—I thought I was powering through the book well, yet she managed to floor me.

    That’s not to say there weren’t moments she frustrated me. The book starts and is largely set in England and relatively free from being anchored by moments in history, so the inclusion and attempted claiming of—spoiler alert—September 11 and the subsequent amnesia felt clichéd and wholly unnecessary. That might just be my interpretation, though, and I’ll admit that I may have missed some key markers. I did, after all, miss what Winman explained to be central themes of violence. I was like, er, really? I also found the whole God/rabbit thing tenuous at best.

    I have to commend Winman, though, for her honesty in the Life as a Writer section at the end of the book. It’s not something she needed to include and could have continued the ‘muse’ mystery so many writers uphold. Instead she says: ‘There was no great epiphany, no precise moment when I swapped the spoken word for the written word,’ before outlining a disillusionment with acting and the ‘secrets’ to her writing success.

    ‘It’s not that long ago that I was sitting in front of authors listening to them reveal their secrets for literary success. I’ve heard people ask what pencils they use, ask how many hours a day one needs to write, ask, basically, how to do it. All I know is that there is no one way, and every writer approaches the process differently.’

    That doesn’t stop it being endlessly interesting—even to those of us who live it daily. The approach that works for her tends to be that she writes from mid-morning until dark and aims for 1000 words a day because after 70–80 days she’ll have a first draft of a novel. It’s a waste of time trying to write like someone else, she says, so stick with your style (while always trying to improve it, of course), believe in yourself, and: ‘If you only have an hour to write: write. If you have a day: write.’ She also says: ‘…find the reason that makes you write.’

    All of that is, perhaps, what this novel exudes. It was a labour of love. Whether her second book will be the same I don’t know (I presume her publishing house has shackled her to her desk for at least another book based on the success of this first one).

    But I’m glad I’ve read her first one, because as a work of fiction that focuses on a family it’s one I wouldn’t normally pick up. Because her writing style is fresh, insightful, surprising, and inspiring. And because her pragmatic examination of her writing style and processes have been a creative while realistic shot in the arm for me. It makes me want to sit down and write.

    Review – Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas

    Remember the days when we called Santa ‘Father Christmas’. Not too long ago, that’s for sure.

    It’s also not too long ago that Santa saturation and adulation was a far less commercial thing. There was an inherent mystery and innocence about our connection with this most historical of creatures. Sadly, the fate of Father Christmas now seems to rest in how many DS games he can cram into his sack.

    Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas brings back the whimsy and tradition of days gone by in this lovely picture book.

    Combining digitised photographs and computer illustrations, the book takes children on a journey into the past introducing the origins of Santa and taking a peek into his illustrious and very elusive world.

    Santa started his incarnation as the Bishop of Myra in Turkey. A rich but generous man, he gave much of his fortune away to the poor, especially kids. Legend says he even dropped gold coins down the chimney of one poor family, and they landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry.

    Kids will love taking a little trip to the North Pole to visit modern day Santa, his mail room, workshop and even his home. They’ll meet Mrs Claus, the elves and the reindeer, and will even learn about the man in red’s magic snowsuit and the inner workings of his sleigh.

    Just how does Santa travel around the world delivering presents in one night? Find out in this fun and very festive book.

    Santa Claus: The Magical World of Father Christmas is published by Allen and Unwin.


    The Hunger Games (Parts 2 & 3)

    The Hunger GamesI said I’d check back in as soon as I’d finished book two of The Hunger Games, but didn’t end up doing that because I:

    a)      would have been saying roughly the same things I’d said about the first book, i.e. that I, like, totally loved it

    b)     raced straight on to reading the third.

    Having finished all three, I’m still thinking about the trilogy, turning over its concepts and plot devices in my mind—something that’s a sign of a story told well. Admittedly, the first book’s slated to be released as a film in coming days, but I know I’d be too snobby to read the film tie-in version of the book.

    I’m fairly relieved I can claim the ‘I, like, totally read this before it was a mainstream film’ moral high ground (even if we both know the reading was by a matter of weeks). The series also definitely sated some of my Vampire Academy thirst and I’m pleased to have discovered one I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Thanks again for the recommendation, guys.

    What I haven’t worked out is whether I love or hate is how the trilogy surprised and steered me away from the story arc I expected. I definitely like being surprised—predictable heroes’ journeys get old fast, and Joseph Campbell’s thousand-faced hero has been done a thousand times a thousand times over—but with The Hunger Games trilogy I constantly felt as though I was on a roller coaster.

    And when I say roller coaster, I mean in part the ups and downs and adrenalin, but mostly how you think you’re set on a particular course and are then suddenly jerked in a completely different, whiplash-inducing direction. That’s not a bad thing, because the new course was invariably interesting, but I retained an element of wondering what would have happened had we stayed the original course. Was this where Collins wanted to take me, asked a little nagging voice in my mind, or did she find writing the climactic confrontation too scary and too hard?

    Likewise, I was surprised that although Katniss was a strong, capable protagonist, things seemed to happen to and around her, she didn’t necessarily take part, and the tale leapt forward. Say, for example (and I’m issuing spoiler alerts from here on—if you haven’t yet read the trilogy but plan to, read on at your peril), at the climax in the arena in the second book, which then fast forwarded to them being in District 13, as well as some of the major rebellion battles, which she only heard about afterwards. Then there was the time when she was advancing towards killing Snow and suddenly the battle was all over. Or how her trial took place without her knowledge or even one iota of participation—Katniss in the witness box, I reckon, would have been explosively good reading.

    Of course, this removal from the action could have been in part to show that there were bigger machinations were at work and Katniss was a pawn in a number of characters’ games. It also usefully enabled the already three-dimensional story to suddenly jump back to a virtual wide shot reveal a fourth dimension, such as when the victors she thought were out to get her were actually risking their own lives to save hers.

    I was intrigued and impressed too (if the latter’s really the right word) that the victors were incapacitated by or at least desperately suffered as a result of their in-arena experiences. It wasn’t named as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I couldn’t help but think that that was what it was and how it leant the books and the tale a darker, more realistic element than is currently seen in young-adult fiction. It also shaped the tale itself, with characters staying true to their issues rather than suddenly stepping back up to be heroic victors at the slightest sniff of action.

    I also respected Collins’ decision to write Katniss as not just flawed, but not entirely likeable—she often thought, said, and did things that we’ve all thought about but never done. And don’t get me started on the love triangle that was less clear and more grey and surprising than one other love triangle that springs to mind—that of a certain human girl, a vampire, and a werewolf. I’ll stop short of saying who Katniss ends up choosing, but I will say that I couldn’t confidently (and without changing my mind a chapter later) tell who she’d pick until I read it on the page (maybe that was just me, though, and it was obvious to you all along). I also liked that although love was a key part of the story, it didn’t dominate it.

    So, all that’s left now is to check out the film and compare it with the books. Invariably, the love triangle is going to be ramped up and Katniss sexed up like a juvenile Lara Croft. What else do you think will change?

    What do you call an ereader virus?

    Hopefully you’ve been having too much fun at Christmas parties to notice that uBookish has been a bit quiet of late – but not so much fun that you won’t notice our flurry of activity in coming days.

    The lack of posts is not through choice – I have a long list of ideas at the ready (Part III of my November newsfest on Titlepage and the Book Industry Strategy Group report, my review of the Sony Reader, an update on the Australian Publishers Association’s Business of Digital Rights Seminar and a look at ebook distribution to name a few).

    As well as the usual lack of time, I’ve been held back by a series of trojan attacks on my PC (read on for some advice to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to you, and for a very silly joke about malware and ebooks – which we hope are two words set to rarely appear in the same sentence in future).

    About three weeks ago, our Norton software started warning that its expiry date was near. I tried to click through to pay another year’s annual fee, but had no luck. After hitting submit, the dialogue box would just hang, looking as though it might at any time congratulate me on renewing my subscription, but in fact never doing anything much at all. I tried several times, but eventually in frustration put the task to one side for a quieter day.

    There were more urgent matters to consider (I thought), like marking student papers, writing a news story for Bookseller + Publisher and compiling some research for the Copyright Agency Limited’s upcoming guide to digital publishing.

    It was in the process of the latter task that I first noticed a problem. Google searches result lists would look safe enough, but clicking on the links would lead me to all sorts of utterly irrelevant pages.

    I tried rebooting and that seemed to fix it. Then, a few hours later, the problem would return. A couple of times, the PC crashed, but it came back to life. One morning, I spent three hours trying to fix the problem by again trying to restore our Norton subscription (still no luck) and then installing and running Microsoft’s Security Essentials.

    Lifehacker recommends the Microsoft product ahead of all others, and it did find and remove about a dozen trojans, malware files and viruses.

    I’d hoped this would solve everything, but there was one file that Security Essentials singled out but did not remove as it didn’t recognize it. Perhaps it was this one that was the killer, because that evening while I slept, my husband was working on our Samsung laptop when it crashed completely.

    We can’t even get Windows to start up (believe me, I have tried, wasting another three hours the other day).

    So now I’m wondering about the family photo collection.

    My poor students are still waiting for their marked feature stories.

    I’m trying to get into work early enough to do my blog posting before colleagues arrive and expect me to be at work on our magazine, but failing because it’s Christmas and my family needs me more than ever outside of childcare hours.

    Our fingers are crossed that a friend who has some Linux expertise will be able to access our files and revive the PC for us when he has some time later this week.

    It’s all helped in my decision about whether to buy a Mac or PC next (though Lifehacker warns that while less so, Macs are vulnerable to attack too).

    Please beware of malware this Christmas, and make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. At the very least, take Lifehacker’s advice and make sure you browse safely.

    With spammers and hackers constantly hassling me via email, automated blog posts and PC threats, I have had a grim thought. For how long will my iPad, iPhone and Sony Reader be safe from their devious and costly (in terms of time and money) plots?

    Which brings me to the joke (discovered here).

    Q: What do you call an ereader virus?

    A: A bookworm.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Number 11 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #11

    Unbelievable! by Paul Jennings

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    39.1% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.



    Today, Kids’ Book Capers is one of the stops on author Sue Lawson’s blog tour to celebrate the release of her new YA novel, Pan’s Whisper.

    Pan’s Whisper is a deeply moving book about a damaged girl trying to move on from her past and build a new life with strangers who seem to want to get close to her no matter how much she fights against it.

    Pan Harper is brash, loud and damaged. Ordered into foster care, Pan is full of anger at her mother and older sister and is certain that she knows the reality of her past – until she meets Hunter, the boy who understands her story better than anyone else, and who just may be the key to unlocking the truth of Pan’s memories.

    But are some memories best left forgotten? And is Hunter worth Pan breaking her most important rule? Never. Trust. Anyone.

    Pan is a sensitively drawn character who has faults and does things that make the reader cringe, but her honesty and vulnerability make us forgive her in the same way as the characters in the story do.

    Pan’s Whisper is told in first person from Pan’s point of view and third person from her sister, Morgan’s and this helps to clearly differentiate the two characters. It also foreshadows for the reader that for some reason, Morgan can no longer become completely involved in Pan’s world.

    One of the things I loved about this book is that it’s such an authentic representation of the vulnerability of small children and the fact that what they remember or think they remember can be different from a reality they can’t remember or don’t want to face.

    Pan’s first instinct is always to flee from reality, but through the love and support of her newfound family and friends she learns to confront the things she fears most and find a way to acceptance within herself.

    This poignant book is beautifully written with the scene clearly set and the characters full of qualities and foibles that endear them to the reader.

    There are strong themes and issues handled with such sensitivity that the reader is aware of them throughout but they have not been allowed to take over the story of Pan’s Whisper.

    Things will never be the same again for Pan but there is hope at the end of the book as the reader sees her turning her life around.

    Tissue box warning for this one but it will leave you feeling uplifted and optimistic about Pan’s future.

    Pan’s Whisper is published by Black Dog (an imprint of Walker Books) for Young Adult readers.

    Follow the Pan’s Whisper blog tour at these great blogs:

    Blog tour stops:

    Monday 12 December Claire Saxby Let’s Have Words
    Tuesday 13 December Emma McCleary Booksellers New Zealand
    Wednesday 14 December Dee White Dee Scribe Writing
    Thursday 15 December Shirley Marr Life on Marrs
    Friday 16 December Steph Bowe Hey Teenager
    Monday 19 December Michael Earp Little Elf Man’s Random Thoughts
    Tuesday 20 December Sue Whiting All in the Telling
    Wednesday 21 December Anna Dolin Cherry Banana Split






    Mid-month round-up – the psychopath edition

    I think I missed the memo on the season of goodwill. This month my reading has been less about peace and festive feeling to all mankind and more about the horror that can lurks in the minds of men. And women, to be fair.

    The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson started me off. Jon (who also wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats and Them: Adventures with Extremists) returns to his pet subject – that much-debated tipping point where eccentricity becomes genuine madness – this time looking at the nuts and bolts of madness from the business end. How do we define a psychopath and is there any place for them in society? In fact, is being a psychopath a hindrance or an excellent business trait to have? And how can we stay assured of our own normality when we are increasingly being defined by our maddest edges?

    The book isn’t a dry treatise but a lively international exploration; jumping from interviews with Scientologists to showdowns with CEOs who display more than a touch of the psychopath themselves; bantering with Tony, a Broadmoor inmate who swears he faked a mental disorder to get a lighter sentence but now can’t get out of there; studying psychopathy with Bob Hare, the psychologist who developed the industry standard Psychopath Test that put Tony behind bars.

    It’s a thoughtful-provoking  subject but Jon writes with a sense of humour and an eye for the absurd that makes this book an easy and enjoyable read. The Psychopath Test been out for a while and already devoured and dissected by the media but don’t feel you’ve missed the boat. The good news is that, if you haven’t already read it, the paperback coming out in January will drop the price to an eminently grab-able $18. If you’ll forgive the terrible pun, you’d be mad to miss it.

    Set off by the this, I ended up re-reading Crazy Like Us, which examines how differing cultures and societies intrepret madness and specifically how the West’s dominance in many forms of medicine and mainstream culture means it is effectively exporting its own views on madness. Ethan Watters argues that America, as the world leader in generating new mental health treatments and categorising disorders, has started to define mental illness and health both at home and abroad and in doing so has changed the mental illnesses themselves.

    Examining everything from how marketing for Paxil sought to actively stigmatise depression in Japan to the “contagiousness of mental illness” (using the hysteria that afflicted thousands of women during the Victorian era as an example), Watters puts forward a fascinating argument that will make you re-examine everything you already think about mental health and mental illness.

    This last one isn’t non-fiction, but I couldn’t resist the chance to snap up a Stephen King I had somehow missed (got to love a writer so prolific he can occasionally surprise me with a book I haven’t read yet). Desperation follows the King classic formula – take a diverse group of people, stick them in a creepy spot (in this case, Desperation, Nevada – billed as “not a very nice place to live and an even worse place to die”) and add nothing but trouble and watch as they all go mad.

    Complete with some of the usual King characters (Alcoholic writer? Check. Child wise beyond their years? Check.) and a disturbed and disturbing villian (a looming and psychotic cop who prowls “the loneliest road in America” rounding up innocent motorists to imprison and kill) the town of Desperation is set to become the battle ground for Good vs Evil. And Evil seems to be holding all the cards…

    It’s a classic King formula  but one that that he uses for a reason – Desperation works. Wonderfully. It’s by turns terrifying and heart-breaking, and will have you cancelling your road-trips for the forseeable future and checking the eyes of any law enforcement you meet for the tell-tale signs of madness. And checking your own while you are at it…

    Goliath was worth the wait

    I’ve finally read Goliath, the last book in Scott Westerfeld’s YA, steampunk Leviathan trilogy. YAY! Definitely worth the wait! Awesome book! Awesome trilogy! I want more! (Get the feeling I may like these books?)

    I read and reviewed the first book, Leviathan, in August last year (see “Leviathan”). I was a little late, jumping onto the bandwagon… but that meant I had less of a wait for the second book, Behemoth. But because I read that one straight away, I then had a horribly long wait (it seemed like so much more than just one year) until the release of Goliath. Even though each book has it’s own story, the plots are very much connected and form a larger whole. Although none of the books end on a cliff-hanger, the endings leave so many plot points and character issues dangling, that these books really would be better off read in quick succession.

    There is so much that I love about these books — the characters, the setting, the plot and the inventive use of actual historic events and people within the fictitious world. But I’m going to start with the aesthetics. The books are illustrated throughout by Keith Thompson, with beautifully detailed black and white drawings. I have the hardcover editions, each of which has a gorgeous colour illustration at the front of the book. The dust jackets are also wonderful — a combination of photographs and Thompson’s illustrations with metallic embossing. They are very ‘touchy-feely’’ and a pure joy to hold and gaze at.

    I can’t write about these books without mentioning the HUGENESS of the titles — Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath. Each of these names refers to a massive vehicle/creature/weapon that plays an important role in the story. I like evocative, one-word titles, and these immediately conjure up images of gargantuan creatures and epic tales. Very appropriate!

    I love the world that Westerfeld has created. It’s an alternative history around the time of the First World War. The world is divided into Clankers and Darwinists — the former devoted to the use of steam-driven machinery while the latter rely on the fabrication of astonishing creatures through genetic engineering. Putting this world within a recognisable context of historic events (such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Tunguska explosion) gives it a link to reality, as does the inclusion of historic figures such a Nikola Tesla. It’s also rather fun playing ‘spot the historic figure’.

    The plot involves many intricacies, but centres on the characters of Aleksandar, Prince of Hohenberg, on the run from his own countrymen; and Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy. The whole ‘girl disguised as boy’ plotline is an old one, but Westerfeld makes it work. Despite the fact that we all know it will be resolved with romance, it still makes for an enjoyable, page-turning read. And that’s primarily due to the characters — they are likeable, and interesting and ‘real’… and by the end of the third book I was desperate for them to fall in love. (Okay, so I’m an old romantic at heart.) My wife, who also loved these books, would have liked the romance to have been upped a notch or two. (Not sure if that’s a representatively female viewpoint… or just her?)

    My only disappointment is that Goliath is the last book. I want more! It’s such a fascinating and intricate world, with so many possibilities. I would love to see Westerfeld introduce some new characters and let us explore more of this world through their eyes. If you happen to be reading this, Mr Westerfeld, (Can I call you Scott? No? Never mind.), please consider this a plea for a decalogy.

    If you haven’t read these books… WHY NOT? They’re brilliant! You should read them. Take my word for it. 🙂

    Catch ya later,  George

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    Number 12 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

    Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

    Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #12

    The Muddleheaded Wombat by Ruth Park and illustrations by Noela Young

    We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


    38.5% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.