SWF tickets now on sale

Top of my list to see at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival (tickets for the May 14 to 20 event are on sale now) are former head of MI5 and now novelist and Man Booker Prize judge Stella Rimington and former CIA interrogator Glenn Carle.

I could never be a spy, but can’t get enough of insights into their professions (Spooks, anyone?).

Among the big events I’m saving up to attend is the lunch marking the presentation of the inaugural Stella Prize for the best book of any genre by an Australian woman writer (May 18, 12pm). Wendy Harmer is hosting, and will be joined by Tara Moss, Di Morrissey, Anne Summers, Anita Heiss, Anna Krien and Sophie Cunningham.

Heiss’s session the day before, Am I Black Enough For You, looks a cracker too. She’ll be talking about her new book, written in response to Andrew Bolt’s infamous “White is the new black” column.

Cunningham will be talking about her writing life to open a day long session on Thursday, May 17, entitled The Forest for the Trees: Writing and Publishing in 2012. She’ll then chair a panel on what it takes to get published. In the first afternoon session, Australian publishers Margaret Seale (Random House), Sue Hines (Allen & Unwin) and Alison Green (Pantera Press) will discuss 2012’s challenges and opportunities with Picador UK publisher Paul Baggaley.

That’ll be followed by a session on the importance of literary journals, which leads into the ebookish session of the festival, “Off the Beaten Track: Digital and Other Ways Forward”. Former Booku.com blogger Joel Naoum, of Pan Macmillan digital imprint Momentum, will discuss recent industry developments with digital publishing consultant Anna Maguire, of Digireado, Elizabeth Weiss, of Allen & Unwin, and David Henley, of Xou Creative.

The day wraps up with a session on the year ahead with HarperCollins publisher Shona Martyn, literary agent Sophie Hamley, Shearers proprietor Barbara Horgan (who appears to be the only bookseller on the festival program) and Cunningham.

All this for $35. OK, so maybe I won’t have to save up for that one. The Australian Book Industry Awards dinner is a little more expensive at $220 a ticket, but you won’t find a better way to gain insight into what (and who) makes the industry tick than attending this joint publishing and bookselling industry event. It’s on the Friday night, from 7pm.

Many of the same bookish types will be at the 60th Book Design Awards on the Thursday evening. Tickets are $77.

There are several events related to journalism and social media I’d like to attend, but I’m locking myself away at the State Library for some workshops instead this year. The first, on the Friday morning, looks at Short Fiction in the Age of e-Publication. Author Rodney Hall will be looking at tailoring writing for e-delivery. No doubt there will be some tips and tricks to help me with my research on and publishing of longform journalism and short non-fiction in ebook form. You never know, I might pull a couple of old short stories out of the bottom drawer too.

That afternoon, Toni Jordan will be exploring the essentials of cool chick lit. And yes, there is such a thing, and the writing of it is not as easy as you’d imagine (otherwise we’d all have written several bestselling works of commercial fiction already).

When I was a twentysomething Sydney-sider, I used to dream of landing a spot on the list of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists, and attended the presentation to the winners at the festival each year. Given absolutely zero novel-writing went on between festivals, it was never going to happen. The closest I got was joining the judging panel for the award a few years back. SMH literary editor and founder of the event Susan Wyndham will be on hand to announce this year’s winners on Sunday, May 20, at 2.30pm.

It’s the ability to commit to creating a long piece of writing, and to seeing the project through, that I admire most about young writers. If you’ve ever written a novel, or a novella, or a memoir, or a thesis, give yourself a pat on the back even if you haven’t been published. Just getting on and doing it is a huge achievement.

Check out the full festival program at www.swf.org.au. You can save your chosen events into a personal schedule to print out or save for later smartphone/tablet reference (there is a download to calendar option but I couldn’t get it to work on my iPad).

Many of the events are unticketed, so you could just turn up, admire the Harbour views, grab a bite at Fratelli Fresh across the road, then drop in on a random session for some serendipitous literary magic.

See you there!

The first rule of book club is…

…bring a bottle of wine, apparently. I’m not sure what the rest of the rules are – this is my first ever book club – but everyone was very clear about the wine.

Despite a lifetime of loving books and reading books and obsessing about books and occasionally fresking people about by thrusting books at them shouting, “Take this! You must read it!” (and then calling them to check if they are), I have never been to a book club. I’m not sure how this has happened; I love talking about books and I love drinking booze, and apparently book clubs exist to combine the two, but somehow I have missed out. So when a mate recently suggested a book-club meet, I was eager to jump in. Many of the book clubs I have seen seem to exclusively deal with fiction so I was chuffed when I spotted a non-fiction book under the possible reads, and even more chuffed when people said the non-fiction one sounded ideal. (It’s nice to know I am not alone in my real-life read loving ways.)

The book we chose is Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which created no small amount of conversation and controversary on its release in 2011. This was at least partially fuelled by a Wall Street Journal publishing an exerpt from the book with the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” which suffered, apparently, from the same problem as the book did – many readers completely missed what Chua claims is irony and self-deprecating humour implicit in the title and believed that Chua was bombastically advocating the superiority of a very strict and ethnically defined approach to parenting.

To be fair, it’s easy to see how this could happen; although Chua describes her book as a self-depreciating memoir, anecdotes such as the “Little White Donkey” one, where Chua describes how she got her  unwilling younger daughter to learn a very difficult piano piece by threatening no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for years, and the donation of her dollhouse to the Salvation Army don’t exactly evoke an image of a self-depreciating but loving Mum so much as  a harpy on the rampage. And Chua seems delighted to horrify her audience by emphasising the excesses of her approach and her opinion of other methods of raising children.

“Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the  Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1)  schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your  children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you  must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever  disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the  teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be  permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and  (7) that medal must be gold.”

Unlike the over-achieving and occasionally terrifying Chua I have just done the basics for tonight’s book club meet. I have read the Battle Hymn, and a little extra in the form of looking up a few reviews and interviews with Chua (I’m not sure if you get extra points for that, or if you get accused of cheating), and asked the organiser what else is required and will happen on the night. Wine drinking, apparently. Lots of it.

I’ve even ended up looking up the normal conventions for book clubs, finding this set of 6 rules from some bloke called Nick, who has declared himself “Official Book Club Rule Master of the Universe”. (My mental image of a book club Master of the Universe has a librarian in a He-Man style-outfit, somewhat like Conan the Librarian. I am not sure if this is what he was going for.) His rules are helpful in that they specify munchie types (chips are bad as they crunch, apparently, and accidentally picking a terrible book means you have to provide a good dessert or snack to make up for it!), unhelpful in that he suggests cleaning toilets more throughly and slightly worrying in that he is very clear that “what happens in Book Club STAYS in Book Club”.

…which begs the question, what is going to happen in book club? Do I need to be nervous? Should I have brought a mask in case we end up out burgling book-store or will we be reclining on cushions, dicussing literature, while nubile assistants peel grapes for us? Should I be expecting lively conversation or structured questions? Should I bring my beret, in order to look like a more serious reader? I can always dig my old reading glasses out – as they’re slightly the wrong prescription these days they give me a rather ferocious-looking squint and can be some help if I go for the Conan the Librarian look.

And, hey, if that doesn’t work, at least I know my bottle of wine is good.

Phryne’s cocaine blues

Phryne Fisher — socialite, aristocrat, flapper… and amateur detective. She’s a character is a series of mystery novels written by Melbourne author Kerry Greenwood. Years ago, I read Greenwood’s YA novels. I loved them, and so bought the first two of her famed Phryne Fisher mystery novels. Nine years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading the first of them. 🙂

The first two books in the series are Cocaine Blues and Flying Too High. I’ve got the two-in-one volume published by Pulp Fiction Press in 2003. I bought it when it was released with the best of intentions, certain that I would read it fairly soon. But, as these things happen, the book got mislaid and I forgot about it. I found it again a year or so ago and placed it in my must-read-soon pile, where it inevitably had a couple of dozen other books placed on top of it. When I heard that a television series was being made, I put the book a little closer to the top of the pile. The next thing you know, the ABC is screening Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. So I extracted the book from its place in the stack and began to read.

In Cocain Blues Miss Fisher arrives in Melbourne at the behest of an aristocratic family, to investigate what is happening with their daughter, who they fear may be the victim of slow poisoning by her husband. It’s not long before Phryne is also caught up with investigations into cocaine smuggling and illegal abortions. Along the way, she teams up with two socialist taxi drivers and a Scottish female doctor, and hires a maid/investigative assistant. I assume that this team will continue to assist her through further adventures.

The mystery plot is interesting enough, though in the end, unremarkable. What really hooked me into this book and kept me reading were the characters and the setting — particularly Phryne Fisher herself. She is a fabulously fun character, with her penchant for good-looking men, fast cars and designer dresses. Intriguing and likeable, I couldn’t help but want her to succeed.

And then there’s all the wonderful period detail. Set in Melbourne (my home city) in the 1920s, I really enjoyed all the descriptions of familiar landmarks as they had been in the past — like the wonderful Block Arcade and the Windsor Hotel in the CBD. Phryne swans through the streets of Melbourne with the same delicious ease and nonchalance that she does through her many social engagements in upper crust society. It’s all rather a joy to read.

The edition I read did seem a little plagued by typos. Hopefully, these will have been fixed up for the new tv show tie-in editions from Allen & Unwin.

I’ve taken a break to read a couple of other books, but I will soon be returning to Miss Fisher’s 1920s Melbourne to read Flying Too High. I’m determined to read at least one or two more before settling down to watch the series, as I want to create a firm picture of the main characters in my mind before seeing what the respective actors have done with them.

By the way, if you’re interested in Phryne’s literary adventures, check out her website.

Catch ya later,  George

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MILLIE’S SPECIAL SOMETHING

I was drawn to this book immediately because I love David Miller’s artwork. His colourful paper sculptures are amazing.

And in Millie’s Special Something, David’s artwork works so well with Tania Cox’s simple cumulative text.

Big, bad Reggie loves to scare Millie.

It’s fun. But not for Millie. It’s frightening!

Her friends each have a special something to feel brave.

So why doesn’t she? Or does she?

Millie’s Special Something is a positive book about friendship and loyalty. When Reggie threatens Millie, all her friends come to her defence and protect her from the fearsome Reggie who is so much bigger and stronger than Millie.

But Millie knows that somehow she’s going to have to find her own way of dealing with Reggie and stopping him from scaring her. She discovers the solution quite by accident, but soon realises that it’s a very powerful tool.

This is a poignant story of a little dinosaur’s quest to find out what’s special about her, and to live in a world without fear. It’s a book about self-esteem and facing up to the things that scare you.

Millie’s Special Something is a great book for class discussions or for reading in the home and getting kids to talk about the things that scare them, and helping them to overcome them.

Young readers will also love the fact that the characters and setting are from the age of the early dinosaurs.

Millie’s Special Something is for pre-school and early primary readers. It’s written by Tania Cox and illustrated by David Miller.

Millie’s Special Something is published by Working Title Press.

 

Review – What’s the Matter, Aunty May?

Our wee little man is a helpful lad. He loves to help his Aunty May clean her stunning house, teetering with priceless antiques and tidyness, by sweeping, polishing and washing up – antique cups and vases, naturellement. But alas, it seems our little one is a tad clumsy, a smidge over-eager, teensy bit of a klutz.

Whilst Aunty May plucks at a harp in le salon, our lad sets about poking holes in screen doors with long-handled brooms, soaking the cat in red ink, sucking the budgie into the vacuum cleaner and causing a book avalanche. Poor Aunty May’s world is turned upside down and by the end of the book, she – and her house – a right schemozzle.

Can a little bit of help actually be a hindrance?

Author Peter Friend has penned a hilarious tale, in rhyming text, that will make kids shiny-eyed with amusement. Illustrations by Andrew Joyner take this already rollicking story to even greater heights with his truly divine, retro-inspired illustrations that a pure eye-candy.

The looks on Aunty May’s face, the nonchalance on the face of a little boy who really means well, the scrumptious detail like the shattered-and-glued plates on the rack in the kitchen that imply rather consistent well-meant aide – this is a book resplendent with cartoonish hilarity, whilst still packing scrumptious literary punch.

With somewhat Seussy undertones, in terms of the rhyming text and outrageous happenings – floods, avalanches, Aunty May caught in the ceiling fan – What’s the Matter Aunty May? is a must for picture book lovers – and is a truly beautiful all-rounder of a production. . . something we’ve come to expect from Little Hare.

What’s the Matter, Aunty May? is published by Little Hare.

JAKE’S CONCERT HORROR

Jake’s Concert Horror is the latest in the adventures of an engaging character created by Ken Spillman.

Jake’s previous adventures include Jake’s Gigantic List, Jake’s Monster Mess, Jake’s Great Game and Jake’s Balloon Blast.

A school concert sounds like FUN. Jake could scamper across the stage in a monkey suit. He could CLASEH swords with Jonah.

Even being a prince might be okay – as long as princesses are kept WELL CLEAR.

But Mrs Paul has other ideas…

In Jake’s Concert Horror, Jake has been given the leading male role in the school play, The Little Mermaid.

Even worse than being centre stage and having to remember a heap of lines is the fact that Jake is going to have to kiss his female co-star Stephanie in front of the whole school.

Jake is sure he’s going to forget his lines or that some other disaster will happen on the night to make him look like a complete fool – he even has nightmares about it.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is that it explores real fears experienced by kids this age and is realistic in its portrayal of how a young boy would handle this situation.

Written by Ken Spillman, Jake’s Concert Horror is another entertaining and believable read in the Jake series.

It’s an exciting and fast-paced text complimented by the hilarious black and white illustrations of Chris Nixon.

Jake’s Concert Horror is an easy read with a central story that kids of many different ages will relate to.

Jake’s Concert Horror is published by Fremantle Press and is an entertaining book dedicated to “Every kid who finds a way of facing fears”.

It will be released in April 2012.

 

 

 

Spec Fic Awards

Continuum is an annual spec fic convention held in Melbourne. Each year it hosts the Chronos Awards for excellence in speculative fiction by Victorian writers. This year’s Continuum 8 is also the National Science Fiction Convention for 2012. As such it will also host the Ditmar Awards, which are the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards — a national version of the Chronos Awards. Then, of course, there are the Aurealis Awards coming up in May. So I’ve been thinking about these awards lately and thought I’d post about them.

I’ve blogged about awards before, looking at the different types of awards (see “Subjective Honour”) or simply reporting winners (see “YABBA dabba do”). This time around I thought I’d give you my perspective as a writer.

In the past, when I wrote short stories and the occasional education market book while working a day job, I didn’t think too much about awards. Yes, I nominated and voted in some awards, and took a passing interest in others. It never particularly concerned me whether I was eligible or not. If someone happened to nominate me, great; if not, so what?

Since writing became my sole career, things have changed. Promoting myself and my books is a part of my job. And awards can help. I now find myself watching the nomination and submission processes of awards that my writing is eligible for. That’s not to say that I obsess over them… I don’t. But I do keep an eye on things and hope that something I’ve written might get a look in.

In 2010, my novel Gamers’ Quest made it onto the ballot for the Chronos Awards… and, to my complete surprise, it won. Aside from the fact that it was really nice getting public acknowledgment for my book, winning the award has helped me to promote the book. My publisher has been able to refer to Gamers’ Quest as an “award-winning book”. I had stickers made up, which gets put on the front cover of copies at promotional events. And those stickers have sold books. Many a time, people have picked up and looked at the book because it has an award sticker on the front cover. It doesn’t matter that the person may never have heard of the award… there is something about an award sticker that will attract attention. As I’m trying to make a living out of my writing, selling more books is rather important to me. 🙂

This year, Gamers’ Challenge is eligible for a number of awards… and so I’m watching the progress of those awards to see if my new novel will make it on to any of the shortlists. The Aurealis Awards shortlist has already been announced, and while Gamers’ Challenge didn’t make it, there are some great books on there — go and take a look. Nominations for the Chronos Awards have closed, and so I now wait to see if it’s made it onto the ballot. And then there are the Ditmar Awards. The nominating period has started and runs until 15 April. I’m hoping someone out there might nominate Gamers’ Challenge.

Will I get onto any of the award ballots this year? Who knows? Will I be devastated if I don’t? No! I most certainly don’t rely on awards for promotion. But if I do get on, it’s one more positive element for my promotion… all of which helps me maintain my writing career.

It’s a tough job, this promotion thing… now, if I could just sell a million copies, then I could afford to hire a publicist. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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Interview – Dr Virginia Lowe of Create a Kids’ Book

Who are you? Virginia Lowe – I do have a PhD, so I can call myself ‘Doctor’ – but I usually don’t. I am author of Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell, about two children’s responses to books from birth, and of chapters in academic books on poetry, early literacy and Beatrix Potter. I have been involved with the Children’s Book Council of Australia (Victorian Branch) for over forty years. Wife of John for 42 years, mother of two, grandmother of one adolescent.

What do you do? I have been proprietor of Create a Kids’ Book for about fifteen years.

How did Create a Kids’ Book come to be? After finishing Year 12, I became a librarian, and during the course studied children’s literature. I found that I loved it, and got a job as the first Children’s Librarian at the brand new Moonee Valley Regional Library – selecting the whole children’s collection of about forty thousand books.

Despite not having been to university, I lectured in English and Children’s Literature at ACU for four years, and at 38, I began university. It wasn’t easy with a job, husband John doing his Masters, kids Ralph in primary and Rebecca in secondary, but I pressed on, with John’s full support again.

I did Honours, then a Master’s on English women poets in anthologies, then later again began my PhD. Lecturing in children’s literature, I often had students asking for advice on stories they had written. One student had a sister who was an artist illustrating her picture book, so I worked with her, too. She and I decided we could teach others the skills in a workshop situation, so Create a Kids’ Book was born. Jackie Young worked with me for about eight years, then went off to concentrate on her art work.

Jo Thompson took over the illustrator side of the workshops, and other assessors joined up to help with the manuscript assessment and e-course side of the business. They are all wonderful people – Jennifer Dabbs, Beck Lowe, Eileen Nelson, June Colbert and Marlo Garnsworthy (now living in America). We assess writing and illustrations for children from toddlers to YA novels. About forty books have been published through commercial publishers, and many self-published. They are listed on the successes page on our website.

What inspired Create a Kids’ Book? The fact that I was well known in the children’s book world, and had already helped many people write their stories. It seemed like the ideal job – and useful as well.

What does the site provide readers? There are writing tips, especially on how to write a picture book. So many people think this must be easy because there are so few words, but in fact it is as difficult as writing poetry – every word must be exactly right. And you have to know about the 32 page rule, and the way the illustrations can tell the story, replacing many words.  There is also information on the workshops, e-courses, mentoring and manuscript assessment. Also there is information about my parent-observer records and my other publications.

What have you yourself written? My book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell and about thirty academic articles. Also three chapters in academic books. An unpublished picture book, Yabby, is now doing good service on my website.

You are a published poet. Is this your favourite genre to write in? Yes I think so. It is certainly more fun than the academic writing, but I don’t do it as often as I might. John is the real poet in the household. I also have half a children’s novel, but it has been sitting there for eight years – who knows when I will find time to get back to it?

What makes a great picture book? The text needs to be original, and have that something extra that will make the editor take notice of it. This is where the professional assessment helps. As well as copy editing (and your spelling and grammar must be correct) we are also able to make suggestions about extra aspects that would make it more attractive to the publishers. We may not even want authors to change the words, but rather make a suggestion about the illustrations which might mean that it also teaches children about perspective, for instance.

What is your greatest writerly dream? I would like the parent-observer diaries to be used more extensively. I would like to be asked to submit chapters to many academic books, where they would be relevant. There is so much work in them, and no one can use them apart from me. My goal is to have young children less likely to be underestimated. So even though the academic writing is harder work and less fun than fiction or poetry, I guess that is what I will continue to do.

 

If you weren’t involved in literature, what would you be doing? Had I been able to go to university straight from school, I would have studied science. I am still very interested in science. Like Margaret Mahy, I read New Scientist regularly. But I guess my preferred reading is what is called ‘literary fiction’. I’ve belonged to the same book group for thirty-seven years, and in the last three years have joined another, reading and discussing children’s books. I’d probably be retired, actually, with all the time to read all the books I’d like.

How has the children’s book scene changed in the last 10 years and where is it headed? It’s harder to get commercially published, it’s easier to self-publish and e-books are having an impact – but I can’t predict where that will go, particularly for picture books. The interactive ones trouble me, because I’m not sure that young children will have enough concentration to understand the narrative when they’re busy pushing things to make things happen.

Name five children’s books you adore.

Moominsummer Madness (Tove Jansson)

For All Creatures (Glenda Millard/Rebecca Cool)

The Rabbits (John Marsden/Shaun Tan)

Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)

The Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)

Tell us your perfect day. A stiff breeze, cloudy or sunny (I could do without rain). Some good research/writing or manuscript assessment done, and a poem written too, then a walk on the beach.

Which children’s book character is most like you and why? Well I’d like to be like Moominmamma – accepting, unflappable, optimistic and thoroughly supportive to her whole family adopted or otherwise. But I’m afraid I’m more like the Hemulin – collecting, classifying, studying, vague and a bit self-centred.

What’s next for Virginia Lowe and Create a Kids’ Book? The business will keep going as long as there is a demand for it, though I may be less involved – still keeping an overview though, and writing recommendatory letters to go to the publishers with stories I think particularly good.  Lots of academic writing, lots of reading, writing poetry and maybe get back to that children’s novel.

See Virginia’s work at www.createakidsbook.com.au

 

Review: Nest: The Art of Birds by Janine Burke

TITLE: Nest: The Art of Birds
AUTHOR: Janine Burke
PUBLISHER: Allen & Unwin (81 Alexander St. Crows Nest, NSW 2065, Australia) (March 2012)
ISBN: 978 1 74237 829 9      182 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected])

There are many good things about this book. Its central theme, as the author tells us, is that birds’ nests are artistic creations: their construction and design consciously intended to be attractive not just as a safe and desirable place for the female to raise her brood, but also, like the bower-bird’s bower which is decorated with carefully chosen flowers, leaves, and found objects, pleasing in a wholly non-utilitarian, ‘artistic’ way. We humans are not, she suggests, the only animals to be artists.

This is a difficult argument to maintain, since the purpose of the embellishments added to bowers and nests is still to attract a mate. However, many of the nests which Janine Burke describes are, indeed, superbly and skillfully crafted and are also beautiful objects for us to see and touch. Our definition of art, too, has changed radically in recent times. So, Burke bolsters her argument by comparing the creation of these nests to the creations of a number of different human artists in a number of different media. Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’, an environmental sculpture made of rock in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, is one example she offers. Others, are the nest photography of Sharon Beals and the wild-life  photography of Andy Rouse.

The problem, for me, is that this book is a rag-bag of information – or, maybe I should say a magpie collection of facts – related, often very remotely and sometimes not at all, to her argument. For example, after a perfectly legitimate description of the nesting skills of storks, we get a long passage about Karen Blixen’s life and love, her home in Africa which is now a museum, and her affliction with syphilis, all because, it seems, the stork was her totem bird.

Burke wrote at length about Blixen and other artists in her recent book Visions. In Nest, she reprises a great deal of this, drawing on what she has already written about, for example, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf and the Australian Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye. She also trawls the poetry collections for bird poems, coming up with work by Keats, Shelley, Hughes and Emily Dickinson. None of this, however, is really of help in proving that birds are conscious artists.

Burke’s descriptions of her own observations of nesting birds are interesting and sometimes – as with her experiences with her noisy neighbours, the Indian Miner birds – quite funny. But do we really need to know how insecure she felt about writing this book, or how she overcame her early hero-worship of an influential art critic to arrive at her own opinions about art?

This book is beautifully presented, a pleasure to look at and hold; and Burke, who is an art historian, writes fluently and well when she describes art. She could have made much more of the nests themselves, their creation, their individuality, their diversity and their beauty, but, to my mind, she got sidetracked too often to make this a satisfying book.

Review: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

TITLE: Waiting for Sunrise
AUTHOR: William Boyd
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury (March 2012)
ISBN: 9781408818589   353 pages.

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected])

The Year is 1913, the setting Vienna. Lysander Ulrich Rief is a 28 year-old English actor. He is “a young, almost handsome man” and “almost a dandy” and he writes poetry. His surname, he says, is Old English for ‘thorough’ , and in Anglo Saxon it means’wolf’. But he is hardly a thorough wolf, maybe because he has a distressing problem for which a friend has advised him to seek psychiatric help in Vienna where, under the influence of Freud, psychoanalysis has become popular.

Dr Bensimon, is an English psychologist and a follower of Freud. He diagnoses Lysander’s problem as anorgasmia and, naturally, a psychological trauma in Lysander’s childhood is duly uncovered.

Meanwhile, Lysander has met Hettie Bull, a sexually predatory, Coca addicted, English sculptor who is living in Vienna with her common law husband, artist Udo Hoff. Hettie, in the time-honoured way, cures Lysander of his problem; but later, when she discovers that she is pregnant, she accuses him of rape and he is arrested.

So the scene is set for Alwyn Munro and Jack Fyfe-Miller, attachés at the British Embassy, to intervene and, subsequently, to facilitate Lysander’s daring escape over the Austro-Hungarian border and back to London.

Part two of the book is set in London in 1914. We meet Lysander’s glamorous Austrian mother; his elderly and frail step-father, Lord Crickmay Faulkner; his step-brother, Harley Street dentist, the Hon. Hugo Faulkner; and his uncle, Major Hamo Rief V.C., who makes exploratory expeditions to Africa and who has brought back with him the “very sweet boy” who had been his African guide. Each of these characters play a role in Lysander’s eventual career as a British spy after he is recruited by Munro and Fyfe-Miller in lieu of payment for the legal fees and accommodation incurred in their rescue of him from Vienna.

But I jump ahead. First, war is declared between England and Germany and Lysander decides to “do his bit” for England and enlists in the army. Then Munro and Fyfe-Miller turn up again and the skullduggery begins. Lysander is sent to the front line with a couple of grenades in his pack. He must make an excursion into no man’s land, toss the grenades and go ‘missing-in-action’ . He must crawl through a pre-arranged gap in the French defences and join the French army and, there, Fyfe-Miller will meet him and organize his transformation in to Abelard Schwimmer, a German-speaking Swiss railway engineer who has been in a sanatorium in Belgium and is now on his way home to Switzerland. Once in Geneva, Lysander/Abelard must meet the British agent, code-named ‘Bonfire’, who will lead him to a German Consular official who has been receiving coded messages from a British mole. He must then, using his “ingenuity” or a bribe, obtain the password which will allow the British to decrypt the messages and catch the mole.

In the last part of the book the action becomes faster and the plot more involved. Discovering the identity of the mole becomes the main theme, no-one can be trusted, and the story ends with an unexpected twist.

It is all quite entertaining, but I had a number of problems with this book. Perhaps most importantly, I did not warm to Lysander, who seemed to me to be a bit of a prat. I also found it hard to believe that the fledgling British intelligence service was quite as amateur in 1914 as this book suggests. And there were elements of the plot which I found completely unbelievable. At one point, for example, Lysander is shot three times at point-blank range, in a confined space, and he survives. Many of the characters, too, are little more than caricatures.

Reviewers in the British media have been enthusiastic about this book. Le Carré’s name is mentioned on an advertising flyer, but it is nothing like a Le Carré book. James Bond in 1914? Perhaps. The basis of a  forthcoming popular film? Very likely: It has all the necessary ingredients – Lords and Ladies, an Elizabethan Manor House, exotic settings, arty types, drugs, hot sex, hints of homosexuality and perversion, trench warfare, espionage, goodies and baddies – How could it possibly fail?

Mid-month round-up – the Hungry edition

So this month, like most of Australia, I have been spending my spare time glued to the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s a page-turner in the traditional sense, and it’s very easy to see why this trilogy was quickly picked up for movie adaptation.

The novels are set a post-apocalyptic America where the Haves live in urban luxury in a futuristic Capital and the have-nots are forced to eak out a survivalist existence ruled by the type of labour their area, or District, is able to supply to the Capital. The first book, the Hunger Games, follows teenager Katniss as she is forced, by a combination of the Capital and her family ties, to compete in a televised battle with 23 other teens which only one person can survive. Which is a bit of shame because Katniss and one of her competitors have some serious chemistry going on… Fast-paced, entertaining and manages to smush a lot of themes (Dystopian future, complete with sci-fi twists! A sharp-shooting survivalist heroine straight from a fantasy novel! Her family! An unjust government! A boy! Another boy! Bullies! Surrogate sisters! Lots of other people she needs to rescue, kill or rescue and kill!) into a coherent narrative that reels you in fast and keep you hooked on what happens next.

The Hunger Games series has been frequently compared to Twilight and I can see why – in a good way. The first book is very much YA, and is set firmly in the experiences of its teenage protagonists. But, unlike Twilight, in the Hunger Games there is actually something at stake and a female protagonist who – although certainly flawed – is willing to fight for her future as opposed to mooning around tripping over inanimate objects and clumsy plot hooks. If the comparisons to Bella are putting you off, give Katniss a chance to change your mind before you write off the Trilogy completely – it’s an entertaining story well-told, and worth devoting some reading time to.

Finished the Hunger Games and starving for some set-in-the-not-too-distant-future-reality-TV-gone-mad reading? You could pick up a copy of Stephen King’s Running Man, which pits his anti-hero against the ultimate live game show in a world where reality TV contestants run from annihilation at the hands of hunters. (Jersey Shore and forthcoming Australian adaption, The Shire – it’s an idea. We’re just saying.) If you are going to go this route I would suggest getting your hands on a copy of The Bachman Books, 3 novellas he wrote as pen-name Richard Bachman, which includes Running Man and another chilling tale of reality entertainment gone mad, The Long Walk.

If you fancy some classic sci-fi on the same theme, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game fits the bill nicely. Released in 1985, it picked up both a Hugo and a Nebula award, and a movie adaptation is currently in production. Set in a future where government agencies breed child geniuses to train them as the ultimate soldiers against alien invaders, these gifted children are the best and greatest hope for humanity – if they just can survive the rigorous military training.

Or if you with a taste for violence that makes the Hunger Games looking restrained could also try Battle Royale, a novel set in an alternative-Japan where a totalitarian government abduct high school students and force them to fight each other. The novel is extremely popular – and controversial – and has been adapted into a film and a manga series to boot. Be warned though; with its exploding collars and constant gore and violence, Battle Royale and its spin-offs are not for the faint-hearted.

But if you were feeling a bit faint-hearted, chances are you weren’t hankering for a second helping of the Hunger Games anyway. I am, and if anyone wants me, I’ll be re-reading a few of my old and rather gorey friends…

QUEEN OF THE NIGHT

Queen of the Night is the follow up book to Leanne Hall’s award winning, This is  Shyness.

The dark is dangerous. So is the past. So are your dreams.

For six months Nia—Wildgirl—has tried to forget Wolfboy, the mysterious boy she spent one night with in Shyness—the boy who said he’d call her back but didn’t.

But when Wolfboy calls her back, it’s not just about them. Wolfboy’s friend Paul is in trouble. He has fallen under the spell of the charismatic and manipulative Dr Gregory. On the rebound from love, he has been tempted over to the dark side by Dr Gregory who supplies him with drugs in exchange for information about Wolfboy.

Wildgirl also discovers that Wolfboy did call her back earlier, but someone has tried to keep them apart.

Queen of the Night takes the reader on a darkly tense journey as Wildgirl and Wolfboy race against time to save Paul from his dreams.

This is another beautifully written, unusual book with a magic all of its own and a surreal quality that draws the reader in. It explores relationships, the world’s fragility, and the vulnerability of love and the human spirit.

Leanne Hall takes us back into the world of Shyness where the sun doesn’t rise and dreams and reality are difficult to separate—but all of that might be about to change.

As a reader, I was drawn into the spell of this haunting but beautiful world and found myself wanting to know more about the characters in it. I’m hoping there will be a follow up book to Queen of the Night.

Queen of the Night is published by the Text Publishing Company and is available as both a paperback and an e-book.

 

Review – Show Day

Author Penny Matthews takes us to the country in this lovely picture book on the iconic Australian Agricultural Show. Country or city kid alike, who doesn’t love Show Day?

Lil wakes to a special day. It’s Show Day. She goes to check on Best Heifer – Princess Marigold (Goldie to the family) – then it’s into the kitchen to catch up with Dad who’s up to his elbows in his best orange marmalade yet. He’s in the wood-chopping contest today, too – and he’ll also lead Goldie into the ring.

Mum is going for the Biggest Pumpkin award. She’s also entering three kinds of jam and a plate of scones and a birthday cake. Albert the rooster has been entered in the poultry section and brother Henry is hoping Bart the guinea pig will trump Best Pet. Lil wants to submit a secret entry into Most Unusual Pet, too.

As the family enters the Show, we’re treated to iconic Show Day sites and sights, thanks to gorgeous, watercoloury illustrations by Andrew McLean. The smell of fresh popcorn, the side-stepping of puddles and animal poop, the echo of the wood chopping – it’s all here.

Mum’s birthday cake wins first prize. But she doesn’t go so well in the enormous pumpkin race. Dad wins second place for his marmalade, though all he gets for the woodchopping is a clap for being a good sport. But which spectacular pet will Lil enter into the Most Unusual Pet?

Kids will wholeheartedly enjoy this lovely slice-of-life day at the Show.

Show Day is published by Scholastic.

The Hunger Games Film

The Hunger GamesIt’s hard to know how a review written at 3am while still on the deliriously sleep-deprived high of watching The Hunger Games film adaptation (this one) would differ from one written once I’ve had some time to process and some sleep (not this one). But I am going to say that the film was everything I had hoped and expected it to be.

This film version of the first of the three books that I devoured in their entirety in fewer than three days might not have been perfect, but right now, it feels that way to me. I suspect I’m not the only fan who’s going to be simultaneously relieved and happy.

The casting of Katniss was spot on—I think Jennifer Lawrence was the right amount of beautiful and ordinary and played the role with an even, not-too-likeable, not-too-unlikeable hand. She didn’t overplay the moments, but nor was she wooden and pouty like Kirsten Stewart’s Bella. And, truthfully, she could easily have slipped into that territory.

I was, admittedly, deeply dubious about the casting of Gale and Peeta. Neither guy was, in my opinion, nearly cute enough to warrant the roles. Given their centrality to the tale, I was worried I was going to be in for epic disappointment. But not even five minutes in I was certain that Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta, was the hottest guy alive in the universe. I think that comes back to the conversation I’d recently had with a fellow fan who suggested that we’d probably like/fall for the actor by pure virtue of the Peeta role.

There’s too much to cover in this blog, and too much to write given that it’s 3am and I have to get up and be somewhere obscenely early in the morning, so I’ll sum up the film as follows:

  • The film opened without us having had a single preview inflicted upon us. Not one. It took me a few seconds to realise what we were watching. I’m actually wondering if someone pressed the wrong button.
  • The cinematography was exceptional, with the close-ups giving the right amount of intensity while also demonstrating that the characters could never quite see the whole picture. My stomach sturdiness wasn’t so exceptional, but I looked away when the close-up-induced motion sickness got too much.
  • The costumes and hairstyles of the larger-than-life characters and, in fact, the way these characters were played, were outstanding. Woody Harrelson was a greatly sauced-but-savvy Haymitch, the gamemaker and TV host just brilliant, and the Effie Trinket character is outrageous in the best (and pinkest) possible way. Katniss, Peeta, and the arena aside, I could have watched these for hours.
  • I loved Katniss’ hair, boots, cargo pants. I’m thinking they’re going to spark a fashion moment.
  • Whether it was because the books were written so visually and because they constantly propel characters into action or because the scriptwriters were exceptional, the film stayed impressively close to the book. I can’t think of a single incident I twigged to them having missed out.
  • That and the film nailed the right moments the right way. In fact, it was the right amount of exciting and chilling and suffocating and romantic and sentimental. I lost it at the reaping and the Rue parts and am pretty sure the entire cinema heard me snuffling.
  • Better yet, the filmmakers respected us as the audience and fans—they outlined key facts simply and quickly, but didn’t faff around with back story or explanations. It’s intelligent filmmaking and meant we got straight into the story and never looked back.
  • The music was haunting and evocative. I swear one of the riffs for the more romantic moments was akin to that of in The Princess Bride and had a kind of Pavlov’s Dog experience.
  • The storytelling techniques that showed districts’ and characters’ reactions was exceptional—it went from high tech to low fi and was subtle but perfect. For example, it went from showing how the arena action was being viewed via the high-tech game production room to the screens in the villages to the stuttering projector in Katniss’ family’s home.
  • The cast was fairly young, but the acting was stellar, and the CGI was brilliantly wrought—no Twilight efforts to be seen, especially not via badly attempted wolves.

That’s a lot of gush for 3am and it’s likely it’ll be tempered slightly once I’ve had some sleep and have read a few others’ reviews. Right now, though, I’m giving The Hunger Games nothing but a double thumbs up, in much the same way I gave the book.

 

PROFESSOR FRED HOLLOWS

Professor Fred Hollows is the latest book in New Frontier’s inspiring Aussie Heroes Series.

According to the late Professor Fred Hollows “Three out of four people who are blind don’t have to be. They are blinded by poverty alone.”

Popular author, Hazel Edwards takes us through the life of this inspiring man and his amazing achievements.

Fred qualified as an eye doctor and moved to Australia. He gave ‘vision’ to more than one million people. He worked in remote and Aboriginal communities providing much needed aid, often for free.

Fred Hollows worked tirelessly to heal the eyes of people suffering from cataracts and glaucoma. He treated everyone the same regardless of wealth or status; his one priority to restore their sight.

He pioneered mobile health clinics and set up factories in Eritrea and Napal to manufacture intraocular lenses at an affordable price. By doing this he was able to reduce the cost of the lenses from $200 to $10 each, making the treatment far more accessible.

Hazel Edwards has meticulously researched Fred Hollow’s life and achievements and presented them in an easy to read text that makes Professor Fred Hollows very accessible to readers and an important addition to school libraries.

Pat Reynolds full colour illustrations work with the text to provide an engaging biography of a man who achieved so much in a relatively short time.

Educational Resources are available for Professor Fred Hollows from Hazel Edward’s website.

 

 

National Year of Reading – Publisher Profile – Hardie Grant Egmont

KBC warmly welcomes publicist Jennifer Kean with this insight into the world of Hardie Grant Egmont. We hope you enjoy this peek into the world of the people who make the books.

What kind of books do you publish? At Hardie Grant Egmont (HGE) we publish a variety books – beautiful picture books, popular series to engage reluctant readers, fabulous middle-grade and YA fiction – all aimed at capturing the readers imagination.

We publish best-selling and recognised series that include Zac Power, Go Girl and Billie B. Brown. And our YA list is just as strong, with The Phoenix Files series by Chris Morphew and the Gone series by Michael Grant, continuing to grow their fan base of students and teachers alike with each subsequent release.

Through our Little Hare imprint, we also publish a mix of literary and award-winning picture books by some of Australia’s most respected and loved talents. As well as this, we market, sell and distribute the iconic Egmont UK list which features best-loved authors such as Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne and Michael Morpurgo as well as well-known brands like Thomas & Friends, Miffy and Bob the Builder.

What do you love most about your work? I love that there is variety in my role, particularly because of the way our company is structured. I am working across a variety of titles that are both local and UK originated releases, so the publicity requirements for these books and their authors and illustrators differ greatly. I get to work with a variety of media – newspapers, magazines, teacher and librarian journals, industry publications, as well as TV/radio and bloggers – to get review coverage, media coverage and interviews.

I have also been fortunate to make contacts at many bookstores, schools and libraries as well as a number of writing festival committees and publishing industry groups to organise book launches, book signing events and author/illustrator appearances.

I also love the accompanying authors on tour or to instore events where I also get to meet our audience first hand. It’s so great to see the fans reaction (regardless of their age) when they get to meet their favourite author in person. I can relate because I still get that same buzz when I meet a favourite author even as an adult.

What is the hardest thing about promoting books? I guess one of the most frustrating things, especially when promoting children’s picture books, is that they can often be hard to secure review coverage for. Newspapers, for example, don’t always have a designated children’s review section or if they do it is tiny, so terrific avenues such as Kids Book Capers are a godsend.

2012 is The National Year of Reading. Why do you think reading is important for both children and adults? Introducing children to reading at a young age is only going to help them when they are adults. There are practical reasons why reading is important. For example, learning to read as a child will help with tasks such as reading a footy fixture or computer game instructions. Such practical uses also apply when you’re an adult, reading a recipe or flight and travel information. We don’t realise how much we do read every day, and not just books.

Then there is the fun side of reading actual stories. A child who reads develops imagination and I believe this a wonderful thing that stays with you into adulthood. Reading as an adult also provides a wonderful escapism from our busy world. And an adult parent reading to their child is something that both should be able to enjoy together.

Where do you see the children’s book market in five years’ time? Firstly, I think there will always be books, particularly for children. I don’t think they will ever be completely replaced, perhaps only enhanced with technology. I hope kids in five years will still want to collect and display books on their bookcases in their bedrooms, but that they will also be able to appreciate being able to take their entire bookcase with them on an iPad on long road trips.

What is your current submissions process for authors and illustrators? We have submission guidelines on our website www.hardiegrantegmont.com.au

What were some of your favourite HGE book titles from 2011? It’s hard for me to go passed Cat Patrick’s debut YA novel, Forgotten. The whole office fell in love with this manuscript when we read it two years earlier, so when we won the Australian and New Zealand rights to publish it, we couldn’t wait! So, it was a long time coming, but the publicity for this book was fun to do and the book sold really well for us.

The July 2011 release of Bronwyn Bancroft’s Kangaroo and Crocodile was another highlight for me. The main reason being that so much work went into organising the launch with Her Excellency, The Governor General’s office that I was so pleased when it all went off without a hitch!

And of course, Billie B Brown was another big series for us in 2011 with each new release becoming my new favourite (I want her wardrobe!). So much so, I’ve heard whispers that Sally is naming a character Jennifer in one of her upcoming titles.

There are so many more titles to mention, Shift by Em Bailey and Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson were probably the other two main stand outs for 2011 for me. Shift is Em’s first YA novel and it received great coverage and reviews. And it was such a pleasure to work with Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood and Maurice Saxby who officially launched Look, a Book! in the magnificent museum of Sydney University.

What titles do you have coming up that you’re really excited about? In April 2012 we’re releasing Cat Patrick’s next YA novel, Revived, so I’m looking forward to publicising this and making lots of YA bloggers really happy. She developing a growing fan base in Australia which is great to watch.

June release Of Poseidon by Anna Banks is creating internet buzz already – mermaids are the new vampires! Here’s hoping…

Then of course in July we’re releasing Silhouette, the debut YA novel from Thalia Kalkipsakis one of our favourite Go Girl authors. We’re all so proud of this book!

Later in the year there are some gorgeous picture books for KBC followers to enjoy – Tree by Danny Parker and illustrated by Matt Ottley and A Hare, a Hound and  Shy Mousey Brown illustrated by Jonathan Bentley is just adorable.

And  I couldn’t go past the world-wide October release of Lemony Snicket’s new series All the Wrong Questions – now that’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced publicising before!

Learn more about Hardie Grant’s books at their website.

The Pirate’s (And Author’s) Dilemma

The Pirate's DilemmaPiracy is something all of us have a complex relationship with, none more so than those of us who work in the creative industries. Too often we poor, practically starving artists (where ‘starving’ means ‘working sh%tty, menial casual jobs in hospitality or retail in order to pursue our dreams) are the ones having our work ripped off and it’s, well, totally not ok.

For many years I worked for Sanity/Virgin/HMV (see above re: starving artists working sh%tty, menial casual jobs in order to pursue our dreams). As in some of the companies affected first-hand by the epidemic of music piracy. It used to irk me enormously when friends, vague acquaintances, and random, obnoxious customers talked openly and off-handedly about the music and movies they’d ripped free from the interwebs. They didn’t see this issue with their actions. In fact, few to none of them even seemed momentarily plagued by the ethical dilemma.

Bizarrely, my own attitudes have morphed in recent years. It in part had something to do with Matt Mason’s book, The Pirate’s Dilemma, which turned my thinking of piracy and business models on its head. Mason consults for big-time broadcasters, getting them to give away some content free while also helping them work out ways to monetise their entertainment in this age of digital piracy. Fittingly, he gave the option of buying his book or downloading it for free.

My attitude change also reflected this, what the Oatmeal guy drew better than me: I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened. The summary of that cartoon, should you have decided not to click on the link, is that by not enabling fans to access content legitimately, content producers and gatekeepers are, on some level, forcing us to pirate content.

That’s a simplified view that conveniently skirts some of the big moral issues, I admit, so please spare me the million emails rebutting it. But, as the Oatmeal points out, when you go to every possible legitimate channel to purchase Game of Thrones (for me you could replace that series with Vampire Diaries Season 3) and it’s made stupidly impossible for you to do so … well, I’m saying there’s a whole area of grey that opens up.

I didn’t know that such sites as Mobilism exist—they’re kind of aggregate sites for pirated links but are at pains to explain that, according to that handy interwebs legal loophole, they’re not the bad guys. That is, they don’t make or host the pirate copies, they only collate links to them. Huh. I think it’s fair to say that’s not really cool.

I was pretty interested, then, to discover this Guardian article, which documents a first-time novelist’s discovery that someone was after a pirated copy of his book. This is a double conundrum because he didn’t find the pirated copy, but rather a post asking if anyone had one. So Lloyd Shepherd, the author, did something very interesting. He wrote to the seeker not blowing up about the evils of piracy and how they destroy the starving artist, but to ask questions and attempt to understand why he/she considered piracy ok:

So, I’m the author of The English Monster. Can it be that you’re offering to pay someone to create an ebook of the book I wrote? I’d be interested to hear your justification for this. For your interest, this book took me two years to write, and represents (on a rough estimate) perhaps 500 hours of work on my part, not to mention the time and effort put in by others to design, print, copy-edit and produce the final version. And you’re proposing to pay someone else—someone who had no part in the making of the book—to produce a copy for you. Is there a good reason why you can’t pay through normal channels for my book?

Please understand me—I am genuinely interested in what you’ve got to say about this. This is my first book, and this is my first experience of someone attempting to produce a pirate version of it (I do not use the word ‘pirate’ pejoratively, mind). Is there any reason why I shouldn’t expect to be compensated for the time I have put into this.

The English MonsterThe answers, I’m afraid, were clichéd, lame, and deliberately nonsensical. For example:

Mr Shepherd, I can tell by your measured reply that you are trying to be as fair and nonjudgmental as possible, so thank you. I am not sure how to answer you—and our messages will no doubt be deleted soon.

Bottom line is, there is no justification or reason that would or should ever satisfy the author of original content. Anyone that tries to make sense of this process (that publishing houses are greedy; that knowledge should be free … just two reasons that I have seen bandied about) is just fooling themselves. There is also a Robin Hood aspect to this, that perhaps you may understand. Either way, I don’t think there is a way of putting this digital information era genie back into the bottle. I wish you every luck in future.

I mean, is there an answer in there at all? The answers got worse, including citing having once lived in Africa and Asia, where ebooks aren’t easily accessible. Note, though, that’s the past tense of lived and not the present tense of living.

Shepherd’s Guardian article reminded me where my line in the sand is: piracy isn’t ok, especially when there are avenues through which to buy the book/movie/[insert creative work of choice here] legitimately; however, I won’t say that there isn’t room for improvement in all this online technological availability thingy.

There are always going to be people who rort the system, but distributors also need to make it feasible and easy for those of us keen to ‘do the right thing’ to actually do so. It’s no longer ok to stagger worldwide releases of content—it it’s available in the US, it needs to be simultaneously available in Australia. It’s particularly ridiculous when fans are seeing spoilers via social media, but then being told they’re to wait a long, long time to get to see said spoiled show.

Likewise, if it’s airing on TV, it needs to be purchase-able online immediately afterwards (and I mean immediately—as in as soon as the final credits roll). Distributors also need to look at such options as ABC’s iView, which provides content for free for a certain period of time. In short, the list of tweaks is endless.

Sure, all of challenges traditional business models, but so too does piracy. If something isn’t re-thunk soon and if doing the right thing isn’t the easiest and best option, I suspect more and more people will find themselves sharing the Oatmeal’s (and my) ethical conundrum. For the record, I’m holding out until Vampire Diaries 3 is released in Australia legitimately. For the record, though it might be the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean I feel pious, vindicated, or one iota of happy.

SAD TO BE LEAVING KIDS’ BOOK CAPERS

After two years blogging for Boomerang Books at the Kids’ Book Caper’s blog, it’s time for me to say, “Goodbye”.

I’ve had a blast, read shelves full of fabulous books and met many amazing creators. I’m going to be sad to leave, but I’ve realised recently that it’s time for me to spend more time on my own writing.

I have too many works ‘in progress’ that haven’t been ‘progressing’, and now it’s time to focus on them.

I have quite a list to work on already, and I can’t wait to immerse myself again in these characters and their worlds. I want to finish my YA thriller trilogy, my mid grade inventor series, my non-fiction manuscript, my adult novel…and all the projects that are just seeds in the back of my mind waiting to be nurtured.

I’m very excited about this next phase in my writing life. I feel I have learned so much from the books I have read and reviewed and from chatting with the people who create them. I’m sure my own writing is better for it.

In the 24 months I have been running the Kids’ Book Capers’ blog I have published around 300 blog posts, profiled over 20 creators and read/reviewed over 350 books

Thanks to all the publishers who have trusted me with their books and all the creators who have shared their work. It has been a privilege to read each and every book and to meet all the wonderful authors, illustrators and industry professionals who have been involved over the last two years.

There are so many things I’m going to miss about being at Kids’ Book Capers. Top of the list is my wonderful fellow blogger, Tania McCartney whose creativity, energy and dedication have inspired me.

I’ll miss all the wonderful blog readers who take the time to comment on my posts and the books they have read or can’t wait to read.

I’ll miss the anticipation of going to the post office box and wondering what exciting new books have arrived in the mail that day.

The good news is that Kids’ Book Capers will be left in good hands. The talented and enthusiastic Tania McCartney will continue to blog about kid’s books and the  people who create them.

So thanks to everyone who has supported me at Kids’ Book Capers, who have read my posts and shared my love of books. Thanks to Tania and the team at Boomerang Books who have been wonderful to work with.

Hopefully, in time I’ll have some new books of my own to add to the Boomerang Books catalogue.

In the meantime, if you want to follow my writing journey, I’ll be blogging about it at http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

Happy reading:)
Dee

 

The multi-titled Horton Halfpott

It’s not often that you get a book with alternative titles these days. It used to be more common in the old days. Thus you would have Charles Dickens titling a novel Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress, and Mary Shelley calling her gothic tale Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. But I recently read a book published only last year that has three possible titles, as the cover proudly proclaims — Horton Halfpott, or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset.

Horton Halfpott is the new kids novel from Tom Angleberger, the author of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda (see my post “Following the blog posts to Origami Yoda”) and its sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back (see my post “Darth Paper Strikes Back”). This new book bares little resemblance to the author’s previous two works — which is a good thing. It’s nice to see him branching out.

It is a very odd tale. It all begins one morning in Smugwick Manor, when M’Lady Luggertuck decides to loosen her corset. Suddenly, she is no longer quite as angry or mean-spirited as she has been all her life. The momentous event comes to be known as The Loosening, and sets off a chain of events that will change the fortunes of a lowly kitchen boy named Horton, as well as all the residents of Smugwick Manor.

I love the ‘olde worlde’ turn of phrase in this book, and the way so many events are given undeserved importance with capitalisation — the book is full of “Unprecedented Marvels” and even a “Considerably Larger and Somewhat More Ancient Evil”. And then there are the many bizarre metaphors and similes…

But wait, you ask, how could Luther—intolerable, obnoxious, odious, odoriferous, and generally unbearable—win the hand of the most sought-after young lady in England? Why, with an Evil Plan, of course.

And, like a fungus of the foot, just such a plan began to fester and grow in the damp recesses of Luther’s brain—sporing from synapse to synapse until his whole head itched with it.

I also got a chuckle from the way the author often refers to fictitious books about the past adventures of M’Lady Luggertuck, such as M’Lady Luggertuck and the Unlucky Cobbler and M’Lady Luggertuck’s Parisian Shopping Spree.

The plot is twisting and turning, but in a reasonably predictable way. There are no major plot surprises in this story… but it doesn’t matter. I think the plot works as well as it does because it plays upon readers’ expectations and fills its pages with bizarre and over-the-top characters— from Miss Neversly, the cook who constantly beats Horton about the head with her wooden spoon, to the great self-promoting detective Portnoy St. Pomfrey, who is rather less adept at solving mysteries than his press would have you believe.

After reading this book, I am very much looking forward to Mr Angleberger’s next literary effort, which I am very pleased to say is again, multi-titled. Fake Mustache, or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind is due out in April this year.

Catch ya later,  George

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Alain de Botton

Religion for AtheistsOne would expect a certain amount of philosophical thinking to accompany a night as an audience member of one of the world’s foremost modern-day philosophers. Just perhaps not about what said philosophising ended up being about.

Open-minded atheist Alain de Botton was here to talk about his latest bestselling book, the delightfully confusingly entitled Religion for Atheists. Me? I spent a lot of time pondering how a fairly nerdy (I think he’d be ok with that description), slightly balding (I hope he’d be ok with that description too) writer can be so incredibly, distractingly attractive.

You see it too, right? Methinks he could be named the undisputed king of Hot Guys Reading Books.

I had planned to blog philosophical gems of unrivalled awesomeness that I’d gleaned from his talk, but my abominable handwriting has defeated me again. Well, that coupled with my own internal battle trying to reconcile the differences between this man, who reads voraciously, compared with my previously documented ex-boyfriend, who doesn’t read at all.

Basically, de Botton stated up front that he didn’t believe that God existed and that that was, frankly, not the point of the night. The point was that, regardless of our beliefs (or complete, staunchly defended absence of them), religion has some good offerings for us all.

What’s made de Botton so vastly popular worldwide (and so the grumping envy of academics and the like) is both his ability to think outside the box but also to put it in an accessible, relatable, pretension-free, and often fun manner. Say, for example, how he used the analogy of a ‘pick-n-mix buffet’ to illustrate his selection of elements of religions that he can apply to his own life. It might sound flippant in print, but it was anything but in person.

He also embraces the greyness of our world. He’s not saying all religions are good; nor is he saying they’re bad. He’s saying that religions have worked a few things out—perhaps better so than other institutions in our modern world.

Pleasures and Sorrows of WorkThese include that they assume we’re only human and we’re going to forget things. While schools, universities, and work places show us something once and expect us to remember it for our entire lives, religions work in a cyclical manner to refresh and reiterate key messages annually.

They include recognising the fact that there are going to be times when we can’t form a logical explanation for something, can’t cope, and need advice, comfort, and someone or something to share the load. Times such as when a close family member passes away. Religion and community, we know, step to the fore in these moments.

They also include that the breaking of bread and the sharing of drink has been shown (via independent scientific research, of course) to help ‘cement’ ideas and moments in our memories. Hence the fact that sharing food and drink are fairly central to key moments in our lives, both religious and otherwise. Huh. Quite clever when you think about it.

‘Clever’ is not strong enough a word to describe de Botton, whose intellect seems out of this world. I sometimes couldn’t take in everything he was saying over the course of the 90 minutes because it was so smart and was delivered slightly too fast for my lesser intellect to digest.

That would perhaps be my only criticism of de Botton’s presentation: These concepts are ones he’s ruminated on and polished through years of thought, writing, and public speaking. For me, many were the first time I’d heard them.

Status AnxietyDe Botton’s himself said at one stage that ours was the last stop on his Australian tour. I got the sense he’d given the speech a few times too many for even his own liking. That said, it was still incredible and I may have been slightly distracted by my musings on how intellect, wit, and wisdom can make a slightly nerdy, balding man so very attractive.

Thankfully, Radio National’s Big Ideas recorded the podcast and de Botton also spent an hour in conversation with Richard Fidler. I’ll be seeking out and listening to both podcasts, stat. And buying his back catalogue of books, of course.

Phryne Fisher … Fan

Phryne FisherOne of the most-requested books I knew least about when I moonlighted as a bookseller was the Phryne Fisher lady detective series by Karen Greenwood. I lost count of the number of women—it was always women—who bemoaned the fact that the series had, as I discovered from searching the database, the dreaded status of ‘out of print’.

Those three words would invariably lead the lady customers to rage and rail against the publishing machine. How, they would ask me, could these books possibly be out of print? Do the publishers not, they would implore me, understand how brilliant the Phryne Fisher series is?

Having not read the books and not being able to read them due to the pesky, aforementioned out-of-print status, I wasn’t exactly in a position to answer questions that I wasn’t entirely sure weren’t rhetorical.

I was also a bit puzzled and not overly impressed by the uncommon, not-intuitively-spelt named ‘Phryne’. No bookseller can possibly know every single book in the universe—in or out of print. But that doesn’t stop customers expecting them to. This mysterious name-slash-title had tricked me up and forced me to show customers I didn’t know what or who a ‘phryne’ was and could they possibly spell it? Oh, and I may have confusedly put Phryne as the author as opposed to the title once or twice.

Suffice to say, I’ve copped my fair share of customer frustration at the series’ unavailability and my inability to one-thousand-percent know everything about it (including how to magic up a set even though it was out of print), I didn’t have entirely fond feelings towards this Phryne character.

When I heard that ABC had turned the books into TV, I was intrigued. Finally, I thought, the books are now back in print and I’ll get to see what all the fuss was about. That and hooray that booksellers for years to come will be spared the out-of-print passive aggressive-ness I copped. (As a side note, I wonder if in the internet-based future, the notion of being out of print will become obsolete?

Detective AgencyI haven’t yet read said books, but if the TV show is anything like them (and given the warm reviews its received, I’m surmising that it is) I can see why the series has fans. Phryne Fisher is a young, sassy, imperfect, fearless, attractive, fun Australian lady detective. She dares to be independent, to flirt, to break rules, to be non-religious, and to have romantic flings.

In fact, her age and sexiness put her in stark contrast to the traditionally old, sexless lady detectives who are her peers (Agatha Christie and Jessica Fletcher spring to mind). Sure, there’s modern-day Precious Ramotswe from the No. 1 Lady Detectives Agency, but she’s cast as being a matronly kind of woman. She might have an admirer, but she has but one, is modest, and certainly isn’t promiscuous.

I can see the appeal of Phryne immediately.

Then there are the TV series’ great period costumes, the fantastic storylines, and the actors who embody their roles well. Essie Davis as Phryne pwns it (to borrow a gaming term) and I love the cops more and more daily—especially Hugo Johnstone-Burt as the suitably cute, easily embarrassed young constable Hugh Collins.

I don’t know how the series came back into print—whether it was pester power, whether one of the passionate fans also turned out to be someone with the clout and sense to buy the rights and set the printing presses in action, whether it was something else altogether—but I am glad it did. I’m also glad the ABC created the series. That and that I can now both spell Phryne and know what the series is about. I might just now call myself a Phryne fan …

RAVEN LUCAS – BOOK 1, MISSING

Raven Lucas – Missing is the first book in a new 3 part mystery series by popular Australian children’s author, Christine Harris.

Raven Lucas appears to have everything. But something is missing form her life. Her father. He has disappeared, suddenly, mysteriously, with no words of goodbye. Has he simply left his family and didn’t have the courage to explain why?

Is he dead, either by his own hand or another’s?

Has he been kidnapped? But why has there been no ransom demand?

Raven is determined to find out what happened to him.

Even it if kills her. And it just might.

There is plenty at stake for Raven in this fast-paced book and the stakes just keep getting higher. Raven’s mother isn’t coping with Dad’s disappearance, and seems headed for another breakdown.

Dad’s business partner, Uncle Gerald seems intent on stepping in to save them, but Raven doesn’t trust him one bit. So it seems like it’s going to be up to her to look after Mum and little brother, Jake and keep the household together…and find Dad.

Just as well she has great friends to offer her support and help her when the going gets rough. But not everyone in this book is who they seem, and Raven makes some surprising discoveries.

There are so many twists and turns in Raven Lucas – Missing that by the end of it, Raven and the reader are left wondering if anybody can be trusted.

Raven Lucas – Missing features a strong female character, easy to read text and gadgets and technology for the Gen Z reader.

Those who like a mystery and enjoy the unexpected will be compelled to keep reading to find out where this journey will take Raven and whether she will find her Dad.

Raven Lucas – Missing is published by Omnibus Books for readers aged 9 to 13.

It’s not goodbye, it’s au revoir

It’s the end of an icon. The 2010 print set of the Encyclopædia Britannica will be the last one they make. After 244 years,  and with more than 7 million sets sold, the 2010 print edition will be the last set to grace the shelves as the iconic reference books move completely to the digital format.

It’s been in production since 1768 when it was published in Edinburgh as three volumes. It was in print before Captain Cook laid eyes on Australia. When 1900 rolled in, it was on its ninth edition. It has covered the American War of Independence, the Irish 1916 Rising, and World Wars 1 and 2 as contemporary matters. And when sales peaked in 1990 (when it sold 120,000 printed sets) it was just twenty years from being pushed out of print forever.

I am admiring their attitude, it must be said. They printed 12,000 sets in 2010 and, with a third of those $1,299 sets yet to be sold, they are switched from discussing over-stock to shilling these remaining sets as a collector’s item.

The 2010 print set is the final edition and will be available at the Britannica Shop only while stocks last!  Don’t miss this final opportunity to own one of the most important printed reference collections of all time. Supplies are limited, so order yours before it is too late. In short, it’s a magnificent collection to grace your home or office library.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite rainy day activities was to pull down a book from the encyclopedia set in our house and read randomly through the articles. Even when I was a child, these books were impressively old – one of my parents had had them as a kid so when I used them for reference my school projects tended to be slightly uninformed by anything that happened after 1950 or so. Lying on the floor, reading in a fort made of reference books, allowing my eyes to wander the pages and randomly discover new topics, from aavarks to how to use an abacus, from tree-kangaroos to trepanation.

There were several things that irked me about them, it’s true. The darn things were heavy and putting them all back up on the high shelf wasn’t easy. They were missing a volume, so I would never know what lurked between In and J. And, for all those people who insist on going on about the smell of old books being like vanilla (if that is what you think vanilla smells like, I never want to eat your baking), these ones smelled of must, dust and a hint of sharpness that my father informed me with glee was probably mouse pee.

Mouse pee is not, of course, an issue with my new e-reader. And I love my new e-reader. I love that it can download a book in moments, and has already downloaded 80 of them. I love that I can usually get a few pages preview for free before committing to buy books (and that, believe me, has saved me from a few blunders). I am excited about the fact that I can take twenty new books on holiday in a space the size of a small novella, that I could – if I choose to – some day haul the full weight of the Encyclopædia Britannica itself – all 44 million words of it, on 32,640 pages – around in my handbag without risking even the smallest shoulder strain.

And it’s not like the books are going out of business – the Encyclopædia Britannica lives on in digital form and the company is showing turning a profit (85% of its revenue comes from the largely digital education market). They will continue to produce, amoungts other things, the Britannica Book of the Year each year, a reference guide to all the events of the year in question. And, as they point out, this move will actually allow the reference books to increase in size. Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc, said in an interview with the Guardian, “Today our digital database is much larger than what we can fit in the print set. And it is up to date because we can revise it within minutes anytime we need to, and we do it many times each day.”

But a part of me – a small part, forever sprawled on the bedroom floor, surrounded by a mountain of books – mourns the passing of those wonderful leather bound books that used to fascinate me so on those rainy afternoons indoors.

Review – Shy The Platypus

It’s so lovely to see a classic Australian story brought to life for a new generation of children – and even more lovely to see it done using the exquisite collection of images from the National Library image collection.

First published in 1944, this hard cover, dust-jacketed version with its aqua cover is beautifully-designed, with an introduction by Leslie Rees’ daughter Dymphna Rees Peterson. This introduction takes us back to a time where few ‘local’ books, particularly those featuring iconic local animals, were available to Australian children. Yes, there were badgers and squirrels and other British critters, but few books harnessing the character and charm of our native fauna.

After the success of his first book in 1943 – Digit Dick on the Great Barrier Reef (oh my goodness, I’m having a flashback!) – Rees wrote a new series of books entitled The Australian Nature Series. Essentially a series of bios on indigenous animals and birds, these books have become true Australian classics.

This posthumous re-issue (Rees died in 2000, at 95 years old) celebrates a warm and detailed story that beautifully encapsulates the precious biodiversity our country enjoys.

The first thing Shy remembers is the nest in which she was born. She remembers the darkness, the soft needle leaves of river oaks, and playing with her sibling, Spur. Then one day, her mother says she’s leaving the nest. “You stay here,” she says, before pushing her bill through the earth into a long black tunnel. And off she goes to find them some food.

Very soon, Shy and Spur are allowed out of the nest to take their first swim. The description of these babies leaving the burrow and entering the outside world for the first time is mesmerising. From the steepish earth banks to the flowing water, burnished with copper and pearly grey colours reflected from the sunset – the language Rees uses is not only evocative but delicious to read – and surprisingly ‘modern’ in tone.

As the book unfolds, we follow young Shy as she learns to dive, as the dangers of the river are revealed and as her mother becomes desperately ill. There’s other platypuses and rapids to navigate and even encounters with humans – will Shy escape the clutches of this most dangerous threat of all? Along the way, we also learn more about this most elusive animal and her natural surrounds – making this much more than just a storybook – but rather an enriching journey to another world.

This is an engagingly-written story, beautifully-laid out and designed with striking images from the National Library Collection. Naomi Zouwer’s truly gorgeous pencil illustrations head each chapter, and photographs and original typescripts make this book a precious addition to any Australian library.

Shy The Platypus is published by the National Library of Australia.

My iPhone

A couple of months ago I finally decided to join everyone else in the 21st Century by getting myself a smart phone. Up until then, I had been using an old Motorola flip phone and I’d been reluctant to get rid of it simply because it felt a bit like using a Star Trek communicator. 🙂 But that phone finally died, and so I took the plunge. Being a Mac person, I of course decided to get an iPhone. It has been an odd experience thus far. Aside from making me feel old, it has proven to be a far more useful device than I had expected.

It’s funny how technology moves forward, but people often don’t. I remember when I started my first office job, not long out of Uni, and how the older people in the office would often come to me for help with their computers… not that I was any sort of computer expert, but simply because I was familiar and comfortable with the technology. I’d smile patiently and try to explain things in simple non-tech terms. Now, suddenly, I’m one of those older people. When I bought the iPhone, the young sales assistant had to explain to me the basics of its operation. Smiling politely, he talked to me in very basic non-tech terms.

After a few weeks of trial and error, I’d figured out the basics of the phone. But I still felt that I was missing out on functionality simply because I didn’t know about it… so I booked myself into an iPhone tutorial at my local Apple store. I was the youngest person in the class… apart from the tutor who didn’t look a day over 20. But I still felt old, because I needed someone to explain to me in simple terms how to use some pretty basic technology. On the plus side, I did learn heaps about the use of the phone, so it was worth the effort.

I am now most definitely enamoured with my iPhone. As well as replacing my old phone, it has also replaced my iPod. It’s rather nice having all that in the one device. I’ve put some games on to it, mostly to keep the kids amused when we’re out and about. And despite what some people warned me about, it’s great for phone calls — much clearer and easier to use than my old phone.

“But what’s all this got to do with books?” I hear you shout. “Why are you waxing lyrical about your phone on Literary Clutter?”

Well… for starters, it can be used as an eReader. Mind you, I haven’t progressed to using it as such… not yet anyway. Yesterday I downloaded a few kids’ read-along eBooks in preparation for an overseas trip. I figured that rather than just having games and videos on there to keep the kids amused during long bouts of travel, I’d try putting some books on there for them. And there are LOTS to choose from… many available for free or for a very low price. I’ve had a look at them, and they are rather cute. Although they’re still not enticing me to read that way, they may have some impact on my kids. I’ll report back after our trip.

Interestingly, I’m finding the iPhone particularly handy as an author. How? In a few different ways.

As a writer, I like to carry a notebook and pen with me for when inspiration strikes. But, on a number of occasions in the past, I’ve found myself caught without writing material when needed, desperately trying to keep the brilliant idea in my mind until I could write it down… and usually failing. That will never happen again… because my iPhone has a notepad. And I don’t even have to type into it. I can just speak into the phone, which will then transcribe it for me. Very nice!

Then there is the ability to have videos on the phone. I’ve got my book trailers on there. During a meeting yesterday, when talking about the trailer, I was able to pull out my phone and show the trailer I was talking about. Very handy.

And then, there are the apps. I’ve got a dictionary app. And I’ve downloaded the Melbourne Literary app (see “Literary stuff with an iPhone app”) — a great little resource about literary stuff in Melbourne.

No doubt, there is still heaps more my iPhone can do that I’m just not aware of yet. So I think I’m going to book myself in to the advanced tutorial at the Apple store. Who knows… maybe I’ll write my next book on my phone?

Catch ya later,  George

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TRANSFER STUDENT – LAURA ELLIOTT’S NEW TEEN SCI-FI

Transfer Student takes the reader on a spellbinding journey into the lives of  popular earth-dwelling high school student Ashley, and Rhoe from the amazing planet Retha.

When Ashley looks into a telescope, her life is changed forever.

I think of my Aunt Jenny. I make my very first wish upon that beautiful, very hypnotic star.

“Save me from myself,” I half-beg, half-whisper.

I peer through the eyepiece, wanting to see the star twinkle to seal the deal, to make my wish real. But, the only thing I see is a violet bug-eye staring back at me.

When she looks through the telescope, former Miss Popularity, Ashley is transported into the body of alien geek Rhoe who has been working for some time on developing a travelscope. Ashley has a hard time adjusting to becoming a boy, having webbed feet and trying to fit in on the planet Retha. To make matters worse, she falls in love with Rhoe’s best friend, Yuke, who happens to be the hottest guy on the planet.

Laura Elliott’s descriptions of the two different worlds where the story is set are so vivid that they put you right there in the moment.

Stargazing is fake. Just like yellow stars. Which is why I’m thrilled today. I’m sitting next to my best frenemy Tiffany, stuck in traffic on The Field Trip from Hell to the Griffith Observatory.

I slide my window open and almost pop off an acrylic in the freaking process. I hate freeway air and the resulting freeway hair but I hate sweat more. Every other bus rolling up the Hollywood Hills suffers from yellow-star-drawer infestations. Freaking kindergarteners. All around me. Joy. In front of Tiff and me, Sean pounds the back of his seat like he’s playing with the Red Hots at The Whisky a Go Go. My head’s a hollowed-out rock with little pebbles inside. Every time Sean slaps the green vinyl my head pebbles rattle into a maraca migraine.

Laura’s characters are strong individuals who engage you from the start.

I smile my no-teeth smile, the one reserved for those trying to get back on my good side, like flattery will make me forgive Tiff for dissing me to Sean the other day. Props to my scoop-loving minions.

We are introduced to two worlds, the one of Ashley the star gazer and Rhoe who comes from the stars and live in a world so different from earth, but still with many of the same issues.

When their lives are switched, Rhoe and Ashley both have a hard time fitting in and preserving each other’s lives. How is Rhoe going to win the surfing championship that will secure Ashley’s destiny and how will Ashley be a good enough storyteller to save the lives of Rhoe, his family and friends?

Transfer Student has believable, engaging characters and heart-stopping tension to keep readers turning the pages.

It’s told in the points of view of both Rhoe and Ashley and the reader is drawn close to both characters. During their difficult journeys both Rhoe and Ashley gain deep insight into themselves and are changed forever

Transfer Student is a compelling sci-fi adventure that also reflects the lifestyle and dilemmas faced by today’s teens, and the world as a whole.

This book has many layers and is a compelling read from start to finish.

 

Review – Kick It To Me

Don’t you just love it when you learn something you didn’t know before? Don’t you love it even more when that something surprises and delights you?

The origins of Australian Rules Football are laid bare in this beautiful book by footy fanatic and author of Side-by-Side (the Collingwood FC story), Neridah McMullen.

Young Tom is feeling blue. The cricket season is over and there’s nothing to do. He drags his feet in the ochre dust, but suddenly he hears singing. It’s his friend Jirra from the Djab Wurrung camp who tries to cheer Tom up with a different kind of ball game. It’s called Marn-grook and . . . it’s truly awesome.

Tom joins in a large group of Indigenous kids who toss, kick, leap and climb each others’ backs in pursuit of that ball. The descriptions of the boys kicking and lobbing that ball in the sunshine are joyful and full of action, and Tom’s face as he gets into the full swing of the game is priceless. You can simply feel his breath being stolen away.

Vibrant, emotive illustrations by Peter Hudson beautifully showcase not only the land but the sunshine and effervescence in the boys’ faces.

A fascinating postscript gives some historical background on young Tom Wills, who once lived near and befriended children of the Djab Wurrung tribe, near the Gariwerd Grampians of Western Victoria. After spending a childhood on the land, Tom was sent to boarding school in Melbourne then onto England where he attended Rugby School and Cambridge.

After returning to Australia in 1856, Tom captained the Victorian colony in cricket, but it wasn’t until 1858 when he sent a letter to a Victorian newspaper explaining the importance of fitness that he suggested football club be formed. “We shall have a game of our own,” he declared – and so this letter changed the course of Australian sporting history.

Aussie Rules was born. Helping develop, champion, officiate and administrate AFL, Tom Wills was certainly a key player in the formation of this glorious Indigenous sport. A priceless story for anyone with a love of history – or anyone with a serious addiction to our great Aussie game.

Kick It To Me is published by One Day Hill.

The Octonauts

Explore! Rescue! Protect! No doubt this is a catchcry familiar to parents all over the world. The Octonauts television series (see my review over at Viewing Clutter) has been a HUGE hit with the kiddies, and both my daughters are obsessed with it. But guess what? It all started with books.

After daughter #1 discovered The Octonauts series, we went out looking for merchandise, hoping there might be books based on the show. And there were — lots of them. But we also discovered that there were four original picture books on which the series is based. So, of course, we bought them. Daughter #1 LOVES them and has read and re-read them so many times. A few weeks ago she read them to me, so I thought they might be worth a post.

The basic premise is that a group of anthropomorphised animals wander the Earth’s oceans in the Octopod (their mobile, octopus-like base of operations), exploring, rescuing sea creatures and protecting the environment. They are lead by Captain Barnacles (a polar bear) and include: Kwazii, a kitten with a piratical past; Peso, a penguin who is the group’s medic; Dashi the dachshund, photographer and computer expert; the group’s scientist, Dr. Shellington, a sea otter; Tweak the engineer, who’s a bunny; and Professor Inkling the brilliant octopus oceanographer and founder of the Octonauts. Oh, and there are a bunch of rather curious creatures called Vegimals, led by Tunip. They are part animal, part vegetable, and they seem to do the catering aboard the Octopod.

It’s interesting to note that the dachshund’s name was Sauci in the books as they were originally published by Immedium Inc. But the name appears to have changed for the HarperCollins editions and for the television series. Also interesting to note is that the well-known motto, “Explore! Rescue! Protect!”, does not appear in the books, as it was created for the series.

They are an interesting set of books with very distinctive and appealing illustrations. The stories contain a curious mix of genuine sea creatures and odd elements such as sentient shadows (see The Octonauts and the Seas of Shade), but the plots tend to lean towards the environmental. While the books are likeable, I actually prefer the series, which gives the main characters greater personality and focuses more on actual sea creatures. But Daughter #1 prefers the books because she thinks the characters are ‘cuter’ than in the series.

The books contain some rather amusing pop-culture references that had me grinning. Check out this page from The Octonauts and the Frown Fish


In fact, The Octonauts and the Frown Fish is my favourite of the four books. In it, they encounter an extremely sad fish who appears to always be frowning. They spend most of the story trying to cheer him up. In the end, it turns out that the fish is not at all sad… rather, he is an extremely happy upside-down Catfish who has been smiling the whole time. Very cute!

Daughter #1’s favourite is The Octonauts and the Seas of Shade, mostly because it requires the reader to turn the book around for various pages as the orientation shifts.

The books are credited as being written and illustrated by MEOMI. MEOMI is the business name of the illustrating and design team of Vicki Wong and Michael Murphy. You can check out their website here.

And they also have a dedicated site for The Octonauts books.

These books are quite unique and well worth a look… especially if your kids have already discovered the television series.

Catch ya later,  George

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Farewell, my little pixels, iPad 3 is here

Australians will be able to order the third generation iPad from today (or queue up for one on March 16 when it ships). They’ll do this because it offers retina-ish display (try a million more pixels than HDTV, at four times as many pixels per inch as the previous model) and a vastly improved camera (5 megapixels, in line with that of the current model iPhone).

At 9.4mm thick and 680g, it’s a similar size but a little heavier than the last model – in fact back to around the weight of the launch iPad. Pricing starts at $539 (the base model iPad 2 moves down to $429).

Apple says it sold 15.4 million iPads in the last quarter … that’s a nation-full of people who may be wishing they’d waited till this week.

When uBookish checked at 6am, orders were yet to open as the Australian version of Apple’s online store was closed. “We’ll be back soon … we’re busy updating the store for you and will be back shortly.” At 7am, the site crashed altogether. My browser offered this message: “The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy”. (Update: By 8am the site was live for pre-orders)

The 4G-ready device (though there has been no announcement about 4G connectivity for the iPad in Australia) comes in black and white, like the iPad 2.

The camera and the 2047 x 1536 display (iPad 2 has 1024×768) are the reasons for this.

The retinal screen will display a million more pixels than HDTV, according to Apple, which also claims it’ll offer 264 pixels per inch and 44pc better colour saturation.

So from 15 inches, you won’t be able to distinguish a pixel, Gizmodo reports. It’s not quite as brilliant as the latest model iPhone display, which offers 326 pixels per inch for optimised viewing at 10 inches.

For readers, this is great news. The crystal clear rendering of text on the iPhone 4 makes for magical reading – better than on the printed page were it not for the screen size. App publishers will now rush to update existing and upcoming titles to make the most of the new display.

If only Apple would reconsider and launch a 7-inch model for ereading … the iPad really is too heavy to carry everywhere, leaving many ebook fans stuck with a Kindle, Sony Reader or Kobo as well.

As for the camera, its specs are on par with the latest iPhone at 5-megapixels with side-illuminated sensor, 5-element lens, infrared filter, auto-exposure, auto-focus, auto-face detection and HD video recording.

The device will sport an A5X chip with quad core graphics.

It’ll cost $539 including GST for the 16GB model, $649 for the 32GB and $759 for the 64GB. The Wi-Fi + 4G will start at $679 for the 16GB model, rising to $789 for the 32GB model and $899 for the 64GB.

Apple also announced that there are now more than 200,000 native iPad apps.

A new version of its Apple TV gadget is available for order now and will ship the same day as the iPad. It will cost $109.

It offers an updated user interface and improved program availability (the day after broadcast TV has its turn).

For a full wrap and a blow-by-blow look at this morning’s launch, check out Gizmodo.com.

Please note, this post was originally published at 7am AEST on March 8. This version is unchanged but was reinstated on March 12 following a server outage.

SAM THE CAT

Sam the Cat is a picture book written by Sam Bowring and illustrated by Andrew McLean. It’s based on a true story, and even though at the end you’re asking yourself, “Did that really happen?”, you know that it must have because the story is too bizarre for someone to make it up.

Sam lives very happily in a tumbledown house with Jane and Ian. But when Jane and Ian bring home a baby boy, not only does he get all the attention – he even steals Sam’s name.

Having a son called Sam who loves cats, I was immediately drawn to the title and I know that kids will be too…and thanks to Andrew McLean’s wonderful illustrations, Sam is a particularly appealing kind of cat – one with a smiling face and intelligent looking expression.

Apart from the gorgeous illustrations and wonderful text, I love the way that Sam is a cat. Really, this is a book about adjusting to a new baby in the house, but it’s so cleverly done from the cat’s point of view that I can see small children relating to it and gaining understanding. Seeing as the main character is a cat, it’s totally non-confronting.

A child who’s not in this situation themselves will still be able to gain empathy for Sam and perhaps relate what he’s going through to children they know.

This is a gentle book with  illustrations that reach into the hearts and minds of small children and clearly reflect how it feels to have things that you have no control over changing within the family. Sam the Cat provides lots of room for discussion about families, pets and names.

Sam the Cat is a bit like my cat, Charlie

I really enjoyed this book, but I do have to confess an additional bias besides having a son called Sam.

I also have a cat called Charlie who bears a startling resemblance to Sam the Cat. Sam the Cat is written by Sam Bowring and illustrated by Andrew McLean. It is published by Working Title Press for readers aged 5+.

 

Book-rooms, book-cases and cognitive biases

Some of you may have noticed a bit of a book-room and book-accessory theme on this blog in the last few weeks. Well, it turns out that once you start noticing these things they just keep popping up everywhere. My recent browsing has been filled with fascinating little book-related asides such as:

  • America’s smallest library – The Book Booth is based inside an old-style red British telephone booth in New York’s Hudson Valley and is (probably) the smallest self-contained library out there. An initiative of Clinton Community Library, it won’t be locked at night and can fit two people at a time, provided they don’t mind getting cozy.
  • Like the phone booth idea, but not sure about the red colour? There’s always blue. And if you are going to go with a blue phone-booth you might as well go one step further and make that blue booth a homage to the most iconic one out there – the Tardis. Yes, really. Now don’t you wish you had listened in woodwork?
  • Don’t have phone booth or tardis handy? Smaller again is the personal library kit, ideal for those of you are always lending out books but rarely getting them back. The kit comes complete with self-adhesive pockets and checkout cards to place in your books, and a stamp  to date-brand the checkout card, and apparently comes with the power to “shush” people as you please (well, you are practically a librarian now).
  • If you’re not a lender, but you are someone with surplus of reading materials, this set of shelves could be the reminder you need to get reading what you have before you buy more. Italian furniture design firm Saporiti have created this beautiful bookcase system of modular bookcase letters that allows you to spell custom words and phrases (in this case it says, simply enough READ YOUR BOOK CASE).

It is not that I am obsessed (well, much) that once you start noticing these things, you just can’t stop. It’s like when you take an interest in a subject and suddenly references start popping up to it everywhere.  Apparently it’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, an overly clunky way of describing how often once you have come across a new and obscure piece of information or idea, you keep noticing afterwards that you have encounters with same subject again. (I’m hoping that I don’t come across the words Baader-Meinhof again in a hurry – sounds like a sheep with a cough.) It hasn’t it on to the list of common cognitive biases yet and I hope that by the time it does they have named it something less difficult to spell and remember.

If you are looking for excellent books on cognitive biases and the funny ways your mind works, you could try reading Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford for an in-depth analysis, or the eminently easy-to-read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, who is to interesting theories on cognition what Jamie Oliver is to cooking. Or pick up the recently released Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman’s exploration of our various decision making processes, our extraordinary capabilities and the faults and cognitive biases we are prone too.

And, with that, I leave you to your regular non-fiction programming with a promise that I will endevour not to fill yet more posts with bookshelves. Well, for a few weeks at least.

 

ALL MONKEYS LOVE BANANAS

All Monkeys Love Bananas by Sean E Avery is a truly unique picture book.

Sean is a Western Australian Graphic designer, author, sculptor and illustrator whose artwork is featured both here and in the USA. Sean commenced work at the ripe young age of 12 with his own Sunday column in the local paper. He has since gone on to carve himself a career in sculpture using recycled man-made materials. Sean wrote, illustrated and co-designed All Monkeys Love Bananas.

All Monkeys Love Bananas is a wonderful book for the imaginative and tactile young reader. The cute and active monkeys on the front cover are made of felt and their hilarious antics start here.

The book tells the story of young Lou McGrew who is not your average monkey.  He is sick of bananas and when he visits his bunny friend, Sue Hopaloo, he discovers that she suffers the same problem with carrots.

Apart from the hilarious illustrations that accompany the text, I think young readers will be engaged with the story itself. How many young kids encounter food dislikes in their lifetime and come up with creative ways of dealing with them?

This book has a kind of Dr Seuss flavour, but Sean E Avery has his own unique and appealing style.

All Monkeys Love Bananas is published by Fremantle Press, and it’s easy to see why this book has been chosen as one of 26 books Australia-wide to feature in the Hello! From Australia exhibition at the 2012 Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

You can check out Sean E Avery’s website at www.seaneavery.com

 

Review – The Way Back Home

Hello. My name is Tania and I’m an Oliver Jeffers addict.

I’ve actually never laid eyes on The Way Back Home before, which is saying something because I have all book by Mr Jeffers. Somehow this one just kept escaping me. Maybe because every time I went to a shop to look for it, everyone else had bought it. And there’s a reason everyone else keeps buying books by Mr Jeffers.

They are glorious.

In The Way Back Home, we meet a little boy who finds a long-forgotten aeroplane in his closet. So he takes it for a straight-away whirl. As you do. The plane goes higher and higher and higher – until it sputters out of petrol and has to land on the moon.

In a parallel universe (actually, OUR universe), a wee Martian’s spaceship breaks down – and lands on the moon. That’s where the two youngsters meet.

Keen to return home and to help the Martian return home, the little boy jumps down from the moon into the ocean, swims to shore then scurries home for supplies. On the way back to the moon, the Martian drops him a rope and hauls him back up to fix the plane and spaceship. Then it’s time to say goodbye. Will they ever see each other again?

This is a sweetly simply story but it’s the divine, iconic illustrations and delicious subtleties that make Jeffers’ books stand out. His use of emotion and ‘real life kid’ propensity are just beautiful – and have enormous crossover appeal. A story about friendship, adventure and home – this book is wholeheartedly added to my joyful Jeffers collection.

The Way Back Home is published by HarperCollins.

 

AUSTRALIAN STORY BY TANIA McCARTNEY

Tania McCartney has a wonderful new book published by the National Library of Australia.

Australian Story, an illustrated timeline is a pictorial and textual delight.

Did you know that Indigenous people arrived in Australia between 40,000 and 65,000 years ago? Or that Mount Gambier was the last volcano to erupt on the Australian mainland, or that the first steam railway opened in Melbourne in 1854?

Australian Story – An Illustrated Timeline is full of fascinating facts about Australia’s history.

I can imagine young readers pouring through this book to find out all sorts of  interesting information about how Australia came to be the nation it is today.

They can travel through the decades and discover how the famed Pavlova got its name, and when television first came to their state…and so many other surprising snippets of history.

Clearly, a huge amount of research has gone into creating this presentation of Australia’s colourful past.

Australia may be young but its history is fascinating, diverse and steeped in one of the world’s oldest living cultures.

From creation and Dreaming to the twenty-first century, Australian Story – An Illustrated Timeline takes us on a journey through time, exploring the rich tapestry of events that has shaped our beautiful country.

Australian Story – An Illustrated Timeline is packed with images from the National Library of Australia and scattered with beautiful full colour illustrations by Peter Shaw.

Tania McCartney’s research is meticulous. She has clearly thought a great deal about selecting facts that will most intrigue readers.

The book is packed with information, but the format is easy to read and visually appealing.

Australian Story – An Illustrated Timelin is published by the National Library of Australia as part of its objective to interpret and highlight the Library’s collections and to support the creative work of the nation’s writers and researchers.

I can see this engaging presentation of Australia’s history becoming a valued and much read book in many Australian households and school libraries.

BLOG TOUR

Tania is visiting many great blogs on a tour to celebrate the release of her new book.

Here’s where you can find her:

Australian Story Blog Tour, March 2012

 

Monday 5 March

Blog Tour Schedule and Book Giveaway

Kids Book Review

kids-bookreview.com

 

Book Launch Party Wrap-Up

Tania McCartney’s Blog

taniamccartney.blogspot.com

 

Book Giveaway

Alphabet Street

alphabetstreet.com.au

 

Tuesday 6 March

 

Book Review

Buzz Words

buzzwordsmagazine.blogspot.com

 

Australian Story Research Process

DeeScribe

deescribewriting.wordpress.com

 

Book Review and 10 Reasons Why History is Exciting

Soup Blog

soupblog.wordpress.com

 

Wednesday 7 March

 

Australian Story Teaching Notes for Key Stage I

Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog

sherylgwyther.wordpress.com
Book Review and Teaching Notes Ideas for Key Stage II

The Book Chook

thebookchook.com

 

Book Review

Kids’ Book Capers

content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog

 

Image-Sourcing for Australian Story

Blue Dingo

bluedingo.ning.com

 

Thursday 8 March

Book Review

Reading Upside Down

readingupsidedown.com

 

Book Review

Pass It On

jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/school-magazine

 

Book Review

Bug in a Book

bugreviews.wordpress.com

 

Friday 9 March

 

Book Giveaway

HerCanberra

hercanberra.com.au

 

The Writing Process for Australian Story

Sally Murphy’s Blog

sallymurphy.blogspot.com

 

Book Review

Books for Little Hands

booksforlittlehands.blogspot.com

 

Book Review

ReadPlus

www.readplus.com.au

 

Saturday 10 March

 

Book Review

Kids Book Review

kids-bookreview.com

 

Book Giveaway

Posie Patchwork Blog

posiepatchworkblog.blogspot.com

 

Book Review

Suite 101

suite101.com/worldliteratures

 

Sunday 11 March

 

Book Review

My Little Bookcase

mylittlebookcase.com.au

 

Book Giveaway

Australian Women Online

australianwomenonline.com

 

Blog Tour Wrap-Up

Tania McCartney’s Blog

taniamccartney.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 


Vampire Diaries

Vampire DiariesPart Two of what is turning out to be a vampire-themed procrastination trilogy (quadrilogy if I decide to pull a Christopher Paolini) relates to a TV series based on books I’ve not yet read. I can’t ultimately recommend the books—yet—but I can wholly, embarrassingly gushingly recommend the show.

I started watching Vampire Diaries on a whim on FOXTEL one night, intrigued both because it was about, um, vampires and because I wondered if it had anything to do with the LJ Smith books by the same name that I used to sell by the bucket load when I worked as a bookseller. I may, if pressed, also admit that I might have been avoiding the mounting myriad deadlines that were stalking me.

Suffice to say, even though I came in halfway through Season One and even though I hadn’t read the books to know the context, I was immediately, where-is-the-next-episode hooked. Goddamn Vampire Diaries is good.

The series outlines the unfolding tale of a stunningly beautiful 17-year-old named Elena. That and the love triangle between her and two vampire brothers whose love rivalry for an identical beauty named Katherine dates back to 1864.

Long story short, Elena is the doppelganger of Katherine and is caught up in the centuries-old tug of war between vampires and werewolves and love and a curse. The plots twists and thickens as characters uncover new elements of the tale, new characters appear, and then everyone crosses and double crosses everyone else.

Sounds complicated and it kind of sort of is, but the script’s so well written that it’s not confusing at all. Nor is it repetitive in the in-case-you-missed-the-last-instalment catch-up that can get annoying (case in point: Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series).

Admittedly, the ‘Previously on Vampire Diaries …’ voiceover prelude to the back story recap is imprinted on my mind and, having spent so many hours squished while I watched episode after episode after episode back to back, my ears still feel as though they’re wearing my laptop headphones. But the result is still one of Pavlov’s Dog-like excitement and certainly not tedium.

Better, the series has a sense of humour about the highbrow-ness of the tale and takes the piss at regular intervals. The characters have some fantastic quips and one-liners, and none more so than Damon, the tortured, bad-boy older vampire brother who’s in love with Elena, who happens to be both his brother Stefan’s girlfriend and the identical, modern-day embodiment of the exact same girl they simultaneously loved and dated in 1864.

Some of these lines include (and I only jotted down a couple late in Season Two, but am tempted to go back and re-watch from the beginning of Season One in order to catalogue more):

Stefan: I’m not going to fight you.
Damon: Why? I’d fight me.

Stefan: Don’t flirt with me, Katherine. I’m not Damon. I haven’t spent 145 years obsessed with you.
Katherine: Yeah? Based on your choice of women, I’d say otherwise.

Damon to Katherine, who’s some 500 years old: Don’t pout. It’s not attractive on a woman your age.

Elena: OMG, you scared me.
Possibly Damon: Just doing my bit for neighbourhood watch.

Damon to Stefan, who drinks animals’ blood rather than hunt humans: Aren’t you worried that one day all the forest animals are going to band together and fight back?

Damon to Jeremy, regarding a homemade stake: My dad hated vampires like your dad did.
Jeremy: He did?
Stefan: Only it was 1864, and people knew how to whittle.

Damon: Why? He’s a werewolf. He needs to die. I’m willing to kill. It’s win–win.

And one of my favourites, which Damon sarcastically shrugs off after he thinks he kissed Elena but later, upsettingly, discovered it to be Katherine impersonating Elena.
Damon: I kissed you. I thought you kissed me back. Doppelganger hijinks ensued.

Ok, so out of context and without a visual of the characters saying the lines, they probably don’t sound so amazing. I should probably also fess up that part of the appeal is the ridiculous attractiveness of the actors playing Stefan and Damon. Particularly Damon. There’s been a bit too much googling of actor Ian Somerhalder than I’d like to admit and it’s disappointing and intriguing (in that order) to know that he’s actually dating his co-star in real life.

Nina Dobrev plays both Elena and Katherine and is absolutely gorgeous. Once you know they’re together and get over the devastation that the perfect Somerhalder might not know you’re alive (Did I mention that he’s an animal lover? That he does a bunch of volunteer work and has even started his own charity? Sigh.), you definitely watch the show a little more closely for hints of their coupledom.

It’s even weirder because you can follow (ergo, interact with) Somerhalder via Twitter (@iansomerhalder). I’ll preface that with the fact that, while he doesn’t spell things incorrectly so much, he does tend to punctuate them randomly. For example, ‘wonderful’ is written as ‘wonder-ful’. And yes, it did slightly (but not entirely) diminish his we’ll-live-happily-ever-after-ness in my eyes.

But I digress.

This blog too contains a lot of words to say that I disappeared down the please-don’t-make-me-face-the-deadlines rabbit hole and I’m having trouble making my way back. I highly, highly recommend Vampire Diaries the show. And yes, I’ve already jumped online here to order, devour, and compare the books upon which it’s based. Doesn’t look like I’ll be emerging from the vampire-inspired procrastination bubble any time soon.

Review – With Nan

I started reading With Nan, and it started out very well. Then suddenly, it made me grin so wide, my teeth hurt. Through the book, goosebumps popped up on my skin, I giggled out loud and then on the last page, I went “Awwwwwwwwwww…”

How many books have done that to you lately?

Simon goes walking with his Nan. And she shows him things. Things that aren’t always what they seem. A leaf … that ups and flies away. A rock … that hippety hops into the distance. A prickle bush … that burrows. This delightful walk unexpectedly uncovers all those camouflaged beauties found in nature that are really living, breathing creatures.

I love the quirky yet charmingly traditional illustrations in this book – segmented and splashed about the pages in a Bob-Graham-esque way. One of the most delicious visual surprises with these illustrations is the series of wordless pages showing Nan interacting with Simon, imitating the animal they had just seen in the world. Adorable.

This book smacks of retro, 70s books that I grew up with as a child, both in regard to the illustrations and typography, but the storyline is modern, succinct and utterly heartfelt – so much so, you really hope you’ll run into Simon and Nan at the local shops one day.

It’s love.

With Nan is published by Windy Hollow Books.

 

Doctors, Daleks and drawings

Sticking with my recent graphic novel theme (see “Moore’s Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Moore extraordinary adventures”), I thought I’d write about Doctor Who comics. They’ve been around, in many different forms, for a long time. My experience with them has been minimal, but let me tell you about it anyway…

I’ve got to admit that although I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, I’ve never really been into the comic versions. Many years ago I used to regularly buy Doctor Who Monthly — and in each issue there would be the latest episode of the good Doctor’s graphic adventures. I didn’t care for them all that much. The likenesses were often a bit iffy and I thought the plots a little silly. I have vague memories of the Doctor having a shape-changing penguin as a companion in some of them and a series about some macho Dalek killer named Abslom Dak. (Actually, I just Googled him and found he has a website.) They just didn’t fit in with my view of the series at the time, and I’ve never gone back to re-examine them.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked up a copy of The Only Good Dalek by Justin Richards and Mike Collins. The story is set during a hundred-year war between Humans and Daleks. For those of you who follow the series, it’s the new bigger more colourful Daleks. I thought these Daleks looked a bit ridiculous when they showed up in the series, but they seem to work better in illustrated form.

The Doctor and Amy land aboard a super-secret Earth space station where scientists are researching ways of defeating the Daleks. Much to the Doctor’s horror, they actually have a few captive Daleks that they have been experimenting with. One scientist has even been trying to modify Dalek DNA to introduce human emotions, thereby creating a “good Dalek”. Of course, the Daleks don’t like the idea of humans tinkering with their genetic makeup and so formulate a plan to find and take over the space station. What results is a lot of action and adventure, some thrills and spills, and even a surprise or two.

It’s quite a good plot and is, in fact, better than any of the more recent televised Dalek stories. (We haven’t had a truly brilliant Dalek story since Series 1 and everything since Series 3 has been pretty CRAP.) The artwork is also good — the Doctor and Amy are convincingly portrayed and the Daleks actually look better than in the TV series.

It’s nice to see some classic series continuity being acknowledged with the presence of Robomen and Organs and even a Slyther and some Varga Plants. From this, I gather that the author, Justin Richards, is a fan rather than just a hired writer.

The Only Good Dalek is part of a series of Doctor Who graphic novels published by BBC Books. They are quite good-looking hardcover releases, and if The Only Good Dalek is anything to go by, I certainly wouldn’t object to picking up a few more.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: Blu-ray Review — Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

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It’s time to snub Microsoft and Nine

The withdrawn Cudo deal.
How should Microsoft and Nine be punished for this week’s unbelievable Cudo book piracy scandal?

Cudo, a daily deals site, offered Australians a $99 ereader package featuring 4000 free ebooks, many of which neither Cudo nor its Chinese business partner owned the rights for. It had sold 2317 e-readers, grossing $229,383, by the time the deal ended, Paidcontent.org reports.

Cudo had been proudly spruiking the fact that the Harry Potter books were in the mix, when JK Rowling has yet to make her series available as ebooks anywhere in the world (they are due for launch soon as part of her Pottermore venture with Sony, and will no doubt sell like hotcakes).

The Lord of the Rings books were also among the freebies, and Rupert Murdoch might have something to say about that given his publishing house, HarperCollins, owns the copyright to Tolkien’s works in Australia.

Has anyone told Rupert or JK about it? Presumably they heard about it on Twitter and began to fume, just as I did.

I cannot believe that a mainstream business could be so ignorant about copyright. Until the error was pointed out, Cudo was actively onselling stolen goods to the Australian public, showing an utter disregard for the livelihoods of authors, publishers and booksellers.

As the Australian Booksellers Association put it in their press release on the issue, “That this site is supported by two media organisations that regularly take significant steps to protect their own rights in relation to their intellectual property and content also raises serious questions.

“The ABA would have thought that the Nine Network and Microsoft, who are both partners of NineMSN, would be sensitive to the issue of piracy given the effect piracy has had on the television and software markets. This is apparently not the case.”

It is scenarios like this that threaten the viability of our literary culture. How many Australians saw the deal and will now feel entitled to download in-copyright books illegally? Because if an organisation like Cudo, affiliated with two major corporations, can do it, why can’t they? Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that everyone who saw the deal before it was taken down has since been made aware of its scandalous nature.

Cudo says had not shipped the ereader and CD in question before pulling the deal, and is providing a replacement ereader with a selection of out of copyright titles to those who had placed an order. This is something, but not enough to make amends.

So, back to punishment.

We could all go and download pirated versions of Microsoft software and upcoming blockbusters on Channel Nine as revenge.

Though I can’t think of a single Nine program I could be bothered to pirate even if I was the pirating type (I’m not, I want to support the creative industries so that they will always be in a position to provide us with film, television and literary brilliance).

As for software, I’d rather pay than pirate to support innovation where I can there too, but I’m over Microsoft in any case. I have spent far too much of my precious time trying to get around the fact that Explorer prefers us to use Bing for search over Google.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and piracy is always wrong.

I’d suggest that instead, we start a campaign to switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org, Apple iWork or Google Docs, and from Channel Nine to, well, just about any other channel (this should be easier, most of us have already done so).

Make the switch! And say no to Cudo.

DO NOT FORGET AUSTRALIA – SALLY MURPHY’S NEW BOOK

Today, award-winning author, Sally Murphy is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about the inspiration behind her latest book, Do Not Forget Australia.

Ideas for stories can come from anywhere. In the past I’ve been inspired by a humorous word combination (Head Hog), a poem out of the blue (Pearl Verses the World) and a fable (The Floatingest Frog). But the seed for Do Not Forget Australia came from a photo.

My then thirteen year old son, Tom, had just been chosen to travel on the WA Premier’s ANZAC Student Tour. At a parent briefing we were shown slides of a previous tour, including a photo of a previous tour group standing in front of a big sign that said Do Not Forget Australia.

The sign, we were told, was at a school in Villers-Bretonneux in France, the main destination for the tour group.  I had seen photos of this sign before, knew a bit about Villers-Bretonneux , but it was only now that I was struck by the fact that this sign, written in English, was hanging in a school in France.  What was the full story behind it, I wondered.

Back at home I started researching, and learnt of the village which Australian soldiers had fought to save, of the men who were buried there, and of the relationship born between the two countries from that day. And I wondered if the people of modern Australia were as familiar with the story as the people of Villers-Bretonneux   were. It was time, I decided, to tell the story to Australian children.

It took quite some time to find a way to share the story in a way that was accessible to children. At first I simply read and researched. I talked about the story with my husband (an unusual thing for me to do in the early stages of a story), and I thought and thought. Then, On ANZAC Day 2008, as I watched the service being broadcast from Villers-Bretonneux   on television (catching a glimpse of my son laying an official wreath), I finally found the way to start the story and sat and wrote the first draft.

That draft was only the first of many.  It was nearly two years before I had a version which was accepted for publication by Walker Books, and another two years before it was ready for publication. Now it’s out – ready to take on the world. I hope that it will be read by Australians young and old, and that they too are taken by the story of friendship between two countries, which is acted out with a focus on two boys (one in each country).  It’s an important story, and I just hope I’ve done it justice.

DO NOT FORGET AUSTRALIA REVIEW

Do Not Forget Australia is a beautifully told story of two young boys living a world apart, one in Australia and one in France. The stories are linked by the two boy’s experiences of the same war. Both have fathers away fighting, both know what is to be growing up with absent dads.

This story is based on the world’s first tank battle that took place in Villers-Bretonneux on 24th April 1918. The Germans held the village but later than night, Australian soldiers won it back. Twelve hundred Australians died in the battle and the town has not forgotten Australia, naming its main street Rue de Melbourne.

This moving story is about Henri and Billy, two boys who never meet. Great writing and beautiful illustrations draw the reader into the boys’ worlds and bring them and their stories to life.

Instead of a building and children and trees, his school was little more than a pile of rubble. It was as if a giant had squeezed the schoolhouse in its hand and scattered the splintered remains.

Illustrator, Sonia Kretschmar captures the mood and the situation with sensitivity and realism in her compelling pictures.

Clearly, both author and illustrator have meticulously researched for Do Not Forget Australia, and it’s not just an account of history, it’s a beautiful story with messages of courage, generosity and hope.

Do Not Forget Australia is a powerful book with positive themes and introduces young readers to a part of their country’s history in an engaging way.

Sally Murphy is visiting Kids’ Book Capers as part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of Do Not Forget Australia

GREAT BLOGS SALLY IS VISITING ON TOUR

1st March 2012 Let’s Have Words

2nd March 2012 Kids Book Capers

3rd March 2012 Running With Pens

4th march 2012 Read and Write with Dale

5th March 2012 Karen Tyrrell

6th March 2012 Writing for Children

7th March 2012 Spinning Pearls

8th March 2012 Katwhiskers

12th March 2012 Pass It On

12th March 2012 Kids Book Review

13th March 2012 Under the Apple Tree

14th March 2012 Lorraine Marwood. Words into Writing

 

 

Review – These are my Hands/These are my Feet

One of my daughter’s very favourite books, when she was little, was a bi-covered book – where flipping the story over and reading half from one end and half from the other was part of the fun. Memories therefore came flooding back when Judy Horacek’s new book arrived – a hard cover picture book for littlies, that upends a couple of kids and takes us through the joys of those wiggly, squiggly hands and feet, that get into so much toddler mischief.

These are my Feet follows a wee poppet on her travels around the yard, the park, the beach, inside, outside and all sorts of adventurous places. We also learn she has shoes with faces and rainbow laces – oh the envy! So cute.

In These are my Hands, we meet a young tot who uses his hands to pick up things, gobble down cookies, hold hands, and of course – finger paint. We also learn he uses them to reach for things, and get buttons all mixed up on his pyjamas.

I actually use ‘he’ and ‘she’ lightly here – for both characters could indeed be either gender, which makes for greater child-relatability and is refreshingly anti-stereotypical. I particularly love how the ‘boy’ picks up both a doll and a truck.

Rhyming text gives the book a pleasing rhythm – and Horacek’s typically charming, brightly-coloured illustrations are prime visual real estate for little ones – busting with character and movement. I actually smiled whilst reading this book because it so beautifully typifies very young children, and books that do that are always a winner with the toddler set.

Complete with dustjacket and thick, sturdy pages, this would be a gorgeous gift book for kids, from one of Australia’s iconic author/illustrators.

These are my Hands/These are my Feet is published by the National Library of Australia.