Bradbury’s Martian Classic

In the early 1980s, as a young teenager, I watched a television mini-series called The Martian Chronicles. I loved it! It was based on a book by Ray Bradbury. Years later I came across a battered old copy in a book exchange that I used to frequent, and bought it for $1.75 (the price is still scribbled on the first page). This edition was published to coincide with the release of the mini-series, and features photos from it on the cover.

Last year I discovered that the mini-series was released on DVD and so I purchased a copy, curious to see if it would live up to my teen memories of it. It was very interesting — quite slow moving and often ponderous, very dated and with some wooden acting and poor effects, it still managed to hold my interest despite its flaws. Watching it, I felt that the story would be better without the constraints of the production. I decided it was high time to read the book. So I located my battered old copy and placed it onto the must-read-soon pile. And there it sat until I picked it out to take with me on holiday to Singapore (see “TTFN”).

It’s an interesting and odd book. It’s a collection of linked short stories about the exploration and colonisation of Mars. The book divides roughly into three sections, dealing with the exploration of Mars and the encounters with the indigenous population, the colonisation of Mars, and the abandonment of the colony. In the background we have all the Earth-bound problems, including environmental issues, war and politics.

Although there are some recurring characters, it is less of a continuous narrative than the mini-series, which inserts the character of Col John Wilder (Rock Hudson) throughout. At times it feels a little disjointed, but the cohesiveness of setting and theme hold it together. The dialogue is also often rather stilted and not entirely convincing. But the concepts and created history are terrific. It is quite epic in conception, covering the years 1999 to 2026. Its other main strength is its commentary on human beings. How humans have the need to make the unfamiliar, familiar…

“The rockets came like drums, beating in the night. The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms or rosy smoke. And from the rockets ran men with hammers in their hands to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye, to bludgeon away all the strangeness…”

And there is a rather brilliant passage about why the first settlers came to Mars…

“They came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims. There was a reason for each man. They were leaving bad wives or bad jobs or bad towns; they were coming to find something or leave something or get something, to dig up something or bury something or leave something alone. They were coming with small dreams or large dreams or none at all.”

The book is also interesting for its discussion of faith and religion. Much science fiction takes an atheistic view, whereas The Martian Chronicles laments the loss of faith in favour of the rise of science. But in its presentation of the Martians, suggests that science shouldn’t preclude faith.

“They knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other.”

The book is rather dated, starting as it does with the first rocket to Mars in 1999. It is also dated with its attitude towards women and to racial issues. Nowhere in the stories does a woman hold any position of authority, and it’s the men who are the explorers and the first settlers, with the woman (either wives and girlfriends or prostitutes) following later on. And “Way in the Middle of the Air” portrays an American South with black servants, very near to slaves, working for their white masters in the year 2003.

“… the women came in with flower-pots and chintz and pans and set up a kitchen clamour …”

The Martian Chronicles has a really interesting publication history. It began life as short stories published separately in magazines. These stories were collected together with short linking pieces. According to Wikipedia (font of all knowledge… I bow to thee), Bradbury referred to it as “a book of stories pretending to be a novel”.

The book was published in the UK under the title of The Silver Locusts, with slightly different contents. The story about censorship (“Usher II” — which has been adapted for the small screen as an episode of Ray Bradbury Theatre) was dropped in favour of a story about a group of missionary priests (“The Fire Balloons”). In fact, the edition I read was thus structured. Interestingly, the mini-series, which was US made, included the storyline about the priests, but not the one about censorship. I’m going to have to seek out a US edition of the book so that I can read “Usher II”.

An updated version of The Martian Chronicles was published in 1997. The dates were pushed forward from 1999-2026 to 2030-2057. It included both “Usher II” and “The Fire Balloons”, but replaced “Way in the Middle of the Air” with “The Wilderness”, a story first published in 1952, two years after The Martian Chronicles was originally published.

For the most part I found the book to be way better than the mini-series. There is just one scene where the mini-series improves on the book. In the book, one of the last surviving Martians, finds himself trapped by the memories of human beings. Being telepathic, and desperately lonely, he takes on the appearance of people that are strongly in the minds of the humans he comes into contact with — a long dead son, a missing daughter, etc. In the mini-series he goes into a church and finds himself taking on the appearance of Christ, because the priest is desperate to meet Jesus. It’s a fascinating scene, but one that is not in the book.

I really enjoyed reading The Martian Chronicles. I shall have to seek out some more Bradbury.

Catch ya later,  George

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Review – The Word Spy Activity Book

Okay, I’ll admit it – if there’s one book series I wish I wrote, it’s Ursula Dubosarky’s The Word Spy. And to have Tohby Riddle illustrate, too – well. Yes, I’m green.

I love Dubosarsky’s enormously clever take on the English language via her Word Spy character. Not only has she made grammar, punctuation and word structure cool, she’s made it a whole lot of fun for kids, and many’s the hour both my children and myself have pored over her extraordinary journeys into the complexity of words.

This brand new (released today) activity book is the perfect foil for those of us wanting to scribble madly in The Word Spy books, but have never dared because they’re so beautiful.

Deliciously thick and beautifully produced, The Word Spy Activity Book is a feast of wordish fun, with tonnes of brain-stretching exercises to complete – and ideas to ponder on. Divided into several chapters including Favourite Words, Words and Feelings, Words and Pictures, Words and Writing, Word and Punctuation, Riddle’s beautiful silhouetted illustrations and design layout complement a series of fun activities.

Kids can enjoy creating a shadowy puppet show or creating their own rebuses (1 of my fave things in the world 2 do). I love how the author even compares rebuses to text messaging. There are riddles, visual word play, clues, and codes to crack. Visual kids can get visual, cerebral kids can get cerebral. They can close their eyes to write, invent their own script and learn Guinea Pig language.

A must-have for school holidays, travel or just everyday, the creativity and variety in this book is so Ursula Duboskarsky – intelligent, intensely clever and so very much FUN. Brilliant, but be prepped to fight the kids for it.

The Word Spy Activity Book is published by Penguin.

Into the Darkest Corner of the Crime Writer’s mind (part 2 of 2)

Yesterday we published part 1 of our interview with Elizabeth Haynes, whose debut novel Into the Darkest Corner deals with domestic abuse, obsession and OCD, and she discussed writing crime and suspense fiction. Today we have her hard-won advice for other writers starting out.

She completed the first draft of Into the Darkest Corner, her first published book, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2008. Did she set out to write a publishable book from the start? “No, definitely not! When I first heard about NaNoWriMo in October 2005 I was very excited by the challenge. I’ve always written but never anything full-length, what this did was to give me permission to write and not stop, not to worry about the quality or fuss over the plot.”

“NaNoWriMo has to be fun, otherwise it’s not really worth doing. If you set out to write something for publication I don’t think it would be nearly so much fun to participate. Even now, with a publishing deal for future books, I have to write in November as though it’s just going to be for me to read, otherwise I think it would be overwhelmingly scary.”

“I’d won three years of NaNoWriMo before I did actually manage to finish a story, though, the others were all still mid-plot by December, and even after five months of trying to edit it myself it took my cousin to say to me ‘why don’t you send it off?’ It hadn’t been something I’d considered as a possibility until then.”

Writing may have a reputation for being a one-person job, but Elizabeth find that other people’s views and opinions are vital to help her get the best from her plot. “It always helps me to discuss it as it evolves an awful lot through the writing and editing process. Talking about it sparks new ideas and helps me see what the underlying themes are, and which bits work – or don’t. I think this is because I always write at speed, without anything other than a germ of an idea to start me off.”

“Writing is a very solitary business but it’s only when you share your work with other people that you can start to make it better. I would advise joining a local writing group – or starting one – and listen to feedback when you can. Try writing in different genres to stretch your literary muscles. And write-ins (where you meet other writers and, basically, write) can really help to get your creative juice going. Being answerable to other people helps you maintain focus!”

Elizabeth loves to write and meet writers, but it’s not just enthusiasm that makes a great book; she recommends getting the experts in for a dispassionate read and further development. Even if that’s nowhere near as much fun as the writing itself!  “I think my biggest hurdle is always the editing process. I can write a good-ish story, develop some cracking characters and finish it with no real concept of where it’s all gone wrong. I’m lucky to have a brilliant editor who seems to have an almost magical insight into how to make things better.”

It’s not just editors she asked for an opinion; her second novel, Revenge of The Tide, is about a woman is an office worker by day and pole dancer in an upmarket club by night. While Elizabeth has the background in office work, pole-dancing wasn’t in her repertoire. “I did actually go along to pole fitness classes. This was so far out of my comfort zone it was ridiculous – I’m 40, a mother of one and definitely not built for fitness classes of any sort – but the instructors and the other girls in the class were brilliant and welcoming. I did the warm ups with them (which just about killed me) and then watched them do the rest of the class, sitting on the floor of the studio with my notebook, drawing stick figure representations of the moves.”

“Having watched pole dancing on television (and inspired by a pole dancer who was on Britain’s Got Talent) you would think I had all the information I needed – but I’m so glad I did the class as I learned a lot of things you wouldn’t necessarily realise – such as the friction burns you get on the inside of your thighs, and the fact that the poles in clubs are thicker than the ones used for pole fitness. If I experience things like this, I can write about them. I did also have a long phone conversation with a former dancer, who let me in on the secrets of what it was like in the world of gentlemen’s clubs.”

It wasn’t her first time trying to get into the head of a character with different views; In The Darkest Corner’s main character, Catherine, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) brought on by trauma. Elizabeth not only had to understand OCD but write about it in a way that made a reader understand it too.

“I’ve had very positive feedback on it, which I’m relieved about because I have no direct experience of OCD, other than that I’m on that continuum – as I think we all are – which starts with little habits and supersitions, like counting your steps or avoiding ‘unlucky’ numbers. I had a lot of help from a dear friend who is a consultant psychologist. She recommended me some books, which included not only treatment protocols but case studies of people who have OCD. I think obsession is something we can all relate to because everyone experiences milder versions at some point; compulsion is something else, the fact of having no option but to behave in a certain way, even as an intelligent, outwardly ‘normal’ adult. That was very difficult to write and I’m still not sure it comes across.”

“I think sometimes characters come to me quite easily, other times they take a bit of coaxing before I know them well enough to tell their story. I have two characters in my latest book who are either socially inept or socially phobic, and it’s been difficult to draw them out enough to get a clear sense of who they are. But knowing their world, knowing what it’s like for them to live, definitely makes things easier.”

Her characters aren’t always 100% fictional. “I always use at least one real person’s name in each book (with their permission!). With Into the Darkest Corner, it was Naomi, my friend and fellow police analyst. My third book contains a character named after a friend on Twitter, who insisted on being used thus! Revenge of the Tide has a character called Robby Nicks who is actually my next door neighbour!”

Her readers – and her neighbours – will be relieved to hear that while she occasionally draws on real-life for ideas, that’s not the case with her portrayal of Robby. “He isn’t a baddie in real life!”

Bookish Adventures in Singapore, part 3: Books Actually

During our holiday in Singapore, my family and I stayed with friends in their condominium. Very nice experience! I think I could get used to condo living. The building was situated in the suburb of Tiong Bahru. Apparently, Tiong Bahru is one of Singapore’s “oldest and hippest” suburbs (according to CNN), and is particularly known for its specialty stores. I had no idea about this while we were staying there, but it certainly explains the little designer furniture store and the shop specialising in macaroons (that’s right… an entire store full of macaroons… of all different colours and sizes) that I happened to pass one day. It also explains Books Actually.

Tucked away in one of the many quiet side streets, Books Actually is, as the name suggests, a bookstore. Now, given that Literary Clutter is hosted on the website of a bookstore (the awesome, one-and-only, Boomerang Books), I don’t normally blog about other bookshops (they are the feeelthy competition, after all). But given that this shop is in Singapore, and the fact that it is more than a bookstore, I figured that I’d break the rules and write about it (as I did about the Tintin store in my last post).

Books Actually contains predominantly English language books and seems rather popular with expat residents. It has a lovely atmosphere, an eclectic range of books and other bits and pieces, and seems to have a constant stream of customers, despite its out-of-the-way location. The new books, as with books generally in Singapore, are a few dollars more than what you would expect to pay for them in Australia. The second hand books are a different kettle of fish, with prices climbing rather high. I was amazed to see battered old copies of The Hardy Boys, the sort you can pick up in an Aussie op shop for fifty cents, priced at upwards of $15 each. But, I guess, it’s all a matter of supply and demand.

As well as books, this shop had an odd assortment of other things, including three shelves dedicated to vintage Pez dispensers for $12 each…

Most inexplicable of all, were the eight bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne nestled in amongst some boxes, suitcases and paintings towards the back of the shop. There were no price tags on these, so I’m not sure if they were actually for sale or simply waiting to be drunk by the staff after the shop closed for the day. I’m a bit of a Champagne fan, so I had to snap a photo…

As well as being a bookstore, Books Actually is also a small press publisher, and this is what I found most interesting. Under its Math Paper Press imprint, it publishes books, chapbooks and literary journals, featuring local writers. And under its Birds & Co. brand it produces a range of very beautiful stationary.

I spent a happy forty minutes or so browsing through Books Actually — its brightly lit, air-conditioned rooms a haven in Singapore’s constant humidity. I didn’t see the point of buying books that I could get back home, but I did buy one of the journals and one of the chapbooks published by Math Paper Press so that I could get a small taste of the local literature. (I’ll review them in a future post.)

To find out more about Books Actually, Math Paper Press and Birds & Co., check out their website.

And so, dear readers, we come to the end of my bookish adventures in Singapore. Thanks for joining me. Next time we’ll be returning to my usual mix of insightful reviews, hard-hitting interviews, controversial opinions and razor-sharp wit. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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Into the Darkest Corner of the Crime Writer’s mind (part 1 of 2)

Elizabeth Haynes’s suspense-filled debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, was penned as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2008. Just three years on, it sits on Amazon’s 10 Best UK Books of 2011 (alongside George RR Martin’s Dance with Dragons and Steve Jobs’s biography) and her second book, Revenge of the Tide, has just hit the shelves. In this, the first of a two-part blog, we ask her about writing about and working with crime, and where she got the inspiration for her first published novel.

Elizabeth lives in Kent, in the South East of England, but has family ties in Australia – her grandparents came to Pearcedale, Victoria, in the early 1950s and lived in a tent there while they built their home themselves. “My grandmother was a keen and talented writer who might have had a completely different life if she’d not had six kids and a husband to look after. She wrote a long story about their experiences called ‘Now We Are Pioneers’, which was published in Australian Woman and Home magazine – so maybe I get my enthusiasm for writing from her.”

When she’s not writing about crime, she works with it; Elizabeth is a police intelligence analyst. “Analysts do a variety of specialist jobs for the police, but at the core of all of them is examining crime data to look for patterns which can then be used to direct police resources to where they will be most effective. Analysts who work for neighbourhood police might look at burglary data in terms of method, time of day, proximity to transport, types of housing targeted etc to try and then predict where the offenders might strike next. Some analysts specialise in major crime, things like murders, kidnappings and rape, providing timelines to show the key events, and phone analysis to look for evidence. We also look at criminal gangs and analyse the relationships between the members – it’s quite a varied set of jobs and never gets boring.”

“It’s the ideal job for a writer, really, because one of the fundamental skills of the analyst is the ability to ask ‘what if?’ to every situation, to look beyond the obvious and to make predictions. It requires discipline and creativity too.”

It sounds interesting, if a little terrifying at times. So, does she get many ideas for stories from her job? “I don’t get many plot ideas from the job because unfortunately real life crime tends to be either very dull or meaningless, with little or no motive, or else it is violent and gruesome and sadistic – and then it becomes morally difficult to fictionalise something that is happening to real people.”

Her first novel, Into the Darkest Corner, which deals with domestic abuse, obsession and OCD, draws on her work generally as opposed to being inspired by one particular story. “When I wrote it, I had been reading a lot of domestic abuse crime reports and although nothing I read directly inspired the story, what I did get from it was the sense that this happens to ordinary people from every social background – and that the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships can be extremely complex. I found it very difficult to write the most harrowing scenes but having built up to it through the course of the book I felt it would be an injustice to turn away at that point. Domestic abuse does happen every day to real people, and if I’m to write about it for what is essentially reading entertainment, I wanted to make sure that people come away with some degree of understanding about how bad it can be.”

“What I do get from the job, however, is an idea of how an investigation might work, where the limitations are and what the procedure would be. The police community has been incredibly supportive of me and I’m very lucky to have a huge network of people who are specialists in one field or another – and always willing to offer expert help for research!”

Access to experts is always a help when researching fiction, but how do co-workers and friends react when they find out that Elizabeth writes crime and suspense thrillers? “Everyone I’ve spoken to about being a writer has been without exception very positive, interested and encouraging. What’s interesting is how people who know me well, friends and family, have reacted after reading my books. Whilst this has also been hugely supportive, I think people are surprised by the violence, the swearing and the sex. I think I come across as quite mild-mannered and they wonder where it all comes from!”

You can visit Elizabeth’s website here. Due to her generosity in taking the time to answer all our questions on suspense writing, this will be a two part blog. In tomorrow’s blog, we ask her hard-won advice for other writers starting out.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Michael Wagner

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

Humour’s my favourite children’s book genre, although I do like horror, magic-realism and sport as well. I’m not sure what it is about humour that I like so much, but it certainly does lift my spirits and make me feel happy. Maybe that’s a good enough reason to like it.

The books in this genre I’d recommend are anything by Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings and Dav Pilkey. And lots of stuff by Anthony Horowitz as well!

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I loved reading Asterix and a series called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I loved that series so much that my friends and I formed our own little trio of investigators, complete with our own business card. Didn’t get any business unfortunately – which is probably why I’m an author now rather than a private eye.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Lovable characters
Interesting or funny problems to solve
A believable or hilarious world

The above authors do this well – but throw in Morris Gleitzman while I’m at it.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Read to them every night until they’re surprisingly old – like 12 or even up to 15 (if they’ll let you). Just make reading a daily, enjoyable habit.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

To Kill A Mocking Bird
Asterix
The Big Honey Hunt

Michael Wagner is the author of 50 children’s books, including the funny, action-packed Maxx Rumble series, The Undys, Dog Wars, Destiny’s Right Hand, and the delightful new adventures of stuffed survivalist, Ted – Ted Goes Wild, Ted Gets Lost, Ted Hits Town. As well as writing books, Michael sings and composes songs for his band, The Grownups, and has previously worked in radio with the ABC, written and produced award-winning television, and written and performed comedy.

www.michaelwagner.com.au

Bookish Adventures in Singapore, part 2: Tintin in Singapore

My last post was a general round-up of my Singapore holiday (see: “Bookish Adventures in Singapore, part 1: Holiday Reading”). This time I’m getting more specific… much more specific… Hergé’s Tintin. What’s Tintin got to do with Singapore? I hear you ask. Read on…

On our third day in Singapore we decided to head on over to Chinatown in the late afternoon for a bit of shopping and some dinner. We were walking down a typical, crowded street, crammed full of shops (some selling interesting, quality local products, but most dealing in ubiquitous, junky souvenirs), my daughters trying to decide between a multitude of fluffy toys on key chains, when I happened to glance over my left shoulder. My eyes widened. There, nestled amongst all these souvenir shops, was a shining beacon of incongruity — The Tintin Shop. I rubbed my eyes and shook my head to make sure it was not a humidity-induced mirage. But it was still there.

I’ve never read Hergé’s famed Tintin comics, but I recently watched the television series with daughter #1 (see my review on Viewing Clutter). So, I tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to the store. Her eyes lit up and, fluffy toys momentarily forgotten, we rushed over, stepping into a cool, air-conditioned wonderland.

Wow! The place was chock-full of books, posters, models, toys, standees, statues, etc, etc — all devoted to Tintin in his many forms, from the comics to the television series to the new blockbuster film. We wandered around, gazing in awe at the displays, flipping through comic books and picking up the occasional toy or model to examine it more closely. It was all quite overwhelming.

We didn’t end up buying anything as it was all rather pricey, but we did have a lovely time browsing. What my daughter wanted most was the comic books. Having watched the series she is now desperate to read the original comics. But I already had a couple of those on order and, frankly, they are cheaper to purchase here in Australia from Boomerang Books. So we left empty handed. And as we stepped out of the Tintin Shop, the humidity hitting us like a crashing wave, daughter #1 rushed across the street to the souvenir store and bought a fluffy toy on a key chain.

Glancing back towards Tintin as my daughter made her purchase, it struck me that there were tables and chairs in a tented area in front of the entrance. So I took a quick wander back to discover that customers could sit down and relax with a beer before/after checking out all the Tintin merchandise. Beer and Tintin… what a great combination. 🙂

My visit to the Tintin Shop was quite a surreal experience, like briefly stepping from one world into another, and then back again. And this was not the last bookish surprise that Singapore had in store for me…

Tune in next time to find out about Books Actually.

Catch ya later,

George

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The big gorilla is firing up

The Kindle Fire.

Amazon looks set to give the Australian book market a mighty shake-up.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Amazon is seeking warehouse space in Australia.

The Australian’s IT section has this week run a piece outlining rumours that the Kindle Fire’s arrival in Australia is imminent.

It seems the greatest of all the ebook industry gorillas (so-named by Scribe founder Henry Rosenbloom during a speech he gave at an Australian Publishers Association conference last November) is finally setting up shop in Australia.

The SMH says Amazon.com.au changed its name to Amazon Corporate Services last year, and “has appointed two vice presidents of the American parent – Michael Deal, associate general counsel, and Jason Bristow, the online retailer’s treasurer – to the local company’s board”.

It also reports that several marketing staff have been hired here.

If it’s true that Amazon is about to make a big push into this market, what will this mean for us readers and for the rest of the industry?

In my view, it will be very bad news for any ebook retailer that has not already established a niche for itself here – I’m thinking about the Copia-powered Australian Publishers Association/Bowker Titlepage Plus solution here, but also any of the independent booksellers yet to implement an ebook strategy, and those who will have to rethink existing strategies in coming months, like Booktopia and Dymocks, who learnt just before Easter that their supplier Google was pulling out of reselling.

Kobo’s Malcolm Neil reflected at a Copyright Agency Limited event earlier this year that while Kobo still has strong market share, this had fallen as new players including Apple and Google set up shop here. Kobo was a pioneer in the Australian market, selling local ebook titles via its own site and partner retailer RedGroup for some time (starting in May 2010) before entrants like Booku, Booki.sh, ReadCloud, Apple and Google joined the fray.

Amazon’s Australian ebook stocks were limited when Kobo launched, but they had the advantage of offering the Kindle device, locked into the Kindle store, to this market for seven months before the Kobo and iPad arrived.

With a dedicated, local marketing presence and the prospect of local multimedia content (music and video in particular) becoming available via the affordable and portable 7inch Kindle Fire colour tablet here, Amazon would have the power to shake up not just the book industry, but the television, film, music and gadget market too.

Given the outcome of international legal action on book pricing has gone in Amazon’s favour, a local push will likely see further drops in ebook prices here. This will benefit consumers in the short term but will hit publishers’ bottom lines hard and is unsustainable. The greatest risk it brings is that consumers’ expectations on price will be locked in at these unsustainable levels, impacting on the future viability of many of our beloved book publishers and booksellers.

Me? I’m anti-Amazon because of this pricing strategy, and because I like to be able to choose to buy my ebooks from whichever retailer I like, be that a gorilla, Kobo or (and this is always my first preference) a local indie like Booku and those who have partnered with Booki.sh and ReadCloud.

But I have to say I’m tempted by the Kindle Fire. After nearly two years of lugging my iPad around in my handbag, I have finally given up. It stays home. My Sony Reader comes out to play. A device that has been designed for reading and offers many of the benefits of the iPad in a smaller form has definite appeal – not as much allure as the mythical iPad mini (of which there are rumours again), but a little more than the Kobo Vox, which had plenty of pluses but didn’t quite nail it for me. The rumoured Google Nexus tablet would be worth a look too.

Meanwhile, Bookseller + Publisher has a couple of big ebookish stories this week.

The first wraps up the ongoing legal stoushes in the US and Europe over the agency pricing model used by Apple and major book publishers. B+P points readers to this piece in The Bookseller.

B+P also reports that Kobo is expanding into new international markets and is set to launch its global self-publishing program within months.

Ditch Google now: ABA president

How the news broke.

Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page reckons Dymocks and Booktopia should immediately close their ebookstores and find a new partner after Google announced it would pull out of its deals with the pair from January 2013.

Page was not surprised by the development (read his blog post on it here).

“I always thought there were too many risks partnering with Google,” he said.

“If I were Dymocks or Booktopia I would shut down my eBook store ASAP and find an alternative quickly. ”

Google announced it was pulling the plug on its reseller program with booksellers just before Easter – shrewd timing that meant the mainstream media mostly ignored the news.

The program only launched in Australia five months ago.

Booksellers who had partnered with Google when they opened their ebookstore, including Dymocks and Booktopia in Australia, now face weeks or even months of uncertainty.

From the end of January next year, Google will move to selling ebooks through its Google Play interface only – though current retail partners could look to end the relationship and start afresh with a new supplier sooner.

According to the official announcement here, results to date demonstrated that “the reseller program has not met the needs of many readers or booksellers”.

I’m interpreting this as “no one much was buying Google eBooks via resellers” – and why would they, when they could always go direct to the Google eBooks site.

No matter how poor sales have been, the process will have been a worthwhile one for Google. The access it has had to Dymocks and Booktopia customers in terms of publicity and sales will have made sure of that.

Others agree. Here’s a quote from a comment on the Google announcement:

“Google eBooks was the only way the independent bookstore where I worked was able to jump into the digital book world, a necessary piece of the future of bookselling. It met the needs of all my customers who tried digital books for the first time and all my customers who wanted to support the little guy with every book purchase. Many of my customers got Google accounts so they could buy eBooks through our website. I feel betrayed, like Google strung us and the ABA along, using us as guinea pigs as they developed their eBook market presence.”

Here’s the official response I received to my email queries from Google Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager Kate Mason:

“Our ebooks reseller program has not been as successful as we’d hoped so we will be phasing it out next year. We want to give partners as much notice as possible so they have time to make adjustments. This change stems from that strategy and the feedback we’ve received from most ebook readers, publishers and resellers.”

Neither Dymocks nor Booktopia have responded to emails. Booktopia was still “proud to partner with Google to offer our Australian readers thousands of Google eBooks™ from a wide variety of international and local publishers” on its ebookstore homepage. Their only reference on Twitter was this:

@seandblogonaut: @booktopia are you still offering eBooks via google? hearing reports that you are not?
@booktopia: @SeandBlogonaut We are until next January.

Dymocks, too, is still spruiking the partnership on its website.

QBD The Bookshop and The Co-op Bookshop had both signed with Google ahead of the Google eBooks launch in Australia last November, but neither was yet selling ebooks by last week.

The other huge ebook news story of last week somewhat overshadowed the Google news (happily for Google). You can read it here. The US Justice Department and 15 states sued Apple Inc. and major book publishers last Wednesday, alleging a conspiracy that raised the price of electronic books.

Review – The Pirates Next Door

I often become visually disabled when I see such stunning artwork in a picture book. I sort of go into a bit of a trance and just sit there, staring, unable to even dive into the text. Even before I start reading the book, I’m left wondering – “how do they DO that?”

Indeed, how the talented Jonny Duddle (great name) can possibly create such images is beyond me, but what’s not beyond me is the ability to enjoy them, even in my semi-permanent sense of wonder. From the priceless emotion plastered across faces to the humour, the sleeting raindrops, the hair, the colour, the light, the sheer beauty of the imagery . . . wowzers.

But onto the story, which is really why we’re here.

Starring the indefatigable Jolley-Rogers, the story is told in limerick rhythm (thankfully done really well) and follows the tale of bored little Tilda, who hopes against hope that into the house next door will move another little girl, just like her. Instead, who should move in but a pirate boy, complete with eye patch, a wooden legged dog, treasure chests and barrels full of grog!

It’s the Jolley-Rogers! They’ve been sailing the seven seas but after a wee bit of landsickness, they’re keen for a rest onshore.

Of course, Tilda’s parents aren’t keen for their daughter to get involved with a family of buccaneering layabouts, but Tilda is thrilled – life certainly won’t be boring any more. But it’s not only the little girl’s parents who are keen to give the Jolley-Rogers the old heave-ho. The entire neighbourhood have issues with a pirate ship eyesore and scurvy dog shenanigans in the street.

But before the neighbourhood can sharpen their pitchforks and drive out the Jolley-Rogers, the pirates up and leave, back to their seven seas, leaving a very large and very curious X on the back lawns of each and every resident.

Wait ‘til you see how quickly the neighcours change their tune!

Featuring a mix-up of full page imagery with cartoon-style strips and speech bubbles, this is a beautifully-produced book with stunning imagery, layout and design – and most happily, has a clever, funny and totally entertaining storyline to boot.

I’m loving the so-totally-adult-oriented details in this book – the town sign on the endpapers – ‘Dull-on-Sea’ twinned with Ennui-sur-Mer’, for example, and the gorgeous ending which leaves me wanting more more more. Utterly delightful, in that landlubbing kind of way.

 

The Pirates Next Door is published by Koala Books.

I often become visually disabled when I see such stunning artwork in a picture book. I sort of go into a bit of a trance and just sit there, staring, unable to even dive into the text. Even before I start reading the book, I’m left wondering – “how do they DO that?” 

Indeed, how the talented Jonny Duddle (great name) can possibly create such images is beyond me, but what’s not beyond me is the ability to enjoy them, even in my semi-permanent sense of wonder. From the priceless emotion plastered across faces to the humour, the sleeting raindrops, the hair, the colour, the light, the sheer beauty of the imagery . . . wowzers.

But onto the story, which is really why we’re here.

Starring the indefatigable Jolley-Rogers, the story is told in limerick rhythm (thankfully done really well) and follows the tale of bored little Tilda, who hopes against hope that into the house next door will move another little girl, just like her. Instead, who should move in but a pirate boy, complete with eye patch, a wooden legged dog, treasure chests and barrels full of grog!

It’s the Jolley-Rogers! They’ve been sailing the seven seas but after a wee bit of landsickness, they’re keen for a rest onshore.

Of course, Tilda’s parents aren’t keen for their daughter to get involved with a family of buccaneering layabouts, but Tilda is thrilled – life certainly won’t be boring any more. But it’s not only the little girl’s parents who are keen to give the Jolley-Rogers the old heave-ho. The entire neighbourhood have issues with a pirate ship eyesore and scurvy dog shenanigans in the street.

But before the neighbourhood can sharpen their pitchforks and drive out the Jolley-Rogers, the pirates up and leave, back to their seven seas, leaving a very large and very curious X on the back lawns of each and every resident.

Wait ‘til you see how quickly the neighcours change their tune!

Featuring a mix-up of full page imagery with cartoon-style strips and speech bubbles, this is a beautifully-produced book with stunning imagery, layout and design – and most happily, has a clever, funny and totally entertaining storyline to boot.

I’m loving the so-totally-adult-oriented details in this book – the town sign on the endpapers – ‘Dull-on-Sea’ twinned with Ennui-sur-Mer’, for example – and the gorgeous ending which leaves me wanting more more more.

Utterly delightful – in that landlubbing kind of way.

Moneyball

MoneyballI missed Moneyball the book, then Moneyball the movie and Moneyball the book with the film-version cover because, well, I’m not really sure how. I’ve had discussions with people about how we’d heard both were good and, although I couldn’t say anyone quite recommended either to me firsthand, I figured they’d warrant a read/watch.

A quick look at my stupid schedule snarfooed reading the book, but I figured I could probably ignore some soft deadlines squeeze the film in in a compact two hours. Besides, with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, I reasoned that the film would be acutely intellectual and like a book perfectly played out on the screen.

It might be because I was watching the film when I knew I really shouldn’t have been or because I was watching it on my 13” laptop, but I was not even remotely blown away. Sorkin’s The Social Network was magnificently stellar. Brad Pitt is an actor who’s both good looking and a good actor. And the fat kid from Superbad, Jonah Hill, is hilarious. Surely those combined should have ensured the film’s guarantee trifecta?

I love (and work almost 24/7 in) sport, so it’s not that I didn’t get the sporting references. It’s that the film never really made me care. Pitt’s protagonist is a former baseballer turned general manager tasked with creating a winning team on a miniscule budget and when his good players keep getting lured away by fancier, cashed-up clubs. He likens his club to being both the organ donor for the other clubs and the runt of the litter—and we all know what happens to the runt.

His revolutionary approach, which his where Hill comes in, is to focus on the runs. Or something. It got a bit mathematical and a bit boring at that stage for me. Suffice to say, Pitt didn’t recruit the best players. He took the players he could afford and got the best out of them by focusing on specific areas and simple things, like ‘making base’ (whatever that really means).

My main concerns with the film included that:

a)      it was too slow

b)     I was never made to care about any of the characters, least of all the players who were so integral to what was supposed to be one of the most climactic scenes

c)     the staff and team dynamics weren’t believable—Pitt didn’t inspire. There’s no way a team of has-beens or never-beens would pull together without some seriously rousing leadership

d)     it was predictable. And not in an I-know-where-this-is-going-and-I’m-going-with-it way. Cool Runnings was predictable, but you were pumped for the team. Moneyball was predictable and I didn’t hugely care

e)     the film focused on Pitt’s character, which was fine. But even him you never found out much about and I don’t really consider him to have grown or defeated any of his demons by the film’s end

f)      I thought the best moment of the film was his 12-year-old daughter singing a song

g)     it was far too slow.

I think it’s telling that my favourite (albeit inappropriate) lines of the film were one of the staff commenting on the viability of a player says that a player has an ugly girlfriend: ‘Ugly girlfriend means no confidence […] I’m just saying, his girlfriend is a six at best’.

While waging internal debates about whether to turn the movie off or see it through, I may have even berated myself with thoughts such as, ‘Really? Of all the films I could have spent two hours I didn’t have watching, I chose this?’ Yeah, I wasn’t really into Moneyball.

Am I off the mark, though? I feel as though I missed something or that everyone’s in on some cleverness that I’m not. The book upon which the film was made was released in 2003 and Columbia snapped up the film rights in 2004 (a sign that the book was a bestseller and there’d likely been a bidding war). The film itself was nominated for six Academy Awards (although I will console myself with the knowledge that it didn’t seem to win any—maybe the judges felt as I did that with a scriptwriter and cast like it had, it should have, to borrow a baseball pun, hit it out of the park).

Have you read the book or seen the film or both? What did you think? Can you tell me what I missed? Is this a case of the book being the film and that I should give the original book a shot instead?

Bookish Adventures in Singapore, part 1: Holiday Reading

I’m back! Did you miss me? 🙂 My Singapore holiday is now but a memory as I return to my regular routine in Australia. Despite my expectations of a relatively book-free experience (see: “TTFN”), Singapore actually managed a few rather lovely bookish surprises. And I’m gonna tell you about them over the next few posts.

My biggest surprise was that I managed to get in some reading time. The kids actually slept on the plane trips, so I got in a couple of hours there. Then, during our stay in Singapore, daughter #2 (who’s only three) needed a bit of quiet time or a nap every couple of days — so that too provided some reading time. I’m pleased to say that I made it all the way through the one book I took with me, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. (I’ll give you my thoughts on that book in a separate post.) And I went on to read a couple of other things I bought in Singapore (but more about them later).

While in Singapore I visited a couple of bookstores, and I’ll tell you about them in the next two posts. Visiting these stores and talking to friends who live in that country, led me to discover that books in Singapore are more expensive than in Australia… even with the exchange rate taken into account. It’s not a huge difference, only a few dollars a book, but it was enough to curb my holiday book buying. I still did a little, but they were very particular purchases. (Again, I’ll tell you about them in an upcoming post.) (Are you getting sick of me referring to as yet unwritten posts? I’ll try to stop.)

I took a little notebook with me, as I always do on holidays, just in case inspiration struck. I jotted down some notes along the way for this and other upcoming Literary Clutter posts. And I wrote a few pages on my current work-in-progress. And that was about it… so nothing earth shattering to report on that front.

I returned to Australia on Sunday 15 April, our plane touching down at about 7:45am. With children sprawled across our laps, my wife and I didn’t get the chance to do much sleeping… maybe an hour of dozing, at best. But despite the lack of sleep, there was promoting to be done. So, after getting home, rushing off to pick up our cats from the ‘Catty Hotel’, I managed a quick shower and some hurried lunch before heading off to Supanova for a book signing.

Supanova is an immense pop culture expo held at the Melbourne Showgrounds. To be perfectly honest, my time there passed by in a vague, sleep-deprived blur. I signed some autographs, I gave out lots of promotional bookmarks for my novel Gamers’ Challenge and I chatted with a few other authors, including Carole Wilkinson, Michael Pryor, Sue Bursztynski and Alison Croggon. Then I rushed home to collapse into bed.

I had a lovely time on my holiday, but I’m also glad to be back. And I look forward to blogging regularly again.

Tune in next time for Tintin in Singapore.

Catch ya later,

George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review — Doctor Who: The Daemons

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Review: The Greatest Liar on Earth

From tramp to world explorer extraordinaire, with adventurous tales to boggle the mind and cause the eyes to pop wide like saucers? Is it possible? Who was this man? Swiss-born footman, butler and jack-of-all-trades Henri Louis Grin – or world traveller Louis de Rougemont? Or both?

When an impoverished Henri began studying the diaries and tales of some of the world’s greatest explorers and travellers at the British Museum, an entire world formed in his imagination. Soon after, he began writing illustrated tales – The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont – for Wide World magazine, and soon became a sensation, attracting the attention of both the enraptured and the sceptical.

Claiming to have lived with Aborigines in the outback for 30 years, to have travelled to New Guinea in search of pearls and gold, to have seen monsters arise from the deepest oceans, flying wombats and fish falling from the sky, this formidable man even claimed to have the knack for riding sea turtles and wrestling crocodiles.

But was it all an elaborate hoax – or did he indeed pay witness to these stunning events?

Author Mark Greenwood explores the life of Henri Louis Grin with a gentle humour but moreover an innate sense of curiosity – a bit like the man himself. At the end of the book, he poses questions to the reader, allowing them to form their own opinion on truth v reality. I really enjoyed Greenwood’s use of sophisticated language and evocative wording, that not only help illustrate the complexity of Grin’s world, but stretch the reader.

Frané Lessac’s gorgeous, folksy illustrations similarly open Grin’s world to the reader and take them on a fantastical ride where the border between fact and fiction begin to blur. This combination of word and illustration by an award winning husband and wife team makes for a book that draws you in as effectively as the highfalutin tales of this masterful Swiss storyteller, who both delighted and appalled a rapt world audience.

“Truth is stranger than fiction but De Rougemont is stranger than both.” – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899

A curious, enriching and entertaining picture book for older readers.

The Greatest Liar on Earth is published by Walker Books Australia.

Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both

The Wide World Magazine, June 1899, No. 14

Mid-month round-up – the good behaviour edition

This month my reading has been all about training dogs or children. Training one requires patience and kindness to build confidence, the other dominance, stern punishment and endless rote learning administered by a stern task-master. And probably not for the ones you think either.

The stern approach, of course, is for the kids. Earlier in the month I picked up Amy Chua’s controversial Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, a memoir of one family’s experience of using a disciplinarian style of parenting that Chua calls “Chinese parenting”.  It offers a very different perspective on child-rearing and building confidence.

“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.”

The book-jacket quotes say Battle Hymn is humourous and sparky, and it is, but it wasn’t the kind quotes on the cover that propelled this book to New York Times best-sellers top ten but other, less favourable quotes. Readers and reviewers called her a an inhuman mother and a menace to society, and her nickname quickly become Mama Grisly. I read this book occasionally gaping in horror at her methods and, frankly, if she had been my mother I suspect I would have run away from home. But with one of her own children taking to the papers (and the book’s afterword) to thank her mother for a life lived at 110%, her training methods does seem to have some advocates.

Battle Hymn’s method of training children is probably less gentle than the two other books I read this month. Dogswise and The Only Dog Training Book You’ll Ever Need both advocate gentleness, kindness, consistency and the importance of rewarding good behaviour rather than constantly shouting “Bad dog!”, which I suspect some dogs eventually come to believe is their name. (Ours certainly did, along with “Stop that!” and “Don’t eat the postman!”)

Why dog-training? Well, I’m hoping to get a dog in the next few months and I’m not sure my vague memories of my twelve-year old self teaching our smart but neurotic border collie how to high-five will be up to scratch when confronted with a new puppy. Lacking the severe nature needed to raise anything with Chua’s method, I’ve been reading up on clicker training, dog psychology and – I admit it – how to train a dog to get your book from the bed-side locker.  Don’t judge me. It’s a useful skill.

Not actually a training book, but coming under the category of interesting application of real-life skills, comes this story from England – forensic detectives rescue writer’s manuscript. Trish Vickers lost her eyesight to diabetes seven years ago but continues to write long-hand in pen. Her son Simon comes over once a week to read her work back to her and help her revise but, during one visit last year, Simon found 26 blank pages instead of the latest installment – her pen had run out.

Rescue came from an unlikely quarter – the Dorset police fingerprints’ section. They took the manuscript and, working in their spare time, used various methods to track the indentations made by the pen and thus reveal the text. Apart from one line, they managed to recover the lot. And they didn’t just rescue her writing, the police also gave her book a thumbs-up, as Trish was delighted to report. “The police also said they enjoyed the bit they read and can’t wait for the rest.” She has promised them that from here on in she will double-check her pens are full of ink so they can definitely enjoy the story when it’s done.

Which shows that whether you are training a child, a dog, or even an aspiring writer, a few kind words can go a long way towards getting things done.

I Shot The Serif …

I Shot The SerifThe interwebs is a veritable treasure trove of incredible trivia and entertaining oddities. This blog I thought I’d share two such oddities I’ve discovered and loved in recent days.

I Shot The Serif

Clean, crisp, simple, sharp, the site is well designed and well executed. As a site dedicated to shooting serifs, it has its typography down pat. I love the blue crosshairs—clearly there’s a previously unknown inner hunter in me. And the site is a memorable entrée to their communication design work.

You can play it on their website or download the free iPhone app (and yes, I’ve done both). You select your skill level (I went Junior) and have to click on (AKA ‘shoot’) the serif letters that appear on your screen (a bit like the modern version of a duck-themed shooting gallery game) within a certain timeframe.

I back myself on being able to easily identify my serifs and san serifs, but this game’s trickier than it looks. More than a few times I hesitated, hovering the blue crosshairs over letters as I wondered if they were indeed serif.

Suffice to say, this game has occupied much time on public transport and a surprising amount of brainpower too. Double thumbs up.

Want to be a literary giant? Kill your characters (infographic)

Everyone’s after the secret formula for writing the best-selling, award-winning novel. It’s elusive and not as join-the-dots simple as we’d all like to believe. But self-proclaimed ‘slow journalism’ magazine Delayed Gratification (which itself warrants a lot closer inspection—I’ve ordered the latest copy of this quarterly journal now) has mapped out some of the key themes in the 2011 Man Booker Prize longlist.

Reminiscent of a Tube map, it’s colour-coded, streamlined, and mesmerising. I could trace my finger to follow along the lines for hours, but that would be odd and it would leave smudge marks on my screen, which I loathe. Either way, I love this infographic-meets-art and am plotting to get a version for my apartment … As a side note, and as a nice segue to the serif-shooting app, the most popular plotline is murder.

ABIA Awards highlight Australian non-fiction reads

The finalists for this year’s Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) have been announced and it’s looking good for Australian non-fiction reader and writers this year.  The ABIA awards are voted on by booksellers and publishers, rather than literary panels, so rather than focusing on high-brow fiction these awards instead highlight what publishers and bookshops find that readers can’t get enough of.

Real life reads have no shortage of sales but they often get left out in the cold when it’s time to give out writing prizes and awards. Not so with the ABIA awards; not only are two categories  out of seven exclusively for non-fiction reads (biography of the year and a general non-fiction category) but plenty of non-fiction has made its way into lists where you would normally expect fiction to reign supreme.

The Book of the Year for Older Children (age 8 to 14 years), has one such hat-tip to real-life reading in its listing of Lonely Planet’s lively Travel Book, Not For Parents Edition. The book of the year category also has a non-fiction offering in William McInnes & Sarah Watt’s memoir, Worse Things Happen At Sea, a celebration (and occasional commiseration) of Australian day to day family life, which is listed alongside such fiction feasts as Caleb’s Crossing and Foal’s Bread.

Non-fiction is also well-represented in the newcomer of the year (debut writer) category, with 3 of 5 of the new writers penning memoirs. Two of those books,  A Private Life by Michael Kirby and Life Without Limits (written by Australian-born Nick Vujicic who hasn’t left being born without arms or legs get in his way becoming an international inspirational speaker) have also nominated for biography of the year. How-to writing also gets a shout-out in the form of a nomination for container-gardening guide The Little Veggie Patch Co, which I suspect will shortly be responsible for yet another pile of dead pot-plants on my balcony.

The nominess for Biography of the Year will also delight fans of sports-writing with 2 of the 5 finalists, Darren Lockyer by Darren Lockyer & Dan Koch and The Long Road to Paris by Cadel Evans, jostling for first place. Hazel Rowley’s fascinating Franklin and Eleanor rounds out the list of biographies to five.

The finalists for General Nonfiction book of the year are:

There’s plenty there to keep even the most avid booklover reading but if you only have the time to devote to the pick of the crop, the various winners will be announced on May 18 as part of the 2012 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Interview – CBCA Shortlisted Author Michael Gerard Bauer

KBC is delighted to welcome the talented Michael Gerard Bauer with this insightful interview into the life of a very interesting (and funny!) author. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I have.

Hello, MGB. What’s your story?

I was born, grew up and went to school in Ashgrove Brisbane Queensland (the setting of The Running Man). I also had my very first teaching appointment at a school in Ashgrove. Teaching was my career before writing, but as a struggling Uni student I did a variety of things to earn money such as mowing lawns and working in a pineapple cannery. I was also a car park attendant, a letter box stuffer and a very nervous target operator at a rifle range (just one mistake and you pay for it the rest of your life!).

I’m married to Adriana (who considers herself the luckiest woman in the world and yet has stated openly she would drop me in a flash for Hugh Jackman) and we have two grown up children Meg and Joe. I now live in Enoggera, the suburb that borders on Ashgrove. Yes, I’ve come a long way.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Not really.  I would have written some stories for school in English classes but I don’t ever remember writing stories just for me while I was at school. I started writing more after I left and went to Uni. The first things I wrote were poems, songs and comedy sketches.

I would have written my first short story when I was teaching. I was always going to write and send off short stories to see if I could get them published in magazines. I never did. There was one short story I was going to write based on a poem I’d written around a childhood memory of me looking for silkworms in our backyard mulberry tree. I never did write that one, but eventually it grew into a much larger story in my head and became The Running Man

What inspired you to write for young readers?

Being a high school English teacher and developing a love of YA novels had a lot to do with it. But I’d like to think that what I write isn’t just for young readers. I actually don’t often find myself thinking consciously of writing for a particular audience or year level. When I wrote The Running Man and the Ishmael series and even Just a Dog I was writing basically for myself. I wrote the stories that made me laugh or cry – the ones that were important to me. Those stories all happened to have young people as their focus and I think that’s because adolescence is a time of such raw and heightened feelings and emotions, and that makes for powerful and engaging stories.

How did you get your first book published? Come on, spill!

I resigned from my full-time teaching job halfway through 2000 to have a go at writing the story that had been in my head for more than a year. When I resigned I hadn’t written a single word of it. Over the next two and half years, in between a various short teaching contracts, I eventually finished a manuscript in 2003. It was called In Dream Too Deep.

I researched publishers (important to do) using the Australian Writer’s Marketplace (a very useful publication) and made a list of the top ten companies that I thought would be most likely to be interested in my story if it was any good.

My plan was to send the manuscript out in multiple submissions and when I got rejected ten times I would return to teaching being able to say that at least I gave it a reasonable shot. (Over-confidence is not one of my strong points.) The first reply I received was a phone call from Dyan Blacklock at Omnibus Books/Scholastic Australia with an offer to publish. Still the best phone-call of my life. Dyan told me she loved the ms but said if she published it she would like to change the title to The Running Man. (That was the title I always wanted but I thought I couldn’t use it, because some up-start writer called Stephen King had already written a story called that!)

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel has recently been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Award 2012 (Older Readers category). How did it feel to receive this news?

Bitterly disappointing! I just assumed the CBCA would scrap the whole short-list business this year and immediately anoint Hoops of Steel as the obvious undisputed winner!

Ok, seriously?

It was a huge thrill and an honour. You always hope for miracles, but I really didn’t expect it. I’m extremely proud of how Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel turned out, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to finish the series in the style I thought it deserved. But as a third book in a trilogy and also a comedy, I didn’t give it much hope. Making the Notables list was great, so I’m over the moon to go that step further and so thankful to the CBCA and the judges for including my book on what is an outstanding shortlist.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your writing journey?

I actually feel my writing journey has been blessed so far. The biggest obstacle I faced, especially at the beginning, was my lack of confidence and self belief.  But I don’t think I’m alone with that one.

[Ed: You’re not alone with that one.]

Describe a typical writing day.

I wish it were a more ‘typical’ day, but a ‘good’ writing day for me would start with getting up at about 6 am and going for an hour’s walk. This is a great way to sort things out in your mind and to come up with ideas and inspiration.

After a shower and breakfast I would write pretty much through to lunch. Then after lunch I’d go till around 4 or 5pm. I don’t often write at night. I do everything on the computer even though I’m pathetically slow on the keyboard. Thankfully I type at just the right speed for my brain. (Make of that what you will!)

I’m also not a ‘fast’ writer. I tend to change and edit a lot as a go along. I like my first draft to be as strong and as close to the final product as I can get it. If I managed to get down 2000 words in a day I’d be so proud of myself I’d probably take the rest of the week off! Perhaps I could be a ­touch more disciplined in my approach to my writing . . .

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

Realistically I’d be a teacher but in my dreams I’d be a singer-songwriter in the style of Bob Dylan or Jackson Brown or Tom Waits. In Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs, I made Ishmael’s dad the singer-song writer of the band The Dugongs, so I could write lyrics for their songs and include them in the story. I had fun pretending to be a songwriter. Then a couple of years ago I got to play and sing those songs at the White Ravens Children’s Literature Festival in Munich along with the band that performed them on the German Audio version of the book. My dream of being a singer-songwriter finally came true – for one night only!

Which book did you wish you’d written?

Here’s a few I’d kill to have my name on: The Messenger or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Chaos Walking Triolgy by Patrick Ness. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. There are plenty of others.

Describe yourself in five words:

Indecisive, no wait, more like …

Which children’s book character are you most like and why?

Ishmael Lesuer from the Ishmael trilogy. Mainly because I based him quite a bit of me, particularly when I was young. I think I shared his humour and his ability to make weird and loyal friends, and also his lack of self-belief and his dread of speaking in public. Plus I’d like to think we both had our hearts in the right place. And definitely like Ishmael, my special subject at school was ‘unrequited love’. The really tragic thing is that by the end of Year 12, Ishmael ends up having more success with his ‘Kelly Faulkner’ than I ever had with mine!

What one piece of advice do you have on writing for kids?

Try not to grow up too much, and then write for that kid inside you.

What’s next for MGB?

Some time this year I hope to start work on a serious YA novel; something in the mould of The Running Man. However at the moment I doing the final edits on a funny (he says optimistically!) 20,000 word story for younger readers. It’s about the trials and tribulations of a boy in Grade 5. All things going well, it will be the first of a three or four book series. But what I’m most excited about with this project, is that my totally awesome and brilliant son Joe, will be the illustrator! (Proud Dad alert!)

Thanks to the gorgeous Tania and Kids Book Capers for letting me ramble on!

Learn more about Michael and his amazing books at michaelgerardbauer@wordpress.com or visit him on Facebook: Michael Gerard Bauer. You can also access teacher’s notes for Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel right here, and to see what all the fuss is about (and read a sensational story, to boot!) check out Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel.

 

Half the Sky

Half the SkyYou have to psyche yourself up to read a book like Half the Sky, not because it’s not an excellent read (it is), but because you know you know your blinkers are about to come off.*

You know, the ones that enable you to temporarily forget—or even not know—that there are an inordinate number of atrocities being committed around the world and that a disproportionate number of those are being enacted with regularity upon women.

In fact, it took me about 17 attempts to read Half the Sky, with the first few involving me selecting it from the bookshelf, pausing, then placing it back on there. I wanted to give it my full attention when I did crack the spine. Truthfully, some days I just couldn’t bring myself face its contents.

The other 14-odd attempts saw me reading it in small chunks and dog-earing pages (please hold the hate mail—the dog-earing is because the info is too important to not mark for future reference). And gosh there was a lot of eye-opening, dog-earing-worthy content.

The first half of the book is pretty hard going. It’s well-written, easy to understand, and in no way overtly graphic. But it’s hard because the content involves details of women who were, for example, raped, forced into prostitution, who fell pregnant and had their children imprisoned to keep them compliant, and who had their eyes gouged out and the like for disobedience.

Those harrowing moments lead to chapters with details of too-high maternal mortality rates, and, later, genital mutilation and gang rape. I will admit to flipping forward in despair that I might not be able to read an entire 300-page book about such awful acts and circumstances.

I don’t think I’ll ever get the image out of my head, for example, of girls who were gang raped by so many men and who received so little care that they had maggots in their vaginas. That or the thought of a poorly informed midwife jumping on a woman’s stomach to help move things along after the woman had been in labour for days.

The book’s not all dire, though, and even the horrific tales aren’t without hope. That’s the key message of Nicholas D Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s book: women are the solution and that an investment in women’s education yields the highest, most effective return.

In their own words:

The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the battles of the twentieth century […] In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.

Half the Sky derives its title (bizarrely) from Mao, who (logically) recognised the value of women and their contribution, and decreed that women ‘hold up half the sky’ (the rest of his logic and actions, of course, weren’t as exemplary).

The book aims to raise awareness about and help address women’s treatment around the world and to highlight their invaluable worth and humanity. It necessarily conveys the often-depressing, often-dire circumstances, but it demonstrates more and more strongly the solutions. What’s more, it shows how the solutions are often simple, grassroots, and require only small financial outlays.

Silent SpringWhich is what I loved. Half the Sky made me incredibly angry, but it also gave me a proactive avenue through which to channel that anger. The book’s extensively researched and carefully written—a testament to experienced journalists Kristof and WuDunn’s commitment to deliver water-tight work and to prevent the crucial message being hijacked by nitpicking (Invisible Children’s derailed Kony 2012 campaign springs to mind as a good message that’s gotten lost in the mire of pedants and haters).

The above reasons are also why my issue with the book is not some flaw I noticed, but with how to do it justice on this blog. My plan had been to give insight into the book’s contents via the pages I’d marked, but there are truly too many to count much less explain.

I kept marking pages and making mental notes to remember facts they communicated in clear, compelling terms. I need to know these, I kept telling myself. I need to be able to refer to this and this and this and this … with each piece of information I must remember slipping from my sieve-like brain within minutes.

Helpfully, Kristof and WuDunn have included quick-reference information and resources at the book’s end. There’s ‘Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes’ followed by an appendix that alphabetically catalogues groups that specialise in helping women (and that have passed their litmus test for being above-board and heavy-lifting).

If you’re still keen, you can then tackle their comprehensive notes outlining where they got their facts and figures. Me, I’m still working my way through the appendix.

There’s also a BBC series coming out based on Half the Sky, which I hope will air in Australia at some stage. I can’t wait to see the book brought to life and hope that the show will help cement the book’s important messages in my mind.

*I’m undergoing the environmental equivalent of Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring, which sits patiently, non-judgmentally waiting for me to pluck it from my bookshelf.

Forty-Six Square Metres Does Not Normally Equal A Book Title

46sqmMy bookshelf porn obsession is well known and well documented. My obsession with architecture is lesser so.

It’s perhaps because on some level I find it a little frivolous. That there are much more important social and environmental things to worry about than the north-facing, walloping McMansions people seem to be obsessed with building.

Still, I can’t go past Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs, which I record and rewatch with regularity. I’ve even gotten into the Australian version, although I’ll say that I don’t think it’s anywhere near as exceptional.

Nor could I go past Stuart Harrison’s Forty-Six Square Metres of Land Doesn’t Normally Become A House, both because:

a) it contains exquisitely designed Australian (and one or two New Zealand) houses, and

b) the 46sqm of the title had me thinking that these might be houses that have the environment in mind and are trying to do more with less.

As someone who owns a 48sqm apartment and who finds even that more than I need, I’m an advocate for living simply in a well-designed space.

The reality is that that’s not quite these houses’ (and this book’s) philosophy.

It’s more that the designers of these houses have worked architectural wonders on inner-city blocks, where space and affordability rather than environmental concerns dictate the designs.

Bummer.

But the houses are, I’ll concede, outstandingly, lust-worthily pretty. They’re the kind that you admire from the street and wonder who lives in them and what they do to afford them. The kind that it takes every fibre of your willpower’s being not to knock on the door to ask those questions along with the doozy of ‘So, any chance I could have a look inside?’

This book (I can’t be bothered re-typing the too-long title, and am resisting making a quip that forty-six square metres does not normally make a book title) gives us the look inside, as well as the back story and the floor plans. Were I even remotely design- or renovation-inclined, I’m sure I’d find the plans extremely handy.

The book opens with ‘the house of millimetres’, which was featured on the Australian version of Grand Designs. It’s a stellar multi-storey, modern house with a food-producing rooftop garden and giant olive tree that’s been fitted on a plot of land in inner city Sydney’s Surry Hills that used to be a parking lot for three cars. Yes, you read correctly. It’s just three sedans wide.

The book continues documenting houses from smallest to largest plot of land. Each of the places are mindblowing—especially as they are light and beautiful, fit with their environments, and reinvent the idea of a traditional house.

In fact, every time I thought I’d found the perfect house for me, I turned the page to find another.

Forty-six … is a huge book—hardcover, heavy, with high production values and a price tag to match. But it’s Australian house porn and is, as far as I’m concerned, worth the investment. I’ve included phone snaps above of some of my faves, including one that overlooks an iconic public pool …

Note To Self: Don’t Start Reading A Gripping Trilogy …

TornLife giving me lemons and me not being able to turn all of them into lemonade led me to do the only responsible thing possible yesterday: I sourced an addictive read and took to my bed to devour it.

The addictive read was the second book of self-published author Amanda Hocking’s trilogy. Torn picks up where book one, Switched, left off.

Wendy is struggling to come to terms with being a Trylle princess, the Vittra are after her, she and Finn are totally in love but cannot possibly be together, yada yada yada.

Yep, I was away with the trolls and far from not-fun reality not even two pages in. The same pros and cons exist with this book as with its predecessor. I outlined them in my previous blog so won’t bore you with them here.

In fact, Hocking’s main crime isn’t that her writing is in parts clunky and unsubtle. It’s that her third book isn’t yet released.

What the?!

AscendI’ve been scampering about, dodging public holiday store closure inconveniences and studiously avoiding making eye contact with my hovering and overdue deadlines in the pursuit of book three.

I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t find it anywhere and finally resorted to doing what I should have done all along: search for it here on this good, online, carbon-neutral, Australian-owned bookstore.*

Ascend, as book three is entitled, won’t be released until 26 April. The good news is that that’s just a few weeks away. The bad news is that even a few weeks are too many.

It took all my willpower not to stomp my foot toddler-style, wail about how there’s only so much lemonade one can make, and demand that someone conjure Ascend up for me.

Instead I pre-ordered it from this here good, online, carbon-neutral, Australian-owned bookstore and made a note to self: Don’t start reading a gripping trilogy until you’re sure all three books have been published.

*For the record, I buy all my books here. I just realised I hadn’t ordered the book in question and we were now smack bang in the middle of public holidays, ergo it wouldn’t arrive within the hour.

Review – Demolition

Grab your safety gear, it’s time to get moving! There’s some demolition going on and a parade of banging, clacking and roaring machines are making the job a whole lot easier.

Whack! goes the wrecking ball and down comes the building. Crunch! goes the mobile crusher turning slabs of stone into gravel for new concrete. Scrunch! goes the wood chipper, shredding wood into sawdust and mulch. It’s a riot of noise and action as a cruddy old building site is transformed into a serene park for kids to play in.

Children with a love of machinery will absolutely adore this book, onomatopoeia hollering from its action-packed pages.

Brian Lovelock’s vibrant illustrations are a riot of movement and the exhilarating text, with staccato sentences and beautifully kid-oriented wordage (“Dinosaurs had teeth like this!”) is pure delight for the younger set. I can imagine many a repeat read of this thoroughly entertaining book.

Machine Facts on the final page will fulfill those wanting a little more information on each machine, with their correct names and a short explanation and diagram.

Perfect for 3 – 8 year olds. And maybe even for middle-aged women, too.

Demolition is published by Walker Book Australia.

Holiday reading rituals

The Easter weekend is drawing to a close and whatever way you like to celebrate your holidays I hope you had a good one; full of chocolate eggs and cute bunnies (if that’s your thing) and plenty of time to read brilliant books (because that’s everyone’s thing, right?).

I was lucky enough to spend my long weekend in various locations in sunny Queensland, including Townsville and Magnetic Island. It might be autumn but that far north the sun is still packing plenty of  punch, especially for someone who is blessed with the easy-burning Irish complexion. The mornings in coastal Queensland are clear and bright, and the evenings deliciously balmy, but the heat at height of midday makes it too darn hot to do anything other than curl up in a patch of shade and settle down for a few hours of reading.

Which is my excuse for loving the ritual of reading every afternoon while on holiday and I am sticking to it.

By filling our mornings with swimming, and our late-afternoons  and evenings with meals and socialising (and, for me, one of the few activities that can’t be improved by reading – a bit of horse-riding) we all had plenty of time to get stuck into our books. With a few hours in the shade to spare each day, I managed to polish off Elizabeth Hayne’s excellent but terrifying psychological thriller Into the Darkest Corner without giving myself the total heebie-jeebies.

I do like to chomp through horror and suspense while away somewhere sunny as opposed to reading while home alone as the bright sunshine tends to ward off the horrors that a well-written thriller can bring on. And if that doesn’t work you can always start reading a different book instead – after all, you’re on holiday! My travelling companions agreed, and we all took plenty of time out to catch up our books over the long weekend.

One of them said that, for her, she finally knows she is on really on holiday when she has had the time to fall asleep while reading a book. Everyone has their own holiday reading rituals; I like to use the time to indulge in a feast of easy-to-read fiction, such as horror and YA but my partner prefers to catch up on serious and science reads he has been too busy to devote some brain-time to over the working week. I have one friend who uses a bit of time off as a opportunity to finally get through everything in their teetering pile of books bought but not yet read and another who likes to re-read their favourites while on holidays.

Whatever the holiday reading ritual, there’s nothing more relaxing than having the time to settle down for an uninterrupted read. Here’s hoping the Easter weekend had a few hours to spare for reading for you, and if it was something you’d like to recommend please leave a note in the comments and let me know. With all the reading I finally got done this weekend, I’m on the look-out for books for the next holiday!

B*tches in Bookshops

The Queen called hers her Annus horribillis. I’m calling mine my Year of Non-Stop Not Awesome. Both are shorthand for: It’s been a bad year.

I realise mine’s a big call given that we’ve only just cracked into April, but given that I’ve yet to record a single good day in 2012, I’m calling it early.

It’s an even bigger call given that 2011 saw me get once-in-40-years flooded. Sigh. I’d take a flood over what 2012’s dished out so far.

It’s involved too many debacles to recount, although accidentally locking myself out of my apartment and my dog inside at 8pm the night before I was due to fly to Sydney at 6am to give a presentation I hadn’t yet finished writing is something of a highlight. Especially as not a single person who had spare keys to my apartment was anywhere remotely in the vicinity of Queensland at the time.

Likewise was this weekend’s despairing discovery that I best described (and best, albeit uncharacteristically, vented over) with the following Facebook post:

I’m normally all Christian and understanding that sh&t happens. But to the person who further compounded my year of non-stop not awesome by backing into my car and not leaving a note I have only this to say: May your Easter eggs be off and may they give you explosive diarrhoea.

I’m not normally this angry, honest.

Please don’t get me started on newly-sworn-in, newly-sworn-at Premier Campbell Newman’s decision to run a scathe through Queensland’s literary industry, though—I can’t be trusted not to write things that, while true, might eventually fill me with some I-shouldn’t-have-put-fingers-to-keyboard-in-anger regret. Besides, cleverer writers than me have already penned their outrage more eloquently.*

Suffice to say, I haven’t been in a great frame of mind for blogging about inspiring books I’ve been reading (although I can confirm that there will be blogs to come about this in days to come).

Instead I’ll blog about a YouTube video that made me smile. Entitled B*tches in Bookshops, it’s based on Jay Z and Kanye West’s ‘N*ggas in Paris’, which you can watch here for comparison. Warning, though, that the latter comes with a note that it might induce an epileptic episode.

It’s best watched/listened to, but some of my favourite B*tches in Bookshops lines include:

  • Checked with a pseudonym I guess you could say I’m Mark Twaining.
  • I read so hard I’m lit-er-ary.
  • Barnes and Noble: I FourSquare it.
  • No TV. I read instead.
  • I read so hard I get paper cuts.
  • I read so hard I’m JK Rowling.
  • You use a Kindle? I carry spines.
  • Nerdy boy, he’s so slow. Tuesday we started Foucault. He’s still stuck on the intro. He’s a no-go.
  • I had to kick him out my house. He mispronounced an author: Marcel Proust.
  • It made me read Barthes. I special ordered a copy—soft copy, not hard.
  • I’m am now marking my page. Don’t let me forget this page …

Happy Easter, everyone. Here’s hoping I shake my life-giving-me-lemons-inspired grumpy mood soon and can turn 2012 into my annus mirabilis, or Year of Non-Stop Awesome.

*For example, you can read Stuart Glover’s brilliant blog here. I also recommend Benjamin Eltham’s article on Crikey and George Megalogenis’ article in The Australian, which shows how the numbers don’t add up.

Easter Book Special!

Easter has snuck up on us once again – and surprised me like that first glimpse of eggy tinsel in the grass. I love this time of year, when the weather is beginning to cool, hot cross buns are fragrant from the oven, and families and friends come together to celebrate a very special time on the calendar. I, for one, am so happy to see a four-day stretch of rest ahead, and of course, when I’m happy, I think of books.

In the spirit of Easter, I share with you some of my very favourite Easter titles. Some are old, some are new, but all are festive to this choc-dipped season celebrating the miracle of life and rebirth. I hope you find a new treasure or revisit an old one.

Happy Easter, everyone!

The Great Big Aussie Easter Egg Hunt
Its Easter time in Australia, mate And were searching high and low. Its the great big Aussie Easter egg hunt… Get ready, get set, and GO! Journey with lots of Aussie animals through iconic Australian landmarks and landscapes in this fun tale about a great big Aussie Easter egg hunt. Can you spot the bilby as it hides the Easter eggs? (Scholastic)

The Biggest Easter Basket Ever
As Mouseville prepares for a gala Easter celebration on the village green, complete with a biggest Easter Basket contest, two lovable mice learn a lesson in cooperation – and fun! Town mouse Clayton and country mouse Desmond continue to teach the benefits of collaboration and friendship in this sweet story centred around a joyful holiday. This edition features a foil cover and stickers, so you can join in the fun! (Scholastic)

My Little Easter Egg
A small child in a bunny suit hides Easter eggs for her fuzzy friends, the duck, lamb, and bumblebee. On the final spread the child shares an Easter treat with a chick-a-dee. With festive die-cut pages, fabric-collage artwork, and an adorable felt finger puppet, My Little Easter Basket is a perfect Easter gift, and great for holiday reading and playtime fun! (Chronicle Books)

The Easter Egg
Hoppi, the lovable bunny hero, and her remarkable Easter Rabbit will enchant readers as they pore over illustrations of dazzling eggs made by Flora Bunny, Aunt Sassyfrass and other adorable characters. If Hoppi can make the best Easter egg, he will get to help the Easter Rabbit deliver the eggs on Easter morning. But it’s not an easy task. Discouraged, he goes into the woods to think. There, he finds a blue robin’s egg which has fallen out of its nest. Hoppi feels sorry for the egg and keeps it safe and warm until the egg hatches – but she’s in for a surprise. (Putnam Publishing Group)

The Great Easter Egg Scramble
Oh dear, the Easter Bunny’s in a bit of a muddle. He’s been so busy preparing for his party that he’s forgotten to deliver eggs to all of his friends! So off he scrambles at top speed. But when Mrs Duck hatches a baby croc and the Turtles become parents to a penguin chick, the Easter Bunny’s mix-up soon becomes clear. Will he be able to sort out the muddle? And let’s hope it doesn’t spoil the party! A fabulously funny rhyming text with adorable illustrations. (Macmillan Children’s Books)

If I Were the Easter Bunny
Hop into Easter with this sweet, seasonal picture book! A little rabbit dreams of being the Easter Bunny; hiding lots and lots of Easter eggs all over the meadow, having tea parties, making Easter bonnets and leading the way in the Easter Parade. It’s certainly a busy job, but full of chocolate fun! (HarperCollins)

Spot’s First Easter
It’s Easter! There’s lots of fun (and chocolate!) to be had for Spot and all his friends in this charming outing for a classic character. (Puffin)

The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Games
When the rabbits decide to stop delivering Easter eggs, all the bush animals want to be the new Easter Bunny. After all, Easter wouldn’t be the same without eggs! But how can the rabbits choose the best animal for the job? The lop-eared rabbit has an idea – and that’s when the Easter games begin. (Working Title Press)

The Berenstain Bears and the Real Easter Eggs
Discover the wonder of spring with The Berenstain Bears! With visions of chocolate bunnies and jellybeans dancing in her head, it’s no wonder why Sister can’t wait for Easter and the Giant Beartown Easter Egg Hunt. Mama Bear worries though. Is the true meaning of Easter getting lost in the hunt? Or will the miracle of spring help Sister Bear find a whole new appreciation for the season? (Random House)

Fair Dinkum Aussie Easter
There are so many truly Aussie Easter activities, from going on holiday with the family to giving and receiving Easter eggs to hot cross buns and Easter hat parades! This book is a celebration of the Australian Easter experience with songs for all the family to enjoy. Colin Buchanan’s often humorous lyrics are sung to original compositions as well as to such favourite tunes as ‘Click Go the Shears’, ‘Little Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Advance Australia Fair’. (Scholastic)

My First Story of Easter
My First Story of Easter helps young children understand the true meaning of the Easter season. The carefully written story is brought to life by the endearing illustrations of artist Roger Langton. (Candle Books)

Bunny’s Easter Egg
Bunny has spent a long night hiding Easter eggs, and now it’s time to get some rest. But when she burrows down to sleep, something disturbs her, and everywhere else she tries to nap just isn’t right. She tries the old oak tree–“too noisy!” She tries a little boat on the lily pond–“too wet!” She tries the greenhouse–“oh no!” “Where will Bunny go?” Anne Mortimer’s charming story is just right for Easter-time sharing. (Katherine Tegen Books)

The Biggest Easter Egg
Emily Elizabeth and Clifford love decorating Easter eggs. But are there any eggs big enough for Clifford to color? An ostrich has the answer! (Scholastic)

Easter in the Garden
Pamela Kennedy deftly weaves a touching retelling of the first Easter as seen through a child’s eyes. Micah experiences first-hand both the loss of Jesus when he is crucified and the joy of his Resurrection. ‘The man told the women that Jesus was not dead! He was alive! …Micah was so excited he almost fell out of the tree!’ Alive with rich illustrations, this original retelling is sure to captivate children of all ages. (Ideals Publishing Corporation)

I Love Easter
Meet Ollie, a gorgeous, lively zebra, Fred the dog and all of Ollie’s friends. In I Love Easter, join Ollie and Fred as they visit the Easter fair, make hats for the Easter parade, and have fun on the egg hunt. (Scholastic)

The Easter Party
It is a windy day, so Rocky Rabbit and Chubby Chick are out flying their kite. When it gets taken by the wind, everyone else is too busy to help them find it. The two friends spy their brightly-coloured kite tapping at a strange door in a tree trunk. A sleepy-eyed bunny comes to answer the tapping and takes the two chums back home in time to enjoy a special Easter surprise. (Frances Lincoln Childrens Books)

Easter ABCs
This Easter book helps children learn the wonderful things that took place on Easter and how to respond to them. (Concordia Publishing House)

The Legend of the Easter Egg
While preparing for Easter in his small prairie town, Thomas hears the story of the resurrection of Jesus and discovers the meaning of new life through the symbolism of the Easter egg. Includes an information page about the traditions and symbols of Lent and Easter. (Zondervan)

The Story of Easter
An informative look at the most holy of Christian holidays. After reading about the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, children learn how Easter got its name and about the practices and traditions that arc a part of the holiday in different parts of the world. (Little Golden Books)

Easter Day Alphabet
“No need to bring a basket. No need to walk or run. Here is another Easter-egg hunt that will be just as fun.” A bunny artist has hidden a golden egg on every beautifully illustrated page of the Easter Day Alphabet. Through ham to hunts, knock eggs to nests and zigzags to bonnets, can you find all of the eggs from A to Z? Easter Day Alphabet is a simple way for children to learn more about the origins of popular holiday happenings while mastering their ABCs. Did you know that people believed playing games with eggs would help their plants grow? That white Easter lilies were brought to America from Bermuda more than 100 years ago? (Pelican Publishing)

My Little Easter Story
Bright illustrations help the story along, telling little children about all the events of the first Easter: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Palm Sunday; Jesus’ clearing of the Temple; the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal; Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection; the appearance of the risen Jesus to the women at the tomb; and the spreading of the good news throughout the world. (Lion Hudson)

Easter
Learn about Easter eggs and try out a delicious recipe for an edible bird’s nest. Kids discover the meaning of and pastimes associated with Easter. This title teaches children about traditions passed down through the ages and explores how Easter is celebrated today. (Child’s World)

 

TTFN

Ciao folks! I’m off on holiday to Singapore for ten days… which means no posts while I’m away. But I thought you all deserved a few parting words before I abandoned you.

This is a family holiday with two kids, the youngest being only three, so I’m not anticipating all that much lazing about time. This means that I probably won’t be doing much reading. [Sigh!] I am, however, hopeful that the kids might sleep on the plane (at least part of the way) and give me at an hour or two to read. So I am taking a book. Just one. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

It’s a battered old copy I’ve had lying about for a very long time. I’ve been meaning to read it for years, but just haven’t got around to it. Last year, I watched the old 1980s mini-series based on this book, and decided that I really should read it. So I put the book on my must-read-soon pile. When it came time to choose a book to take with me on holiday, I chose it… primarily because it is a battered old copy and I won’t mind it being shoved unceremoniously down the bottom of my backpack, with lots of other stuff, where it will be knocked about and possibly rained on whilst walking the damp Singaporean city streets. But even battered old books, rained upon or not, deserve to be read.

As a writer, I am, of course, also taking a notebook and pen with me… because you never know when inspiration may strike. It has certainly happened on past trips, when a particular bit of sight-seeing has inspired a little bout of writing. I remember visiting St Katherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai in Egypt, and then starting a short story, (“The Last Monk”, recently republished in an anthology called Monk Punk), on the bus trip back to the hotel.

Normally, when I go overseas, I take one or two guide books. In fact, my wife has already acquired a copy of Lonely Planet’s Bali and Lombok guidebook for her trip later this year. But we’re not taking any guide books with us on this trip. Why? We are staying with friends (who have kids about the same age as ours) and they’ve planned out our itinerary, and are acting as tour guides. All we have to do is tag along and have fun. Luxury!

Anyway… time for me to go. I’ve got a plane to catch. Try not to get too bored without me. 😉

TTFN,  George

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Review – Where is Fred?

Fred may be a snowy white fuzzball of a caterpillar but he’s also a master of disguise. When Gerald the Crow gets a little peckish, he’s forced to resort to a series of giggle-inducing, highly camouflaged antics, to save his fuzzy hide.

First it’s the necklace of a stylish passerby. Then it’s the busy white eyebrows of a man on a park bench. Then it’s the princess-like headband of a tea-party hosting girl. And what about the moustachey fuzz on the upper lip of the man selling helium balloons?

Fred certainly knows how to keep Gerald guessing, and what’s even more priceless than his super-creative hiding places, is the look on Gerald’s face as he peers intently at Fred-in-disguise, musing to himself about how extremely familiar these moustaches and necklaces and eyebrows appear.

I’m absolutely loving Ali Pye’s eye-boggling illustrations in Where is Fred? They remarkably skirt the divide between pastel and bright, and her placement of images, including occasional cartoon-strip style layouts, make this book a visual feast.

Creative typography beautifully highlights a somewhat higher-than-average amount of text, that nonetheless flows beautifully and is pocked with enormously entertaining dry wit and lolloping dialogue that’s an absolute pleasure to read.

Great fun for both kids and adults.

Where is Fred? is published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

JK Rowling and the great Pottermore scandal

For around the 475th time this decade, I’m angry on behalf of independent booksellers.

This time, it’s with JK Rowling, who in signing affiliate agreements with Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for the sale of the Harry Potter digital editions has supported the giants but locked out the indies who have hand-sold her books to millions of children all over the world.

Last week, on Tuesday, Rowling finally made the Harry Potter series available as ebooks via her Pottermore website, www.pottermore.com. The Potter stories had been conspicuously absent from ereading devices and ebookstores over the past two years as Rowling pondered and negotiated a digital way forward for the books – she had retained digital rights when signing contracts with her publishers and wanted to get the model just right.

I have no problem with her subsequent decision to sell direct to readers, ensuring that as the author, she will rake in most of the profits.

As a huge Potter fan, I can’t wait to experience the full Pottermore site once it launches in the next couple of weeks. Digital Quidditch, anyone? I’ll also be buying the entire series as ePubs and reading them all over again, and can’t wait till my toddler is old enough to read them himself.

On a positive note, Rowling has signed partnership agreements with key publishers of the print editions, like Scholastic and Bloomsbury, to provide them with an undisclosed share of ebook sales via Pottermore, which seems only fair, given the vast resources they have devoted over the years to editing the books and marketing the Potter brand as well as Rowling herself.

My problem is with the great author’s decision to allow only Sony, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sign affiliate deals for the ebooks. This means the three retail giants (intriguingly, neither Apple nor Google has got a look in) can direct their readers via website links to Pottermore in exchange for a cut.

Indie booksellers who have hosted Potter events with schools and libraries as each of title hit the shelves, who have made their staff dress up as Ron, Hermione, Harry and Dumbledore and open the store early, or stay back late, and held competitions for the best Potter costume among their junior customers, have been shut out all together. They’ve filled window displays with Potterabilia, and held tie-in events with the film adaptation, but when it comes to digital, it was all for nought.

Rowling must provide indies with the same opportunities to promote her titles to their customers as Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. She owes it to them, as a mark of gratitude for the years they have spent selling Harry Potter to bookshop lovers, helping to make her the success she is today.

Indies here in Australia and all over the world are making the transition to digital. Dozens of stores here have opened ebookstores during the past 18 months. Rowling shutting them out will impact on their brands in this fledgling market, as well as on their bottom lines, indeed their futures.

Come on, JK, give your greatest supporters the respect and the opportunities they deserve. Open your affiliate program to the indies today – and at the very least before Pottermore’s big launch.

Anthology preview

There’s a new anthology on the way. It contains contributions from over 50 Australian authors and illustrators (including me). It’s not due for release until June this year. But I’m so excited about it, that I’m gonna give you a little heads up!

Back in 2008, Ford Street Publishing released a HUGE anthology of stories, poems and illustrations for kids and teens. Edited by Paul Collins and featuring Gary Crew, Andy Griffiths and Hazel Edwards among its 50+ contributors, Trust Me! has been one of Ford Street’s biggest sellers. In fact, it has proved to be so popular that Collins and Ford Street have produced a sequel — Trust Me Too.

Again, we are being provided with a smorgasbord of Australian literary and illustrative talent. Take a look at the promo poster, which features photos of all the contributors…

I can’t wait to get my contributor’s copy so I can read all the stories from the other authors. So much talent in the one book!

Particularly exciting for me is that this anthology gave me the opportunity to write a new Gamers short story. The whole Gamers thing began with a short story, titled “Game Plan”, which appeared in Trust Me!. I then adapted that story into the novel, Gamers’ Quest… which then begat a sequel, Gamers’ Challenge. And now in Trust Me Too, I’ve got “Gamers’ Inferno”.

While set in the same universe as the Gamers books (a computer game world with multiple environments), “Gamers’ Inferno” is a completely independent story. You don’t need to have read the books to understand (and hopefully enjoy) the story. But if you have read the books, there are little nods and references to pick up on.

“Gamers’ Inferno” introduces a new set of characters and features a game environment not previously seen in the novels. I’ve got to say, that I had a lot of fun writing this story. It’s set in a vaguely Italian Renaissance inspired city under the control of the mysterious Inquisition, ruling through fear and the threat of the Inferno. A young orphan named Raph, finds himself on the run from the Inquisition’s militia. After getting advice from the mysterious Dama Sebastiana Annunciata, hidden away from the militia in the bowels of the city, Raph finally comes face-to-face with the Lords of the Inquisition — Lord Brimstone, Lord Blaze and Lord Dante. Will he find himself thrown into the Inferno? You’ll have to wait until June to find out. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

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Review – Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep

Douglas is packing for a sleepover at Rabbit’s. He’s a bit beside himself at the prospect, and on the way to Rabbit’s warren, he gets a wee bit lost. Climbing a sapling to see where he’s going, the twig-like tree breaks under Douglas’s weight and he ends up almost squishing Little Sheep (and friends).

Feeling very sorry about that, Douglas invites Little Sheep along for the sleepover, certain it will be okay – “. . . there’s plenty of room at Rabbit’s.” Perhaps not so much room, however, when a stack of sweet little sheep inadvertently attach themselves to Douglas’s backpack, and come along for the ride.

Seeing Rabbit attempt to graciously host a mighty bleat of sheep in his modest warren for the night, is comedy magic – something Melling does so very well. With a bit of shoving, cramming and cross-section imagery to see what’s going on inside Rabbit’s warren, kids will delight in the critters’ hilarious attempt at brushing teeth, snaffling some blanket and prepping for Rabbit’s bedtime story.

But wait – Rabbit can’t fit! How on earth can he read everyone their goodnight tale?

One whopping great sneeze and some cork-popping sheep quickly necessitates a change of venue, and the large group of sleepyheads finally get some shuteye.

This is my favourite yet of the Douglas picture books. Melling’s stunning illustrations have yet again nailed the comedy and detail he is renowned for. With each little sheep (loving the one with the striped bloomers and glasses!) hosting a priceless facial expression, it’s pure pleasure meandering the pages to delight in the scene. And our big Hugless Douglas is as charming as ever.

A winner for the younger set.

Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep is published by Hodder Children’s Books.

Switched (x 2)

SwitchedAmanda Hocking’s self-published book Switched has multi-millions of copies. I’ve personally contributed two of those sales, having purchased the book, accidentally left it on a plane, cut a forlorn figure at the lost-and-found counter, and then, as the book hadn’t been handed in, bought a second copy to read on the flight back home.

I’ll admit that my first purchase was merely to determine what all the fuss was about. My second, though, was because I was hooked. Seriously. Switched isn’t going to be lauded in centuries’ time as one of the great writing tomes of the world, but it is a great young-adult book.

So great, in fact, that I was prepared to own my shame and stand describing the book to a rather grumpy, disinterested airport official who told me he’d have to specially open the lost-and-found counter to go look for the book I was after. The not-so-subtle subtext of his statement was that he didn’t want to open it at all.

I made him open it anyway and then applied my best I’m-not-dying-inside face while describing what clearly wasn’t a capital-‘l’-literature book: ‘Um, it’s called Switched and it’s got a kind of blue and grey cover with a girl and butterflies on it.’

Either it hadn’t yet been handed in or someone had found it, become similarly hooked, and decided to snarfoo it for themselves (I’m giving the guy the benefit of the doubt and not assuming he didn’t actually look for it), but Switched is what I kind of expected and that I hinted at in my previous blog. That is that it’s a good story executed by someone who can write.

The tagline is the suitably vague, broad, and mysterious ‘What if your entire world was built on a lie?’ and the book opens with the protagonist’s attempted murder by her mum. Fast forward a decade or so and you find that the protagonist survived but has never quite found herself to fit in.

I won’t say any more for fear of ruining the plot, but Switched had me from page three and will, now that I’ve finished book one, likely have me for the entire trilogy. I can see why this self-published book has sold a motza.

That said, it is a little clunky. It reads like a second or third draft that hasn’t been massaged and smoothed out by an editor. I guess that’s the danger of the ability to press publish before a book’s ready and a reminder that editors are writers’ unsung heroes. Still, while the text leaps from A to C with not a heap of subtlety, the telegraphing of the plot points aren’t enough to put me off.

Sure, the goodie and baddie characters are a little too black-and-white stereotypical. Sure, it’s a little clunky how the book bluntly tells key information rather than deftly shows it. And sure, it’s a little clichéd that the aloof bodyguard character is in love with the protagonist and their push–pull relationship veers from 0 to 100 and back to 0 with no build-up or warning.

But it’s testament to Hocking’s storytelling skills that I was willing to re-buy the book and that I’m ordering books two and three now. If you need me, I’ll be hanging around my letterbox waiting for them to arrive.

‘Light’ ‘Reading’

For those of us who love books and reading, Light Reading‘s products are pure (if slightly puzzling) genius. For those of us who’ve ever had to move house (that is, all of us), they’re pure, unadulterated insanity.

I can’t find a website (let me know if you can and if it’s simply a case of my googling skills letting me down), but I have found a Facebook page (and I first heard of these books via Smith Journal, an incredible magazine that itself warrants a blog). I can also tell you that the premise is off the wall but something I wish I’d thought of.

It plays into all manner of book fetishes and perhaps says lots about those books you want to have on your bookshelf to seem literary but that you’ll never actually read, but Light Reading’s product is to paint old house bricks to look like great literary tomes.

Huh (and that’s a ‘huh’ that signals equal parts surprise, amusement, incredulity, being impressed-ness, and deeper thought).

I’m not sure that I love the idea of lugging these around during house moves (the complaint that moving my mini mountain of books being akin to lugging bricks takes on new meaning now).

But I love that the bricks are recycled. I love that it’s making something humble and that’s considered a waste product a now-useful bookend that doubles as art. I also love that it’s perhaps more honest about the fact that some ‘books’ are purely for show.

So, I’m off to find a stockist and/or a way to get some of these shipped to me for a not-exhorbitant price. Because freight will be the next un-fun practicality, right?