Party like it’s tax time

The Savvy Girl's Money BookThis time last year I was in Germany for the Women’s World Cup (if you’re not a fan, that’s the pinnacle international footballing—read: soccer-ing—event that happens every four years).

Sounds like a dream trip, am I right? And a dream trip it was, except for the low-level, nagging anxiety I had at being out of the country at June 30. Yup, lame-o as it is, I was worried about missing the end of the financial year.

You see, I love, love, love doing my tax. Or rather, my inner- (and outer-) OCD-ness takes unnatural and unhealthy pleasure in assembling and adding up my receipts, then transferring the figures to a colour-coded spreadsheet.

It’s colour-coded because I can’t do math and my accountant is annually bemused: ‘What does pink stand for, again?’ he asked me at least twice last year. ‘Outstanding invoices,’ I replied, of the amounts I was still to collect from clients. I shrugged when he said, ‘You know there’s another way, using things like formulae and different columns to signify that, right?’

I think he secretly finds my creative industries accounting entertaining and a welcome change from day-to-day accounting. He’s even almost learnt to mask his incredulity when I try to get random objects—like my personal favourite win of an inflatable kangaroo—through for deductions.

I’m spending this Saturday night cementing my nerdy nana-dom with my pile of receipts. I invited lots of friends to come party like it’s tax time (AKA bring their receipts over and we can eat takeout, listen to music, and assemble receipts into calculate-able bundles together). For some reason no one took me up on the offer.

No matter. I’m enjoying the I’d-totally-forgotten-about-that and year-that-was reminders the receipts bring. I’m also re-reading my how-to-manage-your-money-when-you-can’t-count books, such as The Savvy Girl’s Money Book (it isn’t actually directed at people like me who can’t count, but it does put otherwise confusing financial terms into concise, practical, fun, and bite-sized chunks for mathematically challenged writers like me).

Happy tax time, everyone!


Last post I told you a little about the Bayside Literary Festival (check out the post). Today, I’m going to focus on one particular session — Microfiction Workshop: Short and sweet.

I co-ran this session with Richard Holt, a man with considerably more microfiction experience than I. In fact, he is writing a blog during the course of the festival on which he is publishing daily microfiction — check it out.

Microfiction is a strange literary beast — a short story that is shorter than the average short story. Exact definitions vary, but these stories are usually under 1,000 words. And terminology also varies, with labels such as ‘flash fiction’ and ‘sudden fiction’ being applied. What ever you want to call it and how ever you want to define it (or not define it, as the case may be), there is no denying that it’s an interesting form.

Richard and I spent the first hour of our session talking about definitions, history and elements of microfiction, and also reading out some examples. Then in the second hour, we ran a workshop. Using various prompts, including pictures, locations, movie synopses and first sentences, each of the participants worked on creating a piece of microfiction. Richard and I joined in as well.

One of the participants, Carol, has graciously allowed me to reproduce her piece here on this blog…

Item Posted

Ahh, what a tale to tell. But where to start?

Bang thwack in the middle, with the fury and chaos and heart thumping fear? No!

At the end, with the ah-ohs of smug understanding? “Ah yes, you could see it might come to this.” No!

Start at the beginning. Explain. Justify. Give all characters credence and credibility


And so, out it went on the blog. And then one response turned to 20 a day, and then 2000 a day and …

And now, for your enjoyment (or not), let me present the little story that I wrote…


I looked at the smuggled spoon and considered my options.

Option One: suicide.

Chances are, one of the guards might stop me before I finished disembowelling myself. And I’m not really good with pain. So maybe not.

Option Two: murder/revenge.

After all, it was his fault I was in this hellhole. Okay… so I didn’t have to go along with his stupid plan. But that’s beside the point. I glanced at my cell-mate. He was twice my size and had a bad temper. And he was glaring at me. I quickly decided to discard option two as a bad idea.

Option Three: escape.

I’d seen that movie with the hole behind the Rita Hayworth poster. Could this spoon be my ticket to freedom? It would take a while — no doubt about that. And I’d have to smuggle the dirt out of the cell. And I’d have to do it in secret… I didn’t want Bozo over there escaping with me.

Could I really do it?

I sighed. Prison really did not agree with me.

“Shuddup!” Bozo glared at me with wild eyes. “Would ya quit mumbling to yaself.”

My grip tightened around the spoon as I stared into his eyes. I stood up.

“Look what I’ve got,” I said, holding out the spoon as I approached him.

His eyes lit up, as he too saw the possibilities.

And then I quickly scooped his eyes out.

Bet he didn’t see that coming.

So there you have it. Not the greatest piece of literature ever to grace the blogosphere, but not too bad for under 15 minutes of writing. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Why booklovers need newspapers

The SMH replica app allows a tablet user to see the newspaper as it appears in print.
After 14 years in newspapers of which 11 were with Fairfax titles, and seven were online, I have some pretty strong views about recent events in that great newspaper company.

As an avid reader and book lover so should you. Newspapers have long encouraged and supported their journalists as they add the writing of books to their creative output. Without their newspaper jobs, these journalists simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to devote their time to the writing of books.

There are too many current or past Fairfax journalists and columnists who have become authors to mention here, but some names that spring to mind are Maggie Alderson, Mia Freedman, Peter Fitzsimons, David Marr, Chris Womersley, Annabel Crabb, Roy Masters and Kirsty Needham.

I’m most concerned for those friends and former colleagues who have already lost their jobs, or may do so in coming months.

I’m also worried about how those who keep their jobs will cope with all the uncertainty and change.

I’m devastated about the impact cuts have already had and will continue to have on the quality of the content coming from the SMH, Age and Canberra Times.

I’ve also always been a passionate reader of Fairfax content, whether it’s in newspaper form (rarely these days), on the web on my computer, on my iPad via an app or on the iPhone as a mobile optimized version of the websites, and whether it’s content I’ve found by flipping or scrolling through Fairfax’s own pages or via a recommendation from a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn contact.

However we find or read the content, it’s a huge enrichment for our lives.

As a journalist who was lucky to be poached from Fairfax by a small start-up publisher a year ago, before the outsourcing of sub-editors started the current doom and gloom, I have mostly happy memories of my time there. Fairfax is a great company. Its people are exceptional as writers, editors and mentors to those building media careers.

A little part of me is angry about some management decisions made over the years, particularly the ones that involved head-in-the-sand statements like, “No, you can’t publish that online, it’s a print exclusive” and “No, we can’t publish a replica app because it might impact on print sales”.

The latter particularly frustrated me because replica versions (like those found on Zinio or PressReader) seemed like such a simple and cheap way to get Fairfax content onto tablets for readers interstate and overseas, or for those who had an allergy to newsprint, and who thus couldn’t access the print edition.

I replaced my print delivery of the SMH with a replica app subscription in 2010 and haven’t looked back. I’d do the same for The Canberra Times today if they offered one.

I’ve always believed that if your readers want to receive your goods in a particular way, and you can provide the goods to them in that way relatively cheaply and easily, then you should do so.

Print has been over for a long time, and the direction CEO Greg Hywood has finally shifted the business in is the right one.

A digital first policy and the appointment of social media editors for each title are necessary steps forward. A little late, maybe, but better late than never.

As for Gina Rinehart, well, wouldn’t it be great if everyone who felt strongly about keeping her off the board invested in a few Fairfax shares themselves. Don’t hold your breath.

What do you think the future holds for newspapers?

Do you, like me, believe Fairfax should pull back further on printed editions to save on printing and distribution costs and provide print subscribers with tablets and app subscriptions?

I reckon that will happen in time.

I also think they should look to charge for longer form journalism, focusing on depth and expertise rather than trying to compete on breaking news, though this will only work if they expand still further on their social media plans to ensure their content is discovered.

As for how you can help to support Fairfax’s great journalists, the most important way is to pay for their content. Subscribe to an app or paid website. Buy a print edition (if only to show your grandchildren so they know what a newspaper used to look like). Buy some shares. Or join the Get up! Campaign to promote its editorial independence.

Review – The Children Who Loved Books

So lovely to review another Peter Carnavas book, an author/illustrator who has been going great guns with a consistently fabulous book list for New Frontier. Peter’s emotive, subtle and visually beautiful books have enormous crossover appeal, and with the addition of ‘books’ in the title of this newbie, well – I couldn’t get it out of the envelope fast enough.

Angus and Lucy are simple kids. They don’t have a lot. No TV. No car. Not even a house. Instead, their teensy caravan is jammed to the ceiling with piles and piles of books. Now, books – they do have. Balanced, propped, stacked, teetering . . . books, books everywhere.

Of course, you can imagine what happens when the books become too much for the teensy caravan. They have to go. And what happens when books are removed from children’s lives?

The answer may surprise you.

This charming book, with its central theme of the impossibility of living without the lure of a great book, is another Carnavas winner. Iconic, whimsical illustrations perfectly reflect the tone and nuance of the carefully-edited text. bringing meaning and volume into the clean white spaces he does so well.

A must-have for your Carnavas collection.

The Children Who Loved Books is published by New Frontier.

Bayside Literary Festival

Literary festivals seem to be springing up all over the place these days. I think that is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT! It’s a chance for people to share their enthusiasm for reading and writing… and you can never have enough of that as far as I am concerned. 🙂 So today, I’m going to tell you about one of these festivals — The Art of Words: 2012 Bayside Literary Festival.

I live in the Melbourne Bayside area so, of course, I jumped at the chance of being involved with the local literary festival. I’ve participated in three sessions so far, and I have one more to go. Plus I’ll be attending some of the other sessions as an audience member.

The festival kicked off on the evening of Thursday 21 June with a Gala Launch at the Brighton Town Hall. Hosted by Corinne Grant, the launch featured readings from numerous authors, including PD Martin, Vikki Petraitis, Narrelle M Harris, and myself.

And the whole thing will conclude on Sunday 15 July with a Long Lunch hosted by Max Allen, author of The History of Australian Wine: Stories from the Vineyard to the Cellar Door.

In between these two bookend sessions, there will be lots of things happening — readings, workshops, panel discussion and talks. I’ve already participated in a session of readings and a workshop on microfiction. I’m planning on attending the First Pages session (12 July) at which Romy Ash, Chris Flynn, Andrew Grimes and 2012 Vogel Winner Paul D Carter will discuss their acclaimed debut novels. And my eldest daughter and a friend are booked in to hear Sally Rippin (author of Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack!) speak. I’ll probably also head on over to hear Andy Griffiths speak.

The festival is covering a diverse range of literary topics — everything for memoires to youth literature; from writing radio plays to creating fantasy worlds; from philosophy to book sculpture. So there really is something for everyone.

On Saturday 7 July I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion called What’s Fit to Print: Issues in Youth Literature. Also on this panel are authors Kelly Gardiner and Hazel Edwards, and Program Coordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature, Adele Walsh. Should be an interesting discussion! So, if you’re interested in YA and teen fiction, come along.

Check out the full festival programme online. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least one session to interest you.

And tune in next time for a little bit of microfiction.

Catch ya later,  George

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Getting the hearse before the horse – Clive James on premature obituaries

I’ve always enjoyed the acerbic wit of Australian-born critic and writer Clive James, so it saddened me when I recently read that he is soon likely to write no more. Various newspapers reported on James’s struggle with leukemia, quoting directly from an interview he recently gave BBC Radio 4 program Meeting Myself Coming Back, and it seemed the outlook for him is very grim.

“I’m getting near the end. I don’t want to cast a gloom, an air of doom, over the program but I’m a man who is approaching his terminus… I’ve been really ill for two and a half years. I was diagnosed with leukaemia, then I had COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], which is a fancy name for emphysema, and my immune system packed up. And that’s just the start. I almost died four times.” Particulary poignant were his wistful comments that he might never see Australia again. “I’ve been so sick since January 2010, especially my lung disease, that I’m not allowed to fly,” he said. “You couldn’t get enough oxygen aboard a plane for me to get me to Sydney.”

Clive has been a prolific writer with a penchant for stressing humour over accuracy; his first almost-autobiogrpahy  Unreliable Memoirs was published in 1979 and followed by four other volumes of autobiography, several books of poetry, four novels and literary criticism and essays spanning over the last 40 years. It was a surprise to me to discover that his pen might be so soon and abrubtly halted and apparently it was a bit of a surprise for Clive too, who woke up to discover that rumours of his impending demise were being greatly exagerated.

Apparently the Daily Mirror cherry-picked out quotes from an interview he did with the BBC. And that Daily Mirror story, picked up around the world by news outlets, soon had readers convinced that Clive James was at death’s door.

Not so, says the man himself. “On Thursday morning the Daily Mirror carried an interview with me. It was harrowing. You would have thought that I had only a few hours to live. The strange thing, though, was that I never gave the interview to the Mirror. The newspaper had got hold of a transcript of the BBC radio show Meeting Myself Coming Back and selected a few dozen quotes so that I seemed to be practically expiring in the arms of the journalist assigned to register my dying breath.”

The Daily Mirror journalist took his verbal comments out of context and deliberately played up the worst. “In the radio interview I say that I am getting near the end of my life. Well, at my age everybody is. But if you put the statement as baldly as he did, it sounds as if I am passing out in the journalist’s lap. To be the kind of newspaper writer who doctors fiction until it sounds like fact is to work a confidence trick. I admit that everything attributed to me by the Mirror journalist I did actually say in my BBC show, but he shifted the context by leaving out when and in what circumstances I said it. He thus turned one kind of fact into another kind of fact, which means he turned it into a fiction.”

Clive isn’t the first writer to have his obituary penned obscenely early.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge was pronounced hanged while still very much alive. Ernest Hemingway had a scrapbook of his obituries, when after a plane crash he was erroneously reported dead. Rudyard Kipling‘s death was incorrectly announced in a magazine, to which he wrote, “I’ve just read that I am dead. Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.”

Most famous of all is Mark Twain who was placed dead or close to it on two occasions, who gave us the sentence that all other would respond with from there on it – “The report of my death was an exaggeration” (which is usually misquoted as “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”). Let’s hope that in James’s case the reports are as ridiculously early and there’s plenty of life left in him – and his pen.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Claire Saxby

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

I love all the genres! No, I guess that’s not answering the questions. I love picture books because they are the starting point for new readers. They are designed for sharing and they give the opportunity for so much discovery in and beyond language. I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle because it is ageless, and combines fiction and non fiction in such a beautiful way. Another favourite are the Hairy MacClary books by Lynley Dodd. I love the language and the illustrations. Perhaps that’s why I don’t mind that Hairy MacClary is one of my nicknames … hmm … not sure I should own that in public!

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

Oh, that’s always a hard question. I read so many. Outstanding favourites though? A large and very heavy collection of fairy tales that I returned and returned to. I loved Heidi. I also loved adventure books. I remember a series where a boy and a girl were the main characters in a series of adventures: in jungles and a range of other settings. I wish I could remember the name of them.

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

Racing start.
Twists and turns, page-turning action.
A current YA contender is The Hunger Games series. Not for really young readers, but a fast paced action story with plenty of issues for discussion. I think it would be a great series to discuss in an English class. So many themes, wrapped in a commercial fiction package.

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

Let them choose what they want to read.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Nup, that’s too hard. There are plenty of books both recent and less so that I’ve loved for different reasons, but I don’t wish I’d written them. I’m just glad someone did. Recent loves? Crow Country by Kate Constable, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Sally Murphy’s verse novels Pearl Verses the World and Toppling. Anything by Glenda Millard.

About Claire

Claire Saxby has been writing for children for about 15 years. She has been inspired by her own children, memories of childhood and by the children around her. She became an author because she loves playing with words. She will happily talk about books and writing with anyone who asks. Claire lives in Melbourne and loves it, despite what people say about the weather. Her latest books are The Carrum Sailing Club (Windy Hollow Books), and There Was an Old Sailor (Walker Books).

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?
I love picture book biographies because they breathe life into stories about real people for young people. I recently picked about two beauties; A Nation’s Hope – The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. The artwork by Caldecott winner Kadir Nelson is exquisite.  And My Hands Sing the Blues – Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, she honours Bearden’s work by creating the art in collage.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?
Every Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit book. Love that Peter was nearly as naughty as me.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
Engaging, Enriching and Empowering. The The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Make it fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.
Fox by Margaret Wild
My Farm by Alison Lester
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak



About Frané

Frané Lessac joins the National Year of Reading 2012 initiative as a State Ambassador for Western Australia.  She’s the Illustrator Liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for Australia West. In 2010, Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She constantly visits schools, libraries and festivals sharing the process of writing and illustrating books, empowering both children and adults.  Her latest book is The Greatest Liar on Earth – A True Story by Walker Books.

New book from former PM John Howard

HarperCollins Publishers is delighted to announce it has acquired the rights to another book written by former Australian Prime Minister, Hon John Howard, OM AC.

Mr Howard’s memoir, Lazarus Rising, has sold more than 100,000 copies to date, both domestically and internationally across print and electronic editions, and dominated the Australian bestseller charts in the latter half of 2010. It is the most successful memoir of an Australian politician in publishing history.

His new book, scheduled for publication in 2014, will canvass the period in Australian politics from the election of the Menzies Government in 1949 through to the election of the Whitlam government in 1972.  This era, so dominated by Robert Menzies, saw huge economic growth, great social change and much political turmoil. The book will cover not only the remarkable 16 year Prime Ministership of Menzies, but also the impact of the great Labor split of 1955;  the recovery of the Labor Party under Whitlam’s leadership in the late 1960s and the impact of the Vietnam War on Australian politics.  It was the longest unbroken period of Government for any side of politics in Australia’s history.

Mr Howard, who has already started researching the book, also commented: “On a more personal note, this period commenced when I was 10 years old and ended when I was well into my thirties.”

HarperCollins Publishing Director, Shona Martyn, said: “I am thrilled that Mr Howard has agreed to write another book – he is the most thorough and professional of authors.  This topic is one that is clearly close to his heart, but his insights on Menzies and this fascinating post World War Two period will have extra credence because he too has served as Australia’s Prime Minister. I am confident that Mr Howard, through his own insight, diligence, knowledge and critical analysis will produce a book that will be both readable and significant to everyone from Year 10 students of Australian history to political pundits to armchair historians.”

Review – Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees

Darius Bell, the irrepressibly divine hero of Darius Bell and the Crystal Pool (CBCA Book of the Year 2010 winner) is back in this second installment by well-loved Australian author Odo Hirsch.

The bees are dying. And not only the bees from Mr and Mrs Deaver’s hives. All the bees in the region are carking it. They’re not swarming. There’s no suspected foul play. What on earth could be going on?

And worse – how will Mr Fisher – the gardener of the Bell Estate, responsible for feeding the Bell family and most of the township with luscious fruit and veg – harvest an unpollinated crop? An unfertilised orchard? A pollen-free field? Blossoms are poised to open, and without bees – things are looking rather dire for the entire township.

Then there’s the honey. How on earth will the Bell’s cook, Mrs Simpson, make her famous cakes and pies without honey?

Darius is desperate to help. He doesn’t want the town to lose its fresh produce crop. He doesn’t want Mr and Mrs Fisher and their daughter Margeurite to move away to find work, so with the aid of his school chums Oliver Roberts and Paul Klasky (of the warmly funny adage-repeating fame), he sets about discovering how on earth he can replace the bees.

Crashing an Apiarists’ meeting at the council chambers, Darius is heartened by the possibility that bees could be brought in from other regions for temporary respite, but as he does so villainously in the first book, awful mayor – Mr Podcock  – stops at nothing to kybosh their plans.

With a delightful subplot featuring a lovely science teacher, a prickly principal and a kooky costume parade, this is another round of old-fashioned story-telling by Hirsch. The divine, almost comical characters and dialogue are definitely Hirch’s forté – there is a real knack for creating the good, the bad and the ugly in his books, and Darius and his cast of characters are pure delight.

Plotting is similarly beautifully-executed, though I was disappointed with the seemingly endless repetition in the book – to the point of eye-rolling. Either this is an editing fault or the author is underestimating the ability of children to ‘get it’ the first time. Although the reiteration of the fact that plants need bees to pollinate them in order to fruit was aggravating, Hirsch used this repetition well when it came to the bumbling inability of Hector Bell to absorb anything on a scientific level, being that his sensibilities dwelt solely within the literary world.

I was also disappointed with the misnomer in the Crystal Bees title. I had conjured great, anticipatory images of some fantastical, magical, mechanical bees created with some of the light-as-feather magic contained in the first book, but this failed to materialise, and indeed, the only reference to crystal is that Darius gets his Big Idea for finally solving the bee crisis, whilst visiting the Crystal Pool.

Nevertheless, this is another entertaining read, with a catalogue of endearing characters and another beautifully-crafted comeuppance ending that will satisfy the humanitarian in us all.

Did you know? Odo Hirsch was born in Melbourne. His real name is David Kausman.

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees is published by Allen & Unwin.

Book Two Vs Book One

The RiverbonesBook two is normally writers’ downfall, but in the case of Andrew Westoll, it was when he found his form. The problem is that I started—and fell completely, rabbit-ravingly in love—with Westoll’s second first. Then I did was any logical obsessive would do upon discovering an incredible author: I ordered up and cracked the spine of his oeuvre.

Westoll’s first book’s title, The Riverbones: Stumbling after Eden in the jungles of Suriname, hints at the issue I uncovered within. That is, that while Westoll is an undeniably talented writer, in this book he staggers about trying to find the story.

That’s in part the point—he returns to Suriname, a place where he spent an entire year researching monkeys during his primatology studies, to find meaning, to get things straight in his head about a place that completely got under his skin. The problem is that that necessarily involves a lot of chapters in which he’s kind of lost—literally and/or figuratively.

The other problem is that I had, having just finished his exquisite book about chimps rescued from drug testing laboratories, over-the-top expectations heightened by a desire to read more about primates. In short, I thought The Riverbones would be about Westoll returning to the monkeys.

And maybe he does. I just didn’t make it that far into the book. I tried, honestly. I really, really tried. But after many stuttering false starts and perseverance, I fell over roughly halfway through the book (at page 191 to be precise). If Westoll visits the monkeys or if something ground-shatteringly, life-changingly important happens after that, please let me know which pages and I’ll carry on. Or at least skip to and read those.

That’s not to say there weren’t some stellar moments in those first 200-odd pages, not least the following quote that still puzzles me: How will we feel the end of nature? (Bill McKibben)

Another is when Westoll visits a mine being carved out of the resource-rich, spectacularly forested landscape. The most economical way to extract ore is to expose it to a ‘complexant’. The issue, of course, is that said complexant is cynanide, which is highly toxic.

The most depressing part is that the PR-driven tour guide puts a perpetually positive spin on this:

‘You would have to drink four litres of this stuff to have a 40 per cent chance of dying!’ our tour guide bellows. The group goes quiet. Kevin leans over and asks me if eight litres would do the trick. I laugh and megaphone-man frowns at me. Trying to justify a lake of cyanide in the middle of pristine rainforest must be a mining engineer’s worst nightmare.

‘A rabbit is not going to drink four litres of something like this,’ he shouts over the roar of the pipe. ‘And I don’t say this as a Cambior employee. I say this as a Suriname man!’ He laughs heartily and stares me down. The bankers chuckle. There are no rabbits in Suriname.

A breeze picks up and I feel a cool mist on my skin. I take a few steps back from the gushing pipe. Our guide continues, ‘When exposed to sunlight, oxygen, and water, cyanide breaks down completely in three days. It disappears without a trace!’

‘But you’re always pumping new cyanide in, right?’ I say.

Silence. A few of the bankers ease away from me.

‘Like I said,’ yells our guide, ‘I’ve seen ducks swimming on this pond!’

The rest of the tour is conducted in Dutch.

Westoll is masterful at plucking out the lies in these moments and planting them in his story. And it’s moments like these that I was simultaneously depressed and inspired—depressed because of the entirely f%&ked up-ness of our world, but inspired by people such as Westoll who highlight the issues in order to help us tackle them. The problem is that I needed a few less of the ‘stumbling’ in between.

By virtue of its single location, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary provided the focus as well as the book’s protagonists. Suriname, on the other hand, was large and provided an impossible-to-whittle-down cast of thousands. You don’t know who’s important and, even if they are, you don’t spend long enough getting to know them.

I haven’t cheated and jumped ahead to read The Riverbones’ final chapter. I suspect Westoll finishes with something profound. I don’t want to ruin it for myself because my hope is that I will make it back to read the rest of the book. I think Westoll’s story and his storytelling skills warrant that. I just need a bit more time away from his second book so my criticisms of his first-book stumbles aren’t so great.

From Ireland To Ire

Starbucks earned the ire of Irish people worldwide last week with a simple, seemingly innocent tweet: ‘Happy hour is on! Show us what makes you proud to be British for your chance to win.’ It was intended for British Starbucks followers and was accidentally tweeted from the wrong account. No matter. The offence was immediate and not dimmed.

As someone who manages a number of social media accounts, I know how easy that slip-of-the-finger account switcheroo is to do. I felt kind of sorry for Starbucks and even sorrier for its social media manager: they for at least an hour know not what they do.

I felt a similar sentiment later in the week when it was revealed that the National Year of Reading (NYOR), an incredible initiative devised to encourage a love of books and reading, had named newly elected Queensland Premier Campbell Newman as one of its ambassadors.

As a writer who for the most part resides in Queensland, I was immediately offended to my very core. Campbell Newman is no ambassador—not for many things and least of all for reading. His swift, brutal, and not-fiscally-smart/simply-for-show actions have shown him not to be a proponent for writing and the arts. Newman (can’t you just hear Seinfeld’s ‘Newman!’ in your head reading that name?) cannot truly encourage reading when he’s not fostering a writing community or industry in the state he oversees.

In fact, it appears he’s devoting considerably more time to despairing over the state of his ‘embarrassing’ office furniture. No, really. According to the Brisbane Times, he received three couch (and the like) reupholstering quotes that ranged from $23,775 (the lowest—gulp) to $33,600.

‘All quotes were rejected outright because they were not deemed to be value for money,’ his spokesperson said, as if demonstrating the government’s tight, practical belt. I’d like to reject those quotes outright because:

a)      is getting quotes on furniture dressing really the most important thing Newman and his staffers can be doing right now?

b)     I’m not a tightarse and I don’t think I could spend thirty-odd grand on a couch if I tried. What on earth material is he getting quotes for?!

c)     wouldn’t it be more financially (not to mention environmentally) responsible to take advantage of furniture already available and excess to government departments or—wait for it—free courtesy of his former city council’s curb-side pick-ups?

And don’t even get me started on the talk of repealing the recently-agreed-to civil unions bill, which was underway as I flew (perhaps fled) interstate.

NYOR, the pronunciation of which kind of mirrors the depressed feeling I have about the current state of the Sunshine State’s writing industry, is Canberra-based and are unlikely to know or understand how much its actions rub salt in northern writers’ wounds. It doesn’t change the fact that Newman’s appointment as part of a celebration of all things Queensland Week made me gasket-blowingly angry.

There are many, many more Queenslanders who would make fantastic ambassadors, and I’d be happy to recommend a few. Until then, I’ll console myself with two of the amusing responses my friends and fellow readers and writers had to Newman’s ambassadorial naming, finishing with my favourite:

Steve: Reading Fi. Not writing—that can be done in some other state. ;-p

Danielle: He can read?!?

The Dink Is The Man

You know that awkward moment where you think you’ve had a brilliant idea for a blog then shortly afterwards stumble upon one that’s not only better, it’s already been done? That’s the essence of what happened to me, having decided that while Game of Thrones the series is excellently good, Tyrion Lannister’s actor Peter Dinklage is irrefutably the man.

It appears that Brisbane Times journalist Jody Macgregor thinks the same, having penned the intro below:

Some people watch Game of Thrones for the sex scenes. I watch Game of Thrones for the scenes where Tyrion Lannister verbally owns people, straight-up lays the verbal smackdown on them. He’s incisive and witty and his remarks are as cutting as any of the show’s swordplay. But Game of Thrones is over for another season and now there’s a Tyrion Lannister-shaped hole in my life.

I just finished watching all two seasons of Game of Thrones in quick succession. I’d avoided it until now mostly because I’m not a big spec fic reader and haven’t yet tackled the books. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I have no patience for having to read maps at the beginning and glossaries at the back because the book has a stupendously unnecessary cast of unpronounceable-made-up-language-speaking thousands.

I also knew, though, that I’d watch the series fine if it was wrought by HBO. They did a phenomenal job and for the most part helped me keep the bazillion characters relatively straight in my head. That and they lobbed the incredibly talented ‘the Dink’ to the fore of my and others’ attention spans.

I care little for the gratuitously revealed breasts in each scene (I’m no prude, but I’ve seriously hit boob fatigue—by the end of Season Two I got more excited when I saw a chick not getting her kit off). But I care a lot of Dinklage’s intellect and his acting. This guy absolutely steals the show.

Much has been made of the fact that Dinklage is a dwarf. It’s not something I hugely wish to dwell on. He’s an intelligent man, a seemingly good all-round guy, a bit of a spunk, and an outstanding actor. What’s not to like?

I’d happily watch a director’s cut of solely scenes with Dinklage in them. Or a cut of solely scenes with Dinklage’s commentary. I’m not sure that either exist, though, so I’ll have to do what Macgregor has done: seek out and watch any and every other film Dinklage has been in. How soon until we see Season Three?

New Dragonkeeper

Ancient China. Buddhist monks. Invading barbarians. And dragons! Carole Wilkinson has done it again — delivering a wondrous blend of history and fantasy with her latest Dragonkeeper novel, Blood Brothers.

The first book in Wilkinson’s series, Dragonkeeper, came out in 2003. It follows the adventures of a young slave girl, Ping, and an old dragon named Long Danzi, during the Han Dynasty in ancient China. In the two follow-up books, Garden of the Purple Dragon and Dragon Moon, Danzi is gone and Ping is taking care of the newly hatched dragon, Kai. Next up, Wilkinson went back in time with Dragon Dawn, where we met a young Danzi and an earlier dragonkeeper named Bingwen.

And now we have Blood Brothers. This novel jumps forward in time, several hundred years after Dragon Moon. Ping is long dead and the Han Dynasty but a distant memory, as China is overrun by barbarian tribes. Kai, at 465 years of age, is a teenager by dragon standards. He’s left the Dragon Haven and gone in search of a new dragonkeeper. He finds Tao, one of Ping’s descendants — a young novice, studying to become a Buddhist monk. And then the two of them meet Pema, a young orphan girl, and their adventures begin.

There is much complexity of character in this book, perhaps more so than in the past novels. There is an uncertainty about Kai’s past (Just why did he leave the Dragon Haven?) and Tao must slowly coax the truth from the dragon. And Tao is a young boy with a difficult past — he has a severely disabled brother and a harsh mother who blames him for much. He is faced with the biggest decision of his life, as he must choose between his dream of becoming a monk and his destiny as a dragonkeeper. Pema also has a turbulent past and decisions to make — will she follow a path of revenge or will she choose to move forward with her life? The characters are so vivid and believable and their relationships so real. I particularly loved the relationship between Tao and his brother, Wei, which is developed with sensitivity and a real sense of love and respect.

As always with Wilkinson’s books, there is such a vibrant sense of time and place. Reading this book, I found myself transported to ancient China, experiencing its sights, sounds and smells… and almost believing that dragons really did exist back then.

This book, like its predecessors, is aimed at children. But Wilkinson’s stories and writing style transcend the target market. There really is so much to enjoy in these books for readers of all ages.

Blood Brothers has a stunning cover illustration by Sonia Kretschmar. And the first trilogy has been rereleased with new covers to match. They make a beautiful set.

This book certainly seems like the first in a new series. I look forward to the further adventures of Tao and Kai.

Catch ya later,  George

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“In the closet, no one can hear you squeal”




Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Frané Lessac

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?
I love picture book biographies because they breathe life into stories about real people for young people. I recently picked about two beauties; A Nation’s Hope – The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. The artwork by Caldecott winner Kadir Nelson is exquisite.  And My Hands Sing the Blues – Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, she honours Bearden’s work by creating the art in collage.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?
Every Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit book. Love that Peter was nearly as naughty as me.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?
Engaging, Enriching and Empowering. The The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?
Make it fun.

Name three books you wish you’d written.
Fox by Margaret Wild
My Farm by Alison Lester
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak



About Frané

Frané Lessac joins the National Year of Reading 2012 initiative as a State Ambassador for Western Australia.  She’s the Illustrator Liaison for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for Australia West. In 2010, Frané was awarded The Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She constantly visits schools, libraries and festivals sharing the process of writing and illustrating books, empowering both children and adults.  Her latest book is The Greatest Liar on Earth – A True Story by Walker Books.

Review – Banjo Bounces Back

Banjo is a hoofball star. He loves hoofball so much, he can barely sleep before a game. He practises every afternoon with his friend Bella, and on Saturdays he plays with his team the Whinnies.

But one day, Banjo flies too high. He takes a tumble – and is laid up for six weeks. The worst possible scenario for a hoofball star.

During his recuperation, Banjo becomes bored. He eats too much molasses, and when he finally returns to the hoofball field, his sedentary, molasses-slurping days are on show. He gets puffed easily. His uniform is a tad too small. When he accidentally falls on the ball . . . it, er – pops.

Poor Banjo. He’s so depressed over his larger-than-life state, he becomes despondent and refuses to join in the game. It’s not until his best friend Bella gets sick and has to go to horspital, that Banjo realises exactly what must be done.

Funny and gorgeously illustrated, Banjo Bounces Back is a book with a very gentle moralistic punch. Hume’s delightful (and very equine) word play is loads of fun; his dry humour equally so. Banjo is a character many children will instantly relate to and warm to, and the spirit-of-the-team and being-there-for-each-other themes (not to mention keeping physically active) don’t present at a gallop, but rather a gentle trot.

My only small criticism would be the ending – due to the clever and humorous nature of the book proper, I had expected a similar ending, and although the ending is certainly pleasant, I just feel it could have been something ‘more’. Nevertheless, Lachie Hume, son of author/illustrator Alison Lester, certainly has book writing and illustrating in his blood.

Banjo Bounces Back is published by Omnibus.

Mid-month round-up – the I want to write like you edition

If you are the type who likes to put a pen to paper – or fingers to the keyboard, as the case may be – you’ll often find that your first thought after finishing a really excellent book is wishing you had written in. My writer’s envy goes off pretty often; set off by writers such as Bill BrysonChuck Palahniuk or Marion Keyes, or by  individual books such as deliciously filling and wonderfully waspy Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, or by This Is a Call by Paul Brannigan, his biography of Dave Grohl (partly as I do like his writing style, but mainly as he got to hang out with Dave in all sort of awesome rock and roll venues, and I am a huge screaming fangirl for the Foos.)

This month Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman rocketed straight to the top of the that list. Caitlin writes about many subjects so very dear to my own heart – feminism, religion, pop music and pornography – with a spectacular lack of reserve and respect for her own dignity, and brilliantly blasphemous sense of humour. It’s fun, it’s funny and it is bang on at making points I usually struggle horribly to explain at about 1am and after my eight beer.

“Because the purpose of feminism isn’t to make a particular type of woman. The idea that there are inherently wrong and inherently right “types” of women is what’s screwed feminism for so long – this belief that “we” wouldn’t accept slaggy birds, dim birds, birds that bitch, birds that hire cleaners, birds that stay at home with their kids, birds that have pink Mini Metros with “Powered by Fairy Dust” bumper stickers, birds in burkas, or birds that like to pretend, in their heads, that they’re married to Zach Braff from Scrubs, and that you sometimes have sex in an ambulance while the rest of the cast watch and, latterly, clap. You know what? Feminism will have all of you.

What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be.

Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

In short, if it weren’t for the fact that we’re both in committed relationships (with me getting married next month), I would be completely in love with her. As it is, I just want to be able to write her next book.

Also on reading list was Ben Elton’s Meltdown. Elton was a writer I wanted to be like in the early 90’s, when he released books like Stark and Gridlock; funny, sarcastic and challenging all wrapped up in an excellent read. As the years wore on though, I found he was losing me, culminating with the preachy and over-laboured Blind Faith (which might have been a good short story, but certainly didn’t need a whole book to thrash its point out). So it was with a little trepidation I picked up Meltdown and found to my delight it was an excellent return to form.

Published in 2010 against the backdrop of a world still reeling from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC, not KFC as I keep thinking) it follows the changing fortunes of a group of friends brought high in the good times and dashed against the rocks of their own hubris. Anyone can handle success, Elton points out, it’s how you handle failure that really matters. Meltdown is funny, touching and relevant, political and personal, and a return to the books that I wanted to see Elton writing – and to the books that started me writing myself back in my late teens.

And lastly on my list of reads this month is Yann Martel’s Booker-prize-winning Life of Pi. I wasn’t reading  this one so I could finally shut up all those people who react like I have just said I hate puppies to when I tell them I haven’t read it (tempting and all as that is) but instead as this month’s Book Club book. What did I think of it? Well, this blog post took a little longer than planned (I got lost once again giggling at How to Be a Woman) so I’ll have to tell them first, as I think I can hear the first of them – clinking wine bottles in hand – at the door.

Review – Alex and the Watermelon Boat

Alex is lounging around at home when his mum tells him not to go outside.

Of course, what does a child do when you tell them not to do something? Alex is compelled. Especially as his favourite stuffed toy, Rabbit, has hopped out the window, and of course, Alex has to go find him.

But outside, the river has burst its banks. The dam had overflowed. The water is rising and more fat rain clouds are hovering around menacingly. Binky the Cat is stuck on a roof. Merilyn Kafoops and her dog Dyson are also stranded on a roof, cooking up a storm on the barbie. But where is Merilyn’s twin? And where is Rabbit?

In search of his friend, Alex embarks in a watermelon boat, past empty shops and robbers stealing sausages from the butcher. Past pots and pans and memories being washed down the river. Past stranded people, and misplaced furniture and a shark which is blocking the freeway and causing a terrible traffic jam.

Does Alex find Rabbit or does he become terribly lost in the flooded confusion?

McKimmie’s iconic illustrations are also a flood, washing each double page spread with colour, vigour and complementary mediums that make for a striking visual feast. This collage-like effect has been created using both acrylic and oil paints, gouache, ink, pastels, pencils, pens, stamps, sticky tape and more.

First person tense and scattered, varying typography make for a layered, newspaper/journal feel to the book, which perfectly harnesses McKimmie’s childlike imagery. Although the book has a somewhat dark feel – thanks to its haunting images of the devastation of flood – it is ultimately a story of hope and renewal.

Alex and the Watermelon Boat is published by Allen & Unwin.


Positively pessimistic – and happy about it

It has not been a good month for blogging. I hoped that things would settle down after the house move but it was not to be. I have since developed what can only be described as an Epic DeathCold, complete with hacking cough and tonsils of flame, sapping my energy for anything other than sitting under a duvet and groaning sadly.

I’m not feeling particularly good about this, which according to many people is a bad thing. Optimism, they tell us, is immensely powerful; a panacea for work success, financial success, and your health. Optimists get sick less often than pessimists and heal faster, apparently. If I were a little more positive, popular wisdom suggests, my immune system would be more robust, my love life and career better, and I’d look like an attractive member of society rather than a shambling coughing zombie curled over the keyboard with finger-less gloves on.

Well, according to Barbara Ehrenreich, popular wisdom has very little idea what it is talking about. She says that baseless optimism is not, in fact, a cure for what ails us but be a source of dangerous inaction on issues that require thought and action and that, most tellingly, all those studies that people say are out there proving the benefits of optimism for health simply do not exist or are deeply flawed.

Her book, Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World, is a history and critique of the multi-billion-dollar positive-thinking industry – of the endless self-help books and DVDs, grinning life coaches and firey motivational speakers big on enthusiasm and small on content. As she explains, people who say that optimism alone is excellent for your health are sadly lacking in the facts, and in Smile or Die she lays out both these facts and the reason why adherents of pointless positivity might not want you to know these facts.

I was introduced to Ehrenreich by her powerful essay, Welcome to Cancerland, on her own experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer. She believes that the over-overwhelming (and always pink and fluffy) optimism industry that has grown up around  breast cancer doesn’t allow those diagnosed with it the most basic human reaction – the freedom to feel anger and upset that this is happening to them. After all, she argues, if we are encouraged to believe that positive thinking can cure disease, isn’t it the sufferer’s own fault they are still ill? Does our societal insistence on positive thinking place yet another burder on those who are diagnosed rather than offering relief?

In Smile or Die she starts with her experiences with breast cancer and then explores the rise and rise of positive thinking in America, from its dawn as a reaction to Calvinism in the nineteenth cenury, though its evolution as part of the New Thought Movement, and on to its prevalence in modern life, where books such as The Secret sell millions of copies with their promises that positive thinking can eradicate disease, overcoming obstacles, and help readers to accumulate massive amounts wealth and material success.

It’s a fascination read and often a very funny one. Ehrenreich’s writing is engaging and amusing as she ranges across the history of positive thinking and its place in contemporary religion, business and the economy. She doesn’t advocate a return to hand-wringing and crying in the corner but to living life in full possession of the facts, and making decisions based on those facts. If you want to become rich, for example, perhaps the first place you could save money is by not buying books and conference tickets that promise riches in return for nothing other than thinking about it. If you have had your fill of self-help books promising the world but delivering little more than time-consuming daily affirmations and excessive exclamation marks, Smile or Die might be – literally – the last self help book you ever need.




DRM is so 2011

Digital rights management for ebooks is dead.

Readers knew it couldn’t last. It was simply a matter of when publishers and retailers would realise it was unsustainable.

Cutting edge Australian publishers like Pan Macmillan digital offshoot Momentum Books are leading the way by announcing they will remove DRM from their titles within months.

It won’t be long before their competitors realise they risk looking like dinosaurs, and mean ones at that, unless they join the push.

Though none of the other major publishers have announced they’re ditching it yet, I have heard the excuse, “Well, it’s the retailers who impose it on the publishers in any case.”

It’s an excuse that they can file away for good. The retailers are telling me they are either already selling books without DRM upon request, or soon will be. is among those who are keen to support publishers who make the shift.’s supplier, Overdrive, already offers DRM-free books in ePub and PDF format, and they’re coming soon to Booku (so are browser-based books a la Book.ish following Overdrive’s purchase of recently, incidentally).

ReadCloud, which is the ebook provider for many Australian independent booksellers, “can work without DRM, not a problem,” according to its CEO Jeremy Le Bard.

Kobo is already working with DRM-free titles for publishers, says Malcolm Neil, its Director Vendor Relations Asia-Pacific.

Even Google has come to the party. Mark Tanner, Strategic Partner Development Manager at Google, told uBookish that Google allows publishers to sell their ebooks without DRM today.

We won’t hold our breath on the Amazon or Apple front. That said, Apple did remove its proprietary DRM from all music in the iTunes store back in 2009, so perhaps I should have a little more faith in the Cupertino crowd.

Momentum publisher Joel Naoum says they are working through the issues with selling ebooks without DRM through retailers.

“Unfortunately it’s not a straightforward matter, though it does appear at this relatively early stage that most (if not all) retailers will be able to sell our books without it,” he says.

Hooray for Joel (who was my predecessor as Booku blogger, by the way) for leading the way on this front as in so many others.

Perhaps he has been inspired by innovative publishers like O’Reilly in the US who have long ensured their titles were available without the restrictive encryption software.

O’Reilly’s General Manager & Publisher Joe Wikert says his company believes that “digital rights management (DRM) is a bad idea”.

“We have a very simple theory: Trust your customers to do the right thing and you’ll earn their business.”

Hear, hear.

(See today’s earlier post for an outline of what DRM is all about.)

The post-Continuum report

Last weekend I attended Continuum 8, the 51st Australian National Science Fiction convention. I had a great time, so I thought I’d share some of my highlights with you.

There were a number of book launches held during the convention. I was particularly excited by two of them. The first was for Narrelle M Harris’s Walking Shadows. This is the long-awaited sequel to The Opposite of Life, a rather fab vampire novel set in the city of Melbourne. (see my earlier post, “Books with bite”)

The second launch was for a short story collection — Bread and Circuses by Felicity Dowker. This is Felicity’s first book, and one that I have been very much looking forward to. Her stories have been popping up in anthologies and magazines for a while now, and every time I encounter one it usually ends up being among my favourites in whatever publication it’s in. So now I finally get to read a whole book of her stuff. 🙂

Both these books are from small publishers — the first from Clandestine Press, the second from Ticonderoga Publications. Continuum was a great event to get to know some of Australia’s best genre small presses. One of these, Twelfth Planet Press, held a little party to celebrate their books. They served cupcakes and sparkling wine, and displayed their wares, which included books by Deborah Biancotti, Margo Lanagan, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sue Isle, Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warren, Dirk Flinthart and Peter M Ball. Quite a number of their authors grouped together for some photos…

Continuum 8 had four strands of programming including panel discussions, presentations, readings and workshops, on a variety of science fiction, fantasy and horror related topics. Being a writer, I tended towards the literary items. Here were some of my favourites…

Fans & Faith
A panel discussion about how religion is treated in the works of science fiction. This was not looking at fictional religions, but existing religions and how they are represented, or not. A number of faiths were represented on the panel, including Jewish and several denominations of Christianity — in fact, one of the panellists was a Uniting Church minister. This was a really interesting topic, and one not often found at a science fiction convention. Science fiction fans are often rather critical of religion, so it was great to see a panel with a different approach.

Writing Storyworlds
A panel discussion about the processes involved in creating convincing original storyworlds, as compared to writing material for existing storyworlds such as Doctor Who, Highlander and Dan Dare.

This was the presentation of an academic paper by Colin Harvey, which looked at the steampunk genre and the way it was interpreted by film, television and literature. Although academic in approach, the paper was very accessible and entertaining.

There were, of course, many more panels, including lots that I was part of (see my previous post “The upcoming Nat Con”). These were just my three favourites, from an audience perspective.

Continuum 8 also saw the presentation of the Chronos Awards and the Ditmar Awards. Winners included, Paul Haines, Kim Westwood and Tansy Rayner Roberts. For a full list of award winners, look here. HUGE congrats to them all!

I had a great time attending panels and launches, and simply chatting with people. And I’m already looking forward to Continuum 9. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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So why do we have to deal with DRM?

It’s not hard to understand why some book publishers are keen on DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption software which limits the potential uses of the file).

They’ve seen the music and film businesses struggle in the face of mass piracy.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates that some 95 per cent of global music downloads are illegal.

Ebook files can be downloaded illegally just as easily, even when they are “protected” by DRM.

There are few statistics on the phenomenon, but according to Google, there were between 1.5 million to 3 million searches for pirated books per day on its search engine in 2010.

The German Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association said in 2011 that illegal down some 60 percent of electronic books were being downloaded illegally there.

I can honestly say I’ve never tried it, but people tell me you can find online instructions for stripping DRM from an ebook, and complete the process, in seconds.

These same people use this knowledge in what I’d see as an ethical manner. They buy books from different retailers then strip the DRM so that they can read them all on any device or app (so for example, stripping the Kindle’s walled garden DRM would allow you to read a Kindle ebook on a non-Kindle e-ink ereader).

Amazon won’t like it, and it contravenes their licence agreements with consumers, but given these individuals have paid for the book, why shouldn’t they be able to choose how they read it and on which device?

Stubborn policies like those of Amazon and Apple restricting the use of their ebooks to specific platforms are among the key reasons for ebook piracy.

Other such “ethical” reasons include consumer views that as they have paid for a book, they should be able to lend it to a friend just as they could a printed book; and that they deserve a right to permanent access to their ebook library, whichever retailer they’ve purchased it from.

DRM is the enemy of these well-meaning ebook buyers. Some see it as such an evil they actively lobby against its implementation. Check out Defective by Design and you’ll see what I mean.

There are less noble pirates who are just lazy, ignorant of the law, or utterly unconcerned about breaking it, and it is possible that DRM makes some difference in their levels of piracy.

Often, illegal downloading is driven by a frustration over availability of content, or high prices. Consumers learn via social networks of a book, film or television series that is taking off overseas, try to download it legally, and discover that it is not available in their market for territorial copyright reasons, or in their preferred format due to complex licencing agreements (or the publisher’s lack of technical expertise). Keen to consume the content as soon as possible, they turn pirate.

A shopper compares the high Australian price of a book with that of its much cheaper US equivalent and in frustration, turns to an illegal download service.

A busy would-be customer ponders the complex registration process required to download one file, and decides piracy is easier.

Solution? Publishers and booksellers need to make their content available in a timely manner, for quick and easy download using as many platforms as the consumer desires, and at a reasonable price.

If they do this, and have faith in the market, DRM will become redundant.

In fact, I reckon it’s on the way out already. Read my next post to find out what’s led me to this conclusion.


I spent last week working in Melbourne, a city I’ve lived in briefly, that I love, that has incredible things going on in my industry, and that I kind of wish my parents had moved to when we’d moved to Australia. Well Melbourne or Sydney—contrary to everyone’s obsession with choosing a favourite, I’d be happy with either. In fact, I didn’t have a ready answer when a potential client asked what kept me in Brisbane.

The truth is that I don’t know what keeps me here, and I know even less so given the bleakness of the industry in recent months. I like Brisbane, but it’s not yet where all the important writing industry things happen. I’ve said ‘yet’ in that previous sentence, but I’m no longer sure I should have.

My hesitancy refers, of course, to the swift guillotining of the leading industry award and then the heads of the leading arts body by the recently elected, not-arts-inclined premier who, in the tradition of Harry Potter’s nemesis, herein shall not be named. Let’s just say that his first name involves includes the letter ‘c’. Some of us have replaced the eight letters his birth certificate reads with four-letter revision not appropriate for a family friendly blog like this.

In a kind of just-what-the-doctor-ordered ray of hope, Women of Letters came to town last Sunday. It admittedly emerged from Melbourne, but one of its co-founders hails from Brisbane and my very same university course. The turnout of talented writers and readers, including some industry greats like outgoing Brisbane Writers Festival director Jane O’Hara, was comforting meets an inadvertent show of solidarity: you might be doing your darnedest to encourage us to take our words overseas or interstate, Coldemort, but you’re going to have to try darn harder to succeed.

Sekiden singer Seja Vogel opened the afternoon’s theme of a letter to someone who doesn’t/shouldn’t know who you are with a kind of ode meets apology to the drummer of Supergrass, whom she may or may not have sort of stalked. Amanda Muggleton followed on Skype—entertaining more for her OTT theatrics than for her witty Dear John writing, but interesting nonetheless. One noteworthy line was that ‘when you hurt a woman’s feelings, you hurt our vaginas too’.

Kristy Chambers, a nurse who has a forthcoming, tell-all book called Get Well Soon, showed the lighter side to Tourette’s. Amy Ingram, who I first came to know and love via her show Single Admissions about two years ago, blew me away with her letter about what she thought about writing about and then her eventual list of apologies for being a slightly dodgy person. She is seriously piss funny, and was also incredibly composed considering she’d had a car accident on the way to the event. She’d taken her eye off the road to give esteemed Brisbane writer Benjamin Law the finger.

Ingram’s hilarity was a highlight for me, but so too was Greens politician Larissa Waters’ letter. She apologised for not being so witty before she commenced, before shrugging and saying that she guessed it was too late to do anything about it now. What followed was a heartfelt, touching letter that didn’t require wit at all.

In it Waters admitted that sometimes she hates her job, that sometimes she wished politics would go away, and that she wondered why she’d entered politics at all. The answer is because she was sick of practising environmental law and having to inform people that the law didn’t protect the environment at all. The answer is because she realised she needed to change the law and that she couldn’t in good conscience not try to make the world a better place for her child.

Which brings me back to Coldemort. I wasn’t the only one who wrote a question relating to him for the question time, but I was rather chuffed that mine (which I co-wrote with fellow writers Carody and Judi) was the one they read out as a kind of all-encompassing summary. Inside I did a virtual, H&R Block fist pump.

I can’t write the exact question here seeing as it included the c words I noted above couldn’t and wouldn’t be written here on this g-rated blog. But I can say that the positive response to the question showed that I’m not alone in being troubled by Coldemort’s actions. That, combined with an afternoon of good reading and writing surrounded by others who share a love for the written word at an out-of-the-box event created by writers inspired me to stick it out here just a little longer.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Libby Hathorn

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

My taste is far reaching depending on mood from realism to fantasy but a recent wonderful read is the novel Jasper Jones and a hum-dinger of a fantasy is The Night Circus.

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

I adored family stories such as Seven Little Australians, was an early fan of May Gibbs Scotty in Gumnutland series and  would be transported by a story such as The Secret Garden or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A favourite picture book was The Red Balloon.

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

Freshness of characters (unless a sequel), a smooth flowing style that makes you want to turn pages (like the Harry Potter series) and an original idea.

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

If anyone wants to write then they must read a lot and more than that, they must write a lot, too. Journals and diaries, scraps and fragments all can build into a new idea and thus into a new story. So my tip is to both read and write a lot!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.


About Libby

Libby Hathorn is an award-winning Australian author of more than fifty books for children. Her stories have been translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen. Her work has won honours in Australia as well as in the United States, United Kingdom and Holland. She was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2003. She lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

I’m Comic Sans, A$$hole (Warning: Swearwords and Adult Themes)

Continuing this weekend’s theme of friend-and-colleague-recommended interwebs-based hilarity* is McSweeney’s monologue, I’m Comic Sans, Asshole.

My loathing for the pesky font that just won’t die has been long-ranted and long-written (even on this here very blog). In this instance, however, Comic Sans strikes back at those of us who’ve had it and anyone who uses it in the bad-taste crosshairs.

The blog opens with this (and here I feel that I should issue a language warning—this blog is not suitable for those under the age acceptable to read swearwords and those who are easily offended by such words or adult themes):

Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg.

It follows with so much gold I want to copy and paste the entire thing right here. But I’d better help you out by chuckling to myself, quoting ‘I am a sans serif Superman and my only kryptonite is pretentious buzzkills like you, and sending you to the post itself. 

The monologue is by Mike Lacher, an author previously unfamiliar to me but who is, it appears from just one handy hyperlink, an entirely piss-funny guy. First-person monologues are clearly his forte. If you’re keen to keep clicking (and who isn’t, especially if you’re mid-assignment procrastinatorating?), I’d also recommend the following posts.

A Response By An Aspiring Screenwriter Whose Screenplay Was Turned Down Because It’s Exactly Like Robocop

But I do not think that just because my protagonist is named ‘Alex K. Murphy’ and _Robocop_’s is named ‘Alex J. Murphy’ is a sign of ‘unabashed, shameless copying.’ A lot of people have similar names. Case in point: there were three other ‘Michael’s’ in my fifth grade class.

A Message of Apology from the Commander of Undersea EnviroDome 25-B

I know that our current situation is rather bleak, trapped in this EnviroDome miles beneath the sea without supplies and under constant attack by genetically-modified smart eels.

The Only Thing That Can Stop This Asteroid is Your Liberal Arts Degree

Sure, we’ve got dozens of astronauts, physicists, and demolitions experts. I’ll be damned if we didn’t try to train our best men for this mission. But just because they can fly a shuttle and understand higher-level astrophysics doesn’t mean they can execute a unique mission like this.

If you’re still procrata-clicking, the interwebs and McSweeney’s just keep giving. I’d also recommend these two, particularly the latter.

McSweeney’s Airline Passengers As Explained By Their Pants

Klingon Personal Ads (I again feel the need to stress the ‘adult themes’ warning with this one)

Do you feel lucky? Humorless widow seeks husband number 10. Must enjoy nights at the opera, long walks on the beach, and defending my honor against every imaginable slight, no matter what the odds. Let’s grow slightly older together.

Happy reading.

*This blog came recommended via the talented designer Steph Jong.

Reasoning With Vampires

TwilightI’ll readily admit my love for Twilight but, unlike most Twihards, I’ll also admit I take great pleasure in relentlessly mocking it. Which I why I’ve spent the past day poring over entries on Reasoning With Vampires*, a blog devoted to highlighting and castigating Stephenie Meyer’s ham-fisted writing. It’s a blog by a blogger who (unlike most other Twilight knockers): a) has read the books; and b) provides scanned, irrefutable evidence to substantiate the mockery.

As she puts it (much more eloquently than I can):

Prior to actually reading Twilight, I had an opinion about it. I scoffed and mocked. I argued with my sister that, No, no, Edward doesn’t sound like the perfect guy, because I don’t really think that breaking into the bedrooms of teenage girls without their knowledge is romantic. I maintained a generalized position that Bella and Edward’s relationship seemed psychologically unhealthy. Also, the idea of a sparkling vampire was too ridiculous not to mock. Yet, I never felt like I had the authority to really trash the book(s), because I didn’t read them, and I try to avoid being a jackass. Then it seemed like Twilight was everywhere with the upcoming release of Eclipse in theatres, so I decided to earn my Twilight badge and read it.

She was, she writes, ‘unprepared for how poorly crafted the saga is’:

Stephenie Meyer has spawned monsters. I’m not referring to her sparkling vampires or her werewolf mob. I mean Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. These books are written monsters.

And later:

The Twilight Saga wasn’t enriched by sentences that make seventh grade English teachers cry. When Stephenie Meyer uses the wrong word, it’s not innovative like Picasso painting an eye where a mouth should be. It’s wrong. It’s a sloppy mess.

Indeed, but it’s a hilariously addictive gold mine of inadvertent nonsense and humour. And gold mine for a savvy, sassy blog such as this. Unlike many other critics who aim for the all-hating, black-and-whiteness, though, this blogger acknowledges there’s some fuzzy greyness:

Stephenie Meyer has written big, unintentionally destructive, curiously strong, lumbering apes of books. And because of this, there’s a part of me—and I can’t tell you how reluctant that part is (lolz)—that admits Isabella Swan and Edward Cullen might have a love story for the ages. Bella and Edward’s love survived its creator.

The genius of this blogger’s entries is that she has physically scanned the pages then highlighted passages worthy of infamy and added incisiveness, biting insights that I dare you to try reading without nodding, guffawing, or high-fiveing a passing stranger.

And that’s just her comments on Meyer’s passages. This blog also yields pure gold in the other sections, not least the Ask Me Anything and About, where she acknowledges every argument for or against her writing about Twilight (e.g. If you hate it so much, why are you writing about it?) and out-wits and out-logics every answer while simultaneously taking the piss.

But me writing about it and including excerpts of her pure, interwebs-published genius is not nearly entertaining as actually, rabbit-hole-divingly reading it. I recommend you head here (as I am about to re-do).

*This blog was brought to my attention by friend and fellow editor Judi, to whom I now owe copious amounts of beer and kudos.

Review – The 13-Storey Treehouse

Now, I ask you this. Who would NOT want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse? Or a treehouse at all, for that matter. And most particularly, who wouldn’t want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse with a see-through swimming pool? An underground laboratory? A flying machine that shoots marshmallows into your mouth?

No one, that’s who. And to top it all off (as if you could want more) – you’d get to live with Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton and their whackadoodle lifestyle, where cats fly, gorillas scale your exterior walls and sea monkeys turn into great hulking monsters (that may or may not have first made Terry fall in love with them).

This is a kooky-good book that was tremendous fun to read. I loved not only the shenanigans this clever pair got up to, but I loved taking a glimpse into the lives and working processes of two very dedicated kid-lit professionals, who clearly take their work very seriously. And making kids laugh and stretching their imaginations wide – well, that’s very serious business indeed.

Coupled with funny, scratchy illustrations that will engage even younger readers, The 13-Storey Treehouse is another triumph in the get-kids-reading junior fiction world. That is, I’m sure, until The 26-Storey Treehouse comes out this September.

Watch this space.

The 13-Storey Treehouse is published by Pan Macmillan.

The Five Stages of Internet Loss

This delay in posting this blog is thanks to a sudden and complete lack of internet. We moved house last week and – while our new internet provider promised us we would be back online in moments – as always reconnecting to the net has taken a couple of weeks, countless emails, and approximately 4 hours on the phone waiting to speak to what is apparently their lone consultant, while their hold system regales us with music that can only be described as “low-budget 70’s porn movie soundtrack”.

As anyone who has gone checking their email before breakfast to total modem silence can tell you, it’s hard to adjust to a life offline. Little things such as paying bills, checking your bank balance and looking up information (“hey, when is George R. R. Martin‘s next book due out anyway?”*) go from instant to impossible.

You move through the 5 stages of internet loss**.

Stage one – denial and isolation. This can’t be happening. You need to send email. You have to log-in to work. You have to log-in to Twitter and Facebook. You have to check the news; the Zombie Apocalypse could have started and you wouldn’t know. Signs of stage one include relentlessly pressing F5 on your browser and nagging your partner by repeatedly asking if the modem is definitely plugged in.

Stage two – anger. How the hell could this happen? Don’t they know there are bills you need to pay, and whole pages of Lolcats being updated daily? How can they do this to you? You have no idea what’s happening in the world – what do they expect you to do, buy a news-paper? What if there are zombies outside? You just don’t know – you’d be eaten in moments! Do they WANT you to be eaten? That’s just brilliant customer service right there, isn’t it.

At Stage 2, you spend large amounts of time on hold composing vindictive customer complaints in your head, swearing loudly at bad jazz music and shouting, before being REALLY POLITE to the consultant as they are the only person who can help you.

Stage three – bargaining. Alright, this is bad situation, but maybe you can make it better. You could see if there is a wireless hotspot… but you can’t the web to find out. How about asking the zombies if they have internet in their old homes? Maybe you could go to another internet provider? Hey, if you just check how much their data packages cost – oh wait, you can’t as you have no net connection. ARGH.

Stage four – depression. Screw it. You have burned through all your mobile phone’s minutes while on hold and all its data to stay on top of urgent emails, and you can’t use Skype to call them as you have no internet. You can’t get online. You can’t do anything. You might as well just sit here freezing in the dark and let the zombies eat you. Yes, the heating and lights are working fine. But that’s NOT THE POINT.

Stage five – acceptance. Well, the internet isn’t available right now. Hmph. Perhaps you could do something else instead? Like read that book you’ve been meaning to get to? Or finally tidy the bookshelves a bit? Maybe this doesn’t have to be so terrible after all.

Look, I’m not advocating a life free of internet. As I am hard of hearing and can’t use phones, if you took away my internet I’d never get any bills paid or order anything online, for a start, so I’d be sitting in an ice-cold darkened room with no books to read at all.

But with a little less time spent online, I have managed to get so much more done; I’ve actually read some of my massive back-log of books, for a start. While I’m delighted to finally have my connection back, in our new place we have moved the computers to a slightly less central location so we won’t be as tempted to while away all our hours on them. And we have moved our book collection to a room with a massive comfy bean bag and futon which is technically the spare bedroom but will, in fact, be our library. Which has to be a win whether the internet is working – and the zombie apocalypse has arrived – or not.


* According to Martin, a realistic estimation for finishing The Winds of Winter could be three years, but ultimately the book “will be done when it’s done“.

** This post is thanks to the Kübler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief, which I was delighted to discover I could remember correctly from my first year in college. So at least one of the books I read then actually managed to stay in my brain.


Review – Let’s Count Kisses

Kisses? Koalas? Butterflies? Always a hit with the toddler set, and this adorable book, illustrated by Karen Hull is bound to be a winner – not only for its truly gorgeous images, but for its Aussie animal content, and lift-the-flap pages.

Launching into a tribe of kissing butterflies, scattered across the first double page spread, kids will delight in finding and counting said butterflies as they scatter across pages and under the right hand page flap, past a series of adorable critters. A koala, a wallaby and her joey, a galah and kookaburra, an echidna, wombat and more – all sleepy little creatures, getting ready for bed.

As each flap is lifted, kids can count the butterflies quietly, in a lovely wind-down for bedtime. Large illustrations of sleepy animals are calming and truly beautiful to look at – and the sleeping wombat at the end made me want to snuggle under the covers, post haste.

At the end of the book, kids are invited to blow kisses to the butterflies as they drift off to sleep. A visually sweet book, it would make a lovely gift for overseas friends or Aussies on post.

Let’s Count Kisses is published by Lothian Children’s Books.

The upcoming Nat Con

If you’re a regular reader of Literary Clutter, then you’ve probably figured out that I’m a wee bit of a science fiction fan. So, of course, each year I attend my local science fiction convention, Continuum. This year they are up to the eighth one. And, this year Continuum is also doubling as the 51st Australian National Science Fiction convention. So you can expect it to be on an even bigger and better level of awesome than it usually is. Am I excited? You bet!

International guest of honour this year is award-winning author and anthologist Kelly Link. Her books include Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners. For five years she has been co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin’s Press) and she also edited the anthology Trampoline. She has won the Nebula, the James Tiptree Jr. and the World Fantasy Awards. To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of her prior to the announcement of her attendance at Continuum 8. But I look forward to hearing her speak and finding out a bit more about her writing… and perhaps even buying some of her books and getting them autographed.

Australian guest of honour is Alison Goodman, author of New York Times Bestselling fantasy novels Eon and Eona. Her books have been shortlisted for numerous awards and she has won the Aurealis Award a couple of times. I have heard of her. 🙂 Although I haven’t read any of her books yet. 🙁 She’s one of those authors I keep meaning to read, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. Perhaps hearing her speak at Continuum with inspire me to get a move on.

Aside from the guests of honour, there will be a plethora of authors in attendance, speaking on panels, doing readings and generally wandering about. These include: Jenny Blackford, Russell Blackford, Sue Bursztynski, Trudi Canavan, Lisa Hannett, Narrelle M Harris, Margo Lanagan, Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung, Michael Pryor, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warren and others too numerous to mention.

I’ll be there, speaking on a few panels, including…

Short Shrift
Along with Peta Freestone, Steve Cameron and Kate Eltham
YA spec fic is booming in long form, but relatively uncommon in short form. Why is this? What are the challenges and opportunities for proponents of YA short fiction?

Good Things Come In Small Packages
Along with Cat Sparks, Kelly Link, Jonathan Strahan and Stephen Dedman
Short stories are the life-blood of speculative fiction, and speculative genres among the last still-flourishing domains of the modern short story. What makes the two fit so well together?

Book Trailers
Along with Travis McKenzie, Margo Lanagan and Cheryse Durrant
The new trend in book promotion. We discuss what makes a good one, what doesn’t work and why.

Let’s Traumatise The Kiddies
Along with Deborah Green and Melissa Walter
Kids are often more resilient than adults give them credit for — not to mention more bloodthirsty — but how much is too much? Have attitudes changed over time, and in what directions? Join us for a discussion of shocking moments in children’s television past and present.

Crossing The Divide
Along with Alison Goodman, Tor Roxburgh, Jenny Blackford and Narrelle Harris
Once you’ve written in one genre are you pigeonholed there for the rest of your career? Our panellists discuss how they’ve been able to write across borders.

Book blogs & Reviewing
Along with Sue Bursztynski, Alexandra Pierce, Gillian Polack and Sean Wright
Blogging has meant an explosion in book reviewing and discussion, but what makes good reviews and blogs? What boxes does a book have to check to receive 5 stars?

But what am I looking forward to the most? The Great Doctor Who Smackdown, during which I and fellow author Narrelle M Harris get to spend an hour arguing over various nitpicky elements of Doctor Who. 🙂

Continuum 8 will also see the announcement of the Chronos Awards (honouring excellence in Victorian science fiction, fantasy and horror) and Ditmar Awards (honouring excellence in Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror). Check out the list of nominees (here and here). Lot of great stuff being nominated… and no, I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’m a nominee.

So… wanna come along? Of course you do! For more info, check out the Continuum website.

Catch ya later,  George

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PositiveCan good things emerge—unexpectedly—from the cancer journey? Reeling from the death of her mother, Sally Collings saw nothing positive whatsoever about the disease.

But then she read that two out of three cancer survivors and their families consider that something good has come of their experience, and she decided to find out more. She sought out people who had encountered cancer—either personally or through someone close—and delved into what they thought.

Positive brings together a collection of voices: cancer survivors, carers, partners, parents, siblings. Together, their stories map out the terrain of the upside of cancer: the opportunity to draw together (as friends, as a couple, as a family); the torrent of support, love, and prayers that are unleashed, the impetus to go deeper and embrace the strength, fears, and purpose that lie within each of us.

Above is the inspiring (and surprising) synopsis of author and editor Sally Collings‘ book, Positive. Collings told me a little more about how she came to write the book and how she’s using it to continue tackling cancer …

Cancer is something that too many of us have had first-hand experience of, you included. But few of us have turned it into such a positive experience. What sort of response have you received to Positive?

When I heard about the ‘two out of three’ statistic of people finding something good out of cancer, I was pretty skeptical. That wasn’t my experience, and I truly doubted that it could be that common. But I went looking for the stories anyway. I expected a lot of people would be hostile to the concept: if you’ve just lost someone to cancer, you don’t want Pollyanna knocking on your door asking you to feel happy. But I was blown away by how many people offered to tell their stories.

When you’re writing a book it can be an isolating experience, even when it involves a lot of interviews like Positive did. Somewhere along the line you can feel that you’re banging your drum in an empty room. So once the book came out, I was amazed—and humbled, really—by the number of people who thanked me for writing it. Many people have come up to me at events or written to me to say how significant it was for them to read other stories about people going through one of the hardest experiences life dishes out, and coming through the other side with something good to say about it.

How did writing the book help you?

All the way through writing it, I kept thinking, it’s great that so many people have this positive experience, but that’s not how it was for me. I just didn’t see myself as having a positive story to tell. But my editor insisted that I needed to write a foreword for the book explaining my story and why I had written Positive. It was only through writing my story down—about how I had lost my mother to cancer a few years before—that I realised that perhaps my ‘positive’ was actually that book. I came to see that often the positive is about what you can give to other people, and what I have to give is this book, which I hope will comfort people through knowing they are not alone, and give them a boost to get them through the darker days that inevitably come in any experience of cancer.

Come to mention it, you’ve written some books about extraordinarily sad issues (I’m thinking both about the circumstances leading up to Positive and of Sophie Delezio’s story), yet you’ve managed to turn them into uplifting experiences. What’s drawn you to such stories (and the telling of such stories)? And are you a glass half full person?

I know! I actually think I’m quite a funny person, yet somehow I’m drawn to writing about dark experiences … The thing for me is that I want to know what it is that brings people through tragedy and heartache. I see myself as writing about life and resilience, rather than about illness and injury. I’m also passionate about the significance of sharing stories and how it draws us together as a community. Deep down I do believe in finding something innately good in every circumstance, so I suppose that makes me a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. I try very hard not to be simplistic or sentimental about it, though. Often the good to be found is not simple, or straightforward, or immediate.

I’m also guessing you’ve heard a million stories since publishing Positive. Any chance we’ll see a second book on the subject?

I have heard more remarkable stories, but I’m not sure if I’ll go on to do a second book like Positive. At the moment I’m fascinated by the other forms that stories can take, and I’m looking at ideas such as setting up an online space where people can contribute their own stories.

You’re extending Positive’s impact by taking on the Ride to Conquer Cancer (RTCC). Can you tell me what gave you the idea to do so? And the experience you’ve had so far?

You could call it my midlife crisis: late last year I decided that I wanted to do something significant and physically challenging, but I didn’t want it to be just an adventure holiday. Then I saw a brochure about the RTCC and I figured it was perfect: a physical challenge, raising money for cancer research, involving cycling. The RTCC is a 200km cycle ride over two days, and all the funds from the Brisbane ride go to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. It’s a big commitment: I’ve mostly been a commuting cyclist, so I started training for longer distances at the beginning of the year. The fundraising is a big deal too: participants commit to raising at least $2500. That’s why I decided to contribute all of the proceeds from copies of Positive sold through my website to my RTCC fundraising.

I’m speaking as a writer and editor who spends enormous amounts of time at her desk … How tricky has it been to fit in the training? Have you enjoyed it?

I think I’m doing enough training … I’ve got two young children as well as working full time and the rest of it, so I try to find time-efficient ways of training. Lots of interval training, and very early mornings! But I feel fitter than I’ve been in years, so that’s a bonus.

Positive asks the question: Can good things emerge—unexpectedly—from the cancer journey? What have been some of the unexpectedly good things from both the book-writing and the RTCC journeys?

Meeting the most remarkable people. I’ve connected with individuals and groups to do my cycling training with, and some have been incredibly generous with their expertise and knowledge, and have helped me enormously as a novice cyclist. Equally through writing Positive, I’ve met some awe-inspiring people. Some of their stories are just so beautiful, bursting with love and courage and determination and honesty. I didn’t expect positives out of cancer when I started out, and I certainly didn’t expect beauty.

What do readers need to know about RTCC and your upcoming talk at Metropolitan Funerals? How can they help/get involved/donate?

I would love people to support me in my RTCC fundraising—it all goes to cancer research, and much as I’ve discovered that there can be positives out of cancer, I’d really rather people didn’t have to go through such a terrible experience. So that’s what the Ride is all about for me. There are three ways people can get involved:

  1. To donate, you can go to my fundraising page
  2. You can buy copies of Positive through my website and all of the proceeds go into my RTCC efforts.
  3. And if you are in Brisbane on Wednesday 6 June, please come along to my fundraising evening. You can find all the details at

Review – Two Mates

Jack and Raf are good mates. They live in Broome, Western Australia, and have lived there since they were babies.

They love their life in the Kimberley. During the dry season, it’s a little cooler  but in the wet season, it’s hot and sticky. That’s when Jack and Raf catch big green frogs on Jack’s Nan’s verandah.

Sometimes the boys go fishing with Raf’s Dad. He knows where all the good fishing spots are. Salmon is a specialty. They also hunt with Uncle Ned, who knows all about bush tucker and spotting barni (goanna). On Saturdays, both boys love to go to the Courthouse markets where they nibble satay with rice and watch the buskers. They also love to swim, ride on quad bikes and play imaginary games – flying through the cosmos, stopping off at planets along the way.

But there’s something a little different about this friendship. Although it’s not noticeable through the story, young Raf never stands or walks in this book. He is wheelchair bound with spina bifida yet this lovely, simple tale reveals nothing until the very end of the story – in so doing, proving that disability is in the eye of the beholder – and no disability can kybosh true friendship and an inherent zest for life.

This book has been written about two real life boys living in Broome, and the boys and their families are introduced at the end of the book, complete with photos. Author Melanie Prewett not only reveals the boys’ abiding friendship, she takes the reader on a delightful tour of the Kimberley that is a joy to share in, and is glaring in its polarity to the life of many modern city kids.

Illustrator Maggie Prewett has beautifully captured the vitality and mateship of these two young boys, with vibrant illustrations, awash with colour and warmth.

Both author and illustrator are descended from the Ngarluma people of the Pilbara region of WA. Melanie and Maggie are mother and grandmother to Jack, respectively. A note from Raf’s mum Kim at the end of the book adds an inspiring touch to this lovely story, encouraging kids to view others by seeing what they can do rather than what they can’t.

Two Mates is published by Magabala Books.

My rock star moment

Recently, I had a small taste of what it must be like being a rock star. I went on a four-day tour of country primary schools and was completely unprepared for the response. Excited kids, enthusiastic teachers, heaps of book sales and lots of autograph signing. I was completely overwhelmed!

I love talking about writing, particularly to the target audience of my books — kids and teens. School visits along with library sessions, festivals and other speaking gigs, are also an important part of my income as a writer. Over the years, I’ve managed to get a reasonable number of speaking gigs despite my lack of fame as an author. Many of these have been via recommendations — my abilities as a speaker rather than my notoriety as an author getting me the jobs. And most of the time, the audience would have no idea who I was prior to the talk. But slowly things have been changing.

Over the last couple of years, my Gamers novels have put my name out there. While I am still by no means a celebrity author, I do seem to be getting some recognition. The result is that I’m getting more speaking gigs. And some of the kids coming along to the talks, have either read my books or have heard of me. That’s rather nice.

But nothing could have prepared me for this particular country school tour. Sponsored by the Portarlington/Drysdale Lions Club, I conducted talks, writing workshops and readings at St Leonards Primary School, Portarlington Primary School, Drysdale Primary School and Clifton Springs Primary School. The response was amazing. Many of the sessions ended up running overtime as kids kept wanting to ask more questions. I don’t think I have ever signed as many autographs as I did over those four days. And I completely under estimated the number of kids who would want to buy my books. I didn’t take anywhere near enough copies with me. It really was my ‘rock star’ moment.

And the bookings continue. Last week I did two booked-out sessions at Doveton Library. In the coming week I’m heading out to the country again, this time to Balmoral Community College. Then further ahead there are more school visits, including a week-long residency at Mentone Grammar, library talks, festivals and the Australian National Science Fiction Convention (but more on that in the next post).

Of course, a lot of the credit for my continued bookings has to go to my speaking agent. Creative Net has been tireless in its promotion of me as a speaker.

Some authors look at speaking engagements as a necessary part of promoting, but not as a goal in and of itself. Me on the other hand… I love it! I’m passionate about my interest in reading and writing, and I love sharing that passion. Put me in front of an audience and it can be difficult to shut me up. 🙂 I love the fact that this is part of my writing career, and I’m more than happy to continuing doing it for as long as people want to listen to me.

Catch ya later,  George

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Five Very Bookish Questions with illustrator Cheryl Orsini

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

I’m a big fan of all sorts of picture books and have to fight my 9-year-old daughter for ownership – quite often we have to buy two copies. My favourite author/illustrator is Maira Kalman; she embraces all manner of nonsense in her writing and her illustrations are wonky and wonderful. A couple of her books include Chicken Soup Boots and What Pete Ate From A-Z.

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

Always, always picture books for me. I still have a few very weather beaten (and page eaten) copies of The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky, I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by the prolific Mary Blair, and a much loved copy of Babar’s Voyage by Jean de Brunhoff.

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

vanallsburgA curious surprise – I’m quietly thrilled by a story that takes an unexpected turn. A good example that comes to mind is The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. I won’t say much more about that, I don’t want to spoil the ending!

Quietly funny – It’s quite wonderful when a book is able to make you smile each time you read it. Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Delphine Durand.

Thoughtful detail – There’s nothing more exciting than coming to the pages in Eloise in Moscow when you open up to reveal Russia in all its glory. Amazing!

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

Let them choose want they want to read, give them plenty of time in the bookstore to browse the books and have them choose one themselves.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Irving the Magician by Tohby Riddle and Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

About Cheryl

With a love of colour and a weakness for a good story, Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations regularly appear in many Australian magazines including The Australian Women’s Weekly and Gardening Australia Magazine. Best known for her children’s books, Cheryl has over 20 titles to her name, her most recent being Pom Pom, Where Are You?, The ABC Book of Rockets, Planets and Outer Space and Wibbly Wobbly Street.