Review – Green

Seeing colour through the eyes of an artist is vital for children. It expands their visual horizons, especially when done with the raw simplicity of Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

Green is just that. Green. Green in all manner of shades and hues, tints and tones. There’s forest green. Lime green. Sea green and fern. There’s slow green, wacky green, glow green and never green.

There’s green in ways you never thought green could be – and all smooshed and slapped and scraped and scratched into imagery that’s so completely touchable, little hands will surely smooth their way over the fingerpainterly texture of each page. Even grown ups, like me, will smooth their hands over the fingerpainterly texture of each page.

To add to the textural delight, Vaccaro Seeger has added cleverly-placed cutouts that show through to preceding and upcoming pages, tying the colours and themes together perfectly.

Her use of abstract concepts are also clear and simply done, bringing a level of sophistication and emotional connection that could have been so easily lost in a book for ‘toddlers’.

Indeed, this book is perfect for toddlers but it’s also perfect for retirees – and therein lies its magic.

Green is published by Roaring Brook Press.

New Release: Lost Voices by Christopher Koch

Dramatic, insightful and evocative, Lost Voices confirms Koch as one of our most significant and compelling novelists

Twice winner of the Miles Franklin Award and an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian literature, Christopher Koch returns with a remarkable new novel of gripping narrative power.

Eighteen-year-old Hugh Dixon believes that he can save his father from ruin if he asks his mysteriously estranged great-uncle Walter — a wealthy lawyer who lives alone in a farmhouse passed down through the family — for help. As he is drawn into Walter’s rarefied world, Hugh discovers that both his uncle and the farmhouse are links to a notorious episode in the mid-nineteenth century. Walter’s father, Martin, had been in the house when it was raided by the infamous bushranger Liam Dalton. But Dalton was no mere brigand: he belonged to an outlaw utopian community, run by the charismatic gentleman escapee, Lucas Wilson. Martin’s experiences in the hidden community of visionaries form the subject of Walter’s obsession: one which haunts his present and keeps the past tantalisingly close.

As Walter encourages Hugh’s ambition to become an artist, life’s patterns repeat themselves from one generation to another becoming eerily apparent.

Buy the book here…

About the Author

Christopher Koch was born and educated in Tasmania but has spent most of his life in Sydney. He has been a full-time writer since 1972, winning international praise and a number of awards for his novels. One of his novels, The Year of Living Dangerously, was made into a film by Peter Weir. Koch has twice won the Miles Franklin Award for fiction: for The Doubleman andHighways to a War. In 1995 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian literature.

Meet Annabel Langbein

One of New Zealand’s best known faces, Annabel Langbein is that country’s leading celebrity cook, food writer and publisher, the star of her own international TV series, a passionate advocate for using seasonal ingredients as a means to cooking and eating well and a member of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

Popularly known as The Free Range Cook, Annabel’s latest book, “Simple Pleasures”(Harper Collins Australia) invites her readers to take time out from their busy schedules to savour the honest tastes of fresh, quality, produce simply prepared.  This latest book features menu suggestions drawn from her latest TV series which will screen here in Australia later this year, but also takes a leap into the world of digital interaction with QR codes on many of the recipes linking the reader to a video on Annabel’s site of her making the recipe.

While Annabel’s face and food are familiar to many Australian cooks and food lovers, I suspect that parts of her background are not.  I was fascinated to hear about her early days embracing an alternative lifestyle and hunting for her own food.  Annabel was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me so that we could all get to know her a little better so, my lovely readers – meet Annabel Langbein!

Annabel, many of us were ignorant of your early lifestyle and career in live-deer recovery.  We’d love to know a little more about that.

When I was in my late teens I had a boyfriend who was very alternative – we were at the late end of the hippy movement really. We eschewed all the trappings of modern life and went to work as volunteers in a remote community up the Whanganui River – I describe quite a lot of this in a little essay on page 108 of my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures.
I bought my first house with money I had made from trapping possums and jumping out of helicopters to recover live deer. But all the time right through I was cooking. I would come out of the bush with my leg of venison or brace of squab and get cooking. My mother had given me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I was 14 – she knew I was a cook well before I did. And I cooked with this while I was living this wild outdoorsy life – quite a juxtaposition of a rough outdoor way of living and gourmet-style food!

When I came out of the bush (I had wrecked my knees and it was too hard a life) I went to work in a vineyard and managed that for a year and kept a big vege garden before I decided to study horticulture. I never thought to study food, as it was more of a trade – you had to go into the army or a trade school.

You’ve now published 19 cookbooks – a remarkable achievement by any measure. How did you go about that in the early days of your career?

In the 1990s I made a lot of money as a consultant to big food companies and at the same time I was writing a recipe column for a national magazine. One day I thought, “Why not make a cookbook of all my columns?” It didn’t enter my head to go to a publisher – I just always liked doing my own thing. And once I had done the first one I was hooked on the whole jigsaw puzzle of it, making it feel layered and whole. Since then I’ve made 18 more books, so my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures is actually my 19th.

Really, though, it has been my television show Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook that has taken book sales to a whole new level. TV just exposes you to so many more people.

Your formatting and design is gorgeous – do you work on this yourself?

I am a control freak actually. I work with a designer and an editor to bring to life an idea I have in my head. An idea can be slowly evolving for about a year before it comes to life on the page.

Your recipes are always so very reliable – this is clearly important to you.

I realised very early that ensuring a recipe works and is failsafe is the single most important thing when you’re writing a recipe book. When readers cook a recipe and it doesn’t work they don’t think, “What a lousy cookbook”, they think they have failed and they lose confidence. For me, writing a recipe is a bit like making a map – you have to make sure that the list of ingredients is easily transformed into a yummy meal that looks like the photo, without getting lost on the journey.

You’ve been passionate about sustainability in food for a long time. Do you feel there is a generally growing interest in this?

There’s definitely a strong movement in New Zealand towards understanding where your food comes from and eating seasonally and locally. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place and lots of schools are developing their own gardening and cooking programmes. I think it’s a long-term trend not just in New Zealand and Australia but around the world, as more and more people discover the pleasures of growing and cooking food. In our increasingly industrialised society I think lots of us are looking for a way to feel connected to the earth and the world around us and our own communities – and cooking and sharing simple but delicious food is a great way to do that.

With so many accomplishments under your belt, how do you maintain your passion, inspiration and enthusiasm for food and cooking?

I just love what I do. I feel so lucky to be doing what I do and at the same time inspiring other people to come on the journey too. In a way food is a conduit – a thread that flows through all my work – but at the same time I have been learning about publishing and making television and new media and all these other skills. It’s a wonderful journey.

Amanda McInerney blogs at Lambs’ Ears and Honey

Booker Prize 2012 Shortlist announced

The shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize has been announced.

The shortlisted titles are:

  • The Garden of Evening Mists (Tan Twan Eng, Myrmidon Books)
  • Swimming Home (Deborah Levy, And Other Stories)
  • Bring up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel, Fourth Estate)
  • The Lighthouse (Alison Moore, Salt Publishing)
  • Umbrella (Will Self, Bloomsbury)
  • Narcopolis (Jeet Thayil, Faber).

The winner of this year’s prize will be announced at a dinner in London on Tuesday 16 October.

Good luck to the shortlisted authors.


DeadlockedHaving had her life dominated by the 10 or more impossible-to-put-down books in the Sookie Stackhouse series, my friend Carly had requested that she not be told when the next book came out. So I of course sent her a message as soon as I heard Charlaine Harris was releasing Deadlocked. Then I pre-ordered a copy for myself.

I’ll not deny I felt a little as Carly did when Deadlocked turned up in my letterbox—stoked that it had finally arrived after an apparent between-books eternity, but trepidatious (that’s a word, right?) about how inconsiderate the book would undoubtedly be of my need to get other work done and to sleep. Particularly of my need to sleep.

The book opens with Sookie and her gal pals attending ladies’ night at Hooligan’s, her fairy cousin’s strip club. It also opens with Harris’ trademark boundary-pushing humour, having Sookie open the book and describe the scene as follows:

It was as hot as the six shades of Hell even this late in the evening, and I’d had a busy day at work. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit in a crowded bar to watch my cousin get naked.

Oh, and her relationship with Eric—yep, Eric—is on the rocks. It’s about this time I wished I’d done a reading refresher because I couldn’t for the life of me remember what had happened in the preceding book. The only Sookie book whose plot stood out to me was the one where Eric had his memory wiped by the witches and he turned up starkers at Sookie’s place. Eric Northman = Alexander Skarsgard = ’nuff said.

Clearly that relationship continued and she’s now his ‘wife’ (that prompted some vague recollections of some trickery to keep her safe). Beyond that, though, I had no idea what had made their relationship, much less made it rocky.

Their romance not helped by the fact that Sookie turns up late to a party to find Eric feeding on another woman and that that woman ends up dead. Even Sookie’s not sure Eric didn’t kill the woman and, well, combined with in-fighting and impending catastrophes in the fae and shifter worlds, Deadlocked is the reassuring mix of Sookie Stackhouse-themed mystery and romance I’ve come to love and adore.

It made me chuckle too, not least when Sookie overhears her fae cousin watching and discussing an American sitcom with a visitor:

‘It’s called Two and a Half Men,’ Dermot was telling his guest.
‘I understand,’ Bellenos said. ‘Because the two brothers are grown, and the son isn’t.’
‘I think so,’ Dermot said. ‘Don’t you think the son is useless?’
‘The half? Yes. At home, we’d eat him,’ Bellenos said.

I vaguely think Deadlocked is the penultimate book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (I’m happy to be proved wrong if not), and I know I’ll hit that final book with mixed emotions—lots of excitement and little bit of relief. I’ll also be sure to tell Carly when it comes out. But first, I’m off to catch up on deadlines and sleep. Mostly sleep.

Room For Reading Exceptions

Nick EarlsI’m not normally a Nick Earls fan, but there’s always room for exceptions to the rule. And never more so than on the eve of the handing down of what I suspect will be an Arts-unfriendly Queensland budget (As a side note, I’m also still genuinely confused that Campbell Newman would choose September 11 to do so—his media/comms officers must be justifiably anxious).

I blogged my outrage at Newman’s appointment as a National Year of Reading (NYR) ambassador some months back, but Earls has written something much more in depth and eloquent in recent days. Oh, and more powerful, because Earls has the platform, the readership, and the equal footing of being Newman’s NYR co-ambassador.

47% per cent of Queenslanders can’t read ‘newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables, or understand instructions on a medicine bottle’. No, that’s not (as you, I, and Earls himself thought) a typo. That’s an ABS statistic highlighting the dire base literacy levels in this state.

Literacy is the foundation of a whole heap of skills and helps determine whether people can, for example, obtain and retain employment and contribute to the state’s economic success. Which is why you’d think improving literacy levels would be high on Newman and Co.’s agenda.

It’s not.

Nor are a whole bunch of other you’d-think-important things that Earls lays out in his article.

GaysiaFellow writer Benjamin Law (who has, incidentally and in unrelated but exciting news, just released his latest book, Gaysia) posted that it was embarrassing how often ‘Minister for the Arts’ (my emphasis, not his, and I’m paraphrasing his sentiment in this sentence) Ros Bates is being met with incredulity and laughter when she says that the LNP is committed to supporting the Arts.

Oh, and she’s also been appointed a NYR ambassador.

I worry, quite simply, about what tomorrow’s three-months-late, two-weeks-finished budget will hold for us writers (or perhaps not hold).

Wish us luck.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Martin Chatterton

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

Surrealistic comedy adventures. One thing most of the best ones have in common is that they don’t patronise children. I’ve always believed in reading (and writing) ‘up’. If there’s something a reader doesn’t understand then that’s okay. I avoid whimsy, fantasy and ‘issue-based’ fiction like the plague. Also anything with cats. Apart from the The Cat in the Hat.

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

I don’t read any children’s books now so all my choices would be books I read as a child. I LOVED Dr Seuss and still do. Apart from comics (which I lived for), I devoured adventure books like The Famous Five and Secret Seven by Enid Blyton and the Biggles books by Capt WE Johns, without ever thinking they were ‘great books’.

The first works that I thought were both enjoyable and genius were the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle. Funny, original and fresh, they tell the story of Nigel Molesworth and his various schemes at St Custards. Wonderful.

I loved the Just William books by Richmal Crompton, the Professor Branestawm series by Norman Hunter. I loved these books and they were a big influence, as was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (which I had the pleasure of illustrating a cover for a Harper Collins edition).

The Alice books I also loved (and still do). I suppose my taste ran to absurd comedy and adventure which is pretty much what my children’s stuff is now, Mort being a prime example.

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

Wow. OK, I’ll try.

Number one: It must be a page turner. As a child – and now – I have no patience with books that feel like eating muesli without milk. I don’t care about the angst, just give me smugglers and pirates and monsters and comedy and danger and cliff-hanger endings and miraculous escapes and weird powers. An example of a perfect page turner might be something like the Stormbreaker books by Antony Horowitz or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl‘ stuff (I lied about never reading children’s books). I felt that Harry Potter should have been like this but, for me anyway, wasn’t.

Number two: Someone should die. All my favourite children’s writers killed characters off (often, as with Roald Dahl, before the narrative begins). Children need to find out early that life can be tough (even if they only read about it). If no-one dies, then bad things should be allowed to happen. If there’s no believable danger, there’s no thrill.

Number three: It shouldn’t be a picture book. This is a very selfish one. I know there are lots of great picture books. It’s just that I (and bear in mind I’m an illustrator) always feel that picture books are for the parents. Other than Dr Seuss, I think all picture books are really aimed at parents not children. Even Where The Wild Things Are, which is probably loved by millions is really for the adults. My kids enjoyed some great picture books as youngsters but the books they loved were ones they chose, or found. A case in point is Shaun Tan. As an artist I love his work. I’m not sure I’d find a single child who would enjoy his stuff. But I’m bitter so maybe my opinion doesn’t count.

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

Don’t make them read boring books. My brother was forced to read Northanger Abbey at school at the age of (I think) about 11. He never recovered.

5. Name three books you wish you’d written.

I’m assuming these would be children’s books? If so then they’d be: Harry Potter, for obvious reasons (although mine would have been better). For anyone who has been living on Mars, that’s by JK Rowling. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Lastly, it would probably be Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss.

About Martin

After time spent as Creative Director with the London design company he co-founded, Martin moved between the US and UK for five years before eventually emigrating to Australia where he has been based since 2004. In addition to his books for children, Random House will be publishing his debut crime fiction novel in 2012. He lives in Lennox Head in northern NSW and is married with two teenage children.

Stay tuned for my review of Mortal Combat: Time’s Running Out.

Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

It’s handy being a geek and a September baby. Launches from Sony, Amazon, Kobo and Apple all land around about this month each year, well timed for birthday gift requests, even if some involve long term contracts (the new iPhone) international wrangling (Kindle) and long waits (Kobo).

Last year, my birthday meant a crimson Sony Reader. The year before, a white Kindle. In 2012 … maybe, if the rumours are true, a 7- to 8-inch iPad (dubbed the Mini by the media).
Continue reading Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

Publish only after the crooks we’ve exposed have turned to dust

Book Review: Bloodhouse by Darcy Dugan and Michael Tatlow

‘Mike, a lot, sometimes rot, has been written about me. Please hold this, my real story, to edit and present to a new generation, after I and the crooks we’ve exposed have turned to dust’ – Darcy Dugan to Michael Tatlow

Bloodhouse is the extraordinary and brutally honest story of career criminal Darcy Dugan (1920-91), who became famous for his uncanny ability to escape custody.

So good was he at his craft that Dugan came to be known as ‘Houdini’ by the Sydney press.

In all, Dugan escaped from prison six times (and almost escaped a further 5 times), in situations where no man was ever expected to escape. On one occasion he went through the roof of Long Bay Jail in Sydney and escaped over the outer wall, only 30 metres away from an armed guard, and only 25 minutes after being incarcerated.

On another occasion he sawed a hole in a moving prison tram to escape. After yet another escape, Dugan reportedly left behind a note scrawled on the wall of his cell which read, “Gone to Gowings”, a department store of the time.  Dugan’s escapades proved to be great fodder for journalists and sub-editors and his deeds were often carried on the front pages of Sydney’s newspapers.

The title of the book, Bloodhouse, is the nickname of the notorious prison at Grafton in the north of New South Wales. Grafton Jail was renowned for its brutality and was the home of the most ruthless and unwieldy prisoners, dubbed ‘intractables’ by the state.  Despite never committing murder, Dugan spent a record of eleven years of torture in the Bloodhouse.  Ironically, the New South Wales Government announced earlier this year that Grafton would close, despite protestations from employees and the local community.

Dugan’s story has only now been published after he secured a guarantee from former Daily Telegraph journalist Michael Tatlow to release the book only once he and his enemies had passed away.   Dugan had smuggled his manuscript out of prison to Tatlow on the express promise that the book not be published until corrupt enemies, among them Sydney’s Mr Big of Crime Lennie Macpherson, had ‘turned to dust’.

McPherson once held a gun to Tatlow’s head warning him never to reveal what Dugan had told him about corruption in the New South Wales police force and state government. McPherson’s cronies also made several failed attempts to find and destroy the biographical manuscript, which was safely locked away in a bank safe deposit box.

The corruption that Dugan was privy to centred around McPherson’s links to the notorious Sydney detectives Fred Krahe and Ray ‘Gunner’ Kelly; links that rose as high as the New South Wales premier of the time, Bob Askin. McPherson betrayed Dugan to police on numerous occasions to get him behind bars, and then conspired to keep him in custody to stop his public accusations of high-level corruption – corruption that was later proven in royal commissions. Betrayals of Dugan and convictions for crimes he did not commit added 17 years to his prison terms.

Perhaps the most costly betrayal occurred when police informed newspaper baron Sir Frank Packer that Dugan planned to kidnap his grandchildren, James and Gretel Packer, and that Michael Tatlow, a Packer employee, was aware of the plot.  Packer believed the tip off and sacked Tatlow.  With Tatlow’s sacking went The Daily Telegraph’s public support for Dugan’s plight, which had until that time been championed in the paper.

An exponent of countless hold-ups, Dugan deserved much of what he got – and he admits as much in his book – but he was not deserving of the extra jail time that he was forced to serve as a result of betrayals by his corrupt contacts, nor the beastly treatment that he endured at the hands of prison guards.

What fascinates me about criminals like Dugan are the contradictions, the polar extremes of their personalities and the internal struggle between good and evil – Dugan was willing to bear arms against innocents in his many robberies, he made plans to kill prison guards in cold blood, and he was uncompromising in inflicting harm upon challengers in prison, yet he demonstrated a ‘soft’ side that saw him speak with great tenderness and yearning about loved ones and his ailing father.  The book also details instances where he gave up his own time to teach a young child how to swim; he provided literacy lessons to fellow prisoners; he worked as a counsellor at a chapel upon his release; and he showered generosity upon Tatlow’s children.

Dugan was, at his core, a good person, but was mired by a childhood of petty crime, that escalated into armed robbery and a life behind bars. When he earned his freedom and was serious about going ‘straight’, circumstances and corruption conspired against him to send him back to prison.

This is an excellent read and highly recommended for true crime buffs and historians alike.

Buy the book here…

Launching with fame

If you ever manage to get someone famous to say nice things about your book… for goodness sake, get a record of it. I wish I had thought to do that at the launch of Gamers’ Quest, back in 2009. Carole Wilkinson, author of the Dragonkeeper novels (Blood Brothers being the latest) gave a lovely launch speech… but at the time, flustered and nervous as I was about the launch, it never occurred to me to record it. I have learnt since then.

When the sequel, Gamers’ Challenge, was launched by Michael Pryor (author of The Laws of Magic series) in 2011, I made sure to ask his permission about videoing it and distributing it on YouTube. And, of course, I did the same last month when Alison Goodman (author of Eon and Eona) launched the new edition of my YA short story collection, Life, Death and Detention.

In preparation for this post, I hopped on to YouTube and did a bit of searching, and I was devastated to discover that I was not the first author with the foresight to record and upload a book launch. 😉 If you like book launches, go take a look. But here’s one I picked out for you. It’s Jack Heath, author of The Lab and many other books, launching KJ Taylor’s The Shadow’s Heir. The vid is handheld and a little shaky, but it’s a great speech.

KJ explains that one of the reasons she asked Jack to launch her book, was that he was a good “speechifier”. And she’s not wrong.

I did something a little different with my latest launch video. I divided it, separating my speech from Alison Goodman’s. I figured that people were more likely to watch shorter vids, and I was curious to see just how many more ‘watches’ Alison’s would get — after all she is waaaaaaaaay more famous than me. I’m now hoping some of that fame rubs off. 😉

Anyway… may I now present for your viewing pleasure, the wonderful Alsion Goodman launching Life, Death and Detention

Now, here’s my speech from that launch. It was a little more wordy than Alison’s, and my camera cut out in protest before I finished. Everyone’s a critic!

And for old time’s sake, here’s Michael Pryor launching Games’ Challenge last year…

Catch ya later,  George

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Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: The Lord of the Rings LIBE ONLINE EVENT




Getting published? Not a fantasy says Harper Voyager

Last week I posted about some good opportunities for aspiring writers who wanted to see their work published and also to achieve the far more elusive goal of actually getting paid for it.

While writing can be its own reward, sometimes it’s nice to see some value placed on your work by others too (and even more so when you could do with the cash to buy yet more books or perhaps a bigger set of bookshelves). When it comes to writing, I’m firmly with Stephen King who once said, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Want to get your writing talent out there and have a whole manuscript gathering dust? Since posting that blog, I’ve had another excellent opportunity brought to my attention. Anyone who writes fantasy and science-fiction can tell you it’s a particularly difficult area to get any way into. But a door has just opened: for the two weeks between October 1st and October 14th, and for the first time in a decade, Harper Voyager Books will be looking at unsolicited submissions.

Harper Voyager Books is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of publishing behemoth HarperCollins, and if you make it into their ranks, you would be in some exalted company. They currently publish such huge names as George R. R. Martin, Raymond E Feist, Sara Douglass and, my personal favourites, the always excellent Robin Hobb and my best new find of this year, Joe Abercrombie.

They recommend you have a good look at what sort of books they are already publishing to see if your work would be a good fit, but they are casting a deliberately broad net on this one.

“We’re seeking all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural. We’ve already been publishing digital originals from our existing Harper Voyager authors, and are thrilled to expand this wider to welcome new authors and voices to Harper Voyager. The growth of eReaders and e-books have created an exciting new opportunity that allows us to begin increasing the number and diversity of our speculative fiction list. And speculative fiction readers are the most savvy early adopters so we’re keen to provide our readers with the best ebooks possible.”

Manuscripts should be between 80,000 to 120,000 words and should be completed. For more information, see  and remember, it’s only open for 2 weeks.

Still on the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/YA/I have really got to stop with the genres already theme,  if you’re in Melbourne tonight, Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer is being launched.  It’s free to attend, but you need to let them know you are coming. Jay has already written an excellent series of posts on how to get from scribbling in your spare time to having three major publishers try to buy your debut offering, so there could be pearls of wisdom to be had if you can get there before one – or five – too many celebratory drinks have been had.

Review – Ned Kelly’s Secret

It’s the Gold Rush in Australia – a time when bushrangers are rife and travellers, both local and international, are aplenty in the harsh buslands of northern Victoria and New South Wales. Young Hugo Mars and his wealthy Papa are on an intrepid voyage to Australia to research stories for a French magazine (edited by Jules Verne), when their coach is held up by none other than the infamous Harry Power – the gentleman bushranger.

Brave, smart and clever, Hugo Mars is as intrigued as his Papa by this odd, self-inflated bushranger – and this event is the catalyst for a series of incredible encounters that will take a curious 15-year-old boy into the lair of the Kelly gang and their infamous inlaws, the Quinns . . . but as a friend, not foe. It also take us through the plotting and eventual capture of Harry Power, and the convoluted associations that kept him in business so long.

This intriguing book does indeed hold a Ned Kelly secret – but even more than that, it holds close a tale of commitment to family, to betrayal and honour. Its central theme may be the power of friendship but its cleverly-crafted plot and insightful, fascinating relationships – all based on fact and factual characters – is multi-layered and richly rewarding.

Author Sophie Masson has herself admitted in her author’s notes that the aim of this book was not to laud Ned Kelly and his questionable career, but rather present an open-ended question about how, where and why, a smart, spirited, 15-year-old Ned Kelly (the juvenile bushranger) eventually turns from mere horse wrangler to murderer and questionable ‘hero’. Masson asks what the pressure of saving face and strong family ties plays in his downturn and eventual violent end – and Ned Kelly’s Secret indeed perfectly addresses this question through historical conjecture and with much diplomacy (and perhaps with a wee dram of tenderness).

I loved this book. Well-written, balanced, meticulously researched and with a cast of brilliant characters – mostly real but some imagined – I adored how Masson ran her foreign Hugo Mars character – a kid with enormous hope and promise – alongside his age-contemporary friend Ned, whose destiny was as sordid as his early days of crime. But did it really need to end this way? Is a life of crime really in the blood or is it driven by need, greed and betrayal by others? Could things have been different for young Ned Kelly?

This book makes you think, it makes you wonder. It opens your heart and it’s just all round great reading. I am only hoping Masson brings us another Kelly tale – perhaps this time about the fate of the remaining Kelly clan, whom she paints with sheer wonder.

Ned Kelly’s Secret is published by Scholastic.

Taking it to Amazon and the Big Boys: How Your Bookstore can Compete in the Digital World

I will be presenting seminars about online bookselling in Sydney and Melbourne in October on behalf of the Australian Booksellers Association.  For my book industry colleagues, I would love to see you there.  Here are the details…

Taking it to Amazon and the Big Boys: How Your Bookstore can Compete in the Digital World

Sydney, Monday 15 October 2012, 12:30 – 5 pm
Conference Room, Copyright Agency Limited, Level 15, 233 Castlereagh Street, Sydney

Melbourne, Monday 29 October 2012, 1:30– 5:45 pm
Level 4, Wheeler Centre, Little Lonsdale St (side of State Library of Victoria), Melbourne

Have you ever had a customer surreptitiously scan a bar code with their smart phone, whilst peering nervously at the front counter or close circuit TV camera? If you operate a bookshop, the chances are you have witnessed this behavior; and on more than one occasion. This activity is symptomatic of the encroachment of big, faceless online booksellers on your business.

Amazon et al are redefining the bookselling battleground by encouraging customers to undertake one-click price checks in your store. At the same time, they’re locking in their customers by selling them below-cost, ‘walled-garden’ Kindle eBooks, effectively shutting other eBook retailers out of the market.

Enough! It’s time to fight back and to secure a piece of the digital pie that Amazon et al have dominated for so long.

Clayton Wehner from Australian online bookstore Boomerang Books outlines a strategy for bricks-and-mortar bookstores to succeed online.

The seminar will cover:

  • How to best set up and maintain your website;
  • How search engines like Google work and how you can use that to your website’s advantage;
  • How to be use social media, blogging and online video to drive traffic and sales;
  • How to build successful email campaigns and manage mailing lists;
  • How to analyze and measure the success of what you are doing online.

Jon Page, President of the ABA, will also provide an overview of the current state of play in the eBook market and explain some key issues and challenges when it comes to eBooks: agency pricing, Digital Rights Management (DRM) and the Kindle.

The focus of the seminar is for retail booksellers, but the seminar is open to anyone in the book industry.
Bookings: or ring 03 9859 7322. Numbers are strictly limited.
$30 (ABA members and their staff*)
$50 (ABA non-members)

** If you wish to attend the Sydney or Melbourne seminar, but are outside commuting distance of the CBDs of those cities, please contact the ABA office, as we have some funding to waive the course fee for intrastate or interstate attendees.

Clayton Wehner is  a skilled trainer on matters related to digitization, e-books and on-line bookselling. Last year he ran two highly successful seminars for the ABA, and was a speaker at the 2011 ABA Conference.

Jon Page is President of the ABA, and General Manager of Pages and Pages Booksellers. Jon has had a longstanding interest in the role of digitization in the book industry, and how bookshops can respond to these issues. He is a member of the Book Industry Collaborative Council.

The ABA Digital Marketing Seminar has received generous support from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. We thank the Copyright Agency for their ongoing support of skills development for the book industry.

New Release: Stage Fright by Marianne Delacourt

Amateur sleuth and reluctant aura reader, Tara Sharp, returns in a new adventure

Things are a bit hot for Tara Sharp in her home town of Perth, so she jumps at the chance to leave town when a music promoter offers her a gig looking after a difficult musician who’s touring Brisbane.

Though minding musicians isn’t Tara’s usual line of work, the money is good and she’s a sucker for a backstage pass. Respite from her mother – with her not-so-subtle hints about ‘eligible young men’ and ‘suitable jobs’ – is also a plus, as is the time and distance to try to resolve her mixed up romantic life.

Arriving in ‘BrisVegas’, Tara finds her hands full dealing with the bizarre habits of the ‘artist’, not to mention his crazy fans. And it’s not long before she discovers that the music industry can be more cut-throat than she imagined and it can be very dangerous messing with the big boys…

From early reader reviews:

‘I’ve only read one Stephanie Plum and I wasn’t much impressed. Tara Sharp is much better!’ – J. Clark, QLD

Stage Fright works as a title because there [really] were moments which were frightening. These are more than countered by comedy – like interrupting a would-be arsonist on his mobile phone, and a memorable incident with a Peking Duck… ‘ – A. Deborde, QLD

‘I loved this book. What a fantastic story, and being set in Australia, using Aussie terminology made it seem that much more real. Tara getting dragged through some of Australia’s worst kind of underbelly experiences, makes for a fascinating and often amusing read.’ – K. Jones, NSW

Buy the book here…

Author website…

New Release: Easy by Bill Granger

They say, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ Some of us have to get dinner on the table, so I say, ‘Stay in the kitchen and make something easy instead’.

Bill Granger has always championed a relaxed approach to good food. Bill cooks for his family every day and, when he gets home from work, he needs simple ideas to put delicious, healthy meals on the dinner table. Easy offers 100 solutions, using pantry, fridge and fresh foods for stress-free cooking that fits readily around a busy day.

Easy is just that — a collection of simple, laidback recipes inspired by favourite everyday ingredients. From making a meal around one fabulous piece of cheese, to working wonders with a tin of beans; from livening up a pork chop, to creating dessert from apples in the fruit bowl, Bill offers 100 fantastically mid-week-achievable dishes.

About the Author

Bill Granger is a restaurateur and self-taught cook whose relaxed and joyful approach to food is an essential element of his enduring popularity. He opened his first restaurant, bills, in Sydney at the age of 22 and now has three restaurants in Sydney, four in Japan and one in London. His much-anticipated first London restaurant, Granger & Co, proved an instant success when it opened in November 2011. Bill regularly contributes to national magazines and newspapers and his television series have been viewed in 30 countries worldwide. Bill is based in Sydney and London with his wife and three daughters. Easy is his tenth cookbook.

Buy the book here…

Finalists for Melbourne Prize for Literature and Best Writing Awards announced

The finalists for this year’s Melbourne Prize for Literature and Best Writing Award have been announced.

The finalists for the $60,000 Melbourne Prize for Literature, presented to a Victorian author ‘whose body of published or produced work has made an outstanding contribution to Australian literature, as well as to cultural and intellectual life’, are:

  • Alison Lester
  • Robert Manne
  • Alex Miller
  • Joanna Murray-Smith
  • Peter Temple

The finalists for the $30,000 Best Writing Award, presented for ‘a piece of published or produced work of outstanding clarity, originality and creativity by a Victorian writer’, are:

  • Blood (Tony Birch, UQP)
  • Piano Lessons (Anna Goldsworthy, Black Inc.)
  • The Children of the King (Sonya Hartnett, Penguin)
  • How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly, Penguin)
  • The Cook (Wayne Macauley, Text)
  • Outside (David McCooey, Salt Publishing)
  • Past the Shallows (Favel Parrett, Hachette)
  • The Amateur Science of Love (Craig Sherborne, Text)
  • Mateship with Birds (Carrie Tiffany, Picador)
  • The English Class (Ouyang Yu, Transit Lounge).

The winners of this year’s awards will be announced on 7 November.

For more information about the awards, visit the Melbourne Trust Prize website.

Buy the books here…

Void-filling Queensland Literary Award winners announced – literature is alive in Queensland

The winners of the inaugural Queensland Literary Awards – a ‘replacement’ for the axed Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards – were announced on 4 September on the eve of the Brisbane Writers Festival.

The winners in each category are:

Fiction book award

Cold Light (Frank Moorhouse, Vintage)

Nonfiction book award

The People Smuggler (Robin De Crespigny, Viking)

Children’s book award

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (Briony Stewart, UQP)

Young adult book award

The Ink Bridge (Neil Grant, A&U)

The Steele Rudd Award for an Australian short story collection

Forecast: Turbulence (Janette Turner Hospital, Fourth Estate)

Judith Wright Calanthe Award – poetry collection

Crimson Crop (Peter Rose, UWA Publishing)

Emerging Queensland author – manuscript award

Island of the Unexpected (Catherine Titasey)

David Unaipon Award for an unpublished Indigenous writer

Story (Siv Parker)

Science writer award

Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll (Rob Brooks, NewSouth)

History book award

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (Bill Gammage, A&U)

The Harry Williams Award for a literary or media work advancing public debate

The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times (George Megalogenis, Viking)

Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year

Closer to Stone (Simon Cleary, UQP)

Television script award

Mabo (Sue Smith, Blackfella Films)

Drama script (stage) award

War Crimes (Angela Betzien)

Film script award

Dead Europe (Louise Fox, See-Saw Films).

Each category winner receives a cash prize of $1000, except the Courier Mail’s People’s Choice Award, which is worth $5000. Catherine Titasey and Siv Parker, the winners of the Emerging Queensland author manuscript award and the David Unaipon Award for an unpublished Indigenous writer award, will also receive $2000 each, provided by the Queensland University of Technology, and their manuscripts will be published by University of Queensland Press.

For more information, visit the Queensland Literary Awards website…

Am I Black Enough For You? is an Indigenous Writing Winner

Well-known Aboriginal author Anita Heiss has won this year’s $20,000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing for her memoir Am I Black Enough for You?

The award was presented today on Indigenous Literacy Day at the Melbourne Museum.

In formulating the shortlist for the award, the judges said ‘it was very exciting to bear witness to the further development of Aboriginal literature. All entries attested to that rich growth in the range and quality of the writing; an enthralling cross-section of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life today.’

Heiss was one of several Aboriginal people who launched legal action against Herald Sun journalist Andrew Bolt last year and won, claiming he had incorrectly accused them of being light-skinned Aborigines who chose to be black for personal gain.

For more information about Indigenous Literacy Day see the website at

Buy the book here…

See all of Anita Heiss’ books…


Australian female crime writers honoured with Davitt Awards

The winners of the 2012 Davitt Awards, for crime books written by Australian women, have been announced.

The winning titles in each of the categories are:

Adult Fiction

  • A Decline in Prophets (Sulari Gentill, Pantera Press)

True Crime

  • Cold Case Files: Past Crimes Solved by New Forensic Science (Liz Porter, Macmillan)

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction

  • Surface Tension (Meg McKinlay, Walker Books)

Best Debut

  • Beyond Fear (Jaye Ford, Bantam)

Reader’s Choice Award (shared award)

  • Beyond Fear (Jaye Ford, Bantam)
  • The Brotherhood (Y A Erskine, Bantam).

More information about the Davitt Awards can be found on the Sisters in Crime website.

Review – Wild Alphabet

If you’re anything like me – completely obsessed with pop-up books, you’ll need only take a peek at the very first page of Wild Alphabet to know it’s a must-add to any collector shelf.

Yes yes, I’m ashamed to say it’s one of those books you’re reluctant to hand to a child under 12 – not lest they get too much joy from it, because that’s a given – bur rather because they might want to tug a little too hard at it or even eat it.

Indeed – I want to eat it.

So, if you’re happy enough to buy two copies – one for eating and tugging, and one for standing on a shelf to pluck and hold and gently turn pages and ooh and ahh over before replacing on said shelf – you will thoroughly enjoy this book without a heart-wrenching page rip in earshot.

Featuring animals from A to Z, each letter of the alphabet magically pops open to reveal a beautifully-crafted, artistic pop-up of said animal. Each left hand page also features a full animal drawing and jaunty text on that animal, complete with delightful typesetting.

With concept and design by Mike Haines and paper engineering by Julia Frohlich, this is true gorgeousness. And it’s fun. Even for kids.

Wild Alphabet is published by Kingfisher.


Indigenous Literacy Day – 5% of takings to be donated by Boomerang Books

Tomorrow (Wednesday 5 September 2012) is Indigenous Literacy Day and hundreds of schools, bookshops, libraries, universities and businesses will join Boomerang Books in helping raise funds and awareness for urgently needed books and literacy resources for remote communities.

You can help put a book into the hands of an indigenous child by doing one of the following things:

  • Buy a book from us on Wednesday 5 September 2012 and we’ll donate 5% of our takings (takings, not profits) to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, or
  • Make a donation directly to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation at

Last year the Indigenous Literacy Foundation raised $550,000 and hopes to achieve $600,000 in 2012. According to the ILF’s new 2013-2017 Program Strategy, all funds raised this year will go towards a new focus on early literacy and book supply.

Book Review: The Jaguar’s Dream by John Kinsella

This book of poems is described in the press release as “A personal journey through the works of poets that most influenced Kinsella’s work“. Kinsella himself describes it as “creating responses, translations, versions, distractions, takes, adaptations and interpolations“. He goes on to say that “the poems are ‘my’ poems in so far as my own biography and experiences necessarily inform their references, conceits and dynamic responses“. The book is, he says, “an attempt to bring the work of poets from other languages I admire into the language I speak and think with most days“.

Sadly, this turns out to be a book for specialists. If you can understand the Latin titles and fragments of Latin text; if you are very familiar with the stories told by Virgil and Ovid and with the background in which Apollinaire and Tristan Tzara wrote their poems; and if you are happy to look up translations of the works of less well-known poets from Classical times to the 20th Century (most of which are easily available on the Internet), then this book may be for you. If not, you are likely to feel, at best, baffled; at worst, excluded from some elitist intellectual club where such things are considered to be the norm.

Some of the poems do stand alone with no need for recourse to the work which inspired them or to the mythologies or poetic ‘fashions’ , times or cultures in which the originals were written. Those poems which work best and show Kinsella’s own poetic style best, are his versions of Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid, where he transposes the story of Aeneas’s journey through the underworld to the Wheatbelt of Western Australia, via the Nullabor, the Great Australian Bight and Mount Magnet. Two of these poems, in particular, reflect Kinsella’s usual ecological concerns and are fine original poems: ‘On the devastating fallout of the war waged by humans around the earth as witnessed in the Chittering Valley’, (which has a dedication ‘for Cate Blanchett’); and ‘Two gates of sleep: Death of trees in catchment’.

At the opposite extreme to these poems, Kinsella’s ‘Approximation: Extracted Ode to Tzara’ is as meaningless to me as any other Dadaist random compilation of words. And his ‘Zone (Echidna): A Take on Apollinaire’ is certainly ‘Surrealist’ but unlike Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ it has no coherent meaning that I can divine. As to Kinsella’s excursion into Villon’s ‘Jargon Poems’, which he tells us were described by the London ‘Daily News’ in 1895 as being as obscure to the ordinary reader of French “as if the language was Coptic or Romany, Basque or Gaelic”, I was equally lost by Kinsella’s English ‘translations’.

The Jaguar’s Dream is an attractive title. Unusually for me, page after page of my review copy of the book now had scribbled comments in the margins: question marks; exact translations of Latin and French phrases (which I had to look up); fragments of mythology (which I also had to look up); expressions of  puzzlement, exclamation marks and underlining when I was lost to understanding the meaning or the syntax. I am no stranger to complex poetry and I am always ready to discover something new. I began the book hoping that Kinsella’s stated aim of introducing the reader to some lesser-known poets would lead me to some inspiring new work but I was disappointed.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

How to irritate a writer

Apparently, there are many ways to tick off a writer. I should know… after all, I am a writer. But today, you get a reprieve from my rantings. Instead we have a guest post from Michelle Heeter, author of the recently released YA novel Riggs Crossing. I’ll leave it to her to fill you in on the details.

How to Irritate a Writer
By Michelle Heeter

Writers may be predisposed to irritability. Many of us are hyper-sensitive introverts, made sour and paranoid by rejection slips, a boring day job, or simply being surrounded by people more successful than us. If you know a writer, published or “aspiring”, here are a few things NOT to say to them:

You write for magazines? Oh, you’re an “aspiring writer”!

An elderly female relative came out with this one during a dreary suburban dinner.

The subtext: Writing is a ladylike hobby, not a career.

Why it’s irritating: It’s like saying, “you’re a wanna-be”.

The writer’s retort: Well, when I got my first cheque for a story, I stopped considering myself an “aspiring” writer. And these peas taste like shit.

I’m so sick of my job. I wish I could kick back, relax and write books.

This gem came from a Facebook friend whose status updates are often misspelled, devoid of punctuation, or just plain incoherent.

The subtext: Writing isn’t work. Writing is relaxation. Anybody can do it.

The writer’s retort: Gee, I’m exhausted after just barely making that deadline. I wish I could collect six figures for sitting on my backside in meetings all day.

Have you thought about posting your novel on the internet in a blog? I’d love to read it.

This came from a dear friend of mine. I will never understand in a million years why she assumed I’d fail at finding a publisher.

The subtext: Your book isn’t worth charging money for.

The writer’s retort: I didn’t spend years writing and revising a book so that people could read it for free on the web. You pay, you read.

Writing must be so discouraging, with all those rejections!

Have heard this more than once, even when I hadn’t said a word about a manuscript being refused.

The subtext: Dunno. I’m at a loss to explain why people automatically think that the path to becoming a writer is strewn with rejection slips. Is it genuine sympathy, or cattiness?

The writer’s retort: Actually, I didn’t get one single form rejection letter. Every knock-back came with a critique, and the book was accepted by the sixth publisher I sent it to. Oh, and the first short story I wrote was accepted by the first magazine I sent it to. By the way, how’s your book coming along?

Is your book self-published?/Did you have to pay the publisher to print it?

The subtext: Surely, no respectable publishing house would publish your work.

Why it’s irritating: There are a few self-publishing success stories. However, publishing one’s own work through a “vanity press” is often the last resort for a frustrated author who can’t get published any other way.

The writer’s retort: No.

Oooh! I might have to pick your brain about getting published.

I usually get this from stay-at-home mothers, none of whom has ever written anything. Even so, they are convinced that they too could write a children’s book, if only they had the time, and if they had “contacts” in “the business”.

The writer’s retort: There is no secret clique that decides who gets published and who doesn’t. You want to write a story? Pick up a pen and start writing. Koji Suzuki wrote The Ring with a baby on his lap. When you’ve completed a manuscript, buy a Writer’s Market and mail the manuscript to suitable publishers. That’s all there is to it.

Confession: I’ve never had the nerve to use any of these comebacks. But I have nursed grudges about these irritating remarks for longer than I should have.

George’s bit at the end

Thank you Michelle for a most entertaining post. Believe me, I know how you feel. My favourite conversation goes something along these lines…

Person: So, what do you do?
Me: I’m a children’s author.
Person: (smiles politely) Oh, really… so have you had anything published.
ME: Yes, I’ve had 65 books.
Person: Oh.


Michelle Heeter is a technical writer for a software development company. Her first novel, Riggs Crossing, is published by Ford Street Publishing and is OUT NOW… so follow the link and buy a copy. 🙂 And to find out more about her, check out her website.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: Blu-ray Review — The Hunger Games




New Release: The Burial by Courtney Collins

A breathtakingly brilliant debut novel in the tradition of Cormac McCarthy – inspired by Australia’s last bushranger, young woman Jessie Hickman.

It is the dawn of the twentieth century in Australia and a woman has done an unspeakable thing.

Twenty-two-year-old Jessie has served a two-year sentence for horse rustling. As a condition of her release she is apprenticed to Fitzgerald ‘Fitz’ Henry, who wants a woman to allay his loneliness in a valley populated by embittered ex-soldiers. Fitz wastes no time in blackmailing Jessie and involving her in his business of horse rustling and cattle duffing.

When Fitz is wounded in an accident he hires Aboriginal stockman, Jack Brown, to steal horses with Jessie. Soon both Jack Brown and Jessie are struggling against the oppressive and deadening grip of Fitz.

Inspired by the life of Jessie Hickman, legendary twentieth-century bushranger, The Burial is a stunning debut novel, a work of haunting originality and power.

Buy the book here…

About the Author

The Burial is the debut novel of Courtney Collins. It has been optioned for a feature film by Pure Pictures. Courtney’s next work in progress, The Walkman Mix has already received attention through the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award 2011. Courtney grew up in the Hunter Valley in NSW. She now lives on the Goulburn River in regional Victoria.

Interview with Courtney Collins

Booker Prize cops stinging attack for ‘Englishness’

Irvine Welsh has launched a stinging attack on The Booker Prize calling it a “highly imperialist-orientated” literary award and claiming that the organisers had failed to deal with a problem of “anti-Scottishness”.

Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, was addressing the Edinburgh writers’ conference and says that the Booker puts upper-class Englishness as a cultural yardstick and the failure to refute accusations of anti-Scottishness was a sign of “arrogance” and “intellectual enfeeblement”.

Welsh, noted for featuring lots of Scottish dialect in his novels, said: “The Booker prize’s contention to be an inclusive, non-discriminatory award could be demolished by anybody with even a rudimentary grasp of sixth-form sociology.”

He claimed that the winners have alternated “between largely upper-middle-class English writers and citizens of the former colonies, presumably to stamp legitimacy on this ‘global accolade'”.

The award, he said, was “based on the conceit that upper-class Englishness is the cultural yardstick against which all literature must be measured”.

The Telegraph

Former Rudd adviser wins 2012 John Button Prize

Andrew Charlton, senior economic adviser to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, has won the $20,000 John Button Prize for writing on policy and politics.

Dr Charlton won the prize for his 2011 Quarterly Essay on climate change, Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet.

The judges described Dr Charlton’s essay as a “dispassionate, reasoned and original analysis” that confronted the core dilemma behind global attempts to address climate change – the huge gap in priorities between rich and poor nations.

“Every Australian over the age of 15 should read it, then we could start the climate change debate afresh and with a much larger perspective ,” one judge said.

Dr Charlton said he was honored to win the award. “John Button reflected the best of Australian politics. He was a thinker, a doer and a thoroughly decent man.”

In writing the essay, Dr Charlton, a former Rhodes Scholar, drew on his experience as a member of the Australian delegation that travelled to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

His essay defeated two other shortlisted entries, The Australian Moment by George Megalogenis, and Us and Them: On the Importance of Animals, by Anna Krien.

Anjali Bethune of Ruyton Girls School won the $2500 John Button Schools Prize for writing on politics and policy by a Victorian secondary student. Her essay argued that Australia should increase its immigration intake.

Anjali, who is 17 and in Year 12, said: “To win this prize is a great honour, as I believe Australian politics and policy are amongst the most important things for the youth of this country to be involved in.

“Many of us will soon be on the electoral roll, and I think it is imperative that we all take advantage of our democratic right to free speech, which many in this world are not fortunate enough to have.”

Andrew Charlton and Anjali Bethune were awarded their prizes at the Melbourne Writers Festival’s John Button Oration, given this year by American philosopher Professor Martha Nussbaum.

From the John Button Prize website

Buy the book here…

New Release: A Sappers’ War by Jimmy Thomson with Sandy Macgregor

How the legendary Aussie Tunnel Rats fought the Vietcong

‘We make and we break.’

They were the forward scouts, the mine clearers, the bridge builders and the tunnel rats. They were frequently not just on the front line, but right at the sharp end of the action. They were the legendary Aussie sappers, the army engineers, who were literally everywhere in the fighting against the Vietcong.

This special breed of soldier lived hard and played hard. They were there at the beginning of the war. They were also among the last to leave. And along the way, they fought with their mates in infantry and tanks to bear the brunt of the Vietcong’s revenge.

To the rest of the world, Vietnam was a conflict of ideologies. On the ground it was a battle of wits and the sappers were at the forefront. This is their story.

About the Authors

Jimmy Thomson is a journalist, author and screenwriter whose credits include the ABC-TV series Rain Shadow. He is the author of SnitchTunnel Rats and Watto.

A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as a young captain Sandy MacGregor commanded 3 Field Troop in Vietnam, where he won the Military Cross. He served in the Army for 30 years, finishing as a colonel in the Reserves.

Buy the book here…

New Release: Hell’s Battlefield by Phillip Bradley

The Australians in New Guinea in World War II

As well as providing new perspectives on the Kokoda campaign, the book covers the battles that preceded and those that followed, most of which have previously received scant attention.

Phillip Bradley has conducted extensive research on the official and private records from Australia, the US and Japan, and as well as these perspectives, shows those of the Papua New Guineans. He has also conducted wide-ranging interviews with veterans, and made extensive use of Japanese prisoner interrogation records.

The text is further illuminated by the author’s deep familiarity with the New Guinea battlefields, and is well illustrated with photographs, many previously unpublished, and maps.

Hundreds of thousands of Australians, Phillip’s father among them, fought in New Guinea and many never returned. Hell’s Battlefield tells their story, and the battles they fought in, that raged on land, in the air and at sea.

About the Author – Phillip Bradley

A chemical research manager by profession, Phillip has had a lifetime interest in military history. Two years working in Papua New Guinea gave him the opportunity to travel to the battlefields there, particularly where his father had fought around Shaggy Ridge. This led to his first book, which was on that battle. This was followed by books on other long forgotten New Guinea battles at Wau and Salamaua. He also writes for After the Battle and Wartime magazines.

All Phillip’s books are characterized by an intimate knowledge gained from his many trips to the battlefields, complemented by his research skills and by his many unique interviews with New Guinea battlefield veterans, over 300 and counting.

Phillip now writes full time and also does work for Kokoda Treks and Tours. Hell’s Battlefield is his fifth book.

Buy the book here…

Spring into writing

Spring has sprung and if your spring-cleaning has uncovered your unpublished manuscript, or the warmer weather is simply stirring up your creative side, it’s a great time to get working on your writing.

But what to do with your work once it’s written? There’s plenty of opportunities out there at the moment for aspiring writers, whether it’s making contacts and meeting fellow-minded writers at literary festivals, or going straight for the prize and entering a competition. I’ve rounded up a few interesting possibilities for the budding writers amongst you.

If short and sweet – but very high-profile –  is your thing, the Age short story competition is now accepting entries. Entry is free, and comes with a cash prize to boot: first prize wins $1000; 2nd prize, $800; 3rd prize, $500. Winning stories will be published in Life & Style and at Entries must be under 3000 words and should not have been previously published. Have an idea but not the completed story? You have a few weeks to get it written – the competition closes on September 28th and winners will be announced in December.

Fancy writing something a little more quirky and criminal? One of the more interesting competitions open at the moment is Australia’s Security Nightmares, a national security short story competition organised by Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC).

Entrants should submit a short story with a security scenario as the plot line or essential backdrop. An Australia context to the story is required, and the story needs to be set between today and 2020. They state that, while the story is to be fictional, “it needs to be grounded in a plausible, coherent and detailed security situation. Rather than just describing on an avalanche of frightening events, writers are encouraged to focus on the consequences and challenges posed by their scenarios, and tease out what the official and public responses would be.”

The ASRC competition also aims to raise community awareness of national security challenges and the first prize winner will be taking home $1,000 for their trouble. New and unpublished writers are encouraged to enter and entries close Sunday 30 September 2012.

If you have a full book on your hands and you want to be picked up by Penguin, their Monthly Catch could be your opportunity. For the first week of every month, the General Publishing team at Penguin Australia throw their doors open to unsolicited manuscripts. As many publishers won’t even look at a manuscript that doesn’t have a literary agent singing its praises, Penguin’s monthly open week is one of the few opportunities to get your work to a publisher with a promise that it will not be tossed straight into the recycling.

Not sure if any of the above are for you? The Australian Writer’s Marketplace prides itself on including every opportunity for aspiring writers and is an indispensable tool if you are looking to get published – although it’s about to undergo a spring-clean itself and we should be seeing the 2013 edition hitting the shelves in the next month or so.

So perhaps while you’re waiting for it to sprout up in the shops, you could get started on getting some writing done.

Book Review: The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

It helps to know that this new novella by Jeanette Winterson is published under the Hammer imprint and that their new series of books is intended “to bring horror back to the forefront of the market”. This is what it says on the Hammer website, but the blurb sent to reviewers is rather more up-market and says that the series “features original novellas which span the literary and the mass market, the esoteric and the commercial, by some of today’s most celebrated authors”.

This explains why Winterson has written a book which fits perfectly into the gothic horror genre. It explains, too, the black, often sickening content of The Daylight Gate, and why part of the publisher’s blurb reads like the start of a romantic suspense story:  “A beautiful lady – fine clothes, long red hair and astride a white horse, is followed by a falcon. She is riding through Pendle Woods. It’s the Daylight Gate – that spot of time when daylight turns to night. And at the centre of the woods, watching and waiting, a group of feral, desperate women are gathering”.

Winterson’s novella is based on the Lancashire witch trials which took place in 1612. Twelve women and two men were charged with the murder of ten people by the use of witchcraft, and their trials were documented by the clerk-of-the-court, Thomas Potts, and published as The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancashire.  Winterson fictionalizes the lives of the witches who were hanged and burned, and of the men (including Potts) who were responsible for bringing them to trial.

In short, abrupt sentences, and in short abrupt chapters, Winterson describes the women, their sordid lives, their treatment at the hands of the men who arrest, abuse and imprison them, and their belief in the powers of the Devil – the Dark Gentleman whose favours they seek through the filthy and disgusting practices of black magic.

Only Alice Nutter, a wealthy woman on whose land the witches live and on whose charity and protection they thrive, is not a witch. She is the red-haired woman with the tame hawk who rides through Pendle Woods in the publisher’s blurb. And even she, who learned her alchemical arts from Dr John Dee, practices magic and is very close to the dark side. Dee taught her skills which she used to create a highly desirable magenta dye. Thus she obtained her wealth. He also gave her an elixir which preserved her youth. And through him, she met her lover, Elizabeth Southern, who does sell her soul to the Devil and who becomes one of the accused witches.

Winterson says that the story of Alice Nutter and Elizabeth Southern is an invention of her own, not based on fact. But she makes ‘Elizabeth Southern’ the chosen pseudonym of ‘Old Demdike’ who, along with an Alice Nutter, was tried and condemned as one of the Lancashire witches. Apart from this, the facts of her story are historically correct and the place names are of places which did or do exist. Should you wish to visit the Well Dungeon in Lancaster Castle, for example, you can do so, but you will have to imagine the filth, the smells and the squalor which Winterson so graphically describes.

The only man in the book who is likeable, is Christopher Southworth, an escaped and hunted member of the Papist ‘Gunpowder Plot’ to blow up King James I and his parliament. Alice hides him in her home at Rough Lee and plans to escape with him to France. The lawyer, Potts, is brought unpleasantly to life as a fanatical witch hunter and accuser. William Shakespeare makes a cameo appearance to quote from Macbeth about “the instruments of darkness”, and John Dee is also briefly present, but all the other men in the book are, in varying degrees, nasty.

Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that the abused witch-child in the book is named Jennet?  After all, Jeanette Winterson’s imaginative writing is, itself, a form of magic. But there is little love in this book and this is not her usual inventive and fluent style. I just hope that she will now leave the gothic and use her magical arts to create light rather than darkness and horror.

Ann Skea
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

A Cool Dad’s Day

Happy belated Father’s Day, dads! I hope you were spoiled and adored, as Dad should be on this very special day. In celebration of fathers everywhere, here are my picks for the best new release Father’s Day books.

My Dad’s the Coolest (Scholastic)

Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley are back in this sequel to My Mum’s the Best – this time featuring ultra cool dads of all shapes, sizes and orientation, from a strutting rooster (with tickly feathers) to a mouse-shy lion, a mud-rollicking pig and a kooky-looking penguin.

Ideal for the very young, Bruce Whatley’s divine animal friends parade across the page with typical humour and charm. Simple text makes this ideal for a bedtime read.

Dads: A Field Guide (Random House)

Justin Ractliffe’s striking, modern and totally funky book on dads is taken to great heights with Cathie Glassby’s kooky, childlike and immensely whimsical illustrations.

Dads, en masse, are totally represented in this low text book, making it ideal for tots, and I love how they are represented in totally out-there ways – from a dad who wears undies and one who wears boxers, to a dad who’s ever-smart and one a little scruffy.

Charming, colourful and fun.

What Makes My Dad Happy (Allen & Unwin)

What makes had Happy?

Well, a lot of different things, for it really depends on what dad you have.

Maybe it’s building towers or picking flowers. Maybe it’s a note, strategically placed in a coat pocket, or when he becomes a launching pad for little aeroplanes. Every dad is different and that’s what makes them special.

Loretta Broekstra’s charming illustrations make for a sweet book for the younger set.

Also in this series by Tania Cox – What Makes my Mum Happy.


The Operators

The OperatorsI have mixed emotions about publishing this blog the day after Australia’s worst single-day fatalities since Vietnam. On the one hand, the post may seem a little insensitive; on the other, it’s arguably never been more timely.

What’s clear is that regardless of what you think of the US’s (and our) involvement in Afghanistan (and I’ll wholly admit to being wholly in the ‘against’ camp), things are not going well.

I picked up Michael Hasting’s The Operators on ABC journalist Naomi Woodley’s advice—and I have to thank her. While not quite in the realm of uber high benchmark Race of a Lifetime, which I rabidly recommend to anyone who’ll listen, Hasting’s book is the first I’ve read in a while that unpacks complex, fraught, of-the-moment issues in an incredibly insightful, game-changing, haunting manner.

The Operators is the extended, book version of an explosive Rolling Stones article Hastings wrote after being allowed inside ‘the bubble’ of General Stanley McChrystal, AKA the guy in charge of the US troops’ stay in Afghanistan.

Courting the media and arguably keen to make the cover of the iconic Rolling Stone magazine and impress his son, a musician, McChrystal allowed Hastings to accompany him and his team during a PR trip to Europe as well as spend time with them in Afghanistan. It wasn’t an unusual allowance. What was unusual was that McChrystal and his team were far more frank and unguarded than Hastings ever expected to find.

Over the course of a few Almost Famous-ilk weeks, which included an unexpectedly extended stay with them in Europe courtesy of the Icelandic ash cloud, Hastings witnessed the team going off message. These indiscretions (if that’s the best way to describe them) included them criticising President Obama for not supporting the war and effectively saying it was unlikely they’d catch Osama bin Laden.

Hasting’s subsequently published article didn’t put McChrystal on the Rolling Stone cover (Lady Gaga commandeered it as he and McChrystal had joked), but the article did go explosively viral (that’s an, er, technical term)—so much so that it saw McChrystal summoned back to the US and summarily fired.

Hastings’ incisively written book is unsettling on many, many levels. It exemplifies the constant tension between journalist and subject, and the heightened tension of embedded journalism.

‘You’re not going to fuck us, are you?’ one officer asks him, to which Hasting’s gave his standard reply: ‘I’m going to write a story. Some of the stuff you’ll like, some of the stuff you probably won’t like.’

Later in the book, he outlines his position further:

I knew McChrystal’s team wouldn’t be happy with the way the story was shaping up. It was the classic journalist dilemma. Janet Malcolm had famously described journalise as the art of seduction and betrayal. Any reporter who didn’t see journalise as ‘morally indefensible’ was either ‘too stupid’ or ‘too full of himself’, she wrote. I disagreed. Without shutting the door on the possibility that I was both stupid and full of myself, I’d never bought into the seduction and betrayal conceit. At most, journalism—particularly when writing about media-hungry public figures—was like the seduction of a prostitute. The relationship was transactional. They weren’t talking to me because they liked me or because I impressed them; they were talking to me because they wanted the cover of Rolling Stone.

I think he’s 90% right about that. Rolling Stone’s rep is what got him in the door and leant him an immediate, ‘rock star cool’ legitimacy. But while there’s an element of transaction—McChrystal needs the media as much as they need him and he’s after good media coverage—the emphasis is on the word ‘good’. He might be in charge of a war, but he’s human—he hopes to be liked and trusts that journalists will show him in a flattering, heart-in-the-right place light.

I’m still confused why the media officer didn’t set ground rules/wasn’t trying to get the guys to be more on message at the time. It makes me think he thought there was a tacit agreement in place that Hastings would overlook the off-the-cuff honesty, or at least buff its rough edges. That or they were just a little naïve.

Race of a LifetimeThat naivety perhaps explains why McChrystal was upset that Obama wasn’t falling over himself to throw money, troops, and anything else McChrystal asked for for Afghanistan. McChrystal seems not to fully comprehend that Obama, the very antithesis of gun-toting George Dubya, was elected on an anti-war stance and was never, ever going to be blindly complying with his more-muscle, more-money requests. He also seems completely oblivious to the fact that Obama inherited a financial crisis of epic, worldwide proportions and that an offshore ‘war’ costing the US in the vicinity of $600 billion annually might not be helping him balance the budget.

McChrystal’s lucky Obama didn’t tell them they had a drop-dead date and that there’d be no more funding beyond that (which is what I’d be tempted to do were I in Obama’s place—yes, it would be ugly, but no more or less than them staying in there fighting and further fueling a futile ‘war’).

Which hints at the book’s other, necessarily troubling theme of (if you’ll forgive me for paraphrasing the famous saying) war: what is it good for? If The Operators’ findings are anything to go by: nothing. Worse, the very reason for the US being in Afghanistan seems shakier than ever. Al-Qaeda wasn’t really setting up shop, bin Laden turned out to be in Pakistan and not Afghanistan, and troops found themselves caught up not in fighting terrorism but a decades-old civil war.

This sentiment is summed up well in the resignation letter of Matthew Hoh, who was only the third senior American government official to have resigned for reasons of conscience. Hastings quotes it here:

To put [it] simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued US casualties of expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war. … If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes valleys, clans, villages, and families against one another, but, from at least the end of King Zahir Shah’s reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated, and moderate of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate, and traditional.

He goes on to liken Afghanistan to Vietnam, something we’re increasingly seeing and hearing around the world:

Our support for [the Afghan] government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our Nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology … If honest, our state strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc.

Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made. As such, I submit my resignation.

I’ve always been vehemently opposed to us (Australia) supporting the US in both Iraq and Afghanistan—we have no business being in either, the operations are operating under misguided and false pretences, and even if they have the best of intentions, violence begets only violence. But nor is there any pleasure in ‘being right’ (whatever that might mean) and taking the moral high ground doesn’t make yesterday’s five-death day any less sobering.

Hasting’s book might have ‘fucked’ McChrystal, but perhaps necessarily so—The Operators highlights futility of the Afghanistan occupation and the too-high human and financial cost of a no-longer-clearly-defined ‘war’.