Five Very Bookish Questions with author/illustrator Katherine Battersby

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

Trying to choose a favourite genre would be like asking me to choose a favourite dessert (I have a sweet tooth). When it comes to books I have a restless mind, so I read widely. I love so many different genres for different reasons. I love to laugh and cry and sigh and have my heart race and feel terror and desperation and longing and wistfulness all those things – these are the joys of sitting in another’s shoes through books.

I love picture books that are playful and yet still full of heart – Oliver Jeffers has to be my favourite creator, with books like How to Catch a Star and The Book Eating Boy. I love picture books that make me laugh (Mo Willems Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus‘) and ones that make me cry (Margaret Wild’s and Ron Brooks’ Fox). I love fantasy novels for younger readers like Isobelle Carmody’s Little Fur series. And I adore young adult books: my recent favourite is Glenda Millard’s stunning A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.

I can’t read while I’m writing a new story, so at the moment I have two novels waiting as rewards on my bookshelf for the day I finish: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. The day I first open their pages, I will disappear into them and not emerge for several days . . .

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

As an early teen, my mum started work quite early in the morning so I was often the first at school. I quickly learnt the only building open was the library, and would sit amongst the book shelves and pull down whatever looked interesting. I read everything from literary novels to thrillers, but my favourite quickly became fantasy.

I fell completely in love with Isobelle Carmody’s stories (starting with the Obernewtyn Chronicles). I also enjoyed real world teen novel with a twist – I adored John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began‘ series. Plus, I liked things that were a bit strange and just a teensy bit dark, like the artwork of Brian Froud (who has put out several books).

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

An intriguing main character. A situation looked at differently. Heart.

Anything by Neil Gaiman perfectly captures this – favourite of mine being The Graveyard Book and Stardust. Also The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – such a fascinating concept and at times absolutely heart stopping.

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

Let them choose their books. And take them to the library – that way they can experiment with what kind of books they like, and then in bookstores they’ll start to get more confident with knowing which section will hold their favourite books.

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

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. So clever and so cheeky!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Such stunning writing and I fell in love with each and every character. Oh . . . and boy did I cry.

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett. Dark but beautiful.

About Katherine

Katherine Battersby is the critically acclaimed children’s author and illustrator of Squish Rabbit, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Crichton Award and was released in Australia, the US, China and other countries. Her second picture book, Brave Squish Rabbit, came out in September, and she has had many short stories published in magazines and anthologies. She adores reading, rabbits and anime, and thinks exclamation marks are evil.


I Lost My Love in Baghdad

I Lost My Love in BaghdadYou know a book that begins with recounting the moments preceding a warzone ambush isn’t going to end well. That’s if you hadn’t already guessed so from the title, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. Or from the quote on its opening pages from Carl von Clausewitz’s On War: ‘In such dangerous things as War, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.’ Hence the reason I cracked Michael Hastings’ first book (but the second of his I’ve now read) with a healthy amount of trepidation: This book is going to completely break me.

Hastings is the journalist who recently brought us the incisive The Operators, a book based on a Rolling Stones article so explosive it saw the US’ then Afghanistan head honcho General Stanley McChrystal recalled to Washington and sacked. It’s also a book I’ve been thrusting at friends as a must-read recommendation and that had comprehensively whet my Hastings reading appetite.

So, gut-wrenchingly arduous as I knew I Love My Love in Baghdad was going to be, there was no question I was going to read it. It’s the creative non-fiction re-telling of Hastings’ love found and then lost, a tragic love story heightened by the random senselessness and futility of war.

The book centres around Hastings and his girlfriend, Andi Parhamovich, a fellow New Yorker he met on the eve of his departure to cover Iraq for Newsweek. Sick of waiting for and worrying about Hastings in the US, Parhamovich eventually found a job with a Baghdad-based NGO.

Baghdad, the third (albeit unwelcome) protagonist in this book, is a city where civilian planes make a perilous ‘corkscrew’ landings to avoid the pot shots being taken against them, and where private security tell you ‘the best time to be in a war is right at the beginning, when you can do whatever you want, before people get their shit together and start making rules’.

On WarIt’s a preposterous place where nothing makes sense and opportunistic capitalism thrives. Crazy Tony the German is the first to spot and fill the need for badge holders to house the myriad accreditation and security passes the military and civilians alike must carry at all times. His other top seller, which gets banned, is a South Park-themed mug that replaces ‘You killed Kenny, you bastards!’ with ‘You sent me to Iraq, you bastards!’

Hastings sums up both the predicament and sentiment with:

I don’t know what it is. It may be the heat or it may be lack of sleep. Or it could just be the adrenaline coming down. I have this sensation that I am seeing too many parts that don’t quite go together—randomly scattered signs of America in this completely un-American place, sun-blasted and slow-moving. I take it all in. My first real look at Baghdad, and I remember my thought to the word. What the fuck were we thinking?

Baghdad intrudes on Hastings’ and Parhamovich’s romance with its violence, its inconsiderate timing, and its love-thwarting danger. The city prevents Hastings from making it to agreed trips home or regularly pulls him away. Even when Parhamovich arrives in the city, it keeps the couple apart—she lives minutes away, but the security detail required for them to travel to one another is often too great to request or too selfish to risk and the couple spend dates such as Christmas and New Year’s so close but so far.

The city also divides them by its sheer, inexplicable insanity, which Hastings and Parhamovich must navigate and interpret daily. There’s its flawed legal system, which turns a blind eye to torturous methods of obtaining confessions and that knowingly finds innocent people guilty of heinous crimes. There are its prisons that are so messed up they’re literally leaking sewage. There are also the it’s-not-just-the-enemy-we’re-fighting moments such as the ‘death blossoms’ that occur when an Iraqi officer the Americans are training panics under attack and opens (friendly) fire wildly in every direction.

Hastings translates the army lingo with deadpan wit: ‘Our ROE is fucking retarded’ is ‘The rules of engagement, under Multi-National Force Iraq, are unsatisfactory’. ‘To quote the State Department report,’ Hastings writes: ‘The country’s “social fabric remains under intense strain”. To quote Mohammed, his ‘cultural translator’, the situation is “fucking shit”.’

Mohammed ‘struggles with the question of whether it is better to live in a world of totalitarian repression or maddening anarchy’. Earlier, Hastings writes of him:

His view of the war was a mixture of disappointment and disbelief, and now a rapidly diminishing hope. Did the Americans mean for this to happen? How could they not have a plan? He didn’t care for the new line coming from Washington, which was basically: If Iraq is fucked, it’s not America’s fault. We gave them freedom, we toppled a dictator. The ball is in their court. They must stand up before we stand down. ‘It’s your country, my friend.’ Mohammed and I find that it makes for a hilarious punch line. Accidentally blow up a house and kill four children? ‘It’s your country, my friend.’ Oops, we ended up arming Shiite death squads? ‘Sorry, your country, my friend.’

The OperatorsIt’s this situation that Hastings is tasked with distilling for an American audience and that Parhamovich, through her work to establish democratic order and collaboration, is tasked with trying to overcome.

Other details I found eerie. The bomb squad’s officers play first-person-shooter game Halo to relax (the ‘best robot operators’ are also the unit’s ‘kick-ass Halo players’). Many of the men who would have been at the forefront of helping with Hurricane Katrina were sitting, feeling helpless, in Iraq. In a communication error, one of the men’s wife gets a call for him to turn up for duty in New Orleans.

Later, an officer writes Hastings’ blood type on a piece of electrical tape (O positive) and sticks it to the front of his flak jacket. But it wasn’t Hastings, it turns out, who needs the blood type-identifying tape. It is Parhamovich.

At one stage in the book, Hastings writes: Even as Scott [his boss] and I speak, sitting at our computers and finish up our omelettes, dozens of people are being killed or are about to be killed in this city. Could be a day when it’s over a hundred. The violence is unbelievable, unimaginable, incomprehensible.

It could be an apt description of Parhamovich’s death—one so shocking I’m still unable to fully accept. I spent the greater part of the book in a kind of second-hand hindsight willing her not to get in the car that took her to her horrific end. She emailed Hastings somewhat premonitiatively some months before about the horrors he witnesses and the effects they were undoubtedly having on him:

That’s why I can’t imagine what you see every day; the level of such extreme torture and gross indifference toward human life. And that’s why I worry about you and wonder if you are ok and how you are holding up because it is a lot to take in and you are such an empathic sponge. You absorb it all, and I know it weighs heavy on your mind and heart even if you don’t admit it. It’s hard to be a witness to human suffering and even harder to realize there is no clear plan, or even hope, to put an edit to it. Twain once said trying to establish peace is nearly impossible because you have to be able to tame the human race first, and history seems to show that that cannot be done. And particularly, in this war alone, it seems that that cannot be done.

Deeply personal, Hastings’ story is both indicative of and stands apart from Iraq. It adds to the confusion of war, but explains it at the same time. Hastings is unflinching in his examination of both Baghdad and his lost love. It makes I Lost My Love in Baghdad incredible, often squirm-worthy reading. I know more of his flaws and foibles and his and Parhamovich’s tempestuous love and her heart-wrenching death than I’d ever expected to. But Hastings’ honesty and journalistic approach make the tale more grittily visceral and more heart-stirringly powerful.

I cried hard and often as the book hurtled towards Parhamovich’s senseless end. I cried even more when the book didn’t end at her death, but continued with the days following as Hastings, in shell-shocked grief and arguable magical thinking*, fights to accompany her body back to the US.

The Year of Magical ThinkingI guess you could say that my trepidation in picking up I Lost My Love in Baghdad was well founded: This book absolutely destroyed me. But unregrettably so. I Lost My Love in Baghdad isn’t a book for public transport consumption (unless you’re not ashamed of having people see your ugly cry), but it’s one that absolutely must be read. It’s haunting and bleak and epic and unimaginable and incomprehensible and with gallows humour and observations so insightful it will leave you breathless.

*Magical thinking is a term esteemed American essayist Joan Didion used to described the detached, sometimes irrational, grief-clouded, out-of-body experiences she had in the year following her husband’s sudden, unexpected death.

Review – The Dreadful Fluff

Oh my. Watch out. Belly button fluff is not reserved for the hygienically-challenged, no no. Even pink and perfect peeps like Serenity Strainer find the odd thatch of fluff in said navel – and sometimes, just sometimes, that little thatch can be . . . queue dramatic music . . .


That’s right. Meet Serenity’s evil belly button fluff. He’s bad and he’s hungry. And every time he ingests something, he grows exponentially. First, it’s the cat. Mm-mmm. Delish. Then it’s Mum. The only thing left are a pair of pink fluffy slippers.

Next it’s Serenity’s pimply older brother, Tug, headphones and all. Then, the Fluff sets his sights on the baby.

Nooo! Can Serenity stop that nasty ball of crud in its tracks?

Aaron Blabey’s characteristic dark, dry humour shines in this fabulous, action-packed and monsterly new picture book. His writer’s voice is yet again original and utterly child-friendly – with plenty of kid-guffaws guaranteed.

Kooky, vibrant illustrations round out a brilliant new addition to your picture book collection. Be prepped for repeat bedtime reads.

The Dreadful Fluff is published by Puffin.

The Elephant Whisperer

The Elephant WhispererI was pretty unhappy about starting Lawrence Anthony’s The Elephant Whisperer (cowritten, as with his other two books, by Graham Spence), not because I didn’t think it was going to be good, but because I knew it was. I knew too that it would mean I quickly smashed my way through reading it and would then be all out of Anthony books.

The Elephant Whisperer is Anthony’s third non-fiction work about his animal rescue exploits, although I don’t think it was written third and I certainly don’t think it’ll be his last. He’s a South African Steve Irwin, but with a little more (forgive me for saying this—because I’m not dissing Irwin, honest) intellect and storytelling smarts.

This book outlines Anthony’s life-changing decision to take on a wild, aggressive, troublesome herd of elephants known for jailbreaking any and all enclosures trying to contain them. With no amount of electrified fence voltage stopping the giant creatures, the authorities are anxious to shoot them dead. Anthony can’t stomach that ‘resolution’ and, despite having no experience with elephants, agrees to re-home them on his reserve, Thula Thula.

Of course, the elephants immediately bust out of Anthony’s holding pen too, making a beeline for their home with villages and humans in their paths. What follows is an intensely anxious search to find and recapture them before awfulness, which Anthony himself dubs ‘conservation’s Chernobyl’, unfolds.

The book’s title gives the impression that Anthony is something of an elephant expert, but he himself states on page one that this isn’t the case. He instead writes of how unexpected and profoundly accepting the elephants changed his life—for the better:

In 1999, I was asked to accept a herd of troubled wild elephants on my game reserve. I had no inkling of the escapades and adventures I was about to embark upon. I had no idea how challenging it would be or how much my life would be enriched […] Make no mistake, the title of this book is not about me for I make no claim to any special abilities. It is about the elephants—it is they who whispered to me and taught me how to listen.

Babylon's ArkThat listening gives insight into elephants few have ever experienced, which Anthony conveys with his characteristic storytelling wit and panache.

Some of his stories are uncanny, such as how news of the removal of guards who’d actually be secretly poaching animals seemed to spread through the animal world and previously unseen animals emerged. Or how the elephants knew when Anthony was away and went into deep bush, emerging only to greet him on his return.

Some of them are how-about-that clever and fun. One of my favourite is about when Anthony dropped his new Nokia on the ground in his haste to get out of the elephants’ way. It started to ring. After investigating it thoroughly with her trunk and both unsure of what it was and why it wouldn’t stop squeaking, the herd’s enforcer, Frankie, definitively stomped on (and silenced) the phone. Incredibly, Anthony found that the phone still worked (once the elephants lost interest and shuffled off and he ventured out to prise it from the ground):

I later phoned Nokia and told them about the incident, congratulating them on the ruggedness of the phone. After a long silence the manager thanked me and hung up. I reckon even they didn’t believe their products could withstand being stomped on by a wild elephant.

Then there’s the one-liner about how one ranger leaves because he’s fallen in love with a guest. ‘I know guests sometimes steal a towel or soap,’ Francoise, Anthony’s partner says, ‘but this one stole our ranger.’

The Last RhinosAs with Anthony’s other two books, there were moments that almost broke me. One included when they discovered why an orphaned elephant wasn’t trumpeting as she should have been:

And for the first time she was trumpeting for all her worth. But instead of a clear, clean call she was honking like a strangled goose. David and I looked at each other. Now we knew why she had been silent. The poor creature had destroyed her vocal cords, screaming herself hoarse for help, calling for her mother and aunts, lost and pitifully alone in the wilderness while lions circled.

The Last Rhinos touches on some of the same themes as The Elephant Whisperer, with some sections of the book recognisable in each, but even when there’s overlap, the stories take on new relevance and significance in the latter. Truthfully, though, I’d read and re-read anything Anthony wrote. His passion, his humour, his compassion, and his wise, pragmatic outlook on life make his books un-put-down-able. Let me know when his fourth book is out, ok?

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Oliver Phommavanh

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

I love humour because they’re wacky, weird and make kids laugh (which is very hard to do in books, hehe). Anything by Andy Griffiths is the perfect example, particularly the Just books. I based my first book Thai-riffic! on Andy’s formula of short stories about the same character.

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

I loved Paul Jennings’ Un books and Morris Gleitzman’s Blabber Mouth and Sticky Beak. Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley is also a personal fave. I snapped up heaps of ‘choose your own adventure’ books too.

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

Humour, heart and grounded characters. My book Con-nerd has all three – haha. It’s about a boy who wants to be an artist but his mum wants him to be a doctor and study hard. While it’s a funny book, there are some interesting themes and issues being brought up in between jokes.

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

Let the kids choose a book they want to read, even the ones that you make you squirm. Kids love the freedom of choice. There are books for every interest and/or hobby out there, so tap into your kids’ likes and lead them to books about that subject. For example, if your kid wants to learn how to be a stand up comedian, they should read my novel, Punchlines, which is about a boy who loves to make people laugh.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

Spud by John Van De Ruit

About Oliver

Oliver Phommavanh loves to make people laugh, whether it’s on the page writing humour for kids or on stage as a stand-up comedian. He also shares his passion for writing with the kids he teaches at a primary school in Western Sydney. As a comedian, Oliver has appeared on stage, and on national TV and radio. He has also appeared in the anthology, Growing Up Asian in Australia. He’s a die-hard Nintendo fan and cheers for the Wests Tigers! His books are Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd and Punchlines. His new book Thai-no-mite! explodes onto bookshelves this October.




New Release: Bedtime Stories by Phillip Adams

Tales from his 21 years at Radio National’s Late Night Live where anything could happen and almost everything has … 

For 21 years Phillip Adams has expertly batted questions to world leaders, thinkers, ideologues, crackpots and gurus and collected irreplaceable wisdom and stories along the way.

In singular style he has interviewed thousands of people, many of whom have become regulars – and gathered a broad and intensely loyal audience.

But what goes on behind the scenes and when the mike is off? When a guest freezes and when arguments break out? When tricky questions must be asked or when the interviewee’s name has slipped from memory?

From early days at Radio National where he was looked upon as a commercial upstart, to the days when Henry Kissinger, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens and so many others would line up to be interviewed by him, Phillip Adams has carved a place in radio history.

Here he shares the highlights, the lows, the whacky moments and the many unexpected ones in his years of telling bedtime stories.


One of Australia’s best-known broadcasters, Phillip Adams is also an author, a filmmaker, a highly popular and controversial newspaper columnist, a farmer and an amateur archaeologist. This is his nineteenth book. 

Late Night Live website:

Buy the book here…

Destiny Road

Destiny Road is a new YA novel from first-time author Melissa Wray. I’ve invited Melissa to tell us about her (destiny) road to publication. 🙂

My Road to publication
By Melissa Wray

I have always loved reading and grew up 600m from the local library. I studied children’s literature at university while completing my Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education (primary) degree. It was around six years ago that I decided to complete a professional writing course. I had thought about it for a while but the timing was not right up until then. I started a Certificate of Children’s Writing, six months after I had my first child. I naively thought I would have a lot of time on my hands!

After a while I entered a few competitions and received some good feedback. I was awarded runner up in the Junior Novel — Honour Book Award for the Ipswich Festival of Children’s Literature Writing for Children Competition. This was all the encouragement I needed to keep going.

I have been extremely lucky with my road to publication. I subscribe to a bi-monthly e-zine called Buzz Words. It was through this I saw a competition to win a publishing contract with Morris Publishing Australia. I had originally sent my story to a manuscript assessor who gave me some great feedback. I then spent another three months playing around with my writing and added an additional 15,000 words. It was just good timing that the competition came up when I had finished polishing the story. That and my maiden name is Morris so I thought the coincidence too much to ignore! I entered the competition by sending the first four chapters off. Destiny Road was shortlisted and I quickly sent off the entire manuscript. I could not believe it when it was accepted. I read the email about 20 times! For the record, I have submitted other stories elsewhere without luck and received the dreaded rejection notes.

Once I was offered the contract I set off on the most exciting ride! I received the contract and could make little sense of it. I sought out advice from the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) and then promptly signed on the dotted line.

I was advised early on to jump on social media outlets and tell everyone. I quickly rang a friend to come around to show me how to use Facebook! I set up my profile page and then created a page to promote Destiny Road.

After that I spent many hours trying to create a book trailer. It was a lot of fun and I was thrilled with the result.

My next challenge was to create a blog page. Again it was a huge learning curve but well worth the effort.

Elaine Ouston from Morris Publishing Australia has been really flexible with her approach to publishing. She has allowed me to be very involved with the steps in the publishing process. She even allowed one of my best friends to do the photography work for the front cover. It has been a fantastic first time experience.

My biggest tip for any beginning writer is to just write whatever you feel like. Don’t get bogged down with the details and plot as that will fall into place the more you write. Also enter competitions, especially the ones that offer feedback. It’s a great way to learn and develop your skills. Attend author events or workshops to interact with other people. I guarantee you will come away having learnt something. Also it pays to read widely in the genre you’re interested in, but remember to stay true to your writing style. Don’t try and mimic someone else’s.

Destiny Road is my first published novel and I am very proud of it. The story is about Jessica, who is 16 when she meets her father for the first time. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her mum to live with her dad and get to know him better.

The idea for the story came from when I was 16 because I actually made the same decision, to live with my father for the first time. Unlike Jessica I had known him all my life but my parents divorced when I was very young. I was never able to say thank you to him for saying yes when I asked to live with him. He passed away several years ago and it has always bothered me that I could not get those words out before he died. Now, with Destiny Road, I feel like I have said them, so hopefully he knows.

Melissa Wray
Dream Big … Read Often.

George’s bit at the end

Thanks, Melissa, for stopping by and sharing your story. I’m looking forward to reading Destiny Road.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


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Everything you need to know about the Man Booker Prize

By now you will all have read that Hilary Mantel has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for a second time with Bring up the Bodies but do you know which other authors have won twice? Here’s a everything you need to know about the Man Booker Prize, from The Telegraph:

Prize money

The prize aims to reward the best book of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The winner receives £50,000 and is guaranteed, along with the shortlisted authors, a dramatically increased readership.

The name

The prize was originally sponsored by a food distribution company called Booker-McConnell, and quickly became known as ‘The Booker’. The name stuck, even after Booker-McConnell’s sponsorship ended. The present sponsor is investment company Man – hence Man Booker Prize.

First winner

The prize celebrates its 44th anniversary this year. The first winner of the award was PH Newby in 1969 for Something to Answer For.

Notable winners

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was voted ‘Best of the Booker’ in 2008 and had previously been voted the ‘Booker of Bookers’ in 1993, the 25th anniversary of the award. Other high-profile winners include Julian Barnes in 2011 and Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis, William Golding, Kazuo Ishiguro (below), Ian McEwan, JM Coetzee, Roddy Doyle and Margaret Atwood.

First female winner

The first female novelist to win the Booker Prize was Bernice Rubens, winning the award just a year after its inception, for The Elected Member in 1970. She served as a Booker Prize judge in 1986.

Shortest shortlist

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Gossip from the Forest by Thomas Keneally were the only two books shortlisted in 1975 (the judges ignored Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man and David Lodge’s Changing Places. Heat and Dust won.

Double winners

Peter Carey, JM Coetzee and Hilary Mantel are the only novelists to have won the award twice. Carey for Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and for the True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001. Coetzee for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and then again with Disgrace in 1999. And Mantel for Wolf Hall in 2009 and 2012.

From Booker to screen

Booker Prize winning novels that have been adapted into films include Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, which became the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Schindler’s List,Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. BothSchindler’s List and The English Patient (below) went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Nobel in prospect

Three Booker prize winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize for literature: Nadine Gordimer in 1991, VS Naipaul in 2001 and JM Coetzee in 2003.

–The Telegraph

Review – Today We Have No Plans

The life of a modern day family is buzzing and full to capacity – swimming lessons, practice for the spelling bee, signing the homework book, playing the violin, getting the grocery shopping done, working late . . . It’s a whirlwind of activity almost all of us know so well. Some of it is a chore. Lots of it is fun.

But when do we find time to stop? To pause? To just Be?

For the family in this gorgeous book, that day is Sunday. A day when the hands on the clock slow down. When mum says they’re not going out. They have no plans. There is nothing to do but . . .

Swing. Climb a tree. Wear pjs all day long. Build a cubby. Bake a cake. Notice all the little things. And plan on doing . . . nothing at all.

Jane Godwin has penned a book we can all relate to – especially our kids – and one that reminds us it’s the little things and the nowhere-to-be that can be the most fun of all.

Anna Walker’s typical stunning illustrations are beyond joyful, and perfectly complement the message in this book – from harried to peaceful, from paced to languorous – and the sheer delight of doing nothing much at all.

Today We Have No Plans is published by Penguin/Viking.

The iPad mini arrives November 2

At last, there’s an iPad for ebook readers looking for a device you can hold in one hand – but it lacks the retina display of current iPad and iPhone models.

The world had its first look at the 7.9-inch mini during an event streamed via Apple TV and live tweeted/blogged from 4am this morning.

Booku’s take on the device? It looks more like an enlarged iPhone 4, but with rounded edges, than an iPad. It’s thin, but larger than I was expecting. I might still prefer to read on the iPhone when on the go, but we’ll see. I’ll be ordering a mini as soon as Apple will let me to find out.

The mini will be available for pre-order in Australia via the Apple website from this Friday, October 26, with the WiFi version shipping November 2. The cellular models will ship a couple of weeks later (that makes my decision – WiFi it is).

The middle-sized iOS gadget sports the same number of pixels as the iPad 2, so no retina display, but also no need for dedicated apps. This means all 275,000 iPad apps will work on it from day one.

It’s more expensive than most of its direct competitors, including the 7-inch Google Nexus and the Kindle Fire (which is not available in Australia but has been hugely successful in the US), but that is unlikely to prevent it from overtaking their sales.

The pricing for Australians is: Wi-Fi: 16GB, $369; 32GB, $479; 64GB, $589; Wi-Fi + Cellular: 16GB; $509; 32GB, $619; 64GB, $729.

Coinciding with the long-awaited mini’s launch are new versions of the iBooks ereading app for iOS devices, incorporating Twitter and Facebook sharing of highlights, continuous scrolling and better iCloud integration; and a new version of Apple’s iBooks Author enhanced ebook production software with embedded fonts, easy insertion of mathematical expressions, easily updateable titles and multi-touch widgets.

The mini features a dual-core A5 chip, FaceTime HD front camera, 5 megapixel iSight rear camera and faster WiFi.

With 29.6 square inches of total display, Apple says its screen is 35% larger all up than that of a 7-inch Android tablet (such as the Google Nexus).

The mini is 23% thinner than the iPad 3 and 53% lighter. It comes in black (with a slate back) and white (silver back). A new, purpose-built and aluminium joint-free smart cover is also available in six colours: pink, green, blue, dark grey, light grey and red for $45. The mini uses the new Lightning connector, matching the iPhone 4 rather than earlier iOS device connectors. It comes with Siri voice recognition.

The device is 200 mm (7.87 inches) high and 134.7 mm (5.3 inches) deep. The WiFi version weighs 308g while the cellular model weighs 312g.

The event included a couple of other hardware announcements. There is an updated full-sized iPad, the iPad 4, which features double the performance for CPU tasks, double the graphics performance, and WiFi that is potentially twice as fast. It’ll sell at the same pricepoints as the existing iPad 3.

Apple also announced a new version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro including retina display (to match the existing lone retina notebook, the 15-inch Pro), and updated Mac Mini and (wafer thin) iMacs.

Aussie Best Non-Fiction Book Award longlist released

The longlist for the 2012 Walkley Book Award was announced last week.

The longlisted titles are:

  • Broadcast Wars: The Money, the Ego, the Power Behind Your Remote Control (Michael Bodey, Hachette)
  • Mine-Field: The Dark Side of Australia’s Resource Rush (Paul Cleary, Black Inc.)
  • The People Smuggler: The True Story of Ali Al Jenabi, the ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia’ (Robin de Crespigny, Viking)
  • Sins of the Father: The Untold Story Behind Schapelle Corby’s Ill-Fated Drug Run (Eamonn Duff, A&U)
  • Hiroshima Nagasaki (Paul Ham, HarperCollins)
  • Children of the Occupation: Japan’s Untold Story (Walter Hamilton, NewSouth)
  • A Tragedy in Two Acts: Marcus Einfeld & Teresa Brennan (Fiona Harari, Victory)
  • The Sweet Spot: How Australia Made its Own Luck – And Could Now Throw it all Away (Peter Hartcher, Black Inc.)
  • The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times(George Megalogenis, Viking).

The Walkley Book Award recognises excellence in Australian nonfiction literature and long-form journalism.

New Release: Killer Company by Matt Peacock

The book that inspired the forthcoming ABC1 drama series DEVIL’S DUST  …

Matt Peacock first warned the public about the dangers of James Hardie’s asbestos empire in an award-winning radio series in 1977. He has followed the tragic trail since then and in 2009 published Killer Company, the inside story of how Matt and asbestos campaigner, Bernie Banton brought the company to account. This widely praised book was a complete game changer in the ongoing battle:

Bernie would be up there, looking down and saying ‘Mate, well done!’ — Karen Banton, widow of Bernie Banton

Inspirational! Every corporate management course in this country should have this book as essential reading. — Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

I thought I knew the James Hardie story…but nothing quite prepares you for Peacock’s forensic look… — Kathleen Noonan, Courier Mail


Matt worked as a consultant on Devil’s Dust, the forthcoming two-part series about the James Hardie asbestos saga, written by Kris Mrksa. The character of Matt Peacock is played by Ewen Leslie and Anthony Hayes stars as Bernie Banton; Alexandra Schepisi plays Bernie’s wife Karen and Don Hany plays the fictional character of James Hardie PR Adam Bourke. Devil’s Dust will air on ABC1 on Sunday 11 and Monday 12 November.


One of the ABC’s most experienced reporters, Matt Peacock is currently a journalist for Foreign Correspondent and 7.30. He has been an award-winning foreign correspondent and also chief political correspondent for national radio current affairs programs: AM, PM and THE WORLD TODAY.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

Caterina Pellegrini is a young Venetian musicologist hired to find the truthful heir to an alleged treasure concealed by a once-famous baroque composer”: “A gripping tale of Intrigue, Music and Obsession

The publicity material for this book says that it is based on the true story of the composer Agostino Steffani – with “months and months of research” by author, Donna Leon, and musicologist, Cecilia Bartoli. Sadly, the months and months of research show through and most of this book consists of Dottoressa Caterina Pelligrini’s far from gripping trawl through old documents, computer archives and obscure and complex history, larded with words and phrases in Venetian dialect, many of which cannot be found in an ordinary Italian-English dictionary.

If you are an academic researcher you may warm to the daily work of Dottoressa Pellegrini as she investigates the contents of two ancient chests which once belonged to Bishop/composer/possible castrato, Agostino Steffani.

If you love baroque music you may be interested by the discussions of well-known and lesser-known libretti, aria and musicology of a few famous and not-so-famous composers.

If you have visited Venice, you will probably recognize the various famous places Caterina walks past or mentions as she moves around the city from workplace to library (the Marciana) to her accommodation and the home of her parents. However, unless you have a map if Venice in front of you or a photographic memory of the City’s labyrinth of narrow streets and canals, the street names mentioned in her very restricted peregrinations will mean little to you.

Each of the characters in the book is carefully described, but most of them remain as wooden and spot-lit as ‘The Bears’, which is Caterina’s name for the family she sees once or twice through their lit kitchen window across the “calle” from her apartment. If you have never been to Venice and don’t know what a “calle” is, you won’t find it in the dictionary. A general computer search will tell you that it is Spanish for ‘street’ – but how it came to be part of the Venetian dialect I never discovered.

All of these things exemplify the problems I had with this book. Scattering foreign dialect words and phrases in a text does not provide local colour: it is just annoying, unless you know their meaning. Long descriptions of research techniques are boring and add nothing to the story. Caterina’s learned musings on musicology are admirable but of passing interest; and her descriptions of complex historical intrigues involving kings, Electors, princesses, mistresses, churchmen and, possibly, Steffani are sometimes hard to follow.

The story itself is thin and relies on all these devices to bulk it out. There is one fleeting hint of danger; a passing suggestion of romance; and an ending which is anti-climatic, hedged, as it is, by Caterina’s already hinted at questioning of the meaning of ‘treasure’. The happy ending in the final paragraph is just trite.

Donna Leon is an American academic and writer who has travelled widely and is an expert on opera. She has lived in Venice for the past thirty years, and her series of detective stories featuring  the Venetian Commissario Brunetti is well-loved and highly regarded. The cover ofThe Jewels of Paradise carries praise for her work from the Times Literary Supplement and the Guardian but, as is common practice now, the praise is not for this book but for some earlier unspecified book or books. Sadly, The Jewels of Paradise is not deserving of such praise.

Buy the book here…

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Aussie women’s writing to be recognised with annual award

The Stella Prize, Australia’s first major literary prize for women’s writing, will be awarded for the first time in April 2013.

The $50,000 Prize will be presented for the best work of literature published in 2012 by an Australian woman and is open to fiction and non-fiction books published between 1 January and 31 December 2012.

The Stella Prize will raise the profile of women’s writing, and the shortlisted and winning books will be widely publicised and marketed in order to bring readers to the work of Australian women writers.

In short, the Stella Prize will celebrate and recognise Australian women’s writing, encourage a future generation of women writers, and significantly increase the readership for books by women.

The entry form and guidelines can be found on the Stella Prize website here. Entries close at 5.00pm AEST on Thursday 15 November 2012.

4000+ budding authors respond to call for manuscripts

4563 manuscripts submitted in 14 days:

Harper Voyager’s open call for manuscript submissions closes after an unprecedented response to global publishing opportunity

Following the announcement on September 13th that the combined Harper Voyager imprint of Harper Collins in Australia, the UK and the USA were launching an exciting opportunity for debut fantasy and science fiction authors to submit their manuscripts directly to be chosen for publication, over 4563 manuscripts have been received.

Prospective authors from around the world reacted enthusiastically and en masse to this unique opportunity, in what was un unprecedented response. The submissions portal was open from the 1st to the 14th of October, and now it has closed, the publishers have begun the challenging task of reading through the huge number of manuscripts.

HarperCollins Australia’s Associate Publisher for Harper Voyager, Deonie Fiford, said today:

“We are really thrilled with the enthusiastic response – people expressed a keen desire to be published internationally by Harper Voyager where they will be able to have the full support of our dedicated editorial and marketing departments.

“We have already begun reading and have received some excellent submissions. We’re looking forward to announcing our new digital authors next year to join bestselling writers like George R R Martin, Robin Hobb, Kylie Chan, Fiona McIntosh and Kim Harrison at Harper Voyager books.”

New Release: The Life and Times of a Surfing Legend by Gary Elkerton with Peter McGuinness

‘‘I was an arrogant, foolish young man with talent, celebrity and opportunity but without a shred of respect for my blessings. The problem of course is that cocaine is the perfect enabling experience for just this kind of dickheadedness.’’

In the world of pro-surfing, personalities don’t come any bigger than Gary ‘Kong’ Elkerton.

Raised on a prawn trawler, Gary honed his wave riding in the isolated mid-ocean wilderness of the Great Barrier Reef, then fell in to surfing and its hedonistic lifestyle with voracious energy.

Cutting a swathe through the industry, living the life, getting the girls, partying with celebs, taking the drugs — it all added up to a very good time until he woke up one day and found his nickname and reputation had become the 100-pound gorilla on his back, one which it was going to be very tough to rid himself of. But what do you do when everything around you, including the industry you’re in, encourages your bad behaviour and then punishes you for it?

Here, in a hilarious, rollicking, no-holds-barred account, Kong uncovers the good, the bad and the often ugly world of pro-surfing, and with it a great Australian story.

Rival surfer Kelly Slater says: ‘Elko is an epic, legendary figure in pro surfing. I’m glad it’s all in the past and I can enjoy memories now! Ha, ha!’

Buy the book here…

Review – Gorilla

Hannah simply adores gorillas. She begs her father to take her to the zoo to see her favourite animal, but Dad is always too busy. During the week he is too busy. On the weekends, he is too busy.

The night before Hannah’s birthday, she asks her father for a gorilla and when she wakes, she does indeed find a gorilla on the end of her bed. A toy gorilla. Hannah is disappointed, but that night, something magical happens.

The gorilla becomes Dad-sized.

And he dons Dad’s coat and he takes Hannah on a nighttime adventure – to the zoo – to see the gorillas and all the other primates encased behind bars – so beautiful and yet so utterly sad. And then to the cinema and then for cake and ice cream and then dancing on the lawn.

Hannah has never been so happy. Until the next morning . . .

Anthony Browne’s iconic illustrations beautifully highlight the inherent magic in making wishes come true. Gorilla is subtle, tender, whimsical and engagingly beautiful.

Gorilla is published by Walker Books.

Beyond the NYR12 vids

Last post I showed you some of the videos available from the National Year of Reading (NYR12) website and YouTube channel (see: “NYR12 vids”). But there are lots more videos out there.

NYR12 has not only promoted the joy of books and reading, it has also encouraged others to do so. And so many people across Australia have taken up that challenge — to spread the word and to promote reading.

Timothy Chan, an official Friend of NYR12, took it upon himself to coordinate a unique project — Love2ReadTV. He banded together numerous NYR12 Friends, getting each of them to record a video about the importance of reading in their lives. He has then edited those videos together into a series of webisodes and posted them to the Love2ReadTV website. There are three episodes, so far.

Episode One features Adam Wallace (author of Dawn of the Zombie Knights), Deby Adair, Mick Walsh, Morgan Schatz Blackrose and Meredith Costain (author of Bed Tails and the A Year In Girl Hell series).

Episode Two features: Nicky Johnston (author/illustrator of Happy Thoughts are Everywhere), Dee White (author of Letters to Leonardo), George Ivanoff (that would be me) and Juliet M Sampson (author of Behind the Mask).

Episode Three features: Peter Cawdron, Narrelle M Harris (author of Walking Shadows), Ron & Margaret Sharp and Alice Pung (author of Growing Up Asian in Australia).

And there are still two more episodes to go. But wait, that’s not all. There’s also a special librarians episode:

Go to YouTube and search for “National Year of Reading 2012”. You’ll find lots of other videos created by people and organisations to celebrate NYR12.

Do you have a favourite NYR12 video? Share it in the comments section below.

Catch ya later,  George

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New Release: Delicious: Home Cooking by Valli Little

You won’t find fancy restaurant-style dishes in here – it’s all about recipes that reflect the sort of food I look to cook at home, whether it’s a midweek meal for the family or something more impressive for the weekend when entertaining friends.  Valli Little

Welcome to the kitchen of one of Australia’s leading food writers.

Legendary delicious. magazine food editor and bestselling author Valli Little shares her favourite recipes to cook at home, plus tips and tricks to turn a family classic into a cover-worthy meal without the fuss.

This collection of 120 new recipes follows Valli’s signature approachable and achievable style, with each dish accompanied by beautiful, full-colour photography. Inspired by world cuisines but irrefutably Australian, each recipe uses easily found ingredients and no fuss methods to ensure 100% success for home cooks.

Seasonal chapters ensure you use fresh ingredients at their best and Valli’s helpful menu plans and ingenious tricks empower home cooks like never before.

Valli Little is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most exciting food writers. Her passion for food shines through in her recipes, which are imaginative, easy-to-follow and fail-safe. For eleven years Valli has been the food director of delicious.magazine, and every month she creates new recipes inspired by her travels and love of cooking and entertaining.

Buy the book here…

New Release: The Thrifty Gardener by Millie Ross

‘I don’t believe in rules, particularly when it comes to building a garden. There is no better way to work it out than doing it yourself.’ 

ABC Gardening Australia magazine’s Millie Ross is an innovative young gardener, with an unconventional approach and a commitment to making gardening accessible to everyone.

Packed with groovy, chic garden projects, from native bee-houses to outdoor showers, edible cubby houses to bedspring frames for climbers, all made from repurposed materials, her book the thrifty gardener shows you how to build the garden you want with  whatever you’ve got!

Whether you own a tiny courtyard or a massive suburban tract, Millie will show you how to:

  • plan it: assess your site, microclimates and soil conditions
  • design it: develop a style, from industrial oasis to nanna chic, renters’ ‘mobile’ garden to edible ornamentals
  • build it: construct paths, fences, walls, fireplaces, ponds and other structures
  • grow it: grow plants in raised and self-watering beds, hydroponically, and in containers and pots
  • plant it: pick the right plants — indoor and outdoor, shade and sun, native and exotic — and produce plants from seeds and cuttings or by propagation, pollination and grafting
  • love it: maintain, irrigate, feed, prune, mulch, compost and weed your garden and eliminate pests
  • eat it: grow an abundant fruit, vegetable & herb garden for next to nothing.

Millie Ross is the ‘Thrifty Gardens’ columnist with Gardening Australia magazine and senior researcher for ABC TV’s Gardening Australia. She is a horticulturalist, radio broadcaster and garden designer and blogs at

Buy the book here…

New Release: Leopard Dreaming by A.A. Bell

Dual recipient of the prestigious Norma K Hemming Award A. A. Bell returns with the stunning – and very personal – conclusion to the acclaimed Diamond Eyes trilogy

In a former life, native Queenslander A. A. Bell was a canny property investor who made her name as a bestselling author of personal finance books – a career that enabled her to retire debt-free at the enviable age of 26.

These days, however, she has established herself as a multiple award-winning author of speculative fiction thrillers. Her first foray into the genre in 2010 with Diamond Eyes introduced us to protagonist Mira Chambers. Reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, Mira is a flawed genius who has been damaged by years of institutionalisation, but whom is also in possession of special gifts that give her an unusual talent for solving mysteries.

Astonishingly, Bell’s depiction of Mira’s blindness isn’t drawn from just her imagination – she is herself visually impaired, and has lived with eyesight difficulties for most of her life. Despite years of tests, specialists have been as yet unable to fully diagnose or rectify her problems, which means that Mira’s experiences are based on many very personal ones for the author.

LEOPARD DREAMING is the third book in this thrilling series. Upon finding herself cut off and alone for the first time in her life, Mira is swept into a world of conspiracies and betrayals, where her dream of achieving a normal life is constantly thwarted by the far darker desires of her enemies.

Layers of secrets unravel as her world falls apart – until the ultimate sacrifice presents a chance to save her friend and revisit her lost love.

About the author

A. A. Bell’s debut thriller DIAMOND EYES was Highly Commended in the 2008 FAW Jim Hamilton Award, and both it and its sequel HINDSIGHT won the prestigious Norma K Hemming in consecutive years (2011 and 2012). She has also published non-fiction bestsellers about finance. A. A. Bell lives near Brisbane with her partner and children.

Buy the book here…

NYR12 vids

Time for some videos. Specifically, some videos dealing with the National Year of Reading (NYR12).

“I want Australia to be many things: a prosperous nation, an innovative nation, but I certainly want us to be a reading nation… I want every Australian to know the joy and pleasure that comes from books and reading.”
Julia Gillard, PM

Throughout this year, the NYR12 initiative has been aiming to do just that — spread the joy and pleasure that comes from books and reading. Given that 2012 will be coming to an end in just over two months, I thought that now would be a good time for a post about NYR12. So, I had a look at their YouTube channel and picked out some of their vids to show you.

Lets start off with the simple little promo that’s been online since September last year:

NYR12 has over 100 ambassadors promoting reading across the country. Many of them have recorded messages to share via the NYR12 site. Here’s one from their patron, actor and author William McInnes:

Hazel Edwards, author of many books for kids, teens and adults, is probably best known for her picture book, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake. But she is also the co-author of the controversial (and utterly brilliant) YA novel about a teen who is transitioning gender from female to male, f2m: the boy within. Here’s her message:

Alison Lester, author and illustrator of books such as Sophie Scott Goes South and Noni the Pony, has this to say:

There are also messages from people involved with library administration. For example, Sue Hutley, Executive Director of the Australian Library and Information Association:

Finally, let’s go back to the beginning with a speech from the launch of NYR12 at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. I felt that, given her recent news-making speech, it would be rather appropriate to let our Prime Minister Julia Gillard have the last word:

Catch ya later,  George

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New Release: The Lost Diggers by Ross Coulthard

“It’s a treasure trove. It’s previously unknown, candid images of troops just out of the line. Men with the fear and experiences of battle written on their faces.” – General Peter Cosgrove, AC MC, Former Chief of the Defence Force 

During the First World War, thousands of Aussie diggers and other Allied troops passed through the small French town of Vignacourt, two hours north of Paris. Many of them had their photographs taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier as souvenirs while they enjoyed a brief respite from the carnage of the Western Front.

For all too many of those soldiers, this was their last moment away from the lines before being sent to their deaths in battles that are now part of the mythology of Australian nationhood – Pozieres, Bullecourt, the mud and blood of the Somme. The weariness and horror of battle is reflected in their eyes, but the photos also capture a sense of camaraderie, high spirits and even a soupçon of romance.

The Lost Diggers is the riveting detective story of the hunt across northern France for a rumoured treasure trove of antique glass photographic plates that led investigative journalist Ross Coulthart to an ancient metal chest in a dusty attic in a small farmhouse.

The nearly 4000 glass plates he and his team from Channel 7’s Sunday Night discovered are being hailed by experts as one of the most important First World War discoveries ever made.

But that was just the beginning. With meticulous research and the help of descendants, Ross Coulthart has been able to discover the stories behind many of the photos, of which more than 330 appear in the book.

Part thriller, part family history and part national archive, The Lost Diggers brings together these wonderful images and the amazing stories behind them.



“I think these photographs rank up there with one of the most important discoveries from the First World War.” Ashley Ekins, head of Military History, Australian War Memorial, Canberra 

Part of the team on Channel 7’s Sunday Night, Ross Coulhart is one of Australia’s foremost investigative journalists. He’s won a Logie and five Walkley journalism awards including the Gold Walkley. Ross has previously reported for Four Corners, Sixty Minutes and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is the author of two previous bestsellers

Buy the book here…

Review – Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations

Love a good inventions book, me, and this wonderful compilation of fascinating info had my heart racing. If it can do that to a comparably jaded adult, just imagine what it would to for kids.

Chris Cheng and Linsay Knight have put together an impressive catalogue of uniquely Aussie creations, sorted into categories like Communications and IT, Health, Household and Office, Leisure, Transport and Research. Each entry within these categories is introduced by way of a ‘problem’.

Problem: How to enable a profoundly deaf person to hear everyday sounds when hearing aids don’t work for them.

Solution: Cochlear Implant

Kids are then treated to a fascinating serve of info, explaining the inspiration behind each creation, its history, its function, who creates them, how they are made and how they benefit mankind. Diagrams and photographs add depth to the text, and give readers a unique view that may not have been seen before. I know I had never seen a chochlear implant up close and personal.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations is a beautifully designed and well-laid-out book with colourful typeface and gorgeous design elements. It will attract both the young and jaded alike, and would make for a fascinating addition to both libraries – and the Christmas stocking.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations was produced in association with the Powerhouse Museum and is published by Random House.

Review: The Misunderstanding by Irène Némirovsky

There is an old-fashioned style about this book. Not just because it was written in the 1920s and is set in France just after the First World War, but because Némirovsky writes in a way which is more leisurely and descriptive than is customary now. Her character live at a more leisurely pace. Social status is more important and social conventions are more fixed. In spite of that, and in spite of the seeming sentimentality of the situation she depicts, Némirovsky creates characters who are increasingly swayed by the harsh realities of life, her psychological perception is acute and her social irony is often sharp. She tells a simple story of an adulterous love affair and she tells it beautifully, but there are depths to this book which are still relevant today.

Her hero, Yves Harteloup was, she tells us, born in 1890 – “that divine, decadent era when there were still men in Paris who had absolutely nothing to do” . But all that has changed. Now, like many other men of his class, he has returned from the horrors of war, his parents have died, his inheritance has all but gone, and he leads the routine, dreary life of an employee. Having carefully saved enough money to take a holiday in a favourite Basque resort of his childhood, he meets and becomes infatuated with a young woman whose husband is still wealthy and who still leads a life of luxury and boredom. Denise, wants love, romance and excitement. She falls in love with Yves but their two lives, which once would have been very similar, are now very different and the expectations of each are different.

Yves, is a three-times decorated battle survivor and his war-time experiences have scarred him mentally as well as physically. He had once lived the life of a rich young man and had mistresses. Now he is disillusioned, afraid of intimacy, afraid of loss, and is living just within his means although he is still known and accepted in wealthy circles. He is infatuated with Denise, yet cannot give her the excitement and the constant reassurance of his love that she needs. Her demands begin to irritate him but he is upset when she is unhappy.

Denise, who is outgoing and talkative, cannot understand his need for peace and reassurance. She cannot understand why he will not commit himself and voice his love, and his silence baffles and upsets her. She is thoughtless about his office commitments and about his strained financial situation. But she is desperately unhappy when she cannot be with him.

Neither fully understands the needs of the other, and their different situations gradually pull them apart.

Irène Némirovsky was only twenty-one when she wrote this book but she had already known fear, insecurity and the vast changes brought about by war. She was born in 1903 in Kiev, daughter of a successful Jewish banker. When she was fourteen her family fled from the Russian Revolution, first to Finland then, the following year, to Paris. They arrived there just at the end of the First World War. Irène studied at the Sorbonne and, at eighteen, she began to write novels. She went on to be widely recognized as a major writer but in 1940, with Paris under German Occupation, she was prevented from any further publishing.  In 1942, she was arrested as a stateless person of Jewish descent and she subsequently died of typhus in Auschwitz.

Némirovsky’s books have only recently been translated from the French and The Misunderstanding, which was her first novel, displays the sharpness and perception which made her such a success. Above all, it captures the fragile and fleeting nature of happiness.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

The Biggest Estate on Earth wins big in Victorian Prize for Literature

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage  has won the 2012 Victorian Prize for Literature, which carries a prize of $100,000.

The winning titles in the other categories of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards are:

Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction ($25,000)

  • Foal’s Bread (Gillian Mears, A&U)

CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry ($25,000)

  • Armour (John Kinsella, Pan Macmillan)

Prize for Writing for Young Adults

  • The Shadow Girl (John Larkin, Woolshed Press)

Louis Esson Prize for Drama ($25,000)

  • A Golem Story (Lally Katz)

People’s Choice Award

  • National Interest (Aiden Fennessy).



Hilary Mantel the third author to win Man Booker twice

Hilary Mantel has become the third author to win the Man Booker Prize twice.

She was yesterday announced as the winner of the 2012 award for her novel Bring Up the Bodiesbeating 145 entrants in this year’s award.

The novel is a sequel to her 2009 Booker Prize prize winning book, Wolf Hall.

Peter Carey and J M Coetzee have also won the prestigious prize twice.

Australia’s Most Underrated Books are named

The Small Press Network announced this morning the shortlist for the first Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA) – a prize that was established earlier in 2012 to help showcase some of the outstanding books being published by small and independent publishers in Australia.

The MUBA, sponsored by Kobo, is the only literary prize in Australia to reward both the author and the publisher, with a Kobo Vox Tablet plus $250 book credit going to the winning author, and $1000 worth of free ebook conversions awarded to the publisher.

Director of Vendor Relations at Kobo, Malcolm Neil says: “So much of what happens in book publishing gets missed or hidden by the weight and noise from major publishing houses. Kobo loves these books and is excited to be part of a prize that clears away the noise and helps the reader find these gems.”

The Shortlist is:

The winner will be announced at the gala night literary debate and official launch of the first Independent Publishing Conference, at the Wheeler Centre November 8th.

Here’s a list of the books on the shortlist at Boomerang Books…

Here’s a list of the eBook versions of the shortlist at Booku…


Ever the misogynist

Macquarie Dictionary broadens definition of misogyny


As Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, I picture myself as the woman with the mop and broom and bucket cleaning the language off the floor after the party is over. And in this case it was quite a party.

But what it left on the floor was misogyny – with a new meaning. The established meaning of misogyny is ‘hatred of women” but this is a rarified term that goes back to the 1600s in English and that acquired the status of a psychological term in the late 1800s when its counterpart misandry was coined. Both terms refer to pathological hatreds.

Since the 1980s misogyny has come to be used as a synonym for sexism – a synonym with bite but neverthess with the meaning of ‘entrenched prejudice against women’ rather than ‘pathological hatred’.

It seems to be used for an underlying frame of mind or attitude of which sexism is the outward form, displayed in language, discriminating policies, workplace injustices, etc.

The recent debate brought this to the attention of the Macquarie Dictionary editors. The extended meaning was not created in that debate, just made highly visible. And so we felt the need to keep the record of the language up to date, and to adjust the entry at misogyny to cover its current use.


I’m sticking with the small press theme of my last post. From Felicity Dowker’s book, Bread and Circuses, we go to Narrelle M Harris’s Showtime. From Ticonderoga Publications we go to Twelfth Planet Press.

As well as anthologies, collections, novellas and novels, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a series of mini-collections by some of Australia’s best women short story writers. Titled Twelve Planets, there is (not surprisingly) twelve books planned for the series — each one containing four short stories. Narrelle’s Showtime is the third out of the seven thus far released. The other six are:

  • Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren
  • Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex
  • Nightsiders by Sue Isle
  • Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan
  • Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

And Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the next scheduled release.

Narrelle M Harris is an extremely engaging writing, and I’ve loved her stuff ever since her fanfic days (yes, lots of writers got their start in fanfic). I particularly love her Melbourne-based vampire novel, The Opposite of Life… and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel Walking Shadows. But now, on to Showtime

Four stories, all of them excellent. “Stalemate” is a story about unhappy family relationships with a paranormal twist. It’s a good opener. Next up is “Thrall”, an amusing look at how an ancient vampire might fit in (or not) in modern society. And then we have my favourite, “The Truth About Brains”. This is, I guess, a YA zombie story. It’s funny and it’s engaging, with likeable (and not so likeable) characters, but it also has its darker moments. Finally we have the title story, “Showtime”. It’s a great way to finish. Gary and Lissa, the vampire and the librarian from The Opposite of Life, are back for a little mini adventure at the Royal Melbourne Show. Fun times! 🙂

All the stories deal with the concept of family and they all have a supernatural element. But each story also has a unique approach, often twisting an expected element.

I think that Harris is at her best when combining dark supernatural themes with humour. And you certainly get that in Showtime. It’s an excellent little collection and a great introduction to her writing. My only complaint is that four stories are not enough.

Catch ya later,  George

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Favourite Vintage-Inspired Books

I’m a sucker for vintage books but I’m also loving modern books with that delectable retro edge. Here are some of my very favourite vintage-inspired children’s picture books. Leave a comment and let me know yours. You can see some of my favourite vintage books right here.

Next Stop Grand Central by Maira Kalman

At Grand Central Station, Chief of Police George Coppola finds lost people, and Mr. Chidchester, head of the Lost and Found, finds lost dogs. Marino Marino makes oyster stew, while thinking up interesting math problems. A man in a porkpie hat buys cherry pies. Maira Kalman’s stylized artwork, along with entertaining text, brilliantly captures the excitement of Grand Central Station, “the busiest, fastest, biggest place there is”.

Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

Iggy Peck has been building fabulous creations since he was two. His parents are proud of their son, though sometimes surprised by some of Iggy’s more inventive creations (like the tower he built out of used diapers). When a new second grade teacher declares her dislike of architecture, Iggy faces a challenge. He loves building too much to give it up! With Andrea Beaty’s irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts’ unique and stylish illustration, this book will charm creative kids everywhere.

Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah Ohoroa

Bernard loves curling up to go to sleep. But there is one little problem. Bernard snores…LOUDLY! So loudly that he keeps all of the otters awake during naptime. So loudly that Grumpy Giles tells Bernard to move his snoring somewhere else!Sad and lonely, Bernard tries sleeping in new places far away from the other otters: in a lake, in puddles, in a fountain. But no matter where he tries to nap, somebody complains. He just wants to hear two words: “Goodnight, Bernard!”

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino

A wide-eyed girl and her mother explore London’s busy streets and towering views in this child-friendly tribute to an incomparable city. Follow them as they alight the classic red bus and begin a whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic land marks. In this ode to Britain’s bright and bustling capital city, Salvatore Rubbino’s fresh, lively paintings and breezy text capture the delight of a young visitor experiencing the wonders of London firsthand. And of course, what’s London without a little rain? It is visually stunning, evoking all the colour and excitement of the capital from a child’s perspective. It is packed with nuggets of information about London that both enlighten and entertain.

10 Little Insects by Davide Cali

10 Little Insects is a hilarious riff on that celebrated whodunnit, Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians. In this innovative graphic novel for younger readers, ten very different insects, each with something to hide, are brought together to a mysterious house on a secluded island for the weekend. Then, one by one, they start dying in very unusual circumstances. But all is not as it seems, as Cali and Pianina delightfully subvert the whodunnit genre with a story that is at once brilliant, baffling, laugh out loud funny and somewhat surreal.

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

Bored with life at the zoo, an adventurous walrus escapes to the outside world. With the zookeeper in hot pursuit, Walrus cleverly tries on all sorts of hats to disguise himself. Will a yellow hardhat point to a new life as a construction worker? Or will a red swimming cap reveal his true talents? Follow the happy-go-lucky runaway as he hides amongst firefighters, businessmen, and even high-stepping dancers in this delightful wordless picture book.

ABC Apple Pie by Alison Murray

When an apple pie arrives piping hot on the kitchen table, a little pup does everything from A to Z to get his paws on it. He Ogles it. He Pines for it. But will his ABC antics land him a slice? Apple Pie ABC is a delicious twist on traditional verse brought to life by Alison Murray’s simple words and whimsical illustrations. Sure to delight readers of all ages, it’s a book to savor again and again.

My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklea and Matthew Forsythe

Meet Elizabeth. She’s got an excellent pet duck, a loving granddad and a first name that’s just awesome. After all, she’s got a queen named after her! So she’s really not amused when people insist on using nicknames like “Lizzy” and “Beth.” She bears her frustration in silence until an otherwise ordinary autumn day, when she discovers her power to change things once and for all. The cheeky, retro,  two-toned illustrations reflect the story’s energy and sass, and the comic-book-like format makes it easy to follow.

Paul Thurby’s ABC

This is a highly collectible picture book with each spread a unique and highly-collectable artwork from acclaimed graphic artist Paul Thurlby. Thurlby creates a stunning alphabet that helps to make the shape of each letter memorable and fun. From ‘A for Awesome’, to ‘Z for Zip’, this is a stunning book from a unique artist.

You Will be My Friend by Peter Brown

Today is the day the exuberant Lucy is going to make a new friend! But she finds it’s harder than she had thought–she accidentally ruins the giraffe’s breakfast and is much too big for the frogs’ pond. Just when she’s about to give up, an unexpected friend finds her, and loves her just the way she is. This heartwarming story offers a unique and humor-filled spin on the all-important themes of persistence and friendship.

The High Street by Alice Melvin

Sally has a list of 10 items she needs to buy. Open the flaps to see inside the shops, where unusual things are going on. Should those wild animals be upstairs in the pet shop? Will the plates fall off the wall in Mr Cooper’s China Shop? And can Sally find everything on her list? Each shop is depicted through this charming story in Alice Melvin’s trademark, highly detailed illustrations, that both hark back to a previous age and remain strongly contemporary.

Sam and His Dad by Serge Bloch

Young Sam talks about his little brother, his mother, his life at home, and especially the time he spends with his dad and how he wants to be just like him when he grows up.


I’ve found my thrill, on Berry Hill

Quite a few cookbooks come across my desk these days and I just love them all.  To my mind cookbooks and books about food are a little like chocolate – there’s no such thing as too much.  Of course, my favourites are the simpler, more fresh/local food based books – and anything that references chocolate in any way at all – rather than anything too fancy or too demanding.  I’m still very lazy, and keeping things simple works well for a lazy girl.  The latest book I’ve seen which ticks all of these local/fresh boxes for me and appeals very much on a personal level is “Berry Hill – stories and recipes from Beeerenberg Farm” by Grant Paech (Wakefield Press).

I guess my personal investment in this book comes from the fact that Wakefield Press is a local Adelaide publishing house of whom, I believe, all South Australians should be very proud,  Beerenberg Farm is geographically very local to me (a five minute drive) and my family is a significant consumer of their products.  Sections of my fridge or pantry shelves are suggestive of a supermarket shelf with an embarrassingly wide selection of the familiar heritage green and gold labels.  A testament to the fact that I don’t preserve as much as I ought perhaps, but I prefer to think of it more as an indication of the quality and diversity of the Beerenberg range.

Beerenberg Farm is a major South Australian family-owned and run business that grows strawberries on land acquired six generations ago.  They have become our ambassador to the world  whose sweet little jars of jam are a welcome reminder of home and can be found on tray tables in the air and on breakfast tables in the swishest hotels in Asia.  “Berry Hill” is the story of the simple beginnings of an Adelaide Hills dairy farm and how it morphed into a major tourist attraction and a commercial success producing a range of 60 hand-crafted jams, marmalades and condiments which are now exported all over the world.

Written in the first person, Grant Paech tells his story in a genuinely warm, intimate style and accompanies the narrative with a lush selection of photo’s – many from the private family album.  He shares with us a little of the history of his family, his life growing up in the Hahndorf area of the Adelaide Hills, his courtship of his beloved wife Carol (who lovingly “guides me with advice so that one day I will become the perfect husband”) before moving on to the evolution of the family farm from a dairying property to South Australia’s largest publicly-accessed strawberry patch.   With lightness and humour, Grant recounts the beginnings of the jam business, all the way from the first batches cooked by himself in the family kitchen – as a prior ill-judged remark about Carol’s jam-making skills left him reluctant to broach the subject again – to the negotiations with senior international buyers which resulted in the little pots presence on my breakfast table in Hong Kong earlier this year.

The story rings with Grant’s entrepreneurial spirit as he successfully squared off to the inevitable challenges that arose with each stage of his planned developments, but never fails to acknowledge the contribution of his staff, some of whom have been with Beerenberg for over 30 years.   These days Grant is beginning to take things a little more quietly as his three children, Anthony, Robert and Sally take over the reins of a family business that was inducted into the Family Business (SA) Hall of Fame and the South Australian Food Industry Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named 2011 Telstra South Australian Business of the Year.

Interspersed with this remarkable success story are useful hints on the choosing, storage and usage of fresh strawberries – 70 tonnes of which were produced on the farm last season and 5 tonnes of which were picked by the public –  and the second part of the book contains a large and luscious collection of recipes supplied by local Adelaide Hill chefs using both fresh strawberries, plus  various Beerenberg products.  This is one of my favourites as I always have a jar of Beerenberg Caramelised Onions stashed on the shelf and, with bought pastry, it can be whipped up in no time at all.

Beerenberg Caramelised Onion, Goats Cheese & Cherry Tomato Tart

Author: Tyson, of the Hahndorf Inn
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 55 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 6
Perfect for a light lunch & easy to whip up quickly with a few pantry staples
  • Shortcrust pastry (home made or shop bought)
  • 5 eggs
  • 400 mls pouring cream
  • 300 gms goats cheese
  • 180 gms cherry tomatoes
  • 250 gms Beerenberg Caramelised Onions
  • 5 sprigs of thyme, rinsed, leaves stripped
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 170C.
  2. Grease and line 20 cm tart tin with the rolled out short pastry. Line pastry with baking paper & fill base with pastry weights or dried beans.
  3. Blind bake pastry for 10-15 minutes until golden.
  4. Remove paper & weights, lightly brush pastry with one beaten egg, return base to oven for 2 minutes, just to set egg.
  5. Crumble goats cheese into tart shell, spread caramelised onion over cheese.
  6. Whisk remaining eggs and cream together with salt, pepper & thyme, then pour gently into tart case.
  7. Cut cherry tomatoes in half & dot them on top of tart.
  8. Bake around 35-40 minutes, until tart is set and golden.

This is a story of an iconic Australian family business and a tribute to the spirit which accompanied the early German Lutheran immigrants to the Adelaide Hills – a spirit which lives on proudly in their now very Australian descendants.

Buy the book here…

Amanda McInerney blogs at Lambs’ Ears and Honey

Paullina Simons to tour Australia with new book, Children of Liberty

Paullina Simons to tour Australia with the prequel to One of the Top Ten Love Stories of all time, Children of Liberty

Simons shows the frailties of families and human nature and demonstrates that there’s so much more to life, such as honesty and loyalty – Good Reading

International bestselling author Paullina Simons is heading back to Australia to promote her new book Children of Liberty – the prequel to her bestselling novel The Bronze Horseman.   The Bronze Horseman has been voted as “One of the Top Ten Love Stories of all Time”! *

Twelve years later and with some 2 million books sold in Australia, this new work has hit the Top 20 in the first two days of being published and is destined to thrill her fans who grew up with her novels from Tully, The Bronze Horseman (and its trilogy) to her last novel The Song in The Daylight.

Children of Liberty is set at the turn of the century and the dawning of the modern world. Gina Attaviano from Belpasso comes to Boston’s Freedom Docks to find a new and better life, and meets Harry Barrington, who is searching for his. The fates of the Barringtons and Attavianos collide on a course between the old and new, between what is expected and what is desired, what is chosen and what is bestowed, what is given and what is taken away. Set against the dawning of a new civilisation, the Model T, the birth of unions, the Russian Revolution, the upheaval of nations, and as America races headlong into the future, Gina and Harry’s love story will break your heart.

Paullina Simons says ‘Gina and Harry fall in love during one of America’s defining moments.  Just as they seek to discover who they are, America enters a turning point in its own history. On the brink of becoming a world power, it struggles with the modernisation of its industry and workforce, at the same time attempting to expand its global reach with the building of the Panama Canal.  This is an exciting time in American history.   The mix of a compelling personal narrative set against the backdrop of transformative historical events has always been the subject that’s fascinated me, in the books I read and also in my own fiction.’

Buy the book here…

About Paullina Simons

Paullina Simons was born in Leningrad, Russia, in 1963. As a child she immigrated to Queens, New York, and went to college on Long Island. She moved to England to attend Essex University before returning to America and graduating from Kansas University. She has lived in Rome, London and Dallas, and now lives in New York with her husband and children. All of her novels have been top ten bestsellers, from Tully to Road to Paradise, and of course, her well-loved trilogy of The Bronze HorsemanThe Bridge to Holy Cross and The Summer Garden. The Bronze Horseman’s title was taken from the tragic poem by Alexander Pushkin, and the novel, which skilfully highlights the ironies of the socialist utopia, was based on the experiences of Paullina’s grandmother, who survived in Leningrad through the German Blockade.

‘Paullina Simons knows how to keep the reader turning the pages’ – Courier-Mail

Australian Tour:

Sydney, November 2-5

Gold Coast/Brisbane, November 6–8

Perth, November 9-10

Adelaide, November 12-13

Melbourne, November 14-16

Hobart, November 17-18

Canberra, November 19

Print will go within 50 years: Penguin CEO

Outgoing global CEO of Pearson (parent company to Penguin and The Financial Times) Dame Marjorie Scardino reckons that 50 years from now, her company is unlikely produce any more printed products – quite a statement considering many in the industry believe ebooks will never replace the printed book entirely.
Continue reading Print will go within 50 years: Penguin CEO

New Release: Queen Victoria’s Christmas by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

A Gloriously funny tribute to a little known corner of royal history – complete with Christmas chaos

The sequel to the hilarious (and historically accurate) QUEEN VICTORIA’S UNDERPANTS, this Christmas tale tells the story of one of our most endearing Christmas traditions – the Christmas Tree

Something strange is happening at the palace and the dogs can’t work it out.

The cooks are busy … are royal visitors arriving?

Mysterious parcels are arriving.

And most curious of all … what is that TREE doing in Prince Albert’s study?

From the creators of the delightful QUEEN VICTORIA’S UNDERPANTS comes the story of the first ‘traditional’ Christmas, complete with a Christmas tree and presents for the family, as seen from the point of view of Queen Victoria’s dogs.

JACKIE FRENCH is one of Australia’s most renowned and best-loved children’s authors. She is a full-time writer who lives in the Araluen Valley, NSW.Jackie’s books have won numerous awards, both in Australia and overseas, and they have been translated into over twenty languages.

BRUCE WHATLEY has been writing and illustrating award winning children’s books for over twenty years. He has previously worked as an art director in advertising and has illustrated over 60 children’s books.

Buy the book here…

Banned author first Chinese national to win Nobel Literature Prize

Mo Yan has become the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Literature prize. Frequently banned in his native China, Mo Yan is an author whose work rings with refreshing authenticity – he is one of the most critically acclaimed writers of his generation, both in China and in the West.

The Chinese author, whose real name is Guan Moye, was presented with the award on 11 October by Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.

Check out the books by Mo Yan here…

4 Aussie Authors nominated for world’s largest children’s literature prize

Four Australian authors have been nominated for the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest prize for children’s and young adult literature.

Ursula Dubosarsky, Jackie French (pictured), Morris Gleitzman and Melina Marchetta are the Australian authors selected among a group of 207 candidates for the 2013 award.

The winner of this year’s award will be announced on 26 March 2013 in Stockholm.

Australian writers Shaun Tan and Sonya Hartnett have previously won the award in 2011 and 2008 respectively

A complete list of the nominees for the 2013 award can be found on the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award website.

Bread and Circuses

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you’ll know that I love Aussie small press. One of my favourite small press publishers is Ticonderoga Publications. They consistently produce exceptional genre books, and it’s one of those that I’m going to write about today.

Earlier this year I attended a spec fic convention in Melbourne — Continuum 8. At that convention I went along to the launch of Felicity Dowker’s book, Bread and Circuses. (see: “The post-Continuum report”) I’ve been eagerly looking forward to reading it ever since. I finally read it last month. And it’s one of those books that I just have to tell you about.

Bread and Circuses is a collection of horror short stories. This is not the mindless, blood-and-guts sort of horror. This is intelligent, creepy, innovative horror. This is the sort of horror that really gets under your skin and makes you think about things long after you’ve finished reading it. This is horror that, despite many fantastical elements (from vampires to dragons to creepy Santas), focuses squarely on the human condition. This is the sort of horror that I would happily recommend both to horror fans and to people who don’t usually read the genre.

As with any collection there are some stories that I like better than others. But there are no bad stories in here. Even my least favourite is still a damn fine piece of writing. And my favourite? Definitely “To Wish on a Clockwork Heart”. It’s about Marc, a man in a desperate situation, who meets a clockwork fairy. She too is desperate — she needs some ‘oil’ to lubricate her before she seizes up. Of course, there is a wish involved… but there are consequences. All the fantasy/horror elements aside, the heart of the story is a very human predicament — Marc’s desire to be reunited with his daughter.

And that’s what I love about these stories — the human element. Dowker is particularly adept at peppering her stories with wonderful little observations about humanity and its dichotomous nature.

“Such kindness in people. Such evil, too. Such a lottery as to which shone through.”

Each story is followed by an Afterword in which the author tells us a little about her creative process and motivations. As an author myself, I love having this little insight into each story. I know a lot of people don’t like this sort of thing, believing that stories should be left to stand on their own without explanation. But I’m happy these Afterwards are here for those of us who are interested. And if it’s not your thing, you can always skip them.

Felicity Dowker is a talented writer and this collection is evidence of that. More please!

Final word: Highly Recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

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Books old and new collide in Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore

A charming and hilarious adventure that has it all: secret societies, unbreakable codes, underground lairs, cutting-edge technology, the googleplex…and lots of books!

Clay Jannon, twenty-six and unemployed, reads books about vampire policemen and teenage wizards. Familiar, predictable books. Books that fit neatly into a section at the bookstore.

But he is about to encounter a new species of book entirely: secret, strange, and frantically sought-after.

These books will introduce him to the strangest, smartest girl he’s ever met. They will lead him across the country, through the shadowed spaces where old words hide. They will set him on a quest to unlock a secret held tight since the time of Gutenberg—a secret that touches us all.

But before that, these books will get him a job.

Welcome to Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Buy the book here…

MD of Boomerang Books Clayton Wehner caught up with the author, Robin Sloan:

Robin, congrats on a ripping yarn, my boy. I’m not normally a reader of fiction – particularly fiction containing vampire policemen, dungeon masters and teenage wizards – but this book tickled my fancy, particularly as I am a keen observer of the clash between old and new in the book world.

You’ve obviously got a thing for both books and technology and it’s plain to see that these two things have had an uneasy marriage to date. In Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Google doesn’t have the answer, but neither is it possible to find ‘immortality’ in old books…so where do you think books and bookstores are headed?

I’m not sure I agree with the part about the “uneasy marriage.” People think of this, right now, as a time of disruption and upheaval for books and bookstores, but in fact, the disruption started in the 15th century with the printing press and… it never stopped. The whole history of books and bookstores is a history of crazy competition and reinvention. There is no golden glowing Platonic bookstore—even though I might suggest the opposite in the form of Mr. Penumbra’s. Books themselves are a kind of technology, just as much as the computers and phones they’re meeting today, and as technology, they’ve always been changing.

So, I don’t know where it’s all headed, but I’m deeply bullish. This is a community and a technology that have met every challenge thrown at them for five hundred years. That’s more than the buggy-whips can say.

I love Google (I am an avid user of Google Apps, a Chromebook and an Android smartphone), but I also hate Google for its God-like power and category-killing potential – and many of my book industry colleagues share the latter sentiment, rather than the former. What are your views on Google’s library digitisation efforts, its frequent algorithm changes, its foray into eBooks, and its redoubling of efforts to extract pay-per-click payments for all retail listings in its search engine results pages?

Nowadays, Facebook has a billion users and Apple is making a billion dollars every week, but I still think of Google as the great web company. That’s because they combine over-the-top hubris (which you need, to work at the scale of the web) with a kind of anarchy (which you need, to work with the chaos of the web).

And even though it’s an enormous company, I’ve never gotten the same sense of uniformity from Google that I get from, say, Apple. Instead, it seems more like a grand federation of nerds, all pushing, pulling, arguing, inventing… and ultimately accomplishing things you’d never imagined were remotely within the realm of possibility.

Case in point: Even more than the original search engine, and even more than the great book-scanning effort, I’m astounded by Google Street View. (That’s why Street View plays a role in Penumbra.) I mean, at some point, somebody at Google said “hey, let’s take a picture of every house on every street in the world,” and… they did it. They built the machines, they wrote the code, and house by house, street by street,they’re doing it. It’s an astonishing achievement, and regardless of how you feel about any of Google’s products or policies in particular, I think it’s got to make you feel at least a little bit proud to be human.

Kat seems to be the perfect girl – attractive, smart, a Googler – but she spurns poor Clay when Google’s algorithms aren’t able to crack the Manutius code. Are all Google people this shallow and obsessed with their work?

Well, I don’t want to give anything away, but I don’t think that’s quite the end of Kat and Clay’s story.

And I don’t think “shallow” is the right word for Kat at all. She’s focused on her work at Google, yes, but only because she thinks it’s important and meaningful. You could definitely argue with her take on life and mortality, sure, but in terms of thinking not just big but long—thinking about how our actions today project out into the far future—I think the world could use a few more Kats.

What was it like working at Twitter? Do you think they’ll be around in ten years’ time?

Twitter was an amazing place to work, mostly because it’s full of people who are deeply interested in not just technology but the humanities, too. I mean, I had a really shocking number of colleagues who would avidly read both Hacker News and the Paris Review. There’s a lot of potential at that intersection; I try to get at it in Penumbra, but I think you see it in Twitter’s products, too.

As for ten years: if I had to bet on any internet service today, I’d bet on Twitter. But if it does stick around until 2022, I think it will be totally transformed—barely recognizable. We’ll have to explain to the kids just learning to read: “Well, you see, tweets weren’t always interactive—they didn’t used to be little worlds you could explore. Used to be, each one was just a line of text, only a sentence or two…”

Clay seems like a great name for an autobiographical character – I may even use that one myself one day. Have you always wanted to be called Clay? And where does the name Penumbra come from?

Ha! Clay’s got a lot of me in him, but so do the rest of the characters. And it’s his last name, Jannon, that’s really meaningful… but readers will have to do a bit of research to figure out why.

Penumbra just came to me, and not as a standalone name, but in the context of the store—the name on the glass. It was instantly and obviously the right choice. The shadow’s edge, the fuzzy boundary… there’s so much there. And besides, it looks great on the page.

Neel Shah’s Anatomix sounds like an awesome place to work with its boob simulation software. Do you have a thing for breasts? 🙂

I like exquisitely modeled 3D boobs as much as the next person. I also like the idea of combining something that seems boring, like niche professional software, with something that is definitely not boring, like boobs.

Corvina says to his disciples: ‘It is the text that matters..Everything we need is already here in the text. As long as we have that, and as long as we have our minds…we don’t need anything else’. Is that true?

Well, there really is something powerful about plain text. Think about the digital world. If you go back twenty-five years and pick a computer program at random, it won’t run the computer you’re using right now. You might be able to get it going with special hardware—can you find an old floppy disc drive?—and special software—can you somehow emulate an old TRS-80?—but it would take a lot of effort. Another twenty-five years, and it might be impossible.

Plain text, though—even plain text from twenty-five years ago—still works just fine. The format is fixed and it’s easy to access, no matter what kind of hardware and software you’re using. That’s pretty amazing.

So, is Corvina right? Is plain text all we need? No way. But is it a powerful tool—an ark for the stories and ideas that we want to preserve? Absolutely.

Thanks for speaking with us Robin and good luck with your sales.