Queen Victoria’s Underpants

Queen Victoria's UnderpantsGiven my infamous obsession with all things underpants, and considering that I pride myself on being relatively across Australian illustrated book royalty Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s oeuvre, I’m not sure how knowledge of Queen Victoria’s Underpants slipped past me.

Nonetheless, I’m rectifying that now. I mean, really, what’s not to sell you on a book about underpants like an illustrated cover featuring a windswept dog? Two windswept dogs if we’re going to argue semantics.

Queen Victoria’s Underpants is a whimsical tale with an important historical bent. Until Queen Victoria popularised wearing underpants, few women wore them (something that is, these days and to a underpants connoisseur like me, almost inconceivable).

Her championing of underpants meant—and here’s the kicker—that girls then had the freedom to engage in activities otherwise considered, without the modesty aid of underpants, to be unladylike or risqué. Cue horse riding and bike riding and dancing and archery …

Queen Victoria ruled half the world, the book’s un-named protagonist tells us, but she, like most people of her time, was underpants-less. ‘What if the wind blows the Queen’s skirt up?’ is the question that’s posed to refute the archaic claim that the Queen had no need of undies.

Broken down, the Queen Victoria’s Underpants’ premise is my friend’s someone did something incredible [insert heavy-hitting historic figure and their claim to fame here]. But her mum (as in the protagonist’s mum) made Queen Victoria’s underpants. This is the moment that the ‘My dad, picks the fruit …’ celebrating-the-everyday Cottee’s cordial jingle entered (and still hasn’t left) my head.

The tributes at the book’s beginning are whimsical, with double meanings set to deliberately sail over its target audience’s heads. French’s reads:
To Bruce, Lisa, Jennifer and Natalie, with love and enormous gratitude … playing with royal underwear has never been so much fun

Whatley’s reads:
For Lisa, who keeps me busy enough to afford clean underwear every day.

Diary of a WombatThe illustrations are, as always with this pair, complementary and complimentary all at once. The dogs’ facial expressions are, hands down, my fave elements.

I’ve got to say, though, that Queen Victoria’s Underpants is a bit light on substance—I expected more and better from such an accomplished, well-oiled writing-illustrating team as French and Whatley. I’m admittedly not in this book’s target readership, but I’d still argue that it doesn’t cater well to either kids’ imaginations or wink at adults—or do both, as most seriously good children’s books do.

For example, beyond bringing the quirky Queen Victoria creating an underpants trend trivia to our attention, the book doesn’t include enough historical matter to warrant inclusion on educational reading lists. Nor does it include story elements exciting or out-of-the-box enough to hook kids into reading it (or adults reading it to them) for free-time fun either.

Which kind of makes you wonder when—or rather, if—anyone’s reading it. Which in turn may explain why I hadn’t heard of this book, first published in 2010, until now. Which is why I think I’ll be sticking to re-reading French’s and Whatley’s back catalogue. Diary of a Wombat, anyone?

Bad Sex Award 2012 – Rowling and James on the outer

She smells of almonds, like a plump Bakewell pudding; and he is the spoon, the whipped cream, the helpless dollop of warm custard (The Yips by Nicola Barker)

The two authors heavily tipped to take this year’s most coveted and dreaded literary prize have failed to make the shortlist. Neither J.K. Rowling, for her first adult novel, nor EL James for her Fifty Shades trilogy, will be adding the bad sex trophy to their mantelpieces.

Jonathan Beckman, senior editor at the Literary Review, which organises the annual award, said nominations had poured in for Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. However, after ardent discussions about the book, the judges concluded she failed to meet the criteria. Despite “a couple of queasy moments”, as Beckman termed it, her writing is not nearly bad enough.

The other notable absentee is James’ Fifty Shades trilogy, the books which brought mummy-porn out of the e-readers and on to the best-seller shelves in every high street bookshop.

The full shortlist is: Tom Wolf nominated for the second time for Back to Blood, The Yips by Nicholas Baker, The Adventuress by Nicholas Coleridge, Infrared by Nancy Huston, Rare Earth by Paul Mason, Noughties by Ben Masters, The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills – a particularly worthy nomination, since Self’s own fiction has been shortlisted on three occasions– and The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine. Coleridge and Raine are also repeat offenders.

The winner will be announced at a lavish ceremony in London next month – and it is considered a badge of courage for the authors to attend to receive it in person.


Vale Bryce Courtenay

Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

Bestselling Australian novelist Bryce Courtenay passed away in Canberra last Thursday after a battle with cancer.  Rest in peace Bryce.

Media Statement
Issued by Penguin Group (Australia) on behalf of Christine Courtenay

It is with sadness Penguin Group (Australia) wish to advise that Bryce Courtenay AM passed away peacefully at 11:30pm on Thursday 22 November in Canberra with his wife Christine, son Adam and his beloved pets Tim, the dog, and Cardamon, the Burmese cat by his side. He was 79.

Christine Courtenay said this morning, “We’d like to thank all of Bryce’s family and friends and all of his fans around the world for their love and support for me and his family as he wrote the final chapter of his extraordinary life. And may we make a request for privacy as we cherish his memory.”

Gabrielle Coyne, Chief Executive Officer, Penguin Group (Australia) said, “It has been our great privilege to be Bryce’s publisher for the past 15 years. We, as well as his many fans will forever miss Bryce’s indomitable spirit, his energy and his commitment to storytelling.”

Bob Sessions, Bryce Courtenay’s long standing Publisher at Penguin said, “Bryce took up writing in his fifties, after a successful career in advertising. His output and his professionalism made him a pleasure to work with, and I’m happy to say he became a good friend, referring to me as ‘Uncle Bob’, even when we were robustly negotiating the next book contract. He was a born storyteller, and I would tell him he was a ‘latter-day Charles Dickens’, with his strong and complex plots, larger-than-life characters, and his ability to appeal to a large number of readers.

“Virtually each year for the last 15 years, I have worked with Bryce on a new novel. He would write a 600 page book in around six months, year in, year out. To achieve that feat he used what he called ‘bum glue’, sometimes writing for more than 12 hours a day. He brought to writing his books the same determination and dedication he showed in the more than 40 marathons he ran, most of them when he was well over 50. Not to have a new Bryce Courtenay novel to work on will leave a hole in my publishing life. Not to have Bryce Courtenay in my life, will be to miss the presence of a very special friend.”

The last word belongs to Bryce himself. In a moving epilogue in his final book, Bryce said to readers “It’s been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives. Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, ‘Thank you. You have been simply wonderful.’

Home Love

Home LoveFor a low-consuming environmentalist, I’m surprisingly obsessed with good design. Since buying my apartment, AKA the one space I can have some control over, I’ve become doubly so.

My apartment is sparsely decorated and I don’t buy anything that I don’t need, that isn’t relatively environmentally friendly, or that I don’t think will stand the test of time. But then, most good interior design is about simple elements used well and streamlining.

Rooftop conversion

I follow Megan Morton’s exploits online and now, having received her book in the post, in print. Morton is something of a rock star in Australian interior design worlds—she’s eminently talented and impossibly nice. The two combine to see her work sought after and we fans hang on her every design and word. She’s generous in giving away good design advice as well, and Home Love is no exception. It contains veritably impressive hints delivered in discrete, dive-in-then-dive-out themed sections.

Some of my favourite pages/themes include (and I have to apologise for the dodgy accompanying images—I wanted to give you a sense of what I was talking about, but I was tired, I was eating chocolate on the couch. Eating chocolate on the couch took precedence over just about everything else, including getting a proper camera and setting the shots up well. Besides, I can’t make the images look too good lest you won’t rush out and buy the book for yourselves):

The rooftop conversion
(see image above)

It might be all those books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen throughout my youth, but I’ve always lusted after an attic. Imagine all the books you could fit up there. Me and the friendly neighbourhood possum could share it.

Soft industrial
(see image below)

That bed! Those floorboards! Those vintage lockers! Enough said! If you find out where to buy them, please, please, please let me know. I am (and my sister is) sooper keen to find some vintage lockers. And then, once located, for someone to carry them up my two flights of stairs.

The bachelorette pad (see last image on the page)

You’ll have to especially excuse the slight blurriness on this photo. It appears that I can’t lick fingers and take in-focus photos. Suffice to say, in stark contrast to the milk chocolate I was consuming at the time of photographing, this apartment is white on white on a bit of cream with some sparkly bits thrown in.

Soft industrial

There are entirely impractical furnishings that range from fun to comfy to decadent and there are no kids or partners in sight in this Sex and the City-worthy style. I mean, who doesn’t want a ceiling-to-floor pendant chandelier? It—and this apartment as a whole—is what I would have were I a slightly girlier girl.

Relax, it’s casual

Relax, it’s casual incorporates cups of tea and mood boards, packaging them up with plenty of sunlight. It’s the quintessential extra room that, through its casuality and warmth, sees surprisingly high traffic. I see it being a writing and napping room too, but then, I see everything as a writing and napping room …

Contemplating wabi-sabi

I don’t pretend to know what wabi-sabi is (Morton’s text tells me ‘wabi’ means ‘lonely’ and ‘sabi’ means ‘rust’), but I will state up front that I love the (barely visible through my dodgy photography) raw-wood backboards and raw-wood bed frame as a whole. Fits perfectly with my simple, enviro-friendly ethos and aesthetic (and puts the Malm, my Ikea version of the same bed, to shame).

You can have tidy kids

Who’s talking kids? I’m talking me. Bunk beds and me, specifically. I’d argue that these are also the most adult-looking bunk beds I’ve seen in a while. Now, if you could just make them queen-sized, I’d take two.

Bachelorette pad

A cheat sheet for partying

Because who doesn’t need one of those? The sheet contains some gems, too, not least:

  • Do one thing but in huge volumes, e.g. oysters piled on a cupcake stand with lemons (I’d suggest substituting a vego option, but I get the simple, effective, do-it-in-bulk sentiment).
  • Accept that food only ever looks good on white plates (totes agree with that).
  • If you live near a cake shop or café, ask them to make you a larger version of their house speciality (clever).
  • Stock up on toilet paper (This one’s practical and giggle-worthy).

People Dressed As Books

TwilightI’ll keep this post short and sweet because I realise some of my recent posts have been impassioned and epic. Besides, the focus of this blog is best viewed rather than read. I’m talking about some adorkable pics of people dressed up as books.

I have to thank my friend and fellow writer and editor Judi for once again coming through with the interwebby goods. I don’t know where she finds this stuff, but I’m incredibly glad she does.

Nothing beats getting dressed up as an iconic Popular Penguin. It’s simple and oh so flexible: paint part of it orange and insert your title of choice here.

The Michel Foucault reference is a bit wanky (Foucault—the term, not the person—was bandied around too much for my taste in uni days and I’m happy to leave it behind) and the bible is likely to end in a crazy-assed religious fanatic versus atheist punch-driven debate.

The Twilight costume is ingenious, both because of its simple, arms-incorporating execution and because the costume looks padded—something that could come in handy should there be a fisticuffs (see above).

The book of fairytales is quaint and clever, although as a friend of mine pointed out, it would be better more pocket protector sized. The dictionary entry reeks a little of precious Hermione—clever, but not appreciated by others and certainly not the life of the party.

Fifty Shades of GreyI’m a little puzzled by the Fifty Shades of Grey costume. I suspect they’re hinting at the dog’s fur colour, although my initial, confused thought was that it was a reference to bestiality.

But my favourite—the one I’ve saved for last and that appears last on the page itself—is that of the book fairy. Those wings! That skirt! Someone have a fancy dress party so I can justify constructing one! Or getting someone to construct one for me! (Because let’s face it, I’m so craftily challenged I’d likely super glue or staple my fingers to my face.)


BossypantsBeing told that something is the most hilarious book ever is a sure-fire way to make it not. Hence the reason I’ve until now missed the Bossypants boat. (Well, that and because the freakish, hair man arms adorning the cover. Shudder.)

I figured recently that enough time had passed for me to not have unreasonable expectations of Tina Fey’s memoir—Fey is, after all, a woman so incisively intelligent I could watch YouTube videos of her smacking down ‘legitimate rape’ all day.

I’ll not deny that I found the first half of Bossypants, which charts her growing up, a little slower than the half that covers the most recent (AKA 30 Rock and Sarah Palin) stuff, but that’s possibly because I’m simply more interested in the latter. Regardless, the book’s printed testament to Fey’s unbridled brilliance. And to her breathtaking, fist pump-inspiring honesty and humility.

Fey’s coined the term ‘Blorft’, or ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum’, a term I hadn’t until today been able to voice but with which I well familiar. I now determined to use it (and attribute it, of course) widely.

Fey also openly admits to her mixed emotions and indecision about having a second child and the difficulties and guilt she faced not mastering breast feeding. How many writers do you know would offer this footnote, which at once raises fraught, worthy issues while also adding a self-deprecating, I-know-this-is-a-first-world-problem twist:

I know it’s bullshit that I say ‘babysitter’ instead of nanny. What I have is a full-time nanny, and I should be roundly punished for trying to make it seem like the teenager next door comes over one night a week. But I don’t like the word ‘nanny’. It gives me class anxiety and race anxiety. And that I why I will henceforth refer to our nanny as our Coordinator of Toddlery.

The work that catapulted Fey to worldwide fame and into our consciousnesses is undoubtedly her Saturday Night Live Sarah Palin, a woman I consider to be an abomination but that Fey is in her book surprisingly kind to. Fey also wrote some of these massively watched, massively lauded SNL skits. My favourite is:

Gwen Ifil
Governor Palin, would you extend same-sex rights to the entire country?

Gov. Sarah Palin
You know, I would be afraid of where that would lead. I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers.

One of the others she didn’t write but delivered with genius panache includes:

What’s the difference … 


between a hockey mom … 


and a pitbull?                                               



More than being a fantastic writer (as if that weren’t enviably enough), Fey’s also supportive of and generous to other writers, one of whom wrote this 30 Rock gem I’ve been espousing all day:

Oh, thank God. It was terrible. I went to her apartment. I don’t think she has a toilet. I saw my future, Jack.

Jack pours Liz a drink and hands it to her.

Never go with a hippie to a second location.

I could continue listing examples and espousing love for Fey’s work. Really, though, any reviews I could offer of the book have been more than amply and more articulately covered by the testimonies on the first page (literally the first page!). The Observer wrote:

There are some hugely funny bits, and some inspiring bits, and some nerdishly interesting bits, and some bits that read like essays in The New Yorker. There’s lots to enjoy, particularly if you are as I am, a Tina Fey fan girl.

The Evening Standard said:

It is Fey’s gift to be clever and human at once. Bossypants manages to be self-deprecating without being winsome […] Everything she has done has been on equal terms, but without ever turning her back on what it means to be a woman. How do I love Tina Fey. Let me count the ways …

So let’s say that I won’t do what someone did to me and tell you that Bossypants is the funniest book ever. It’s not. But it is really very good. I will say, though, that Fey’s book’s more than funny. It’s smart, it’s sassy, it’s startling, and it’s, as the Big Issue review said: ‘at once surprisingly deep and deliberately light’. I recommend you read it.

Review: Cézanne: A Biography by Alex Danchev

I am an ordinary reader who knows a little about art but I am no expert. I already like Cézanne’s later work but I know nothing about him, and I hoped that this book would tell me more about his life and about his work. It did both these things but I found it a most frustrating book to read, not just because the text is discursive but also because the layout of the book makes it hard to read.

The book is well illustrated, with small colour reproductions of work by Cézanne and other artists grouped together in three sections. There are also back-and-white drawings and photographs scattered throughout the text. However, the coloured illustrations are not in the order in which they are mentioned in the text, which means that one has to page back-and-forth through the book to find them. To take just two examples: in a single paragraph dealing with self-portraits the colour plates referred to are numbers 3, 28 and 25. All are in the first group of illustrations, but separated from each other by five or six pages. In another place, a portrait reproduced in plate 5 (front section) is compared with one reproduced in plate 59 (back section). To add to the problems, the black-and-white illustrations have no information with them and must be looked up by page-number at the front of the book; and the numerous notes, many of which are worth reading, are collected at the back of the book. The constant need to refer to different parts of a hefty book is cumbersome and irritating, and there is no built-in book-mark to make it easy to return to your place in the text.

As to the text: Danchev is clearly an art expert and he is very familiar with the world in which Cézanne lived and painted. But he often expects the reader to know as much about that Paris art scene and the artists and dealers involved in it as he does. Some names (Monet, Manet, Ronoir, for example)  are very well-known, some (like Achille Emperaire) much less so. He also jumps about in time to quote from a huge range of sources many of which have nothing to do with Cézanne but which just happen to include a felicitous phrase which Danchev wants to borrow. And not only does he deal with Cézanne’s life but he also describes, fairly extensively at  times, the lives of his family and friends. Some of this is interesting but too much of it is digression and Cézanne’s life gets somewhat lost in the process.

This is not helped by the seemingly random inclusion of five sections which deal with Cézanne’s self-portraits and are entitled ‘The Brooder’, ‘The Desperado’, ‘The Dogged’, ‘The Plasterer’, and ‘The Inscrutable’ . Only belatedly, and after some confusion, did I realize that these sections were self-contained and not a consecutive part of the story.

Both Zola and Pissaro were Cézanne’s close friends, and they are legitimately written about and quoted at length, but often Zola’s novels are taken as commentary on Cézanne’s life, as are the novels of other authors. Diary entries written by friends and friends-of-friends, and reported conversations between Cézanne’s friends and acquaintances, are also used fairly extensively. These may or may not throw light on the man himself.

Cézanne’s wife has a chapter to herself in an attempt to redress her customary neglect by Cézanne’s biographers. However, Danchev’s account of her relies on two rather formal letters which she wrote; and Cézanne’s many portraits of her, in each of which she looks different.The most Danchev can say in the end is that the “soul” of Hortense, “Le Boule (the Ball or Dumpling)” as Cézanne’s friends called her, “is encoded in the upper lip” in her portraits.

So, did I enjoy reading the book? No.

Did I learn anything from it about Cézanne and his art? Yes. There are valuable insights into his character and his art. I learned that Cézanne was independent, determined (“balsy” is a favourite adjective of Danchev’s), hard-working, touchy about celebrity when it came, and dismissive of the trappings of success. He pursued his unique approach to his art regardless of the opinion of others, and his work influenced artists like Picasso and Braque, and has gone on influencing artists ever since..

For those with patience, there amusing and interesting parts to this book and insights to be gained.

Buy the book here…

Ann Skea
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/

Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands

Isobelle Carmody’s Greylands is back! Originally published in 1997, this YA novel has been out of print for a number of years. But a new revised edition has now hit the bookshelves. Never having read it the first time around, I was delighted to be able to pick it up and finally give this highly regarded book a go.

An out-of-print book getting a second go at life is a truly wonderful thing. It’s an opportunity for new readers to discover the book and for old readers to reacquaint themselves. I know all about it! I went through the process earlier this year with the new edition of my YA short story collection Life, Death and Detention. So I am rather excited and pleased about the re-release of Greylands.

I was lucky enough to go to the relaunch of Greylands at the “Keeping Books Alive” conference on 22 October. It was enthusiastically released on the world by Maureen McCarthy. And Isobelle Carmody got the chance to speak about the importance of the story to her. (And I got the opportunity to have my copy autographed!)

Prior to this year, I had never read anything by Isobelle Carmody. She was one of those authors I had always been meaning to read, but who had somehow slipped through the cracks. But earlier this year I read the short story anthology Trust Me Too, which contains her story “The Journey”. I loved the anthology (and I’m not saying that just because I too have a story within its pages — it really is a seriously impressive collection) and was particularly taken with Carmody’s story. So when Greylands came out, I just had to read it.

It’s a fantasy story, within a story, told by a young boy attempting to navigate his own feelings about his mother’s death. Falling through a mirror, Jack finds himself in a strange world where everything is dull and grey and merely a shadow of its real-world self. There, he meets a girl who carries a burden — and they are pursued by fierce unseen creatures. Jack needs to resolve his own feelings in order to solve the mystery of this grey land.

The novel is an atmospheric, heartfelt and sensitive journey though a young boy’s grief. It’s exciting, mysterious and sometimes sad… but ultimately hopeful about the future. It is a great read. It won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel in 1998. I can certainly understand why.

This new edition, with a splendid cover from Grant Gittus, includes a new Foreward from Carmody. It provides some background to the story and highlights how personal it is to the author.

Highly recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

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The First Graphic Novel from Bestselling Author Kylie Chan



is the amazing story of Gold — a stone spirit and a chronic troublemaker in the court of the great Gods of Chinese mythology.

A mix of Kylie Chan’s brilliant storytelling and Queenie Chan’s beautiful illustrations, SMALL SHEN is a fantastic treat for fans of WHITE TIGER. Readers will be thrilled to discover the events leading up to John Chen and Emma Donahoe’s story in this wonderful prequel told in a unique mix of manga-style illustration and traditional prose.

The story follows Gold’s escapades throughout history, including seducing a dragon princess, attempting to steal one of the Tiger’s wives, making bets with demons, and working for the Blue Dragon of the East.

SMALL SHEN is a collectible piece of art for fans of Kylie Chan to treasure, but also a fantastic introduction to the gripping WHITE TIGER series. 

Buy the book here…


Kylie was born and raised in a typical Australian family, yet it was her marriage to a Hong Kong national that has had the largest influence on her writing career. Twenty years ago, she was married in a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony in Eastern China, and spent the following years immersing herself in Chinese culture and mythology.

Now living in Brisbane, she is a mother of two and the bestselling author of the Dark Heavens and Journey to Wudang trilogies.


Queenie was born in Hong Kong in 1980, and migrated to Australia when she was six years old. She is a manga illustrator who has collaborated with Dean Koontz on his New York Times bestselling ODD THOMAS series of graphic novels.

Foal’s Bread wins ANOTHER award

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears has won this year’s Colin Roderick Award – the book has already won major awards in both the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, as well as the ALS Gold Medal and The Age Book of the Year.

The Colin Roderick Award is presented each year by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies to ‘the best book published in Australia which deals with any aspect of Australian life’.

More information can be found on the James Cook University website here…

Buy the book here…

Breaking Dawn (The Film, Part 2)

Breaking DawnI went to the midnight opening of the ultimate Twilight film adaptation, Breaking Dawn Part 2 (herein referred to simply as Breaking Dawn), by myself. It’s something I don’t actually mind doing, with the midnight sessions making for fascinating people watching.

This time around it may have been a little too fascinating, with the guy behind me commandeering some of my seat with his skeevy feet (see photo). But nothing—not even a raging foot phobia—could dissuade me from watching this film.

Skeevy FeetWe were subjected to some 30 minutes’ worth of previews before Breaking Dawn began, something that’s a little testing of patience when, by embarking on seeing a session that technically starts tomorrow, you’re already up way past your bedtime.

The previews were a carefully planned marketing ploy designed to smoothly carry us grieving, now-filmless Twilight fans straight into the waiting arms of the next big-budget, Meyer-related, teen angst-inspired films.

The Host film version, as with the sank-almost-without-a-trace book that preceded it (I mean, how many of us have read it? How many of us even remember that Meyer’s written anything other than Twilight?), looks entirely rubbish.

Though a surprise inclusion in the mix, and though with Ang Lee at the directing helm and a ginormous budget at his disposal, Life of Pi, looked well done. I will, for reasons previously documented, never see this film, and the previews had me snorting inappropriately and attracting what’s-wrong-with-her? glances in my seat.

The standout preview, though, was Pitch Perfect (you can watch the trailer here), which stars Anna Kendrick (best known for her role as Twilight’s Angela, and hence the not-so-subtle you-should-totes-see-this link), Rebel Wilson (who was a standout in surprise hit Bridesmaids), and Anna Camp (for whom I developed a weird respect for after seeing her play vampire-hating Christian fundamentalist pastor’s wife Sarah Newlin in True Blood).

Kendrick’s ‘rebel’ character goes to uni and is ‘encouraged’ to (read: ambushed into) join a Glee-like club. I was part way through dismissing the film entirely, except that the preview was brilliant and brilliantly funny—think Glee without the stomach-turning twee. Call me a sucker, but it looks like Step Up meets Glee meets 10 Things I Hate About You with a bit more sass in between.

But all of that is background to what this blog’s really all about: the epic, series-wrapping Twilight Saga finale. Breaking Dawn picks up where the last film left us so cliff-hangingly (I mean, who didn’t gasp when Bella suddenly opening her newly red vampire eyes?). That is: two days after Renesme’s birth and Bella’s transition to vampiredom.

TwilightThe film opens with its characteristically beautiful-come-haunting theme song, with landscapes and nature writ large—as in macro—on screen. It’s a show-don’t-tell way of demonstrating Bella’s now-acute senses of sight, sound, and smell, and the first time we gain insight into what Edward has been experiencing all along.

From thereon in Breaking Dawn is like donning the movie equivalent of a comfortable onesie—daggy, not something you really want others to know you enjoy, but oh so comfortingly fantastic.

Breaking Dawn’s an assured adaptation of the hefty doorstop of a book, which many of us simultaneously loved and despised. Having signed on for the Twilight Saga saga, we had to complete its final installation. But Breaking Dawn read as though Meyer had both lost the plot and that she’d become too famous to be edited.

Thankfully, the film whittles the too-long book down to its key elements, reigns in some of the crazy plots (and stupid names) and, as a result, most of the characters and the tale come off looking reasonably believable. Or as believable as a bunch of humans playing vampires and werewolves in a chaste teen romance can.

Even the imprinting, which I had expected to come off paedo-creepy was well handled (and surprisingly entertaining, with Bella practically beating Jacob up and Edward watching on and refusing to intervene with unabashed glee). The romance in the love nest is tastefully done and not too awkward and corny, with Emmett allowed a ‘Did you break a lot of stuff?’ nod to the more adult elements.

Writing of breaking things, Bella’s new-found strength and speed lend themselves to some solidly funny moments, not least when she’s trying to practice walking to and sitting on a chair or when Emmett challenges her to an arm wrestle. And Kirsten Stewart made me laugh at her lip-curling and occasionally constipated stance as she tried to summon Bella’s added-in-post-production force field. I’ve missed that poor acting and frowny pout.

Volturi leader Aro is, as ever, awesomely creepy, his eyes widening in glee when he discovers the Cullen’s might have committed a killable crime. I laughed out loud when he uttered—and it could be an inadvertent coincidence, but I’m taking it to be a wink and a nod to Fifty Shades, the bestseller that Twilight inspired—‘Oh my’.

That’s not to say that Breaking Dawn’s entirely free of clunkers. The running that Bella now does with Edward is akin to the much-mocked tree climbing of previous films: super, special effects-induced cheesy. And there’s nothing more to say about the meme-inspiring sparkling in the sunlight. Except that there’s no such thing as too many sparkly vampire memes. I will also go so far as to risk hate mail by saying I think they could have chosen a better-looking baby (that and it appeared they were doing some weird soft focus around her face, which didn’t help).

Fifty Shades of GreyBella says that she was ‘born to be a vampire’, and it feels that both she and this film have finally found their feet. Maybe it’s that they’ve worked out what works or rather what doesn’t (CGI wolves, anyone?) or everyone’s finally relaxed and grown a bit into their roles, but Breaking Dawn is confident and fun and breathtaking.

Without giving too much away, there are also some elements that left (me included) the audience I-can’t-believe-that-happened gasping and then clapping in a far-out-this-adaptation-is-good kind of way. And then there are some that left me in slightly emotional awe.

The film includes some subtle nods to the films that have gone before and come full circle to recall and farewell the series’ cast and characters. There mightn’t be any outtakes (as we’d seen with Part 1 and as I’d so desperately hoped for Part 2) but I still recommend staying until the final credits roll. Now to just hang out for the 6 December Australian release of Pitch Perfect.

10 Things you (wished you) didn’t know about Dimity Powell – Children’s author

Welcome to my first post at Boomerang Books.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit my hands are trembling just a little. Taking hold of the reins that my colleague and dear friend Tania McCartney used to steer her posts so aptly and smoothly with for the past year or so, is by no means an easy feat. My heartfelt thanks and best wishes to you Tania!

So who is Dimity S Powell? DSP? Well, I’m often accused of my Debatable Sensory Perception on life; that is to say, the description ~ dim but nice ~ suits my persona well. But is there more to being Dim? You’re about to find out…

1.       The first short story I ever submitted was accepted by the School Magazine in NSW. It gave me immense hope and slightly unreal expectations.

2.       I once had a close encounter of the lost-in-a-triangular-kind-of way off the island of Bermuda whilst crossing the Atlantic, in a vintage Camper and Nicholson motor yacht. Fortunately, I was not transported off this planet, at least I don’t remember if I was.

3.       I used to play the flute – well. Now I just polish it – a lot. It’s shinier than some of my manuscripts.

4.       My first epiphany was at six years of age. I was standing in the girls’ toilets of my new primary school when I realised all of my friends were books. But this didn’t faze me in the slightest. I had the most profound thought: through books one could acquire anything, go anywhere and learn absolutely everything. It was a powerful realisation, and a conviction that I still carry today.

5.       At some point in my life, hanging one load of nappies (yes I used cloth ones) on the line was considered a herculean achievement. Now if I’m not juggling at least 15 balls, with my left toes whilst in an inverted yoga position, it’s just not a normal day.

6.       I considered living in Istanbul, twice, but never learnt to count over 1000 in Turkish. The cost of a loaf of bread would inflate a thousand Lira every three days. That’s ridiculously more fingers than I had to count with.

7.       I got wrinkly in a spa of George Harrison’s one time, but have never met him face to face.

8.       I read every Trixie Beldon mystery novel as a kid but have never ever felt the need to ‘solve’ anything; especially mathematical equations.

9.       I’ve eaten sea cucumber and alligator. Neither tasted like chicken. Both are infinitely more palatable than black boned chicken.

10.   I am a children’s author because I write for kids. I write for kids simply because it is so much fun.

I look forward to sharing my passion of all things Kids’ Lit with you in the weeks to come. Please excuse me though for a small while; my sleigh is about to depart and I’m due on board for the launch of my new Christmas kids’ novel, PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? Keep an eye out for me as I soar by.

Human Rights Literature Award shortlist released

The shortlist for this year’s Human Rights Literature Award has been announced.

The shortlist is:

  • Am I Black Enough For You? (Anita Heiss, Bantam)
  • The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die (David Nyuol Vincent & Carol Nader, A&U)
  • Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From (Tim Soutphommasane, NewSouth)
  • The People Smuggler (Robin de Crespigny, Viking).

The Human Rights Literature Award is presented annually by the Australian Human Rights Commission and this year the award winner will be announced on 10 December.

Farewell, so long . . . + introducing Dimity Powell

In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, one of my favourite things to do in the whole wide world, is read. And because I simply can’t help myself, I also love to talk to others about what I’m reading. This is why I review. I simply love to review . . . but I also love to write – and the creative powers that be {ie: my brain + heart} have made recent writing demands that are now outstripping my ability to review. This means that – with much regret – I am moving on from the Boomerang Books Blog in order to dedicate even more time to my craft.

I have simply adored my time with the fabulous, book-loving team at Boomerang. I have managed to accumulate an even larger library of books {if that’s at all possible} thanks to Boomerang’s stunning catalogue of highly-addictive titles, and I have so enjoyed bringing you news, reviews and interviews – from board books to YA.

I am leaving the children’s book part of this fabulous blog in the very capable hands of Queensland-based author Dimity Powell, whose adoration for literature and the written word will shine through in her posts. That’s Dim {above right} with me at my book launch in Brisbane earlier this year and she is quite simply the perfect person to bring you kids’ book news. I know you will love her as much as I do.

Wishing you all a blissful festive season and an intensely bookish 2013. I will be going on a long-yearned-for trip with my family at the end of the year, and will then be throwing myself into a series of books I’m very excited about. You can see what I’m up to at www.taniamccartney.com {with links to my blog, facebook, twitter, instagram, etc} and of course, I’ll still be active at Kids Book Review.

Thank you so much for following along – I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have.

Happy reading!

Aussies line up for world’s most financially-lucrative literary prize

A number of books by Aussie authors have been longlisted for the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the world’s most financially lucrative prize for a novel published in English.

Books by Australian authors on the longlist are:

  • What the Family Needed (Steven Amsterdam, Sleepers)
  • Estuary (Sam Bunny, Bay Owl Press)
  • Spirit of Progress (Steven Carroll, Fourth Estate)
  • All That I Am (Anna Funder, Penguin)
  • Sarah Thornhill (Kate Grenville, Text)
  • Five Bells (Gail Jones, Vintage)
  • Foal’s Bread (Gillian Mears, A&U)
  • Autumn Laing (Alex Miller, A&U)
  • Cold Light (Frank Moorhouse, Vintage)
  • Past the Shallows (Favel Parrett, Hachette)
  • The Street Sweeper (Elliot Perlman, Vintage).

The shortlist is announced in April next year, with the winner revealed in early June.

Truly Tan, an Australian ‘George’ from the Famous Five

Move over Clarice Bean and Ramona Quimby… there’s a new girl on the scene!

Melbournian Jen Storer is one of the loudest and most influential new voices in modern Australian children’s fiction. In 2011, her novel Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children– the story of plucky, flame-haired orphan Tensy – was shortlisted for a string of awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Best Children’s Fiction) and the 2011 CBCA Book of the Year.

This November, let Jen introduce you to another original and irrepressible new character from the Storer stable: Tan Callahan. Sometimes mischievous, often insightful and always funny, ten-year-old Tan is no wimpy kid.

‘Tan is exactly who I wanted to be when I was kid’, says Jen. ‘She’s an Australian George from the Famous Five, with a sense of humour’.

The first book in a trilogy of Tan adventures, Truly Tan is a uniquely Australian story that in the future will no doubt keep company with modern children’s classics like Clarice BeanJudy Moody and The Dork Diaries.

About the book

Meet Tan. She’s funny. She’s lively. She has the mind of a Great Detective …

Dear Diary

It’s official. Our whole family has moved to the country. The pets are disturbed and restless. My sisters are disturbed and restless — although that’s normal. What is not normal is a cursed fox and a haunted clubhouse. That is definitely unnormal.

At least the country people now have an expert in their midst. Someone with a cool head and a sharp eye. Someone who can solve intriguing mysteries and knows how to keep detailed Secret Spy Files.

Really, it’s lucky I came along when I did.



Ages: 8-12

Buy the book here…

About the author

Jen Storer is a talented and exciting writer for children. Her fantasy novel Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children was shortlisted for a string of awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Best Children’s Fiction) and the 2011 CBCA Book of the Year. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Jen worked in the publishing industry as an editor, a project manager and in creative development. Jen has a studio at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Sheryl Gwyther

Today is my second-last day at Boomerang Books – tomorrow I shall introduce my sensational new replacement! – but until then, it feels very fitting to feature Sheryl Gwyther in my last Very Bookish Questions. Sheryl is a talented, beautiful writer with a deep passion for children’s literature and literacy. She is also a dear and supportive friend. I hope you enjoy this wonderful peek into her bookish world.

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

Tricky question. I’m like a Will o’the Wisp … slipping between genres to whatever takes my fancy. At the moment, I’m into fantasy – YA fantasy, with the books of Juliet Marillier, in particular, Son of the Shadows (glorious, gripping story that I can’t put down). I also love stories for the 9-13 age group – after all, it’s for this age I most love writing.

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

Adventure, and fantasy too! Like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five, and the Narnia series, The Hobbit, and being a precocious reader that I was, those huge books of James Michener‘s from my mother’s bookshelf – didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in them, luckily!

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

Characters that make you fall in love with them. A plot that never falters. Words that force your imagination into overdrive. Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling; Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (suitable for older children).

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

Show them by example how enjoyable reading can be; read to them and make it interesting; make the weekly trip to the library a time of excitement and pleasure.

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

Ha, that’s easy! As well as all of the above in question three, I choose Michael Gerard Bauer’s The Running Man and Jonathan Stroud’s The Golem’s Eye, and Fox, a picture book by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Ron Brooks – it’s my favourite picture book of all time for its sparse, heart-rending storytelling and for Brooks’ brilliant art work. With an artist eye, I’ve examined with forensic detail the skilled techniques of his mark-making, right back to the ground he laid before he touched it with colour. Brooks is a master of his art.

About Sheryl

A children’s author from Brisbane, Sheryl writes novels, school plays, short stories and articles for children’s magazines, chapter books for educational publishers, and the odd ‘flash-fiction’ for adults. She’s the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI Qld, and is also on the Board of Directors of the Australian Society of Authors. Her awards include two ASA awards (both before she became a director!) and a May Gibbs Literature Trust Fellowship.


Bryce Courtenay’s new – and final – novel is released

The new – and final – novel, Jack of Diamonds, by Australia’s favourite storyteller, Bryce Courtenay, is now available. You can buy it here…

Celebrating the golden age of jazz, Jack of Diamonds is a true Bryce Courtenay classic spanning three continents and starring the irrepressible, quick-witted and big-hearted Jack Spayd.

Inspired by Bryce’s love of jazz and his own experiences working in the mines in Africa, Jack of Diamonds is a brilliantly entertaining story of chance, music, corruption and love.

Born into the slums of Toronto at the end of the roaring twenties, Jack Spayd grows up with a set of rules for home, school and the street where the strong rule the weak. But guided by a teacher who believes in him, a mother who protects him from his father’s drunken rages, and a friend, Mac, who introduces him to jazz, Jack discovers a life beyond Cabbagetown.

‘I’d discovered what was to become my first true obsession. I was completely obsessed, bowled over, struck by jazz lightning, whatever you want to name it.’

Turning his back on a promising classical career, Jack pursues his dream of becoming a professional jazz pianist, and rides the rails out West until he lands a job scuffing – playing everything from Rachmaninoff to ragtime. But in the dark gambling dens and honky-tonk bars of the devil’s playground that is Moose Jaw, Saskatchen, Jack receives more than a musical baptism of fire and makes a name for himself as a seriously smart poker player.

Soon the bright lights of Las Vegas beckon with the promise of legal gambling and a chance for Jack to see if he is good enough to make it as a jazz piano player in America. Caught up in the world of elite poker Jack falls under the spell of his boss, the enigmatic Bridgett Fuller, who has connections to the brutal Chicago Mob running Las Vegas. When someone gets badly hurt, Jack Spayd, also known as Jack McCrae, or Jack Reed, ex-piano player, now jazz harmonica player and sometime medic, is forced to flee for his life.

Leaving behind the one woman he adores, Jack sets sail for Africa where he begins work at the Luswishi River Copper Mine deep in the Belgian Congo. Soon his life-saving adventures lead to even more intrigue when he is given a rare African Grey parrot with a valuable secret, and before long Jack is drawn into a gambling ring run by ex-SS Germans.

‘It’s been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives.

Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, ‘Thank you. You have been simply wonderful.’

With love and admiration,


Hello ereading

Given that most of my work is digitally based, most people are surprised to find out I don’t yet own an ereader. It’s not because I’m dinosauring it up, dragging my heels and wailing that nothing will ever replace the smell of books (then sniffing physical books in a slightly creepy way). It’s just that I’ve been waiting for the format wars to end and for someone to release the ereader I’m after.

And by ‘someone’, I mean Apple. I’m actually ashamed to admit this, but I’m such a staunch Apple supporter and such an it’s-not-pretty-enough snob that I’ve turned my nose up at the previously released devices from other suppliers that have come close but not close enough.

I’ve resolutely steered clear of Amazon’s Kindle for reasons that I realise could just as easily be levelled at Apple itself: with their device and their one-of-a-kind file type, Amazon try to lock you in to their store.

Besides, Kindles utilise the nostalgic Etch-a-Sketch magnetic filings and they-used-to-be-handy rocker button technology, but deep down I’ve always known that LCD touch screens were the way of the future.

Combine those issues with region restrictions and the fact that Kindles aren’t the ugliest device ever but that certainly aren’t the prettiest and, well, despite desperately wanting to get in on the ereading world, I’ve been sitting, arms crossed, on the fence line.

Until now.

After weeks of others predicting it (it truly was one of the worst kept secrets in the company’s recent history), Apple released the iPad Mini. Despite Steve Jobs’ now-wrong prediction that no one needed a device sized in between the iPhone and the iPad (yep, even the best don’t always predict it right), the company’s relented and I’m, frankly, fist-pumping euphoric.

The iPad’s always been too large to be an ereader and it’s roughly the same size as my 13” laptop, making it a little redundant (and back-straining) to carry around both. But the just-over-seven-inch iPad Mini is, as Goldilocks would say, just right.

I will concede that this inaugural iPad Mini edition isn’t as speccy as it should be—with technology matching the now outdated iPad 2, it’s lacking such improvements as retina display.

But I also know I’ve held out on investing in an ereading device for too long to hold out even longer for Version 2. Besides, close inspection of the iPad Mini evokes in me words (superficial as they admittedly are) I’ve not been able to coo about any ereaders preceding it: ‘It’s so pretty’.

One of the things I find most interesting about the whole ereading and ereader world is that the content and devices through which to devour them are controlled not by publishers but by companies whose primary businesses include retail (Kindle), hardware (Apple), and advertising (Google).

That speaks volumes about publishers’ tech-unsavvy heel dragging and missed opportunities, although it arguably also says much about ones emerging from out-of-the-box thinking by publishing non-experts.

Likewise I’m intrigued that although everyone originally complained about backlit screens hurting the eye, that’s all but disappeared with the release of retina display. We may have unknowingly been complaining about the wrong thing (and yes, I realise that retina display absence is yet another reason why I should wait until the next iPad Mini version comes out … but won’t).

I’m also unsurprised but happy nonetheless that people with ereaders both purchase and read more books rather than the feared fewer (cheap prices combined with ease of purchase combined with not seeing the money disappear from their credit cards should never be underestimated).

And, as this infographic shows, ebook revenue is only on the up too, with ebooks now making up more than 10% of 36% of publishers’ revenue. Ebook sales are also starting to outstrip physical book sales, with that much-touted figure that Amazon sells 114 ebooks for every 100 physical books it sells. Imagine if publishers embraced the opportunities and got themselves across the technology, eh?

The infographic is a few months old, though, and I wonder how the iPad Mini will change its data. The graphic shows that Amazon owns the content corner, but people prefer reading on the iPad.

With the more portable, more manageable iPad Mini on the market, this market share will likely go up. Sure, it’s one behemoth stealing market share from another, but it’s a behemoth with a better looking device. I’ll let you know how I go with the iPad Mini (I’m thinking of getting the white one—what do you think?) once I’ve had a chance to properly road test it.

Nikki Gemmell’s honest notes on life

‘I’m writing these pieces for that ultimate accolade: the fridge door.’

Honestly: Notes on Life by Nikki Gemmell

 This book celebrates a year of thought-provoking columns in THE AUSTRALIAN WEEKEND MAGAZINE from the bestselling author of The Bride of Stripped Bare and With My Body.

‘… I feel my work’s marked by bewilderment, vulnerability, as much as anything. I write to understand. It feels like there’s a lot of questioning and frustration in Australia right now; that the voice of regular people is often not being articulated, it is being drowned out by the shouters, the affronted, the haters, the furious. My columns are … presenting another way.’

This collection of writing covers a diverse range of subjects such as motherhood after 40, the end of a close friendship, the joy of a handwritten letter, connecting with nature, the necessity of tweezers, meeting the Queen and oral sex. It also includes exclusive new essays full of frank and uplifting insights, hilarious anecdotes, and some painful yet touching truths.

Nikki Gemmell is famous for her lyrical honesty and for saying those things other women think but dare not say. This collection confirms her reputation for fearlessness.

Buy the book here…


Nikki Gemmell’s critically acclaimed fiction has been translated into many languages. Her novels include the international bestseller The Bride Stripped Bare, Shiver, The Book of Rapture and With My Body. She has written two non-fiction books: Why You Are Australian andPleasure: An Almanac for the Heart. Wollongong-born, she was based in London for many years and has now returned with her family to Australia, where she writes a regular column for the Weekend Australian Magazinewww.nikkigemmell.com.

Fifty Shames of Earl Grey

Fifty ShamesThere’s no such thing as too much Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, especially when it’s in the form of a savvy, fun-poking parody. Fifty Shames of Early Grey by Fanny Merkin (AKA Andrew Shaffer) is the first (but certainly not the last) Fifty Shames spoof to emerge.

The first three chapters of its existence were serialised on EvilReads.com as Fifty-One Shades—another example of the increasingly occurring self-publishing-major-publisher pick-up. And, despite its speedy release, the book of Harper’s Lampoon style is surprisingly insightful, intelligent, and well done (especially given the shabbily written original from which it draws its inspiration).

Erotica writer Alyssa Palmer nails the book in her one-sentence testimonial: ‘I’m laughing as much as when I read the original Fifty Shades.’ In fact, it’s chuckle worthy just a few sentences in:

As I brush my long brown hair, the girl in the mirror with brown eyes too big for her head stares back at me. Wait … my eyes are blue! It dawns on me that I haven’t been looking into the mirror—I’ve been staring at a poster of Kristen Stewart for five minutes.

Soon afterwards, Anna Steal somersaults into Earl Grey’s office and Merkin/Shaffer works in the first of many Twilight–poking references: ‘HOLY MOTHER EFFING SPARKLY VAMPIRES HE IS HOT.’ From thereon in, while relatively PG-rated compared with the Fifty Shames books, Fifty Shades does venture into plenty of deliberately cringe-worthy territory (if you’re squeamish of stomach or easily offended, I’d suggested ceasing reading right about now).

Steal’s Walmart boss tells her:

‘I’m just glad you’re here. You know that Anna—I’m always happy to see a full set of teeth around here.’
I smile.
‘Anyway,’ he continues, ‘someone dropped a massive load in the women’s restroom and I need you to clean it up. It’s the biggest damn thing I’ve ever seen come out of another human being.’
I head to the women’s restroom with a plunger and a pair of gardening shears, and I’m soon lost in my task.

TwilightOf course, Grey soon arrives on the scene to sweep her off her feet and provide us readers with endless opportunities for author jibes. He gives Steal a first edition of Snooki’s Jersey Shore-inspired debut novel, A Shore Thing.

The entrance to his ‘Room of Doom’ is exposed ala moving bookcase seen only in the movies by pulling on a shelved copy of Twilight. He plays a mournful tambourine, and there’s also later a reference to his—and this is one for the editors among us who can testify that it never gets old—‘dangling participle’.

The only thing I want is you, Grey emails Steal. Oh, and the latest Apple products. His survey also provides us with some gems.

I am:
Team Edward
Team Jacob
Team Edward Does Jacob

In a relationship, I prefer to be:
a.      Submissive

An extracurricular activity I’ve always wanted to try is … Well, let’s just say I had to google them.

While Stephenie Meyer’s/EL James’ stories provide plenty of low-hanging fruit ripe for picking parodying, it’s the subtle, timely pokes that make Merkin/Shaffer’s spoof worth reading:

‘Let’s get comfortable, shall we?’ [Grey] says, removing his calculator watch and setting it on top of the nightstand by the bed.
I take a cue from him and remove my yellow LiveStrong bracelet, setting it next to his watch.

Fifty ShadesIt contains some fantastic trivia too: The Starbucks logo used to feature, apparently, a topless mermaid.

That’s not to say Fifty Shames got it absolutely right. One grating fact is that Merkin/Shaffer replaced the annoying lip biting of the Fifty Shades books with stomach-turning nose picking. The sentiments don’t marry up and this element disgusts and jars.

Likewise, the plot is sometimes a little thin and I found my attention wandering. Then again, he had to work with Meyer’s/James’ work, so I could arguably blame for them for the plot weaknesses.

But those are small irritations rather than outright flaws. And they’re more than compensated for by Merkin’s/Shaffer’s wicked sense of humour at his riding-the-coat-tails-of-others publishing contract good fortune.

‘I wasn’t lying when I said I would sell out, change the characters’ names, and hide from y’all in my brand new McMansion. Good luck getting past my alligator-filled moat!’ Merkin/Shaffer writes in the credits, making him (as if he weren’t already) a writer whose future works I can’t wait to read.

A Shore ThingEspecially as Merkin/Shaffer continued to surprise me even after the story officially ended. He finishes the book with a Boardroom Hotties feature (AKA an article in the mag the parody originally sent Steal to interview Grey for) and ‘the complete, unexpurgated list’ of Grey’s 50 shames. These include, in no particular order:

  • having a mancrush on Tom Cruise, even after all the Scientology/Katie Holmes BC
  • crying when Oprah went off the air, but never finding time to watch her 24/7-running cable channel
  • not understanding why everyone hated the Star Wars prequels so much
  • using a PC laptop with an Apple sticker covering the Dell logo
  • supporting Team Jacob
  • making frequent references to Snakes on a Plane, even though it wasn’t even funny to do so when the movie was in theatres.

I should probably also mention that it appears there’s going to be a sequel …

Hells’ Bells and Mademoiselles!

‘One misses the faces of the fine fellows you knew in the days of the storm, the faces of those good comrades who stuck through the smoke and racket and dust of war and in those glamorous days of leave, and the faces of those who have gone…’ 

Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles by Lieutenant Joe Maxwell, VC (1896-1967)

 Until this month, copies of WW1 legend Lt Joe Maxwell’s Hell’s Bells & Mademoiselles were so rare they were being sold as collector items for over $500 a copy, and was on the list of most frequently stolen books from Australian libraries.

Now, this classic account of the Great War’s heartache, humour, mateship and surprising moments of joy as seen through the eyes of a young Australian soldier is once again available to reassert its place as one of the seminal writings of the time, and a historical masterpiece.

Despite being first published in 1932, Hell’s Bells is not overly formal or dense like many books of its time.  Instead it’s a candid, entertaining and compulsively readable record of life as a World War One digger. Joe was in most of the major battles of the Western Front and graphically describes the action he saw, as well as the notorious larrikinism —and romantic adventures—of the off-duty diggers.

Maxwell served at Gallipoli before being transferred to the Western Front. In just twelve months during 1917–1918 he was commissioned and awarded the DCM, Military Cross and Bar, and VC.

Joe Maxwell’s medals can be seen in the Australian War Memorial and, as one of the diggers who has been identified, his story is featured in The Lost Diggers by Ross Coulthart (November 2012).

The book features a new Afterword by Joe Maxwell’s step-grandson, ABC radio journalist Steve Martin, detailing Maxwell’s life after repatriation back to Australia.

Buy the book here…

About the author

Joseph ‘Joe’ Maxwell VC, MC & Bar, DCM (10 February 1896 – 6 July 1967) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry ‘in the face of the enemy’ that can be awarded to members of British and Commonwealth armed forces. Australia’s second most decorated soldier of the First World War, Joe enlisted on 8 February 1915, and served at Gallipoli before being transferred to the Western Front. In just over twelve months he was decorated four times for his bravery.

Review – My Big Photo Activity Book

In the vein of Herve Tullet, this stunning, large-format activity book is stellar quality for kids who are serious about their art. And squiggles. Author/illustrator Pascale Estellon has created a stunner of a book that’s as much a coffee table tome as it is a magnificent stack of pages designed to send your child’s creativity into overdrive.

Featuring a plethora of photos and squiggles to make anyone smile, kids are invited to first turn a scouring pad and a sponge into an animal. They are then invited to draw the other half of photographed faces. They are invited to fill in the gaps between fox ears and some ruby red lips. They can make a class photo out of rubber band heads and decorate shop bags and t-shirts. They can even create book covers.

Let me at it!

Many will be tempted to sit this gorgeous book in the centre of glass coffee table for much admiring – and not much else. Before reviewing it, my 12-year-old daughter begged to start scribbling and sticking. When told she’d need to wait – her response? “What’s the point of a book like this unless you can use it?”

Indeed. I guess I have to get over it.

My Big Photo Activity Book is published by Thames & Hudson.


Men of Letters

Men of LettersI’ve laughed, cried, and generally been in I-wish-I-could-be-that-clever awe at a few Women of Letters events, but timetable clashes have defeated my attempts to catch Men of Letters. Until now (and not without some sneaky reworking of football match times that I organised with the place I play and didn’t tell the boys on my teams—sorry guys, but those late games were a necessity).

Featuring quite possibly the strongest possible Brisbane Men of Letters line-up around—including Stuart Glover, Richard Fidler, John Birmingham, and Scott Spark—today’s event was a must-see.

ABC radio host, former Race Around The World TV host, and Doug Anthony All Star Richard Fidler opened the proceedings with an honest, heartfelt, humour-laden letter to his wife of some 20 years.

Charting their courtship, marriage, and moving-house history, Fidler’s letter was warm, disarming, and deep. It also gave us insight into the dynamics of the couple’s relationship—him the eternal optimist complemented by (and often in competition with) her pessimism. I’m still chuckling about ‘Ha! See!’

The last letter writer and academic Stuart Glover wrote to his mother was one begging to come home from summer camp after he’d accidentally hit another boy in the face with a paddle. The letter he wrote to her for today was of the kind, he said, that he would write but never likely show to her.

Glover was born 10 weeks early in a time when that meant almost certain death; he was supposed to be a Cancer but is a Taurus instead. His letter was written from his infant self, naïve, innocent, beautifully wrought, and breathtaking.

I’ve long known Stuart as a self-deprecating, wickedly funny, and talented writer and his deeply personal letter caught me by surprise (in the way that ‘surprise’ is intended as a compliment). I didn’t know it was possible to have more respect for this man, from whom I’ve been fortunate enough to learn at uni. Today I found new levels of like.

Spiderbait’s drummer Kram was surprisingly wry and funny. He’d composed his letter on his phone and he hadn’t printed it out because he was still changing it up to half an hour before the show. The only reason he wasn’t been changing it during the other readers’ letters, he told us, was because he didn’t want to appear disrespectful.

Kram’s letter was to his ‘woman’ the Neanderthal term he used for his wife. I (and arguably just about everyone else in the room) bristled at its mention, but the term was quickly swept away or even contextualised by his brilliant letter—one that he’d decided would be best kept ‘simple and rambling’.

Addressing his Norwegian wife, who was standing off stage, and with hilarious moments punctuated by the infectious giggles of his son who, like us, was clearly enjoying the show, Kram owned the stage and the microphone in ways only a rock star can. He also posed questions I’m still puzzling over, not least: Why are creative girls’ cars so messy?

Interstate work commitments meant that Lucas Stibbard of Boy Girl Wall genius and fame couldn’t be there to read his letter in person, but Men of Letters played one he’d prepared (recorded) earlier.

After opening with a words-inspired visual of a crunching cricket + ball + lack-of-cup incident, he addressed his letter to the girl who’d provided him with what was technically his second kiss. (He’d missed out on being kissed during the schoolyard catch-and-kiss games, something he put down to the fact that he was a faster runner than the other kids.)

Stibbard had bonded with this girl over vaguely sexual experiences learning CPR on a mannequin, and the kiss she later planted on him set him on a path to his creative career. That’s something I’d like to thank her for—Stibbard is a masterful actor, writer, director, all-round talent whose future works I’m very much looking forward to.

Singer-songwriter and ABC radio producer Scott Spark closed out the proceedings with a letter to his ‘proxy sisters’. Born a boy, he’s known all along that, though they loved him infinitely, his parents had always hoped for a girl.

At one stage his parents considered adopting a girl from Asia, something which didn’t pan out and that Spark, whose partner is writer Benjamin Law, has promised that he’ll rectify if the government ever lets the couple adopt a child.

Spark’s letter was to the sister he’s never had and the ‘proxy’ sisters he’s had all along. These are the women who have offered him love and advice and acceptance and inspiration when he’s most needed it, including in the days and hours before he was to lose his much-loved father.

His letter was beautiful and wrenching and generous and inspiring all at once and I’ll not deny it made me a little teary; it was the perfect way to end an afternoon of letter-reading emotion and humour.

I’m not sure how Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire will top this Men of Letters, but I’m looking forward to seeing how. For now, though, I’m fairly pleased I got to witness this one—it really was something special.

The most underrated book in Australia has been announced

‘The Cook’ by Wayne Macauley has won the inaugural Most Underrated Book Award for 2012

The award, sponsored by Kobo, was announced at the Wheeler Centre last week as part of the Small Press Network (SPUNC) Independent Publishers Conference.

Macauley has won a Kobo Vox Tablet and a $250 book credit. His publisher will also receive $1000 worth of free ebook conversions.

The book blurb:

Power through service, says Head Chef. It’s one of the first lessons taught at Cook School, where troubled youths learn to be master chefs by bowing to decadence and whim, by offering up a part of themselves on every plate. It’s a motto Zac takes to heart. A teenage boy with a difficult past, he throws himself into the world and work of haute cuisine. He has dreams of a future, of escaping the dead-end, no-hope lot of his fellow cooks. He wants to be the greatest chef the world has seen. He thinks he’s taken his first steps when he becomes House Cook for a wealthy family. Never mind that the family may seem less than appreciative. Or refined. Or deserving. Power through service. But as the facade crumbles and his promised future looks unlikely to eventuate, Zac the Cook is forced to reassess everything. Sweet turns sour and ends in bitter revenge. Blackly funny and deliciously satirical, The Cook feeds our hunger to know what goes on in the kitchen, while skewering our culture of food worship.

Buy the book here…

Life in Publishing

I won’t tell you the following blog is funny. Because that would immediately make it not so. I will say, though, that sometimes you stumble upon content on the interwebs that sums up your daily experience and that completely tickles your inner funny bone.

Life in Publishing is one such example, a (for me, at least) snort-inducing blog skewering the publishing industry from the inside (massive props to my friend and fellow editor, Judi, who first found it and sent it to me).

The blog’s tagline is simple and straight up: ‘I work for a publishing company in New York. This is the life.’ Its posts are wicked and evil and fist-pump-inspiring hilarious. At least, it is if you work in the industry and experience the memes it covers daily. Few blogs I’ve seen to date have nailed the life of an editor as strongly.

Some of my faves so far include:

  • Googling an author for the first time and learning they are attractive.
  • When I walk past an intern and see them staring blankly (truthfully, I just love the paw-waving cat)
  • When a celebrity author is in the building and I’m trying to catch a glimpse (ok, I just love the owls)
  • When I’m riding in the elevator with the CEO (an owl, again = pure gold)
  • When I can finally stop working on a book
  • When I flip through a book at work and stumble on a good sex scene
  • When I’m asked to fix a formatting hiccup and I think it will be easy until I see just how much they f&%ked it up
  • When an author tries to explain their weird idea for a publicity plan
  • When I shut down an author/editor/agent, but know that my boss has my back (ok, maybe it’s the owls that are getting me)
  • When I save a galley for myself but then someone legitimately needs it
  • When someone complains that their net galley request was rejected (lolcats!)
  • When the creepy old guy’s book has a lesbian scene
  • To the asshole authors, agents, editors, managers, etc.
  • When you’re at a party and someone starts to tell you this great idea they have for a book
  • The fact that the merger won’t be called Random Penguin (outrageous! And do they not realise that everyone in the industry will be calling it that nonetheless?!)
  • When my book makes the Times list
  • When I’m cold called in a meeting to give my opinion on a book
  • When my boss compliments my work (goddamn, maybe I’m just in love with owls)
  • How I start every week (the hilarious, kid equivalent of lolcats)
  • How I leave work every day
  • When I hear authors talk about how popular their book is going to be
  • The one perk of publishing: when you’re looking forward to a book and you get it months before it comes out

Yeah, so pretty much all of them. That’s not to say that Life in Publishing won’t appeal to anyone outside the publishing industry. In fact, I think it tackles some pretty universal themes. Happy reading.

A nice piece of breast or thigh anybody? Bound to be delicious!

A young, free-range chicken… A dominating, ravenous chef… Fifty recipes to make every dinner a turn-on…

Fifty Shades of Chicken is a cookbook serving up epicurean double entendres and 50 excellent chicken recipes all while telling the story of a young free-range and very fresh chicken who, like Anastasia Steele, finds herself at the mercy of a dominating man, in this case a kinky and very hungry chef.

Pitch-perfect and admiring, this send-up-in-a-cookbook of the ubiquitous trilogy is naughty, hysterical, and totally clever. Our narrator is an “unexplored” young chicken who is, as she writes, at the mercy of a demanding foodie’s trussing, carving, spatchcocking, and unbearably slow drizzling, among other bedroom, er, kitchen techniques. Before long, Miss Chicken discovers the sheer thrill of starring as the dish that is literally whipped up for dinner.

With 50 excellent chicken recipes, such as “Sticky (Chicken) Fingers,” “Dripping Thighs,” and “Bound Wings,” our Fifty Shades serves the inexhuastible market of home cooks who just want great recipes for chicken. Let’s just say our author has a way of teaching kitchen techniques so you never forget them.

F.L. FOWLER is the alter ego of a well-known cookbook author. F.L. enjoys life in the country but occasionally relishes flying the coop.

Buy the book here…

Check out the Fifty Shades of Chicken website…


YABBA 2012

The YABBAs have been announced! The winners have been hailed for their brilliance and popularity. And I’m going to tell you all about it.

There are lots of awards around in children’s publishing, but the YABBAs are special. The Young Australian Best Book Awards are entirely nominated and voted on by young people. These awards are not about grown-ups deciding on the worthwhile books that kids should be reading. These awards are about what kids are actually reading and enjoying.

I was lucky enough to be a guest at this year’s awards ceremony, along with lots of other authors and illustrators, including Carole Wilkinson, Gabrielle Wang, Corinne Fenton, Andy Griffiths, Karen Tayleur, Sue Bursztynski, Colin Thompson, Sarah Davis, Felice Arena and Oliver Phommavanh, to name a few.

Seeing the winners announced and the awards presented was great. But what was even better was witnessing the unbridled enthusiasm of the kids in the audience. They were excited about books. They were excited about reading. And that is AWESOME!

But who won? I hear you ask. And so, without further ado, the nominees and winners…

Picture Story Books…

WINNER: Fearless In Love – Colin Thompson / Sarah Davis

Fiction for Younger Readers…

WINNER: Alice Miranda At School – Jacqueline Harvey

Fiction for Older Readers…

WINNER: 13 Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffith / Terry Denton

Fiction for Year 7-9…

WINNER: Phoenix Files: Arrival – Chris Morphew

Congratulations to all the 2012 winners!

Now it’s on to 2013. Schools and students can get involved with the nominating process and voting in next years awards by checking out the YABBA website. The site also includes lots of cool activities and info, including reviews, puzzles and author/illustrator profiles.

Catch ya later,  George

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Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death




Review – Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

Got bored kids? Unbelievable, right? I don’t remember being bored as a kid and that’s probably because I spent my childhood doing many of the fabulous, creative, imagination and soul/brain/heart/body fulfilling things in this book. Admittedly, most of them were less high-tech versions! but they were creative nonetheless.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have loved the opportunity to make green screen short films from an iPad or travel the world on my PC, but we still can’t underestimate the benefits and sheer enjoyment of free play. Although many of these ideas do incorporate technology (how could they not?) the projects still give kids free licence to use their brains in a way they may not usually enjoy.

In Unbored, authors Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen open their impressive tome with a quote by Mark Frauenfelder – Use the world, or the world will use you. Indeed, kids are quickly encouraged to get busy with it – in a series of wonderful ideas, broken down into four chapters – You, Home, Society and Adventure.

In You, kids can indulge in such delights as making LED graffiti and geyser rockets. They can train the adult in their life to be a ninja. They can partake in freaky fitness or farting games.

In Home, they can live in a tree or learn about architectural styles and details. They can learn how to short sheet a bed or decoupage a skateboard.

In Society, they can eliminate bullying, learn some cool counting-out games, read up on banned books they really must read, and how to tell politicians what they think.

In Adventure, readers will love learning about Cryptozoology (don’t ask), garden science, geocaching and how to disguise themselves.

And much, much, much more.

This is a treasure trove of a book, spattered with fascinating insight and information that will readily sate the natural curiosity of kids. And the best thing of all is that adults will love learning from and partaking in these super cool ideas, too. Well, other than the farting games. Maybe?

Philanthropic, creative, smart, interesting – this is a book all kids should own. And use.

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun is published by Bloomsbury. Recommended for kids 10+.

Ugliest Dog in the World turns 20

For more than 20 years Bruce Whatley has been bringing to life some of the cutest, craziest, sweetest and ugliest characters in children’s books.

His credits include Little White Dogs Can’t Jumpand Detective Donut and the Wild Goose Chasewritten with his wife Rosie Smith who continues to be a large part of his work, The Little Refugee, Zoobots, Monster, Diary of a Wombat and he has worked with authors such as Jackie Fench, Anh Do, Andrew Daddo and Libby Hathorn.

The Ugliest Dog in the World is a timeless example of Bruce’s talent as a storyteller and illustrator.

Everyone thinks the Ugliest Dog in the World is ‘ugly’, but in different ways. Mum thinks she’s ugly in a cute sort of way, the lady next door thinks she’s pretty, but you haven’t seen the lady next door. My best friend even screams when she sees her…But I think she’s beautiful, in a sloppy kind of way!

Buy the book here…

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. 

In 2008 Bruce completed his PhD, Left Hand Right Hand: implications of ambidextrous image making looking at the ability to draw with the ‘other hand’. He has since produced 3 books illustrated with his left hand including Flood and more recently A Boy Like Me.

Ruby Red Shoes from debut Queensland author

The most enchanting picture book you’ll pick up this year, from QLD artist & debut author Kate Knapp

Meet Ruby Red Shoes.

Ruby is a small white hare who lives in a cosy little caravan with her kindly grandmother, Babushka Galina Galushka (which literally translates as ‘Grandmother Calm Dumpling’ in Babushka’s native Russian).

Ruby is an ‘aware hare’ who is curious about the world around her. She loves growing fruit and vegetables  in her garden and caring for her chickens (who have developed a taste for croissants and baguettes now that Ruby is teaching them French!).

Exquisitely illustrated and written by talented new children’s author Kate Knapp, Ruby Red Shoes isn’t just a beautiful picture book. It’s a picture book you will find yourself poring over with as much enchantment as the child on your lap. It is a book that you’ll read and re-read, stroke and inhale. And there is every chance you will buy copies to give to your friends, who will also enjoy being reminded of a simpler time when our lives were more closely connected to the seasons, and will also appreciate Ruby’s offbeat humour and enchanting way of seeing the world.

Buy the book here…

About the author

Illustrator and artist Kate Knapp is a graduate of the Queensland College of Art. Her design business ‘Twigseeds’ produces cards, prints, stationery and books. Ruby Red Shoes is Kate’s first picture book.



New Release Picture Books

Looking for some new-release picture books to stash away for the Christmas stocking? This gorgeous selection will delight both kids and adults with a wide range of themes, striking illustrations and stories to touch the heart or tickle the funny bone. Enjoy!

Tree: A little story about big things by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

(Little Hare)

Henry is a small sapling who grows into a big strong tree under the protection of an even bigger and stronger tree. But then comes the longest night with drenching waters and howling winds, and the biggest and strongest tree falls. Henry is alone and his heart is hollow until he hears the small voice of a new sapling growing amongst his strong roots.

What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? by Debi Gliori


Accompany Mr Wolf as he goes about his daily routine from breakfast to bedtime – and get to know the real Mr Wolf. Little ones will enjoy recognising familiar faces from a plethora of nursery rhymes, including Little Red Riding Hood (masquerading as the post girl), three cheeky little pigs (who make prank calls), a cat who’s a dab hand at the fiddle, plus four and twenty blackbirds. Beautiful artwork reveals something new with every reading.

It’s Not Fairy by Ros Asquith

(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

The It’s Not Fairy flaps round all night, sorting out what’s wrong or right. But there’s so many kids saying it’s not fair – she’s ranting and raving and tearing her hair. Billy and Mary say they don’t believe in the It’s Not Fairy – but that’s before she turns up at their house! This is a wonderful, hilarious fantasy starring a very feisty fairy on a mission, which will have the whole family laughing out loud.

Poopendous! by Artie Bennett and Mike Moran

(Blue Apple)

Rhyming couplets feature Professor Poopdeck and two young friends as he takes them on a poop safari. Words for poop (guano, number two, ca-ca), its forms and styles (cubes, tubular, wet and dry) and myriad uses (souvenirs, a means of tracking and marking, housing insulation, food, fertilizer, fuel) are all conveyed with humor and a certain demand for respect. It’s a book that says: Don’t just flush this stuff away! While it may dismay and stink, there’s more to this stuff than you might think.

Looking for Rex by Jan Ormerod and Carol Thompson

(Little Hare)

Gramps longs for a dog. All of his grandchildren agree. They decide his name should be Rex. But, where to find Rex? And what does Rex look like? Gramps plays along with their game of ‘Looking for Rex’. They point out dogs on their way home from school – but none of them are Rex. They are too small, too big, too
smelly… Why can’t they find the right Rex?

The Captain Pugwash Comic Book Collection by John Ryan

(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)

This great value paperback collection brings together three classic stories about the much loved bumbling pirate told in comic book format. In the style of Tintin and Asterix, these stories will delight all Captain Pugwash fans as well as make a fantastic introduction to the cowardly captain, his greedy crew, their deadly rival Cut-throat Jake and the clever cabin boy Tom.

Marty’s Nut-Free Party by Katrina Roe and Leigh Headstrom

(Wombat Books)

Marty loved to party. At every party, Marty was the first to arrive and the last to leave. That was before Marty found out that peanuts make him sick. Really sick. Parties aren’t so much fun for Marty now that he keeps ending up in hospital. How can Marty and his friends make their parties safe and fun for everybody?



What happens on tour sometimes needs to be told…

‘What happens on tour sometimes needs to be told…’

As a cricket writer for over ten years, Andrew Ramsey’s job was to be on tour with the world’s greatest cricket team, in a decade when it had no peer. His book chronicles the privileges and pitfalls of a life spent trotting the globe, hanging out with sports stars, and being paid to watch cricket – an occupation regarded by countless cricket and travel fans as ‘the world’s best job’.

More than a tour diary or sanitised memoir, Andrew’s account delivers a rare insight into the off-field action, character and thoughts of some of the game’s all-time greats, including Stephen Waugh, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Brian Lara.

Within the players’ dressing room and on the team bus; at the bar, the breakfast table, and even in a haunted medieval castle; in England, the West Indies and India, as well as Sharjah, Bangladesh, Kenya and Hong Kong: Andrew gives us a ringside seat at some of the most memorable cricket events of the recent past, including the remarkable 1999 World Cup and Australia’s chaotic 2005 Ashes campaign.

THE WRONG LINE details the friendships and antipathies that exist between elite athletes and sports journalists. It examines the unique pressures that arise from delivering to daily major newspaper deadlines while living and working in myriad exotic locations, often travelling for months at a time, and with little more than a three-thumbed taxi driver for support.

Buy the book here…


For twenty years, Andrew Ramsey worked as a daily newspaper journalist in Adelaide and Melbourne, with the final decade spent as a touring cricket writer for THE AUSTRALIAN. He has written about cricket for international publications, ghost-written columns for a number of international cricketers, and has covered some of the most memorable cricket series of the recent past, including Australia’s famous 1999 World Cup win and the historic 2005 Ashes series in England. He has also found himself uncomfortably close to numerous crowd riots, bomb threats and travel disasters. Since leaving journalism, he has worked as a political speech writer and at universities. He lives in Adelaide, South Australia.

O’Farrell’s Finest, Most-Fancied Fiction and Non-Fiction Finalists

The shortlists for this year’s New South Wales Premier’s Literary and History Awards have been announced.

The shortlists are:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000) and nominees for the People’s Choice Award

  • All That I Am (Anna Funder, Penguin)
  • Sarah Thornhill (Kate Grenville, Text)
  • Five Bells (Gail Jones, Vintage)
  • The Life (Malcolm Knox, A&U)
  • That Deadman Dance (Kim Scott, Picador)
  • The Roving Party (Rohan Wilson, A&U)

Douglas Stewart Prize for Nonfiction ($40,000)

  • Sydney (Delia Falconer, NewSouth)
  • How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly, Hamish Hamilton)
  • The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays (Balck Inc.)
  • An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark (Mark McKenna, MUP)
  • Her Father’s Daughter (Alice Pung, Black Inc.)
  • The Many Worlds of RH Matthews: In Search of an Australian Anthropologist (Martin Thomas, A&U)

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($30,000)

  • Sly Mongoose (Ken Bolton, Puncher & Wattmann)
  • Cow (Susan Hawthorne, Spinifex Press)
  • Southern Barbarians (John Mateer, Giramondo)
  • Swallow (Claire Potter, Five Island Press)
  • New and Selected Poems (Gig Ryan, Giramondo)
  • The Argument (Tracy Ryan, Fremantle Press)

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature ($30,000)

  • A Straight Line to My Heart (Bill Condon, A&U)
  • The Golden Day (Ursula Dubosarsky, A&U)
  • Act of Faith (Kelly Gardiner, HarperCollins)
  • The Dead I Know (Scot Gardner, A&U)
  • Only Ever Always (Penni Russon, A&U)
  • All I Ever Wanted (Vikki Wakefield, Text)

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature ($30,000)

  • Crow Country (Kate Constable, A&U)
  • Taj and the Great Camel Trek (Rosanne Hawke, UQP)
  • For all Creatures (Glenda Millard, illus by Rebecca Cool, Walker Books)
  • Maudie and Bear (Jan Omerod, illus by Freya Balckwood, Little Hare)
  • Angel Creek (Sally Rippin, Text)
  • Bungawitta (Emily Rodda, illus by Craig Smith, Omnibus)

Community Relations Commission Award ($20,000)

  • Good Living Street: The Fortunes of My Viennese Family (Tim Bonyhady, A&U)
  • After Romulus (Raimond Gaita, Text)
  • The Enemy at Home: German Internees in World War I Australia(Nadine Helmi & Gerhard Fischer, UNSW Press)
  • Moving Stories (Alistair Thomson, UNSW Press)
  • Violin Lessons (Arnold Zable, Text)

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5000)

  • House of Sticks (Peggy Frew, Scribe)
  • All That I Am (Anna Funder, Penguin)
  • Past the Shallows (Favel Parrett, Hachette)
  • Thrill Seekers (Edwina Shaw, Ransom Publishing)
  • The Amateur Science of Love (Craig Sherborne, Text)
  • The Roving Party (Rohan Wilson, A&U).

Australian History Prize ($15,000)

  • Indifferent Inclusion: Aboriginal People and the Australian Nation(Russell McGregor, Aboriginal Studies Press)
  • An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark (Mark McKenna, MUP)
  • True North: The Story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack (Brenda Niall, Text)

General History Prize ($15,000)

  • Good Living Street: The Fortunes of My Viennese Family (Tim Bonyhady, A&U)
  • Ben Jonson: A Life (Ian Donaldson, OUP)
  • Hiroshima Nagasaki (Paul Ham, HarperCollins)

New South Wales Community and Regional History Prize ($15,000)

  • Set in Stone: A History of the Cell Block Theatre (Deborah Beck, UNSW Press)
  • Sydney: The Making of a Public University (Julia Horne & Geoffrey Sherington, Miegunyah Press)
  • Mr Big of Bankstown: The Scandalous Fitzpatrick and Brown Affair(Andrew Moore, UWA Publishing)

Young People’s History Prize ($15,000)

  • The Little Refugee (Anh Do & Suzanne Do, illus by Brice Whatley, A&U)
  • Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea  (Stephanie Own Reeder, National Library of Australia)
  • Playground (Nadia Wheatley, illus by Kean Searle, A&U).

More information about the awards can be found on the State Library of NSW website.

Image by:
John Grainger in The Australian

Review: Country Girl by Edna O’Brien

Those who know Edna O’Brien’s work will instantly feel at home in this autobiographical memoir: not just because it reads like one of her novels, but also because O’Brien’s fiction has always drawn on her Irish roots and on places and events in her own life.

The book begins with two dreams set at her childhood home in County Clare: Drewsboro House. In one dream she sees a grand burning house, which she is barred from entering by liveried soldiers. In the second, she is in the room in which she was born, where “alone, incarcerated”  she is  “to answer for my crimes”. Both dreams find echoes in her memoir and, in a recent interview, she described the house as being like a metaphor for the whole world – full of ructions, sensuality, prayers, curses, doom and life.

Drewsboro was built on the ruins of a very grand house which had been burned to the ground during the Troubles in the 1920s. O’Brien’s father, who had helped it burn, came from a family which had become wealthy in America and they bought the land. The new house had pretensions – two avenues, big lawns shaded by ancient trees, and bay windows: but it owed some of its stylishness to houses her mother, who came from a poor family, had seen whilst working as a maid in America.  O’Brien’s father had been rich but the money was soon gone due to profligacy, drink and gambling. In drink, too, he could be violent, and O’Brien and her mother were scared of him. Yet it was not an unhappy childhood. As a child, she has said, they were part poor and would run out of money, but they were also immensely rich in reading, poetry, mythology and dreams.

A writer’s imaginative life “commences in childhood” but O’Brien’s has clearly been shaped, too, by all that has happened to her over the years.This memoir is not just about her rebellion against her family and against the oppressive, divided society in which she grew up. It is also about her marriage, her divorce, an acrimonious battle for custody of her children, her life as a single mother – cooking cleaning and writing, her parties and her publications.

Sometimes O’Brien’s memoir seems very like her early novels as she shares the same settings, the same rebelliousness and the same need for love and for change as her fictional girls. Sometimes it seems like a sequence of short stories, imaginatively written and compelling.  And sometimes the writing is fluent and poetic; the descriptions beautiful.

Sometimes, however, she cannot resist turning an agonizing memory in to a dramatic (or melodramatic) moment:  “Coming back into my own sitting room, I saw it, the stone of the green ring that I had taken off the night before, reflected in the metal of his latch-key, which he had left on the mantelpiece. He was gone”.

And sometimes the list of famous names is overwhelming. Richard Burton drops in one evening and recites Shakespeare to her. Paul McCartney improvises a song for her sleeping son. Marlon Brando drinks milk in her kitchen and asks if she’s ticklish. Marianne Faithfull, Diane Cilento, Roger Vadim, Jane Fonda, Judy Garland and Shirley MacLaine and others come to her parties in Putney. And, in New York, Al Pacino, Carlos Fuentes, Yevtushenko and their partners attend her party; famous people surround her; and Jackie Onassis invites her to dinner and becomes a confiding friend.

In the 1960s, O’Brien’s first novels – A Country GirlThe Lonely Girls and Girls in their Married Bliss – were banned by the censor in Ireland for their frank sexual content and their so-called ridiculing of priests and nuns. The ructions caused by these books (which were written whilst she lived in London) certainly affected her life, but as two eminent Irish writers of the 1960s enviously thought, they probably were “a hot ticket to fame and recognition”, even though she had thought them to be simple tales of the lives and dreams of two young Irish girls. Being called a ‘Jezebel’, mortifying her mother and being shunned by her own people did alter the direction of her life. But it did not stop her writing. Today, those early book appear mild compared, for example, to Roddy Doyle’s graphic depictions of Irish life; and to the media reports of the iniquities perpetrated by priests. O’Brien, now, is so well accepted in Ireland that a plaque has been place in her honour at the entrance to Drewsboro House.

In her acknowledgments, O’Brien says that she was reluctant to write a memoir, and she has described the process of reliving certain times as bringing pain and anger. But in her final chapter she brings together her two countries, Ireland and England: two countries which, she says, “warred, jostled and made friends inside me, like the two halves of my warring self”. The war, it seems is over, but the celebration of life is not, and the final image in the book is of her at home in a lamp-lit room which seems “full of light, like a room readying itself for a banquet”.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Peter Taylor

Which genre of childrens books do you like most and why?

Picture books – because those for young children are written to be a true delight for an adult to read out loud as a performance. I miss sharing them with my son and daughter, now in their 20s, but I do love reading picture books to other peoples children whenever possible and the pictures can be seen pictures as well, which are hugely important.

I could give a long list of favourites – Old Tom’s Holiday by Leigh Hobbs, Gordon’s Got a Snookie by Lisa Shanahan and Wayne Harris, Mummies are Amazing by Catriona Hoy and Annie White, the classic Fancy That by Pamela Allen – how many pages worth do you want?

And I’m equally fond of those written for older children – Mending Lucille by Jennifer Poulter and Sarah Davis, Do Not Forget Australia by Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretchmar, Photographs in the Mud by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Harrison-Lever, Winston of Churchill: One Bears Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto and Jeremiah Trammell.

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

I can’t remember being surrounded by a wide variety of picture books, but I do have fond memories of reading – Beatrix Potter’s books, the Rev. Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine series, Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven books and the Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge and William series by Richmal Crompton. And children’s encyclopeadias.

I think I also had a fascination for the most dreadful children’s book ever written in the whole history of literature – Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, written and first printed for his 3-year-old son in 1845, and its still being re-published and re-printed. I believe there is a whole museum dedicated to it in Frankfurt.

Which three attributes make for a great childrens book?

There are more factors than these, but for young children:

1. A hook within the first two pages – the main character is not yet aware of it, but the reader knows that there’s going to be a major problem or trouble of some kind – A Year with Marmalade, the very new and wonderful book by Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie, and Old Tom books by Leigh Hobbs.

2. The character solves the problem by their action or making changes (the problem is not solved by an adult), leading to a happy ending. Ruby Roars by Margaret Wild and Kerry Argent.

3. Surprises. If you haven’t read Gordon’s Got a Snookie by Lisa Shanahan and Wayne Harris I wont spoil any surprises – but its also funny, poignant, fabulous to read, things happen in threes, there’s repetition, the ending relates to the beginning… I better not go any further past 3. Oops!

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

I don’t have a perfect answer. When two children are treated identically and have the same experiences, one may end up a keen reader and the other reluctant. So, I’ll say don’t discourage a child from reading what they enjoy, even if you think they should read something else. Just let them enjoy reading.

I have always read more non-fiction and poetry for pleasure than novels. As a young child, I most wanted to read facts. By 11 years old I could have passed biology exams designed for 16-year-olds. At 13, I read all Gerald Durrell‘s adventures in exploring African jungles and Corfu, and books about mountaineering feats and conquests – still good stories.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

How many possibilities are there apart from the obvious, like works of Shakespeare, or any recent picture book (I’m still trying to write one that editors like enough to publish)?

1. Relearning the Alphabet by Denise Levertov – poetry I keep revisiting.

And I love page-turners, so:

2. Any book by Geraldine Brooks – perhaps People of the Book

3. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

About Peter

Peter Taylor is a writer and occasional illustrator who lives in Queensland. After qualifying as an ecologist and teacher, and studying printmaking, book arts and calligraphy, Peter initially taught science and art in schools. He completed a Diploma in Professional Children’s Writing in 1999 and has since been highly active in the world of children’s book organisations and publishing in Australia.

His third calligraphy book for older children and adults, his latest, Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking was released in May 2012, but he also writes in other genres including umorous verse for the young (to appear shortly in an anthology), mid-grade and YA, and contributing the Science and Survival sections of 101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up. Peter gives talks and workshops that encourage people of all ages to read, write and be creative.




Inky Award winners announced

The State Library of Victoria’s Centre for Youth Literature announced the winners of the 2012 Gold and Silver Inky Awards on 23 October.

The Gold Inky winner, awarded to an Australian author,  is Shift by Em Bailey. Bailey receives a $2000 cash prize.

The Silver Inky winner (for an International book) is The Fault in Our Stars by American author John Green. Green has previously won a Silver Inky, in 2007 for Looking for Alaska .

Indigenous Authors nominated for Australian of the Year Awards

Indigenous authors Kim Scott and Anita Heiss are among the finalists for the 2013 Australian of the Year Awards.

Kim Scott is one of four finalists from Western Australia for the overall Australian of the Year Award. Scott has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award twice with Benang in 2000 and That Deadman Dance in 2011.

Anita Heiss is one of the finalists from New South Wales for the Australia’s Local Hero Award. She has won the Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature four times and her most recent book, Am I Black Enough For You?, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing several weeks back.

The state and territory winners will be announced at events held throughout November across the country, with the national awards being presented in Canberra on 25 January 2013.

The blogger, the press pack and that speech

With the ACT election just over, a Federal election looming, and the US election this very week, it seems like a good time to review a couple of books that inhabit that world: The Marmalade Files by press gallery journalists Steve Lewis (News Ltd tabloid national correspondent) and Chris Uhlmann (political editor of the ABC’s 7.30); and The Rise of the Fifth Estate: social media and blogging in Australian politics by Greg Jericho (political blogger Grog’s Gamut).
Continue reading The blogger, the press pack and that speech