The Secret Footballer

I Am The Secret FootballerIt is often said that 95% of what happens in football takes place behind closed doors and, believe me, the truth is far stranger than fiction. You might see us for 90 minutes on a Saturday and form many of your opinions about football purely on that fleeting appearance. You might watch analysts drone on about tactics without realising what they are saying is predesigned to fit a narrative and barely scratches the surface. Perhaps you’ve read about the infamous Christmas parties in the tabloids and wonder if they are as crazy as they would have you believe. Maybe you simply don’t understand how young, seemingly healthy athletes, who appear to have it all, can be depressed […] The only way you would ever find out the answers to many of those questions is to read a book that was written in total anonymity by a player who has played at the highest level […] Many of these stories I shouldn’t be telling you. But I will.

Football fans worldwide are currently obsessed with the no-holds-barred blogs (and now book) written anonymously by a top-tier footballer. They’re simultaneously devouring the text for its insights and scouring it for clues to his identity. Much like Top Gear’s The Stig, whose identity was unknown until he broke cover and wrote a memoir, pop culture references and merchandise have popped up around The Secret Footballer phenomenon. These include t-shirts that bear the confession ‘I am The Secret Footballer’. I’ll not deny that I want one of those.

As someone who works in football, albeit it in a much smaller, much less accomplished capacity than this player, I read I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting The Lid On The Beautiful Game with a mix of fan awe and sort-of-insider nodding. This player, whoever he is, leaves nothing out, with his frankly told tales proving humble and gripping. Paul Johnson, his editor at the Guardian, explains his initial thoughts when the footballer first approached him with the idea for the column:

[…] would he write honestly, what would he hold back, could he sustain themes, could he write at all? All those thoughts disappeared the moment the first piece arrived—and he has got better and better ever since. This book was his idea. It is all his own words, his own experiences, his own thoughts, his own emotions. He is a remarkable man.

Whoever The Secret Footballer is, he didn’t come to football via the traditional route (and that’s perhaps what enables him to write so incisively about it). He came from a loving working-class family. He read the classics on holidays as a child. He grew up kicking a football on a council estate in hand-me-down shoes. And he was unprepared for a time when he’d have money or when fans would be calling his name. Early on, for example, he turned around at hearing his name and the calls immediately changed to ‘wanker’. He’d forgotten that he’d made it to a level where his name was plastered on the back of his shirt.

What makes The Secret Footballer’s work so interesting is that he gives equal and unflinching weight to both the good and the bad of a footballing career—the highs of adulation, the lows of depression, and the fierce team and coaching staff dynamics in between. While teams mostly appear cohesive from the outside, there are power struggles playing out on the inside. These include initiations for new, young players, with more senior players kicking balls hard at them in an effort to get them to miscontrol it. No one’s safe from such treatment. On his first day at Manchester United, footballing legend Dwight York (best known in Australia as the marquee player for Sydney in the A-League’s inaugural season) received a rocketed ball from Roy Keane. ‘Welcome to United,’ Keane said. ‘Cantona [another legend of the game] used to kill them’.

You don’t always have to like your manager, The Secret Footballer points out, but you do need to respect them. He outlines the hypocrisy of a manager who fined him for going out for a drink with friends on a Tuesday night while he was injured. It didn’t contravene the rule of no drinking within 48 hours of a match, but the manager’s reasoning was that drinking would hamper his rehab. Fair call. The clincher, though, was that the manager then asked if The Secret Footballer ‘gotten a hold of anything’, despite the fact that he had a long-term girlfriend: ‘He turned out to be more disappointed that I had no story to tell than with what he was fined me for in the first place. That day we both lost respect for each other but for very different reasons.’

The StigApart from the awesomely simple, incredibly powerful cover art that both maintains the footballer’s anonymity and gives a nod to the tradition of protest and writing on undershirts, the book contains some interesting moments and more interesting trivia. The Secret Footballer is famous within his team, for example, for forgetting his iPhone charger. He shares a pet hate of mine: captains who put the captain’s armband on the wrong way (it’s totes not that hard!). He’s also had bizarre experiences of people following him around the supermarket to see what he put in his basket and thinks he may be responsible for a ‘mini boom’ in the sales of a breakfast cereal with the frankly unappetising name of Frosted Shreddies.

He details some on-the-road fun, including a ‘skate off’ on a hotel luggage trolley that included trying to ride it through revolving doors (admittedly that one didn’t end so well). There was also a drinking game that involved one of the players being dressed as Where’s Wally‘s Wally. The player in question would go missing approximately once an hour and the rest of the team had to find him with the last to realise he was missing having to drink.

The book’s peppered with plenty of game-play insight too, sating us readers’ appetite for expert detail. These include the four reasons why ball possession is integral (which I’ve paraphrased below):

  1. When you have the ball, your opposition can’t score.
  2. Ball possession means your opponents exhaust themselves trying to get a turnover and, when they do, they’re too buggered to do anything useful with it.
  3. Possessing the ball means you can draw players out of position to find an opening
  4. Holding the ball equals recovery—a new favourite concept is ‘rest in possession’.

Another is an explanation of positioning to defend corners—something every armchair expert has a misinformed but strongly held opinion on. ‘We should have a man on the post’ gets bandied around often but, The Secret Footballer tells us, being positioned on the six-yard line will see a player clear hundreds more corners in a season than being positioned at the post. I’ll remember that next time someone bandies that man-on-the-post criticism around in the pub …

I couldn’t begin to guess who The Secret Footballer is, although I’m as desperate as every other punter is to know. I recognise, though, that much like The Stig, the appeal’s in the mystery rather than the reveal (I mean, how much did the whole ‘I am the Stig’ thing deflate once Ben Collins came out?). On the upside, and a solid reason for maintaining the anonymity, is that as long as The Secret Footballer remains secret, we can likely look forward to more crackingly good books and blogs.

Gathering Book-Reading Data For Technophobes

I have a sneaking suspicion that technophobic people bemoaning the death of the physical book and reminiscing about the smell of books might yet find a reason to fall in love with them. Particularly if they’re parents or teachers trying to encourage reluctant readers across the reading line. The reason? Fast Company reports that ebook publisher CourseSmart has released a platform that enables teachers to collect data and analyse their students’ interaction with and, ultimately, understanding of texts.

This means that teachers will be able to tell how many pages students read, what (if any) electronic notes they made, and how long they spent reading. The program delivers this information in an infographic form, likely making it easy and fun to use (see opening paragraph re: winning over technophobes).

Of course, the usual grumps have been vocal, including a teacher Fast Company quote who said: ‘I will not be using this tool because I have a better way of measuring their engagement. I call it “their grade”’. Yeah, that’s true, and this tool could and never should replace teachers’ first-hand experience and analysis. But this could be a complementary tool that could lead to some interesting insights—ones that physical books can’t currently show.

When I was at school (and yes, I realise that opener makes me sound old), you could often get away without reading the book if you watched the film or read the Cliff Notes or copied off your friend. Being a booklover, I always read the book and always found it better than the eventually watched film. I wondered and felt slightly sad about what my classmates were missing out on (and yes, I realise that also makes me sound old and vaguely cruddy).

Sure, ebook reading data can be fudged. But if knowing the program is installed encourages a student or two to actually read the book, or even part of the book, it might not be a bad thing (I mean, it would take almost as much effort to flick through the pages to believably falsify reading the book as it would to just get on and read it). That’s in addition to the fact that the ebook format, with its likely interactivity and note-taking functions, might be a better fit for students disinclined to read physical copies.

I don’t for a moment think CourseSmart’s program is going to revolutionise teachers’ teaching methods or students’ reading habits, but I do think it’s indicative of a shift. Twelve months ago I could have sworn the publishing sky was falling down with all the flapping about ebooks and the death of the physical book and, with it, traditional publishers. Now, not only has the sky not fallen down but we’re seeing programs such as CourseSmarts’ emerge that see the potential of the new book formats and how we interact with them. That’s more investment into how and why we read and, hopefully, an increase in reading overall. That can only be a good thing, right?

A Return To Form = A Return To Series

Port MortuaryThere was a time when Christmas meant a new Patricia Cornwell. I’d be so excited I’d even fork out for the hardcover—and I hate hardcovers. Then Cornwell went off the boil and I, well, fell off the Kay Scarpetta-worshipping wagon. Which is why I hadn’t realised Cornwell had penned some Scarpetta novels in recent years—I’d tuned out and the media had, arguably, stopped heralding her instalments’ releases (they were probably off spruiking Fitty Shades and its stable of spin-offs).

It’s telling that the cover testimonial reads ‘A welcome return to form for Dr Kay Scarpetta’ (read: We know she lost the plot a few books back, but trust us, it’s clear Cornwell’s publisher’s told her to cut the crap and churn out tales that fit with her tried-and-true Scarpetta formula). So, burnt by Cornwell in the past but ever hopeful that she’d resurrect the Scarpetta series to do it justice, I selected Port Mortuary from the shelf.

The book starts with Scarpetta completing a fellowship at a military morgue-like facility. Post-mortem examinations have moved high-tech and Scarpetta is learning how to incorporate CTs, MRIs, and the like into her work. She’s also about to head up a new facility that mixes private and military procedures and work. How that’s supposed to play out, no one quite knows, and I’ve got to admit that I was more than slightly incredulous that one of the book’s key pivots was that Scarpetta wasn’t there for the first six months of this highly experimental, endlessly complex facility was open.

In fact, some plot points and their justifications or threading together are tenuous at best, perhaps showing that:

a) Cornwell’s still a few degrees shy of boiling point
b) the Scarpetta series has just about reached its limits
c) Cornwell’s high-profile personal and business dramas, which include her suing former financial managers for mismanaging her money, have distracted from her writing
d)     I wasn’t paying close enough attention and missed some key explanatory text
e)     I’m a bit older, wiser, and more cynical in my approach to Cornwell’s books
f)      it’s a likely combination of a–e.

Scarpetta married her on-again-off-again and at-one-stage-thought-dead lover, Benton Wesley, a few books back, so the best Cornwell could do was milk a tired cliché: make Wesley seem to be keeping secrets from Scarpetta. That’s a plot device Cornwell was sure to pound us with at least six or seven times throughout the book—often when she was trying to make improbable plot leaps or to disguise the fact that the link between or explanation of said points was a bit wobbly.

Bone BedIt was a bit too convenient that everyone was, yet again, trying to keep Scarpetta out of the loop (convenience aside, it’s hard to fathom the characters hadn’t worked out that things ran more smoothly and crimes were solved when Scarpetta was kept abreast of all goings on). It was a bit too unbelievable that Wesley, her niece Lucy, and stalwart Pete Marino (AKA the only trio that she could possibly trust ever) were also conspiring to keep her in the dark.

And, without giving too much away, who the killer was turned out to be a little too clichéd and their motivations not well enough explained for my liking. Instead of wrapping up the book definitively, I felt that the killer’s unveiling revealed further plot weaknesses and gaps.

But for all my grumping, I relaxed into Port Mortuary (or as much as anyone can relax into a book about medical examiners and killers exacting horrors on unsuspecting victims). I’d missed Scarpetta in recent years, grieved over the fact that I thought she was gone (and I mean gone in the sense that the books were no longer worth reading rather than Cornwell’s decision to end the character’s journey) and there was enough in Port Mortuary to pique my interest and make me see the mystery solving through to the end. There was also enough to make me know I’ll select future Cornwell books from the shelf, as long as they come with assurances that they’re a ‘welcome return to form [or agreement not to stray from the accepted formula] for Dr Kay Scarpetta’.*

*It looks as though Bone Bed is the most recent. Published in 2012 (as opposed to Port Mortuary‘s 2010), Scarpetta is faced with the following:

A woman has vanished while digging a dinosaur bone bed in the remote wilderness of Canada. Somehow, the only evidence has made its way to the inbox of Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, over two thousand miles away in Boston. She has no idea why. But as events unfold with alarming speed, Scarpetta begins to suspect the palentologist’s disappearance is connected to a series of crimes much closer to home: a gruesome murder, inexplicable tortures, and trace evidence from the last living creatures of the dinosaur age.

Unfortunately, it looks as though the annoying secret keeping by those closest to her is set to continue:

When she turns to those around her, Scarpetta finds that the danger and suspicion have penetrated even her closest circles. Her niece Lucy speaks in riddles. Her lead investigator Pete Marino and FBI husband Benton Wesley have secrets of their own. Feeling alone and betrayed, Scarpetta is tempted by someone from her past as she tracks a killer both cunning and cruel.

The Next Big Thing — Michelle Heeter

Rigs Crossing“The Next Big Thing” — Have you all heard about it? It’s a chain blog post that’s doing the rounds at the moment. Actually, it’s been around quite a while and is still going strong. It’s ten questions that are an opportunity for writers to tell people about their next project — a completed book about to be published, a work in progress or simply an idea about to be embarked upon. Writers from all over the world have been taking part and posting each Wednesday.

It was Sandy Fussell (author of the Samurai Kids books) who sent it on to me. I blogged my answers last Wednesday on my personal blog (here), talking about my soon to be published third Gamers novel, Gamers’ Rebellion. I then passed the invitation on to Sue Bursztynski, Simon Haynes and Michelle Heeter. Unfortunately, Michelle doesn’t have a blog, so I offered to host her Next Big Thing here.

Michele is the author of the recently released YA novel Riggs Crossing. I reviewed that book a little while ago (see review). And now, here are Michelle’s Next Big Thing answers…

1. What is the [working] title of your next book?


2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

My first novel, Riggs Crossing, is a Young Adult novel that deals with a teenager whose father is a professional marijuana grower.  Due to the constraints of the YA genre, I had to leave out a lot of interesting material. Ripped will tell a different story set in a similar criminal milieu, but will be told from an adult’s point of view and will be aimed at an adult audience.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

General literary fiction.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Sasha Horler for the female lead.  For the male lead, the singer Paul Kelly, if he could be persuaded to give acting another go.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A professional marijuana grower and his girlfriend become trapped in a lifestyle that leads to violence, imprisonment, and finally, redemption.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

No self-publishing! I need editors to tell me what’s good and what isn’t. I’ve managed so far without an agent, but it might be time for me to start looking for one.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

There is no draft yet. This has been roiling around in my head like a swarm of bees for a couple of months; I had not set anything to paper before answering these questions. I’ve been dreading the start of this project, as it’s going to involve revisiting a lot of bad memories and interviewing people about parts of their life that they’d rather forget.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of a similar novel. Gabrielle Carey’s book Just Us is a non-fiction account of her relationship with a jailed criminal, but the characters at the core of my proposed novel are quite different to Gabrielle and her former partner.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

“Inspired” isn’t quite the right word. “Haunted” would be better. As with my last novel, some unfortunate past experiences provide the material to be shaped into a book. Bad luck can be turned into good fiction.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I was recently hired by a TV drama production company for a brief consulting gig—they’re planning a series about women whose partners are in jail. Basically, I talked to a team of screenwriters, answering their questions. It was a great experience. It would be interesting if any of the material I plan on using in the novel ends up in the series, but I don’t think this will happen. I think the screenwriters know their intended audience, who is after a bit of light entertainment and would recoil at hard truths about jail and the stigmatised life of a crim’s girlfriend. The average TV viewer does not like to be made uncomfortable or made to re-examine entrenched attitudes. Book readers, in my opinion, have more active minds.

Thanks, Michelle, for sharing your Next Big Thing with Boomerang Blog readers.

Catch ya later,  George

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Book in for the 2013 Women Writers Challenge!

Australian Women Writers ChallengeWhich of the many books on your to-read list will you pick up (or click on) next? If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a struggle each time.

In 2013, I will have a mission to guide me. I’m signing up for the second annual Australian Women Writers Challenge, with a plan to read 27 books by Australian women writers, many of which have been gathering dust on my real and virtual bookshelves for years (the full list to come in a future post).

I found out about the event too late in 2012, but tracked the progress of other bloggers who joined in via Twitter and GoodReads with interest. So what exactly is this giant digital book club, how did it come to be, and how can you get involved? Founder ELIZABETH LHUEDE explains all …

1. What is the Australian Women Writers Challenge all about, and what inspired you to launch the campaign?

The Australian Women Writers Challenge is a reading and reviewing challenge organised by book bloggers. It asks people to sign up and read, or read and review, a number of books by Australian women throughout the year, and to discuss them on book blogs and social media. Through the challenge, we hope to draw attention to and overcome the problem of gender bias in the reviewing of books in Australia’s literary journals, and to support and promote books by Australian women.

Indirectly, the challenge was inspired by the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. This count revealed that male authors were far more likely to have their books reviewed in influential international newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors.

An analysis of Australian literary pages by Bookseller + Publisher showed a similar bias (reprinted in Crikey in March 2012). 

From my own experience I know the problem isn’t just with male readers not reading books by women; it’s more entrenched than that: women, too, are guilty of gender bias in their reading. This is part of a much larger problem of devaluing work labelled as being by a woman. A 2012 study quoted recently by Tara Moss demonstrates that this bias exists independent of the actual quality and content of the work (see excerpt here).

To help solve this problem, the Australian Women Writers Challenge calls on readers to examine their reading habits and, if a bias against female authors exists, work to change it by reading – and reviewing – more books by Australian women. The quality of the work is there: it’s up to us to discover and celebrate it.

2. Is it just a coincidence that the challenge arrived on the scene around the same time as the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing?

The challenge owes a lot to the people who created the Stella Prize. Kirsten Tranter, one of the Stella panelists, wrote about the VIDA statistics in early 2011, as did many others in the early part of that year. Without the Stella Prize, the challenge wouldn’t have been the success it is.

3. How highly would you rate the influence of Miles Franklin on all of this, and why do you think she has become such a symbol for women writers in this country?

The Stella panelists chose Miles Franklin as a symbol, I believe, because no women were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009 and 2011, despite the prize having been established at the bequest of a woman – one who, incidentally, chose to publish under a male pseudonym.

I can see the strategic reasons for adopting Franklin as a symbol, but I also think it’s a symptom of the problem. There are far more talented Australian female authors. There are also other literary prizes that have been going for years that don’t get anywhere near the publicity of the Miles Franklin Award, such as the Barbara Jefferis Award and The Kibble and Dobbie prizes. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of these awards before I started researching books to read for the challenge. Why is that, unless it has something to do with the fact that they, in varied ways, celebrate women?

4. A year on, do you feel the campaign has been a success?

The challenge has been a huge success. The Huffington Post Books blog published a wrap-up of recent releases of books by Australian women, Overland blog announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers, it has been mentioned on Radio National, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life blog counted it among the 20 Greatest Moments for Women in 2012. I couldn’t have hoped for more.

5. How important has social media been to its reach?

Twitter especially has a major force in getting word out about the challenge, and has helped publicise the many reviews now linked to the blog (well over 1300). Recommendations via book bloggers and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have also been important. The real spikes in terms of hits on the blog, however, have come after mentions in traditional media.

6. You’ve done some survey research into AWW’s impact. Have you seen the results of that research yet?

A brief look at the results has revealed that the majority of respondents didn’t sign up for the challenge, but had heard about it; a majority of these also happened to read more books by Australian women this year. There are many other factors beside the challenge which have raised the profile of books by Australian women in 2012, so the challenge can’t take credit for this result, but it is a very encouraging trend.

Of the people who did sign up for the challenge, a majority read more books by Australian women than in previous years, and most reviewed more and read more broadly. A majority of respondents credited the challenge for their having a greater awareness of authors’ names, book titles and a sense of the breadth and diversity of genres being written by Australian women.

7. Do you have anything different planned for AWW in 2013?

In 2013, the challenge will remain basically the same, with the aim to read and review more books by Australian women. One change is that there will now be a ‘read only’ option for people who are reluctant (or too time poor) to review. This is a gamble – as it could easily diffuse the challenge’s goal. But it is my hope that people who sign up for this option will actively participate in the challenge.

How can they do that? By discussing books they’re reading on social media, using #aww2013 on Twitter, posting comments on the AWW Facebook page, discussing the books in the AWW GoodReads group, and – especially – by commenting on book bloggers’ reviews. Book bloggers have made a huge effort to read and review these books and I’m sure they appreciate people commenting.

8. Are the goals for the campaign the same, or have they grown with the movement?

The goal for the challenge remains to help overcome gender bias in reviewing, and also more generally to support and promote books by Australian women.

9. How can readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, the media and bloggers get involved?

The best way to get involved is to sign up to the challenge, to pledge to read and review books by Australian women in 2013, and to encourage others – friends, co-workers, family members, book group members, local librarians, school teachers and bookshop owners – to join as well. You can sign up here.

10. Can men participate (of course I know they can, but you never know, some might be too shy unless you extend them a really warm invitation!)?

Men are very welcome to participate – as they were in 2012. One male participant in the 2012 challenge was David Golding who recently wrote a wrap-up post on his participation which included a call for more men to sign up.

Another participant from 2012 is Sean Wright from Adventures of a Bookonaut blog. Sean has joined the AWW team and will be looking for ways to help get more male readers engaged in the challenge. (If you have any ideas, let him know!)

11. Who is/are your favourite Australian woman writer/s?

This is a tough question. I can honestly say my knowledge of books by Australian women is still too limited for me to have a favourite or favourites. This year I have discovered a wealth of genuine talent  – world-class authors I didn’t know existed this time last year – and I’m convinced there are many more to discover. My favourite genre is crime, particularly psychological suspense, and in those genres I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendy James, Rebecca James, Sylvia Johnson, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Angela Savage, Sulari Gentill, Nicole Watson, PM Newton and my friend Jaye Ford. But one of my goals this year was to read widely, which means I’ve read a lot of single books (46 so far) by different authors. The only authors I’ve repeated have been Gail Jones, Charlotte Wood and Margo Lanagan (two each). It’s not enough to go on to develop a favourite.

12. What were your top three reads by Australian women writers this year?

Only three? Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts tie for first, and a shared tie second includes Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers and PM Newton’s The Old School, while Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper comes in third. These are all very different books but, in my view, compelling reading. (Sorry, that’s five, isn’t it?)

13. What are you planning to read next?

I’ve just finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, an emotionally devastating and imaginative speculative fiction novel, and before that was Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, a very readable literary book about sibling rivalry. I have a huge stack books by Australian women to read, both recent releases and older titles, but I’m also keen to get back to my own writing which I’ve neglected this year while working on the challenge. Creating the new websites has required fulltime work for the past few months, and I need to get back to my own writing.

13. Could you tell us a little about your own writing? Has your work on the challenge pushed your own literary career along?

I started writing novels after I finished my PhD (in 1995) and I’ve had success in competitions with several romantic suspense novels and a fantasy title, but so far no acceptances from publishers. My latest story is a page-turning psychological suspense novel which draws on some hair-raising encounters I had working as an intern counsellor at a private hospital, as well my experience growing up with a schizophrenic father.

Earlier this year I attracted the attention of literary agent, author and former editor, Virginia Lloyd, who loved the story and agreed to represent me. With a great team now supporting the AWW challenge, I hope to get on with writing my second psychological suspense novel in 2013.

Have I been inspired by what I’ve read? Without a doubt. It has also been intimidating to see the depth, breadth and quality of the work that is out there – work that clearly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s scary, in a way, to go back to my own writing now with this new ‘anxiety of influence’. I would love to write with the richly textured imaginative flair of Margo Lanagan, or the terrible emotion of Eva Hornung, or the compassionate humanity of Charlotte Wood. I would love to write crime with the sense of history and stylistic precision of PM Newton, or have the exquisite appreciation of nature and human heartbreak of Favel Parrett, or the contemporary feel and nuanced characters of Emily Maguire. I’d love to write suspense, mystery and history with the scope and readability of Kate Morton – and to have my books be half as popular with readers. I doubt I can do any of those things and I feel grief about that. I know the next step in such thinking would be “Why even try?” But what I can do is what I’ve always – sometimes hesitantly – tried to do: to write as skilfully and honestly as I’m able, informed by who I am and my unique experience of the world. If one day I get published and find readers who enjoy reading the stories I’ve created, great: that will be a dream come true. If not, at least I can be an active and appreciative reader of those writers who have a great deal more talent than me.


12 Great Reasons Why You Should Buy a Boomerang Books Gift Voucher right now…

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Four Feisty Females Bound for Botany Bay

behind-the-sunBlending the epic storytelling tradition of Bryce Courtney with the meticulous accuracy of Philippa Gregory … award-winning historian and bestselling novelist, Deborah Challinor delivers a convict story like no other – four feisty females bound for Botany Bay.

Behind the Sun turns the convict story on its head. Through the eyes of four fiercely feisty young women who guard their secrets and dreams as closely as their money and trinkets from home, Deborah Challinor explores the gritty, raucous, bittersweet life of female criminals bound for Botany Bay.

The four unlikely friends must join forces and overcome the perils on the journey of their lives, safeguarding everything they hold dear to them. Tough and irreverent street prostitute Friday Woolfe and the clever thief Sarah Morgan team with naïve young Rachel Winter and the highly capable seamstress Harriet Clark.

On the voyage to New South Wales their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond — but there are others on board who will change their lives forever. Friday makes an implacable enemy of Bella Jackson, a vicious woman whose power seems undiminished by her arrest and transportation, while Harriet is taken under the wing of an idealistic doctor, James Downey. Rachel catches the eye of a sinister passenger whose brutal assault leaves her life hanging in the balance.

When they finally arrive on the other side of the world, they are confined to the grim and overcrowded Parramatta Female Factory. But worse is to come as the threat of separation looms. In the land behind the sun, the only thing they have is each other.


Deborah Challinor is the author of several bestselling novels including the widely praised Band of Gold. She is also an historian and has written a number of non-fiction titles.

Her compelling research for ‘Behind the Sun’, particularly the infamous Parramatta Female Factory  reveals much about the shocking conditions there and the extraordinary fact that  20% of Australians are descended from the women who went through those Factory gates. Her ancestors including a First Fleet sailor and a long line of convicts were part of the inspiration for this brilliant new series.

‘Thanks for rattling your chains ladies and gentlemen, both supernatural and the ones the law put on you.’ pg 448

Deb and her husband have recently moved to Newcastle.

Meet Jane Austen’s Little Sister

Who better to introduce modern tweens to the minefields that are love and romance than Jane Austen’s little sister, Jenna Austen?

From an award-winning Australian children’s author writing under the pseudonym ‘Jenna Austen’ comes the perfect series for girls aged 9+ who have moved on from Harry Potter but aren’t quite ready for Twilight yet.

romance-diariesParents will love the fact this series introduces their daughters to the works of Jane Austen; tween girls will love the diary format, great characters and sweet romance.

Protagonist Ruby is worried that her friends keep making the same mistakes when it comes to romance. Then she develops a theory: most girls go for either a ‘Jane Austen’ guy (funny, sweet, caring) or a ‘Jane Eyre’ guy (dark, brooding, serious) – when really they should be dating the exact opposite!

But when Ruby puts her theory practice, the results don’t exactly go to plan … And if she’s so smart about love, how come she can’t figure out who’s been sending her all the flirty emails and flowers?

About the author

‘Jenna Austen’ (aka award-winning author Sophie Masson) loves reading and writing. Especially the kinds of stories that end with happily-ever-afters. And she adores a good romance – she’s read EVERY Jane Austen novel ever written. She thinks Ms Austen is One of Greatest Writers To Have Ever Lived and used to wish that she was related to her. (She’s not – she checked!) But she doesn’t mind at all if people want to call her ‘Jane Austen’s Little Sister’…

Review: The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

lighthouseFuth is in his forties, newly separated from his wife, and taking a walking holiday in Germany. He hasn’t been doing much walking recently but he plans on doing fifteen miles a day and coming home fit and tanned. And he remembers walking with his mother and father as a child and, especially, a sunny day on the cliff tops just before his mother left them both to disappear in the USA. He was twelve when that happened, and his father  became unpredictably violent, so he would keep out of his way much of the time.

Futh is, above all, ordinary. He is unassertive, has rather limited social skills, and always inspects the escape routes from his hotel rooms in case of fire. His talisman, which he always keeps with him, is a silver lighthouse which once housed a bottle of his mother’s violet-scented perfume. But lighthouses, as the books’ epigram tells us, not only send out kindly light, they also wan of the rocks beneath. Futh’s life seems always to have more rocks than most.

Alison Moore’s book is deceptively simple. We come to understand Futh through countless ordinary details of his life and through his fragmented memories. Between the chapters about Futh, there are others about Ester, the wife of the hotel-keeper at whose hotel Futh starts and ends his journey. Esther craves attention from her violently possessive husband Bernard, who mostly ignores her. She compensates for this by taking casual lovers. Futh is not one of them but he becomes involved, all unknowingly, and the results are disastrous.

Esther life, like Futh’s is little different to that of most people. And it is this ordinariness and the small details of the characters’ day-to-day behavior which, at the end of the book, prompt questions about the accidents of life. Are our personalities shaped by nature or nurture (or lack of nurture)? Is the pattern of your lives determined by Fate? Does the appearance of Venus fly-traps at various parts of this story suggest that we are just like flies in the biological struggle for survival?

Nothing about Alison Moore’s story is as obvious as these questions but her smooth and subtle control of the reader’s mood and emotions has, in the end, enormous impact.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

swimming-homeA body in the swimming pool is always a good start. But this is no ordinary mystery story. And Kitty Finch is no ordinary body.

Her appearance at the tourist villa which the Jacobs have rented disturbs everyone – Joe, Isabel and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Nina, and their friends Mitchell and Laura. Jurgen, the German hippy caretaker, and their neighbour, Madeleine Sheridan, also feel the impact of her presence.

Kitty herself is an enigma. She is a copper-haired botanist with green fingernails; a poet; an attractive young woman who favours walking around naked; and a disturbed and disturbing presence.

Deborah Levy’s book is strange and unusual in its structure and its style. Her chapters are short, and their titles enigmatic: ‘Walls that open and close’, ‘Body Electric’, ‘Money is Hard’. We follow the events of each day of one week after the appearance of Kitty,  and Levy conveys the moods and thoughts of her characters through seemingly random remarks and actions. Each has their own problems and secrets, their own view of the world, and their own fears, desires and confusions. Each has their own particular response to Kitty. But nothing is spelled out and the tension mounts. The week begins and ends with a body in the swimming pool but the final chapter of the book is given to Nina – her memories and her dreaming conversations with her father.

This is a curious novel, full of psychological insight, but Tom MacCarthy’s ‘Afterword’, with its mention of Deborah Levy’s reading in Lacan, Deleuze, Barthes, Duras, Stein and Ballard risks making it seem like a dry academic exercise. His assessment of what he calls the “kaleidoscopic narrative” in this book adds more name-dropping confusion and is superfluous unless its readers are bent on deconstructing the text rather than enjoying a stimulating and interesting book.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Freddy Fittler’s Season on the Sidelines

freddy-fittler‘I love the way Freddy loves Rugby League. Look we all know that he sees the world a little differently and when it comes to talking footy that’s a good thing!’ Andrew Johns

 Following on from the success of The Fittler Files comes The Fittler Files 2, a review of the 2012 rugby league season from round one through to the grand final, covering all the big events both on and off the field. Not simply a rehash of the regular, NRL-sanctioned press conferences and news, this is a genuine inside look at rugby league from a trusted and well-connected team. Written with Brad’s brand of honesty and humour, and including over 100 photographsThe Fittler Files 2012 is the perfect gift for the footy fan this Christmas.

Brad ‘Freddy’ Fittler in his own words ‘played a bit of footy’ (40 Tests and World Cup matched, 31 Origin games for NSW and 336 first grade games – Penrith and Sydney Roosters), coached for a while (Sydney Roosters) – and enjoyed it all enormously. Now, as a keen photographer, commentator (Channel 9) and occasional coach (City team) he continues to relish his involvement in the game that gave him his chance in life. This is book is largely the product of weekly conversations and thoughts shared through season 2011 over coffee in a Sydney Harbourside park – just ‘talking football’. It was as good as life gets, Freddy reckons of his season spent chasing the game.

Adam Thomson began work with the Australian Radio Network in both production and on air roles across their 3 Sydney stations, Mix 106.5, WSFM and the Edge 96.1. After four years Adam made the move to television with the Ten Network as a sports reporter and producer focussing mainly on rugby league and combat sports.

Buy the book here…


The Christmas Post

Ah, Christmas! I love this time of year — presents, tree decorating, food (especially Christmas Pudding), parties, family, friends and BOOKS!

One of my favourite things about Christmas is getting to just lie around and catch up on some reading. I thought that Christmas reading plans would make an interesting topic for a blog post. So I emailed three other authors and asked them to share their Christmas reading plans with us.

First up we have Meredith Costain. She lives in inner-city Melbourne with a menagerie of pets. Her books range from picture books through to novels and narrative non-fiction, and include A Year in Girl Hell, novelisations of the TV series Dance Academy, Bed Tails, Dog Squad and CBCA Honour Book Doodledum Dancing (illustrated by Pamela Allen). What’s she planning on reading this Christmas?

I’m looking forward to reading The Convent, by Maureen McCarthy. I went to the launch of the book, held in the Nuns’ Salon at the Abbotsford Convent, where the book is set. These days the gothic buildings and beautiful grounds are home to lots of creative ventures – writers, artists, cafes, craft markets, a classical music radio station – so it’s hard to imagine the misery many of the inhabitants (unmarried mothers banished to gruelling work in the convent’s commercial laundries) endured. Maureen is a wonderful storyteller, and has drawn extensively on her own family background for this book.

Having watched the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on the weekend (twice – it’s incredibly complex!) I’m also planning to read John Le Carré’s novel the movie was based on. I want to find out more background information on the characters and the workings of the ‘Circus’. I’ve written a couple of non-fiction books for kids about spies so this is of particular interest to me.

There’s also lots of fabulous YA fiction I’m hoping to catch up on – including books by Isobelle Carmody, John Green and Maggie Stiefvater. Roll on summer!

Next up we have YA author Lili Wilkinson. A popular speaker on the school circuit, Lili’s books include Scatterheart, Pink, Angelfish and A Pocketful of Eyes. Her latest book, Love-shy, is a rom-com about a high school journalist and a love-shy boy. Take it away, Lili…

Some of my favourite ever memories are curling up on the couch on Christmas Day after lunch with a pile of new books. This year, I’m planning to read Julia Lawrinson’s Losing It, because I’ve loved Julia’s previous books and this one promises to be no exception! I’m also looking forward to Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, because everyone on Twitter is raving about it. I’m super excited about getting into Brian K Vaughn’s new graphic novel series, Saga, and am hoping I’ll find a copy of that under the tree on the 25th. And finally, I was planning to dive into Maureen McCarthy’s The Convent, but I just couldn’t wait, and have devoured the whole thing over the last few days!

Santas MailLast, but by no means least, we have Dimity Powell. Dimity has just had her first book published — P.S. Who Stole Santa’s Mail?. Being a Christmas themed story, it’s the perfect book for Christmas-time reading. And a great stocking filler. But what is Dimity planning on reading?

What’s on my Christmas reading list? Perhaps a shorter answer would be what’s not on my Christmas reading list? Reading this holiday will include a whole swag of new and previously loved picture books (we always have a stack of them to read each day, usually after breakfast), including Alison Reynolds’s recent release, A Year With Marmalade, because my Miss 7 is infatuated with all things feline. I’d really like to get through the 8 or so books weighing my bedside table down too including; Hazel Edwards’ House Working – a guide to supposedly enable me to learn how to share the load of ‘everything’ with my family better. Ironically, I’m too busy ‘not sharing’ to have time to read it…

I love a good love laugh so; Michael Gerard Bauer’s Eric Vale Epic Fail will be high on the list, along with Benjamin Law’s The Family Law, which I’ve been saving. I dichotomously look forward to a potentially good read, but like to hoard it for a while; a bit like eating roast spuds last, because they’re my favourites. And just for balance; I intend to finish Never Say Die by Chris O’Brien and Alison Goodman’s saucy little thriller, A New Kind of Death. I’m also looking for a copy of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; a book club read that I can’t wait to start. That should keep me going for a while, at least till next year.

Now, what about me? Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how much spare reading time I’m going to have this Christmas as I’m trying to finish off my new novel, Gamers’ Rebellion (the third book in the Gamers series). But if I do end up getting some time… I’ve been saving Eona by Alison Goodman. I read Eon a little while ago and LOVED it (I will get around to posting about it soon… promise). So I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel. I’ve also got a couple of Doctor Who books I want to read — Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter and The Diary of a Doctor Who Addict by Paul Magrs.

I hope you all have some great Christmas reading ahead.

Catch ya later,  George

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Get a Mullet Up Ya! Tales from the Tinny

It’s all about fishing in the Top End … sort of.

Come on a fishing trip with ABC Darwin’s Rob Smith, Tim Moore and Mario ‘McFadge’ Faggion as they chart the croc-filled waters of the Top End, doing what they do best — telling tall tales, drinking beer, and crapping on. As one keen fan put it in a warm recommendation, ‘The crap you blokes talk on air is the exact crap spoken on my boat.’

And this book is full of it — stuffed full of anecdotes about the colourful characters and  wild, vibrant landscape of the Top End, but more than that, it’s a book about mateship, fish, and the elaborate and exaggerated fishing claims that two guys who have been drinking beer all morning might make.

Soaked through with irreverent humour, fishy fables, Top End folklore, jokes at other people’s expense, fake adverts and satirical cartoons, this will make a great gift for Dad this Christmas.

And did we mention the fish? There’s a lot of them. And a lot of arguing about them.

Rob Smith and colleague Tim Moore present Tales from the Tinny every Saturday morning out of Darwin, where they both live. Rob is a radio producer with previous journalism experience and has written a number of humorous articles on the subject of fishing for newspapers and magazines.

Buy the book here…

Ode to the mullet

I love thee with raging desire so keen,

Cold buckets of water shall nay dull it.

You are my mate, my bait,

And as I stick a hook up thy date,

I thank the almighty for you –

Faithfull mullet.


–          Rob Smith

Dabbling in digital storytelling at

drabbl.esCanberra writer and entrepreneur Ellen Harvey has launched a new global platform for writers who can cope with word limits. The website, which is live but in alpha testing, invites visitors to create 100 word stories in one of dozens of subject areas, from journalism to crime and chick lit to biography. It’s an addictive format, and one that will appeal to writers of all genres and experience levels. Ellen took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions about drabbling and literary start-up life for Boomerang Books. 

How and when did you come up with the idea for 

The idea for came about as I was thinking of a way to write, collect, share and get others to do the same with 100 word stories. My writing group at the time loved the idea and I would give them ‘homework’ tasks to write 100 words around a certain theme. I wanted to read their drabbles, and they wanted to read other people’s drabbles too. Drabbles have been around for a while, the term originating from Monty Python, and are quite popular on online blogging platforms such as Livejournal. At the end of 2011, my husband, Lachlan Blackhall, and I were having a conversation about how to make this 100-word story-sharing website a reality. It was then that really started to take form, including many features and improvements that we can’t wait to implement on the website in future versions.

How long have you yourself been writing drabbles?

I have been writing drabbles since I was 14 and sharing them with friends via email and online blogging.

What’s your day job? 

My day job is split into three segments really: I’m a writer working on my first manuscript. I also started a company with my sister this year called BnE Media ( where we create animated storybook apps for children. And of course, I work on

And your dream job?

This is pretty much the dream. I am able to travel while working, I am able to write full-time, and I am able to work on interesting projects.

How many of you are involved in the project and what are the key roles?

As mentioned earlier, my husband is a key member of this project. He works with many start-up companies and is the ideal partner to have for this website. Plus, it’s great fun to be working on something with Lachlan. David Elliot and his team at Agile Digital are amazing–they worked tirelessly to make sure we had demos for workshops and a working version to begin this first trial in October.

How long has it taken to get the site up and running?

The idea was developed into a working website early in the year, and we were able to secure our developers (Agile Digital) in April. In six months, we have been able to start our first trial.

Now that is live, how much work is involved in running and promoting the site?

It’s actually a lot more work than I thought. Running a website, especially one in the early stages, means that I read 95% of all the drabbles. Drabbles are then randomly picked to be ‘promoted’ on social media, as well as advertising our challenges on social media so users know there are new ones. Running a trial, in particular, means I sort through feedback results and am constantly updating the development strategy for the next version. It definitely keeps me busy – but I love it all the same. It’s a new experience that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.

When do you anticipate leaving alpha stage and launching proper?

We plan to have the alpha trial running until the end of January (although we may continue into February). The site will still be live after that, but behind the scenes we’ll start working on the beta version. We’ll then release the next version and collect feedback. I love the idea of an evolving website that is exactly what its users want. After the beta trial and redevelopment, I think we’ll launch the proper version.

Will there be iOS and Android apps for

I certainly hope so! To me, drabbling is definitely something that can be done on the run. You can be at a concert and write about the song you just heard; you can be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks and describe the atmosphere; you can take a picture and explain what it means to you right then and there while still being in the moment.

Why should people post to rather than Facebook or Twitter or their own Tumblr/blog? allows people to tell stories. That is our aim. We want to read about a moment in someone’s life and feel as if we experienced it with them. is about connections. Facebook and Twitter statuses have developed to the point where they are often used to talk about a very specific moment, but once the moment is over, the update or tweet is often no longer relevant. We want drabbles to have longevity and to mean something a week, a month, a year, a decade after it’s published. Tumblrs and blogs allow users to write as much as they want–we want to encourage creativity by having the word restriction.

Might we see anthologies in ebook form in the future?

It is definitely something that we’ve thought about. Possibly as a way to deliver drabbles daily, weekly or monthly to users interested in particular genres or users. Almost like a newsletter, but hopefully delivered straight to your eReader. That being said, we’ve also thought about users able to export their drabbles straight to ePub/mobi and upload to the various stores themselves. It’s something we’ve thought about, but still a little while off from implementing.

How will you deal with copyright issues ie does the writer retain copyright and what if you were to publish a book, would you have to ask for permission?

Writers always retain copyright. As a writer myself, this is something I feel very strongly about. When they post on the website, the work is always theirs. If we were to publish a book, we would ask the users for permission.

What about moderating the drabbles to ensure nothing defamatory or racist etc is posted, is that a big job? 

Currently, our users are wonderful and don’t make it a very big job. I imagine it may turn into one, though. Our website is only as good as the users on it, so I hope that our users will alert us to anything they think we should check out, in addition to our own moderation.

What’s the end goal and how will you make money/pay for the site?

Ideally, and it’s a big dream, I’d love to be on the Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook stage–something people do for fun, but is totally addictive. Regarding making money, we believe the site can make money in two ways. Firstly, sponsored challenges are a logical step. The challenges are already part of functionality and with our view that can be written about events and experiences, then having host challenges for other companies seems reasonable and something the community would do because they are already using the challenges section of the website. The second way is by creating levels of paid users. There will always be a user type that is free and without advertising, but if they want more functionality, such as linking drabbles together or adding more than one picture to a drabble for example, they would need to pay for their account.

How did you come up with the extensive list of subjects? Can contributors suggest more?

I searched for writing genres on Google and came up with a multitude of sites that declared they had the best list of writing genres. I ended up just picking the one I like the best and started with that. The list is a work in progress and I would love for users to suggest more.

What other online forums exist for posting drabbles ie what’s your competition?

A wave of citizen journalism sites have cropped up in the last year and I feel that this is probably our major competition. They all allow their users to add pictures, follow other users, get email updates, comment and socialise on the websites. What’s more, they all promote that their site is about storytelling. Despite this, I know that our concept and website is strong because our 100 word restriction on the stories is a challenge (and an addictive one at that) which only enhances and promotes creativity.

A festive feast

I couldn’t resist taking a break from my Christmas duties to squeeze this post in. At this time of year, there’s a veritable sleigh-load of children’s Christmas books on offer; exciting new titles and plenty of old chestnuts too. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is one of the latter, which if not already part of your Christmas hamper, is destined to become so.

Brimming with rural Aussie flavour, this CBCA short-listed picture book is a sensitive juxtaposition of a pig, ironically named Applesauce, who feels hopelessly bereft after a bushfire sweeps away life as she knew it in her valley. Unable to come to terms with the loss, she succumbs to abject depression, certain there will be no Christmas this year for her and her beloved Joe and Marigold; the people she shares her life with.

Sage Owl consoles Applesauce, advising her that ‘Christmas comes from the heart’ not from what you have or have not got. But surrounded by such a bleak, scarred world, Applesauce is unable to feel anything but glum.

Meanwhile, others from the neighbouring bush are making their way through the empty landscape to see Joe and Marigold. We are still not sure why, although a glimpse at the book’s cover gives us a clue. The arrivals of the Shepard family and Marigold’s three slightly eccentric looking, elderly aunties all go unnoticed by Applesauce, that is until, she is finally introduced to Joe and Marigold’s new baby.

Suddenly, all that was miserable and desolate becomes cheery and meaningful. Cockatoos swirl like snowflakes. New red leaves blaze like fairy lights in the fierce sunlight, and it is amongst these simple and symbolic celebrations of new life that Applesauce lets ‘Christmas fill her heart again’.

Author Glenda Millard
Author Glenda Millard

From the first line, award-winning author, Glenda Millard, draws us almost imperceptibly into Applesauce’s pining for better days; days before drought and bushfire desecrated her world. Even without the exquisite illustrations of Stephen Michael King, Millard’s descriptions are deliciously seasoned with enough sensory detail to enable the reader to smell and feel the arid emptiness of the land; ‘night fell as dark as burnt toast’ is one image that lingers on long after being read and is thoughtfully followed by a text-less spread of night, star flecked sky.

King’s illustrations compliment the poignant text perfectly; never impinging on the tale, always filling each page with delicate, imaginative colour. I adore King’s quirky illustrative style and sense of fancy.  Both work well to retell a tale as old as Christmas itself. Adults sharing this picture book with young children will recognise the clever parallels to the nativity story. Young readers will enjoy the gorgeous imagery, magically told tale and simple yet strong Christmas message. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is guaranteed to fill your heart with the spirit of Christmas.

Recommended for pre-school age (3) and above.

Favourite SF books — Paul Collins

Yesterday I wrote about favourite science fiction books. Authors Michael Pryor and Simon Haynes got to put their two cents worth in. (see “Favourite SF books – Pryor & Haynes“) Today I am joined by author Paul Collins, who will be telling us about his favourite science fiction book.

Paul is no stranger to science fiction. He’s written lots of it, including the Earthborn Wars trilogy and his latest series, The Maximus Black Files. The first in the series, Mole Hunt, was published last year and got a slew of rave reviews. This year saw the publication of book two, Dyson’s Drop, which has also proven to be a runaway success. Fans are now eagerly awaiting the third in the series, Il Kedra, which will be out next year.

But what is Paul’s favourite science fiction book?

Asked to talk about my favourite book I’d have an argument with myself. Artemis Fowl or Tom Natsworthy? So the winner turns out to be Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines.

Most of the cities in England are hungrily trundling across the landscape, eating up smaller cities and towns for old tech and spare parts. The citizens of these fallen cities are either killed or enslaved.

Lowly third class apprentice Tom Natsworthy is unceremoniously thrown off London town – down a waste chute, no less – after having the misfortune to meet would-be assassin Hester Shaw. Together they must find their way back to London, each of course for different reasons. Much like Arthur Dent hitchhiking aboard a spacecraft, Tom and Hester climb aboard Tunbridge Wheels, only to find it’s a pirate town run by one Chrysler Peavey, whose daughter is called Cortina, of course!

There’s a strong cast of protagonists. Among my favourites are the hideously disfigured Hester Shaw and an Oriental aviatrix called Miss Anna Fang, both of whom remind me of another favourite character from years gone by, Modesty Blaise. The latter faced many villains as Reeve’s characters do. Foremost of these are the Stalkers, seven feet tall with metal armour; once human but now transformed into the living dead (think Terminator). Reeve delights in sudden gusts of humour at the least expected moments. Introducing his Stalkers he says in part: “Its round glass eye gave it a startled look, as if it had never got over the horrible surprise of what had happened to it”. In another scene, a Stalker called Shrike meets his comeuppance: “Is it . . . dead?” asks Tom Natsworthy, to which Hester replies: “A town just ran over him. I shouldn’t think he’s very well . . .”

A secret energy weapon called MEDUSA (from the Sixty Minute War) has been discovered by archaeologist Thaddeus Valentine (Hester’s mother, actually, but Valentine killed her to obtain it), and now London is roaring across the Hunting Ground to take on the static enclaves of the Anti-Traction League in Shan Guo (not everyone it seems wants to uproot their homes and live the life of gypsies).

Reeve does commit a cardinal sin so far as this reader is concerned. He kills the dog, or the equivalent of one. I always think that’s a cheap trick to gain reader sympathy, used most notably in fantasy novels.

Originality, humour, action, adventure, greed, clashing civilisations, betrayal, murder, pirates ─ it’s got it all. (Not to be restricted to teenagers!)

It might be a town-eat-town world, but I’m glad Reeve kept it rolling to a quartet. Three more to go for me!

Mortal Engines has been on my must-read-someday pile for ages. After reading Paul’s comments I may have to move it to the top of the pile. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Favourite SF books – Pryor & Haynes

I’m a science fiction fan. I have been since primary school. As a kid I used to almost exclusively read science fiction. These days I read of mix of things — but, no matter how far my literary interests may wander, I still find myself being drawn back to science fiction.

The book that started it all for me, in primary school, was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. (I wrote about it earlier this year for Michael Pryor’s blog — see post.) And in my teen years, it was John Christopher’s trilogy The Tripods that was my most re-read favourite (see “Tripods Rule!“). These days, I would still probably list that trilogy as my all-time favourite literary SF. In terms of visual SF it is, of course, Doctor Who.

For this post I thought it would be interesting to ask three other authors what their favourite science fiction books were.

I started off with Michael Pryor. Although he is probably best known for his steampunkish alternative history series The Laws of Magic, he also writes science fiction. In fact, his latest book is science fiction. 10 Futures is a book of linked short stories, exploring ten different possible futures in which the only constant is friendship. But what is Michael’s favourite science fiction book?

My favourite Science Fiction book is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. It’s audacious (recast The Canterbury Tales in an SF mode? Why not?), scary (the Shrike monster haunted my dreams for months after I first read this book), philosophical (not just one, but half a dozen of the Big Questions are tackled in this book), pacey (the chase and battle scenes are first class), moving (heartbreak, romance, parent/child loss, this book can make you cry), and written with a supple, dancing prose that sings with every sentence. Great book.

Next up we have Simon Haynes. Simon is well-known to SF fans as the author of the Hal Spacejock series. More recently, he has ventured into science fiction for younger readers with his Hal Junior series. There are three books in this series so far: The Secret Signal, The Missing Case and The Gyris Mission. I am reliably informed that he is working on the fourth at the moment. Here are Simon’s thoughts on his favourite SF…

Choosing a favourite SF novel is all but impossible, so I’m going to cheat and nominate my fave SF novel from my childhood years.  William F. Temple was a British SF novelist who once shared an apartment with Arthur C. Clarke. He wrote a number of novels for adults, but it’s his series for teenagers, written in the mid-50’s, which really captured my imagination. The first in the series was Martin Magnus: Planet Rover, featuring a crusty troubleshooter aged in his 30’s, who hated authority and bureaucracy, yet was smart enough and skilled enough to get away with being abrasive to just about everyone. However, he also had a big heart and would go to the ends of the Solar System to help someone he genuinely liked. The technology in the books has dated, of course, but the stories are still inventive and great fun.

Finally, I asked Paul Collins, author of dozens of books, including the science fiction series, The Maximus Black Files. In his enthusiasm for the genre, however, Paul was unable to contain himself to one paragraph. So he gets his very own guest post. 🙂 Come back tomorrow to find out what his favourite science fiction book is.

Catch ya later,  George

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Something less sweet for the season

Much like festive food, I often find bestselling books to be either too saccharine-sweet or over-stuffed for my taste. So I wasn’t expecting to be instantly charmed when I finally picked up a copy of Jonas Jonasson’s debut offering, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

But it had me at “hello”; from the first paragraphs of the opening chapter that paints – with less than 150 words – a vivid and hilarious picture of a cantankerous centenarian who has no intention of comprising his character in his old age.

“There was less than an hour to go before his birthday party would begin in the lounge of the Old Folks’ Home. The mayor would be there. And the local paper. And all the other old people. And the entire staff, led by bad- tempered Director Alice.

It was only the Birthday Boy himself who didn’t intend to turn up.”

An old man – Allan Karlsson – climbs out of a window to escape his hundredth birthday. He purloins a suitcase, hops on a train and what follows is both the explanation of his amazing back-story and an off-beat adventure for Allan and anyone who crosses his path. Without giving away too much it weaves together a tale of several murders, revolutions, the invention of the atom bomb, Reagan’s Star Wars, and – of course – one man’s mission to find happiness and preferably a glass of vodka to go with it. The novel’s cast of characters includes a hot-dog selling polymath, a cast of criminals, Stalin, Truman and Albert Einstein’s less gifted half-brother, and of course, Allan himself; a man with a gift – or perhaps a curse – for being in the right place at the right time.

It’s been called a “black comic novel that reads like a road trip with Forrest Gump at the wheel’ which it could be, if Forrest Gump was centenarian demolition expert with no intention of relinquishing control over his vodka supply.

Others have likened it to a darkly hilarious Water for Elephants (and indeed the book does contain a renegade elephant) but I think that fails to capture the charm, invention and capriciousness of this fascinating tale. I’m a little more reminded of Warren Ellis’s RED (Retired, Extremely Dangerous), and specifically the lighter tone of the movie adaptation, but with this book Jonasson has firmly established he has a voice all of his own and a remarkable story to tell with it.

Jonasson is a Swedish writer with a background as a journalist and media consultant. This book is his first novel and was released in 2009. By 2010 it was the best selling book in Sweden and by July 2012 it had sold three million copies world-wide and had a movie adaptation in the works. If you’re looking for a book for the festive season – whether it’s to amuse yourself or to appease an occasionally cantankerous soul stuffed with overly-rich christmas fare – I can’t recommend this book enough.

The Scrivener’s Tale

Australia’s queen of fantasy returns to the world of her epic bestseller Myrren’s Gift.

Fiona McIntosh is one of Australia’s most exciting and prolific authors of popular fantasy. Locally, reviewers have compared her to masters of the genre, including Raymond Feist, Jean M Auel, David Gemmell and Guy Gavriel Kay; internationally, she is also a sensation. Myrren’s Gift, for instance, was Britain’s highest-selling debut for 2005, and it has now been published in all English-speaking markets around the world and translated into several languages.

In fact, it was while swamped with French fans clutching translation copies of these novels during a recent trip to the Paris Book Fair that Fiona decided it was time to finally give in to their pleas that she set another novel in France; and so the seed for THE SCRIVENER’S TALE was sown.

Set in the landscape of Morgravia (a world already familiar to her readers) and inspired by rainy afternoons spent walking the streets of Paris and hours spent rummaging through Shakespeare & Co (one of the city’s most famous bookshops and a mecca for its English-speaking literati), THE SCRIVENER’S TALE is just the kind of gripping, expertly-crafted narrative that fans and critics alike have come to expect from McIntosh.

Despite her skyrocketing writing career, Fiona leads a relatively normal life, dividing her time between Adelaide and Tasmania’s Huon Valley with the occasional research trip to Europe thrown in. A mother of twin sons, she is also a prolific baker and chocolate addict, baking all manner of cakes, brownies and biscuits into the early hours of the morning as her family sleeps. Says Fiona, “I’m sure in the haze of measuring and stirring I’m percolating my complex fantasy tale with a cast of thousands somewhere in the back of my brain!”

Buy the book here…


“Two words on the cover – ‘Fiona McIntosh’ – always let me know I’m in for a good read” ROBIN HOBB

“Fiona McIntosh is a seductress. I have not moved from the sofa in three days” THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

“Fiona McIntosh keeps getting better and better” ADELAIDE ADVERTISER

“Relentless, twisty plotting… compulsively readable” KIRKUS REVIEWS

Blanche d’Alpuget’s first novel in twenty years

BLANCHE d’ALPUGET’s first novel in twenty years will be published in September 2013.

The Young Lion is the gripping first installment in a trilogy set in the Middle Ages, and marks the return to the world of fiction of one of Australia’s finest writers.

Blanche’s earlier novels were all bestsellers. They include Turtle Beach, which won the Age Book of the Year and was made into a feature film starring Greta Scacchi and Jack Thompson; Monkeys in the DarkWinter in Jerusalem and White Eye. Her non-fiction includes Mediator: A Biography of Sir Richard Kirby;Robert J. Hawke: A BiographyOn Longing and Hawke: The Prime Minister. These works won a number of literary prizes, including the PEN Golden Jubilee Award and the Australasian Prize for Commonwealth Literature.

Blanche d’Alpuget says:

‘In my twenties I became fascinated with the 12th century when I began to realise it was the era that established much of what we celebrate and revile today: romantic love; war between Christianity and Islam; celibacy in the Church; the rule of law; oppression of women and their fight against it; trial by jury; academies in Oxford and Paris that grew into the West’s first universities. It was a time of upheaval. Personalities with great virtues and great flaws led it, among them the warrior, Henry, founder of England’s longest lasting dynasty, the Plantagenets; I’ve chosen to call him “The Young Lion”.’

Her publisher, Jeanne Ryckmans, says:

‘It’s a real honour to publish and work with Blanche. She is a brilliant novelist who writes with verve and energy. She tells the story of “The Young Lion” with wit and razor-sharp intelligence, as well as demonstrating a firm grasp of the geopolitics of Medieval Europe and a keen insight into the workings of the human heart.’

About The Young Lion

Geoffrey the Handsome is the virile and charming Duke of Normandy, who seduces Queen Eleanor of France to spy for him. Said to be the most beautiful woman in Europe, and very rich, Eleanor has not been able to give birth to an heir for France. Her liaison with Geoffrey could remedy that – or lead to her downfall and Geoffrey’s death. But what begins with cool calculation becomes a passionate affair. Despite his love for Eleanor, Geoffrey has larger plans: to help his warrior son, Henry, seize the English throne from the uncle who usurped it from its rightful heir, Henry’s mother. When Henry is forced to intervene to save the lives of his father and Eleanor, he falls foul of the French queen – and madly in love with her Byzantine maid. Should he become King of England, however, this dazzling foreign girl will never be acceptable as his queen.

These two relationships – both forbidden, both perilous – are at the centre of a tale of consuming ambition, family vengeance and political intrigue set in the glorious flowering of troubadour culture, mysticism and learning that is 12th-century France.


Blanche d’Alpuget is an acclaimed novelist, biographer and essayist. She has won numerous literary awards, among them the inaugural Australasian Prize for Commonwealth Literature in 1987. Her books include Mediator: A Biography of Sir Richard Kirby (1977); Monkeys in the Dark (1980); Turtle Beach (1981), which won the Age Book of the Year award in 1981; Robert J Hawke: A Biography (1982); Winter in Jerusalem (1986) and White Eye (1993). Turtle Beach became a feature film in 1992 starring Greta Scacchi and Jack Thompson, and all Blanche’s novels have been translated into other languages. Blanche lives in Sydney.

First Tuesday Book Club reveals top 10 Aussie Books

The First Tuesday Book Club has revealed their 10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die, as voted by thousands of Australian readers.

The top ten is:

  • Cloudstreet (1991) by Tim Winton
  • The Book Thief (2006) by Markus Zusak
  • A Fortunate Life (1981) by A.B. Facey
  • The Power of One (1989) by Bryce Courtenay
  • Harp in the South (1948) by Ruth Park
  • Jasper Jones (2009) by Craig Silvey
  • The Magic Pudding (1918) by Norman Lindsay
  • The Slap (2008) by Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Secret River (2005) by Kate Grenville
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967) by Joan Lindsay

Boomerang Books ran their own survey back in 2010 to reveal the Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

What do you think?  Leave a comment…

Quirky Book for Chrissie? – 100 Uses for a Dead Kindle

Estimates suggest over 2m Kindles have been sold in the UK over the last three years. The Kindle is now one of the most iconic consumer objects in our culture, changing the way we read books. 101 Uses of a Dead Kindle is a celebration of that status, taking a sideways look and what happens when, eventually, your beloved Kindle dies. With 101 beautiful and hilarious cartoons showing all the different ways you can recycle (or up-cycle) your Kindle, no matter how weird, ludicrous and extraordinary. 101 Uses of a Dead Kindle will become a cult classic for Kindle owners (and e-book haters) everywhere.

Buy the book here…

Punter’s autobiography to be published next Christmas

HarperCollinsPublishers Australia will publish Ricky Ponting’s end-of-career autobiography in November 2013.

Ricky Ponting, 37, who made his final Test appearance this week, is one of the greatest cricketers to have worn the baggy green.  He became Test captain of Australia in 2004 and remained in the post until handing the job to Michael Clarke in 2011. He is the highest Australian run-scorer of all time in Tests and one-day international cricket, behind only India’s Sachin Tendulkar among batsmen from all countries.  Ponting’s career highlights include 168 Test matches, an Australian record he shares with Steve Waugh.  He scored 13,378 runs in Test matches and 41 centuries.

No Australian cricketer can match his Test hundreds record and his Test average (51.85) is third best among all Australian batsmen with 20 or more innings (behind only Don Bradman and Greg Chappell). Bradman is the only Australian to score more Test double centuries. Only India’s Rahul Dravid has taken more Test catches. No man has been a part of more Test victories. No captain has led his country to more Test wins.

Ponting has been a HarperCollins author since 2003 and his autobiography will be his biggest project yet.  It will track, with his customary honesty, the journey from his childhood in Tasmania, playing for the Mowbray Cricket Club’s third-grade side at 11 years old, through the highs and lows of his extraordinary international career to his retirement and future plans.

HarperCollins Publishing Director, Shona Martyn, said:  ‘Ricky Ponting’s autobiography will head straight to the top of the bestseller lists next Christmas. Australian readers love cricket, love heroes and love strong sporting autobiographies — this book will deliver all three.’

Image source: The Australian

Bookstore installs random book dispenser – the Biblio-Mat

The Biblio-Mat is a random book dispenser built by Craig Small for The Monkey’s Paw, an idiosyncratic antiquarian bookshop in Toronto. Biblio-Mat books, which vary widely in size and subject matter, cost two dollars. The machine was conceived as an artful alternative to the ubiquitous and often ignored discount sidewalk bin. When a customer puts coins into it, the Biblio-Mat dramatically whirrs and vibrates as the machine is set in motion. The ring of an old telephone bell enhances the thrill when the customer’s mystery book is delivered with a satisfying clunk into the receptacle below.

Take a look at this clip to see how it works –

The BIBLIO-MAT from Craig Small on Vimeo.


Gold-winning diver Matthew Mitcham opens up about addiction

‘People kept remarking on how they were surprised that a gold medal and fame hadn’t changed me. I always responded, “Why would I change? Being me is the easiest person to be.”

I was lying. It wasn’t.’

At the Beijing Olympic Games, Matthew Mitcham made history with an unforgettable dive, scoring perfect tens, and winning gold for Australia.

There was no hint of the harrowing battle this talented young dynamo had fought with clinical depression, self-harm, and his addiction to alcohol and drugs including crystal meth (also known as Ice).

Joyously out and proud, Matthew was a role model for his courage both in and out of the pool. Yet even after Beijing and ranking No 1 in the world, beneath that cheeky, fun-loving exterior he was painfully aware of how easily it could unravel.

Unbeknownst to everyone, even those closest to him, Matthew turned to crystal meth as a way of dealing with his personal demons some of which stemmed from his childhood.

When injury further threatened his London Olympic hopes, he struggled to overcome his addictions through rehab and counselling, and balance his perfectionism with the old fear of self-doubt. He may not have won gold but he triumphed over his physical and emotional pain – and showed us the true meaning of sportsmanship.

As Andre Agassi’s Open is to tennis, so is Matthew Mitcham’s Twists and Turns to diving. This is an inspiring story of a true champion, in and out of the pool.

“A searingly frank memoir” – Deborah Snow, The Sydney Morning Herald

Buy the book here…

Sex, lies and bonsai

A funny and tender love story from a talented new Australian writer — Sex, lies & bonsai by Lisa Walker

What if you live in the midst of the intense surfing culture of the NSW North coast with a father who is a legendary surfing champion but you are too scared to even go in the water?  And if you start writing erotic fiction but have a massive fear of being found out by the close knit community? These are the sorts of questions Lisa Walker seeks to explore in this funny and charming story about coming out of your shell and letting the world see your rich inner life even when it makes you nearly crazy with embarrassment.

Dumped by text message by her ‘perfect’ boyfriend, heartbroken Edie flees Sydney for the refuge of her childhood home, taking only a wilting bonsai as a reminder of her failure. But in this small coastal town, Edie has always lived in the shadow of her surf champion father. How can she move on from her ex — and from her past?

Her best friend and life-coach, Sally, is full of dubious advice, but Edie finds there are many ways to mess things up on her own. She discovers a new-found talent for erotic writing which is lucrative but cringe-making, finds a job drawing crab larvae but suffers terribly with unrequited lust for her employer, the hunky professor with ‘hidden depths’ and nearly blows it all with the complicated but undeniably sexy musician – Jay.

‘The inspiration for Edie’s story came from a few different places,’ Lisa says. ‘One of these was seeing the way that surfing was so much a part of life on the north coast, I wondered what it would be like to be an outsider – a girl who is scared of the water. While I am a surfer myself, my kids are fairly apathetic about it. In a town like Lennox Head, which has such a strong surfing culture, whether you surf becomes an important part of who you are.’ ‘The other inspiration is that feeling of living in a small town. Darling Head, where the novel is set, is a town of five thousand people. In a town like that, it is impossible to be anonymous. Edie has spent her whole life feeling like the odd one out. I wanted to see what would happen if she just let it all hang out.’  LISA WALKER

This appealing romance with a big dash of humour, a beautiful setting and a cast of memorable characters heralds the arrival of a major new Australian writer of popular women’s fiction.


Lisa lives on the NSW North Coast with her husband and two teenage sons where she surfs, writes and works as a community relations manager for National Parks and Wildlife. She has held a myriad of different jobs including once being employed as an illustrator of crab larvae! She has a degree in zoology, a master’s in natural resource management and a graduate diploma in outdoor education. Lisa is an award winning short story writer; her play Baddest Backpackers aired on ABC RN in 2008 and her first novel Liar Bird was published in 2012. Sex, Lies &Bonsai is her second novel.

Buy the book here…