It’s Time To Die … Whom

Australian Government Style ManualIn recent days I’ve spotted at least two articles extolling the death of ‘whom’. And as inappropriate as it is, I’ve got to admit that I’m rather relieved and even a lot happy. You see—and this is something that’s entirely uncool to admit as a writer and editor who’s supposed to know and do better—the proper use of ‘whom’ has always annoyed and more often completely, throw-your-hands-up-in-a-huff stumped me.*

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber penned the first whom-themed article and offers three very sentient reasons for the pesky pronoun’s likely (albeit too slow for my liking) demise. One is that ‘the word has outlived its ability to fulfil the most important function of language: to clarify and specify’. I mean, is it just me, or does whom do the complete and utter opposite of making anything specific or clear? Which brings us to the second reason: ‘its subject/object distinction can be confusing to the point of frustrating.’

The third and most pressing reason, Gerber writes, is that whom ‘costs language users more than it benefits them’. That is, it’s tricky and tedious to decipher and too easily trips us up. Apply it incorrectly and people think you a fool. Apply it correctly and you come across as ‘pompous twerp’ (Gerber cites an editor at The Guardian and I am in turn citing Gerber). This means that using whom is a no-win situation and is an absolute minefield for a writer and editor, whose career and reputation depends on getting words and their usages just right.

Alexandra Petri continues Gerber’s theme, suggesting we take a ‘Mark Twain’ approach and do the equivalent of substituting ‘very’ with ‘damn’ with ‘whom’. She also notes the perils of making a mistake with whom: ‘Good grammar,’ she writes, ‘is like all those days you wear your underwear on the right side of your pants: It goes sadly unremarked upon. But slip up one time and that’s what everyone mentions.’ As someone who literally tore her underpants while trying to put them on the other day, this is a remark to which I can more-closely-than-most relate.

Frankly, I think the only place whom will retain its grip is as the introductory statement to a generic letter when the writer can’t find out an addressee’s name. But the interwebs are making even that redundant, which means whom’s services really aren’t required. The best answer to tackling it and its annoyances, I feel, is what Garber suggests. That is, follow William Safire’s advice: ‘Whenever whom is required, recast the sentence.’

*It’s also had me making Big Brother proclamations that ‘it’s time to die … whom’ and, failing being able to successfully carry out its execution, ensured that my copy of the Australian Government Style Manual is well-thumbed.

Review – The Light

Some of my childhood highlights as a city slicker were the infrequent visits to my Grandparents’ farm, tucked away in the volcanic hills of the Blackall Range. Learning how to milk cows and churn their cream into golden, waxy pats of butter produced a memory that prevails today, even if the skill has waned.

The LightNostalgia is something worth sharing for it preserves much more than just a time and place. It builds one’s history and shapes one’s future. Jo Oliver’s latest picture book, The Light, pays homage to the lighthouse keepers and their families of Montague Island and gives us an alluring glimpse of a time and occupation now extinct, and superseded by technology.

The cover and title intimate the story subject immediately; however it is the little girl, kneeling alone on the windswept hillside with her tin whistle which piques one’s curiosity. She introduces us to her home, her family and her life upon this seemingly barren and desolate rock in the middle of the Tasman Sea.

Montague Light houseOne wonders at the lack of everything this family possess and how they endure the tedious isolation of their environment. However, Louisa or as she is affectionately referred to in the story, Lou Lou, doesn’t have time to be bored. Her days are filled with studies and chores and learning to ‘churn the butter’. Yet she still finds moments to run off and sit upon the smooth sun-kissed rocks to play her tin whistle.

In contrast to an existence that is bleak and forlorn, Lou Lou’s music represents the very essence of life pulsing within and around the island. Everything is part of the melody; the crashing waves, swaying seals and swooping terns.

Jo Oliver’s text is enhanced by her understated yet evocative paintings and sketched drawings. The vivid cerulean sea is a vibrant backdrop no matter where you look from the lighthouse. It effervesces with barely restrained beauty as Lou Lou plays her whistle.

Indeed it is the simple pleasure of music and revelling in each other’s company that binds this family inextricably together. However a sense of foreboding prevails when we learn from Lou Lou’s father that a terrible storm is on the way.

Whenever Lou Lou or her father or mother makes music, the pages are cloaked in sheet music. The effect is subtle and unobtrusive. But as the storm closes in, ominous darkness descends. The sheet music becomes muddied and less discernible. The family play on despite the howling storm outside and are soon joined by four shipwrecked men who only locate the safe haven thanks to the guiding light and later, the music. Hope is rekindled and salvation is celebrated within the warmth of shared lamplight.

Lighthouse quartersThe subdued, muted details Oliver uses in both her story telling and illustrations are easy to appreciate in much the same way as her previous picture books Pilgrim and Tatiara. The Light won’t necessarily cause young children to leap up and want to be lighthouse keepers. Its significance lies in the gentle way it illuminates an era when manned lighthouses were a vital necessity to our maritime safety and well-being, and highlights the selfless families who operated them.

Suitable for primary aged children and big kids with lots of nostalgic memories.

New Frontier Publishing  March 2013

Player Profile: Kelly Doust, author of The Crafty Minx at Home

kelly-doustKelly Doust, author of The Crafty Minx at Home

Tell us about your latest creation…

The Crafty Minx at Home: 50+ handmade and recycled objects for beautiful living is about the things closest to my heart: living the handmade life and appreciating the beauty of vintage objects. It also shares the joy in making things yourself and sharing them with loved ones.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I was raised mostly in Sydney’s Inner West which is where I live now, but I spent my twenties living overseas in Hong Kong and London.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

From the age of about six or seven I wanted to write and started making up short stories and prose for my family (most memorably, a poem imaginatively titled ‘My dog’ when our beloved childhood pet died). My dream of being a writer never really changed, but I’ve certainly had a few failed careers in the interim. I’ve finished exactly one year of a hairdresser’s apprenticeship, and I never quite cut it in the corporate world. I also thought that if I couldn’t write, I’d study to be a fashion designer. I might still do that one day.

crafty-minxWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

The next book I’m working on… I always think I can do better and I’m naturally still learning and improving with each book. I consider The Crafty Minx at Home the best book I’ve published so far, because my taste has evolved along the way and I think we’ve created a beautiful, visually-inspiring world for readers to fall in love with.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I’m pathologically tidy so I always clear my work area at the beginning of each day. That said, I write at the kitchen table so it’s important to get rid of any distractions before I start, such as the morning’s dirty breakfast bowls and my daughter’s half-finished craft projects. It’s also near the kettle and my digital radio, both of which I couldn’t live without.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I read in every genre, from autobiographies to investigative journalism and non-fiction, but my favourite indulgences are novels and beautifully-illustrated lifestyle books. Writers such as Jeannette Winterson, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Jonathan Tropper and Annie Proulx blow me away with their intelligence and talent.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Tolkein’s The Hobbit. As a child, I couldn’t think of anything more exciting than escaping to other worlds where magic and adventure existed.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Flora Poste of Cold Comfort Farm. She has a plucky sense of humour and made the best of herself in straitened circumstances. She’s my heroine.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

Watch horror movies. Dance hip-hop. Put my body through stupid challenges like Tough Mudder, just to see if I can.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Pasta. My mother’s family is Italian, and despite being told I’m gluten intolerant, I can’t seem to give up the good stuff. Favourite drink would have to be red wine. Or mojitos. Or champagne (I have several favourite drinks).

Who is your hero? Why?

People who stay true to themselves but manage to do so with respect for others. In terms of famous identities, I really admire Jamie Oliver for his passion, ambition and success. He seems like a good
person to me. Ditto Barack Obama.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Definitely all the other forms of entertainment available to us. I remember being despondent if I ever found myself on a bus or in a waiting room without reading material when I was younger, but now I rarely travel with anything other than my iPhone and use it to watch videos, listen to podcasts and browse online instead. But I think there will always be people who want to sink their teeth into the meatiness of a full-length book. I don’t think anything can replace the beauty of books as objects to covet, touch and possess. Especially illustrated titles, which only grow more tailored and exceptional as time wears on.

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5 Faves from Afar

The volume of literary genius Australia possesses is staggering. Distill this down further to talented kids’ authors and illustrators and you’d still fill oceans, which is why I love showcasing our home grown children’s books.

But it’s impossible to ignore the magnitude of offerings from overseas too. So every now and then I’ll give you 5 Faves from overseas.

Here is the first fistful – all picture books this time round.

Waiting for Later1. Waiting for Later by Tina Matthews Walker Books Australia (OK published here but Tina is from NZ so sneaks in on this list). Nancy’s family are too busy to play with her. Each time she appeals for their attention, the reply is ‘later’. Nancy holds out for ‘later’ in a grand old tree in her garden with surprising results. An evocative cautionary tale reminding us of the precious brevity of childhood told in captivating book-end style.

2. Too Many Girls by Jonty Lees Eight Books Limited UK. Fun, frivolous and very pink in parts. Any Dad outnumbered by females will immediately sympathise with this poor fellow who is subject to an appalling lack of privacy, regular nail painting and indiscriminate hairstyling thanks to the females in his household. The crisis erupts in a ‘brush war’ resulting in some happy compromises and a lovely shade of purple. A lesson in the art of acceptance (and why men will never rule the world)Too many Girls

Fantastic Flying Books3. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore by W E Joyce and Joe Bluhm. Simon & Schuster UK, originally by Athenum Books for Young Readers NY, USA. Immediately captivating. Glowing illustrations exude a burnished charm and warmth that complement the touching tale of Mr Morris Lessmore, a man who loved books and reading his whole life long. It’s a genuine never-ending story. Magnificently magic.

4. Blue Gnu by Kyle Mewburn and Daron Parton Scholastic NZ. Boo is not your average gnu. He’s blue for a start. And oscillates wildly betweenBlue Gnu yearning to fit in with the rest of the heard and being his own unique self. A warm and witty look a colours, patterns, differences and friendship.

This Moose belongs to Me5. This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers Harper Collins Children’s Books UK. Oliver Jeffers – enough said. One of my favourites of his. Illustrations divine enough to frame and hang on the wall plus a mockingly humorous story that questions the audacious assumption that we can really ever own anything outright in this world, equals pure genius. In the end, nature triumphs as does this must read picture book.

Do you have a favourite, unforgettable picture book? Let me know and it could make it onto 5 Faves.

Review: The Magnificent Desolation by Thomas O’Malley

magnificent-desolationIt is rare to find a book written in a language which so beautifully conveys its imaginative essence; or one with a title which is so exactly right. O’Malley’s writing is often lyrical and evocative and he can take the reader and his characters to places far removed from the gritty world in which they live.  And he borrows his title,This Magnificent Desolation, from the words Buzz Aldrin spoke from the surface of the moon. This first moon-landing haunts the book, as do the voices of the Apollo astronauts themselves, which ten-year-old Duncan hears through the static on his beloved ancient radio. Duncan believes that the astronauts never managed to get back to earth. He believes, too, that he remembers the moment of his birth, when God spoke to him.

Duncan has no memory of his past. He knows only what Brother Candice has told him about the terrible snow-storm, the stranded train, the deaths and the meteor shower which happened on the night his mother left him at the orphanage run by the Cappucin Grey Brothers of Mercy in northern Minnesota. His present, his life with the Brothers and with his friends Julia and Billy, are all that he knows and, although he is not the narrator of his story, his unemotional, unjudgmental view of the world and his imaginative visions shape this book.

Duncan’s memory of his mother is a dream. So, when she does come to take him from the orphanage, he has no idea how his life will change. He knows that Maggie, his mother, was once a talented singer. Now, her voice over-strained and broken, she works as a nurse and sings, at night, in a run-down bar. Maggie sings to him, cares for him, promises never to leave him again and takes him with her to the Windsor Tap, but her life is clearly hard and is often made bearable by alcohol.

Joshua McGreavey, a Vietnam veteran who is Maggie’s friend, comes and goes from their lives. He works as a tunneler on the San Padre Tunnel project seventy feet beneath San Francisco bay, and when power fails and the crew are left in darkness, not knowing what is going on, or in the interminable, slow decompression rides up in the lifts at the end of each shift, he relives the beauty and the horrors of the Vietnam jungles – but mostly the beauty. Medication dulls his memories, but the sudden death of his work-mates in a flooded tunnel hits him hard. Sometimes he disappears for long, unexplained, periods of time. Sometimes, as Duncan accidentally discovers, he fights in vicious, unregulated, fist-fights in a derelict dockyard.

O’Malley’s writes about the recent past. The world in which Duncan and Maggie and Joshua live is not the fast-moving, high-rise, modern business world, and there is something of Steinbeck in his ability to capture the atmosphere of  lives lived always on the edge of poverty, and surrounded by loss and death . But over the four years of Duncan’s life in O’Malley’s book, the harsh realities are tempered by moments of great imaginative vision. Duncan accepts people at face-value and Joshua becomes like a surrogate father to him, replacing the lost father he often thinks about, but whose identity and character Maggie will not divulge.

Joshua teaches him to ride his old Indian motorbike, and helps him when Maggie’s drinking gets out of hand. Clay, the barman at the Windsor Tap looks out for him. Julie, Billy and the Brothers at the orphanage all recur in Duncan’s dreams. And the Christmas Train, which got fatally stuck in the terrible snow-storm, and from which only Duncan and his mother survived, becomes a recurring and wonderful vision which acts as a metaphor for life. Travelling brightly-lit through the snow, full of  life, joy and beauty it encounters unpredictable disasters and death but there is also survival.

At the end of the book, Duncan, alone, boards another train, in another snow-storm, and travels, like all of us, into an unknown future with only visions and dreams to rely on.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2013

Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Sylvia Plath, Ariel and the Tarot:

Ryders Ridge and Zombies: a Q&A with Charlotte Nash

200.Ryders.RidgeI’d heard lots about writer and researcher Charlotte Nash. Not only had we completed the same post-grad writing and editing course, we also had mutual friends. But it took until last week for me to meet her officially, when she joined Write Club, our informal but occasionally productive support-meets-gossip group.

It turns out Nash, who was born in England, who grew up Brisbane, and who has completed degrees in mechanical engineering and medicine, has a book just about to hit the shelves. She’ll be launching it (the first of three books Hachette has signed her on for) at Avid Reader in Brisbane on 9 April.

Needless to say, it was a prime opportunity for me to find out more about her book, her writing process, and her take on zombies …

Where did the Ryders Ridge idea come from?

The idea for Ryders Ridge was a synergistic moment at our writer’s retreat. We were talking about rural fiction, and I was thinking about the experiences I’d had as a med student in North West Queensland. The two were a natural pairing, and given I was looking for a new project, perfect timing.

It’s your first published novel. What’s the experience been like?

The main low points were before the manuscript was accepted, having to do a lot of editing on enduring faith that someone would want it, and much of that in a foreign city where I was living at the time and missing my friends back home. Being accepted was a high, as was each milestone as I sent them back—structural edit, copyedit, proofs. The actual experience of the book appearing in final form is unreal, and I don’t think that will change. But that’s ok with me.

I was also extremely fortunate to have a friend and mentor in Kim Wilkins [she also writes as Kimberley Freeman—I recommend checking her work under either or both names out], so I didn’t have really any moments of discovering things I wish I’d known about. Perhaps the only revelation was how much time is invested after writing the first draft (I blogged about it because I found it really interesting), even though it was the fourth manuscript I’d written. But perhaps it’s best not to know these things in advance.

You’ve got a fantastically diverse background. How did you come to be a writer?

Yes, depending on people’s perspective, they see my background as either diverse, quirky, unusual, or fickle, and I’ve struggled a lot with explaining myself in a society that identifies people very strongly with what they do for a living. I’ve always identified with being unconventional, and it drives me to do interesting things for their own sake (many have become enduring interests).

I started out an engineering student hell-bent on applying for medicine. I even sought out an honours thesis trying to meld the two fields (it was on oxygen pooling and materials flammability in hyperbaric oxygen chambers—now say it three times, fast).

I did indeed then go to medical school, and found it a very bad fit for me, for whatever reason at that stage in my life. That revelation was extremely unpleasant, and it took me the entire length of the degree to make the decision not to pursue it. I only made this choice after trying very hard to shoehorn myself into the mould, even taking on a combined PhD program (which ultimately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, failed).

That’s not to say I didn’t, at times, enjoy myself and learn many interesting and useful things (I had the best time ever with an army unit at Enoggera, and I still reckon I could do a mean suture). But I simply felt at the time that pursuing that path was a really bad idea. (Do you still hear the echoes of having to justify myself?) Instead, after graduation, I ended up back in engineering, first in composite materials and rockets at CSIRO, then as an incident investigator in private industry.

But, to where writing comes in. I’m not a person who can claim to have ‘always written’. I’d had a few halting attempts at fiction in my late teens through into my early 20s. In all honestly, I had no skills. But I loved good books and movies, and when I finished med school I decided to take a course, thinking about technical writing being an avenue for me.

Well, that landed me in Kim Wilkins’ class at UQ in 2007, where I found my passion for writing fiction, learned some skills, and the rest is history. I wrote fiction as a hobby from then, gradually selling a few short stories. I switched my work to writing (mostly technical) in 2010, and sold the first novel in 2012. I still hanker after technical, hands-on work. I’m hoping to find a way to combine that in the near future.

You’ve just signed on for another two books but have actually already written a first draft of the second. Can you tell me about trying to avoid the second-book syndrome?

I tried not to think about it. I’ve even avoided trying to fully understand what second-book syndrome is. I saw it as simply a task to get it written, then go to work on the edit.

What’s your writing process?

Project-based. I generally set a goal with a timeframe, and then work out how to hit the deadline. Novels get coarse-planned on index cards, and fine-planned five–six scenes in advance. I do a lot of research on the fly. Short stories sometimes flow and sometimes are planned. And I edit myself extensively.

If there were a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, what would your protagonist do to survive?

Ah, a zombie apocalypse question—excellent! My female protagonist, Daniella, would be the medico of her survivor band, but she’d be handy in a physical situation if it came to that. After all, she doesn’t flinch from a confrontation and has seen her share of trauma.

My male protagonist, Mark, would be the leader-type, knowing his way around firearms and organising others. Sort of like Rick in The Walking Dead, I imagine. Actually, the whole cast would probably make a good survivor band. Maybe I can write Ryders Ridge And Zombies one day. LOL.

Actually, maybe it would be a cool project for a bunch of authors to write a short zombie story in the setting of one of their novels. I’d do it. 🙂

That’s a veritably brilliant idea. Might be one for further discussion at the next Write Club (AKA Emerge from the Sugar Coma Club, which will kick off at lunchtime on Easter Monday) …

A Book Saved My Life (And My Oreos)

Lost At SeaThere are few more terrifying ways to awake—in the developed world, at least—than because a possum is ferreting about on your bedside table. As melodramatic as it sounds, I have a book to thank for rescuing me. Or at least for waking me up before who knows what befell me.

Suffice to say, I’ve added the incident and its outcome to my list of reasons I love books with an arguably unnatural and illegal affection. (Just in case you’re interested, the book was Jon Ronson’s Lost At Sea, something I find coincidentally interesting, given his habit and penchant for encountering the quirky sides of like.)

It was one of those moments when you awake in the deepest, darkest, most slumberly part of the night and your sleep cycle. A book I’d had on my bedside table had hit my wooden floor with a comprehensive thud and in my eyelid-snapping-open, body-frozen response, my sleep-addled senses and mind raced through the fall-inducing possibilities.

For once, I knew that I didn’t have a near-ceiling-high tower of books on my bedside table (I’ve just started back at uni and, as a combination of knowing I didn’t have time to read ‘fun’ books anymore and because I was cleaning up as part of my I-don’t-know-where-to-start procrastination, I’d shelved all but one or two books).

Fearing—sort of sensing—that something was in my room, I realised I had to turn the light on. I started to move, still unable to see anything in my room because it was dark, because I’m not night a creature of the night, and because my eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to what little light there was.

It was at this precise moment that my friendly neighbourhood possum, who’d clearly been sitting, tableauxed, less than half a metre from me on my bedside table, decided: I need to run now [insert high-pitched possumy voice of your choice].

Cue him (I’m not sure if it’s a him or a her and any attempts to google ‘how to tell the sex of a possum’ invariably lead to ridiculous conversations about good luck flipping a possum over to check out its genitalia and then to the slippery slope of possum porn. But that’s another story entirely …) Cue me screaming louder, more wee-inducingly than I’ve ever screamed before.

I know my friendly neighbourhood possum (I really need to come up with a shorter name for him/her/yo—see this blog about Grammar Girl’s explanation of the emergence of the use of gender-neutral ‘yo’) meant me no harm.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that yo was likely heading towards the empty packet of entirely vegan Oreos on my table. If I’m also honest, I’ll say that it was a whole lot of excitement caused by the possum for nothing, because as any self-respecting girl, once I’d decided I was going to eat cookies in bed, I’d decided to finish them all. The possum might have smelt Oreos, but there was nary a crumb left to ingest or greedily inhale.\

Instead he was forced to head back into my yard to eat the wild bird seed bell I hang out weekly, but which should really be re-named domestic possum seed bell (I’m yet to see a wild bird have so much as a peck at it, but regularly hear and see the possum giving it a red-hot crunching go).

Still, it’s another installment in the entertaining night raids conducted by my just-about-resident possum and it’s another reminder of why I owe my life, my one or two Oreo crumbs, and my gratitude to early-warning-alarm books.

Gifts for Bibliophiles

Star Wars CookbookPresents for bibliophiles are always difficult to find. The eternal, unanswerable question is: Which book to buy them when they’re likely to have already read it and everything around it?

List masters Buzzfeed have compiled a handy list of complementary gifts, for those who have read everything. Their recommendations include the:

  • iPhone book doc, from which’s pages bass clearly blasts
  • a text-imprinted scarf [ostensibly insert passages from your favourite book here]
  • invisible bookshelves (because as any bibliophile will attest, there’s no such thing as too many bookshelves)
  • a tongue-in-cheek what I call a sloppy-joe jumper (although I have no idea who this sloppy Joe was and why he warranted such an unflattering but oh-so-comfy warming device named after him). It might not be a jumper fit for public consumption, but it’s perfect attire for comfortably quarantining yourself until you uncomfortably bash out a bestselling tome (the ‘I like big books and I cannot lie’ is likely to be the only thing that will make you smile when your brain is numb and bleeding from trying to get coherent words on a page). It’s best worn with tea- or chocolate-stained boxer shorts or leggings
  • a text-laden brooch that makes me want to press pages of my favourite books to shapes of props relevant to key plot points or to leading characters’ mannerisms
  • a text-imprinted tea towel akin to city/surburb stop artworks that I’ve long, long coveted
  • luggage tags that reference such travelogues as Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, which, frankly, lends itself to an infinite number of cultural references.

Zombie Survival Guide

The reason I came across this list is because I’m a) procrastinating and b) brainstorming some present ideas for a friend’s impending birthday (I like to think it’s weighted towards the latter). Either way, I’m getting distracted and one-for-you-one-for-me carried away.

I’m still rather chuffed at my genius at giving my brother a Star Wars Cookbook a few Christmases ago. Recipes include Boba Fett-Uccine, Crazy Cantina Chili, and everybody’s favourite Wookie Cookies.

I’m also eyeing off the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, although with their focus on meaty recipes, neither is unlikely to be suitable for me. (I’ve heard an Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook also exists, although the same unsuitability rules still apply.)

The Zombie Survival Guide is always a winner of a gift, for both bibliophiles and those not book-inclined. I was reminded of its existence today when I arrived at my newly assigned university desk to find one of my colleagues had drawn a mindmap about how the zombie is culturally coded.

Zombies' cultural codingWhich of course reminds me that with my return to uni, most—if not all—fun reading has had to be put away. Maybe book-themed tea towels and luggage tags are exactly what I’m going to need to see me through my degree …

Player Profile: Mary-Lou Stephens, author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation

mary-lou-stephensMary-Lou Stephens, author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation

Tell us about your latest creation…

Sex, Drugs & Meditation is my meditation memoir. It’s the true story of a woman with a talent for self-sabotage who learns to sit still, shut up and start living – and loving.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I was born and raised in Hobart, studied acting at The Victorian College of the Arts and played in bands in Melbourne and Sydney before I got a proper job – in radio. I’ve worked and played all over Australia but since discovering the Sunshine Coast I’ve been inclined to stay put.

sex-drugs-meditationWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

I wanted to be an archaeologist. I had a desire to dig up the past, which ironically is what I’m doing now with my memoir.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I love Sex, Drugs & Meditation. It’s a great story and it’s all true. There are lyrics to three of my songs in this book from my time as a singer/songwriter. The song about my father dying, “Strange Homecoming” took me two years to finish and just as long to be able to perform without crying. It still affects me to this day. My best work is my most honest work.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

My writing space is the spare room. I have a big trestle table so that I can pile everything up and out of the way when people come to stay. I love it when my husband goes out or away because then I can take over the lounge room, slouch on the couch with my laptop, surrounded by notebooks and paper.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I have a regular books and writing segment on ABC Local Radio and I focus on Australian writers. I always aim to read the book before interviewing the author. It doesn’t matter what genre, or if it’s fiction or non-fiction, the books I enjoy reading are a good story well told.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

I’m one of six children and we were raised on the C.S Lewis Narnia series, so much so that I gave one of my brothers the boxed set for a wedding present. We also had all the Beatrix Potter books and some of the recorded versions as well. Every Saturday morning we’d go to the library and I’d get out the Mary Plain books. The Magic Faraway Tree was a favourite as well. When I was in high school we studied Saul Bellow’s Henderson The Rain King. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It confounded, frustrated and astounded me. It stretched my heart and my mind.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (Beatrix Potter), making endless cups of tea surrounded by the smell of fresh laundry. Only trouble is I’m allergic to ironing. The ending of the book has a strange and bittersweet melancholy to it that I’ve always been attracted to. “Why, she’s nothing but a hedgehog.”

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I love playing Scrabble. The only reason I joined Facebook was to play Scrabble with my interstate and overseas friends. And at the moment I’m playing my guitar a lot. It’s been a while since I used to play in bands and I need the practice. As well as talking about my book I’ll be playing the songs from it. I’d like it to be a pleasant experience for everyone.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Anything with coconut in it is a firm favourite, my latest food fetish is coconut butter by the spoonful. Apart from water, tea is my favourite drink. There is a whole section of the pantry dedicated to it.

Who is your hero? Why?

Maggie Beer. She’s smart, hard working, creative and generous. Her work with Alzheimer’s Australia is admirable, as is her passion for improving the food in aged care facilities. Her food is delicious, her recipes always work and everyone feels as though she’s their friend even if they’ve never met her. I was lucky enough to meet her and she’s genuinely warm, engaging and funny. And she’s like the Queen, she doesn’t carry any money.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Screen time. I love reading but even so I find it hard to drag myself away from the lure of social media and the endless sticky strands of the web. I work in radio and that hunger for the immediate is ingrained in what I do but nothing gives me more pleasure than reading a book.

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Not a Review – A Reflection of An ANZAC Tale

An ANZAC TaleConfession: The day I received Working Title Presses’ latest release, An ANZAC Tale, I was assailed with nostalgia and immense trepidation.

How does one do justice to one of the most unjustifiable periods of human history? Ruth Stark and Greg Holfeld have done it and done it admirably well. The result is a meticulously researched and presented graphic picture book that possesses the unique duality of being both breathtakingly beautiful, and poignantly tragic.

It is almost that time of year when we gather as a nation to commemorate and reflect on one of the most fiercely contested campaigns of WWI, the battle of Gallipoli. But how does one pass comment on the interpretation of the tenacity, stupidity, bravery and strength of spirit of humanity without sounding trite or conceited? I wasn’t sure I could manage it as masterfully as the Stark Holfeld team. So I didn’t try.

Instead I revisited the tale, and with each turn of the page, was transported back to a time over two decades ago, when I gazed across the benign azure waters of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove, on the European side of Turkey’s Gelibolu Peninsular. Sunshine bronzed my already travel-tanned shoulders and the smell of the Aegean Sea filled my lungs. Nothing permeated the silence that engulfed us, not even the cry of sea birds. I stared at the impossibly steep cliffs looming up from the beach and shivered in spite of the heat.Landing spot ANZAC Cove

I remember standing in the trenches of The Nek and Second Ridge, shallow now, scalloped smooth by time. A pine scented breeze played about my neck. We stood unmoving, listening to it whisper through the pines; the sound of a thousand souls sighing around us. And tears seared my eyes, blurred my vision of the honey coloured earth as I struggled to imagine it stained vile by the colours of war and battled to comprehend the futility, the valour, the discomfort, and the stench of human corruption.

GeliboluWe were led about by our Turkish guide with quiet reverence, not because he thought we were special, but because we were Aussies. We had already earned his respect and our right to be there. We felt that as absolutely as the heat pulsating up from the baked earth.

I remember visiting Chunuk Bair, Lone Pine; standing in front of the walls of names, searching, too many to read through; I’ll be here all day, I thought. Compared to whom? I found a pine seed from that tree and slipped it into my pocket, (just as Ray did for his mate Wally). When the afternoon sun lost its sting, we slipped away quietly from the trenches and had Turkish Dondurma (ice-cream) to temper the memory of what we had seen and felt; acutely aware of enjoying a pleasure and a respite that would have been denied to the ANZACS.

My brief sojourn to Gelibolu makes me no more of an expert on the event and the place than the next Aussie backpacker. Yet it has created an indelible memory with which An ANZAC Tale resonates profoundly.Ruth Stark

The enormity of the ANZAC’s story is handled with remarkable lightness of touch and told by Ruth Stark with a respectful, quintessential Aussie jocularity. It is never sentimental or laboured but simply follows best mates Ray Martin and Wally Cardwell as they experience the first landing at ANZAC Cove on the 25th April 1915. What followed became a battle of endurance and wits sadly resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides.

RoosThe popular comic-style graphic format is dominated by the illustrations of Greg Holfeld that are brutally faithful to the moment without depicting gratuitous guts and gore. The last charge in particular rips with chaotic movement, terror and finality but not in a way that traumatises the reader.

Ruth Stark and Greg HolfeldWally, Roy and their new, fortune-seeking mate, Tom, head an anthropomorphic cast of Aussie characters. They are buck Roos, who rub shoulders with Kiwis (the birds) and various other national fauna. The Drill Major is a raucous bossy cockatoo. Egyptians are depicted as cats. Wily and resourceful magpies represent enterprising privates and Johnny Turk is portrayed as the ‘black eared’ caracal lynx, from the Turkish word karakulak. This cat is described as being fiercely territorial which accurately translates to the Turks’ indomitable fighting spirit.

An ANZAC Tale not only chronicles a significant period of history difficult for young people to fathom in a way that they (young boys and reluctant readers in particular) will find enthralling and exciting but also takes us on a deeply moving journey (tears were never far away for me) through the vagaries of Australian society in the early twentieth Century and the complexities of warfare. All this is brilliantly supported with maps, notes and a timeline.

‘Why would any Australian want to come to Gallipoli?’ Ray asks Tom as they evacuate under the cover of darkness on the 18th of December 1915. You don’t need to turn the last page to find the answer to that poignant question, but you’ll be touched when you do.Bugler

If you haven’t yet been or are unlikely to get the family to Gallipoli any time soon, An ANZAC Tale is an outstanding armchair substitute. Beautifully bound and twice the length of a normal picture book, it will appeal best to older aged primary children and those who’d rather reflect than analyse.

Working Title Press 2013 Available now

Bursting The Bestseller Bubble

Broken Piano for PresidentThe problem with writers penning runaway bestsellers is that they’re the outliers but they’re viewed as the benchmark norm. Quibble however you will over the quality (or lack thereof) of their work, but JK Rowling, Dan Brown, and EL James are the notable exceptions to the authorial rule: They might have made so much money they need a small army of people to manage it for them (or mismanage it, in the case of also-bestselling-author Patricia Cornwell), but few other published authors will ever be required to make such hires. Instead, they’ll be looking for ways to make their meagre earnings stretch enough to cover life’s basic daily expenses.

If my memory serves me correctly (and I’m drawing on memory rather than Googling skills because the search exercise would prove so deflating that I refuse to do it), the average Australian writer earns about $6000 from their craft annually. To be clear: There’s no typo in there. Even though I’m monumentally mathematically challenged, even I know that six—not sixty—thousand won’t even cover your food, much less board and life-maintenance bills.

So it’s a necessary evil (although it never ceases to be wrist-slittingly depressing) to hear writers and creative writing teachers bursting green, apprentice writers’ misconceived bubble. You know, the one they’ll pen a book about a wizard virgin stalked by a nymphomaniac vampire lover and that together the characters will uncover and crack the code of a secret brotherhood and albino intent on killing a pope. The Bob’s-someone’s-uncle result is that they’ll have an instant word-of-mouth-driven bestseller and will soon be looking for offshore tax havens and buying a castle.

I hate that talk with every fibre of my being, both because it’s quashing people’s fragile hopes and dreams and, frankly, because even though it’s a reminder of what I already know and live every day, I really don’t need the reminder. I couldn’t stop attempting to be a writer even if I wanted to. What does that make me? Stubborn? Delusional? Crazy?

I’ll be the first to admit that I lead an interesting life as a freelance writer. But ‘interesting’ can be code for a number of things: fun, for sure, but infinitely, bone- and spirit-crushingly challenging too. All the free tickets to shows in exchange for an often unpaid review count for nought when you’re exhausted and so skint you then have to go work extra (and extra-shitty) part-time jobs to cover your bills. You work twice, in effect, to get paid once. (And I can testify that even when you’re a few years into your career and have enough publications under your belt to be the equivalent of what any other industry would consider experienced, that ‘doing it for free’ expectation never goes away.)

This bleak, little-acknowledged and much-less-discussed aspect of the job is something that I’ve always felt squirmish about and struggled to explain to those not in the industry, including to a new-ish but eminently fantastic friend most recently. I understand that ‘being a writer’ must seem mysterious and exotic when you work in a more traditional, more structured, and office-bound career. And I’ll admit that I wouldn’t swap jobs with anyone for, well, whole swimming pools of quids.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusBut a ‘career’ in writing is a misnomer. The very word career implies earning a fair, liveable wage for fair work done. Rarely could that definition be applied to a writing career, and it’s the reason that writing careers are, at close inspection, more a bricolage of writing and editing and teaching and research assisting and working in retail and administration, and bartering with other creatives for complementary services, and foregoing holidays and all but the most necessary of health care … The starving, tortured artist archetype wasn’t forged from nothing.

My friend and fellow editor, Matt, emailed me a link to this article. His email’s subject line quipped: Dude, where’s my royalty? Entitled the categorically blunt ‘My Amazon bestseller made me nothing’, the article by Patrick Wensink, author of Broken Piano for President*, joins (and then references) Dave Eggers’ efforts to break open and address the taboo and shame writers feel about talking about how the perception of success differs vastly from the banked money.

He writes:

I was reminded of a single page in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; specifically, the section where Dave Eggers breaks down his $100,000 advance on sales from his publisher. He then lists all his expenses. In the end the author banked a little less than half.

That honesty was refreshing and voyeuristic. I always said if I ever had a chance, I’d make a similar gesture. As a person learning about writing and publishing, there was something helpful about Eggers’ transparency. So here is my stab at similar honesty: the sugar bowls full of cocaine, bathtubs full of whiskey, semi-nude bookstore employees scattered throughout my bedroom tale of bestseller riches.

He writes later:

… the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.

It’s an admittedly heavy and unpopular topic for a Sunday afternoon (or Monday morning, when you’ll likely be reading this). It also, as Matt noted, prompts such questions of how much Amazon has profited from Wensink’s book sales (irrefutably more than Wensink himself, who’s pocketed a pre-tax $12,000).

So, while I can’t propose to offer solutions for how to ensure writers are better paid for their labour (not to mention respected for the blood, sweat, and hard yakka writing entails), I can offer this Egger- and Wensink-style gesture of transparency of my own: I’ve written no bestseller, though I against all rationality hope one day to. But I can testify that there’s a lot more work than pay as a freelancer. Being able to work in your pyjamas is an incredible perk, but you can’t eat pyjamas.

*Is it poor form to admit that, though it was reportedly by Wensink’s own writing, wedged in between Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl on the bestselling list, I hadn’t until reading this article ever heard of it? I do now, for the record, want to read it. I mean, what isn’t there in a synopsis that labels a book ‘the greatest political allegory since Animal Farm’ to inspire you to pore over its pages? Also, the book has tops cover art.

The greatest political allegory since Animal Farm, written by the most fantastic-smelling author of our time. Ever drank too much and forgot what happened? Don’t be embarrassed. Deshler Dean faces this problem every day of his life. Dean is far more brilliant and productive when he’s blackout drunk. In the last few months alone, he has invented a hamburger more addictive than crystal meth, scored a six-figure record contract for his terrible art rock band, and started dating a woman he doesn’t even recognize.

Worse yet, he has become entangled in the biggest war since the Allies took on Germany. When rival fast food chains duke it out for control over Dean’s burger-inventing genius, Dean and his band mates plunge into the absurd world of corporate paranoia and greed. As the violence of the burger wars spills out onto the streets, it’s up to them to win over the hearts (and stomachs) of the American people and save the country from the equivalent of a deep-fried nuclear warhead.

Player Profile: Allison Rushby, author of The Heiresses

allison-rushbyAllison Rushby, author of The Heiresses

Tell us about your latest creation…

The Heiresses sees triplets Thalia, Erato and Clio—estranged since birth—thrust together in glittering 1926 London to fight for their inheritance, only to learn they can’t trust anyone—least of all each other.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I’m from Brisbane, but lived in Cambridgeshire in the UK whilst writing The Heiresses.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

A ballerina with pierced ears (I got the pierced ears, at least!).

heiressesWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

The Heiresses truly is my best work. It was such a learning experience writing a very long and unwieldy tale full of drama!

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

Now that I’m back in Australia, I have a very normal study, but The Heiresses was written in Cambridgeshire, where I lived in a converted mill on a lock, complete with swan and cygnets. It was all rather idyllic!

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I do love a bit of English fiction — P.G. Wodehouse, Stella Gibbons and anything Mitford.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley was a defining book for me. Up until that point I don’t think I realised you were allowed to write about ‘real’ life and schools, suburbs and so on that you knew truly existed.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

I’d love to say someone both beautiful and clever, but the truth is, most likely Kate Reddy from Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It. I write and have two kids who go to two different schools. I am always juggling!

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

It always surprises people to find out I used to ice skate competitively.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

I’m a huge corn chip fan and what goes better with corn chips than a very large margarita!

Who is your hero? Why?

I’ll have to go with my Nana. She’s 94 and still going strong, after not having the best start in life.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

I think it will be interesting to see Australia’s digital sales pick up in the same way they have in the US. With the proliferation of self-published books, it will also be interesting to see how quality books are chosen by the public in the future.

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eBook Recommendations

iPad MiniI’ll keep this blog brief because my others have a habit of getting, well, long. And instead of writing what I think, I’m hoping to pick your brains (in the nicest possible way, of course—that’s not an entirely pleasant visual).

I’m on the hunt for innovative ebooks. As in, ones that represent new and engagingly effective ways to tell stories. Can you recommend any? Of any genre?

I mean, sure, it’s great that the industry’s invented electronic text and formats that (with the exception of PDFs) sort and reassemble and re-flow themselves according to the device and your preferred settings. But ereaders represent a bunch of storytelling- and industry-expanding opportunities to enhance the tale and the reading experience. I’m looking for books (and publishers) that are exploring and realising the ebook format’s potential.

In-built dictionary functionality is tops—I no longer have to dog ear pages or make mental notes to scurry off and look words up—but can you think of any ebooks that are seamlessly incorporating other special features-style storytelling elements such as stills and video? Or that perhaps encourage you to access and navigate through the tale from a variety of non-traditional, non-chronological, but non-confusing angles?

I guess the key to the texts I’m looking for is that they’re good, that the elements are integrated and not hey-we-can-insert-a-video-here tacked on. The kinds of texts that give the sense that they’ve come from publishers who see electronic publishing as an opportunity rather than something they’ve been forced, like a luddite with a gun held to their head, to make a token effort at. I’m after the ones that, though the books may be serious, are clearly having fun.

Any recommendations for books or publishers? Or even blogs talking about them? I’m stumped for where to start.

Hey Baby!

Hey BabyCombine some adorably cute animal photos with some lovely, heartfelt, poetic text. What do you get? Corinne Fenton’s new picture book, Hey Baby!. Actually, it came out late last year… I’m just a little behind the times. 😉

My review copy arrived last year and I immediately read the book to my then three-year-old daughter (now four), Lexi. She loved it! And the book promptly disappeared into her collection. So, when I sat down to write the review… I couldn’t find the book. But a couple of days ago, when I asked Lexi what she wanted as her bed-time story that evening, she came running up to me with Hey Baby!. I read it to her and we enjoyed it all over again. But this time I made sure to take it with me.

Corinne Fenton (author of books such as Flame Stands Waiting and Queenie) has written a delightful message to a newborn baby. It is only two sentences long — but what absolutely perfect sentences they are. Each word is just right. And together they convey such emotion. I defy any parent to read this book and not connect with these words. Writing such a short book is by no means an easy task. Words must be chosen oh so carefully. So hats off to Corinne for the words she chose.

I’m not normally a fan of picture books that throw together a bunch of stock photos. But this book pulls it off. They are well chosen photos. Lexi certainly loved them. She made sure that I didn’t turn the pages too fast, as she wanted to name each of the animals and talk about what they were doing.

My only negative comment is the presentation of four of the photos. Most of the photos, including those on the front and back cover, have the animals on a white background. No distractions — the reader’s attention focussed directly onto the animals. But four of the photos are presented differently, with animals in situ. They are a bit jarring and lack the impact of the other photos. The graphic designer’s choice, perhaps? (OW! My graphic designer wife just hit me.) But this is a minor quibble. It’s still a pretty awesome book.

Okay… now that I’ve finished the review I can give the book back to Lexi. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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Player Profile: Janeen Brian, author of Meet Ned Kelly

janeen-brianJaneen Brian, author of Meet Ned Kelly

Tell us about your latest creation…

‘Meet Ned Kelly’ is a look at the Australian bushranger who lived in the early days. His story is told in rhyme and tracks Ned’s life from boyhood to his death at age twenty-five. Was Ned Kelly a Robin Hood type hero or was he, as he maintained, forced to become an outlaw? Matt Adams’ illustrations are stunning and quirky and bring to life a feeling of the times and the countryside. There’s a fascinating and factual Time Line at the back.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I’m from Glenelg, which is a seaside town, just twenty minutes from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher.

Meet Ned KellyWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

To date, I think it might be my picture book, Where does Thursday go? because I love the basic premise of  Splodge, a bear character heading out to look for Thursday in order to say goodbye to it. He wanted to do that because his birthday had been on Thursday and he asked his friend, Humbug, ‘Where does Thursday go before Friday comes?’  I love the poetic simplicity and word image that I was able to create, and the characters which the illustrator, Stephen Michael King brought to life in an aura of soft blues.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

My office, NOW, is big, but it used to be a desk in my bedroom. The room has large windows that look out onto a lovely backyard. Along that wall are benches on which are set my computer, printer, phone and various other equipment and containers for files, books and stationery. I have a large library shelf and a big red cupboard with glass doors to display my own published books, other cupboards and filing cabinets. In the centre is a nice table where I can spread out stuff – or sit and have a cup of tea with a friend!

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I love Australian fiction, both adult and children’s. I like biographies of people who are in the Arts and I love reading picture books and poetry.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

My parents gave me an Omnibus (a large book with stories, article and poems in it) when I was twelve, because I’d done well in Year 7. They didn’t usually do things like that,so the book was special. I read and re-read that book till I almost knew it backwards.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Someone like Elsie, who is a girl in my forthcoming children’s historical novel called, That boy, Jack. Elsie is brave or forthright, funny and caring. I’d liked to have been as strong and as outspoken as her when I was a girl.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I make mosaics. I love the look of broken crockery, and recycled tiles and found objects, like shells or bits of old jewellery, put together to create something beautiful out of things that’ve had a life and been discarded. I read, of course. I knit about a dozen scarves each year for homeless people. I garden and walk, swim and go to Yoga and Keep Fit classes. I love going to films and the theatre. And I’m sing in a choir called Sing Australia. I love laughing, looking for colour and eavesdropping on people’s conversations.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

I drink tea. And I love seafood.

Who is your hero? Why?

My sister. She is the biggest-hearted, warmest, most caring person you could ever meet. She’s funny and has been the most wonderful friend to so many people. She’s passionate about food and the
growing of it, and the environment, and lives for the minute.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Helping children have time to read. I think it’s vital for them to experience the joy of being elsewhere in their mind and their imagination and to realise that they choose to enjoy a book no matter how
easy other ‘distractions’ are – because reading needs concentration. I’m concerned about reducing our sensory needs and so books, as we know them now, will still have a place. I use an E-book reader for convenience when I travel, but I still like to read a book. Parents need to have one night a week where everyone sits and reads together.

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Lost At Sea

Lost At SeaThere are two authors in my reading life whose work is best read after having heard them read it themselves. They are also two authors whose restrained, understated, off-the-wall approach to observation and storytelling continues to blow my mind.

Both of those authors also happen to contribute to one of my—if not the—favourite podcasts of all time, This American Life. One of those authors (Jon Ronson) is the feature of this blog (the other, David Sedaris, will no doubt be profiled when he next, eminently brilliantly titled book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, is released in a few months’ time).

I wasn’t, despite being an insatiable Ronson reader, aware that he had released a new book until my brother returned from five weeks in Europe. I knew my brother had spent five weeks in Europe primarily because his opening words to me upon his return were: ‘I carried this book through Europe for five weeks for you.’

The book in question was a clearly heavy hardcover copy of Ronson’s Lost At Sea. Its rather ragged dustcover hinted at the multi-country, tumble-drier-effect travel it had endured on its way to me. No matter. I was so excited and touched that my brother had gone to the trouble, I nearly sat down on the floor and commenced reading then and there.

I definitely didn’t have the heart to burst my brotherly love bubble to tell my sibling that I really appreciated the effort but the book had been released here—in paperback, no less—while he’d been away. Besides, as I wrote before, I hadn’t been aware of the book’s forthcoming nature, much less its release.

Lost At Sea is unlike Ronson’s breakout book, Them, which follows conspiracy theorists, including those who believe the world’s leaders are in fact giant, shape-shifting lizards, and is instead more like his What I Do book of columns.

Lost At Sea is a compilation of a diverse and arguably disparate series of articles published by such places as The Guardian. The articles are linked, of course, through Ronson’s peculiar talent for seeking out the quirky in that which at first appears entirely normal or mundane. They’re characterised by his uncanny knack for helping us readers see the story in an entirely fresh, perspective-changing way.

I’ll not deny that I was a little disappointed to discover that this was piecemeal book—I loved Them and The Men Who Stare At Goats far more than What I Do. Indeed, as you’d expect, some stories in this latest release are undeniably stronger than others. But for the most part Lost At Sea was like a Ronson version of a caffeine hit first thing in the morning—something you’ve been craving and that leaves you sated and able to cope with the daily, grinding, life and work hurdles.

Let's Explore Diabetes With OwlsIn the first, hooking story, Ronson goes behind the scenes on the UK’s Deal or No Deal game show to learn about the contestants, the host, and the various game play methods and conspiracy theories. What he uncovers, in his distinct, distilled, restrained way will ensure you never look at Deal or No Deal in the same way. His other stories include:

  • finding out what inspires an experienced broadcaster to confess—falsely—to the mercy killing of a lover 16 years earlier
  • foraging through Stanley Kubrick’s house and uncovering his love for typography (he was a san-serif man)
  • hiring an Aston Martin and retracing James Bond’s London-to-Geneva journey in Goldfinger
  • trying to get to the bottom of a plot by 13-year-olds to kill their classmates at the North Pole
  • and following the trial of the couple accused of cheating Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, via the rather rudimentary and obvious method of coughing at the correct answer, out of its major prize.

The articles are peppered with such pared-back exchanges as the following (best read assuming Ronson’s voice in your mind):

The flight attendant was there to meet us as their airstrip.

‘Welcome to your plane,’ she said to us. ‘I just want to tell you that Snooop Dogg uses this plane a lot. What I’m saying is,’ she added in a lower voice. ‘You can do anything.’ We all looked at each other. We’re middle-aged now. None of us could really imagine what ‘anything’ might mean anymore.

‘Are we allowed to stand up as the plane lands?’ asked Brandon.

I’m not sure when Ronson’s next book is coming out (or what he’s even working on), but I’m hoping I’ll know its on its way and be able to save my brother some back-breaking trans-continent carrying. In the interim, Sedaris’ forthcoming Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls , which is coincidentally going to be released as a less-favoured-by-me hardcover, should tide me over for a few days.

Yo … Mama

Eats, Shoots and LeavesI can’t help but follow ‘yo’ with ‘mama’, but I’m happy to try to rectify my ways. Especially when it involves a kid-led solution to a long-running English Language awkwardness.

It appears that Baltimore’s best young-uns have devised a gender-neutral solution to the age-old issue of the English language requiring gender-specific pronouns. That is, how to get around using those pesky ‘hims’ and ‘hers’ when you’re not entirely sure if the subject in question is a him or a her (or would rather not box them in that way).

Grammar Girl (AKA the bastion of practical and jargon-free, fun-filled grammar tips and much more comprehensive and credible than Eats, Shoots and Leaves) blogged about it more extensively here. Frankly, I can’t top her explanation so will instead encourage you to click on the afore-typed link (if you haven’t already) and enter the interwebby rabbit hole of information goodness that is her website.

If you’re still reading here, I’ll explain the phenomenon a little, by quoting Grammar Girl herself (or is that ‘yoself’?):

In the past I’ve advocated strongly for using they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun when you can’t rewrite the sentence to make the whole thing plural, and I still believe that’s the best solution, but I also think the emergence of yo to fill this role in slang is fascinating.

In essence, kids are getting around the fraught issue of having to assign gender all the time. They’re also bypassing that whole debate around how if we use the hegemonic ‘he’, it’s sexist. And they’re doing it better than the academics who’ve devoted who knows how many hours and PhDs to angsting over the issue.

I can’t see ‘yo’ the pronoun (not to be confused with ‘yo’, the replacement for ‘your’) entering common usage, but I can see me and other writers and editors bandying it around as a colloquial, in-conversation preference.

Props to friend and fellow writer Keph Senett, who brought the link and, therefore, the phenomenon my way.

Player Profile: Diane Hester, author of Run To Me

diane-hesterDiane Hester, author of Run To Me

Tell us about your latest creation…

RUN TO ME is a chase thriller with a twist. Shyler O’Neil is still struggling to come to terms with the death of her son two years earlier. Believing she did not do enough to protect him, she retreats to her family’s old cabin in the forests of Northern Maine. Ten-year-old Zack, in foster care for the last three years, has forgotten what a mother’s love is like. When he stumbles on information that could put a powerful crime boss in prison, he goes on the run, ending up at Shyler’s cabin. In protecting Zack from the men pursuing him, Shyler comes to believe he’s the son she lost. Zack, finally getting the love he has craved, is happy to play along with her delusion. When the killers find them, ‘mother’ and ‘son’ are forced to flee into the New England wilds. But no-one knows these woods better than Shyler.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

Born in New York, I came to Australia in 1978 as a violinist with the Adelaide Symphony. When I married I moved to Port Lincoln SA where my husband was teaching and we have lived there every since.

run-to-meWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

My parents were both musicians so as a child I was drawn to music. I started violin at the age of 10 and attended the Eastman School of music to become a professional violinist. It was only when that career ended that I discovered writing.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I wrote six other novels before Run To Me but none of them has been published. I feel Run To Me is my best work because in writing it I created the story I myself would most love to read.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I’ve taken over a large spare bedroom as my study. Despite it having two desks and two tables, I often find my notes and materials spilling out into other rooms! I have a huge fish tank next to my ‘plotting chair’ and love to watch the fish as I write.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I love Tess Gerritsen, James Rollins and Simon Beckett. Aside from these and other suspense authors, I read a lot of non-fiction, mostly on the creative process, learning, talent, motivation and goal achievement.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

I had ADHD as a child and didn’t really get into reading until I was in high school. Stephen King’s The Stand and Dean Koontz’s Watchers are the two books I remember most vividly.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Ayla from Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear. I love her strength, resilience, compassion and curiosity.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

For many years I ran a donkey sanctuary and trained my charges to saddle and harness. These days my hobbies include juggling, mushrooms, and shell, rock and fossil collecting.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

My favourite drink is without doubt coffee. Don’t really have a favourite food, although I am quite partial to ice cream.

Who is your hero? Why?

My dad – the kindest person I’ve ever known, who treated everyone the same.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Tearing kids away from texting and computer games long enough to get them hooked on reading.

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iPad reading

Let me begin by saying that I am a devoted fan of the old fashioned, hard-copy book made from the remains of dead trees. I love the feel of them. I love the whole tactile experience of holding them. And yes, I love the smell of them (both the musty old book smell and the first-opened new book smell). But I recently used an iPad for some reading. So, of course, here I am telling you about it.


I have not had any great desire to move into the digital realm for my reading pleasure. I do enough onscreen reading on my laptop for research. But…

Last Christmas we bought an iPad as a family present — mostly because my daughters have been wanting one ever since they played some games on one at a friend’s place. In the months since our acquisition of this device — this handy-dandy, compact marvel of technology — it has been mostly used for game-playing by my daughters and Pinteresting by my wife. Although I’ve occasionally used it to IMDB an actor while watching television, or even play the odd game of Chicken Invaders (Yes, there really is a game called Chicken Invaders… go look it up. It’s rather awesome!), I’ve done little else with the device.

And then, last month a friend sent me a PDF of his upcoming book, asking if I would consider reading it and providing a back cover quote (I’ll blog about this when the book has been released). I decided this was the time to finally make proper use of the iPad. I put the PDF onto the device and off I went… reading!

So… what was my first iPad reading experience like? It was okay.

On the positive side —

  • I didn’t have to bother with print-outs.
  • It remembered where I was up to each time I picked it up.
  • I didn’t need to use my newly acquired reading glasses (yes folks… I’m getting old).

On the negative side —

  • It was heavier and more cumbersome than a paperback (not wonderfully comfortable for reading in bed).
  • The backlit screen was not as comfortable to read as print on paper.
  • And, of course, it didn’t feel or smell like a proper book.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the iPad reading experience felt more like work than pleasure. I realise that this is due to my own subconscious associations — that is:

Computer screen = work

Print book = pleasure

This is something that will, undoubtedly, change over time. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks… it just takes longer.

IMG_1478Overall, I was not emotionally scarred by the experience as I initially feared I might be. And, in fact, I went back for more. When my publisher sent me a PDF proof of my upcoming novel (Gamers’ Rebellion — out in June. Remember to buy a copy!), I immediately stuck it onto the iPad rather than printing it out. It turned out to be a good way of proof-reading it.

So, I guess there is hope for me in the world of digital reading. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even buy an eReader.

Catch ya later,  George

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The Indigo Spell

The Indigo SpellThe mature thing to do when you both have enormous, suffocatingly impending deadlines as well as knee surgery and an enforced lay-off coming up would be to save up a good book for the latterly mentioned respite.

I, of course, did nothing of the sort, head-in-the-sanding it ostrich style to pretend that I didn’t have deadlines and figuring that I’d find another book to read during my post-operative recovery.

Suffice to say, I raced through Richelle Mead’s latest Bloodlines installment, The Indigo Spell, faster than you can say, ‘Bring back everyone’s favourite dhampir lovers, Rose and Dimitri’.

With the exception of a two-or-so-sentences cameo, Rose and Dimitri didn’t feature in this book. Again. Although these days I’m better able to cope, both because I’m used to the disappointment and because Mead’s fleshing out the Bloodlines plots and characters a little better than before.

Case in point: Sydney the uptight alchemist, who in this book finally loosens up and allows herself to fall in love. Well, sort of, given that she spends the bulk of the book denying and quashing it, but semantics …

The book begins with Sydney being awoken in the middle of the night by her kooky, witchy teacher to cast a spell relating to a ‘life-or-death matter’. Props to Mead for an opening that both throws you in there and, er, garners your attention:

This wasn’t the first time I’d been pulled out of bed for a crucial mission. It was, however, the first time I’d been subjected to such a personal line of questioning.

‘Are you a virgin?’

‘Huh?’ I rubbed my sleepy eyes, just in case this was all some sort of bizarre dream that would disappear …

Mead gets straight into the snappy repartee, too (although out of context this is admittedly not as snappy as I first found it):

[Ms Terwilliger] stepped back and sighed with relief. ‘Yes, of course. Of course you’re a virgin.’

I narrowed my eyes, unsure if I should be offended or not. ‘Of course? What’s that supposed to mean?’

Soon after, Sydney narrates:

I was pretty sure I could hear some large animal scuffling out in the brush and added ‘coyotes’ to my mental list of dangers I faced out here, right below ‘magic use’ and ‘lack of coffee’.

Later, she has this encounter with love interest Adrian Ivashkov:

Nothing will get you anywhere with me,’ [Sydney] exclaimed.

‘I don’t know about that.’ He put on an introspective look that was both unexpected and intriguing. ‘You’re not as much of a lost cause as [Rose] was. I mean, with her, I had to overcome her deep, epic love with a Russian warlord. You and I just have to overcome hundreds of years’ worth of deeply ingrained prejudice and taboo between our two races.’

The Indigo Spell continues on chronologically from the previous Bloodlines books. Sydney is still tasked with protecting sister-to-the-queen Jill, whose knocking off could, due to archaic laws not yet changed, topple the entire and tenuously held throne. The two are holed up in the decidedly un-vampire-friendly Palm Springs along with guardian Eddie, wannabe guardian Angeline, and adorable, spirit user and arguable alcoholic Adrian.

The plot hole that so enraged me last book—the fact that, despite books and books worth of rules that a guardian never leaves their guardianee, Jill is left alone and unprotected for vast chunks of time—isn’t entirely plugged in this book, but it is addressed enough that it no longer explodes me.

My main gripe with The Indigo Spell, which I enjoyed more than its predecessors mostly because Sydney stopped being so Hermione and started having fun, was that the mysterious breakaway-alchemist storyline it featured didn’t exactly come to fruition. The promising plot, frankly, fell a little so-what flat. I could be proven wrong in future books, but for the moment I’m not convinced the storyline contributed to the plot, much less propelled it forward, and I have to wonder why it wasn’t excised in the edit.

Still, it wasn’t enough to make me put the book down (in reality, my deadline issues would have been better served if it had been), and reading The Indigo Spell left me with a feeling that was a cross between the one you get while consuming comfort food and being wrapped in a freshly laundered doona on an autumnal night.

The book was also packed with enough small-moment witticisms to keep me smiling to myself. Say, for example, when Sydney freaked out because her teacher was away sick and left only instructions to work on homework for the substitute teacher.

This seemed to amuse [her friend] immensely. ‘Melbourne, sometimes you’re the only reason I come to class. I saw her sub plan for your independent study, by the way. It said you didn’t even have to stick around. You’re free to run wild.’

Eddie, sitting nearby, overheard and scoffed. ‘To the library?’

Late in the book she calls Adrian with a request that’s rather unusual for her:

‘Can you come over to Amberwood? I need you to help me break curfew and escape my dorm.’

There were a few moments of silence. ‘Sage, I’ve been waiting two months to hear you say those words. You want me to bring a ladder?’

Now, if I can just find another book to read while I’m hopped up on painkillers and propped up on pillows, I’ll be sorted book-wise for at least another few days …

Launching Gracie and Josh

On Saturday I went to Richmond Library for the launch of a rather amazing new picture book, Gracie and Josh. It was a launch that had everything — lots of people, a fabulous book, a chocolate cake and even Hazel Edwards. What more could you want?

Gracie and Josh

Gracie and Josh is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Serena Geddes. The book was ably launched by Hazel Edwards, no stranger to picture books herself, having written the classic There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. She paid tribute not only to the author and illustrator, but also to the publisher, Ford Street Publishing, for taking a risk on such book. Also speaking at the launch was a representative of Variety: The Children’s Charity, which has endorsed this book.

Hazel conducts the launch

Gracie and Josh is about a little girl and her older brother. Josh has cancer and sometimes has to go to hospital and sometimes has bad weeks when he can’t get out of bed. Despite this, the book is not at all a downer. It is joyful and hopeful and fun and utterly delightful. It focusses on the relationship between Josh and Gracie rather than on Josh’s illness — in fact, the word ‘cancer’ is never actually used in the text.

The illustrations are beautiful. They complement the text and ‘say’ things that are not said with the words. Josh’s lack of hair makes his illness obvious without the need for using the word ‘cancer’. Gracie’s expression when Josh’s beanie falls off, says so much about her feelings for her brother without the need to specify them with words. This book is a perfect combination of words and pictures, each working with the other rather than just mirroring.

This book works on a couple of different levels, very aptly demonstrated by my daughters. While at the launch, my elder daughter read the book to her younger sister. Lexi is four years old, and although she understood that Josh was sick, she didn’t really understand the gravity of that situation. She just enjoyed the fun aspects of the story and the relationship between the siblings. Nykita is almost ten, and she did understand the implications of Josh’s illness. But still, the joy in the story is what she took away from it.

Nykita and Lexi

Gracie and Josh is a really lovely book. I heard much talk at the launch about how it would make a good gift for kids who have ill family members. And yes, that is true. But I think it has much wider appeal. As I wrote earlier, it is the love shared by siblings that is the focus of the story. And love is universal.

Catch ya later,  George

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Delicious Home Cooking by Valli Little

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 3.31.20 PM

ABC delicious. magazine has been a part of my life since it first came out in 2001.  It seemed to herald a new era in Australian food publications with it’s fresh photography and modern, exciting, but accessible recipes that didn’t require a trip to the gourmet store for every dish.  Each new month I was thrilled to find at least several dishes that I couldn’t wait to make and many of my back issues are still littered with bookmarks for dishes that I particularly enjoyed or never quite got around to before the next issue was released.

Highly esteemed home economist, food writer and chef, Valli Little, has been there every step of the way too.  English-born Valli came to Australia on a working holiday after studying at London’s Le Cordon Bleu and, like many English roses before her, fell in love with the sun, the lifestyle and a bloke. Her experiences as a food consultant, banqueting manager, gourmet store owner and private chef for the great and glorious back in England give her an enviable depth and breadth of insight into all aspects of food – as her name on the covers of all seven of ABC delicious. magazine bestselling cookbooks will attest.

“Home Cooking” is the most recent of these and continues the tradition of fresh, flavoursome, but not too fiddly recipes for the home cook.  In this edition, Valli gives us a hint of what goes on in her own kitchen as she shares her favourite recipes to cook at home along with her tips to turn a family classic into a cover-worthy meal without too much fuss.  Usefully, the content is divided into seasons as well as the different courses within each season and each recipe is as reliable, approachable and achievable as we’ve come to expect from this passionate and much-loved adoptee.   The book contains everything from tropical treats with a twist like the Coconut & Mango Tarts with Chilli Syrup,  to inspired, but simple tweaks like the Wasabi Pancakes with Smoked Trout or the velvety and indulgent Honey Pots de Creme – and, of  course, each dish is accompanied by lavish, full-colour photgraphy.

Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream

When casting my (often vacant) mind around for an acceptable dessert to serve to a visiting friend who is renowned for her stunning, sweet cookery  I recalled earmarking something in “Home Cooking” for a special occasion.  I don’t suppose you’ll be at all surprised to know that it was a Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream.  This seriously indulgent treat is an excellent example of the recipes offered in the book –  dependable, simple, but a bit special, too.  It really ticked all the boxes for everyone and was so simple to make – another winner in a long line of them for Valli Little and ABC delicious. magazine.

A wickedly rich chocolate cheesecake that is bound to impress anyone who is lucky to get some. Don’t forget the cocoa nibs – they give an added dimension with their crunch.

Chocolate Cheesecake with Cocoa Nib Cream

2 x 150 gm pkts Oreo biscuits (or similar)
125 gm unsalted butter, melted then cooled
250 gm cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups (500 gm) mascarpone
1/3 cup (75 gm) caster sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup (50 gm) cocoa
100 gm dark chocolate, melted then cooled
1 Tbs chocolate liqueur (optional)
1 cup (120 gm) cocoa nibs, plus extra to serve
300 ml thickened cream, lightly whipped

Grease and line 24cm springform cake pan.
Whizz biscuits in processor to fine crumbs. Add butter, pulse to combine, then press into the base of the cake pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 170C.
Wipe out processor (no need to wash). Place cream cheese, mascarpone and caster sugar in machine, whizz to combine. Add eggs, combine, then add cocoa, chocolate and liqueur. Process until smooth. Add half the cocoa nibs, pulse to combine, then spread filling over chilled biscuit base.
Bake 45-50 minutes until cake is firm to the touch, but slightly wobbly. Turn off oven and cool cheesecake in oven with door ajar. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.
Fold remaining cocoa nibs into whipped cream. Pile on top of cheesecake and serve sprinkled with extra nibs.

Review – The Windy Farm

I’m not big on wind. Of all the meteorological marvels on offer, it’s the least appealing to me, perhaps because I endured a few too many tropical cyclones and missing roofs as a child.

Windy Farm 2So when The Windy Farm blew onto my shelves, I instinctively hunched my shoulders and wondered what on earth could be so appealing about the latest offering by well-liked picture book team, Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith. Turns out a whole Beaufort Scales worth.

Our plucky young narrator lives with her family on the windiest farm on Windy Hill because it’s all they can afford. Their home is buffeted and bullied by incessant katabatic winds. The kind of wind that permanently bends trees into weird angles; the kind powerful enough to blow away young pigs and little girls. No one is safe from its force, no one except Grandpa who, as the illustrations subtly suggest, is so immense and heavy that he will never budge just like his favourite pig, Big Betty.

The family survive undeterred and, as is often the case, necessity becomes the mother of invention. And indeed this is the case; Mum cannily invents heavy metal shoes to anchor them all to the ground. However, in spite of their best efforts, one day they lose half their home to nature’s tempest.

Rich Uncle Jeff is no help, pointedly refusing to lend them any of his oil-amassed fortune to help fix the house. They resort to good old fashioned ingenuity and Grandpa’s power tools instead but the ensuing crippling power bill plunges them into despair (who hasn’t felt like this after receiving their electricity bill?)Windy Hill generators

Not easily defeated, Mum comes up with a wily plan; to convert the farm into a sustainable wind farm. Pretty soon things are on the up and up. The farm road is paved in tarmac and truckloads of money from all the electricity they’ve enterprisingly ‘farmed’. Big Betty, the prized pig, returns to a wind-proof sty (she was sold to pay the electricity bills) and although the need to wear heavy metal boots remains, their money worries have been swept away, just like Uncle Jeff who ‘became poor’ after the ill winds of fate blew his way. ‘Never mind,’ Grandpa sanguinely observes; no one really liked him anyway.

Doug MacLeod’s contemporary message about the power of wind and its significance in environmental sustainability drifts delightfully zephyr-like throughout this picture book. Told in a concise, witty style, The Windy Farm exposes young readers to a range of fascinating topics including the harnessing of energy, inventions, problem-solving, sustainability and endurance.Doug MacLeod

No stranger to children’s book illustrating, Craig Smith’s flamboyant, comic-book style pictures and characters are hysterical; from the very top of Windy Hill all the way down to the chooks’ little metal boots. He uses heavier gauche paint to create a deeply detailed yet fluid almost dreamy visual effect that sweeps from page to page. Movement (of the omnipresent wind), is represented magnificently with the use of acrylics. One can see and feel the air swirling through each scene. I found it astounding even though I’m not that big on wind.

Craig SmithSmith and MacLeod include lots of witty references to the use of nuclear power and the need to adopt a clean energy philosophy if we are to enjoy a longer, better existence than poor old Uncle Jeff.

The Windy Farm is not however a heavy prescriptive lesson in world conservation. Rather, it is a light-hearted, fanciful look at ingenuity and tenacity in their purest and funniest forms. My Miss 7 just thinks it’s very cool. Well it would be with all that wind about wouldn’t it?

Breezy, good fun, imaginative with plenty of room for thought. Plus 5s will love it even if they are not big on wind (but most are).

Available now.

Working Title Press February 2013

Player Profile: Cathy Kelly, author of The Honey Queen

cathy-kellyCathy Kelly, author of The Honey Queen

Tell us about your latest creation…

It’s my fifteenth novel and it’s called The Honey Queen. They say that to make the perfect pitch, you have to be able to describe your story in twenty-two words and I can’t…so let’s start: I’ve got about five main characters and the first to appear is Melbourne lady, Lillie, who is mourning her husband’s death when her grown-up sons suggest her visiting Ireland, from where she was adopted sixty-five years previously. Lillie doesn’t really want to go but she does, and travelling to Redstone and meeting the people there, brings her into a whole new life… There are bees, a man who’s been redundant, a woman hitting the menopause at full force and the wisest fifteen-year-old tomboy you’ll ever met.

honey-queenWhere are you from / where do you call home?

I’m Irish, born in Belfast, brought up in Dublin and now I live in county Wicklow in a quirky house with lots of odd-shaped windows and a fabulous view down to the sea.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

I wanted to marry the guy from Hawaii 50 (kid’s crush), briefly I wanted to be a jockey as I am very small but truthfully I have always been in love with the world of books. I told everyone stories so it was inevitable I’d end up doing this.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

Eek… Impossible question. I’m always proudest of the last book, so right now, it’s the Honey Queen.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

Ho hum… I like a little chaos. Or I don’t like it but I somehow make it! I recently heard that genius lives in clutter and if so, then I am onto a winner! I have two work spaces. One is an office I share with my husband where I do my admin/communications type work. Then upstairs I have a study where I write but I don’t have Internet access in case I get too distracted. The upstairs office is full of books, pictures of and by my sons, paintings, bits of embroidery, rocks… mad stuff, basically.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I love reading so much that I tend to dip into lots of different genres. I am a mad thriller/crime thriller reader and have been on a big Skandi crime binge. I like biography and historical biographies.  I’ve just finished The Twelve Tribes of Hattie –  brilliant.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

I can recall perfectly reading Alexandre Dumas Three Musketeers when I was about thirteen and off sick from school. I’d had the wit to go into school, head to the library, get some books, and then be sick and have to go home. Good plan, huh? It was an old edition and those filmy pages took me into another world. I loved it and went on a French writers’ binge.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

When I was young, I thought I was – like so many others – Jo in Little Women. I loved her courage and wit. Now… I don’t want to be anyone else. Too complicated a vision. It’s hard enough being yourself, isn’t it, without being someone else too.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I love films, yoga, knitting and attempting to tidy the books in the house.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Nice sweet, strong coffee in the morning with spelt toast and homemade marmalade. Yum.

Who is your hero? Why?

My husband. Because he’s a good man and I love him for so many reasons.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

How did you know I have a crystal ball…?  It’s a hard time for booksellers because of the e-readers and I hope readers realize that bookshops offer a fabulous way to browse shelves in a way it’s hard to on an e-book but I also think the actual book has plenty of life left in it.

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Player Profile: Rachael Herron, author of Cora’s Heart

rachael-herronRachael Herron, author of Cora’s Heart

Tell us about your latest creation…

Cora’s Heart is the story of Cora, a farm-girl who’s been hurt too much in the past, who safeguards everything–except her heart. Mac is a large-animal veterinarian who has already risked it all and lost everything that mattered. When a secret is revealed, Cora has to decide whether Mac is a safe bet . . . or the worst gamble of her life.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I’m from Oakland, California, a lively town just on the other side of the San Francisco Bay.

coras-heartWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was old enough to realize that an actual person was behind the books I loved. I wanted to be that person.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I always love my latest book best. Cora’s Heart is definitely my favorite, and I’m still in love with the hero, Mac.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I go to a local coffee shop to write. It’s big and bright and full of people at all times. I put on my headphones, and the process of drowning out the voices drives me into the work. Sometimes I look up, completely stunned that I’m sitting in a room with other humans, instead of living inside the world I’m making.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I love the work of Sophie Littlefield and Nicole Alexander. I love to read about women who find their true strength in unexpected places.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Anne of Green Gables! Oh, I wanted to be Anne Shirley so badly. I still do, I think.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Jo March, still furious at Amy for throwing my book in the fire.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I play the accordion! I play badly but with gusto!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Tacos from the taco trucks Oakland is famous for, and I love a good scotch and soda after a long day.

Who is your hero? Why?

My mother, sadly passed on, will always be my hero. She taught me that I could do anything I wanted to, and she believed in me utterly.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

For me, the challenge is finding the time to read through my To Be Read pile! I think most readers find the same problem staring at them from their bedside table.

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How it really feels to close a bookshop

Field's Wattpad profile page.
Field’s Wattpad profile page.

Bookseller Greg Field is an inspiration. While he closed the NSW bookstore he has run for 10 years, Sunset Books, last week in the face of tough economic realities, Field has also posted the first third of his new mystery novel on global story sharing community Wattpad and launched an app business. His is a story that demonstrates what can be achieved as the book industry faces dramatic change, as he explains …

When did you decide to close Sunset Books, how long had you been pondering it, and what were the key reasons behind your decision?

The moment? I’m not sure when exactly but I knew things at the shop had to change by Christmas 2012. By January 2013 I knew it was over. The key reasons for closing my beloved Sunset Books were like this:

  • Given the rapid change in the publishing world recently I was keenly aware that my shop had to stay both relevant and profitable. It stayed relevant but it didn’t stay as profitable as it needed to be. Bookselling is damn hard work; it takes energy, passion, drive, intelligence and business skills just to stay afloat as a ‘bricks and mortar’ bookseller right now (well anytime actually – but right now is harder). I never made a loss as a bookseller but things were getting too hard for me to justify continuing. Bookshops are not public amenities, they have to make money – and mine was making less and less every year.
  • I wanted a change. I’m a person who embraces change and I’ve been working as a bookseller for over ten years now. I’m ready for new ventures – so bring it on!

What would you say to a friend who said they were planning to open and bricks and mortar bookstore in the current climate?

Not all bookshops are in the same position as mine. There’s still a place for relevant and profitable bricks and mortar bookshops in Australia. I have the greatest respect for the lovely people that front up at their bookshop’s every day and try to make ends meet. But – to repeat – bookselling is hard work and to succeed you have to be passionate and inspired. If they had the desire and the business plan right, then I would advise my friend to approach with caution. I would recommend they seriously consider both the state of physical retail and the state of publishing in Australia before sinking their ‘hard earned’ into a bookshop.

Did you consider running an online only version of Sunset? Or going into ebook sales? If not, why not?

I did briefly consider an online only version of Sunset but knocked back the idea because I’m not in love with my own brand. I inherited the name ‘Sunset Books’ from the previous owner and if I did go into an online only business I would consider starting a brand from scratch.

I tried ebook sales but found it difficult. There are a number of obstacles for the average bookseller wanting to morph into an ebook seller. Firstly, you’re taking on a massive market and numerous powerful competitors. Most bricks and mortar retailers need to learn new skills to create a successful online business. Even if they already have those skills, the nature of selling ebooks puts you toe to toe with marketing giants and there are issues surrounding both price (product and platform) and DRM which can inhibit success.

You’ve said you might consider opening another bookstore one day. Under what circumstances?

I’ve always loved dealing with people face to face, and one of the greatest joys for a bookseller is being able to assess a person ‘in the flesh’ and recommend an appropriate book. While search engines and social media are good ways to discover a new book, there is something very human and magical being able to have this type ‘real time’ interaction.

My personal opinion is that ‘bricks and mortar’ retail has to progress to a place where either:

  • Customers are prepared to pay a premium for the physical interaction and experience of browsing. (Currently I don’t think they are.)
  • Or, internet retailers have to expand to include physical experiences for their customers.

If I felt the business plan was viable, I would consider re-opening a physical bookshop under one or both of those circumstances.

You had some fun with the closing down sale by updating us all via social media on which books were last to sell. Did this help boost sale sales? Were there some surprises?

Ummm, no, I don’t think it helped boost sales. But it did help me stay sane and not yell at people when they walked in wild eyed and started the inevitable set of ‘but why’ ‘you can’t’ what’ll I do now?’ ‘what’ll you do now?’ ‘the internet is killing us all’ conversations.

The Twitter hashtag #lastbookstanding was really just a distraction for me as things came to an end. Predictably, children’s books sold out early. I was interested to see that hardcore reference books (dictionaries, etc) sold out even before children’s. I thought Google had killed most of that – but no… not yet.

I was shattered when my two long term favourites (a dog eared Robert Pattinson bio and ‘Your Horoscope 2011’) were knocked out of the running on the last day. For the record, I was left with only three titles on my ‘everything one dollar’ final day: ‘Top Stocks 2010’, Cliff Notes for Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and Drama Classics Notes for Ibsen’s ‘The Dolls House.’ I assume the last two were not on this year’s syllabus.

What will happen to Sunset’s social media channels now?

I’ve switched my Twitter handle from @sunsetbooks to @GregPField and I’ll close down the shop’s Facebook page.

You’ve been an early adopter of new technologies (social media, apps etc) while bookselling. Has this played a role in your decision to move on?

I guess so, I’m excited by the possibilities opening up via the ‘digital revolution’.

How did Lazy Dad Studios come about? Any upcoming apps we should know about?

Lazy Dad’s was the result of my quest to create an app. I started investigating ebooks about the same time I got my first iPhone and I immediately realised ebooks could be apps and vice versa. From that point I’ve used many apps and started investigating how to build them.

Recently, I got together with an old uni friend of mine who is now a full time coder and we started Lazy Dad Studios. Our first app, Words4Cards is about to be released, it’s a collection of occasion appropriate quotes and sayings categorised into ‘Funny Birthday’ ‘Inspirational Birthday’ ‘Get Well Soon’ etc. Each quote has a direct link to Twitter, Facebook and email. Just for fun we also threw in a ‘shake for random’ feature which ended up working like ‘Magic 8 Ball’ except instead of – ‘concentrate and ask again’ you get Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde.

You’ve used Wattpad to publish your novel Death on Dangar Island. Why Wattpad? How have you found it as a platform for promoting your work?

I’ve posted the first third of Death on Dangar Island on Wattpad so far. Posting publicly has helped me focus on editing the manuscript to the best of my ability. I love writing and hate editing, so I can get lazy when it comes to going over my work and tightening it up. Posting on Wattpad in small sections helps me get through that.

The story is a murder mystery and I would love people to start reading it and trying to figure out who the killer is, but promoting my work and building a platform using Wattpad is actually secondary at this stage. The user interface on Wattpad is good, they make it easy to post and edit your story. I think of it as a working version of the manuscript available for public scrutiny and comment.

Are Lazy Dad Studios and writing your main gigs these days? Any other work/projects on the cards?

Yes, at the moment. I have some ideas about the future of book retailing that I would be interested to work on down the track.

I reckon booksellers are exactly the kinds of people who can succeed in the world of digital publishing. Would you agree, and if so, why?

Experienced booksellers could make ideal digital publishers; they have business skills, the marketing skills and an eye for a decent book. Many traditional booksellers would have to make an adjustment to the digital world if they wanted to participate, although there are some I can think of that would be ideally suited to the role.

Many of us feel torn between lamenting the demise of the book world we’ve known and loved, yet embrace emerging opportunities in the sector.  What will you miss the most about your ten years running Sunset, and what do you look forward to most about this brave new era in your life?

The smell of the place, the splendid, slowly moving panorama of covers and titles. Friendly customers sauntering through, stopping every now and then to inspect a title that’s taken their fancy. Little children laughing with glee as they run through the doors. The warm, intelligent people that have been my colleagues and peers. That’s the good stuff.

I look forward to working hard at something fresh and new and to the challenges and opportunities that arise from my current projects.

(Phew – that was a cathartic experience.)



Janeen Brian – Part Two

Janeen 2Do you have an all time favourite book character you secretly aspire to be more like? Discover Janeen Brian’s

Q Who or what was your favourite book character as a child? If you could incorporate that character into one of your own stories, which would it be and why? How would you adapt that character to suit?

I wanted to be one of the girls in the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven series, because, having few books in my childhood, I felt as if I personally knew the girls. But as well, they were up front characters who had adventures and were at time, quite gutsy. I liked that! I think many of my girl characters have some of those characteristics!

Q Which Aussie children’s book author do you admire the most and why?

How can any reader or writer answer that! I love the work of my friend and poetry colleague, Lorraine Marwood. Her words sing to me or shake me about. Her work is so real and yet, magical. A bit like her.

Q How long does it take you to develop a children’s story? Does the time vary dependant on the genre: picture book, MG novel, script etc.Eddie Piper

I have recently compiled an anthology of my poems, entitled, As long as a piece of string. That will have to suffice for my answer to that one, because as vague as it is, it’s the truth. Sometimes picture books can take as long to write as a piece of fiction. Of course, you’re not necessarily slogging at it for hours every day, but developing it, shaping it and re-writing it over time.

Q Do you write every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

It’s rare that I miss a day where I’m not writing, even if it’s just catching up on my diary.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurQ What inspires you to write like nothing else can?

Certain words; strong, emotional situations; a state of tranquillity.

Q Do you have a special spot or routine to make the magic happen or can you write anywhere, any time?

I work mainly in my home office; and each morning I prime myself by responding to emails and getting lots of admin out the way first. It’s also a way of letting my brain know that I’m here and we’re going to do something to do with writing or brainstorming. I do a lot of brainstorming. I don’t tend to start putting anything on the computer until I’ve written enough, using pen on paper, and have a physical feeling that that I’ve captured the voice of the character or that I’m ready to start.

Q What is that one thing that motivates you to keep on writing (for children)?

I love the creativity; the tumble and jumble of words and feelings; the constant astonishment that so much of what happens in your life can become the story for another and the fact children seem to like what I write.

Shirl at the Show JBQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your writing career thus far.

So many! I think being a writer is full of surprises, but a recent one was winning the Carclew Fellowship in the 2012 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. The Fellowship awarded me a sizeable amount of money to further research and develop a three-in-one-project. When the phone call came to say that I’d won, my first reaction was that I was going to be told my application was disallowed because it involved three proposals, not one. But instead, I was told I’d won!

Q What is on the draft table for Janeen?

Three books due for release within the next six months – so, much admin, media promotion and launches to organise. The books are: A picture book for the very young, called I’m a dirty dinosaur. (illustrated by AnnMeet Ned Kelly James and published by Penguin group Australia). An Australian historical picture book for the young called Meet Ned Kelly (illustrated by Matt Adams and published by Random House) and an historical, adventure novel for upper primary, called That boy, Jack.(published by Walker Books) I also have a number of other projects out with my agent or publishers.

My next project will be another picture book. I have vague ideas, but will need to do more research first.

Can hardly wait. For a full list of this year’s releases visit Janeen’s website too.

Doodles and Drafts – An Interview with Janeen Brian Part One

Today we delve deeper into the dynamic world of industrious children’s author, Janeen Brian. She’s releasing more books per month than I’ve had pie floaters  and I hear that one of her poems, “What did you learn at school today?” is being published in The School Magazine’s Blast Off this month. Does this lady never slow down? Let’s find out…

Q Who is Janeen Brian? Describe your writerly-self for us and the thing that sets you apart from other Aussie children’s authors.

The introspective part of me used to struggle in earlier days, because I had no pre-formed vision or identity of myself as a writer. I knew little about writing. Yet I quite liked to write. I knew little about books. Yet I liked to read. I’d never known about how to deconstruct, analyse or evaluate writing or reading and I can’t remember getting much of a grounding of it in high school, but I’m sure I must’ve. In my later years I tentatively did a TAFE correspondence writing course and dipped my toe in a weekend writing workshop.

Although I did write for adults and enjoyed it, (short stories and poems), I discovered it was really where my heart was. I felt better connected with a children’s readership. People say that when they read my work, they see pictures in their head and that pleases me, because I try to write pictorially. They say my work reads aloud well. That pleases me because I like the music of language and the sensory world of words. Reviewers often make the comment that I ‘know what children want’ and that pleases me because it’s what I strive for.

I also write a lot of poetry, enjoying the capture of a particular moment to provide a shortcut to the emotions.

Perhaps poems, picture books and short fiction is where I fit best.

Q You are an experienced writer covering many styles and formats, including TV scripts. What is your favourite style of writing, why and does it result in your best work?

I am experienced in that I’m been writing for about 30 years and of those, 23 years have been fulltime, but I never stop learning and trying to improve. I’m sure I’m not the only author who says that! But I enjoy different styles and formats because it challenges me, and I find different aspects to my writing emerging that may have remained untapped. During my writing life, I’ve tried to seize any writing opportunity and that included writing eleven scripts for Here’s Humphrey, a pre-schoolers program. While I loved the content and age group, I felt that ultimately the fast-paced nature of scriptwriting for the media wasn’t quite me. When the show drastically changed format, I wasn’t asked to write any more scripts, so perhaps the producer felt the same! I like researching and have written much non-fiction. When I write information articles or books, I try to write simply, so children grasp concepts, and also hopefully in a visual or anecdotal style, so information is more readily absorbed. I do this, because I don’t absorb facts very easily! As mentioned in the earlier question, I think I do my best work with shorter pieces, though I’m very proud to have written several novels and to have had them accepted and published.

Q At what stage in life did you realise you wanted to write? What, whom persuaded you to continue? Was it always this way or did you aspire to be something different as a kid?

Nothing struck me on the head to get writing! In Year Three at school, I decided to be a teacher and followed that course into Primary school teaching at eighteen. Later, around the time I had two young daughters, I simply dabbled in writing for my own enjoyment. I’d never been a closet writer or held dreams of one day writing. I simply began to write every now and then; mainly poems for my girls or to give away as gifts. Then, on becoming a single mum, I began to use my writing to earn extra money; penning small articles in magazines. I was also asked to write some scripts for a children’s theatre company, which was a big ask as I’d had no training or real understanding of the constructs of theatre. But I did it. I think one show was a flop but the others were okay. So, I beavered away, joined the SA Writers’ Centre, met a kind, experienced author who became my mentor and life-long friend, and who provided much needed encouragement and practical advice. Then I was lucky enough to have books/readers accepted by an educational publisher, which I think gave me good training in crafting to a brief and culling floppy, useless words.

Q How have your refined your craft? Did you study, if so where, and do you feel this has attributed significantly to your work?Janeen's work

I was persistent, imposing on myself all sorts of disciplines, real or imaginary to keep the writing muscles working and the financial side viable. I attended writers’ courses, but never attended University. My only tertiary training was the two-year teacher-training course. I read books on writing, obtaining my first loads from libraries, then purchasing more and more myself, all the time reading and trying to improve my writing. At that time, there was no computers or websites, no online blogs or author chat lines. I stuck to my simple, personal credo, If it’s to be, it’s up to me. Joining and meeting with a group of South Australian, published children’s writers and illustrators, called Ekidnas, helped me and my writing immensely. It wasn’t a critique group, more a support group, providing encouragement and networking opportunities in the days prior to email (doesn’t that sound amazing?). Now we meet approximately four times a year, but have an Ekidna website of our own, which is updated weekly and highlights our members’ achievements and activities. Quite impressive!

Where does Thursday goQ You are a published author of several titles. What are they? Which are you most proud of? Do you have any you would rather forget?

By May, 2013, I’ll have more than 78 books published, some educational, the rest being trade published. I also have poems in fourteen anthologies. Here’s the website for titles: One of the easiest books I ever wrote was a picture book called Where does Thursday go?, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Margaret Hamilton. The words simply fell onto the page. The book won an Honour Award in the CBCA picture book awards, and a Notable in the Early Childhood Awards in the same year. It then went on to be published in USA and UK as well as being translated into thirteen languages. I call it my heart book, because the idea was triggered by my then six-year-old daughter, Natalie, and I was able to dedicate the final book to her first son, my first grandchild, Liam. I still love the story, the language and the superb illustrations.

Want to find out what’s on the drafting table for Janeen? See what’s in store tomorrow in Part Two of our chat with one of Adelaide’s finest children’s writers.

EJ12: Girl Hero

Big BrotherEmma Jacks is a schoolgirl. She’s also a special agent in the Under 12s division of the super-secret organisation called SHINE. Codename — EJ12. Mission —stop the evil plans of the nefarious organisation known as SHADOW.

EJ12: Girl Hero is a series of kids’ books by Susannah McFarlane. My nine-year-old daughter Nykita loves these books. She has read, re-read and re-read again the first 14 books, and is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest in the series — Big Brother.

Not only has Nykita been re-reading these books, she’s been getting me to read them to her as well. She loves being read to and says she often discovers new things in a book when it is read to her out loud. So far, I’ve read the first five books to her:


I’ve got to admit that I was less than enamoured with the books when we started. The first few are very formulaic — not only in story structure but also in character development. In each instalment, Emma overcomes a personal fear/problem thanks to the SHINE mission she is assigned to. There is also a lot of repetition from one book to the next. Each book contains back-story explanations so that it can be read in isolation. Great in terms of marketing. Not so great if you’re reading one book after the other in quick succession. If I have to read one more rundown of how the SHINE mission transport tube works, I may very well scream.

I also thought the editing was a little below par, with certain words being overused and often showing up multiple times in the one paragraph. It’s not something that Nykita noticed, but I found it rather awkward for reading out loud.

Having said all this, the books have started to grow on me. I’ve gotten to know the characters and have become invested in their adventures. And book 5, Choc Shock, has broken the formula a little. It also introduces my favourite villain thus far — the chocolate obsessed, French pastry chef, Madame Ombre. (I love reading her dialogue, as I get to do a really bad French accent!)

The books do have a great sense of fun and adventure. I particularly like the playful codenames that many of the grown-up agents have. The scientist, for example, is called IQ400.

Perhaps the best thing about the books is that Emma Jacks is a wonderfully positive role model for young girls. She faces ordinary, everyday problems (from mean girls at school to a lack of self confidence) as well as fantastical spy problems. But she always manages to work her way through them, usually with a little help from her friends.

After book 5, Nykita and I have taken a break to read some other books (more on them later). But I’ve got to say, I am actually looking forward to reading the next instalment of EJ12’s adventures — On The Ball.

Oh, and there’s a rather cool website for EJ12 fans — check it out!

Catch ya later,  George

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Review – Meet…Ned Kelly

I have never felt so exposed by a picture book as I did when I first laid eyes on Meet…Ned Kelly. The piercing stare of Australia’s most infamous bush ranger peering from the slit of his armoured headgear sliced through to the very marrow of my bones, anchoring the outlaw’s stare there as if to say, Want to find out more? I did.Meet Ned Kelly

I’m not one to wallow in history for too long; but I do find it compelling discovering new threads that help me appreciate how the fabric of a nation, its people and their culture is woven together.

Random House’s new Meet…series allows young readers to be similarly fascinated by picture books that tell exciting true stories of the real women and men of Australia’s past. And what more exciting a character than Ned Kelly?

Prolific children’s author, Janeen Brian, introduces children to one of the best known, ill-understood, and extraordinary tales of early Australian history, that of Ned Kelly. The sometimes misleading mystic and romance of bushranging is forsaken in favour of a straight forward, chronological telling of the facts of Ned’s life beginning with his not-so-easy childhood and ending with his untimely death in the Old Melbourne Goal in 1880.

However the story is anything but dull and lifeless. Brian leads us through Ned’s brief life with an objective clarity told in simple and effective bush ballad style verse. Each stanza is suffused with sufficient detail to allow us to develop a strong sense of Ned’s character and the treacherous times he occupied, featuring often unbalanced and corrupt systems of justice.

Ned is portrayed as a fair, brave young man but one who often found himself on the wrong side of the law mostly by misfortune, poor judgement, and ill-luck. His recurring stints in goal and unpopularity with the police ensured he and his family were regular targets for prosecution. The gaoling of his mother in 1878 was the catalyst for the birth of the Kelly Gang.

The gang escaped capture numerous times thanks to Ned’s long standing reputation amongst good friends, but following betrayal and the final calamitous showdown at Glenrowan Inn in 1880, not even Ned’s genius iron-clad armour could protect him from his ultimate fate.Ned Kelly poster

It’s a stirring tale brought to life with the help of Matt Adam’s almost surreal illustrations that echo the lines and textures of a number of classic Australian painters and therefore add a rich authenticity to each scene. The font used throughout and for the timeline on the end pages reflects the feel of a wanted poster, many on which Ned’s name no doubt appeared.

I feel I better understand this young man, so vilified by the injustice of the day, after meeting him ‘face to face’ in Brian’s historic picture book. And I cannot imagine a more brilliant nor dynamic way for primary aged readers to explore our rich historic past.

Keep an eye out for my next post where we meet author Janeen Brian face to face and explore more about the author behind Meet Ned Kelly.

Random House Books Australia March 2013

Player Profile: Jackie French, author of Dinosaurs Love Cheese

jackie-frenchJackie French, author of Dinosaurs Love Cheese & The Girl from Snowy River

Tell us about your latest creation…

Dinosaurs Love Cheese: for every child who loves dinosaurs — and cheese.

The Girl From Snowy River: World War I is over, but it still haunts the mountains. Flinty McAlpine lost a brother when the Snowy River men marched away. The man she loves won’t talk to her. But on a rock in the mist she meets a ‘ghost’ from the future,  crippled in Vietnam:  a man who needs to speak about the war that none of his friends will discuss with him, as much as she needs to hear. The second in the saga of Australia that began with A Waltz for Matilda.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

The Araluen Valley (NSW Southern Tablelands), cliffs streaked with eagle droppings, a wombat under the bedroom,  the sugar gliders eating the blossom from 800 fruit trees, an a possum who snores above my study.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

Always — no matter what — a story teller

girl-snowy-riverWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

Pennies for Hitler, Diary of a Wombat, a Waltz for Matilda: all somehow achieved much more than I could have given them..

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

20,000 books, 200 wombats, wood, glass, pottery (gifts, not chosen), 3 wombat skulls, a table of seeds, another of manuscripts, a desk of scribbled notes, an apple core, two coffee mugs, a spider called Bruce, and the possum with sleep apnoea.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

Atwood, Pratchett, Haldeman, Trillin, Steingarten, plus about 500 more.

dinosaurs-love-cheeseWhat was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley), at age 7. Didn’t notice the sex scenes, just the realisation that ‘life will not always be like this.’ Great Dialogues of Plato, ditto: Socrates  the youth of Athens to ask questions, unlike both home and school.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Every writer includes aspects of themselves in each book they write.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

Can sharpen a chain saw, load a musket, milk an echidna, grow a five course dinner, but am functionally innumerate, dyslexic, and can’t spell hipop…hypop..that big grey animal from Africa.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Fresh bread and tomato salad with new olive oil, cold water, apple pie with hazelnut pastry, Jonathon  and Cornish Aromatic apples, but mostly: lots!

Who is your hero? Why?

Socrates: the unexamined life is not worth living; and integrity.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Withering attention spans.

Follow Jackie:

Website URL:

Player Profile: Hugh Lunn, author of The Big Book of Lunn

Hugh LunnHugh Lunn, author of The Big Book of Lunn

Tell us about your latest creation…

The Big Book of Lunn contains the biggest selling book ever about an Australian childhood: “Over the Top with Jim” — plus the sequel about young love in the 1960s: “Head Over Heels”.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

Born in Brisbane and live here. Spent 7 years overseas aged 23-30 as a journalist and foreign correspondent. Lived in Hong Kong, Vietnam (during War), London, Indonesia, West Papua. Went into “Red China” in 1965!

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

A radio announcer — but my voice was too husky. But now, whenever I walk into a shop or talk in a cafe people say I know that ‘voice’ from hearing me interviewed about my books.

big-book-lunnWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

“Over the Top with Jim” because it made enough money over the last 24 years for me to become a full-time author. Readers tell me my Vietnam and Rupert books are my best. My favourite is “The Great Fletch”.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I have a huge desk with a return with a set of shelves for books and papers behind. The third bedroom; the back toilet and the large room under the house are full of my files and ‘MS’s (manuscripts) and future book options… and my 30 years of journalism.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

George Orwell, because I aspire to write as clearly as him and to make such acute observations on the people I write about. Plus books about medicine and the human condition.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Poems mainly. Horatius Defends the Bridge was the first before I was five. And later Byron, Marvel, Pope, Tennyson etc. Browning was my favourite.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Winston Smith from Orwell’s 1984. In fact, sometimes I think I am Winston Smith! Because he wrote down what was really going on.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I collect songs for my “State of Origin — the Musical”.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

A steak at Moo-Moos Wine Bar and Grill in Brisbane. A Bundaberg ginger beer.

Who is your hero? Why?

Queensland scientist Michael Good because he gave up his job running the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to try to find a cure for rheumatic fever and malaria which kill so many people in the world. And he’s on track with both.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Writing books that makes people laugh and cry.

Follow Hugh:

Website URL:

Buy the physical book here…