The Fiery Heart

The Fiery HeartI should warn you before you starting reading it that Richelle Mead’s The Fiery Heart finishes on a cliffhanger. And that you’ll probably feel, as I do, that you’re not sure how you’re going to keep it together until the follow-up book, presumably named Fans Nearly Lost Their Minds Waiting For This, is released. Said release is likely to be some 18 months to two years away.

Hot damn.

Leafing through a book of baby names seems the antithesis of lead-ins to a climactic ending, but that’s where the book opens. ‘I won’t lie,’ Adrian Ivashkov says. ‘Walking into a room and seeing your girlfriend reading a back-name book can kind of make your heart stop.’

Sydney Sage is not pregnant, though. She’s looking for a name to be ordained with when she joins the local witch coven. It’s a leap from Sydney’s (I’m going to break with tradition and use first names from now on—for clarity) originally staunch alchemist ways, which view moroi, dhampirs, and strigoi as one and the same. That is, all blood-sucking bad guys.

The Fiery Heart follows on from The Indigo Spell, (I think—there are so many books these days I’m starting to lose track of them all) and the romance between Sydney and Adrian is new, joyous, and all-consuming. It’s also completely forbidden, with being found out likely leading to the very real danger of re-education.

Complicating the matter and putting a dampener on the love festivities is Sydney’s sister Zoe. She’s been sent to assist in the operation to keep Jill, half sister to moroi queen Lissa, alive. Moroi law dictates that a ruler can only hold their throne as long as they have a living relative. Hence the metaphorical target painted on Jill, who’s surrounded by fewer guardians and therefore a more accessible target than the queen herself.

As part of their lover’s agreement, Sydney has reduced her caffeine intake and Adrian his alcohol one. Oh, and Sydney and Zoe’s parents announce they’re getting a divorce.

The Indigo SpellSuffice to say, there’s plenty of material to keep The Fiery Heart ticking over (even if I still haven’t forgiven Mead for severing the Rose-and-Dimitri-led Vampire Academy books. I am consoling myself with the knowledge that the first film adaptation is due out on Valentine’s Day in 2014).

The Fiery Heart is fun, both because the subject matter is loved-up and because Mead has found form with the assembly of characters. Sydney and Adrian’s Escape Plan # [Insert number and far-fetched but amusing idea here] are quirky and I’ll-pay-that clever. The witty banter between them as lovers and as faux-enemies (for show, because they don’t want anyone to know about their relationship) is endlessly entertaining.

Even Angeline, the ‘feral’ dhampir and fierce scrapper who’s grown up in an alternative community, is less annoying. Mead has found a way to soften her and make her an endearing insertion for comedic effect.

‘Did you know,’ Angeline says at one stage, ‘that it’s a lot harder to put organs back in the body than it is to get them out?’ We discover she hasn’t gutted someone, but rather has knocked over the male and female biology models and spilt the organs far and wide. Another time there’s a reference to when Angeline forgot her locker combination and tried to get in with an axe.

That’s not to say all elements worked. Throughout the book Jill and Angeline both fixate on the new guardian in town, Neil, as a way to get over their real crushes. It never gels and I feel it either was part of another storyline that was never fulfilled or Mead needed to find a way to embed Neil in the group when he’s otherwise a tacked-on character. He still feels like a tacked-on character.

To give her the benefit of the doubt, he may come to the fore in future books. He just arrived and was accepted a little too easily when the group has already had trouble with insider–outsiders in previous books. The writing of him felt two-dimensional and as a character he was crowding out and essentially performing the same role already occupied by Eddie, whom I’ve come to quite love.

I’ll have to wait at least 18 months to determine Neil’s usefulness, though, so am hoping Mead is doing less book touring and touting of The Fiery Heart and more writing of the book that will likely include some reference to centres holding. Gah, bring on its release. And a Valentine’s Day film release in between.

A Couple of Pages Podcast – Episode 1

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Episode 1

Listen Now:

November 28, 2013

0.00 Intro Music – Hello It’s Me by Todd Rundgren

0.12 Hello and Welcome

0.57 Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (  buy the book here  )

5:25 Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin (  buy the book here )

5:42 Emily’s blog Inside a Black Apple

8:06 World War Z by Max Brooks Audio book ( buy the audio here )

11:15 Goodbye

11:38 Outro Music – Bookends Theme by Simon & Garfunkel

Big-name Doctor Who

This weekend, the world is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a little TV show called Doctor Who. Fans are eagerly awaiting the televising of the special commemorative episode “The Day of the Doctor”, which will be simulcast in many countries across the globe. A 3D version of this special will also be screening in many cinemas throughout Australia and other countries. There is an unprecedented hype in the air. So it seems like the appropriate time to discuss some Doctor Who books.

In recent years, BBC Books has been publishing Doctor Who stories by novelists well-known in their own right for non-Who material. The first of the really big-name-author books was The Coming of the Terraphiles by famed science fiction author Michael Moorcock. While I didn’t care for the book, I could certainly appreciate the attempt to do something different and adventurous with the franchise (see my review).

Since then, I’ve read another two big-name-author Doctor Who novels. The Wheel of Ice by science fiction author Stephen Baxter was certainly more to my taste than The Coming of the Terraphiles. It’s a full-on sci-fi adventure set amongst the rings of Saturn with the second Doctor and his travelling companions, Jamie the highlander and future-girl Zoe. While I enjoyed the basic story, I found the novel as a whole, problematic. The characterisation of the Doctor and his companions is patchy — particularly Jamie. Sometimes I could imagine the dialogue being spoken by the respective actors and sometimes it seemed all wrong. And the book could have done with some editorial moderating, particularly with the astonishing over-use of the word ‘swarming’. Every time the little blue aliens appear, there’s that word… over and over and over and over again. On the plus side, there is an abundance of lovely little references to the events of televised episodes of the series.

Dark HorizonsI followed up this book with Dark Horizons by rom-com author Jenny Colgan (writing as JT Colgan). Of the three, I enjoyed this one the most. Set in a remote Scottish seaside village during the time of the Vikings, it pits the eleventh Doctor against an alien force that incinerates living beings as it tries to survive. It’s a terrific concept that is executed very much in the style of a Moffat-era television episode, with a very accurate characterisation of the Doctor. Reading it felt just like watching the series.

That’s not to say I loved every bit of it. There are moments that stretch credulity — but thankfully, not to breaking point. And there are some glossed over explanations that probably do not bear too much thinking about.

Even though I did not love each of these three books (as I did Paul Cornell’s Human Nature or Mark Gatiss’s Nightshade), I did enjoy reading them. It is interesting to see what these authors bring to the Doctor Who mythos and it is gratifying to see BBC Books allowing authors to stretch the boundaries of the Who-niverse.

And for something completely different, but still Doctor Who related, check this out…

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Doctor-Who-The-Complete-Seventh-Series-15424927-7Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Giveaway — Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series




The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching FireWaiting for the second instalment of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, to come out was reminiscent of waiting for Christmas as a kid—I was so invested the wait was excruciating and interminable.

The agony was alleviated slightly by the social media-led arrival of Sesame Street’s The Hungry Games: Catching Fur, a genius-ly entertaining and educating spoof of the masterful ilk only Sesame Street could manage.

The spoof featured (and nailed) the three things I vaguely remembered from the book (it’s been a while since I read the trilogy, and even then I binged on them rather than taking time to fully absorb their content): fog, monkeys, and ‘tick tock’.

Catching Fire was probably my favourite of the three Suzanne Collins books. The Hunger Games hooked me in and laid out the foundations, but it is in Catching Fire that you really get to see the nuance and fraught complexity come in to play. Especially when it comes to the other tributes who, with the exception of Rue, are little known to and little understood by us.

In the Catching Fire, we see the long-term effects of ‘winning’ The Hunger Games as well as the selflessness and bravery of people working together for a greater cause. Catching Fire is dark, but it’s also grippingly hopeful.

Things are frosty in the beginning of the film—literally and figuratively. District 12 is cloaked in winter (I couldn’t help but think ‘winter is coming’) and Katniss, Gale, Peeta, and Haymitch are struggling with the aftermath of the games.

‘Lethal lovers’ Katniss and Peeta are learning the games don’t end when you get home, that you never win, you simply survive. They will be forced to play-act an epic love affair for eternity, something that sits awkwardly with them and that grates Gale, the original love interest who rounds out the triangle.

Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta are together but so incredibly alone, trapped in their own heads (and nightly bad dreams). It is in this film that you truly appreciate why Haymitch self-medicates with alcohol.

I might be too wholly invested in this story, but I cried buckets throughout, kicking off at seeing an image of Rue broadcast behind her family. I continued when the first person, an older man, gives the three-fingered mockingjay salute and is punished brutally. The forced attendance by both Katniss and Peeta and the districts’ people during the victory tour were tense; ‘The odds are never in our favour’ graffiti was eerie. All of it was near-reality real.

The film does manage to wedge in some brief moments of comedy to take the edge off the darker mood. ‘Don’t invite him over, he’ll drink all your liquor’ Haymitch warns Katniss about one of the other tributes; ‘I never said she was smart’ he quips to a peacekeeper when she intervenes in a flogging.

I was intrigued, though, that some people laughed in the cinema during the reaping scene when it’s clear Katniss’ name will be the only one pulled out of the female pool. I found it not funny but bleak. But that’s a small and personal note not central to this review.

As with the first film, the costumes and characters are OTT without being OTT—we see a softer side to Effie and the on-stage interplay and stands against the Capital are goosebump-inducing. Katniss’ dresses are, as always, spectacular, and the vest she wears in the first few scenes is likely to spawn a fashion trend.

MockingjayThe ‘peacekeepers’ outfits are suitably imposing and austere. And the arena outfits are functional and full-body swimsuit-like, but suit the script. It reminds me that this series doesn’t go for the sexy options wherever possible, and I respect it for that.

That said, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Sam Claflin, who plays Finnick, is exceptionally cute. He’s a brilliant actor, more measured than the arrogant character in the book, which makes it easier for us to relate to and believe in the character. Excellent (eye-candy) casting right there.

I will say that the final shot that closes the film wasn’t strong and bordered on corny, but it does suitably set up the third book, the film adaptation for which we’re now going to have to wait another apparent eternity.

Although the filmmakers have stayed true to the books in the first two films, my hope is that they’ll deviate from the book for film three. Mockingjay lost the plot a bit, likely because Collins had never expected to need to stretch the story out to a trilogy.

Either way, I’ll pass the time re-reading the books and re-watching the two films. And also getting onto the next Richelle Mead book, Fiery Heart, which was just released and arrived at my house today.

Zombies and Darth Vader

I love picture books! I have a four-year-old, so I reads LOTS of picture books to her. But I also read picture books for my own pleasure. And I want to tell you about two rather unusual ones that I LOVE!

Zombies! They’re the in thing, aren’t they? Everybody seems to love ‘em. People even like to dress up like them. It seems like every state in this country has an annual zombie walk. Now, zombies are usually scary. Sometimes they can be funny as well (think Shaun of the Dead). Recently, they’ve also been romantic — case in point: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. But a picture book about zombies?

Zombies Hate Stuff is a picture book, written and illustrated by Greg Stone. And it is BRILLIANT! Basically, this book is a series of lists divided into 4 sections: “Zombies Hate…”, “Zombies Don’t Mind…”, “Zombies Really Hate…” and “Zombies Love…”. Each list item has its own page and its own highly amusing picture. So, by reading this book, you can discover that zombies hate kittens, but they don’t mind mimes; they really hate bagpipes, but they love… Well, there’s only one item in this last section and I’m not about to spoil the surprise. 🙂

Despite the gruesome subject matter, the illustrations are cute and never gory.

Zombies Hate Stuff is a really cool book!

So is Darth Vader and Son, written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown. Okay… so you have to be a Star War fan to like this book. But who isn’t? 🙂

This book is a series of scenes from a Star Wars reality that never was. A “what if?” scenario in which Darth Vader raises his son, Luke Skywalker, (OMG… I hope I haven’t just spoiled The Empire Strikes Back for anyone.) and engages in a bit of father-and-son bonding. They play baseball with a lightsaber, they go trick-or-treating with Luke as a stormtrooper (“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”) and they visit the garbage compactor aboard the Death Star. The illustrations are cartoonish and very engaging, with lots of wonderful detail. A fun book! An there’s a follow-up book — Darth Vader’s Little Princess.

I bought these books for myself. Who would have thought that both my kids would love them as well? Now I have to share them.

zombie book IMG_0406

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


Doctor-Who-The-Complete-Seventh-Series-15424927-7Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Giveaway — Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series




Doodles and Drafts – An interview with Em Horsfield – Santa’s Magic Beard

Santa's Magic BeardTis almost the season to be jolly and over-indulge a little. And because it takes more than just Santa and a bit of tinsel to make the season jingle and jive, I’ve invited author, Em Horsfield along to share more about the creation of newly released picture book, Santa’s Magic Beard.

Time settle back with a cuppa and early fruit mince pie…

Em HorsfieldQ Who is Em Horsfield? Tell us about the scribe in you.

I grew up in South Africa with my parents, older brother and Oscar, my favourite hound. I have always written stories. From the silly age of seven I began scribbling ridiculous rhymes about family and friends, often far-fetched tales about my mum, which I’m sure she didn’t appreciate!

I took things a little more seriously when I attended the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg and completed an honours degree – Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, majoring in television, film, writing and psychology.

It was during this time that I wrote a collection of illustrated poems entitled, Poems for Kiddies and Adults Like Me. I am constantly inspired by the ridiculous – Roald Dahl will always be a favourite as will Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Quentin Blake and Tim Burton.

After completing my degree, I freelanced as a writer for OutCulture – an online magazine at the time, and also worked as an editorial assistant for the Analytical Reporter. As soon as I’d saved enough pennies, I packed my bags for London, where I continued to write, in between playing PA to the CEO at United Business Media and running networking events throughout the UK.

I then chose to travel the world some more and explored parts of Asia and Australia – an experience that both challenged and intrigued…and inspired many a tale! I joined the Macadamia House team in 2012 and found myself living alongside my better half on a macadamia farm in Redland Bay. It was here where I immersed myself in the world of Nosh the Nutmobile and scribbled his adventures – all based on true stories inspired by farm life. Publishing three books has been a true highlight.

Writing is how I express myself. Incapable of taking myself too seriously, I prefer to dabble in the imaginary realms or chuckle at the ridiculous truths of life. I live out my days doing what I love best: creating, writing and walking a large basset hound who answers to the name of Duncan…yet never comes when he’s called!

Q We know many of the storylines for the Nosh Nutmobile books stem from real life events but where did the concept of this adventurous series originate from? Was it purely a need for you to write about your farm experiences or did it evolve organically as a collaborative effort?

Well as you may have guessed, the story revolves around the Nutmobile. Many people have fond memories of the Aussie icon from his old home – chugging round the Big Pineapple, amusing crowds.  When the Big Pineapple closed its doors, the Bromet Family – macadamia farmers and owners of Macadamia House – bought the Nutmobile and relocated him to Bauple in July 2011. Bauple, for those of you who don’t know, is the home of the original macadamia – what better place for a Nutmobile really!

It was only till their first grandson was born – Max – that the idea came about to write a book. The Bromet family wanted to give something to Max that he would always remember. I joined the team in 2012 and together with Glen, set to work creating farm inspired tales that would not only amuse but also promote healthy messages for kids growing up.

Em Fraser Coast Chronicle
Image attributed to Fraser Coast Chronicle

Living on a farm was also an entirely new experience for me, so yes, I guess creating the Nutmobile series was a great way for me to express and make sense of my new farm life!

Q Describe your writing passion. What do you enjoy most about writing for kids?

Well, I am quite simply an over-grown kid myself so it’s something that comes quite naturally to me! I seem to relate to the random silliness of kids and their imaginative minds where anything is possible. I enjoy playing in their world. On the flip side, I enjoy the challenge of writing for kids – crafting a colourfully complex tale, layered with meaning and disguising it in a simple 15 verse rhyming structure.

I also love the characters I am allowed to create. From a very young age, I collected soft toys – never dolls – just hundreds of hippos, elephants, cows and other bizarre animal creatures. Many of them have travelled the world with me and continue to do so! They fuelled my imaginative mind growing up and continue to do so at the crusty age of 30! I really struggle with human characters – nearly all my characters have a furry back or a fine fleece, which again steered me away from romantic novels and into the realm of the 32 pg picture book.

em_and_herdWriting the Nutmobile series was a good compromise between the real and the unreal and allowed me to grow as a writer. It challenged me to communicate true stories – often singed with serious issues such as devastating floods or bullying – and craft them into humorous rhymes starring eccentric emus and culinary roos;  into colourful tales which children could digest and draw meaning from.

Q Have you penned any other stories or poems for children, if so what are they? Would you like to continue?

I have indeed. As mentioned, while studying many years back, I created a collection of poems / stories in rhyme, entitled ‘Poems for Kiddies and Adults Like Me’. Having worked on the Nutmobile series for close on two years, I’m keen to take a little break from Nosh and co. and revisit some of my earlier writing.

Q As with all of the Nutmobile books, they are written in rhyming verse. Is this the style you feel most comfortable writing in? Why so?

It must be, because even when I’m sick to death of the rhyming riddles, they always find their way on to my page! Stressing different beats of a story, allows one to communicate subtle meanings in a story, those which without the rhythm may otherwise go undetected. I have written many, many Nutmobile tales to date and only one is written in a different style – different but not completely rhyme-free!

It may have something to do with my musical background. My mum is a music teacher, so growing up, I was subjected to a daily dose of tunes as several little darlings descended on our abode for their weekly lesson. I have been surrounded by music my whole life and share a great love for the art – I guess without knowing it, I have been writing my own melodies, scribbling them down in rhythm and rhyme.

All that being said, I am also keen to step out my comfort zone and challenge myself to explore other styles. I’ll keep you posted!

Santa's Magic Beard SpreadQ Santa’s Magic Beard is the third in the Nosh series. Will there be more? Do you have a favourite?

Having lived alongside Nosh and his furry crew for close on two years, I have been lucky enough to join them on all their adventures – of which there have been many…it would be most selfish of me not to share!  Out of the three adventures that have been published so far, Santa’s Magic Beard is my firm favourite. Being a big fan of Christmas festivities (me too!), I was delighted when Nosh stumbled upon the jolly man in red! ‘Barnabas the Bully Frog’ is another tale that tickles my fancy but let’s not give away too many secrets now!

Just for fun question: If you had an unlimited supply of macadamia nuts, what would you do with them?

It’s really tough but, as them macs are the hardest nut in the world to crack, I guess I’d makes myself some kind of superhero suit – call it my macca d’armour’ if you will, thereby making me invincible!

Excellent Em.

Santa’s Magic Beard is magic for 3- 6 year olds and fanatics of Christmas like me.

Little Steps Publishing – New Frontier Oct 2013

Look for it and more of the Nutmobile Series here.

Click here to get into the spirit of Christmas early. 20% Discount is on NOW!




Review – Carry A Big Stick by Tim Ferguson

9780733629358I am from the generation that laughed at and were shocked by Doug Anthony All Stars on the ABC television program, The Big Gig. They became such a part of the Australian landscape.

Jump forward to 2010 and I leapt at the chance to do a narrative comedy workshop with Tim Ferguson, the ‘tall, pretty one’ of the DAAS trio. He wasn’t what I expected. Perhaps I had foolishly been expecting him to be his DAAS persona in real life? The workshop was brilliant stuff. But it was obvious that something was physically up with Tim. It was later that year that the came out on national television, telling the world that he had Multiple Sclerosis. I thought “good on you, mate, take that bastard bull by the horns.”

Ferguson’s autobiography came out not long ago and I just grabbed myself a copy. It is great stuff. We get to see how the Tim Ferguson that we think we know, came to be. Then there’s the wonderful chance encounter that lead to DAAS. We get to see just how incredibly wild DAAS could really be. It is almost a case of ‘name a place and they’ve played there, metaphorically pissing on the audience.’

On some things, Ferguson doesn’t pull his punches. With others he treads much more carefully, with integrity.

Just as DAAS were a huge part of his life, so too has the continuing development of MS. He denies being brave, instead treating MS as an obstacle rather than something to be feared.

I read the entire book in one afternoon. It is that engaging. It was made all the more poignant for me by episodes of ‘oh I remember that’ or ‘wow, I didn’t know that.’

My original impression of Tim Ferguson after spending an intensive workshop with him was ‘this is a good bloke with a lot to share that’s worth listening to.’ This autobiography has merely reinforced that view.

With the ‘holiday season’ fast approaching, go and grab a copy to spend some quality time with Comrade Tim. Then aspiring comedy writers should head off an grab a copy of his The Cheeky Monkey as well.

Ross Hamilton is an author and occasional stand-up comedian, sometimes found hanging out at

Buy the book here…


Doodles and Drafts – A visit from Santa and Glen Singleton

Santa's Magic BeardIs there anybody else out there who, like me, thinks it can’t possibly be only 5 weeks until Christmas? Just 37 days left to sort the cards, deck the halls, knock back a cup or two of good cheer and squeeze in a few book signings, never mind about drafting a list for Santa.

Thankfully the crafty, creative critters at Macadamia House have been working harder than a workshop full of elves and come up with a sensational gift solution sure to lessen your pre-Christmas planning predicaments.

Santa’s Magic Beard hits the shelves this month and is a glorious celebration of the real magic and meaning of Christmas. Author, Em Horsfield and illustrator, Glen Singleton, successfully team up again for a third time in the Nutmobile series, delivering a veritable feast of words in rhyme and visual scintillation.

Santa’s Magic Beard is possibly my favourite book in the series to date. This could in part be due to my colossal obsession with all things Christmassy or simply because this tale is told with sincere warmth and respect for the season with just enough magic stirred in to make it fun and unique.

Santa's Magic Beard.jpg NoshIt’s Christmas Eve and all the characters of Macadamia farm work hard on their Christmas wish-lists before snuggling down to await the big man’s arrival. However, Nosh the Nutmobile’s wish is of a less tangible quality. He wants to know how the reindeer actually fly. Is it really just a case of magical elf dust sprinkled liberally on their pre-flight carrots as we’ve been led to believe?

Thanks to some typical seasonal over-indulgence on behalf of Rudolph and the team, Nosh not only receives his gift but is treated to the night of his life, with Santa. As with all things ‘magical, marvellous, woolly and weird’, the rest is best left for you to discover yourself.

Santa’s Magic Beard is as memorable as sinking your teeth into the first fruit mince pie of the season and will have you yearning for more, therefore making it a delight to read over and over. It is crammed full with the very essence of Christmas in a way many young lovers of Christmas will relate to (awakening on Christmas morning to a mountain of gifts for instance) yet happily reminds us of the old adage that giving is ultimately far better than receiving.

Primary aged children will soak up this cheery picture book either as a lead-up read to Christmas or as a special treat in their Christmas stockings this year.

And because it’s the season to be jolly and admittedly excess a little, this week we’re featuring not one but two interviews with the creators of Santa’s Magic Beard.

Glen SingletonToday, Glen Singleton, quiet achiever and talented artist behind the Nutmobile picture books reveals how he differs from Santa and likes drawing animals in clothes.

Q Who is Glen Singleton? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

I was born in Brisbane and have lived and worked here all of my life. After leaving High School I studied Illustration and Animation at QLD College of Art graduating with a Diploma Of Art (Visual Communications) in 1979 . Only making up my mind in the last few days of High School to enrol. Obviously I had always had a love for drawing and spent most of my spare time squirrelled away drawing intricate pen and ink line drawings with some old Rapidiograph pens my Dad gave me. I chose a complicated cross-hatched style for some reason to try to master. Very slow and labourious with every drawing like an etching. After leaving college I decided to take the big scary step to go to working freelance. Having no choice really as no one employed illustrators full time. So have been on that rollercoaster ride ever since. Sometimes stuck at the bottom of that big tower the rollercoaster climbs…creeping to the top…before it rushes down the other side again.

In that time back in the early 90’s I met the late (great) illustrator Greg Rogers through illustration work I was commissioned to do for a Government department he worked for. We often talked of the idea of illustrating childrens books. Greg heard of a weekend workshop Scholastic were putting on and we both went off to attend and learn about the joys and love you need to illustrate them. I don’t recall a lot of what they said at the time. But there were a few words that have stuck with me over the years. They said you will probably need to draw them ‘for the love of it’. How right they were . If only we were paid for the time we really put into each book. It certainly takes a lot of love!

But cant think of anything better than sitting at my drawing board working on illustrations for a book (preferably on a bleak rainy day) listening to music in my own little world.

What sets me apart..? I don’t know. I’ve probably made a name for myself drawing mostly typical Australian stuff. A lot of it based on animals. Hopefully not too stereotyped . Suppose you have to follow the text that’s given to you really. One book leads to another sometimes . Most of the animals I draw are wearing clothes too. Don’t they all..? A throw back to growing up having Beatrix Potter’s -The Tales of Peter Rabbit read to me possibly and sticking somewhere in the back of my mind. But funnily I always thought I would love to have a crack at illustrating something like The Wind In The Willows all things British and would love to live and work there. That….may never happen. I might have to be happy with just having been there a few times for holidays. But have written some stories of my own that are aimed at the market in that part of the world. Illustrating them is something else. I’ll let you know if it ever happens!

Q When did the desire to draw and create manifest itself in you?

I can remember drawing way back to when I was little. My parents always encouraged me to draw. At school I recall having more drawings in the back half of my Maths pad…than Maths in the front. I still passed Maths…just. But hopefully the drawings in the back paid off in some way. Being paid to doodle now.

Glen S illo 3Q Santa’s favourite colour is red. What’s yours and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

Yes ..Santa likes his red. I like cyan blue myself. And violet. But don’t tell anyone. I do use both of those colours here and there in all of my illustrations .Squeezing them out of little bottles of acrylic colour and onto my watercolour paper. Get as many of those clashing cartoony colours on the paper as I can.

Q Describe how you develop your illustrations?

Glen S at workThe illustrations for children’s picture books start as you would expect. Reading the manuscript. That’s usually in an email from the publishers . Like most people I see little flashes or pictures of what’s happening in the story as I read it..jotting down little scribbles on the side of the sheet as I go.

Then it’s to a storyboard layout for the whole book from cover to cover so everyone can see at a glance what’s happening through the whole book in a few A4 pages . After approval from the editors it’s on to the final larger pencil roughs where all the details are pencilled in. That’s ALL of the details. Probably a little too tight for some illustrators who like to be a little more spontaneous. But this way…they see all of the expressions and details so they know what they are getting before it all goes to ink and colour where it’s way harder to change if they don’t like something.

Glen at work 3Q What is your favourite medium to work in? Pen, ink and watercolour has always been my preferred medium. Nothing digital at this stage…apart from a little PhotoShop in other commercial illustrations .

Q You are an artist of prolific variation Glen. Where has your work appeared?

Since the early 1990’s I’ve put out illustrations for books ranging from black line illustrations for joke books to full colour picture books and commercial illustrations as well.

The Golden Kangaroo– Illustrated books- FATHER KOALA’S NUSRERY RHYMES- Kel Richards—- FATHER KOALA’S FAIRY TALES- Kel Richards—FATHER KOALA’S FABLES- Kel Richards—THE GOLDEN KANGAROO- Garrison Valentine/ John Williamson—JOHN WILLIAMSON’S CHRISTMAS IN AUSTRALIA- John Williamson AND KANGAROO PLAYED HIS DIDGERIDOO- Nigel Gray CINDY ELLA- Tom Champion THE LAMINGTON MAN- Kel Richards SANTA KOALA- Colin Buchanan THE TWELVE DAYS OF AUSSIE CHRISTMAS- Colin Buchanan ALL ABOARD THE NUTMOBILE- Em HorsfieldMacadamia House THE HARVEST RACE- Em Horsfield –Macadamia House SANTA’S MAGIC BEARD- Em Horsfield– Macadamia House

– Art shows / exhibitions—Not as yet. Might get around to it someday….perhaps! If someone wants to pay for all the framing!

– Other media—I’ve produced illustrations over the years for advertising agencies and art studios and direct with clients . But styles and fashions change as things do , so mainly childrens books now these days.

Q You seem to have an affinity for Christmas themed picture books. What other children’s books have you illustrated? Do you have a favourite?

It’s probably not that I have an affinity with Christmas books. I just seem to have been asked to do a lot of them. Hopefully it’s because they’ve sold enough to lead on to another…and another. Infact I’m working on one right now ..for Christmas next year… 2014. Nothing like getting in early for Christmas. And have SANTA’S MAGIC BEARD –Macadamia House out this Christmas.

Lamington ManBut my favourite book is probably THE LAMINGTON MAN-Kel Richards and/or CINDY ELLA- Tom Champion.

Q Some might say, competency improves output? How long, on average does it take you to complete illustrations for a picture book?

Most of the colour picture books take anywhere from 8 weeks (at a real push) to about 3 months from first reading the text to couriering off the artwork. There is a LOT of work in every one.

Q What was the hardest thing about illustrating the Nosh Nutmobile Series? What was the most enjoyable?

The Nutmobile series for Macadamia House . Three books illustrated in total to date. There was nothing exceptionally hard about drawing the books for the team. It’s been pretty enjoyable really. When they came to sit at the drawing board to talk over the possibility of drawing the books for them, there were plenty of visual images that popped out of the text at first glance. So always a good sign or indicator of how illustrating a book may go.

Q Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your illustrating career thus far.

Twelve Days of Aussie ChristmasProbably the day the editor I was working with at Scholastic in Sydney phoned me to say the artwork for my ‘Twelve Days of Aussie Christmas’ children’s picture book had been delivered by the courier to their office……(then there was a long pause)…then there was a …BUT … The artwork was damaged she said. It was bent and had holes in it . It was either driven over by a forklift or jammed in the hydraulic cargo door of the plane (that’s my theory anyway)..on its way down to Sydney and had creases across all of the illustrations and a hole punched through about a half of the illustrations. Three months work with creases and holes!

Thankfully as bad as it was, the artwork was salvageable…I had seen myself having to re-draw things…But I didn’t have re-draw anything. With some skilful handy work from the graphic designer (and PhotoShop) the book went to print without anyone knowing of any of the drama.

Q What is on the storyboard for Glen?

Another Christmas book for next Christmas 2014 that I’m working on…. A Dinosaur book already illustrated and another Nutmobile book ready to start.

Just for fun question: If you had an unlimited supply of macadamia nuts, what would you do with them?

I’d have no use for them other than a handful now and then. So I’d send them by the truckload to Macadamia House for them to sell to fund the next dozen books in their series they have planned for me to illustrate. You can only eat so many nuts……..(unlike reindeers apparently!)

Thankyou Glen!

Keep your reindeer antenna tuned in for the next visitor to the Draft table – Em Horsfield.

Find out more about any of the books mentioned in this post or purchase a copy here.

Little Steps Publishing November 2013


Robert Harris is the master of the historical thriller.

9780091944568Review – An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Robert Harris is the master of the historical thriller. Whether it is a well-known parts of history like the destruction of Pompeii or Cicero in Ancient Rome or even an alternate re-imagining like Hitler’s 70th birthday celebrations Robert Harris always manages to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Part of his brilliance is his ability to distill historical events into the form of a modern-day thriller. Imperium read like a legal thriller while the follow-up Lustrum was an intense political thriller. An Officer and a Spy borrows on both these structures as well as incorporating the cat and mouse games of the spy thriller as Harris takes on The Dreyfus Affair.

I must admit my ignorance to having no knowledge of The Dreyfus Affair before reading the book so I did get to enjoy this historical retelling blind, so to speak. However this is the author who made Pompeii thrilling even though we all know how that story ends.

What I loved the best about this book is how Harris tells the story. The book is narrated by Major (soon to be Colonel) Georges Picquart. We pick up the story at Captain Alfred Dreyfus’s military degradation (his official denouncement as a traitor and parade in front of his fellow soldiers). Picquart has been monitoring Dreyfus’s closed trial and reporting back to the Minister for War. For this work he is rewarded with promotion and takes charge of France’s intelligence bureau.

It is here however that he uncovers that not all was as it appeared with the Dreyfus case. When Picquart uncovers another possible spy in the French Army his investigation leads him to conclude that Dreyfus may have been innocent. Despite warnings to drop the case Picquart is determined to uncover the truth but with those involved in positions of power and influence Picquart is soon facing the same fate of Dreyfus.

History can often be dry and difficult to relate to in the modern world. Robert Harris is able not only to bring to life the events of over a century ago but also the tension, intrigue and misplaced loyalties that made The Dreyfus Affair one of history’s most notorious cases.

Buy the book here…

Night Games

Night GamesForewarning: This blog examines some adult themes.

When I heard Anna Krien was turning her hand to writing a book about the recent AFL sexual assault scandals, I was euphoric. Not because the subject matter is anything to celebrate, but because I knew Krien would do a masterful job. Her previous (and award-winning) book Into the Woods, which explores at the Tasmanian logging debate, remains one of my favourite and touchstone books.

I want to write like Krien when I grow up.

Night Games has just been shortlisted for The Walkley Book award (alongside James Button’s Speechless: A year in my father’s business and Pamela WilliamsKilling Fairfax), and deservedly so. It’s a fine-tooth examination of an issue difficult to grasp and too long overlooked.

I get the sense Night Games was difficult to write, both because the ‘truth’ of sexual assault matters is subjective and nigh on impossible to pin down, and because the foundational ethics, morals, and cultural norms involved are intangible and ever shifting.

While the book touches on a few sex scandals—yep, it’s depressing in and of itself that there is more than one to examine—its focus is on a lesser-known one. ‘Justin was a small fish in big trouble,’ Krien writes. ‘He knew no one. He was twenty-two years old, had recently broken up with his girlfriend of four years and was living out of home for the first time.’

Justin had driven down from Queensland with a mate, hoping to get noticed in the AFL world. Of course, he was hoping to be noticed for his on-field prowess, not an off-field disgrace. Justin was on trial for allegedly assaulting a girl, whom Krien names Sarah, in an alley outside a Collingwood player’s house.

Let’s back up a bit.

Sarah was acquainted with one of the Collingwood players. She went to meet up with him and ended up at a house along with other players, including Justin. Something happened in the bedroom and something later happened in the alley outside. It’s unclear what occurred in either instance, but only one of the incidents was prosecuted: the one in the alley, which involved just Justin.

The initial claims Sarah made against the Collingwood players—plural—assaulting her in the bedroom of the house were eventually dropped. It’s one of the greatest outrages of the book and the turmoil as a whole.

Collingwood is the richest club in town and it closed ranks around its players, sending in a QC to mop up. Which left Justin, a non-Collingwood player and seemingly not the main instigator of whatever transpired that night, outside, fronting court and footing the enormous personal and financial cost.

Most media dropped the story when it was clear the Collingwood players had been extracted from the mess, but Krien pursued the ‘non-story’. Narrative is a huge theme in Night Games, and it works well. This alternative narrative, explored by a writer who doesn’t consider herself a sports writer, allows Krien the space and objectivity to examine some taboos and some cultural shadiness we’d rather not acknowledge.

‘What connection have you got to footy?’ Krien is asked. She’s a woman and a woman without a footballing background. Presumably she’s not qualified to write about this. But this story isn’t about sport, and either way, she’s not trying to carve a career as a sports writer, so she doesn’t need to worry about ruffling feathers and bruising egos.

The justice system strips victims of their stories too. Krien points to a Slate article about one victim who defied a gag order and took to social media to tell it: ‘the criminal justice process can also rob the victim of control over her own narrative. Reporting to official channels often means keeping quiet in social ones.’

The elephant in the room of Sarah and Justin’s court case is that they are not allowed to discuss the story of what went on in the Collingwood player’s bedroom, even though it’s more crucial and insidious than—and without doubt influenced—what went on outside. What really happened in that room is something we’ll never know, something that near drove me mad. Choosing to have sex versus feeling compelled to because others have entered the room, for example, is difficult to explain much less prosecute.

And while we never uncover—or at least face—that aspect, we find out some other, rather unwelcome facts. Most galling, I think, was the realisation that group sex isn’t about the girl being considered attractive. Rather, it’s about the team. The girl is just an object serving a purpose. Krien writes: ‘A footballer does not look at another human when he f&cks a groupie. He’s looking at his glorified reflection—and when he performs, he’s doing it for “the boys”, not her.’

There are also the double standards. One example Krien cites is of Brisbane Broncos players accused of sexual assault in a nightclub. One player filmed it and phoned another player, saying ‘Guess what’s happening inside here?’ The Daily Telegraph’s focus, however, was how one of the players ‘lost his girlfriend Emma Harding’ over the incident, complete with a links to a photo gallery of images of Harding looking attractive.

Another example is that Wayne Carey’s downfall wasn’t the various and well-known indiscretions he had, but the final-straw one, when he transgressed by sleeping with a teammate’s wife in a toilet at a party.

First hearing about Night Games, I thought it would be about Kimberley Duthie, dubbed the St Kilda Schoolgirl. And I kind of wish it were. Krien does briefly mention Duthie in Night Games, and she provides some savvy insight. Duthie, Krien writes, ‘wanted more than to be [the St Kilda players’] sexual plaything. Duthie wanted to be one of them. When she was cut off from the team, this highly competitive teenager had her first inkling of the limitations of her sex—and so she broke the rule that bonds all football players. What happens on the footy trip stays on the footy trip.’

Into The WoodsI often wondered—still wonder—where Duthie’s parents were. That they left her to front the media alone returning from a holiday on the Gold Coast still makes me irrationally perplexed and angry. And how complicit were the journalists in helping or harming Duthie? Did they fail in their duty of care? ‘Journalists just couldn’t help it,’ Krien writes. ‘They were addicted to her, and she to them.’ But that’s another blog’s—if not an entire book’s—worth altogether. One I hope Krien will eventually tackle.

Frustratingly, we never hear Sarah’s story. And, like Krien, I was shocked I wasn’t more on Sarah’s side. This was at least in part because Sarah chose never to speak to Krien (you don’t even hear her evidence, because she gave it via electronic hook-up to a closed courtroom), but also because I kept thinking she’d made some foolish mistakes.

That’s doing women a disservice, though, and playing into the men-aren’t-at-fault thinking that’s so fuelled such behaviour as is catalogued in Night Games. Krien recalls the words of Australian sociologist Lois Bryson, who wrote that feminists who ignore sport do so at their own peril.

There is no absolute truth with this tale, but that’s what I desperately wanted. In fact, there are many intangible aspects of this tale I keep turning over and over in my mind. Other friends who’ve read the book have sought me out to discuss it. That’s due to the combination of the explosive and fraught topic and the nuanced, outsider-looking-in perspective Krien has brought to it.

Krien comes up with this summary with which I agree: ‘Justin’s offering to see Sarah home was opportunistic. There was something rotten, something off, and perhaps something naïve too, about his persistence. Of that much I can be certain. But the rest is murky. Treating women like sh&t shades into a culture of abuse, which in turn can shade into rape.’

In recent months, we’ve seen AFL players setting dwarves alight and tipping a man out of his wheelchair, stealing his taxi, and throwing a kebab at him. Methinks there’s more to come from this AFL examination, and I hope it comes from Krien.

The Book and TV Show are equally brilliant

9780143123170 9780143036425Book Review – The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

TV Review – Longmire

I was given the first season of Longmire to watch earlier this year by a friend who I am always swapping crime books with. We are more often that not on the same page when it comes to crime fiction (he gave me The Power of the Dog for my birthday 8 years ago). Having just finished season 4 of Justified I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another western-esque crime show but was prepared to give it a go.

It took me a few episodes to get into the show. It was a crime-of-the-week structure which I’d long ago moved away from when it comes to television (once you’ve Wire-ed you can’t go back). However without realizing it the show and its characters had reeled me in.

Set in Wyoming the show follows Sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Aussie actor Robert Taylor). Longmire runs a small police force consisting of three deputies, one of whom is going to run against him at the next election. Walt deals with small and large crimes and the small town politics is made more complex by the nearby Indian Reservation whom he has no jurisdiction but a lot of dealings with.

By the end of the first season I was addicted to the show and am now well into the second season. Each episode is really well plotted and the interactions between the characters is what makes the show. Branch the ambitious young deputy is equally frustrating yet charming and you understand where he is coming from. Longmire is perfectly understated and Vic (played by BSG’s Katee Sackoff) steals the whole show.

So like any true bookworm (and because of constant urging by my friend who lent me the series in the first place) I decided to check out the books. And of course, the first book anyway, is equally brilliant. Of course there are differences between the TV show and the book but the they are both so well written that you don’t mind (Vic is tall and blonde in the TV series, in the book she is short and dark-haired but their personalities are bang on). Longmire is less understated in the book mainly because the book allows us to see him in his off guarded moments and get inside his head. On the outside he is still understated but there’s a lot more going on inside. And he is a lot funnier (as we all are in our heads).

What makes the book though is the relationship between Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear (played by Lou Diamond Phillips in the TV series). In the book we get to know much more about Henry than in the TV series where he hasn’t quite been fully realized yet. And whereas the relationship between Vic and Longmire steals the TV show, the relationship between Henry and Longmire is the heart and soul of the book.

Also interestingly the first book in the series is the one of the later episodes in Season One. This made it a lot easier to love both the TV show and the book because both mediums introduce and develop the characters differently. Plus the mystery is slightly changed so one doesn’t spoil the other!

I can’t wait to get stuck into the other books especially as season two is almost done and there won’t be anymore episodes for a year. I highly recommend the TV series if you can track it down (it screened on GEM, is available on iTunes and has just been released on DVD) and the books are just as good if not better!

Buy the book here…

Thank You For Your Service

Thank You For Your ServiceThere are few books’ releases I’ve so urgently anticipated as David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service, so I am eternally grateful to Scribe for recently sending me a review copy. And I knew Finkel had penned another Pulitzer award-worthy masterpiece right from the first paragraph:

You could see it in his nervous eyes. You could see it in his shaking hands. You could see it in the three prescription bottles in his room: one to steady his galloping heart rate, one to reduce his anxiety, one to minimize his nightmares. You could see it in the screensaver on his laptop—a nuclear fireball and the words F*CK IRAQ—and in the private journal he had been keeping since he arrived.

After some diary entries, it continues:

So he was finished. Down to his final hours, he was packed, weaponless, under escort, and waiting for the helicopter that would take him away to a wife who had just told him on the phone: ‘I’m scared of what you might do.’ ‘You know I’d never hurt you,’ he’d said, and he’d hung up, wandered around the FOB, gotten a haircut, and come back to his room, where he now said, ‘But what if she’s right? What if I snap someday?’

‘Snapping’ is what each of the former soldiers Finkel follows in Thank You For Your Service have done, each in their own way. Stressed beyond imaginable or reasonable capacity, they’ve returned from Iraq with enduring injuries and scars, many of which aren’t immediately visible.

We first met these soldiers during their deployment in Iraq, with Finkel charting their experiences with an incisiveness that cemented The Good Soldiers as one of the books I regularly recommend (I blogged about it at the time). Now, these soldiers have returned home.

Finkel tells us studies estimate between 20 and 30 per cent of solders return with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental-health disorder onset by terror or traumatic brain injury (TBI), with TBI being ‘the signature wound of the war’. TBIs occur when a brain is rattled so violently in its skull, by the likes of explosions caused by roadside bombs. Their symptoms include personality changes, memory problems, depression, anxiety, nightmares, and suicidal thoughts. Brain injuries are the kinds of injuries from which you don’t exactly ever recover.

‘Every war has its after-war’, Finkel writes. America is entering that after-war now, with an epidemic of PTSD- and TBI-troubled soldiers unable to function in civilian life. The dysfunction is also spreading throughout their subsequently struggling families and communities. We’re talking some 500,000 mentally wounded former soldiers across service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Were it plotted on a map and all the dots illuminated at once to give some sense of the scale, Finkel writes, ‘the sight would be of a country glowing from coast to coast’.

Another way to comprehend, he says, is to imagine each person one at a time. And so he conveys intimate, no-holds-barred, wrenching portrayals of some former soldiers and their partners struggling with the wicked problem of this after-war.

The Good SoldiersOne of the greatest issues is that these former soldiers aren’t visibly injured. They feel stigmatised and weak for suffering from PTSD and at times envy those who’ve lost limbs or worse. But Finkel comprehensively shows they are as much—if not more—damaged than those with battle wounds to show.

The cocktail of drugs listed for some soldiers caused me to suck air audibly through my teeth. I wondered: How can anyone feasibly be taking such a mix and still be alive? Perhaps that’s the point: they’re not alive, at least not in the sense of anything beyond respiration and a consistent heartbeat.

Finkel does an outstanding job of portraying the struggles of the wives and girlfriends—those whose partners didn’t come home from the war as well as those whose did, but who weren’t (who couldn’t possibly be) the same men. He empathically shows the minutiae of their existence, the desire to love and support their damaged partners but the need to pay bills, look after children, and find work that at times crowd out sympathy.

These soldiers see roadside bombs everywhere. One can still taste the blood of the injured soldier he carried down three flights of stairs on his back, whose blood dripped down his head and into his mouth. The same soldier falls asleep when he’s supposed to be giving his exhausted wife a break and drops his newborn son. Another soldier’s TBI-induced thinking is so muddled he can’t work out how to buy apology flowers for his girlfriend. There’s also the guilt. ‘None of this sh*t would have happened if you were there,’ one soldier tells another, whose shift switch saw another go in his place who subsequently died.

The book’s title comes from the empty words oft spoken to former soldiers in awkward moments. Of which there are many. We know no one wins at war; that it begets only more badness and violence. But Finkel’s storytelling conveys that in a manner that’s at once evocative and relatable. And in a magnificent range that charts PTSD-induced rage to relentless to crippling bureaucracy—soldiers have to get enormous numbers of box-ticking signatures to get anywhere when what they really need is expedited help—to weariness. Senior army officials now have a monthly conference call to try to work out how to stem the epidemic of suicides. The answer, they and we seem to know, is we probably can’t.

Thank You For Your Service is also occasionally macabrely funny. One counsellor runs through the rules of the cognitive behavioural therapy session, which include that everyone needs to listen, one person only can speak at a time. He adds an implored addendum: ‘Also, don’t fart.’

A soldier who still has the bullet-punctured helmet he was wearing when he was shot in the head now uses it for a Halloween candy bowl. Another, so crippled by his physical injuries he could only reach—and try to bite through—his wrists when he was feeling suicidal, offers awkward moment-disarming advice: ‘Don’t ever try to bite your wrist. That sh*t hurts.’

Which is to say that although Thank You For Your Service is stomach-twistingly difficult to read, in many ways it’s not. It’s exquisitely rendered and a compelling examination of the war fallout the world is going to have to face. What I want to know is what Finkel will follow up this follow-up book with? And more importantly, how soon will we be able to get our hands on it?

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here

9780224097482Review – Solo by William Boyd

I have never read an Ian Fleming James Bond novel. I am a fan of the films but never felt the need to read the original books. I did read Sebastian Faulks’s James Bond novel Devil May Care but only because it was Sebastian Faulks and I employed the same reasoning with William Boyd’s James Bond novel.

I am a huge William Boyd fan and he is perfectly suited to write a classic Bond novel. Set in the late 60s this is James Bond minus the gadgets. Boyd has set his Bond firmly in Fleming’s universe using an obituary of James Bond from You Only Live Twice as his template. But he has also brought his own skill and knowledge to bare on this classic character.

William Boyd is not unfamiliar with Ian Fleming using his as a background character in Any Human Heart. He is also no stranger to the nuances and minutiae of the spy genre. Boyd is also very familiar with Africa and brings all that to bare with his James Bond story. His Bond is also a little older than we are used to and is very much in the Sean Connery mold (although Boyd has said he’d like Daniel Day-Lewis to play his Bond).

All the elements that make James Bond a classic are here; the bravado, the suaveness, the women and the villains. Boyd has fun playing within and outside the conventions we all know so well while also bring a freshness to the story and the characters. If you’re an Ian Fleming Bond fan I imagine you are in for a treat. If you’re a William Boyd fan don’t turn your nose up at a Bond novel, you will love this too.

An added bonus is the audio of Solo is read by Dominic West aka McNulty from The Wire. William Boyd + James Bond + Dominic West = Perfect!

Buy the book here…

Buy the audio book here…

Doodles and Drafts – A not-so-BLAH Blog Tour with Karen Tyrrell

In the time I spent crewing at sea, I endured several disabling bouts of seasickness. Once established, it’s a difficult malaise to throw off. The one thing that helped (besides boxes of seasick tablets) was knowing that others were suffering as well, often far worse than I. Have you ever encountered that? Symptoms (of nausea) miraculously evaporate in the presence of one who is experiencing worse than you. It’s empowering in a uniquely weird human kind of way.

Bailey Beats the BlahA similar change of physical and mental state occurs in the young protagonist in Karen Tyrrell’s debut picture book, Bailey Beats the BLAH.

Tyrrell noted for her work on speaking up and out for mental health awareness, is keen to tackle the issues surrounding the mental well-being of our young people. Depression and its associated ills can plague children as young as six, undermining their self-esteem, confidence and emotional security.

Karen TyrrellNobody readily embraces the discord change and upheaval produces and being friendless at school can be a catalyst for such dread. Bailey experiences not only this but a myriad of other anxieties and fears accumulating in a colossal feeling of BLAH.

‘Sad days’ become his norm. Self-dislike, apathy, paranoia and discontent appear his closest companions, even after Fuzzy, his dog, tries to intervene. We eventually learn that all Bailey really wants is a friend, someone to share his solitude and banish his despair. Turns out, the new kid, Tom, is more prone to ‘seasickness’ so to speak, than Bailey. Forgetting his own discomforts or perhaps recognising the need to help Tom overcome his, Bailey allows Tom into his world. Together they find a common link and forge a salving friendship.

‘Dramatically speaking, intent is everything’* and Tyrrell’s unabashed use of force-filled verbs leaves no doubt as to the degree of sadness weighing so heavily on Bailey. The leaden seriousness of Bailey’s situation is thankfully beautifully balanced by the cartoonisque illustrations of Aaron Pocock.

Aaron Pocock at work
Aaron Pocock at work

His upbeat portrayal of Bailey has busloads of eye-popping kiddie appeal while the use of bright colours and thoughtful visual detail allows us to feel all of Bailey’s glumness and pain without being overwhelmed by it.

Bailey Beats the BLAH’s no frills approach and design ensures there is no ambiguity in its message to young readers and carers: that we can all suffer bad, sad days no matter whom or how old we are, but we need never suffer alone.

Perfect for 4 – 8 year olds, this picture book will be useful as a discussion tool in counselling and early education situations.

Digital Future Press October 2013

*The Art of Racing in the Rain-Garth Stein

Bailey Beats the Blah launch Oct 2013Embracing the cause to share important life messages through the medium of picture books, I was honoured to officially launch Bailey Beats the BLAH with Karen Tyrrell and a colourful cast of characters at the Black Cat Book Shop recently and managed to pull her aside to answer a few quick questions. Here’s what she had to say…

Q Karen, this is your first picture book. What prompted you to focus on the mental well-being of children as its topic?

When I was a teacher, parents at my school harassed me until breaking point. Luckily I recovered, becoming a mental health advocate, passionate about teaching resilience skills. After the success of my breakthrough memoirs, ME & HER: A Memoir of Madness and ME & HIM: A Guide to Recovery I wanted to create a picture book to empower kids with bounce-back-ability.

Q You’ve worked for many years as an educator of children. Is Bailey’s character, based on anyone you know personally or from you own experiences as a child?

I’ve taught many kids like Bailey. Sad, stressed-out or withdrawn kids are becoming far too common in our over-stressful and pressurized world.

Q Is Bailey a character you see tackling other kid issues in future picture book stories? What’s next for Bailey?

I’m developing MORE picture books to empower children to live happier, healthier and more functional lives.

Q What’s on the draft table for Karen Tyrell? More self-help, another picture book?

I’m working on two mental health books: A chapter book for mid-graders plus a fiction novel for teenagers. Both books encourage young people to deal with their mental health issues they encounter at home and at school.

Q If you could pass on one golden piece of advice to kids like Bailey who are suffering BLAH days, what would it be?

Don’t suffer alone. Reach out to others: your friends, your family, your teacher to help you overcome those BLAH days.

Kids, you hold within yourselves all the POWER you need to stamp out the BLAH.

Q What’s one thing on your non-writing wish list you’d like to tick off?

My dream is to return to school as an author-teacher, to share Bailey Beats the BLAH, helping children and their families to turn their BLAH into ha-ha-ha!

Thanks Karen for sharing your dreams and passion with Boomerang.

Why not join Karen as she bops around the cyberphere on tour with Bailey. Scroll down for a chance to win a great prize or two. Simply leave a comment and you are in the draw to win!

Bailey Blog Tour & Book Giveaway

3rd Nov

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Bailey Beats the Blah Book Giveaway

WIN: Copies of Bailey Beats the Blah, a signed Bailey artwork by illustrator Aaron Pocock and a picture book assessment with chief editor at Book Cover Café.

Leave a comment on any of the 16 hops on the Bailey Beats the Blah tour Nov 3rd -18th. The more comments you leave the MORE chances to WIN.

WINNERS announced on Nov 20th at www.








Player Profile: Jessica Owers, author of Shannon

Celebrity_photographers_sydney_glamour_nudes_art_photography_SeductiveJessica Owers, author of Shannon

Tell us about your latest creation:

‘Shannon’, for release by Random House (Ebury Press) on 1 November 2013.

Wartime Sydney, a small and weedy racehorse was kicking his way through the top tier of Australian racing. He was Shannon, one of the fastest horses the nation had ever seen. Between 1943 and 1947, Shannon broke record after record with his garrulous jockey Darby Munro. When they sensationally lost the Epsom Handicap by six inches, they forever were stamped by the race
they should have won.

Sold in August 1947 for the highest price ever paid at auction for an Australian thoroughbred, Shannon ended up in America. Through headline-snatching pedigree flaws, acclimatization and countless hardships, he blitzed across the ritzy, glitzy racetracks of 1948 California. Smashing track records, world records, records set by Seabiscuit, the Australian bolted into world fame with speed and courage that defied all odds.

Long before Black Caviar, or So You Think and Takeover Target, Shannon was Australia’s first international racehorse. Starring Hall of Fame trainers and jockeys, Hollywood lawyers and legends Bernborough and Citation, this is his tremendous story.

9781742750248Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Home is Sydney, its Eastern Suburbs to be exact. I am a very loyal Sydneysider.

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

As a child, I first wanted to be an author above anything else. When I was about six or seven, I called it a ‘book writer’. I had no idea my radar was so spot on
back then.

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

My newest book, ‘Shannon’, is my greatest work. It is my second book, and I have come a long way down the road of narrative nonfiction. I have learned my craft and I’d like to think I’ve learned it well. I am immensely proud of ‘Shannon’.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?: I write in a little enclave office in my townhouse.

My desk is a huge, beautiful, leather-topped thing, and unless I am in the middle of a chapter or article, it is very neat. Behind me is a floor to ceiling built-in cabinet of racing books. It has become a lovely writing space.

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

I read racing almost all the time… biographies by other racing authors from around the world, historical racing books, anything that makes me more educated about my genre. But I also love these books, so it’s not a chore for me to read them. Outside of that, I love to read about the craft of writing, and I go
back to a few select works of fiction too – ‘We Of The Never Never’ in particular.

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

‘Playing Beattie Bow’ is one of the earliest novels that left an impression on my
childhood, and then as a teenager I was impressed with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, which was on the high-school curriculum.

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

Mrs Aeneas Gunn (née Jeannie Gunn), the central character in ‘We Of The Never Never’. Though largely biographical, Mrs Gunn spins an extraordinary adventure in 1901 Northern Territory. I wouldn’t mind having memories like hers. Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?: I love to hit the open road. It’s one of my great, great passions.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I can’t resist a good vegetable lasagne (I know, so boring), and I am addicted to Coca-Cola (which gets much worse in the middle of a manuscript).

Who is your hero? Why?:

I might not call him ‘my hero’, but Stephen King has been an enormous writing hero for me. His discipline, his attitude to writing well and his resultant success have been tremendous guidelines for my own career. He has been a standout (absentee) mentor.

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

Without a doubt… the digital age. My children will grow up in it. They will read on tablets and phone screens in abbreviated text sentences, and less and less they will learn grammar and proper sentence structure, the ability to write well. And I expect there will be a day when they won’t ever need to pick up a hardcopy book, so where will that leave us authors?

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Player Profile: Judy Nunn, author of Elainne

2012-Judy-Nunn-Photograph-300x300Judy Nunn, author of Elainne

Tell us about your latest creation:

My latest novel is titled ELIANNE and is to be published on November 1st by Random House. Elianne is the name of my fictional sugar plantation/mill/estate in the southern cane fields of Queensland.  The main story is set in the 1960’s and follows the lives of the Durham family, with flashbacks to the nineteenth century when the mill was first established.

9781742758381Where are you from / where do you call home?:

My childhood hometown was Perth – a place and a state of which I am very fond, but the majority of my adult life has been spent in the eastern states, predominantly Sydney. When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?: At the age of ten I wanted to become an actor and an author.  I’ve become both and love being both.  Aren’t I lucky!

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

Each book I write is my best book.  Writing is learning experience and I like to think I get better with each one.

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

My office is a glorious mixture of order and chaos. I know exactly where everything is, although other people would have no idea.

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

Every book I’ve been dying to read during the 18 months I’ve been committed to my own work. I don’t read other people’s fiction while I write my own – research books only. It’s such a treat putting my head in someone else’s world.

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

R.M. Ballantyne’s ‘The Coral Island’, which I read at eight years of age and which still sits on my book shelf. I can see it from here.  ‘The Coral Island’ inspired me to write my first novel at 9 years of age.

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

Edith Campbell-Berry in Frank Moorhouse’s trilogy because she’s so bold, so ahead of her time and so outrageously female, and amazingly created by a man. Well done Frank.  I seriously love Edith.

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

I indulge myself.  Eating, drinking, stimulating conversation!  Travelling, seeing things, observing, learning something new every day!  Life’s too short and I don’t want to waste a minute of it.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A real Vindaloo curry, no holds barred piping hot, a delicate dish of scampi, grilled no fancy stuff added, sashimi, oysters – Sydney rocks, freshly shucked – and a good eye fillet steak cooked rare.  All of the above accompanied by either a good ‘wooded’ Chardonnay or full-bodied Shiraz, preferably Australian.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I’m not mad about the word ‘hero’.  Heroes have a habit of developing feet of clay.  I have admired many people over the years and many people have influenced my life.  I couldn’t possibly single one out.

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

The management of electronic literature, but everything will work out all right because people will always want books, in whichever form they choose to read them.

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