Player Profile: Joy Dettman, author of The Tying of Threads

881974-joy-dettmanJoy Dettman, author of The Tying of Threads

Tell us about your latest creation:

My latest creation is the end result of a six year commitment to the Woody Creek series, 160,000 words to add to the 800,000 plus of the previous five. Readers who have followed Jenny from her birth in 1923, will, in The Tying of Threads, celebrate with her as she approaches the new millennium – then bid her a fond farewell – as have I.

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

I was born in Echuca, in country Victoria. My childhood was spent in small towns on either side of the Murray River. I married in Echuca then moved to Melbourne where I remain.

9781742613864When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

As an eight year old, when all things are possible, I decided that when I grew up I was going to write books about Australia. It took a while but I got there in the end.

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

That is asking a mother to choose her favorite child. Mallawindy’s labor was ten years long and I remember every year of it, but  Henry’s Daughter made me laugh when I didn’t feel like laughing and One Sunday was my faithful companion through the dead of many dark nights. I’d choose them.

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

Back in 1990, my first big bulky old computer and desk found a home in a spare bedroom, with the excess chairs, filing cabinet, elderly bookshelves and sundry. Spare rooms too soon become store rooms. Some years ago, mine made the transition to junk room. The junk forced me out to work in the family room, on a laptop, where my husband reads newspaper items of interest aloud and the television flashes its commercials. Chaotic? Oh, yes – but out of chaos comes creation.

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

My most recent read was Gone Girl. I enjoyed it. I will read any genre, if the characters are strong enough to make me care if they live or die. Many books I begin don’t make me care and these days I don’t have the time to waste on them. As ever, if I am in need of a good read, I’ll reach for one of my old faithful friends who never disappoint.

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

Man Shy, by Frank Dalby Davison, stumbled on in my primary school’s small library. I was eight years old. Until opening that book and finding Australia between its covers, I’d believe that authors only lived in England and America. Twenty-odd years ago I stumbled again on that book, at a garage sale, where I snatched it, and paid over my twenty cents so I might add it to my top book shelf where only the most prized of my odd collection live.

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

Superman – though my husband may suggest Frankenstein.

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

I play canasta with my grandchildren. Having managed to addict three of my seven early to the game, they keep coming back for more. I sew during the cricket and tennis season when the television plays nonstop, and have been known to play around with oil paints and canvas.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A scotch filet steak, fried fast in butter, served with mashed potatoes, green beans and caramelized onion rings. My favorite drink, a champagne cocktail.

Who is your hero? Why?:

A much abused four letter word, hero. Other than my eighty-seven year old aunt, I don’t have heroes.

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

It is my hope that a good book will always be read, however, the life style of today’s child will dictate the future of books. Unless we can trap him early with the magic world that lives between the covers, he won’t become a reader and without him, the book may die.

Player Profile: Jennifer Smart, author of The Wardrobe Girl

smart, jennifer (1)Jennifer Smart, author of The Wardrobe Girl

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Wardrobe Girl follows the story of Tess Appleby, the new standby assistant on long-running Australian soap – Pretty Beach Rescue. It’s not quite the BBC, where until recently Tess has  been working, but it should be an uncomplicated return to Sydney life after 8 years in London and a humiliating end to a relationship. But, just like a soap opera plot, Tess’s life is soon anything but uncomplicated when the cast of characters, including the soap’s leading man, her retired actress mother and aspiring actress sister, the paparazzi, even her pet dog, Eric, all seem to conspire to create chaos. But Tess isn’t phased, not until the man who broke her heart 8 years ago arrives at Pretty Beach Rescue as a new Director.   The Wardrobe Girl is loosely based on my experience working in the Australian TV industry, including 5 years on Home and Away.

9780857982513Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Home is Balmain, in Sydney.

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

I wanted to be either a ballerina or an architect.

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

As The Wardrobe Girl is my debut novel, I will have to claim it as my best work.

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

My desk is cluttered more often than it is tidy, but it sits under a window that looks out onto my street and the passing parade of Balmain locals. I have a large board covered in inspiring clippings, family photos etc. There are books and artworks, some reflected in the large deco mirror that belonged to my grandmother and now hangs over the mantlepiece.

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

I’m not a big reader of non-fiction, but my fiction taste is broad. I’ll happily curl up with a Marian Keyes, or a Hilary Mantel. I had a Graham Greene phase last year and I’ve just finished Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road To The Deep North, which I loved.

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

I adored Milly Molly Mandy and Noddy when I was very young and a full colour Disney edition of Mary Poppins – read by all my daughters. As a teenager, I read lots of Jean Plaidy before discovering Daphne du Maurier.

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

Once I stood on an elephant’s back in a river in Laos and I felt like Marlena in Water For Elephants. I’d like to think I have the wit and charm of Elizabeth Bennett and the intellect of Hermione Granger. But most mornings, especially school mornings, I feel like Mrs Weasley.

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

I love dancing, and have taken ballet classes & am about to take up tap again. Give me a garden or an art gallery to potter around and I’m very happy. Munching popcorn & sipping champagne whilst watching films. I knit, a lot. Playing Lego with my youngest daughter and Scrabble with my husband.  Live theatre, dance & music.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

My favourite food is cooked by someone else and my favourite drink is French Champagne, preferably pink.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Germaine Greer is my hero. I love her fearless expression of her opinions, even when I don’t agree with them. Her academic scholarship on all things Shakespeare is extraordinary. She has a great sense of humour. Above all, she has fought a tough battle for women and still does.

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

As long as people are writing/telling stories, people will want to read them. We may not always have books in exactly the
same physical form we experience them as now, but I believe they will always be with us.


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Operation Honey Bee

The Rooftop BeekeeperThere’s a second, complementary element to Operation Chooken, which I blogged about yesterday. Entitled Operation Honey Bee (are you sensing a theme?), I’m about to learn beekeeping. For environmental reasons.

Bees are in trouble worldwide. Pesticides and mites are wiping them out at frightening rates, and what few humans seem to truly grasp that if the bees go, we go. That’s because bees pollinate a plethora of food and the entire ecosystem and our foodchain relies on them. (Apparently in China people are being paid to walk around and attempt to manually pollinate fruit trees. Talk about inefficient, ineffective, and downright terrifying that it should even need to be done.)

And in case you’re wondering how bees and chookens (the technical term for ‘chickens’) fit together, the answer is extremely well. It turns out the chookens ignore the bees and both potter about and do their own things, except the chookens eat any critters that tend to want to invade the bee hives. I reckon that’s pretty much perfect symbiosis—some people even keep the hives inside their chooken pens, although I can’t say I’ll be doing that (mostly for space reasons).

Right now, I’m on the lookout for good beekeeping books, both those that detail the how-tos of beekeeping in accessible and interesting terms and those that document the experience of being a beginner beekeeper trying to find your way.

I’m also madly trying to cram in and retain bee stats and beekeeping info. For instance, there can be some 60,000 bees in a hive, including just one queen. Most of the bees are female and they’re called worker bees because they do all the cleaning, baby bee raising, and so on. Also, bees maintain a hive temperature of 32–35 degrees all year round, regardless of where they are in the world. As a cold frog, I can wholly appreciate that last fact.

Truthfully, it’s been tricky to try to find an interesting and informative beekeeping book. I’m probably going to offend the world’s beekeepers here, but the books tend to be amateur, black-and-white, photocopy-equivalent copy that’s dry and in no way inspiring. So I’ve been looking more broadly, trying to find both a memoir and a modern version of beekeeping.

The first book of that ilk off the rank has been From A To Bee, a memoir of James Dearsley’s first year as a beginner beekeeper. It’s a great title for a book—he crowdsourced it via social media—and I’d hoped the book would give me insight into what I’m about to encounter.

In a lot of ways it has, but it hasn’t quite been as good as I’d hoped. My main gripe is that it reads as a blog plonked directly into print. Which it essentially is. Print books are not the same as blogs and vice versa, and the content needs to be tailored accordingly. Also, why buy the book when you can read the entries online for free?

Not helping the matter is that Dearsley’s motivations are completely opposite to mine: He’s obsessed with obtaining a single jar of honey in his first year of beekeeping; I’m vegan and see beekeeping only as an environmental and bee-survival mechanism. (I’m amazed at the number of people who are genuinely surprised to discover that honey isn’t an excess product bees produce; it’s actually their food and we steal it, substituting it with sub-standard sugary water.)

Keeping BeesSuffice to say, I found his obsession with obtaining honey at all costs, which included moving a hive to another location to try to increase pollen collection and with no thought to the stress it would put on the bees or that it might not be in their interest, more than a little selfish and offputting.

Still, From A To Bee is written in accessible, plain language, and Dearsley has a sense of humour about his efforts and wholly owns his mistakes and fallibility. I can appreciate and admire that. He’s also generous with resources, and I’m currently working my way through the list the book has at the back.

One thing I can definitely relate to is that despite his keenness to keep bees, he was actually nervous about the weight of responsibility that comes with keeping them and how he’d cope if they started behaving aggressively. I share his concerns, although I’ll hopefully find the beekeeping easier than anticipated and I’ll get to enjoy the grown-up-ness of it.

I also learnt some interesting facts about combining to weak hives to hopefully make a stronger one. If you just combine them, it leads to a bee war. But if you combine them and put some sheets of newspaper in between, they gradually chomp through it to meet each other, all the while getting used to each others’ scent and buzz. Huh, a fascinatingly simple and effective use of newspaper.

Next on my list of bee books to buy and try are:

  • The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees. It’s released in precisely three days and looks, from the pictures and the blurb, like an aesthetically appealing book right up my alley
  • Keeping Bees with Ashley English. I’m really going off the cover art, but I figure if they’ve made the effort to design that, they’ve made the effort to design the interior—both content and form
  • The Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping. It has pictures. Good pictures. It understands the importance of providing clear, concise explanations with accompanying and complementary images that enhance said explanations. I’m the kind of person who needs pictures, whether it’s in my beekeeping guide or my cookbook. And good writing.

Beginner's Guide to BeekeepingBut what I’d really love to know is if you could recommend any beekeeping books to me, both how-to guides and memoirs, and preferably ones that tackle Australian settings. Especially ones that understand good communication design.

Or, coming at it from another angle, are there any I should definitely steer clear of?

Review – After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

9780571299676Laura Lippman delivers another absorbing thriller that sucks you in with vivid characters and great plotting. Inspired by a true story of a Baltimore mobster who went missing in the 1970s while under house arrest, Lippman does what she does best, sees a side to the story more interesting than the headline, the people left behind.

Felix Brewer had it all; a beautiful wife, three wonderful daughters and money, via a successful numbers racket. But when it finally came time to face the music, in 1976, Felix ran, leaving everything and everyone behind including a host of unanswered questions. And another woman.

The story jumps from 2012 back to 1959 and slowly comes forward. In 2012 a cold case is reopened by retired city homicide cop Roberto ‘Sandy’ Sanchez. Felix’s girlfriend, Julie disappeared in 1986. Everyone assumed she had gone to join Felix. However her body turned up 15 years later and now her murder, like Felix’s disappearance, remains unsolved.

Through the alternating storyline we get to know the people Felix left behind. His wife Bambi, his daughters Linda, Rachel and Michelle, his best friends Burt and Tubby and his girlfriend Julie. We see the impact his disappearance had on their lives and the jealousies that festered between them all.  We also start to learn the secrets, half-truths and lies that have been built around them. Protecting them, shielding them and ultimately betraying them all.

Laura Lippman is the master of this kind of storytelling. Not only does she create intricately built, suspenseful mysteries but she totally absorbs you with wonderfully realized characters each of whom is coming to terms with their place in an ever-changing world. Each of whom bears a responsibility for what has happened but all of it ultimately stemming from being left behind.

Buy the book here…

Operation Chooken

Reinventing the Chicken CoopI’ve been absent from blogging for a bit not because I didn’t have a billion books I wanted to write about, but because I’ve been buried in an ever-deepening sea of study. I’ve surfaced now, having passed some crucial milestones.

I’d like to say I’m feeling fresh and perky, but I’m really just feeling wholly exhausted and comprehensively relieved. Not to mention absolutely itching to get back into reading and blogging about the books I’ve been putting aside in favour (for want of a better term) of academic texts.

At the top of the pile are books about chickens—referred to as the more fun ‘chookens’ from here on in.

About six months ago I adopted two former battery hens—two chookens of the 43 billion chookens in the world. Randall and Coo came to me via Operation Chooken, a long-running campaign I’d waged for years against my increasingly worn-down parents.

It involved me desperate to rescue some battery hens from captivity and certain slaughter and involved my parents (still haunted by finding hens not completely killed by foxes years before that fitted through gaps that didn’t exist) far less enthusiastic for me to do so. Dealing with the aftermath of fox-induced deaths, not to mention the initial pen and run assembly, would fall heavily on my father’s shoulders. And he already had a busy schedule and plans to retire.

But, he relented and built a much-admired pen and run, and my world now revolves around Randall and Coo and their incredible spirits. They’re damaged chickens who had an unspeakably horrendous start to life, but who amaze me daily at their courage and willingness to trust me. Suffice to say, if you follow my Instagram feed (@girlcalledfred) or the hashtags #OperationChooken or #Chookens), you could be forgiven for thinking I’m a little obsessed. In the best possible way.

Roo-StarBecause we’d had chookens before, I didn’t do a lot of reading up before Randall and Coo arrived. You could say I’m doing it all in reverse now, scouring the interwebs for chooken information. Next on my reading lists are definitely going to be:

Reinventing the Chicken Coop, a book a few people have suggested I present to my pen-building father for his next birthday/Christmas/significant present-receiving day. Quite a few people have asked, based on the impressiveness of his pen- and run-building prowess. Methinks he needs some time away from pen building, but don’t worry, I have grand extension plans ready to table when I think he’ll be amenable to them.

In retrospect, the Backyard Chickens Guide to Coops and Tractors would have been a handy reference before we assembled something. The pen we have is very good, but as with anything, it’s only once you start using it that you think: It would be great if it was just/did just…I’m going to buy it for pointers for the next chooken shed I plan to scam my father to build.

I was mocked heartily by friends when I was shocked to discover that chookens lay just about every day, not monthly, as I’d anticipated. This children’s book, Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones might prove a handy, accessible text for me (and any kids I introduce to Randall and Coo).

Roo-Star, the Smartest Chicken in the Coop looks an interesting read, albeit one I’m not going to deny could be for the wrong reasons. Is it normalising that chookens should live in (factory) farms, with humans determining what’s ‘best’ for them? I’ll have to read this and see (stay tuned for an outraged post if this is the case).

GoblinproofingI’ve no idea if it’s a chooken-themed book or if chookens just happen to be the jumping-off point, but Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop is likely an intriguing read. In 2013 it won the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Its blurb reads:

Plagued by pixies, goaded by goblins or bothered by gnomes? Help is on the way! Help is here. This is the essential primer for banishing the dark fairy creatures that are lurking in the dark corners and crevices of your life. In this charming guide, ‘fairy hunter’ Reginald Bakeley offers practical instructions to clear your home and garden of goblins and banish them forever! In Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop readers will discover:

  • The most surprising weapon to use when hunting gnomes
  • What absinthe drinking has to do with strawberry gardening
  • Why a garden fumigator may come in handy on evenings at the pub
  • Why a toy-merchant, a butcher and a freemason are among your best allies in the fight against the fey.

Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop is the only complete manual on how to identify, track, defend and, if needed, destroy those bothersome brownies, goblins, dwarves, scheming flower-fairies and other nasty members of the fairy realm.

Alright, it’s probably got nothing to do with chookens, but it sounds hilarious. And it beat out some stiff competition to win that award.

9780852652350Finally, I’ll be tackling Chicken Coops for the Soul just as soon as I can get my hands on it. Clearly a play on the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, it documents the tale of comprehensively fallen in love with these fascinating, intelligent, extraordinary creatures:

When Julia Hollander agreed to buy her small daughter a rabbit, she had no idea that she would end up with two hens as well. Finding herself at the wrong end of a very steep learning curve, she then had to master the many skills of hen husbandry in short order, from what to feed them to how best to fox-proof a small urban garden. Chicken Coops for the Soul is a record of the five years of trial and error that ensued, in which Julia charts the joys, challenges and inevitable moments of disappointment of allowing your life to become dominated by poultry. Fascinating and entertaining by turns, this is a book that will prove invaluable to the aspiring keeper and remind chicken aficionados why they became hooked in the first place.

If you know of any other chooken books I should add to the list, please definitely let me know.

Player Profile: Tony Cavanaugh, author of The Train Rider

tc_photoTony Cavanaugh, author of The Train Rider

Tell us about your latest creation:

It’s called The Train Rider and is the third in the Darian Richards series of novels that I began a few years ago. The Train Rider is a serial killer in Melbourne – Darian was unable to catch him and that failure tore at him to the point where he abandoned the job in Homicide and fled to the Noosa River, hoping to push the demons away. Now he discovers that The Train Rider has followed him up to the Sunshine Coast and has embarked on a twisted psychological game in order to damage Darian as much as he can.

9780733630675Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Originally from Ararat in Melbourne, went to school in Geelong, lived in Melbourne for many years, then moved to Brisbane, then up to the Sunshine Coast and am now living on the Gold Coast.

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

I wanted to be a film director. This was in the 1960’s when there wasn’t a film industry so it seemed like a hopeless dream. I had a lot of pressure to sell cars as my dad and grandfather sold Holdens… I escaped that and managed to get a job at Crawford Productions, working in TV. The idea of becoming an author didn’t really emerge until a few years ago. It’s still feeling kinda weird.

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

Yikes! I don’t know. I do the best I can at the time and hope each work resonates with people. To have created something, be it a novel or a TV series or a movie, for people to watch or read, is such an honour.

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

I have a wooden desk in the middle of a large open room with wooden floors and old casement windows. The desk is a blend of clutter and order – the clutter is pushed to the edge of the desk in an orderly way. On the wall, looking over me, are retro movie posters, images of Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan, Noel Coward, Lady Gaga, Goya and Edward Hopper. My walls are totally covered with big and small posters and photos.

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

Anything – as long as it’s good. At the moment I am reading Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln. Just finished Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd and The Mission Song by John Le Carre. I read a lot of crime fiction and I love non-fiction, especially if it’s about African politics. I always go back and refresh on Roberto Bolano, Chandler and Damon Runyon.

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

John Fowles’ The Magus had a huge impact on me when I was 12. Up until then I was into comics – Superman and The Phantom, Ghost who walks! I read a lot of dross – movie tie-ins mostly so it wasn’t until I was 16 when the next book affected me. That was Othello.

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

The Phantom – Ghost Who Walks! Man Who Cannot Die! (Not that I want to be immortal – he’s just so cool.)

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

I love cooking. I’m big on Sicilian caponata at the moment. I also love cooking up a pot of ratatouille. It’s something I share with my lead character, Darian, who tells us how to cook the prefect ratatouille in The Train Rider. I used to love reading Rex Stout – his hero, Nero Wolfe, cooked up a feast (and gave us the recipe) in all of his crime novels. Other than reading, writing and cooking I don’t do very much. I think I need to get out more. I’m going to see Bruce Springsteen and the Hunters and Collectors in Feb 2014 so I guess that counts.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

It used to be roast chicken but then I became vegetarian (almost vegan) a couple of years ago so now, if it’s not one of the Italian stews, it’s a salad with tons of fresh crusty bread and good vino. Having been a raging drunk in a past life, inhaling anything that resembled alcohol, I now drink in great moderation – usually a riesling.

Who is your hero? Why?:

John Lennon – because he wasn’t afraid to put himself up for denigration when he wrote Imagine. “You may think I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” In a hard world it’s a lyric like that which I find incredibly hopeful and uplifting.

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

Dealing with the growing expectation that entertainment – reading in this instance – should be free. Movies are free, TV is free, music is free – illegally gained of course but that’s not stopping people and the proliferation of this free material has created an awareness and expectation that you don’t need to pay. I’m not sure what the answer is. Interestingly, when Radiohead put out an album a few years ago and said: pay what you can afford, what it would cost in a shop or nothing if you can’t afford it, most people (I think the percentage figure was incredibly high)paid full price.

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Player Profile: P.M. Newton, author of Beams Falling

art_pm-newton-420x0P.M. Newton, author of Beams Falling

Tell us about your latest creation:

Beams Falling. The novel is set in the early 1990s when drugs and violence began to tear apart the fragile refugee community that had  put down roots in the outer south-western Sydney suburb of Cabramatta. The press reports of the day refer to the ‘wall of silence’ that met police, my novel explores the walls built not just by criminals and victims, but by police as well. It is a follow up to my first book The Old School, continuing the story of Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly and if the title – Beams Falling – seems oddly familiar it’s because it comes from a story Sam Spade tells about a man named Flitcraft in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

9780670074525Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney, born and bred. I’ve lived in different parts of Sydney, up the north coast of New South Wales, in England, Mali and India but Sydney keeps drawing me back. Sandstone, red gums and the harbour foreshores are like nothing else in the world.

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

When I was very little I wanted to be a horse, but when I worked out that probably wasn’t going to happen, I switched to wanting to be a jockey, followed by wanting to be a mounted police officer, followed by actually being a police officer – though not one on a horse. I then spent 13 years in the police, most of it as a detective. Being an author was something that I rather stumbled into  when I began to write after I’d left the police force.

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

What a tricky question! Beams Falling builds on the characters and the story and the history of the first book The Old School. It builds on my experience in writing the first book, but it’s a different book, and at times that previous experience felt like it counted for nothing. I suspect that is the truth of writing, that each book, each story, each essay is a new exploration and demands new approaches. Iris Murdoch said, ‘Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.’ So perhaps all one can hope for is slightly better wreckage each time?

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

I long for order and live with chaos. I have moved my writing place about four times in the last few years from room to room, which probably explains why I still love a pen and notebook and a good walk somewhere.

I’m mainly using a laptop now, so I can move about with it, on the lounge on my lap, but I’m trying to stand more now, so I’ve sort of set up a
standing desk of boxes on an old desk. I don’t think I’ve found the right place yet.

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

I’m an eclectic reader. I’ll follow tips and recommendations from friends, from reviews I stumble across, mentions of authors and books I overhear.

This has meant in the last little while discovering Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, a sci-fi novel about Jesuits in space which was amazing. I’m currently reading The Lover by Marguerite Duras on the recommendation of Walter Mason – whose travel memoirs Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia are stunning. I return constantly to old friends, such as Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and The Quiet American by Graham Greene.

I’ve also started reading a bit of research material around some ideas for the next book which has led me to some extraordinary memoirs about the Hare Krishna movement in the USA in the 1970s and 80s – wild times indeed.

When it comes to crime I await with great anticipation Malla Nunn’s latest, along with anything by Attica Locke.

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

The Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell. I was horse mad but all the books I read featured English girls on ponies in little villages in the Cotswolds. Reading The Silver Brumby, set in my land, featuring my landscapes, my native animals, written from the animals’ point of view was a mind blowing moment.

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

Ford Prefect from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because there was a dude who really knew where his towel was. It would require a sex change for one – or the other – of us but with the Infinite Probability Drive I think it would be doable.

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

I watch TV like I read novels. I love nothing better than to have a juicy drama series to get my teeth into – currently Borgen – but it has been The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, The Eagle, Broadchurch, Buffy. I buy DVD box sets and keep them alongside my books.

I also love to walk around the bush tracks along the harbour side and to swim at North Sydney Olympic Pool.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Nasi Lemak – I can’t resist it. I try it at every Malaysian restaurant I go to.

Love discovering a good cocktail, although I’m currently on a bit of a Caipirinha roll.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Hero is one of those words that gets diminished by overuse. I’m loathe to put people on pedestals and I suspect most of the truly heroic remain nameless, never truly known. A woman whose name we do know was Hypatia a mathematician, philosopher, astronomer in Alexandria @ 400AD who was murdered by a Christian mob unhappy with her teaching.

A literary hero would be Sethe from Tony Morrison’s Beloved, who had the courage to live on.

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

As an Australian author I see maintaining local access and interest for local stories as being the biggest challenge. I think readers will always read but it’s a question of whether we start to see a lack of diversity in our reading. There’s a blockbuster mentality where everyone reads from the same narrow list, rather than lots of people reading across a wide range of books. This is linked to the way people access their reading and what is made available to them, often determined by the electronic delivery system they’ve locked themselves into. As an author telling local stories, I hope that a local market will still find a place.


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Review – Beams Falling by P.M. Newton

9780670074525Ex-cop P.M. Newton burst onto the Australian crime writing scene four years ago with her impressive debut The Old School. Newton’s distinctive style and experience brought a point of view sadly missing from most Australian crime novels. And the introduction of Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly was a welcome change from the usual clichéd lead character in Australian crime fiction. Set in the early 1990s Newton explored a world of corruption, racism and sexism, where history weighs heavily on everybody’s shoulders.

I am going to go out on limb here (a very sturdy limb) and state now that I think Beams Falling is even better than The Old SchoolBeams Falling takes up where The Old School left off. One of the pitfalls of many crime series is continuity. Often the hero comes back in the next installment, slightly scarred, but ready to continue the fight, with few hangovers (so to speak) from past cases or events. But one of the great things about P.M. Newton’s writing is the authenticity she brings to the page. Yes there is a murder to solve in this book but one of the main parts to this novel is Ned’s recovery, physical and mental, to the horrific events at the end of The Old School.

After recovering in hospital and working the system Ned is passed fit to return to work. However her old station doesn’t want her back after what she did. She eventually ends up in Cabramatta, part of a task force assigned to crack down on the rising crime in the area. To the media she is now a hero cop and the brass are going to milk that for all it’s worth. When two young boys are gunned down in separate incidents, more victims in the never-ending drug war, Ned realizes the hard way she is not ready to come back to the job and must now confront the possible bitter truth about whether she actually wants the job back at all.

Newton has packed so much into this book. This is not only an intricate crime mystery but a fascinating exploration of the social, political and economic impact of migration in Sydney’s west. Newton shows there is much more to Cabramatta than what the media fed us in the 1990s and shows the human side and the human cost of a so-called “war” on drugs. At the same time Newton explores the complex issue of corruption, demonstrating the varying degrees and guises it can take, the consequences it has and how the concept of good and bad, right and wrong gets totally and utterly blurred. Combined with the psychological aspect and Newton has produced a truly remarkable novel.

Buy the book here…

Review – FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL by Sheri Fink

9781782393740 (1)The disaster that was Hurricane Katrina meets the disaster that is the American healthcare system.

There is something about Hurricane Katrina and it’s aftermath that continues to fascinate me, even nine years on from the disaster. The storm and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans exposed a part of America that is often hidden, ignored and overlooked. The image America projects of itself at home and abroad as the land of the free and a first world superpower was shown up as a brilliant city and it’s people were reduced to the third world status. The failure and breakdown of governments and their institutions before, during and after the hurricane was shocking in its totality. Coupled with a hysteria fed on and spread by the media and Katrina was truly a disaster like no other. And the political, economic and social fallout is still being felt.

The truth of what happened in New Orleans during and after the storm is as murky as the flood water that inundated the city. Rumours of looting and violence spread like a wildfire and while some incidents did occur many reports were exaggerated and unverified yet remain part of Katrina’s folklore. One of the most harrowing incidents reported after the storm was the alleged mercy killings of patients at nursing homes and hospitals. Sheri Fink has spent six years investigating what happened at one at one of these hospitals, Memorial Medical Center.

The book is told in two parts. Fink meticulously reconstructs what happened at Memorial Hospital during and after the storm. As the flood waters rose following the hurricane, doctors and nurses trapped in Memorial Hospital had to make painful decisions over which patients were evacuated first and which had to wait. With rumours and counter rumours about rescue swirling around confusion was rife. In the aftermath of the chaos several hospital staff were accused of euthanizing patients. Fink then follows the legal proceedings that took two years to go to a grand jury.

The story is told from all sides. The narrative is gripping, switching from survival drama to legal investigation with ease. Fink skillfully puts each viewpoint forward. She is both sympathetic and critical of both the accused doctors and nurses as well as the investigators and prosecutors. Fink also examines the role the hospital played and how its structure compounded other institutional failures. She debates the issue of mercy killing and euthanasia and examines the role the media played both during the storm and over the next two years.

Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans became (and still is) a microcosm of institutional and government failure. What occurred at Memorial hospital is another sad chapter but an important one. In a world where hearsay and rumour is reported instantaneously as fact, where big business has taken over the management of healthcare truth, justice and basic humanity not only gets buried it can get completely washed away.

Buy the book here…

5q Interview with Gerry Bobsien, author of Surf Ache

1304558276520Gerry Bobsien is a writer, surfer and reluctant ballet mother. She has worked as a blacksmith in an industrial forge in Melbourne making tools and large architectural works and as a curator and director of an arts centre. She grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney and then via everywhere else now lives in Newcastle Australia.

Can you remember the first story you ever wrote and, if so, what was it?

I think the first story I wrote was a kind of fan-fiction based on Bluebeard. I was ten and couldn’t get enough of it. Bluebeard latched itself onto my consciousness as a wildly terrifying story about a spirited girl who marries someone she thinks is a charming wealthy aristocrat but it turns out he has a habit of murdering his wives and hanging their bodies in a dungeon downstairs. Despite the hooks, blood, suspense and gore, it has a happy ending. Along with re-writing bits of this, I remember acting Bluebeard out in the school library where I played all the characters including the dead wives. Charming.

9781921150920How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

I wrote one very unfinished novel before my first novel was published. I’m glad I didn’t finish it. On a more positive note, I wrote many excellent lists. I am a very good list writer and was also a prolific letter writer before I started using the internet as my practice space for throwing words around. I still write lists (not so many letters).

What sorts of books do you love to read?

> Books from corresponding lovers – actually all books about letters

> Books about the ocean and adventure

> Books that unravel a life and all its complexity out in front of you

> Books that make me cry

> Books about curiosities and anomalies

> Books about hilarious and adventurous young people (ie Lockie Leonard!)

If you were forced to co-write a novel with someone (as we’re not presuming that you’d want to co-write with anyone necessarily) who would it be?

I love making stuff with other people! So my dream collaborator would be Tim Winton. We’d go for a surf in the morning then get to work on an oceanic hilarious romping book for young people (with an early evening break for catching sandworms and throwing a line in).

What are you working on now and next?

I’m currently working on a novel for Walker Books Australia. It’s a story about a girl who finds herself spinning within her mum’s borderline compulsions and newfound christianity and her own desires and plans for escape. She’s finishing school in an apartment 19 floors up with a mother whose whole life is dedicated to suspending our disbelief (that means she’s a continuity expert in the film industry with an EXTREME attention to detail). Life for Bec is complicated and crazy. She’s doing a Duke of Ed as a volunteer in a hospital radio station, stalking a mysterious man in the apartment opposite, risk managing her first sex date with boyfriend harry and having secret dreams about April Young and her ridiculously touchable red hair.

The next thing I need to work on is my PhD at the University of Newcastle (and that awesome (in my dreams) collab with Tim Winton!).

Author website:

Twitter @gerrybobs


Recent Book Trailers

My LifeThe other day I came across of couple of really innovative and entertaining book trailers… both from the same author. I wanted to share these trailers, and others, so I thought it was time for another post about book trailers — after all, it’s been over twelve months since I last posted on this topic (see: “The book trailer search experiment”).

The first of these trailers is for My Life & Other Stuff That Went Wrong by Tristan Bancks. A follow-up to My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up, this book is a collection of humorous, linked short stories. The trailer for the first book was a well-made but fairly standard book trailer —illustrations with a voice-over telling you a bit about the book. But the trailer for the new book takes a completely different approach. Rather than telling you about the book, it picks up on the idea of ‘stuff that went wrong’… showing a trailer that’s gone wrong. It doesn’t actually tell you about the book’s contents at all. But it’s engaging and it makes you like the author, who’s obviously very comfortable making fun of himself. So it is selling the book, by selling the author, by showing you what an interesting and fun guy he is. Cool! Clever! Funny!

The second trailer is for Two Wolves, another book by Tristan Bancks. This one is a kids’ adventure novel. It’s an innovative trailer that plays with the concept of a trailer. It’s presented in the form of a news report about two missing children. The little Random House Australia logo at the start is the only indication that you are watching a trailer for a book rather than a real news report. It’s only at the end that the book cover is revealed. It’s engaging and it’s tense. And it gives you the gist of the story without simply telling you about it.

Another recent trailer that is well worth a look is for Michael Pryor’s latest YA novel, Machine Wars. Creepy and atmospheric, it leaves you in no doubt about the content of the book.

There are so many book trailers out there. And so many of them are very ordinary. So it’s great to have the occasional trailer that plays around with expectations and does something a little differently.

Of course, all of this leads in to me showing you my latest book trailer. 🙂 This trailer is for the final book in my Gamers trilogy, Gamers’ Rebellion, which came out in July last year. It was put together by pixel-pusher extraordinaire, Henry Gibbens, with music by my brother-in-law, Marc Valko. It follows the standard trailer formula, images with text telling you a bit about the book… but the visuals are computer animated (and one visual in particular, featuring an injection and an eye, always gets a reaction) and the text is a little more than just story description. See what you think…

So, dear readers, what sort of book trailers do you like? What are your favourites? Feel free to post links in the comments section.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


moonbaseCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review & Giveaway — Doctor Who: The Moonbase




Review – I Love You Night and Day

I Love you Night and DayOkay, so I’ve missed the love boat on the Valentine’s Day cruise again this year. Who says we can only share bad love puns and schmaltz on just one specific day of the year? Cue, I Love You Night and Day, by popular London writer Smriti Prasadam-Halls and UK illustrator, Alison Brown, which by the way is not as schmaltzy as it sounds.

I admit the mawkish title and subdued cover with cliché cute rabbit and bear took a while to lure me in. But once I got past the love hearts and daisy chains, I immediately knew I wanted more, rather like the archetypal box of chocolates. And it was an equally delicious experience! Smriti Prasadam-Halls

Prasadam-Halls has penned a picture book that could easily serve as an ode to love for devotees of Valentine’s Day, although 0 – 5 year olds are more likely to fall in love with it. Bunny and Bear are great friends; friends who love each other through thick and thin, during their high points and their lowest and for better or for worse. Yes, it does resemble the idealisations of some poetic wedding vows however that is exactly what makes it so quietly appealing for the adults who will be sharing it with young children.

Bear and Bunny’s relationship cleverly reflects a cross-section of relationship combinations including those of: parent and child, grandparents, BFFs, siblings and spouses. Each is a scenario most young children will either be familiar with first hand or by association and therefore have an immediate connection with.

Prasadam-Halls uses uncluttered easy rhyming verse to deliver some truly moving sentiments. ‘I love you huge, I love you vast. For the fun to come and the fun that’s past’, is one of my favourite lines and is endearingly accompanied by soft orange page colour and illustrations of Bunny and Bear sharing old photos and memories. For me, this represented loss as well as the cherishing of the past but also delivered a strong sense of hope. Time and love knows no bounds; love is bigger than the universe – kind of things.

If I’m making this sound as though the text is cloying with cuteness too thick to swallow, then that’s only because I was genuinely surprised by how much I Love You Night and Day resonated with me. Perhaps it is the scent of so much schmaltz wafting about at this time of year. More probably, it is because this picture book really is a joyful, moving and balanced celebration of love. Love of friendships, nature and emotion itself. A B Snip 

Alison Brown’s painted and pencilled illustrations are saturated with pure emotion and vibrant colour, sure to entrance a two year old as convincingly as Chanel No. 5 and chocolate works for me. My only niggle, that the text on some pages is black against deep indigo which makes it a tad difficult to read, especially in those low light situations you might find yourself snuggling up to read this book in.

Otherwise, I Love You Night and Day sings of the beautiful unconditional type of love children most especially are abundantly endowed with. For that reason alone, it will warm the cockles of your heart and delight them no end. It is never too late to share the love, a philosophy my other half also follows – thankfully with blocks of chocolate. Okay, so he’s a few days late too. Never mind – it was Willy Wonka.

Get yourself some loving here. Bloomsbury Children’s Books January 2014

5Q Interview with Vanessa Stubbs, author of Star Attraction

0000007186Vanessa Stubbs is an entertainment and fashion reporter for MX newspaper, and has interviewed many Hollywood actors, including Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman and Denzel Washington. She has also worked as a News Limited journalist as a general reporter and medical reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Star Attraction is her first novel.

  1. Can you remember the first story you ever wrote and, if so, what was it?

I was in Year 4 and it involved an old house on top of a craggy, wind-swept coastline. There was a cave in the rocks below that contained some mystery. Unfortunately I couldn’t come up with what had happened in that cave. But I knew that I desperately wanted to find out and turn it into a story. There was also another attempt a bit later that involved a person being lost in the ocean. The whole story was about how it felt to be flailing around in the water. It had no plot whatsoever. To its credit though, there may have been a shark.

  1. 9781921901720How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

My first novel was published- a very fortunate turn of events.

  1. What sorts of books do you love to read?

I’m eclectic in my taste when it comes to fiction. Sometimes I’ll just go into a second hand book shop and pick something totally random and read it. I love women’s fiction, literary fiction, commercial fiction, a good thriller. My main requirements are that it must move me and the language must be wonderful.

  1. If you were forced to co-write a novel with someone (as we’re not presuming that you’d want to co-write with anyone necessarily) who would it be?

French author Anais Nin and film director Sofia Coppola (if she happened to turn her hand at writing books). I love the sensual, dreamy style of both these women’s art. There is also an overlap of thematic concerns (see below).

  1. What are you working on now and next?

I’m working on a story set in Paris, New York and Sydney. It has all my favourite things in it – did I mention Paris? And fashion, love, betrayal and secrets. Perhaps every book I write will be me trying to find out what happened in that cave below the house on the cliff.

Author website:

Twitter @stubbsvs

Review – You Will Never Find Me by Robert Wilson

9781409143161Robert Wilson is a master thriller writer and he proves it again with his new novel. You Will Never Find Me picks up right where Capital Punishment ended which is a challenge in itself. Wilson give himself no time to ease into the story, reintroduce characters or build tension and still pulls off an exceptional page-turner.

At the end of Capital Punishment kidnap consultant Charlie Boxer and DI Mercy Danquah return home to find that their daughter has left home. She has completely erased herself from their lives taking not just her possessions but every photo and any trace of herself. All she has left is a note which finishes “you will never find me”.

Things have not been good between Mercy and her daughter and Charlie’s job means he has hardly been there for his daughter for the past ten years. But both their jobs mean that they aren’t going to let Amy just go. The trail leads them to Madrid but it maybe already too late.. Meanwhile Mercy’s job gives her no time or space to take stock and she is quickly thrown into a kidnapping of a Russian businessman’s son which may have connections to Russia’s secret intelligence agency, the FSB.

Wilson juggles the two story-lines with expert ease never once dimming the pace or the tension of the story. Charlie Boxer is one of Wilson’s most complex characters and we are still only just scratching the surface of his persona which I hope means there are more books featuring him to come.

If you haven’t read Robert Wilson before the Charlie Boxer series is a great place to start and I can guarantee you will be diving into his previous work straight after.

Buy the book here…

Review – Fire

FireMy first glimpse of the flamed-licked cover of Fire, sparked a considerable amount of emotion. Growing up close to the Adelaide foothills meant scorching childhood summers were unfortunately often synonymous with phrases such as Ash Wednesday and Black Friday.

A couple of years ago I was inextricably moved by the heart-rending picture book recount of the Brisbane floods by the same quietly sensational picture book team, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, (Flood) so viewed this new picture book release of theirs with anxious anticipation. Could they pull off another disaster-inspired winner able to resound with children and adults alike? The answer is, yes.

The cover and title pages, both featuring the single word, Fire, as though smeared by someone’s finger across a grimy, ash-streaked window pane, mesmerised me from the onset. I was unable to quell my attraction in the same way one is unable to sever ones hypnotic trance with fire’s dancing flames.

This is apt, for fire is the predominate character in this masterful expression of how our nation weathers one of its most deadly natural adversaries. Its release is timely. Once again, vast tracks of Australia bake till hills are ‘bleached golden…and leaves lay limp in the air sucked dry.’ All sobering reminders of Victoria five years past.

Jackie FrenchFrench balances beautiful evocative language with harsh stark imagery. She tempers the brittle narrative reality with soft lilting rhyme, thus allowing us to ‘enjoy’ the awful spectacle unfolding before us. A sulphur crested cockatoo sits alone under ‘a baked blue sky.’ He is disturbed by a flickering, snickering enemy. The birth of a bush fire takes hold with alarming ferocity and speed.

Fear feeds confusion, people flee. The fire feeds itself, growing more and more invincible and mocking as it consumes everything in its path without mercy or remorse. Soon an inferno rages; a fire storm spitting fury and blasting away life, deforming reality and changing lives forever.

But there is hope, always hope, on the horizon: a speck overhead, a hose, a loved-ones hand…And in spite of the devastation, French shows us that it is how we face the aftermath that is often the true measure of our survival.

I am unable to say whether the narrative imagery out surpasses the illustrations or vice versa, however Bruce Whatley’s visual images burnt themselves deep into my psyche like the very stink of fire ravaged bushland. They are breathtaking.

Most fascinating are Whatley’s endnotes describing how difficult it was for him to capture ‘fire’ in paint. And yet all of its dirty, erratic intensity and heat are rendered with such brilliant acuity, that the pages look almost too hot to touch. Logs turned to charcoal glow amber so realistically, you swear you could toast marshmallows on them.

But this is no marshmallow-toasting-time as we are reminded by images of burnt out cars, stricken families and most poignantly, a volunteer fire fighter giving a koala a sip of water from his bottle; all vivid recollections of news clips from former dire times.

Every page is hemmed in by ruled pencilled borderlines. The water coloured illustrations fill these windows, sometimes bleeding over the edges which for me, softens the impact of the scene, contains it somehow and therefore prepares me to turn the next page. I presume many younger readers will experience this subconsciously as well. My 8 year old appreciated the cockatoo’s presence throughout as much as I valued the lingering message that out of tragedy and despair, ‘good things will grow again’.

Fire is a warming testimony to the selflessness of those who give everything to fight Australia’s bushfires. It is as powerful and dramatic as fire itself but is a picture book that will have significant relevance for readers 4 + for varying reasons. It embraces the sometimes bleak reality of living in Australia and how that translates to our ‘never say never’ attitude and our indomitable spirit of survival.

Another CBCA award book in the making. Get your copy here.

Scholastic Press February 2014





Review – Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson

9781409139027I am a huge Robert Wilson fan. From the dark and sweltering Bruce Medway series set in West Africa to the dark and bloody Javier Falcón series set in Seville, Wilson’s thrillers have always been a perfect blend of atmosphere, tension and dark secrets from the past. So for his new thriller he enters new territory; London.

Setting his book in a seemingly non-exotic location at first appears to signal a new direction for Robert Wilson but that allusion is quickly put to bed. Wilson immediately turns the tension meter to 11 as we dive straight into an intricate kidnap plot. London may not be an exotic location but it is the world’s hub and Wilson takes us to Lisbon, Mumbai and Pakistan as he constantly ramps up the stakes and keeps everyone guessing.

Frank de Cruz is an ex-Bollywood star turned successful and ruthless businessman. His list of enemies is long so when his daughter Alysia is kidnapped in London the motive is unclear and the list of potential suspects stretches far and wide. The police aren’t to be involved so Frank brings in a specialist kidnap “consultant”, Charles Boxer. But it soon becomes clear than this isn’t about money. This is about power, influence and secrets and the kidnappers will do anything to extract them as well as keep them.

Wilson blends psychological intensity, constant action with a brilliantly intricate plot that will leave you gasping after the final page.

Read an extract from the book

Buy the book here…

Review – Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson


There have been a plethora of books on the brain; how it changes, how to rewire it, what it can do and how we still know hardly anything about it. At the same time there has been much written about the growth of The Internet, social media and advances in computer technology and how this is undermining our brains. As we let computers do the thinking for us and as we use The Internet and social networks to answer questions we are losing the ability to think for ourselves and as a consequence we are getting dumber. Clive Thompson argues in this book that this couldn’t be further from the truth and in fact we are becoming smarter than ever before.

Clive Thompson also shows that these fears are also not new. With every piece of new technology human’s have invented there have been bold predictions about what these inventions will lead to, positive and negative, and time and again both sets of predictions have been off the mark as our everyday use of these technologies often differs greatly from what the technology was intended for. Television, radio, the telephone, the telegraph and even the Gutenberg press were all ushered in with some people decrying the negative impact they would have on human’s ability to think and interact with one another. Nothing has changed with today’s technology

Thompson’s key argument is that our fear is human functionality is being replaced by new technology but what is actually happening is that we are integrating with this new technology. The book opens with Thompson looking at the quest to find a computer better than a human at chess, something humans have been doing for over 100 years. And while yes there are computers now than can beat a chess master there are also people becoming chess masters at younger and younger ages. And even non-chess masters who can beat computers and chess masters alike by using a combination of skills, human and technological.

This is true for new everyday technologies. We don’t use Google at the expense of memory we often use it to jog memory. It even helps us prioritize our memory. If we know something else will remember a detail or fact for us we won’t waste valuable space trying to remember the detail, we will try to remember where the detail is stored. Rather than The Internet, text messaging and twitter eroding literacy it is actually making us the most literate generation of humans ever. And social networks are also making us more socially aware, online and in person, not just of our friends but the whole world around us. And it is also allowing us to collaborate in ways we couldn’t ever have imagined before.

Thompson is not all glowing about what is happening. For every potential positive there are pitfalls and drawbacks. The technology that helped foster the Arab Spring is also being used by other regime’s to clamp down on people’s rights and maintain their power.  Some social networks can also  lead to homophily, where we only communicate and interact with those of similar opinions which can create massive echo chambers that serve to reinforce a belief, rightly or wrongly and can foster fierce partisan politics.

But technology, like humans, is ever evolving and as we learn more and more about ourselves and the technology and use it in different ways we get different outcomes that will shock us, surprise us and lead us in bold new directions. It is all about making the best use of technology. One of my favourite examples in the book is about a group on NZ High School students whose teacher got tired of the same, stock standard essays and reports being handed in. Instead she got the students to post their essays and reports publically online. At first nothing changed but as the students became aware that other people outside the school could also read and comment on their posts (parents, friends and even authors of books they wrote reports on) their writing began to change. More attention was paid to their research and more time was spent on their reports. Their writing improved.

This was a wonderfully thought-provoking book which reminds us all that rather than fear and deride what is new and changing that we should take time to look at the whole picture not just what bubbles to the surface. Because, one person’s silly cat meme can be another person’s only way to protest…

I found out about this book via Rebecca Schinsky on the Bookrageous and Book Riot podcasts. Check both out they’re awesome.

Buy the book here…

Review- In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

9781846688201Every great trilogy knocks you out with the first one, takes it up a notch with the second one and then blows you away with the final chapter. There a few great trilogies. Many fail at the second hurdle let alone the final one. But not Adrian McKinty. The Sean Duffy books are a truly great trilogy and destined to become a classic of the crime genre and the third and the final volume is the best yet.

Things were not looking good for our hero at the end of I Hear The Sirens In The Streets. Sean Duffy had been demoted out of CID and dispatched to the border lands. His career in the police force appeared to be over. That is until a mass breakout occurs from the infamous Maze Prison in September, 1983. One of the IRA’s most dangerous men, Dermot McCann, is on the loose and planning a campaign of terror against Britain. MI5 are prepared to do anything to bring him in, including giving Sean his old job back.

Sean has a connection to Dermot but no one is giving anybody up in Northern Ireland. Sean’s digging instead leads him to an unsolved murder. A locked room mystery that has got everybody stumped. But the key to unearthing Dermot’s whereabouts maybe be found in unlocking this seemingly unsolvable mystery.

As with the previous two books McKinty skillfully blends humour and the grim realities of living in war torn Belfast in 1984 with a gripping, realistic mystery. Sean Duffy is perfectly flawed and damaged but determined to do the right thing, even if that means doing a couple of wrong things. It is a tragedy that this series must come to an end because what McKinty has been able to produce has been quite special and he has taken his writing to a new level. There’s a fine line between social commentary and compelling mystery and not many writers, crime or literary, can do both. McKinty has not only been able to pull it off brilliantly but he has done so over three amazing books.

I’m going to miss Sean Duffy but I also can’t wait to see where Adrian McKinty goes next.

Buy the book here…

Review – I Wanna Be a Pretty Princess

OK, the child is back at school. It’s still primary school but we’re at the senior end now – the business end. No more coaxing along or mincing words.

Fortunately she still adores being read to, so every day we still share glorious minutes together in worlds garnished extravagantly with pictures. Yes, I am a staunch believer of there being no age limit for the enjoyment of picture books.

However the scope and theme of picture books that excite a mid-primary schooler are vastly different from those suitable for 0 – 5 year olds. I don’t often come across those types these days so discovering this little cutie is a real treasure.

Pretty Princess 2I admit I’m a bit of a Heath McKenzie fan. His illustrations are fairy floss for one’s eyes; sweet, adorable and dangerously moreish. I Wanna Be a Pretty Princess is the second picture book McKenzie has both written and illustrated and from the impossibly pink, love-heart festooned cover to the cuter than cute twist at the end, it exudes palace-loads of playful wit and charm.

6b416c0c0eef3ae8-PrettyPrincess04-05Our brown-eyed heroine wants to be a princess more than anything else in the world. Who doesn’t when they’re three-something?

Her dreams and imaginings overlay her everydayness as show by McKenzie’s clever pencilled outline illustrations.

Her wishes are soon answered by none other than a real-life pretty princess, who immediately embarks on the transformation of our heroine, aka, pretty princess wanna-be.

In a somewhat Pygmalion fashion, the haughty real princess pulls, primps and perfects Miss Wanna-be into a bonsai version of, well, herself.

b3b995b5165e4bee-PrettyPrincess12-13But what is the point of wearing so much make-up just to look perfectly ordinary? What is the point of pretty dresses if you cannot frolic and flounce about in them? What fun is a tea party if you cannot enjoy feasting with your friends? And shouldn’t you be allowed to dance like no one’s watching at all times?

Our little princess wanna-be also discovers handsome princes are not all they are cracked up to be so re-writes her own list of rules for being a pretty princess.

Heath McKenzie 2What I wanna know is how McKenzie taps so succinctly into the female pre-schoolers’ psyche. He draws and writes ‘little girl’ with blinding accuracy and has created a narrative that smacks with comical imperialistic overtones. Perhaps he has secret pretty princess yearnings too.

I Wanna Be a Pretty Princess is a slightly precocious, very pink, fabulously frothy, floaty picture book that any self-respecting young 3 year old (girl especially) will simply fawn over.

Perfect for sharing with pre-schoolers and those who really do want to know what it takes to be a princess.

You can find out first here.

Scholastic Press February 2014


Player Profile: Boyd Anderson, author of The Heart Radical

boyd_andersonBoyd Anderson, author of The Heart Radical

Tell us about your latest creation:

‘The Heart Radical’ is, at its heart (ahem), an exploration of the truth of the Jesuit saying about giving them a child for 7 years and they will deliver the man. (I wonder if they are still saying that!)  It takes place during the Malayan Emergency in 1951, interwoven with the experiences of two of its main characters who meet again in London later in life and try to make sense of their childhood before making a go of a possible relationship.

9780857981608Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Born and raised in Sydney’s inner west and, after spending a lifetime in other neighbourhoods and countries, now back watering my roots by the harbour in the inner west.

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

When I was a kid I wanted to become an adult. I was pretty sure I would work it out then. As it happened, it took a lot longer. A lot longer!

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

Surely it is not for a writer to say what is their ‘best’. I can only nominate a personal favourite. And that is my second book, ‘Ludo’, because it is more personal than any of the others.
Obviously, I would like to think my ‘best’ is yet to come!

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

Like yin and yang, a bit of both. Everything in balance. Chaos on the fringe, order in the middle. When it gets out of balance, I stack.

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

Of course, I read a lot for research, so a great deal of non–fiction. But a writer is always researching, so when I read for pleasure I try to ferret out writers I may have missed along the way. Currently I am catching up on Ken Kesey.

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

I can date my epiphany to ‘Wuthering Heights’. After that I was never again interested in ‘books for boys’. What was adventure compared to raw emotion? Next stop before Damascus was ‘Catch 22’. I read that three times in a row before putting it aside. And picked it up again a year later, and a few times since. On the other hand, I read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ when I was 16 and couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about? That Holden Caulfield — so what?

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

Ulysses, perhaps. Always enjoyed a good odyssey. Or maybe that schoolmaster that Holden Caulfield pays a visit to early in Catcher. It would give me a chance to say what I think of him. You have to be cruel to be kind to dumb animals sometimes.

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

Not so surprising: old movies are an eternal fascination. Coming across a film noir I’ve not seen before is my eureka moment. Other than that, I’m always happy with an odyssey along lonely roads in the western states of the US. That’s a character I could be: Tod or Buz in that ancient ‘Route 66’ TV series. Not literature, perhaps, but interesting stories. And that Corvette!!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

My favourite is the Peranakan food we eat in Penang. Sharp, hot, sour, exciting, exquisite. Nowhere else in Southeast Asia, not even Thailand or Vietnam, can match Penang. I drink
mostly water, but when not so prosaic, I would choose ketla, a fresh lime and sour plum drink in Penang.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Ummmmm … Haven’t really had one since I was a kid and my father used to sing the praises of Keith Miller. ‘Do you know how he set a cricket field, son?’ ‘No, Dad.’ ‘Scatter, was all he’d say.’ Bloody hell! There was a man who understood leadership. Other than him – John Curtin, Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating. You might see a pattern developing there.

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

Keeping narrative alive. By that I mean stories that are longer than 144 characters, or a blog post. Stories – more than laws or achievements or history – are what have always defined the world’s various cultures: Shakespeare, Balzac, Goethe, Mark Twain. Henry Lawson! However they are delivered – printed, digital or around the campfire – we risk
losing long form narrative. What’s left to tell us about Czarist Russia? Plenty of Tolstoy.

How I Discovered Peter Temple

9781922147400I first discovered Peter Temple with THE BROKEN SHORE and was blown away. I have to admit to a bit of cultural cringe when it comes to Australian writing in the crime genre but Peter Temple has completely and utterly broken this down. I discovered THE BROKEN SHORE via my favourite UK crime writer, John Harvey. I was lucky enough to have lunch with Harvey a few year ago and we got to talking about our favourite crime reads of that year. We both agreed that Don Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG was far and away one of the best crime novels we had read but John Harvey said that THE BROKEN SHORE was equally as brilliant. The fact  an Australian novel was receiving this kind of praise and I hadn’t read it (or even had it on my radar) greatly shamed me and I was determined to rectify the situation.

I do consider myself a crime reader although I am not exclusive to that genre. I also have quite specific tastes when it comes to the genre. I loathe formula and try to avoid the traditional murder mystery. This is probably why I rarely read British crime (John Harvey being the exception) and lean toward American noir usually with a social bent (although I do have an affinity for some gritty Irish crime too).  George Pelecanos is my benchmark and I love anything and everything by Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Richard Price and Don Winslow. Before discovering THE BROKEN SHORE I didn’t think Australian crime fiction had anything to offer me, but I was wrong. Very wrong.

After reading THE BROKEN SHORE I knew I then had to read everything else by Peter Temple. My next book was IN THE EVIL DAY, an international political thriller equal of any bestseller on the market. I followed this with SHOOTING STAR, a brilliant kidnap thriller that digs into the never talked about class system in Australia. AN IRON ROSE is another great thriller that showed Peter Temple’s wasn’t just limited to urban Australia but could take the knife to the underbelly of rural Australia too.

Temple’s understanding of the relationship between urban Australia and rural Australia was taken to a new level with THE BROKEN SHORE and TRUTH. The two novels are not a sequence put more of a pair. Together they show the dichotomy of Australia. Both novels are as powerful and profound as each other. TRUTH highly deserved to win Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, The Miles Franklin. It defied its genre and its conventions and the way Temple played with language, particularly the voices of each character was truly amazing. But THE BROKEN SHORE also did this and would have also been a worth Mile Franklin winner. Maybe we weren’t ready for a crime novel to win but THE BROKEN SHORE deserves all the same accolades as TRUTH.

The Jack Irish series is also impressive. THE BROKEN SHORE and TRUTH stand apart because they defied their genre and broke downs its conventions. The Jack Irish series is brilliant because it is the top of its field within its genre and its conventions. It is classic noir in the US sense but it is also completely and utterly uniquely Australian. It is the complete package capturing the damp, cold Melbourne atmosphere with the sly and witty Australian vernacular. And if that isn’t enough the description of food and wine (even Vegemite on toast) will leave you salivating. Temple creates such richly detailed atmosphere combined with incredibly nuanced language while keeping an essence of Australia that is unique as well as instantly recognizable.

It is little wonder Peter Temple has stood down from the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia’s Crime writing awards) as it is completely unfair to all other Australian crime writers when he is eligible for one. Peter Temple is a genius and a national treasure and he should be on stamps!

Rumour also has it a third book is on the way in The Broken Shore/Truth series.