Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780091956134This was of the funnest books I can remember reading in a long time. Gripping, funny and told in a totally original and authentic voice you can’t help but be hooked in by this part-Apollo 13, part-Castaway survival story.

Mark Watney is an astronaut, part of the third manned mission to Mars. Six days after landing on Mars a fierce dust storm forces Mark and his crew mates to abandon the planet. However during the evacuation Mark is left behind. Now he must work out how is going to survive on Mars until the next resupply mission. In two years time.

The majority of the book is told via Mark’s log entries detailing his survival. The log is written in a beautifully sarcastic tone where outright panic is only a hair’s breath away. There is plenty of self-deprecating humour and the log format works perfectly in detailing Mark’s day-to-day survival.

Mark is completely stranded. He has no way of communicating with his crew mates or NASA. He only has enough food and water to last half the time he needs. Mark puts to work his skills as an engineer and botanist to figure out if he can survive. The how is one of the most entertaining reads you will come across. Full of insane (but practical) problem solving you are glued to the book wanting to find out how Mark gets himself out of each new predicament he finds himself in. I defy anyone to be able to put this down once they start!

Buy the book here…

Review – My Nanna is a Ninja

With its incongruous title, brazen bright yellow cover and be-speckled bun-toting nanna leaping straight at you, this picture book is hard to ignore. I was suitably intrigued and barely aware of the smile creeping across my face as I picked it up. I don’t know many ninja nannas you understand. Actually, I don’t know any, but I am now busting to meet one.

My Nanna is a Ninja My Nanna is a Ninja introduces readers, young and old, to one of the most fearless, funkiest, formidable, and flexible nannas you’ve ever met. Author and illustrator team, Damon Young and Peter Carnavas are one of those combinations that work. Together, they have fashioned a laugh-out-loud picture book that captures the very essence of Nanna-Dom without once pigeon-holing our ideas of the beloved grandmother.

Damon YoungAlong with Peter Carnavas’s playfully contemporary illustrations, Damon Young delivers several colourful renditions of the modern day grandma. Some dress in blue. Some sing out-loud in their cars. Others are into high adrenaline pastimes. But our young narrator’s nanna demonstrates her love and affection for him in less conventional ways.

She dresses in stealthily black, eats with swords and prefers to juggle ninja stars to watching TV soaps. Yes, she is one nifty nanna, brought beautifully to life by Young’s cheeky rhyming text.

Young’s aim to find ‘just the right word for just the right image’ is commendably achieved. He sets the reader up comfortably by comparing three different nannas, each baking apple pies and reading books but then roundhouse kicks nanna-normality into oblivion with nanna-ninja’s extraordinary behaviour. However, we are never left feeling she is anything other than a worthy and loving grandparent, just like any other, only different. Here, black is different and different is cool and kids can’t help but admire that.

Peter CarnavasCarnavas’s gleeful illustrations match the spare text and provide plenty of extra colour and comedy. I love his interpretation of various nannas, at once unique and familiar. And I don’t think he will mind me comparing his own inimitable style with that of Bob Graham’s, which I found quite brilliant.

My Nanna is a Ninja is a breath of fresh air celebrating the difference and acceptance of nannas that will ring happy bells with primary school aged readers lucky enough to have grandparents. But I bet, Nanna’s everywhere will develop a case of the chuckles when they read this picture book as well.

Whether you are a nanna, nonna, grandma, nanny or gran, make My Nanna is a Ninja the next picture book you share with your grandchildren.

JonathanWant to see more of Peter Carnavas’s work? If you are in SE QLD, take the kids along to the Black Cat Café and Book shop for the launch of another of his inspired picture books, Jonathon, Sunday the 30th March.

UQP March 2014


Player Profile: Kathryn Fox, author of Fatal Impact

bf7c232487990ad8976f06.L._V192219222_SX200_Kathryn Fox, author of Fatal Impact

Tell us about your latest creation:

 It’s Anya Crichton’s latest adventure. This time she’s in Tasmania, visiting her increasingly erratic GP mother. Anya becomes involved in the death of a young girl and a fatal outbreak of food poisoning. Evidence of the source points to an organic farm, facing ruin. However, delving deeper, Anya discovers a world of corporate corruption, genetically modified foods, a murdered scientist and buried scientific research. Meanwhile, Anya questions her mother’s sanity. Then the stakes turn deadly…

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

Suburban Sydney, the part most people forget exists. I’ve lived here for about twenty years now.

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

 No. From the age of five I wanted to become a doctor and cure autism. I knew if I studied medicine, I could write in the future. I didn’t cure autism, but the writing worked out.

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

 My children, definitely! In terms of books, I think Fatal Impact is my best and most ambitious story. Hopefully, an author learns and improves her craft with each book!

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

 I like order and peace, so I spend mornings writing at a quiet café without internet distraction. The staff is fantastic and know me pretty well after four books there. After that, I head to my home office and catch up on emails/speaking/plan workshops before another session of writing in the afternoon. I love order, but often the desk is messier than I’d like.

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

 Newspapers, blogs, biographies, and at the moment there are so many good YA books around, as well as crime. Anything but unsolved mysteries.

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

 I must have reread Pollyanna dozens of times because of the mix of characters. In high school, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood made me question whether or not evil actually existed. Loved Othello and learnt what I did not like – Sons and Lovers, for example! I also devoured everything I could on Helen Keller in a quest to better understand how a blind, deaf woman learnt to communicate and inspire the world.

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

 Probably Pollyanna. It sounds trite, but I have so much to be grateful for. After seeing so much death and tragedy in medicine, suspect I suffered before my art. It’s easier now to find the positive – or learning potential – in most situations. You learn not use catastrophic language for non-catastrophic events and it helps see the world differently.

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

 Scrapbooking, struggling to learn the harp and piano (not at the same time!) and watching Days of Our Lives. Yes, that’s my guilty vice.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Anything flavoured Chocolate and orange. That’s food and drink!

Who is your hero? Why?:

John Lasseter, head of Pixar studios. He is the Walt Disney of our generation and a brilliant story teller, crusader and humanitarian. Who else could have given us Toy Story films and Monsters Inc? Then there’s UP and the list goes on! He was fired from Disney because the old animators believed computer animation would ever take off. His story is now history.

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

 Keeping the public interested and aware of what’s new. Publishers need to adapt. Some were slow to accept ebooks, but they’re here to stay, and print books will never be completely replaced. I suspect on demand printing will become more common. Reading is living multiple lives in one lifetime, time travelling, relating to people from other worlds and cultures. As long as there are great stories, reading will thrive.

Charles Dickens serialised his books over a century ago, and the internet may mean authors do the same, leaching chapter by chapter in an insanely busy information age. Writers are already adapting with blogs and branding, so it will be interesting to see how books evolve.

Player Profile: Naomi Wood, author of Mrs Hemingway

Naomi-Picador3Naomi Wood, author of Mrs Hemingway

Tell us about your latest creation:

The latest creation is called Mrs. Hemingway. It’s a historical novel, told from the perspectives of Hemingway’s four wives and mistresses: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Set from 1921-61 it all happens in France and America, in places you’d probably like to go on holiday to, and which I had the arduous task of visiting, for research purposes only, of course.

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

London is home. I grew up in Hong Kong but have been back in England now for quite a while. Although I don’t have family in London it’s where all my friends are – my urban family.

9781447229742When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

When I was a kid I wanted to become “a bloodsucking lawyer” which was a cute if annoying phrase I stole from Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (one of my favourite movies still). Only later did I realise I wanted to write – and I was twenty-three when this desire to write really took hold.

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

I’m definitely happiest so far with Mrs. Hemingway. I’m proud of the amount of research I put into it and I’m pleased that I got to give voice to four impressive and under-known women.

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

 I live in London where the rents are astronomical, and my room is tiny! This is a guilty thing to admit but often I write in bed with coffee and toast. The room is too small to even have a desk. And if I’m under the duvet I can save on the central heating. It all gets a bit chaotic and invariably there’s ink all over the bedcovers.

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

Too many writers to possibly name but! Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, James Salter, and I am slowly getting into the work of Kent Haruf. Beautiful work, beautiful sentences.

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

The classics, really – anything by Roald Dahl. I was also a real sucker for the tender friendship shown in Charlotte’s Web. In my early teens I had a brief but intense swing into fantasy and adored the books of Robin Jarvis – all I can remember about them now is that they
were about some rather plucky mice and that I couldn’t put them down.

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

I’d like to be the marvellously damaged Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. Beautiful, urbane, and able to drink like a fish.

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

 I like to work on small patch-working projects – things like cushions and small quilts. You can find pictures of my designs on my website. I like working with colour. It’s very pleasing to the eye after the black/white nature of writing.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love Korean food and would like to put kimchi into everything. Fave drink = red wine, of course.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Martha Gellhorn – for her work, her bravery, her independence at a time when women war correspondents just didn’t really exist.

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

The biggest challenge to the written word is probably the image. Images, especially movings ones, are incredibly easy to consume, they tell a story in half the time, and they give the same emotional punch. Will people read if TV box-sets and movies take over? I hope so. But  it might be a dwindling proportion of us.


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Review – The Human Division by John Scalzi

Firstly, WOW! John Scalzi has already blown my mind with Redshirts and the previous Old Man’s War series but his new book is something else. For any literary snob that still looks down on genre writers I pity you because the way Scalzi has constructed this novel is something to behold.

The Human Division was originally released in 13 parts, over 13 weeks. Think your favourite TV series and you’ll understand the structure. Each part is an episode that pretty much stands alone but bound together forms a story arc that comes to a climax in the season finale. I really wanted to read this week by week but, for one reason or another, my reading life didn’t seem to make room. But just like a TV series I totally binged on all 13 episodes at once. And having now been “renewed” for a “second season” I will definitely be reading week-by-week next time.

Each of Scalzi’s previous Old Man’s War books have explored different aspects of the universe he has created; The Colonial Defense Force’s recruiting process, their special forces and colonization. In The Human Division Scalzi explores the murky and high stakes world of diplomacy in the universe. Not only must the CDF navigate delicate negotiations with hundreds of different alien species they also must deal with The Conclave who are trying to put an end to unmitigated colonization. This is complicated by the fact that, thanks to John Perry, Earth wants more of a say now in universal affairs.

Harry Wilson, who was a back seat character in the previous books takes centre stage but the episodic structure means we also explore and visit many different characters, old and new, as well as a variety of fascinating, hilarious and intriguing storylines. I loved the previous four books in this series but I think this might be my favourite novel of all. Scalzi’s universe contains a rich plethora of stories to explore each more beautifully complicated than the last and I’m chomping at the bit for season two!

Buy the book here…

Guest Post from Tristan Bancks – Stuck in Head. Forget You Have Body

Story Safari Tristan Bancks Feb 2013‘All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.’

Friedrich Nietzsche

A few years ago, on a stopover in Singapore, I had reflexology on the fourth floor of a haphazard shopping mall on Orchard Road. The man charged with the unfortunate task of reviving my crusty, travel-worn hooves asked, ‘What your job?’ I replied, ‘Writer.’ He clicked his tongue several times as he continued to punish my feet. I eventually asked why he was so disappointed by my occupation and he said, ‘Tch,’ again. ‘Stuck in head. Forget you have body.’

Story Safari Tristan Bancks CliffI wasn’t overjoyed with this, but the feet don’t lie. Indeed, much of the time, I am stuck in head, forget I have body. I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said that he looks at his body exclusively as a vehicle for transporting his head around and, once upon a time, I agreed but, apparently, this approach is a killer. Australia’s recently released Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines link inactivity with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity. Not great news for writers. (Especially the bit about doing 300 minutes of physical activity each week.)

Ernest Hemingway, famously, wrote standing up. So, too, did Lewis Carroll, Nabokov and Thomas Wolfe (although he died at age 37. Sadly, standing up is not a cure for tuberculosis.) And, since that fateful reflexology session I have tried to inject more activity into my writing process.

Tristan Bancks Writing Safari 10Most of my latest book Two Wolves was written outdoors. It’s a crime-mystery story about two kids who are kidnapped by their own parents and taken out on the run to a woodsy cabin. Connection with Nature was an important part of the story and over the five years of writing the book I spent many weeks on the beach in Byron, jotting Notes on my iPhone or capturing ideas in Voice Memo. Something about being grounded, shoes off, breeze on skin, with the white-noise roar of the ocean, allowed the words to flow more freely and honestly. In the space of four hours I could write 2500 words – far more productive than my indoor, desk-bound efforts. And writing on the beach has the added advantage of not feeling like real work. An iPhone Note doesn’t look like an ‘official’ manuscript page, which relaxes the inner critic and allows you to get on with the business of sketching a draft (while simultaneously staving off cancer, obesity and depression, it seems.)

Like many writers, I still sit for too long most days, I still get trapped on the Web, but I believe in the mental, creative and physical benefits of activity, whether it’s beach-walking or yoga, a treadmill desk or simply setting an alarm every hour as a reminder to stand up and walk to the fridge. I like to think that my best work is ahead of me and it would be nice to be alive in order to write it.

As I type these words I’m in a restaurant with durian fruit, bananas and chickens hanging all around. I’m on another short stop in Singapore, and I have a good mind to track down that smarmy reflexologist guy with the clicking tongue, and thank him for potentially adding years to my life.

Tristan Bancks is a childrens and young adult author. Two Wolves is released in March 2014 by Random House Australia.


Review – The Free by Willy Vlautin

9780571300297I have always meant to read Willy Vlautin. My old sales rep practically begged me for years to read him (I still have two books in my to read pile). One of my favourite authors, George Pelecanos, ranks him as one of his favourite writers (which should have been enough for me). But what finally got to me read Willy Vlautin was the Ann Patchett quote (alongs side a Pelecanos) quote on the front of his new novel, because quite frankly Ann Patchett has done me no wrong lately.

This is not a war novel but it does deal with the aftereffects of war. It is not a political novel but it does look at health care in America. It is a novel about the wounded. Those wounded by what life throws at them and what they do with those wounds. It is a dazzling original novel, profound and full of hope. And it will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

The Free reminded me of two things. The first was one of the best books I’ve read about war, Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien. O’Brien is best known for his Vietnam War novel The Things They CarriedGoing After Cacciato was very different. It was experimental, it played with the boundaries of reality and went to that place inside a soldier’s head where he tries to hide from the horrors of war. Willy Vlautin takes this even further with the character of Leroy Kervin.

Leroy is a wounded veteran of Iraq. He has suffered a horrific brain injury and has spent years in a home for the disabled, barely functional. As the book opens Leroy has a moment of clarity and tries to take his own life. We then follow Leroy as he dips in and out of consciousness and into the dream world he creates to escape to somewhere better, to come to terms to what has happened to him.

Around these dreams we meet the people around Leroy; his mother who sits by his bedside reading science fiction novels to him, his girlfriend Jeanette who is also a huge part of Leroy’s dreamscape. Leroy’s dream world reminded me a lot of George Saunders’ short stories. Influenced by the books Leroy used to read, and now listens to, his dreams take on a slight science fiction bend. But as hard as Leroy tries he can’t out run his own consciousness and he wounds and memories creep into his dreams.

We also follow Pauline, the nurse who cares for Leroy in the hospital and Freddy, the caretaker at the home who found Leroy. These are the other wounded, the ones who soldier on. Who bare the brunt of a hard and uncompromising world. Freddy is drowning in debt trying to pay off a huge hospital bill. He works two jobs and as a consequence his wife and kids have left him. Pauline looks after her mentally ill father while at the same time trying to care for her patients at the hospital. But both Pauline and Leroy find hope in their lives and this drives them toward something better.

Willy Vlautin is an amazing writer who I should have read long before now and I can’t wait to get stuck into his previous books I have sitting in my pile.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Simple Things

Great Aunt Lola is about to die. At least ten year-old Stephen thinks she could because she’s that old, and grumpy. And Stephen, labouring under a self and parent imposed ‘shy label’, is more than a little scared of her. He simply wants to flee, but is stuck in Aunt Lola’s house for the next three weeks until she turns eighty, or dies.

The Simple ThingsThey say the simple things in life are the best, but could friendship with his elderly aunt be that easy and straightforward? Award-winning author Bill Condon convinces me it can.

Condon’s latest ‘tween’ novel, The Simple Things is for bridging the generation gap, what styling gel is for rampant adolescent hair-dos; maybe not 100% essential but essentially 100% worth the effort.

Actually, it was no effort at all to immerse myself into this heart-warming tale about letting go, facing personal doubts and overcoming uncomfortable situations. It’s a story about an only child who does what his parents tell him to do, is scared of climbing trees and doesn’t seem surrounded by an ocean of friends.

Blue, Stephen’s dog back home, is the one he misses most during his enforced exile at Aunt Lola’s place. However, he soon meets Lola’s neighbour and past flame, Norm, and Norm’s granddaughter, Allie. With their help, Stephen is able to confront a few of his short comings. He also embarks on a small sojourn of self-discovery as he learns about the simple things in life – like fishing, cricket, climbing trees and death. All this explicably pulls him closer to Aunt Lola. They form a prickly alliance, each benefitting from the other until finally they are forced to admit a deep and special friendship.

The Simple Things is ‘smiley face perfect’ (re; the wet cement moment page 127). Condon writes with unaffected adroitness, delivering this story with equal measures of gentle humour and poignancy, and just enough secrecy to entice readers to want to find out what really lurks behind Aunt Lola’s tough-guy bravado.

Bill CondonCondon’s characters are bright, sharply drawn individuals with enough depth to make us laugh and cry, minus the melancholy. I found Stephen’s charismatic, larrikin father and sarcasm-welding Allie most endearing along with our hesitant hero’s comical boyish charm.

The Simple Things is one of those easy to read, easy to enjoy books, so I suspect it was not that simple to write. But I for one am grateful Condon persevered as Stephen did with his aunt, for it simplifies the complexities of a young person’s relationship with themselves and their aging relative with composite grace and humour, allowing young male and female readers to value and cherish their own relatives all the better.

See why here.

Allen & Unwin February 2014


Supercharged Food: Eat Yourself Beautiful

Eat Yourself BeautifulNecessity is, as they say, the mother of all invention. Or rather, the reason we begin to investigate and address issues that have become too troubling to ignore.

Even though she’s been investigating many more issues and things than most of us for a long time, certified holistic health coach, yoga teacher, wholefoods chef, and author Lee Holmes is no exception to this rule.

Holmes started researching and experimenting with nutritious recipes—many of which were free from gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast, and sugar—to eat herself well after she was in 2006 diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

That’s an auto-immune disease Wikipedia tells me is characterised by chronic widespread pain and a heightened and excruciating response to pressure. Its other symptoms can include debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance, joint stiffness, difficulty with swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling, and cognitive dysfunction. Suffice to say, it’s a serious-enough illness to make you rethink—and rejig—aspects of your life.

But instead of opting for the generally prescribed medicine to treat the illness, Holmes figured there had to be another way to treat (if not cure) fibromyalgia. Cue the creation of Supercharged Food: Eat Yourself Beautiful, a beautifully presented book containing over 100 nutritious recipes designed to counter auto-immune illnesses such as fibromyalgia by eating yourself well. It follows on from her Supercharged Food and Supercharged Food for Kids cookbooks.

The recipes—many of them refreshingly free from gluten, wheat, dairy, yeast, and sugar—focus on simple, nutrition-packed, anti-inflammatory ‘super foods’, and are designed to produce inner and outer health and beauty.

I’ll not deny I was—and am—dubious about the book’s title. Surely being healthy is more important than being beautiful? But I will concede that the word ‘beautiful’ is likely to aim to imply healthfulness-related and -radiated beauty than that of the narrowly defined notions of beauty we find in film, television, and glossy magazines. So, I’m approaching it more along the lines of the adages ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘beauty isn’t skin deep’—that is, what’s inside matters just as much and affects what’s outside.

Supercharged Food‘It’s not about wanting to be Peter Pan,’ Holmes says in the press release. Rather, it’s about continued good health and aging gracefully, changing your lifestyle instead of see-sawing between fad diets.

Title quibbles aside, the book is gorgeously presented (Murdoch Books can always be counted on to produce incredible cookbooks—all three of Holmes’ books are through them). The Supercharged Food: Eat Yourself Beautiful images are salivation-inducing scrumptious and the communication design is clear and useful. For example, colour-coded symbols and initialisms denote at a glance whether a recipe is wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, and so on.

The recipes too are delicious. Adhering to the food-as-medicine principle, the meals are full anti-oxidant, immune-boosting foods. I roadtested three at a recent dinner party: broccolini with garlic and chilli; carrot, lemon and fresh mint soup; and turmeric, cauliflower and almond.

I’ve haven’t images of the recipes both because my interpretations weren’t nearly as pretty as the book’s and because they were consumed so quickly and so heartily I didn’t have time to take a picture before they were gone. I recommend instead checking out the ones in the book—if they don’t inspire you to crack out your cooking utensils, nothing will.

It goes without saying then that Supercharged Food and its recipes warrant a thumbs-up review. So too does the complementary website, which boasts a host a supporting material, including meal plans, information, and resources—it’s easy to see why Holmes has been awarded as both a writer and a blogger.

Supercharged Food is relevant to those of us aiming to conquer some auto-immune illnesses, but it’s a healthful choice for those of us who aren’t. Maybe one day we’ll have no need of the necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention adage because we’ll have thwarted it by living the prevention-is-better-than-cure one instead.

Thanks to Murdoch Books for the opportunity to review Supercharged Food and apologies the review has taken so long to post—post-person confusion saw the book wrongly delivered to my neighbour’s place, but the book’s found its home now and I won’t be relinquishing it anytime soon.


GloriaIt’s a peculiar and depressing phenomenon that women—far more than men—who have moved past youthful attraction and procreating age tend to become invisible. So a film featuring a 58-year-old female divorcee is something of an anomaly (you can watch the trailer here).

Trend-bucking protagonist Gloria (who lends the film its name) refuses to be typecast. Her now-grown children have left home and are having children of their own. Her ex-husband has moved on. She would like to move on too.

Attempting to defy loneliness, disconnection, and old age, Gloria ventures out to singles parties. This is where we meet her in the subtitled Chilean film’s opening scenes, swallowing a drink and plucking up the courage to enter the dancing and dating fray.

But her prospective beaus bring a lifetime of baggage and bad habits, and Gloria finds her flings brief and unfulfilling. Adult courting is, it seems, just as awkward and excruciating as when you’re in your teens.

Then Gloria meets Rodolfo, a former naval officer now fun-park owner seven years her senior and with whom she can actually imagine a future. Yet the relationship’s not without its quirks and challenges, and it’s these difficulties and how they infer to the rest of Gloria’s life that provide the film with its main narrative drive.

Without giving too much away, we gain insight into Gloria through these events and incidents and how she handles herself throughout them. She is a fascinatingly complex, strong woman we come to admire and respect.

Gloria is an understated lead and the film itself is quietly, thoughtfully unveiled. Which makes it sound, on paper, as though it’s slow and boring and lacks the makings of a hit, but it’s the antithesis: subtle, surprising, compelling.

Gloria is someone who could be our mother. She’s someone I’m conscious I might grow up to be (and yes, that realisation was rather like having to face my own mortality).

Because here’s what most impressed me about this film and for which I can’t take credit for thinking up because it’s in the director’s notes (although it made complete sense when I read it and decided I must have known it subconsciously):

The film, which is told from Gloria’s point of view, contains not a single frame in which her body isn’t present. Every scene ekes out information about how she’s feeling about life and how and where she fits in with the rest of the world.

Here’s the zinger: Gloria plays a supporting role in the lives of those around her, yet Gloria has managed to turn a supporting role into a leading one.

‘Gloria is the study of character that we all know in real life, but we have never seen in a movie before,’ producer Pablo Larrain says, ‘and that’s a major achievement.’

The story is mature, nuanced. Gloria is an unobtrusive character, more observer than at the centre of the action. Her vision is failing and her over-sized, almost Coke-bottle-thick glasses dominate her face. She scrambles with putting them on, adjusting them, and occasionally taking them off throughout the film—they’re an aid as much as a hamper.

Perhaps most surprising and haunting is that Gloria’s is a story that’s everyday, yet we’ve never noticed or considered it before. Gloria offers us a new lens through which to look—I’m now looking around me with a new perspective and clarity.

Chilean actor Paulina Garcia, normally a theatre actor and now, like Gloria, playing her first leading feature film role, inhabits Gloria magnificently. Her actions are strong yet mild, grief-stricken yet stoic. She’s determined to find a place for herself—and to find love—in a world that overlooks her for both.

Garcia was awarded the Best Actress award at the 2013 Berlinale film festival; the film won Best Film at the same event. The jury reportedly commended the film ‘for its refreshing and contagious plea that life is a celebration to which we are all invited, regardless of age or condition, and that its complexities only add to the challenge to live it in full’.

I agree with that sentiment. Gloria surprised me—I’ll admit I paused momentarily when I was offered its review. I wondered: What insight could I possibly gain from the film or offer on its verdict? Would I even be able to maintain interest for its entirety?

The answer is a simple yes. The film’s not slow, it’s thoughtful. Gloria is not definitively sad, she’s ultimately extremely optimistic and resilient. The story’s not ordinary, it’s utterly important and relatable. Next time I hear a love song come on the radio in my car, I’ll be smiling and singing along and thinking of Gloria and women like her (which may include me).

Which begs the question: If there are few (or I’ve missed) films featuring ordinary women not traditionally put in leading roles, I’ve missed books that do similarly. If I were to try to expand my reading oeuvre accordingly, which book(s) would you recommend I start with?

Thanks to Rialto Distribution for the Gloria review opportunity. Gloria is now open at selected cinemas nationally.

Doodles and Drafts – A Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

Alison ReynoldsA couple of years ago a diminutive orange cat sprang into our hearts and homes courtesy of picture book creators, Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie. That cat was, Marmalade. He caused quite a sensation around our home, so when we heard he was on tour with Alison Reynolds, purrs of satisfaction reverberated throughout the house once more.

Alison Reynolds is no stranger to children’s fiction, but when she teams with illustrator, Heath McKenzie, her work is picture book paean.Heath McKenzie 2

A New Friend for Marmalade, sequel to the hugely successful, A Year with Marmalade, is a simple story about making new friends. But as we all know, the art of forming and maintaining friendships is seldom that straightforward. Hierarchy and the delicate differences between boys and girls all begin to surface in early primary years, making social interplay more of a challenge.

A new friend for MarmaladeWhen Toby, the boy across the road attempts to join BFFs, Ella, Maddy and Marmalade, things go instantly awry. Toby’s endeavours to fit in are not particularly successful nor welcomed by Ella and Maddy. He is over-exuberant, clumsy and dresses funny. Marmalade, however, sees him differently.

In Marmalade’s moment of crisis, his gamble on Toby pays off and beautiful new friendships are forged all round.

I love the snappy, clean layout of this picture book. Swirling text works effectively against plenty of white space, giving readers the sensation of floating seamlessly along with the story.

The narrative itself is succinct and character driven, with enough repeating phraseology to prompt even the most modest beginner reader to join in the fun.

McKenzie’s soft smudges of pastel colour highlight significant aspects and emotions of the story: the girls’ cubby house and sand castle city, Toby’s cap and scooter, and of course, our little orange hero, Marmalade.A NFM illos

Acceptance, tolerance and making that leap of faith permeate appealingly through this dreamy picture book, resulting in a fine example of ‘less is more’. It certainly stacks up for me.

Uncover why sand-castle-city builders from the age of 4 years and up will treasure A New Friend for Marmalade, here.

Stick around with Alison and Marmalade for the rest of their tour and participate in the fantastic competitions listed below. You never know, you might just make few new friends along the way!

The Five Mile Press 2013

Alison Reynolds Blog Tour Dates

March 2014

11th Dee White – review and post

11th Chris Bell – post

12th Angela Sunde – interview with Heath

12th KBR – book giveaway

13th Boomerang Books – Post with Dimity Powell

14th KBR Guest post

14th KBR Review

14th Sally Murphy – Meet my book

15th Buzz Words – Interview

17th Ask the Bean Counter – Mr X

17th Pass-it-on Post and Review- Jackie Hosking

18th Ask the Publisher – Kay Scarlett

Pet contest for all ages!

Marmalade the cat is full of personality. Do you have a pet with personality? Win a piece of artwork by Heath McKenzie. Send along a photo of your personality-plus pet to, [email protected] or upload to

Random book giveaways!

Just leave a comment on one of the posts in the blog tour, comment on Facebook or even email Alison that you want to enter competition to win A New Friend for Marmalade.

Jump the Slush Pile!

Win a free pass to a Children’s editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials CB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Jump the Slush Pile!

Win a free pass to a Non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win an assessment of Chapter One of a chapter book by the fabulous mentor extraordinaire Dee White. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials DW. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win a free picture book assessment by Alison! Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials PB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.


Player Profile: Jaclyn Moriarty, author of The Cracks in the Kingdom

moriartyjaclyn02Jaclyn Moriarty, author of The Cracks in the Kingdom

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Cracks in the Kingdom is the second book in ‘the Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy.  The Royal Family of the Kingdom of Cello are trapped in our world.  Madeleine, who lives in Cambridge, England has been exchanging letters with Elliot who comes from a farming town in the Kingdom of Cello, through a crack in a parking meter.  Now Madeleine and Elliot must work together to locate the Royal Family, figure out how to open up the crack, and bring the Royals home.

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

I grew up in the north-west of Sydney, spent a few years living in the US, the UK and Canada, and now I’m back in Sydney.  I live close to the harbour and beaches. I like being near water.  When I lived in Montreal, I kept looking for the coast.

9781742612874When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I wanted to be an author from when I was about six.  I also wanted to be an astronomer, an astronaut, a flight attendant, a teacher, a psychologist, and a movie star.

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

I always have trouble with this question.  I think it’s a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child.  And what if I chose one, and then one of the other books happened to see my answer here?  How hurt would he/she be?  I’d have to pay for therapy for him/her for years.

I like all my books for different reasons eg Feeling Sorry for Celia, for being my first book and having a lot of me in it; Finding Cassie Crazy (or The Year of Secret Assignments) because I love the characters; Bindy Mackenzie, because I feel protective of Bindy because everybody hates her, and so on.  I’m proud of A Corner of White and The Cracks in the Kingdom because I spent years imagining the Kingdom of Cello, months researching colours, science, and music, and they are closest to what I want to write.

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

Most mornings I work at one of the outside tables of a local cafe.  So my writing environment is noisy, sunny (or rainy, cloudy, stormy etc) and cluttered (there is nowhere to put my tea because the table is always covered in notes, textas and pens).  In the afternoon I work at my desk in my study.  It’s always important to me to clear the desk completely and tidy up the room before I begin writing.  That’s probably just procrastination.

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

I read a lot of children’s and YA books.  Some of my favourites are Diana Wynne Jones, Louis Sachar, Libba Bray, Frank Cottrell Boyce, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, E.L. Konigsburg.  Some of my favourite writers for adults include Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Virginia Woolf, P.G. Wodehouse, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Barbara Kingsolver, Karen Joy Fowler.

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

In primary school, the defining books were E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet, Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger and James and the Giant Peach, Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time,  Enid Blyton’s, The Folk of the Faraway Tree.  I could go on for a long time.

In high school, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Virigina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. 

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

I always imagine I am Elizabeth Bennett, but I think a lot of people imagine that about themselves.  I grew up identifying with Clover, the second sister in What Katy Did.  Like me, she was a second sister with a charismatic older sister she adored, and she was quiet but sometimes funny.  And I was very taken with her name.

Also Eva Ibbotson wrote some great historical romances with heroines who were quite ordinary-looking but whose faces scrunched up when they smiled, and who therefore caught the attention of the sexy male hero.  I’m pretty sure my ordinary face scrunches up when I smile.

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

I have a seven-year-old son named Charlie so mostly I spend my spare time trying to get him to do his homework, or trying to get him to stop throwing balls around the apartment. (‘There’s quite a lot of thudding up there,’ the man who lives downstairs said to me the other day.)  I’m also addicted to baking cakes (especially anything with ginger and cinnamon), and I am learning the cello, and, if there was a frozen lake anywhere, I would like to skate on it.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Favourite foods include chocolate, blueberries and fine-quality peach; favourite drink, champagne or hot chocolate.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My hero is my mother because she raised six children, took care of over 50 foster children, and made every single child feel special.  She seems like a gentle, quiet person but actually has a wide streak of stubborn strength and a wicked sense of humour. My dad is also very impressive to me because he built up a big successful surveying business out of nothing, learned how to fly planes and helicopters, and he can fix things.

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

The fragmentation of the concentration span.  Nobody wants to read more than two or three lines any more.

Review – & Sons by David Gilbert

9780007552795I am a sucker for a great American novel, in particular ones set in college and this kind of fits into both those categories but with a twist. This was originally described to me as Wonderboys meets The Art of Fielding which isn’t necessarily true. Instead imagine a novel like Wonderboys or The Art of Fielding and then imagine what happens to the author and his family forty years later.

A.N. Dyer is the author of Ampersand, a seminal work of American literature set in a college in the 1950s. It was the defining book of his career and is still held in reverence forty years later. A.N. Dyer, Andrew, is now an old man. He has three sons, two with his wife and one from an affair that ended his marriage. Following the death of his oldest and closest friend Andrew, sensing his own imminent mortality, tries to repair his damaged relationship with his sons.

Gilbert treads a fine line throughout the book between satire and metafiction dipping in and out of each almost perfectly. He deftly blurs the lines between fact and fiction in his fictitious world. The way his dissects the publishing industry is wickedly brilliant but the core of the novel is the relationship between fathers and sons and the battles fought over legacy and individualism. The story is narrated by Philipp Topping, the son of Andrew’s recently deceased best friend, who I wouldn’t go as far to say is an unreliable narrator but he definitely has his own biases. The story does take a slightly odd turn but Gilbert keeps everything on the road.

A clever story of fathers and sons and a tragic exploration of the great American novel and it’s aftermath.

Buy the book here…

The Neil Gaiman Dilemma

The MilkI’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s stuff since I discovered The Sandman back in the 1990s, while I was working in a comic book store. Although I haven’t read everything he’s written, I’ve read a lot of it. I was ridiculously excited when it was first announced that he was going to write an episode of Doctor Who and I quickly jumped online to buy tickets when he was speaking at the Athenaeum Theatre back in 2011. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a bit of a Neil Gaiman fan. So how do I deal with the fact that I didn’t care for Fortunately, The Milk…?

I wanted to like it. I wanted to like it, so much — as I always want to like what Gaiman writes. But it just didn’t work for me — at least not on the level of The Graveyard Book (see: “Gaiman’s Graveyard Book”) or Chu’s Days (see: “Neil Gaiman’s sneezy picture book”), both of which I adored. Fortunately, The Milk… was kinda cute. But I also found it predictable in its somewhat forced unpredictableness (if that makes any sense).

But my opinions of Fortunately, The Milk… are irrelevant. After all, I’m sure Gaiman doesn’t care. And it’s not as if my opinion will have any bearing on whether other people purchase it and like it. What’s important here is how my opinion of Fortunately, The Milk… affects ME! 😉 Does it nullify my Neil Gaiman fan status? Should I now avoid future Gaiman books on the off chance I don’t care for them?

After the initial shock of my reaction to Fortunately, The Milk…, I did eventually calm down and try to look at things with reason. After thinking about it a little, I realised that this has happened before.

I LOVED the episode that Gaiman wrote for Series 6 of Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife” (See: “Gaiman and the Doctor“). I loved it so much that I immediately started hoping he would write another. And he did. For Series 7 he wrote “Nightmare in Silver”. I was so excited. I expected  to love it. Instead, I was massively underwhelmed. For a while there I thought that Gaiman maybe only had one good Doctor Who story in him. But then I read 11 Doctors, 11 Stories, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary story collection. In it was Gaiman’s “Nothing O’Clock”… and it was brilliant!

Ocean at the end of the laneSo, having reminded myself of this incident, I decided not to give up on Neil Gaiman as a writer — and, more importantly, on myself as a Gaiman fan. I picked up my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which had been sitting on my must-read-soon pile for way too long, and I read it. And I loved it!

[insert sigh of relief]

The story was small and personal, dealing with one man’s memories of a forgotten childhood incident, and yet it was also on a grand scale —mythic and epic. The characterisation was believable, the setting tangible and the memories vivid. I felt like I was there. I was immersed in this literary ocean. I am so pleased that I read it.

So, folks, what did I learn from all of this? If one of my favourite authors occasionally produces something that I don’t particularly like, it doesn’t mean that all this other writing is suddenly negated. Ergo… I should never dismiss any author just because I didn’t care for one piece of his/her writing. What if Fortunately, The Milk… had been my first experience of Gaiman’s writing? What if I had never picked up another Gaiman book? How much poorer would my literary landscape have been.

Catch ya later,  George

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Paradise2Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — The Paradise: Series 2




Review – The Tenth of December by George Saunders

9781408837368I don’t read a lot of short stories. As whole I find them unsatisfying and would much rather sink my teeth into something longer. All though in saying that I am a massive convert to serial fiction where you get to read 100-200 pages of a continuous story every 3-4 months. There has been a lot of buzz about George Saunders’ latest collection of stories and after receiving a strong recommendation to give him a go I did exactly that.

The first story, Victory Lap, was amazing. The way Saunders got into the head of the three characters so quickly and fully was something to behold. It is a powerful and dark story, told very delicately, that really kicked off the collection well. Saunders followed this up with Sticks, a really shorty story consisting of only two paragraphs that again packed a punch that belied its size. My other favourites in the collection were Escape From Spiderhead, which is about an unusual experiment conducted on prisoners and the powerful The Semplica-Girl Diaries which lures you into some absolutely biting satire.

The writing is amazing but by the end of the collection my feelings about short stories bore true again. I felt unsatisfied and wanting more exploration of the ideas Saunders was bringing up and commenting on. As a writer I can see that he is a masterful storyteller, as reader I just wanted a bit more to sink my teeth into.

Buy the book here…

Review – Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

9780060572150After reading Ann Patchett’s This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage I had to go back and read this book. Firstly because I learnt Ann writes non fiction just as beautifully as she does her fiction and secondly she talks in the book about a controversy surrounding Truth & Beauty.

In 2006, Clemson University assigned Truth & Beauty to the freshman class and Ann was invited to give the Convocation Address. However one parent deemed the book inappropriate, the media got involved and mass ignorance ensued. Ann details the events in ‘“The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal”’ in her frank and forthright style, her humour keeping you from boiling with outrage. After reading the book the whole incident seems even more ridiculous and also I sense more hurtful that Ann let on in her piece.

Truth & Beauty is the story of Ann’s friendship with Lucy Grealy. Lucy had a highly aggressive form of cancer when she was a child which left her with a badly disfigured jaw. Lucy had numerous operations throughout her life to try and correct and/or alleviate her disfigurement.

Lucy’s whole life was (rightly and wrongly) dominated by her face. It defined how people treated her and it defined how she saw herself. It was a part of who she was and shaped her as a person, good and bad. It was also a burden that became impossible for her to bear but her friends were always there to help pull her through.

Ann met Lucy at college but they became friends when they both attended the Iowa Writers Workshop together. Their lives and careers became entwined from that day forward. Ann writes about her friendship with Lucy warts and all. The good times and the bad. The times when Lucy was on top of the world and vice versa. How they supported each other through thick and thin and all the difficulties any friendship faces along the way.

Ann tells the story of her friendship with Lucy with clarity and emotion, with honesty and understanding. Heart breaking and gut wrenching. Truth and beauty. Ann Patchett at her best.

Buy the book here…

5Q Interview with Pip Harry, author of I’ll Tell You Mine

0002846Pip Harry is a freelance journalist who has worked on magazines for many years, including chasing celebrities as Entertainment Editor for NW and Deputy Editor for TV Week before turning herself into a yoga-loving frequent flyer as Health & Travel Editor for Woman’s Day. She’s the co-founder of relationships website, and has had short stories published in the UTS Writer’s Anthology and Wet Ink. She became a published author with her debut YA novel I’ll Tell You Mine. Her second YA novel, Head of the River is arriving in 2014, along with a non-fiction ebook about relationships, co-written by Rachel Smith. Pip lives in Sydney with her partner and their gorgeous daughter, Sophie. When not at a keyboard, she can be found searching for the perfect flat white and competing in ocean swimming

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

It was a fantasy picture book about faeries and magical lands.  Lots of world building and illustration.  I was seven when it was self published and distributed amongst my friends and family. Reviews were glowing.

9780702239380How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

Four. One adult, two YA and a middle grade. All not quite there, but great practice.

What sorts of books do you love to read?

Contemporary YA and adult fiction. Real, funny, gritty and relatable writing always grabs me. My writing buddy Pam Newton also turned me onto smart crime fiction like Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.

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?

Is John Green available? We could write a YA love story set in the US & Australia. I’ll have to give him a call and set that up. I’d also love to co-write with my brother Michael, who is a brilliant young writer and editor. We just need to get less busy!

What are you working on now and next?

Now I am putting the finishing touches on a contemporary YA set in the world of competitive school rowing called Head of the River.  It’s out in 2014 with UQP. Next I have co-authored a relationship non fiction ebook with Rachel Smith for Xoum publishing.

Author website:

Twitter: @piphaz


Player Profile: Anita Heiss, author of Tiddas

Photo Credit: Amanda James
Photo Credit: Amanda James

Anita Heiss, author of Tiddas

Tell us about your latest creation:

My new novel is called TIDDAS. Tiddas, for those who don’t know, is a generic Aboriginal term for your close female friends, those who are like sisters to you. And the tiddas in my novel comprise five women (three Koori, two non-Indigenous) who were born, raised and knocked around together in Mudgee (Wiradjuri country). Over the course of their lives they all move to Brisbane and as they approach their 40s they are each going through a particular journey that puts pressure on themselves and each other. The novel looks at the strengths and challenges of life-long friendships, and deals with a range of issues including substance abuse, identity, unplanned pregnancies and failed attempts at pregnancy.

The structure of the novel revolves around monthly book club meetings, with most titles opening up group discussion of Aboriginal arts, culture, politics and social justice. Identity in all forms is also discussed and unpacked.

For me, Tiddas is also a story that celebrates sameness – what makes us the same as women, the shared human emotions we experience, how we all value our friendships and how many of us are people who like to read.

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

Sydney is my home but my mob are from central NSW, Wiradjuri country – Tumut, Brungle, Cowra and Griffith.

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

As a kind under ten, I wanted to be a nun, then an air-hostess and at one point I wanted to be Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligans Island). As a teenager I was a great penpal, but in my youth I never imagine that I would be an author.

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

I think that my latest novel TIDDAS is my best to date. I guess I hope that after a number of novels my storytelling has improved. TIDDAS is also something that is also very close to me and I think that passion and love for it comes through in the work.

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

I’m currently at a beautiful desk my late father made. And I try to make my office tidy, really I do, but I have paper and books and chocolate and notes usually all over my desk while writing. I have a gorgeous big computer screen which in recent years has made a difference, especially when I spent on average eight hours a day in front of a computer. I also have a vision board in eyesight to remind me of what my goals are for the year.

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

I read across genres – for example, this year alone I’ve read fiction, kids fiction, a couple of picture books, non-fiction and aI’m just about to delve into and anthology of Indigenous writing from a group in Canberra. The list looks like this: Home by Toni Morrison, Dear Life by Alice Munro, The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, How Successful People Lead, by John C. Maxwell, Alfie’s Search for Destiny, David Hardy, The Spotty Dotty Lady, Josie Boyle, illustrated by Fern Martins, Liar Bird, Lisa Walker, Dead Man’s Gold, by Michael Torres, illustrated by Sharyn Egan, By Close of Business: Us Mob Writing (anthology).

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

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – because it was the only book we read at school that talked about race and race relations.

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

At 45 I took up running. Mid-life crisis? You decide. I also love to chill at the beach, a LOT!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Favourite bad food is chocolate, favourite good food is the humble banana

Who is your hero? Why?:

My Mum – she is strong, kind, always there for me, and she’s good for laugh.

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

I think competition with electronic media – hand held games etc. A lot of kids have a game in their hands constantly, rather than a book. I think nurturing that love of reading in our young people is one of the biggest challenges.

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5Q Interview with Tristan Bancks, author of Two Wolves

bancks, tristanTristan Bancks is a writer and filmmaker. He has a background as an actor and television presenter in Australia and the UK. His short films have won a number of awards and have screened widely in festivals and on TV. Tristan has written a number of books for kids and teens, including the Mac Slater, Coolhunter series, It’s Yr Life with Tempany Deckert, and My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. Tristan’s drive is to tell inspiring, fast-moving stories for young people.

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

I think it was a rip-off of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which kids could gain all their essential nutrients by eating ice cream flavoured like meat, pumpkin, brocolli etc. When I visit schools now and run workshops with younger grades I notice that kids are still writing that story. I am considering suing several of them because their work is way too close to my version. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

 97808579820322. How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

My first novel Mac Slater, Coolhunter was published but I had written lots of short films, a couple of un-produced feature film screenplays, hundreds of articles and a number of Educational fiction and non-fiction titles prior to having that book published.

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

I seem to love page-turning reads with unadorned prose and strong characters that explore an idea. My favourite adult books include Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Jack London’s White Fang. My favourite children’s and middle-grade reads include Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Tim Winton’s The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

 97818647181714. 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 have co-written a novel, it’s yr life with Tempany Deckert, which really brought the writing process alive for me. I also love collaborating with illustrators. These days, I think I find it difficult to co-write but I would love to collaborate with a Web / Gaming person to build interactive elements into the story as I write.

5. What are you working on now and next?

I am working on my third book of weird-funny-gross short stories in the My Life series and, in the background, I am exploring another darker middle-grade crime-adventure book along the lines of Two Wolves.

Author website:

Twitter: @tristanbancks


A Few Corpses Short of an Artery

Live fast, die youngVampire Academy
Bad girls do it well
Live fast, die young
Bad girls do it well

I’ll not deny I felt a fist pump-inducing thrill when MIA’s lyrics opened Vampire Academy’s film adaptation’s opening moments. It’s exactly the song that metes out the sass and sexiness we’ve come to know and love in the book series.

(I’ve blogged about this series a bunch of times here, so if you haven’t read the books, recommend peeling off to read those reviews and the books themselves before reading this one, because there’s some assumed knowledge in the pars that follow.)

I’ll also not deny I’d been beyond excited about the film’s impending release—relentlessly so, if you were to ask those around me upon whom I inflicted my enthusiasm. The day I got to preview the film, for instance, I bounded out of bed like the character of a Disney film and smiled at strangers on the street.

I simultaneously adopted the Madagascar ‘I like to move it, move it’ song as my motif, and sent it to around as if to say: See! This is how happy I am. It’s Vampire Academy film preview day!

All this precursor is to say I’ll not deny my hopes and expectations for the adaptation were, well, high. For that reason, I took along a friend to the preview who isn’t a Vampire Academy aficionado. Between the two of us, I figured, we’d obtain an objective review.

Sadly, though, I didn’t need my friend’s more measured take to surmise the film isn’t a great interpretation of the books. And that’s even before he leant across some four or five times to ask me what the heck was going on because he found the film hard to follow.

The Hunger Games film adaptations have been stellar. Even the Twilight films are comparatively better than this one. Especially by the end, they were giving us that knowing nod and wink and we were in on the jokes. So what are the issues with Vampire Academy?

The Hunger GamesFor starters, the script isn’t great. The film was brought to us by the guys responsible for Heathers back in the day and, more recently, Mean Girls, so I expected cleverness. Especially as the book itself is full of zingers (Rose is, after all, the kind of character who doesn’t have a filter and does have a lot of sass). But the lines are cheesy, in the cringe-worthy sense rather than the funny one. They attempt the nod and the wink at times, but we audience members are never really in on the joke. Which makes it downright awkward.

There are lines that do work (some of which come from the books). For example:

  • ‘Handcuffs?’ Rose asks, incredulously, when she awakes to find she’s handcuffed to the car, which implies she’s good enough to be capable of escape. ‘There’s gotta be a compliment in there.’
  • ‘Cue cafeteria scene. Sort of.’ We then cut to the Moroi’s feeding room.
  • ‘We can’t beat up everyone we have a problem with,’ Lissa says. ‘We can try,’ Rose replies.
  • ‘We live in a world where the monsters are real,’ Victor says.

But when I say ‘work’, I mean ‘make you go “huh, that’s sort of clever”’ rather than actually laugh out loud or want to seek out someone to high five.

Mostly, the lines make you cringe:

  • ‘Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Only literally.’

The acting isn’t great. You’d expect this from the younger, less-experienced actors. But I have to say the adults weren’t much better. The strongest performance came from Zoey Deutch, who plays protagonist Rose, but Lucy Fry, who plays her counterpoint Lissa, produced a lispy, lock-jawed accent that was distracting and not entirely believable.

The fight scenes, which I’d really been looking forward to—at least in part because the official social media account had been posting images of the actors doing some hardcore training to get in shape—were inauthentic and stylised to the point of being corny.

Think the ‘kapow’ that used to accompany the Batman and Robin fights—because that word actually popped into my head. The only one that went halfway to achieving that was the final fight scene involving Dimitri and another Guardian (I won’t go into detail). And that was really a case of far too little far too late.

Also, there is a stuffed toy fox that was incomprehensibly terrible. A taxidermied fox smeared with tomato sauce would have been a more realistic rendition. I understand that there can sometimes be budget constraints, but this was something embarrassingly else.

TwilightI didn’t absolutely hate this film, although from an objective perspective, I probably should have. If you aren’t a fan of the series—and probably even if you are—you definitely will.

But there were clearly fans in the preview screening, as evidenced by the audible gasps emitted Dimitri first appears on screen (I may have been one of the gaspers). I’d been dubious about the casting of him—he’s such a central character and one who looms large in many a girl’s eyes and heart—but I warmed to him enough to give him if not the thumbs up, then at least the ok (I will say, though, that he was a bit warmer and fuzzier than the Dimitri of the early books, and I’m not sure this is ok this soon in the series).

I wanted to love this film, and there were snippets I could. For instance, it was fantastic to see a series I’d found so rich suddenly realised on film; it was great to remember elements or small details I’d forgotten woven into the film’s dialogue or background.

Worth noting is the books improve as the series goes on (Rose, for instance, becomes less annoying, things heat up with her and Dimitri, and there’s less scene-setting and more story-telling, so the narrative’s gripping and fast-paced). The first book lays the introductory groundwork, so its film version has to do the same. If they follow the books’ improvements, future films would likely be better than this initial one.

Overall, though it pains me to write it, I have to admit this film is, as one of its characters says (or as I thought I heard them say), ‘a few corpses short of an artery’. Fans like me will see this film and any future ones that emerge because we can’t not, but we won’t be watching them because we should.

Review tickets thanks to Studiocanal.

5Q Interview with Marion von Adlerstein

marion-von-adlersteinMarion von Adlerstein worked as an advertising copywriter in Melbourne, London and New York in the fifties and sixties. Between 1976 and 1998 she held several posts with Vogue Australia publications, including Travel Director. During those years Marion wrote about many subjects, including fashion, beauty and interiors. She is the author of The Passionate Shopper, The Penguin Book of Etiquette and The Freudian Slip.

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

I was in my early twenties, newly married. The story was entitled Aren’t they Sweet? and it was about the difference between how a relationship seemed and how it really was. I sent it to The Ladies Home Journal in America and I can’t remember ever having received a reply.

97807336293962. How many novels did you write before your ‘first novel’ was published?

Only one completed manuscript. It was turned down by the publisher with the words, ‘Marion should stick to non-fiction.’ Fortunately for me, I ignored the advice.

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

For the past several years, I’ve been stimulated by the fiction of contemporary North American writers: Deborah Eisenberg, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon, Paula Fox, Alice Munro, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, William H Gass (Middle C is wonderful, but I had to give up The Tunnel, his hefty, famous and grubby endurance test, after the first 500 pages.) I can’t write the kinds of books they have written which may be why I’m attracted to them.

But I also love: the mournful works of W.G. Sebald; Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s biographies of Diana Vreeland and Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt; Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes.

 97807336317884. 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 couldn’t imagine collaborating with anyone. I must be too possessive of my words. I don’t show anyone my work until I consider it finished.

 5. What are you working on now and next?

A few disparate ideas are scrambling about in my head. I find that I have to lie fallow for a while after my latest novel has been published until I’m so bored with uneventfulness I have to start living in my imagination again.


Review – Wildwood Imperium by Colin Meloy

9780670075171The third and final volume in the Wildwood Chronicles.

The future of of Wildwood was balanced on a knife edge at the end of Under Wildwood. Prue was given, by the Council Tree, a seemingly impossible task and had to find two machinists who had both been exiled by the former Queen of Wildwood, The Dowager Governess. At the end of the second book she had managed to find one of the machinists but the whereabouts of the second was unknown (to her).

But time and luck are no longer on Prue’s side. In the wake of the revolution Prue instigated a secret society has slowly begun the process of taking power, enslaving the inhabitants of Wildwood in the process. Meanwhile a young girl inadvertently awakens the spirit of the Verdant Empress whose resurrection threatens not only Wildwood but the outside world as well.

Colin Meloy packs everything into the epic conclusion to his wonderful series; action, adventure, subversive politics and whole heap of fun and sly humour. The strands of the story the have stretched out like vines of ivy all come together in an epic conclusion that will have you on the edge of seat and possibly wiping away a tear or two.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and am badgering my eight year-old daughter to give the books a try (although she maybe a year or two too young). I’m not sure what Colin Meloy has planned next but whether it is a new album with The Decemberists or another book I cannot wait.

Buy the book here…

Doodles and Drafts – Dreaming and scheming with Andrew King

A week or so ago I rubbed shoulders with some of Kids’ Lit most illuminating talents at the Book Links’ QLD (The Centre for Children’s Literature) third Romancing the Stars event. The objective of these evenings is to meet and listen to as many authors and illustrators wax lyrical about their latest publication as possible in a frenzy of succinct deliveries and rotations – rather like speed dating, but with books and ultimately more satisfying.

Amongst them was, rising star, Andrew King. I first met Andrew and Engibear, both instantly likeable fellows, last year when Andrew and I were amongst the ‘daters’. I confess the first time I laid eyes on his non-typical picture book, I baulked at the complexity of its design and presentation. Perhaps it is the poor mathematician in me, but there seemed too many labels and numbers and graph grids! The detail overwhelmed me and the thought, ‘too much’ flickered through my mind like an wavering light bulb.

Cover_Engibears_DreamBut Andrew’s compelling fervour for his work convinced me to look more closely. So I did, and fell in love with what I saw. Engibear’s Dream is neither too busy nor over-detailed, but rather a masterfully thought out and delivered tale of simplicity and perseverance. Engibear’s life is too full to pursue both his dreams and work. He needs help and being a clever engineer like his creator, sets out to design a Bearbot to help him achieve more. But grand schemes are rarely realised first time round. It takes Engibear several attempts to ‘get it right’ but he never gives up on himself or his Bearbot.

Engibear illos BBT09More than just a cute rhyming counting book about the rigours of planning and design, Engibear’s Dream covers the themes of sustainable living, finding balance in a world of progress and change and being innovative and tenacious in the face of failure. Mighty issues for small minds, but ones they will assimilate as they follow Engibear’s attempts to succeed, all superbly illustrated both schematically and in explosive colour, by qualified architect Benjamin Johnston.

I needed to find out more about the man behind the bear, behind the robot. So this week I have a bona fide, qualified engineer behind the draft table. Here’s what he had to say…

Andrew Engibear Launch AssemblyQ Who is Dr Andrew King? How would you best describe present self?

A 48 year old mixed bag: self, husband, dad, son, brother, relative, friend, engineer, co-worker, band member, aspiring author, committee member, community member, etc…

Fortunately, from my perspective, I have been very lucky and the mix has been good to me – I am trying to be good back.

Q Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what?

A 10 year old mixed bag – just a bit less in the mix – son, brother, relative, friend, school student, footballer, etc…

Fortunately (again) I had a very pleasant and carefree childhood. So carefree that I don’t think I had any real idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. Interestingly though, I remember that a friend and I were writing and illustrating small books of jokes back in grade 6 and trying to sell them (for about 2 cents each). It has been more than 30 years since I last tried but I am now trying to write and sell books again.

Q Writing for children is not your first chosen occupation. Why take up the challenge now?

Kelly and I have been writing and drawing with our kids for years. We ended up developing characters like Engibear and the Bearbot and writing about their adventures in Munnagong. A few years ago my daughter, Marie-Louise, suggested that we should write a book.

Q Engibear’s Dream is your first picture book for children. What are you trying to impart with this book and why choose the picture book format?

The book started as a way of making engineering more accessible to young children. However, we wanted to make the book something more than an instruction manual. Therefore, we included a storyline (in this case a story about perseverance) and tried to include humour. We have also added numbers so that it can be used as a counting book.

To me drawing is a very powerful communication tool. The combination of words and pictures used in engineering drawings is a particularly useful way to communicate design ideas. The opportunity to include these types of diagrams and images of Engibear and the Bearbot meant that the book had to include pictures.

Q What sets Engibear’s Dream apart from other picture books currently on the shelves?

Engineering – in two ways.

Firstly, having a character that is an engineer, there are very few engineers in children’s literature. To me this is surprising as children seem to be very interested in the things that engineers do. Engibear provides a “friendly face” of engineering and therefore a way to introduce engineering to young children at the right level.

Secondly, including detailed engineering drawings. Ben Johnston is an architect who is used to working with engineers. Ben has created loveable characters and has also been able to contrast them with fantastically detailed design drawings of Munnagong, Engibear’s house and workshop, the Bearbot and its working parts. I think this combination of drawing styles allows children to enjoy the characters and the story and then also spend time thinking about how things work and making things (engineering).

Building Bearbots - CoverQ How long from conception to publication did it take to realise Engibear’s Dream?

Building Bearbot was an early family story that is about 10 years old and was the basis for Engibear’s Dream. It sat in the cupboard for a long time. However, once we decided to write a book and chose this story it took about three years to get to publication.

Q It takes Engibear up to 10 types from prototype to final version before he engineers the perfect Bearbot. Does it take engineer Andrew the same number of attempts to design something new before getting it right?

If it is a book, yes – easily!

Building Bearbots - Page 1Depending on the complexity of the project I think engineering design can also take a lot of work. However, engineers have developed systems such as standards, computer modelling and design reviews to help make the design process robust.

Q Engibear’s dream is to have a life less strenuous with more time for enjoying the simple pleasures. What’s the one thing on your non-writing wish-list you’d like to tick off /achieve / produce?

I would like to read more fiction.

Q Do you have other writing dreams you’d like to fulfil?

I have a series of Engibear books planned. Munnagong is a busy place; there is a lot of engineering going on and a lot to write about.

Q Engibear is written in quatrain rhyming verse. As a first time author, did you find this difficult to pull off? Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?

We wrote the book in quatrain rhyming verse because this is how we made up verses when my children were younger – it just seemed to be a natural way to rhyme. However, while this worked for family stories, it was very difficult to do it properly. As an engineer I have some technical writing skills but I had to learn a lot about writing verse. Therefore, I did a course with Dr Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids Book and Virginia then mentored me.

Q You chose to publish your book via a partnership publishing company (Little Steps Publishing). Why? What other publication avenues did you explore if any?

I did contact some traditional publishers and received very polite rejections. I thought that rather than keep going down that route it would be better just to get on with it – self publishing seemed to be the answer.

Q What is on the design board for Andrew? What’s your next ‘writing’ project?

We have been making models of the characters in Engibear’s Dream and we have created a rsk based engineering game. I am also working on the next planned Engibear book “Engibear’s Bridge”. This book is about construction of an iconic “green bridge” near Munnagong State School which will be opened as part of the Munnagong Festival.

Engibear BGT09 specsBrilliant Andrew! You know I can’t wait to meet your new characters and see their designs.

Like the most enthralling kids’ movies, Engibear’s story doesn’t just end with a ‘happily ever after’ moment. Keep page turning and be fascinated by full page project drawings of BBT-10, the Final Version, resplendent with some side-splitting specifications. My young miss could not go past the line drawn end pages detailing Munnagong, home of Engibear either. A fascinating read.

Designed for 3 – 8 year olds. Also riveting for boys, those with inquisitive minds, budding designers and anyone who likes to dream big.

Little Steps Publishing 2012



Player Profile: Sarah Wilson, author of I Quit Sugar For Life

wilsonsarah01Sarah Wilson, author of I Quit Sugar For Life

Tell us about your latest creation:

I see this as a follow-up book to help make cooking, eating and our health more elegant and joyous. A framework for simple, no-brainer health that supports sugar-free living. Which is what we’re after, no?

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

I’m from Canberra, or the outskirts of… but these days Sydney is home.

9781742613734When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

When I was seven I told mum I’d be the first female prime minister of Australia. I studied law and politics with that ambitious vague aim in mind, but soon realised i wanted to do something that could actually impact the world. My writing career very much evolved in an organic way, as did the I Quit Sugar journey. I never sat with a whiteboard to map out my career, I’ve stumbled from one step to the next.

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

Setting up where I’ve been able to employ eleven incredibly talented and passionate people and provide a livelihood for them and their families.

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

Definitely chaotic and changeable! I write my best on planes, in airport lounges and in doctors waiting rooms. Which is fortunate given that my lifestyle doesn’t allow for very much writing time anymore. I’m always envious of writers who talk about having a specific, beautifully laid out spot where they write each day. But my personality adjusts well to chaos, and I’m quite possibly more creative on the fly.

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

Evolutionary biology texts, and memoirs about physical adventure treks.

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

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. My only memory of it is the description of the smell of the goats, and the goats milk in the mornings. It’s still in my nostrils to this day.

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

Winnie The Pooh

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

Bush walking. You can follow my adventures on Instagram (check out the hashtag #bushexcursion). And eating. I spend a lot of time cooking and thinking about food!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Drink – at the moment its a natural pinot noir from Harkhams wines.. I’m not generally a fan of pinot noir, but this one is an exeption. Food – it’d have to be something involving pork. Roast pork with sweet potato would have to be up there!

Who is your hero? Why?:

Victor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. His capacity for clarity and forgiveness and understanding of the human spirit shortly after being imprisoned in a concentration camp is truly beautiful.

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

I think it’s a positive one – to embrace people’s hankering to get away from their digital lives and back to “old school” engagement.