Meet Deadly D and Justice Jones

deadlyd_risingstar_cover_coloThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Deadly D/Dylan and Justice about your Deadly D and Justice Jones books (Magabala Books).

Kids who like rugby league and sport are going to love these books.

Questions for Dylan/Deadly D and Justice –

What are your favourite football teams and players?

Dylan: Growing up in Mount Isa and being a North Queensland boy, Cowboys are my favourite team with Broncos a close second.

Justice: I  loved the Warriors before I met Dylan. Now I love the Broncos too because Deadly D plays for them!

Tell us about yourselves.

Dylan: Well brah, I grew up in Mount Isa and loved watching and playing rugby league and spending time with my cousins. I’ve got a hidden talent – when I get angry I turn into Deadly D, but apparently it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone.

Justice: I was born in Wellington, New Zealand and now I live in Brisbane. I sit next to Dylan in Mr Barwick’s class. The chicks dig my hair cuz. I spend too much money on hair product though. Nah, just jokes man!

Who are your friends and enemies at school?Deadly D #1

Dylan: My main man is Justice Jones, he’s got my back. We’re like brothers from a different mother. We’re not overly friendly with Jared Knutz and his crew. They try their best to get under our skin.

Justice: What he said.

Is Deadly D really better looking than Scott Prince?

Justice: Princey always looks sharp on the telly with his fresh haircuts, but Deadly D has the big muscles and looks that could stop the traffic in downtown Brisbane bro! All his followers on Twitter compare him to Brad Pitt.

Is Sam Thaiday really afraid of heights?

Dylan: Yes he is, ever since the day he slept in his tree house as a kid and sleepwalked out the door he’s been afraid of heights and falling. Not many people know about that, but he has a scar on his forehead to prove it. Look closely and you’ll see it.

How do we find out more about you – is another book on the way?

Justice: Our latest book is Deadly D and Justice Jones – Rising Star, but I think those funny fellas Scott and Dave are working on the third book. I hope they are because I’m getting heaps of fan mail.

Scott PrinceQuestions for authors, Scott and Dave –

How do you work out who is writing what?

Dave: Scott and I talk about the events that will happen in the story and we map it out. I’ll write the skeleton of a few chapters and then meet with Scott to flesh them out a bit more.

How do you make the stories funny?

Scott: Well if you spend half a day with Dave and I, you’d understand our humour and we both look at the bright side of life.

How do you keep the writing so tight?

Dave: We always have a lot to fit into our stories and we like to keep the momentum strong, so our writing is always action-packed. We like to keep the reader guessing.

Who is better at drawing – Scott or Dave?

Scott: In terms of drawing and expressing our ideas that we come up with, Dave is talented enough to portray our vision on to paper. But he still hasn’t given me a chance to express my drawing capabilities. I don’t know where he hides the pencils.

Why have you written these books?

Scott: We’re passionate about getting reluctant readers to pick up a book. We understand from our own experiences growing up as sport lovers  that rugby league is a very powerful tool to engage children to read. It’s also an opportunity for me to express some life experiences by keeping it real but by also using our imagination, as you’ll see in Rising Star.

What feedback are kids giving you?

Scott: Through the editing process, we’ve found that our own kids have been very honest in their opinions! We’ve had to wipe some tears of laughter and disappointment, but they’ve played a key role in shaping stories.

Dave: Some of our readers tell us that they’ve read our books ten times in a row, which is amazing. They also give us ideas about what to write for each character in upcoming stories. So if you’re reading this, please find Deadly D Books on Facebook and share your feedback with us – we’d love to hear it!

Thanks very much, Deadly D, Justice (Scott Prince and Dave Hartley).


Review – The Billy That Died with its Boots On

Grade Four Brief: fill an entire exercise book with a collection of poetry based on the theme ‘Don’t’. ‘I hear don’t much more than do. I think that’s sad, how about you?’ was my interpretation of the theme. It featured on every page.

TBTDWIBOOutcome: I filled the book, each page boasting original arrangements of strangled rhyming verse duly supported by hand drawn illustrations. A masterpiece in my mind and possibly the last time I wrangled poetic devices into meaningful arrangements. Picture book writers like me, are advised to avoid them at all cost unless your name is Julia Donaldson.

So when The Billy That Died with its Boots On and other Australian Verse slid into sight, I immediately baulked. How does one comment on something she professes no expertise in? Am I even entitled to opinion? Could I appreciate this oral and written art form of storytelling despite my long absence from it?

Answer: Well, of course I am and I do, very much as it turns out because poetry above all else can cut straight to the heart and I’ve definitely got one of those.

Stephen WhitesideI’ve long known of Stephen Whiteside but had never had the pleasure of reading his work, hearing his recitals or understanding the man, until our recent encounter at the SCBWI Sydney Conference earlier this year.

From beneath his trademark straw sun hat, which incidentally is equally at home in a frosty marquee or crowded suburban watering hole, radiates a man of admirable intellect, quiet charm and palpable talent.

He’s been rhyming verse for over thirty years, sustained by the inspirational works of his childhood influences, poets; Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and CJ Dennis – all remarkable pens of the bush.C J Dennis

Whiteside’s work captures the essence of an eclectic variety of subject matter but harnessing the unique tenor and spirit of our Aussie bush and life style is what anchors him most firmly to his art and maintains his involvement with various folk-art festivals throughout the land such as the Toolangi CJ Dennis Poetry Festival.

Adults enjoy his poems but he has found his true metier writing and performing for children, particularly primary-aged youngsters. The Billy That Died with Its Boots On represents his first collection of poems for children garnered over the years and embodying our iconic outdoors, sporting life and flora and fauna, with the obligatory alien thrown in for good measure. It’s an absolute joy to read.

Much but not all of Whiteside’s rhyming verse favours a pleasant anapaestic metre, which he comfortably mixes up with longer, lyrical story lines and short snappy four-liners. Nearly all of them raise a smile; some will have you chuckling out loud. Occasional paper cutout illustrations by Lauren Merrick add pep and character. Enjoy them all with a cuppa in one session or better, at random, one or two at a time whenever your fancy calls. Great for tapping into the short term attention spans of young minds.

Personal favourites are; Dad Meets the Martians, The Saucing of the Pies (in time for the footy finals), The Ice cream that Hurt and Eating Vegies; all adroit mirth filled mirrorings of minute slices of everyday life. Other titles, Two Little Raindrops and The Mane of a Horse for example, are sensitive metaphoric masterpieces written from the point of view of their inanimate subject matter; a raindrop, a puff of wind… quite lovely.

Stephen Whiteside 2It’s poetic magic that should be gobbled up by young readers while their creative hearts and minds are still open to this style of sustenance. The Billy That Died with its Boots On and other Australian Verse would make a beautiful addition to primary class room book shelves too. Only one thing could improve this collection – to have Stephen Whiteside himself read each poem out loud, as intended. Now that would be worth sitting through Grade Four all over again.

To loosely quote French poet Charles Baudelaire: ‘It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.’ For readers under 18, I recommend you begin with this, poetry.

Find this book here.
Walker Books Australia May 2014


The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in October


Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief

Fiction Books

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

I am not going to ruin this outrageously funny book for you by telling you what happens this time round to Don. However Rosie and Don have been married for 10 months so expect the expected! Lots more lists, lots more misunderstandings, lots more laughs and even tears. Absolutely charming! Chris

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel delivers a brilliant collection of contemporary short stories that demonstrate what modern England has become. Mantel brutally and acutely writes about gender, marriage, class, family, and sex, cutting to the core of human experience. Unpredictable, diverse, and even shockingly unexpected, each story grabs you by the throat within a couple of sentences. A magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.

Amnesia by Peter Carey

When Gaby Baillieux releases the Angel Worm into the computers of Australia’s prison system, freeing hundreds of asylum seekers, she sets off a chain reaction. These prisons are run by US companies, and so the doors of some 5000 American institutions have also opened. And to some watching eyes, the secrets of both countries threaten to pour out.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila is wise in the ways of the world and she is about to embark on a new type of existence. From homelessness to a home, from wandering around in the world of hard knocks to a sheltered life in Gilead, from loneliness and mistrust to companionship and marriage to the Reverend Ames. All familiar names and themes from Marilynne Robinson’s previous prize winning novels. Lila questions everything as she tries to make sense of her new world just as the reader does. Chris

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Set in Ireland and a different sort of troubles. The Catholic Church is being brought to its knees over numerous allegations over child abuse. The cover up is distressing. John Boyne walks us through this utterly unbelievable time with the character Odran. His tragic life and his vocation to the priesthood. He is an innocent in many ways and sees the good around him. This is an amazing novel that Boyne has given us. Please do not be put off by the subject. Chris

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

The companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry about Queenie the person he was walking towards. They had been friends, in fact she had loved Harold but something pulled them apart. Harold a quiet and ordinary man. Queenie feisty and not ordinary. But what does ordinary mean? A profound experience. Read in what ever order you want but please read. Chris

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

It is the late 1960s in Ireland. Nora Webster is living in a small town, looking after her four children, trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. The portrait that is painted in the years that follow is harrowing, piercingly insightful, always tender and deeply true. Colm Toibin’s Nora is a character as resonant as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, and Nora Webster is a novel that illuminates our own lives in a way that is rare in literature. Its humanity and compassion forge an unforgettable reading experience.

Non-Fiction Books

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty changed the way people cook and eat. Its focus on vegetable dishes, with the emphasis on flavour, original spicing and freshness of ingredients, caused a revolution not just in this country, but the world over. Plenty More picks up where Plenty left off, with 120 more dazzling vegetable-based dishes.

My Story by Julia Gillard

Here, in her own words, Julia Gillard reveals what life was really like as Australia’s first female prime minister. Refreshingly honest, peppered with a wry humour and personal insights, Julia Gillard does not shy away from her mistakes, admitting freely to errors, misjudgements, and policy failures as well as detailing her political successes.

The Menzies Era by John Howard

An assessment of Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister by Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister – a significant, unique and fascinating history of the Menzies era. John Howard, only ten when Menzies rose to power, and in young adulthood when the Menzies era came to an end, saw Menzies as an inspiration and a role model. His unique insights and thoughtful analysis into Menzies the man, the politician, and his legacy make this a fascinating, highly significant book.

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry invites readers to take a glimpse at his life story in the unputdownable More Fool Me. It is a heady tale of the late Eighties and early Nineties, in which Stephen – ever more driven to create, perform and entertain – burned bright and partied hard with a host of famous and infamous friends, regardless of the consequences. This electric and extraordinary book reveals a new side to Mr Fry. 

Also, Anyway… by John Cleese

Candid and brilliantly funny, this is the story of how a tall, shy youth from Weston-super-Mare went on to become a comedy giant. Punctuated with John Cleese’s thoughts on topics as diverse as the nature of comedy, the relative merits of cricket and water-skiing, and the importance of knowing the dates of all the kings and queens of England, this is a masterly performance by a master performer. 

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

For decades, feminism has argued the case for getting women into the workplace. Affirmative action, support schemes, paid maternity leave yet why aren’t women  better represented in the boardrooms and ministries of this country.  The answer may be they need a wife.   The Wife Drought is not a shout of rage, but it is asking us to sit up and listen. To think about flexibilty iin the work place for men and women.  A very informative read, lots of facts and figures and anecdotes about how Annabel herself has coped. Chris

Childrens’ Picture Books

Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

Letters of the alphabet – make words – make stories. In this funny, thrilling and entertaining book Oliver Jeffers brings to life the alphabet in 26 short stories introducing some new characters as well as some familiar faces. Jan & Danica

A Bean, A Stalk And A Boy Named Jack by William Joyce

You might think you know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but you might want to think again. In this fairy tale with a twist, it hasn’t rained in days and the king has dictated that something must be done – his royal pinky is getting stinky! A fractured fairy tale from William Joyce who brought you The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Books for First Readers

Clementine Rose and the Famous Friend by Jacqueline Harvey

It’s a New Year and Clementine Rose is going to back to school. A new teacher who sets the class a new project and a mysterious guest at Penberthy House who never leaves her room gives Clemmie plenty to think about. Does the guest like children, who is she, why is she so secretive? We will have to read the book to find out! Jan & Danica

Books for Young Readers

Awful Auntie by David Walliams

The next heartfelt and hilarious new novel from David Walliams, the number one bestselling author! A page-turning, rollicking romp of a read, sparkling with Walliams’ most eccentric characters yet and full of humour and heart.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

Our favourirte Demigod is back in an all new adventure! Giants are roaming the earth and forming an army. What is a band of young demigods to do but stand and fight? Will they be able to reach Athens before the great Goddess Gaea wakes? Read the book and find out! Ian

Books for Young Adults

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Darcy, a young writer, get the publishing deal of a lifetime. Only to find that she has trouble writing, and the boundaries between fact and fiction blur as she defers her first year of university and moves to Manhattan. Darcy’s life and her manuscript are revealed in alternating chapters. This book is the perfect blend of contemporary love story and fantastical thriller.

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

How to avoid boarding school – Malley decides to take off with someone she’s met online. Richard, her cousin knows that she may be in trouble. He enlists the help of the one-eyed Skink. Undaunted by storms, crazy pigs and flying bullets they search the state for her. Searching for Malley is at time tense and other times laugh out loud funny. Jan & Danica

Childrens’ Non Fiction

Amazing World Atlas by Lonely Planet

With 300 fabulous photographs and lots of humour this is the atlas that will show the kids what the world is really like. With information on popular culture, sport and school life this is the atlas for children 8 and up. Jan

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Aussie Kids Love Stickers

Aussie kids love stickers, and I’ve pulled together a collection of sticker books to delight all ages. And the best thing? They’ve all been selected from the Boomerang Books Australia’s Top 1000 Bestselling Books list, which means you save 20% off the RRP. Great stuff, hey?Peppa Pig Summer Fun Sticker Activity Book

First up is from the increasingly popular character, Peppa Pig in Peppa Pig: Summer Fun! Sticker Activity Book, which contains lots of puzzles and activities.

For early learners, we have Colours by Roger Priddy, which has over 100 early learning stickers. Author Roger Priddy also has another sticker book in the Top 1000 list called Animals, which contains another 100 early learning stickers to help young children learn about animals.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom Elf School Shiny Sticker Book features elves and fairies in a story where kids use the stickers to complete puzzles and games.

Ultimate Sticker Book- FrozenFor fans of all things Disney, we have two sticker books bound to please, Ultimate Sticker Book: Frozen, which contains more than 60 reusable stickers and Ultimate Sticker Collection: Disney Princess which contains an astounding 1000 reusable stickers and includes the following movies: Aladdin, Cinderella, Tangled and Brave.

For kids a little older, The LEGO Movie Ultimate Sticker Collection, contains over 1,000 colourful and reusable stickers of your favourite characters from the movie, and will be sure to get you humming everything is awesome.

Finally, published in Australia, the Star Wars Sticker Activity Book is sure to excite fans. In this book, readers will race and win the epic podracer game, and then use the stickers (and the force) to repair droids, battle Sith Lords and defeat the evil Empire. Sounds like fun.Star Wars Sticker Book

I remember loving stickers as a child, and it’s one thing that hasn’t changed over time. Despite all of the advances in technology, kids still love to peel and stick stickers on stuff. My wardrobe and dressing table mirror were covered in stickers, some selected with care and some hastily applied. I hope the love of stickers continues on with each generation, and with new books like those I’ve selected above, I’ve no doubt it will.

For those that remain unconvinced, here are some home remedies for removing stickers:
– Eucalyptus or tea tree oil
– Vinegar
– Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, usually purchased from the chemist
– Heating the sticker with a hairdryer and then peeling it off.

These remedies should put your mind at ease in the event any stickers end up where they shouldn’t. With prices for these sticker books varying from $3.19 to $11.99, there should be a sticker book to suit every taste and budget.

Russia in Literature, An Obsession

I am not sure if many people are aware but I am a big fan of Russian literature, not just books written by Russians but also books set in Russia. There is something about the backdrop and the way these books are written that I am drawn to. The culture is so different and with the instability of communist Russia used within a novel, it allows for the exploration of great stories and ideas. They are often epic novels that can sometimes be slightly odd but I found that Russian literature has great proses and character development that is just worth reading. This is before looking at the symbolism and motifs, but I won’t go into that. I have even considered learning to read Russian, just so I can read some of these books in their original language. I have noticed that people are often cautious of books set in Russia and view Russian literature as tomes that are difficult to read. So I thought I would talk about my favourite books set in Russia; not all are written by Russians but it is a good place to start.

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

I have talked about this book before, and I am never going to stop being a book evangelist for this one. It was one of my favourite books of 2013 (I think The Machine by James Smythe narrowly beat it for the top spot) and it is set in war torn Chechnya as they try to break away from the Russians. Technically not set in Russia, since the collapse of the Soviet Union had already taken place, but the effects still remain prominent. This is a novel that follows three interconnected characters as they try to make sense of life and the changing world around. It is full of beauty that shines through from the back drop of this war torn country.

all that is solid melts into airAll That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

Marketing this novel as this year’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was all that it took to make me pick this one up. I am glad I did, it is already a favourite for the year. The novel is centred on the Chernobyl meltdown, an era in history I have never seen in fiction before (I am sure there are a few out there). This is another character driven novel that explores ideas of fear and disaster and yet again there is great beauty to be found. Imagine living in Soviet Union, where every part of your life is unstable; so much so that the suggestion of implementing safety measure would be conceived as doing a poor job…until disaster strikes.

Little FailureLittle Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart is fast becoming a favourite author of mine; ever since reading Super Sad True Love Story I have become a fan of his writing style and quirky humour. Little Failure is a memoir of his life growing up in Leningrad, USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia) and the migration to the United States. As a young Russian boy living in the US during the Cold War era it was easier for him to pretend to be German to avoid the hatred people had to the Soviet Union. This was a fascinating memoir full of humour and self-deprecation and I enjoyed learning about the writer’s journey.

Day of the OprichnikDay of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

I often like to recommend this Russian novel just because it is so obscure and weird; people are more likely to have never read it. The birth of dystopian fiction is often accredited to the Russian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (which is great too) but I thought a post-modern satire that will have you saying “What the…?” would make for a much more entertaining read. Set in a dystopian future where the Russian empire has reverted back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible, this science fiction novel is not only bizarre but serves as a critique of the political situation in modern Russia.

Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I love this book so much, not just because it makes me look pretentious but I think it was surprisingly easy to read. Think of it like a psychological thriller; Crime and Punishment takes the now popular anti-hero and adds it into a classic novel. Before Dexter Morgan there was Crime and Punishment. The protagonist Raskolnikov is a conflicted character; he shows interest in social classes and believes he is of a higher class than everyone else. That was until commits murder; then he is plagued by guilt, remorse and regret. This is a novel that focuses on the inner turmoil as well as the impact on his intellect and emotions.

It’s B Day! Or Rather, Bee Day!

The Rooftop BeekeeperIt’s B Day, or rather Bee Day! By the time you’re reading this, it will be Bee Day (unless you’re at home reading this on a Friday night, in which case I say more power to you).

After a year of reading research, three beekeeping courses (first for native bees, then one each for langstroth-based and top bar-based beekeeping), countless emails and phone calls to beekeepers not savvy at using social media or even just the interwebs, and even moar reading as a refresher, some bees will be taking residence at my house in the early hours of Saturday morning.

And yes, I am wondering how I, an entrenched night owl, have once again signed up to look after creatures that literally get up at the crack of dawn. Clearly, I haven’t learnt my lesson from ex-battery hens.

A vegan beekeeper is an admittedly strange thing, but my reasons are extremely simple: rather than keeping bees for commercial purposes to rob them of their honey (the term ‘rob’ is both what beekeepers use and remarkably apt, because humans truly do rob bees—what seems to surprise people is that honey is actually bees’ food, not some delicacy they make especially for us), I’m offering them a safe, sustainable home. I’m not after honey; I’m after helping the environment. And bees are infinitely fundamental to the environment.

You’re probably aware that bees are in trouble around the world—pesticides are killing them outright, and poor commercial beekeeping practices and an opportunistic critter called the varroa mite are killing them slowly. Bees pollinate at least one of three bites of food we consume. Without them, we wouldn’t have such things as avocados, almonds, or apples. More simply: If the bees die, we die.

Blunt stuff for a Friday night/Saturday morning, but in truth I’m so excited I’m like this Kermit the Frog GIF. It’s been a bad season for bees (see above sentence re: bees are in trouble), which has made it doubly hard to locate healthy colonies to offer a home. So to have finally found a colony, and to have it moving in tomorrow, is a bit like striking gold.

Backyard BeesI should probably forewarn you that my social media feeds (and probably this blog) will be full of bee photos in coming weeks (for some of you, that may be spam, while for others it will represent a welcome relief from a steady stream of chooken photos).

Either way, I hope to retrieve, and put into practice, some of the information I’ve tried to embed in my brain courtesy of:

  • The Barefoot Beekeeper (functionally laid out, but full of useful information, this is the seminal text for top bar beekeeping, which is the sort I’m doing)
  • The Rooftop Beekeeper (a beautifully designed and inspiringly pragmatic book by a female beekeeper in New York, it gave me hope that I could, as a female, manage beekeeping)
  • Backyard Bees (a newly released book by a Sydney-based urban beekeeper that features lots of amateur beekeepers and some no-nonsense advice).

Wish me luck. And probably watch this space.

Interview with Dianne Bates, author of A Game of Keeps

Di alone bwDianne (Di) Bates makes a living from full-time writing. She has worked as a children’s magazine and newspaper editor, manuscript assessor, book-seller, and writing teacher. Di has a wealth of publishing experience and is a recipient of The Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. She has written over 120 books, mostly for young people, with a couple more contracted and many manuscripts awaiting review at publishing houses.

I feel privileged to have such an expert in the field answering my questions about her experiences in the world of literature, and celebrating the release of her new book, A Game of Keeps.  

Did you always want to be a writer?
No, I always planned to be a visual artist but found I have no talent whatsoever. I didn’t write my first book until I was in my late 20s when I made a conscious effort to have a book published by age 30. The book was Terri (Penguin Books), not a good book at all I realise now. Thank goodness it is out of print!  

Can you please tell us about the range of writing pieces you have published in the past?
Just about everything except board books, from fiction to non-fiction, for readers aged 5 to 19 years. This includes joke books, a (forthcoming) poetry anthology, verse collection, play collections (co-written with my husband, Bill Condon), novels, textbooks – you name it. Some work has been commissioned but most have been written on spec.  

A+Game+of+Keeps Congratulations on your latest release, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). What is the novel about?
For readers 8 to 11 years, this novel is about a bright, cheerful only child of a single mother who often leaves her alone.  Ashley wants much out of life, but more than anything she wants her parents to be reunited. Happily, she is taken under the wings of an elderly couple who support and encourage her.  

Does this story have a personal significance to you? How?
My husband Bill and I never had children together, but we have fostered full-time and also informally ‘adopted’ children. One of the children was in the same situation as Ashley in A Game of Keeps. She was a truly special, talented child with a wonderful outlook on life. We took her in under a program called Aunts and Uncles wherein adults take a child in their family for a weekend once a month for a minimum 12 months. With our Ashley, we saw her more often than that because her mother had huge personal problems. We grew to love Ashley and were a positive influence on her life. (I have also published Nobody’s Boy with Celapene Press, a verse novel based on a boy we fostered for some years).  

What is the main message of the book that you want readers to take away?
As a child, I was very unhappy because of a turbulent home life. I would have loved to have read A Game of Keeps because it demonstrates that no matter what life tosses at you, you can survive if you have faith in yourself and in others, and that there is always hope.  

How long did it take you to write A Game of Keeps?
I worked on it for about 12 months.  

Is this the general amount of time it takes to write books this length?
Yes, but some books take less time. The longest it took for me to write a book was almost 20 years! This book, The Shape (Allen & Unwin), was based on the death of my daughter, Kathleen, so it was obviously not an easy book to write. It went on to win a CBCA Notable Book Award.  

What were your favourite books when you were a child?
I only owned one book – Heidi, which I re-read many times, but I borrowed frequently from a public library (no school library in my day). My favourite author was Enid Blyton; I must have read every book she ever wrote. I remember loving How Green was My Valley, The Swiss Family Robinson and a poetry anthology I found on the local tip. I’m now in my mid 60s so when I was a child there were few authors writing for children. Nowadays I read – and enjoy — many children’s books.  

What are your biggest motivators?
I have a lot of self-motivation (which people with a passion always have), but I’m greatly encouraged by my award-winning YA novelist husband, Bill Condon. I keep in regular touch with numerous other children’s authors and attend a weekly writers’ critique meeting which is invaluable. What motivates me most of all is getting my work accepted! Annually I send out about 100 manuscripts, and have an average acceptance rate of 15 to 20%. Rejection is part of trying to get published, part of life really. You have to keep faith in yourself and your work.  

What advice do you have for emerging writers wanting to get published?
Don’t expect it to be easy. Persistence is paramount. Always watch out for new markets. Subscribe to industry magazines such as Bookseller and Publisher, and Buzz Words (a fortnightly online magazine for people in the children’s book world which I founded in 2006.) Network, always meet deadlines, write daily, read widely, be professional, and when you’ve ‘made’ it, encourage new writers. That’s what I try to do.  

Find out more about Di Bates:

Interview by Romi Sharp  

Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan

Return of the PadawanI’m sure the Germans have a word for when you get two pages into reading a book and realise it’s the second one in a series instead of the first.

Whatever that word is, it applies to me, having just experienced that with Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan.

The ‘return’ should probably have provided me an early hint, both because it implies someone’s already been somewhere before and because the Return of the Jedi in the film isn’t exactly the first. But let’s all agree my brain wasn’t entirely engaged until I had the graphic novel in my hands and its opening pages before my eyes.

Either way, I quickly caught the gist of the story (aided by the handy in-case-you-haven’t-read-the-first-book summary): Protagonist Roan Novachez dreams of being a pilot. He’s studying at Jedi Academy, a kind of boarding school for future Jedis.

The book/series is an entry into the young adult market, with Brown’s other books (about which I’ve blogged up to could it be three times?) catering to the dual market of young children and their bemused and sleep-deprived Star Wars-fan parents.

It’s a 190-page image and story fest, with Brown applying his comic-drawing skills to full effect. No two sections are the same, with each surprising as they simultaneously flesh out the Jedi Academy universe and propel the story forward.

The book begins with Roan heading back for his second year at the academy. The first year, reportedly, was a little rough, but I’m obviously yet to read that firsthand. This year, Roan will finally get to do the study he’s been most keen on: learning to pilot Jedi starfighters via state-of-the-art flight simulators.

While I found the hapless, bumbling Roan sweet but a little too goofy at times (he mixes up days and arrives at school too early; he forgets to pack underwear and breaks just about everything he touches…), he is ultimately endearing.

Jedi AcademyEven better were Brown’s subtle inclusion of Star Wars references and puns merged with high school references and rites of passage.

Gammy is the academy’s new cook and first Gamorrean to achieve the galactic gourmet rank—that is, he’s the least friendly, least likely cook to serve edible food since the quintessential cafeteria lady.

The gym teacher is a wookie. The students go on a camp with Yoda at Hoth and one student gets his tongue stuck licking ice in a cave.

Gammy’s Home Economics tips include: ‘Lightsaber should not be used to cut butter (it tends to melt all the butter) or bread (will toast the entire loaf). Lightsaber can be used to carve turkey for dinner. Make sure to thoroughly wash lightsaber afterward.’

Students use the force to create a forcefield that deflects spitballs. A parent–teacher interview sign is cheekily amended to read: ‘09:00 parents arrive [and give you embarrassing hugs]’, ‘09:30 parent–teacher interviews [no hiding report cards this time]’, ‘01:30 parents will receive tour of classrooms and [messy] dorm rooms’, ‘04:00 parents depart [after probably crying for no reason]’. Oh, and there’s a bedlam-peddling Ewok pilot to boot.

It goes without saying I’ll need to go back to Book One to understand the true nuances of this second book. But Book Two has been good enough standalone to encourage me to recommend it. I guess I should research if there’s yet a Book Three while I’m at it…

MY STORY by Julia Gillard: Out Now



‘I was prime minister for three years and three days. Three years and three days of resilience.Three years and three days of changing the nation. Three years and three days for you to judge.’

9780857983909MY STORY is Julia Gillard’s account of her time as Australia’s first female prime minister.

It details her rise in the Labor Party and taking on the role of Prime Minister, what propelled her and what sustained her during that time. The book looks at all aspects of governing a country and of the difficult and complex decisions that have to be made. MY STORY discusses the leadership issues, the political campaigns, and all the domestic and foreign policy issues that Julia Gillard faced as Prime Minister. As well, it’s a chronicle of her life, growing up in Wales, moving to Adelaide and her time in politics. She discusses her family and the personal choices she has made. Julia Gillard shares her thoughts on the Labor Party, its future, and important choices and issues facing the country. MY STORY is also Julia Gillard’s story about being a woman at the highest levels of Australian political and public life.

This is a memoir that is both frank and candid. It not only looks at the high points of Julia Gillard’s life but examines the challenging times. It shows where she erred and where she triumphed. Above all it’s the story of her political and personal journey during those turbulent times for our country and the meaning they hold for our future.

MY STORY is out now.




Review – Sylvia

SylivaLike many, I have a vegie plot. It’s small and handy, full of kitchen herbs and beans mostly. It’s sustaining too albeit not so much for me, but to a host of garden creepers, crawlers and sliders. Long ago, I succumbed to the ‘live and let live’ theory, having exhausted beer and egg shell supplies to wage further battles against one of the most sluggishly sinister of backyard pests, the garden snail. Sylvia, the second picture book by author illustrator, Christine Sharp suitably celebrates my life style choice.

Sylvia is a tiny terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc aka garden variety snail. She inhabits the gigantic vegie garden of Simon Green with whom she is smitten beyond reason. She adores Simon, her love for him running deeper than her predilection for his ‘buttery beans and luscious lettuces’. Alas, the object of her ravenous desire sees only the result of her absent-minded obsession: ‘munched mushrooms and holey kale’, which for Simon amounts to the unforgivable wilful destruction of his market stall sales.

Sylvia illos 1He is determined to stomp out the perpetrator. Sylvia slogs on downhearted but undeterred. She finally hits upon a priceless piece of marketing prowess; she takes to the air to broadcast her love for Simon and in doing so unwittingly, raises unmitigated demand for his vegetables.

Simon’s feelings towards Sylvia morph; ultimately blossoming into adoration, although I’m not sure his affection for her is one hundred per cent true love or a more lusty mixture of gratitude and admiration for her determination and incidental promotional assistance. Either way, harmony amongst the fruit and veg is restored in this feel-good tale of love and yes, live and let live doctrine.

Christine Sharp 2 Sharp dedicates Sylvia ‘for the growers, gardeners and lovers of green’, but kids aged 3 – 6 years and above will get a kick out of the swirling text and close up, eye-level drama taking place in the vegie patch, enriched by Sharp’s animated, eat-me illustrations. Presented without a hint of gloss on matt, buff brown pages, each vegetable and invertebrate detailed adds a dynamic, organic quality to the story. Edible species are easily identifiable however children not familiar with ultra-fresh produce, the kind that comes with roots or grows on vines, can easily match narrative descriptions with the cross-section, above-below-ground pictures Sharp includes.

Carrots and coloured chards zing; purple-hearted cabbages hum under the moon’s midnight glow; all begging to be gobbled up, which Sylvia does – a lot. Particularly pleasing is the spread depicting how parsnips, beetroot and broccoli can actually be transformed into bowls of steaming soups, succulent salads and delectable smoothies, providing solid positive visual links for youngsters and promoting healthy attitudes. Great ‘thinking-outside-the-vegie-box’!

Sylvia illos 2At the very heart of it all is Christine’s great love of nature and sustained organic gardening. She states that, “In a world of large-scale commercial food growing practices that are often unkind to our health and the health of the planet, growing at home or buying from the local growers’ market can promote wellbeing and create community, while taking care of the Earth.’

For kids who find wonder where adults often only see wilt and woe, Sylvia is a marvellously refreshing avowal that tiny things really do matter. Makes me kind of, sort of, almost love snails too – well Sylvia at least. Snap up this garden fresh release here.

UQP September 2014


Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken

Louise, the Adventures of a ChickenMy chicken-themed (‘chooken’) book search and blogging continues, with today’s entry one about an adventurous chooken named the unchookenly name of Louise*.

The hardcover illustrated children’s book I picked up, Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, is written by Kate DiCamillo (better known to us for such titles as The Tale of Despereaux) and illustrated by Harry Bliss.

With bright white feathers, oval-shaped, curiosity- and emotion-imbued eyes, and a red comb (or as I prefer to call it: ‘woggle’), Louise is a free-ranging farm chooken with a taste for adventure. In some interviews on other sites, DiCamillo has reportedly described her feathered protagonist as ‘insouciant and unflappable’, but also ‘clueless’.

Throughout the 40-ish page, four-chapter book, Louise: boards a ship and sets sail, where she finds herself captured by pirates; joins the circus; and visits a bazaar. That is, she touches on the kinds of subjects and themes we’ve come to know from other children’s books. Which kind of disappointed me—where’s the surprise?

This is the part of the review where I probably begin to sound like the children’s book grinch.

Not being in the 4–8-years-old age bracket, I’m obviously not the target audience, but I have to say I found the stories a little two-dimensional. Key details are skimmed over or not at all explored as we hurtle suddenly to the stop of a story and the start of an unrelated one.

For example, the first chapter, about sailing and pirates, ends quite darkly without much true climax and certainly no explanation or build-up, and we’re immediately sent off to explore the circus. That then propels us into the next chapter, again without any satisfactory tying up of loose ends or even growth marginally achieved by said main character.

I also have to say Louise’s heart beating too fast in her feathered breast is a go-to phrase gone too a little too often. That’s not a phrase that should be used more than once or twice in a short book that contains a maximum of three sentences on each page. Where was the editor? I found myself thinking more than once.

But I also realise I’m critiquing this book with adult eyes, and it would be perfectly enjoyable for those for whom it is actually intended. Visually arresting, Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken is one you can pore over for plenty of time, and Bliss has wrought Louise as an incredibly adorable, expression-filled chooken.

The wit and anthropomorphic accuracy with which he conveys Louise’s emotions makes taking in the pages, if not necessarily the words, well worth doing. His depiction of a plucky (sorry—chooken puns are harder to avoid than you might think) Louise are top notch, and without a doubt are the book’s strength. Seriously, the chooken-out-of-canon sketch is fab.

DiCamillo often includes bleaker elements in her books, and this one adheres to that rule. Louise is in genuine danger a number of times, even if she is naively oblivious to it. Two out of three of those times, it’s because of humans who have less-than-honourable intentions for her. I initially found the darker tones unsettling and not what I was after, but in retrospect I do appreciate them—too often children’s books gloss over the realities of what happens to animals at human hands.

While I’m not sure if DiCamillo is trying to make an animal liberation or ethical statement (and I can’t find information about it online), either way she includes subtle reference to freedom—or rather, chickens’ more common entire lack of it. Louise is privileged enough to be a chicken free to range and make up her mind about where she’d like to go and what she’d like to do.

Late in the book—and when we least expect it, I might add—she finds herself trapped in a cage with other hens who haven’t had a taste for such freedom. When she breaks them out through her ingenious beak-maneuvering skills, they take tentative pecks at the ground, not dissimilar to they way battery hens do if they are ‘fortunate’ enough to experience sunlight and standing on the ground for the first time in their lives.

I have to admit I’ve read some other reviews on the internets that say what I’ve been thinking: the book’s not quite up to DiCamillo’s usual standard. But I should reiterate that I’m far, far older than its main readership so my critique could be wide of the mark. It might just be on the money for its intended readers (and have I mentioned Bliss’ anthropomorphised depictions of Louise are fantastic?).


*What constitutes a chooken name I’m not really sure—perhaps grandmotherly names, although I’m not sure how that came to be or why it’s the dominant naming convention. Thoughts?

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Meet Elizabeth Fensham, author of My Dog Doesn’t Like Me

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Elizabeth Fensham.

My Dog Doesn't Like Me My Dog Doesn’t Like Me (University of Qld Press) resonated with me because I also have a puppy, Floyd (whose middle name is Pink)– a spoodle who is easier to train than Eric’s dog, Ugly, but I have used one of the dog-training tips described in the novel.

 Tell us about your dogs.

My family had a string of black and tan mongrels. They were faithful, reliable dogs. We later had a Gordon Setter – and I did most of the training. I was a young teenager and loved the process of training and the reward of having such a responsive and easy to live with pet. Much later my son saw some black and tan pups at our local craft market. The Border Collie/Belgian Shepherd pup grew huge. He was very easy to train and, again, that makes a dog so pleasant to live with.

 This is not a typical dog story. It sounds like real life, with Eric having to work hard to keep Ugly. Why do you write contemporary realism for younger readers?

Several aspects of the story are from real life. A young boy once told me his dog didn’t like him – in exactly those words. I instinctively thought that this boy was probably not doing very much for his dog. Children need a lot of reminding to take responsibility for their pets. However, Eric’s tribulations are fictitious; I just used my memories of doggy dramas.

I don’t consciously decide on a particular genre when writing. Ideas just spring to mind. I write about the problems that I’m aware of in a child’s life – from my own experiences and those of children I know – and then I enjoy working towards realistic solutions – and this involves character growth, too.

 How do you incorporate humour?

Humour is important to me. I see it as necessary to living life as joyfully as possible, to getting things in perspective and, thus, to coping with tougher times. I enjoy the company of children because their honest and original insights on life are often both true and amusing. Humour in a story gives necessary relief to serious moments. I suppose a writer’s personality comes through in their style. I enjoy laughing, telling funny stories and making others laugh or smile. I’m embarrassing to go to the pictures with to see a comedy because apparently I laugh very loudly – and a lot. This is a balance to a part of me that feels the sadness of life deeply – which I suppose describes most people.Matty Forever

 Your writing is a perfectly calibrated mix of story telling, character building and great writing style – writing that gets your books onto literary award lists. How carefully do you create this blend?

I consciously try to craft stories with a recurring pattern of tension followed by some sort of relief. A character goes through this and learns along the way. The style is dictated by the spirit of the story, my intended audience, as well as the personality and age of the protagonist.

 The novel jumps straight into the action. How deliberate was this?

I have to give my editor the credit for beginning with the running away episode of the story. In my first draft, this came later in the chapter. I have enormous respect for editors; I appreciate that period where one works alongside someone else to improve a story.

Eric was looking forward to turning 8 and describes 8 as looking like a racetrack. What is your favourite number?

Favourite numbers! I’ve liked the number 3 since childhood. It seemed balanced to me. I also like the number 7 as I’ve heard it has significance in the ancient traditions of the Old Testament. Those numbers pop up in fairy-tales, too.

 What have you won awards for?

Invisible HeroI’ve had eight novels published. ‘Helicopter Man‘ won the CBCA award for Younger Readers. ‘The Invisible Hero’ (which deals with bullying and finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts) won the Speech Pathologists of Australia Award. The same book was listed as an Ibby Book; when I knew what it stood for I was thrilled – it’s a Swedish collection of international books that contributes to discussion of peace. ‘Goodbye Jamie Boyd‘ (a young adult novella that deals with mental illness) was listed for the Bologna White Raven – another international collection. ‘Miss McAllister’s Ghost‘ was awarded with a CBCA Notable Book. ‘Matty Forever’ was short-listed by the CBCA and its sequel, ‘Bill Rules’, was short-listed for the Queensland Premier’s Award. And one of the Matty books was short-listed for the Psychologists for Peace award. Goodness, looking at this I feel so encouraged  – for someone who was first published quite late in life.Bill Rules

 Thanks very much, Elizabeth.




Review – Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

9780007514274I am a huge Oliver Jeffers fan but have to admit his last few picture books haven’t hit the mark. That of course excludes the absolutely brilliant The Day The Crayons Quit he did with Drew Daywalt last year which was simply outstanding. Oliver Jeffers illustrations have always been outstanding but it was his stories that seemed to have drifted. Partnering with another writer seemed like a great idea but Jeffers has absolutely knocked it out of the park with his new book, Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories For All The Letters.

As the subtitle suggests this is an alphabet book with a difference. Jeffers gives four pages to every letter of the alphabet including a short story about each one. The stories are fabulous and deliciously absurd. Some are interconnected and others stand alone. There are funny stories, sad stories and typically Jeffers-esque morality tales. There are heroes, there is wisdom and best of all illustrations that burst, bubble and run wild over all the pages.

This is vintage Oliver Jeffers and I cannot wait to  share this over and over with my kids as there is so much to explore and enjoy in this marvellous picture book.

Buy the book here…

The Snow Kimono

Snow KimonoA buzz has been building about Australian author Mark Henshaw’s long awaited second novel after Out of the Line of Fire. The Snow Kimono (Text) is a literary psychological thriller set in Japan and France. Insights into both those countries shape the contours, ridges and atmosphere of the novel. Paris is wet and snowy and its streets and iconic buildings are lit with fireworks and the elements. Japan is elusive and mystical, with bamboo, bridges over water and the sounds of frogs, the slow tock, tock, tock of the water clock, the strings of a shamisen in a night garden. It is also a place of snow, birthing the snow kimono.

A retired French police inspector, Auguste Jovert, receives a letter, has an accident and meets Tadashi Omura, a former lawyer from Japan. Omura begins the story of Fumika, the girl he pretended was his daughter and, over the course of the novel, relates the story of his inconceivable life. Japan, and some of its secrets, is vividly revealed to us through a Parisian prism.

Jigsaw puzzles are a tantalising symbol. Omura’s father loved the ancient tradition of jigsaws where each piece is unique and designed to deceive – to make the puzzle more difficult. He owned rare, antique puzzles made from exotic wood with inlays of precious materials. The best had infinite or contradictory solutions. Omura explains, In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world… Puzzles are objects of contemplation.

The lie behind Omura’s life unfolds like the exquisite mirror-scope that he constructs for Fumika to see the flying kites. We learn of his brilliant, devious friend, Katsuo who is about to be released from prison and whose past life shadowed Omura’s own. Katsuo is an author who mimicked his friends’ and acquaintances’ mannerisms, almost imprinting them onto himself, as well as conjoining them into his writing. He demanded stories be told to him again and again, craved power over people and displayed controlled patience.

The kimono is an alluring motif. The snow kimono was made by Sachiko’s grandmother and becomes hers when she moves to inscrutable Mr Ishiguro’s house. She is one of a number of characters who feature in the story. The clever narrative is structured into parts, showcasing major characters such as Jovert, Omura and Katsuo, as well as the females whose lives intertwine with theirs – Sachiko, Fumika, Natsumi, Mariko and Martine.

I would highly recommend The Snow Kimono to readers of Haruki Murakami’s style of literary fiction. It is likely to appear Colorless Tsukuru Tazakion upcoming Australian award shortlists.

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Review – Tim and Ed by Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner

tim-and-ed Having two kids under five is busy enough; constantly picking up after them, the daily hustle and bustle, and the shouts, shrieks and laughter that goes with sibling shenanigans. But what about young, lively, always busy, curious twins? Now that would be a handful!

Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner make a great award-winning team, already bringing us The Terrible Plop and Too Many Elephants in This House, which was chosen as the 2014 National Simultaneous Storytime picture book. And another terrific team they have introduced more recently, are the adorable Tim and Ed.

Tim and Ed, identical twin koalas, are pretty much the same. With their matching eyes, mouth, feet, and head, and their arms, legs, knees, nose, ears and toes that are the same. The only thing differentiating them are their initials on their tee shirts. In their colourful, safe world with their Dad, they share a definite cheekiness, curiosity about their twin existence, and an unequivocal bond.

‘I want to be the same as him!’, Ed reveals, as no contrast will be accepted, even if caused by a dirty, wet pond. Absolutely exhausting their poor old Dad, this duo’s energy just doesn’t seem to tire. With a noisy racket and a toy-ladened house, Dad and Auntie Pim join forces to organise a well-deserved break for the single father. 20140909_144620
However, their sense of security is suddenly shattered when the twins discover that they will be spending the night apart. In the beginning they hardly notice each other’s absence, enjoying their time crashing toy trains and racing bikes around the yard, and dining on spectacular meals.

In the quiet calm of the night they notice the missing presence of each other’s company. But upon reuniting the following day, with the reassurance of their Dad, the koalas realise a little bit of independence can be fun. And although they may look the same, they each have their unique qualities, which makes them special individuals. 20140909_144703

Tim and Ed is a gorgeous picture book that perfectly matches Ursula Dubosarsky’s rollicking, rhyming storyline with Andrew Joyner’s lively, expressive illustrations. Dubosarsky’s real life conversations between father and sons, and activities written with descriptive text, are paired with Joyner’s accurate facial expressions and charmingly drawn details, including a typical Aussie backyard and messy family living room.

Children aged three and up will adore the moments shared with their siblings and parents after reading Tim and Ed. With action-filled behaviours that they can relate to, delightful and engaging illustrations, and learning about being individual and independent, especially when you are a twin, it will be easy to get attached to this picture book.

Pre-order your copy now!

For some fun and educational koala activities while you wait for your copy of Tim and Ed to arrive, head to Here’s a little snippet of what you will find. PhotoGrid_1410833885290

Review – The Drop by Dennis Lehane

9780349140728This is absolute vintage Dennis Lehane. Contemporary Boston, working class neighbourhood, crime is not about right or wrong it is about survival and everyone has their own choices to make.

Dennis Lehane originally wrote this as a short story called “Animal Rescue”. He then turned it into a screenplay which is about to be released as a film starring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy (set in Brooklyn instead of Boston). He then adapted the screenplay into a novella.

What I really loved about this book was it was vintage Lehane distilled into a potent and heady brew. Lehane has recently been working on a multi-generational, historical epic. Book three of which is due out early next year. This was a return to his working class roots where right and wrong a luxuries people cannot afford.

Bob tends bar for his cousin Marv. Marv was a loan shark and fence back in the day but those days are long gone. The Chechens, amongst others, have moved in and Marv now works for them. His bar, their bar now, is one of many drop points where money is collected from all the night’s many activities across the city. Bob is just trying to keep his head down and avoid any trouble. Except trouble has just walked in and wants to rob the joint.

Lehane effortlessly bring his characters vividly to life. This is a true craftsmen at work, building his pieces, putting them together and then sadly watching them fall apart. If you have ever wondered why such high praise is heaped upon Dennis Lehane, The Drop is why.

Buy the book here…

On My Bedside Table – # 3

Bedside Table books-lamp-diyBack by popular demand, the bedside table revelations of our literary heroes and heroines or as some of us like to address the towers of teetering titles yet to be tackled, the TBR List – To Be Read List. Be it on the bookshelf, coffee table, lounge room floor or humble little bedside cube like mine; where ever you stash your next-in-line-to-read reads, have a look through these. You might just have to make another pile.

Today we ask the burning question: Do illustrators make time to read? If so, who is it that these arty types curl up with and why…the answers are illuminating.

Sarah Davis SARAH DAVIS Multiple award winning children’s book illustrator who is as much at home drawing ghosts as bulldogs and is half the creative heart of the divine Violet Mackerel. A multitasking legend!

 Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which is gripping – I can’t quite work out what her magic trick is for making her characters and situations so vivid and immediate.

Middlemarch by George Eliot for the third time, because I’d been thinking a lot about Mr Casaubon and Dorothea recently and wanted to go visit them again.

 Hiding in Plain Sight – Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas, because I’m interested in abnormal psychology.Confessions of a sociopath

 Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer – set in the freaky crumbling surreal city of Ambergris beneath which lurk sentient fungi. (My upstairs book for when I take lunchbreaks)

I’m reading a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird aloud to the kids every night, and usually listening to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita on audio book while I work, although I’ll occasionally take a break to listen to podcasts.

I’ve got a story by Isobelle Carmody all lined up to listen to while I paint tomorrow.

And am dipping in and out of Pablo Neruda’s Residence on Earth.

When I’m stuck on the train or in a queue with nothing to read, I’m getting through The Count of Monte Cristo on my iPhone.

I don’t know what I’ll read after all that… I’ll just see what jumps off the shelf at me, I suppose. Whatever it is, hopefully it doesn’t hit me on the head.

James Foley  JAMES FOLEY Writer, illustrator, cartoonist, and part time Viking. A man with multiple awards to his name as well and a disparaging multiple-pile problem.

More Than This by Patrick Ness. Like the Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls, this is incredibly suspenseful storytelling. Mr Ness strings you along, throwing questions at you but only giving the barest slivers of answers each chapter. The ending felt unfinished and under defined, but I guess that’s par for the course in a book about the (possible) afterlife.

I got some great left-field comics for my birthday, both from Nobrow Comics: Adventures of A Japanese Businessman by Jose Domingo and Dockwood by Jon McNaught.Adventures of a Japanese Businessman

I also topped up my Hellboy collection with a new trade paperback, The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart – there’s some insanely good pen and wash technique in there.

One Soul by Ray Fawkes – The best graphic novel I’ve read this year – 18 separate characters living in different time periods have their life stories told in parallel. Each double page spread is arranged into 18 panels (6×3), with each character having their own panel.

But wait, there’s more! My recent picture book acquisitions: My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood; I am Cow Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon.

Skullduggery Pleasant: Dying of the Light by Derek Landy; my current read.

There, done! Ooh! Ooh! On one of my bedside reading piles is Deb Fitzpatrick’s new one, The Break – it just came out last week

Christina Booth CHRISTINA BOOTH Enviable author illustrator whose latest picture book Welcome Home has just picked up the 2014 Environment Award for Children’s Literature. She hails from a small island to the south of Australia known as Tasmania and has a larger pile problem than James.

Christian explains: Well, to start with there are none on my table, you see, the pile became so large that I moved a big bookcase into my bedroom and that is where they now reside; my reading-to-do-pile, ever increasing,  those read and those in progress.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows highly recommended. As an author, I loved the banter between author and publisher and fans, and I learnt a lot about Guernsey, especially how they were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.

My Place Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins This picture book is part of my apprenticeship in writing a time line PB.The People Smuggler

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny, following the life and journey of a man accused in Australia as a People Smuggler and how he was used as an example in the courts at great cost to the country only to be found innocent. Robin is an award winning script writer and this book is her first written as a biography but using the first person approach. It is a good read, though it is emotionally charged.

I have attempted to read Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party, which seems to be a great story set in my home state of Tasmania. Alas, what does my head in is the lack of speech marks in the text. It requires more concentration to sort out who is saying what for my tired brain to deal with at present. It sits there, waiting….

Every night I (also) read my Bible, so much to contemplate along with words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis, and some other writers who refer to the passages I read. This is the most read of my books.

Maus is always close by as well by Art Spiegelman. Re-visited, browsed and remembered. One of the books that has changed me…. (Wonderfully tactile in hard cover with fabric spine).

There is a manuscript in varying stages in a folder that I review and reread, it’s almost there now; I’m starting to dream it instead.

On my ‘to get to ASAP’ list is Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal CreaturesJohn Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is next for book club. The Roald Dahl Biography and also one on Michael Morpurgo await my attention. They are so patient with me, I want to read them all right now but alas, time isn’t my friend.

Phew! Is there anything they are NOT reading?! So it turns out, illustrators are just as voracious readers as the next bibliophile. Makes my pile of seventeen or so pale in comparison under the amber glow of my bedside lamp. Do any of these feature on your bedside table? So many books, not enough nights to get through them all…

Be further inspired. More great titles you may not have thought about adding to you pile from more great authors and illustrators.

Visit here and here.





Review – Lock In by John Scalzi

9780575134348I’ve been dying to read this since Scalzi published his oral history, teaser novella earlier this year. You don’t have to read the novella before this but I would highly recommend doing so because it shows the true depth of the world building Scalzi has imagined for our near future.

To set things up a flu like virus has ripped through the world infecting millions. Many died but there were also survivors, a small portion of whom became “Locked In”. Thier minds were perfectly fine but they became trapped inside their bodies. Billions of dollars was thrown at finding a cure for the virus but instead of a cure a different solution was discovered. “Locked In” people were able to transfer their consciousness to specially designed robots known as Hadens allowing them to rejoin the world. This lead to other discoveries and innovations that have had a fundamental impact on society and the world.

Scalzi tells the story like a classic detective mystery; two FBI agents, one a veteran the other new on the job. The twist being the new agent on the job is a Haden. Their first case together is a bizarre one. One man is dead and an “Integrator” (a human who can integrate their minds with Hadens) is found at the scene. As the FBI agents try to piece together what has happened they are quickly enveloped in a world of big business, politics and technology where nobody is who they seem.

This was a lot of fun and I don’t think Scalzi is finished with this world just yet. I can’t wait to see the stories he comes up with if he does return.

Buy the book here…

Loom Bracelet Phenomenon

If you have kids, nieces, nephews or grandkids, you’ve no doubt heard of the loom bracelet phenomenon. It’s a new craze of making friendship bracelets from tiny coloured rubber bands using a plastic loom and crochet hook. There are many different patterns and designs and with so many colours to choose from the possibilities are endless.  Hours of fun can be had on a budget and the phenomenon has even seen celebrities like the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Harry Styles and Beyonce wearing them.

While you can use the loom to make bracelets and necklaces, one housewife in the UK decided to make a child’s dress using 24,000 rubber bands to sell on eBay.  The item went viral and the dress sold for an astonishing $296,000 (the equivalent of 170,000 pounds).  Can you believe it?Totally Awesome Rubber Band Jewellery Colleen Dorsey

If you’d like to know more, here’s a selection of great books to get you up and running.  Totally Awesome Rubber Band Jewellery by Colleen Dorsey (pictured right) was published in Australia last year and is at a great price at the moment.  You can also check out Colleen’s follow up book Rubber Band Jewelry All Grown Up – Learn to Make Stylish Bracelets, Rings, Necklaces, Earrings, and More, published this year.

Beginners might like to check out Loom Band It – 60 Rubberband Projects for the Budding Loomineer by authors Kim Schader, Kat Roberts and Tessa Sillars-Powell.Loom Band It book cover

Then there’s Rubber Band Bracelets – 35 Colorful Projects You’ll Love to Make and Friendship Bracelets – 35 gorgeous projects to make and give for children aged 7 years+ by author Lucy Hopping.

If that doesn’t satiate your needs, try Rubber Band Loom Crafts – Easy Jewelry & More for Girls & Guys! by Leisure Arts

Looming Murder Carol Ann MartinWhile the kids or grandkids are having fun constructing their new creations – and making a mess of course – you can sit back, put your feet up and read Looming Murder, a cozy murder mystery by Carol Ann Martin.  In Looming Murder, protagonist Della Wright moves to picturesque Briar Hollow to pursue her dream of owning a weaving studio (okay so it’s not loom bracelets, but the theme of looming is continued, sort of).  Anyway, all is going well until a a dodgy local businessman is found murdered and one of her weaving students is the prime suspect.

Looming crafts are a fabulous hobby and pastime for boys, girls and the young at heart, especially on rainy weekends or during busy school holidays.  (Just remember they can be a choking hazard to babies, toddlers and pets).

If you have a photo of yourself wearing/making a loom bracelet and reading a book, we’d love to see it.




thrteemoonsI’m afraid my blogging just isn’t as regular as I’d like it to be. Sorry! I shan’t bore you with the details beyond saying that life sometimes gets in the way. 🙂 Despite my less than stellar blog-count, I’ve still been reading just as much as usual, so it’s time for a little catch-up blog. Here are some of the books I’ve been reading…

Legend of the Three Moons (The M’dgassy Chronicles, Book 1) by Patricia Bernard
This is a pleasant enough middle-grade fantasy. To be honest, it didn’t really grab me… but I’m not sure why. All the ingredients are there and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it — but it just didn’t spark for me.

The Laws of Magic Book 4: Time of Trial by Michael Pryor
Fourth book in an engrossing YA steampunk-ish fantasy series that I’m trying to string out for as long as I can. Only two more books to go. Inventive, riveting, can’t-put-it-down stuff! Love the characters. Love the setting.

Magic Ballerina series by Darcey Bussell
My youngest daughter has been getting me to read these uninspiring, repetitive books to her. They’re about a young ballet student who, with the aid of magic ballet slippers, gets whisked away to the land of Enchantia, where the characters from all the famous ballets live. The best thing I can say about these books is that they’re not as bad as the Rainbow Magic fairy books, which I had to read to my eldest when she was younger.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books to my eldest daughter. I’m thoroughly enjoying revisiting these wonderful stories. We’ve now gone straight into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

death-at-the-blue-elephant-webDeath at the Blue Elephant by Janeen Webb
This is an enthralling short story collection that leans towards dark fantasy. It is twisted, original and unexpected. From an illegal trade in angels to old magic in a contemporary world, these stories challenge perceptions and make the reader think beyond the tales being told. These stories stay with you after you’ve finished reading them and have moved on to the next book. And I’ve got to mention that it has a STUNNING cover by Nick Stathopoulos.

The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford
Although I like poetry, I tend not to read it all that often. My tastes usually lean towards the classics (Blake, Keates, etc) but I do sometimes come across contemporary poetry that I enjoy. And this book is one such book. My favourite piece was the rather creepy “Something in the corner”. The booklet is available from Pitt Street Poetry.

My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks
A fun bunch of kids’ short stories from the P.O.V. of schoolboy Tom Weekly. There is some truly innovatively gross stuff in here.

10 Futures by Michael Pryor
Ten YA science fiction stories. Spread over different time periods and futures, they are all linked by the friendship of the two main characters, Sam and Tara. Pryor is such a skilful writer. There is so much to think about in these stories. Highly recommended!

No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve
A wonderful YA fantasy about a mute boy who is servant to a fake dragon slayer. A surprising read, with a story that did not progress how I expected it to.

welcomeWelcome Home by Christina Booth
This is a picture book about a whale coming to give birth in the Derwent River. Over the course of the book, we witness its connection with the past, a present-day child and the future. Lovely illustrations!

Okay… that’s it for now. I shall endeavour to blog more regularly… unless… ya know… stuff happens to stop me. 😉

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


DW50Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition



Brisbane Writers Festival Dazzles

Analogue MenThe  2014 Brisbane Writers Festival had an inspiring launch on Thursday night when author/publisher Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What – about the lost boys of Sudan) told a full tent  about the genesis of McSweeney’s publishing company and its 826 Valencia Writing Centres. The tutoring behind these pirate, superhero and other themed storefronts has helped countless children with their writing. Groups doing similar work in Australia are Sydney’s Story Factory with its Martian Embassy, Melbourne’s 100 Story Building, and Book Links in Queensland is working towards its own centre.

My next session was ‘Dangerous Allies’ where Robert Manne interviewed Malcolm Fraser in front of a capacity crowd. The insights about Australia’s alliance with the US were provocative and chilling.

‘Zen and the Art of Tea’ was a light-hearted exploration of tea by Morris Gleitzman and Josephine Moon. Josephine’s tip about brewing lavender, garlic or basil to make teas sounds worth trying and Morris – a literary Geoffrey Rush – was hilarious. He personified coffee as a bully, and tea as a whispering lover.

David Hunt was in fine form discussing his Indies Book winner, Girt which is a retelling of Australian history with a comedic eye.

It was fun to cross paths with David Malouf (for the second time in two weeks), Jennifer Byrne, Will Kostakis, Pamela Rushby and Tristan Bancks. If only there was more time for more sessions … I would have loved to see YA writers such as A.J. Betts, Isobelle Carmody and Jackie French but they were either offsite or clashed with my events. Andy Griffiths was so popular he had his own signing area after the other children’s writers’ part of the program had finished. Chairing Andy and John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) a few years ago was one of the funniest times of my life.

Forgotten Rebels of EurekaThis year I was privileged to moderate sessions with Clare Wright on The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text) and Nick Earls on Analogue Men (Vintage). Clare must be the world’s most informed person in her field of women at Eureka. Her book deservedly won the Stella Prize this year. It is compulsive, engaging reading, notwithstanding its 500+ pages.

Nick was as funny as expected and revealed a secret about Analogue Men. We learned that his favourite Dr Who is Jon Pertwee and his favourite tech device Bluetooth. I explained how I laughed out loud repeatedly over one scene that I read on instant replay and Nick implied that my brain is like that of a goldfish. But no – it really was the skilful writing. It was wonderful to hear the laughing throughout this session and see the animated audiences in both these events.

Many thanks to the authors involved in the Festival, particularly Clare and Nick, and to the incredible BWF staff and volunteers led by Kate Eltham.

Review – Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

9780434022786With cover quotes from Kevin Power, Philipp Meyer and Jenni Fagan there was no way I was not going to read this. Throw in a rave review from John Harvey describing it as the best novel he’s read since Peter Temple’s Truth and it was practically drop everything to read this book. And everything they said about this book was true and then some.

Set in Montana in the early 1980s the main character of the novel is Pete Snow, a social worker who covers a large swathe of territory across a number of semi-rural communities. It is Pete’s job to step in when things go wrong in families although that didn’t stop his own family falling apart. Pete’s wife Beth has left him taking their daughter Rachel and they are not living in the best environment to raise a teenage girl. Meanwhile Pete’s efforts to get a child away from his mother and into a good home unravel at every turn. When an eleven year-old-boy, who has been living off the grid with his father, wanders into the local school Pete is determined to help in any way he can.

Pete is drawn into the boy and his father’s world. A world of paranoia and distrust of authority. A world dominated by survival and nothing else. And as Pete slowly wins their trust he discovers secrets and lies that will rip open wounds and leave fresh scars for all involved.

Smith Henderson tells Pete’s story with tender power and fierce precision presenting a man who in spite of his flaws is determined to help those in need. What makes Pete’s story more tragic is the plight of his daughter. We get her side of the story in short, sharp vignettes at the end of chapters in a series of interview questions answered in the third person which gives Rachel’s story a detached and melancholic quality which, as we learn more, tragically becomes more and more apt.

I was totally enthralled and enraptured by this book. From the subject matter, to the structure, the characters and the language this is an astonishing debut. Smith Henderson manages to combine the raw intensity and emotion of Philipp Meyer with the haunting descriptions and beautiful language of Kevin Powers while delving into the dark shadows of society in a deeply personal and confrontingly honest way like Jenni Fagan. This is a very close contender for my book of the year.

Buy the book here…

A Pantheon of Poets: Geoffrey Lehmann

Geoffrey LehmannA pantheon of eminent Australian poets descended onto a marquee slated on a grassy tennis court in leafy Sydney. The canapés, wine and congenial company were to celebrate the launch of esteemed poet, Geoffrey Lehmann’s new book, Poems 1957-2013 (UWA Publishing).

Geoffrey and his vivacious wife, Gail Pearson, hosted a large but attentive group of poets, family and colleagues under a rain-threatening sky. Poems was launched by John Edwards, who read the final poem in the book, ‘Why I Write Poetry’, a fitting résumé of Geoffrey’s poetic life, which he wrote for his old English master.

… Poetry is our love of metaphor.

We see one thing and think of something else.

A green wool-dress becomes the woman we love.

Poetry is non-local causality.

We are bathed in a mysterious glow.

That’s why I write poetry.

The collection includes previously published poems, some revised with original lines restored and removed. More than seventy pages of poems are new publications.

It’s always interesting to see how a poetry collection is structured. Here the sections are ‘Simple Sonnets’, ‘Earlier Poems’, ‘Nero’s Poems’, ‘Spring Forest’ and ‘Later Poems’. Ancient history is prominent, featuring poems about the Emperor Claudius, ‘Fall of a Greek City’ and ‘Colosseum’. There is also a poem for poet Les Murray, ‘The Trip to Bunyah: A Letter for Les Murray’. Aptly, Geoffrey’s first book of poetry, The Ilex Tree, was shared with Les and won the Grace Levin Prize.

Another of Geoffrey’s collaborations, and one for which he is recently known, is with Robert Gray. These two poets have edited some formidable anthologies of Australian poetry, the last published in 2011 by UNSW Press – Australian Poetry Since 1788.

Geoffrey read several poems, including the very funny, ‘Thirteen Reviews of the New Babylon Inn’, based on TripAdvisor reviews of a hotel in New York; ‘An Image’, a poem written when he was 17; ‘Water from My Face’ from ‘Spring Forest’ and ‘The World’ from the ‘Simple Sonnets’ sequence.

Frank MoorhouseA character in his own right, Geoffrey was part of the Sydney Push with Germaine Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes and Frank Moorhouse. The Push was predominately a left-wing intellectual subculture in the mid 1900s. Geoffrey broke the mould by working for global accountancy firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers

Some poets at the launch were David Malouf, Robert Adamson, Martin Langford, Vivian Smith, Carol Jenkins, Jamie Grant, Judith Beveridge, Stephen Edgar, Rhyll McMaster, Robert Gray and Alan Wearne. Judith Beveridge



Review – Spud and Charli

spud and CharliDoes your imagination ever run wild? I bet kids will have no difficulty answering this one and for me that answer is still an empathic, yes! Horse-obsessed Charli finds it difficult to rein in her run-away imagination too in Samantha Wheeler’s new novel for primary-aged readers, Spud and Charli.

This story gallops full speed from the first page to the last and reminds me of my intense desire to own a horse of my own at Charli’s age. Being short on grass, (our backyard was a dustbowl) and unable to persuade my parents to invest in anything equine, I rigged up the dog’s lead to my bicycle handlebars as reins and rode for hours around an imaginary gymkhana in our backyard. It was an engineering and imaginary success, which thankfully Charli does not have to resort to because she is allowed to attend horse-camp and realise a dream come true; ‘to learn to ride a real, live horse!’

Nevertheless, dreams rarely come true easily and when camp show-off, Mikaela, snaffles the palomino Charli has her heart set on, she is crestfallen. Charli is relegated to Spud, an over-sized, unattractive ex-racehorse. It’s not the start of the stellar riding career she’d hoped for however Spud’s soft nature soon insinuates itself in Charli.

Not only does Charli have to adapt to the rigours and routines of horse care and the chequered, challenging personalities of her riding mates, she also has to contend with a newfound fear – bats.

Fruit bats surround the property filling Charli’s nights with disquieting noise and her heart with fear. She’s heard they spread disease and can kill horses and with her imagination galloping straight out of the paddock, she is convinced that Spud is in grave danger because of them. Not only are lives threatened, but Mrs Bacton, the camp organiser wants to cancel the gymkhana.

Are bats as deadly as Charli believes and if not, how will she persuade Mrs Bacton that she really does deserve a place at the riding comp?

Sam Wheeler 2What I loved about Wheeler’s debut novel, Smooch and Rose, was the bright and breezy way Wheeler portrayed a story big on heart and moral understanding. Spud and Charli is similar in its delivery with a little less eye-prickling emotion but just as much raw reality and enthusiastic narrative fluttering with enough funny and shocking moments to rein young readers in.

Charli is a character many young girls in particular will catch glimpses of themselves in whether they are horse mad or not. Her journey of self-awareness and gradual understanding of the truth about bats is neither too predictable nor obtuse. I am confident young readers will get Charli and admire her overall spunk and drive. It would be fantastic if more members of our society were as well informed (about the fruit bat / Hendra Virus situation) as Charli eventually becomes.

Spud and Charli is as entertaining as it is significant and for this reader who grew up in FNQ (far north Queensland) amongst thousands of flying foxes feasting nightly on our backyard pawpaws, it is a positive, feel-good story about two of my favourite mammals.

FruitbatsExtra golden horseshoes awarded to Charli who revisits after the story’s end to take us through some excellent info pages on interesting bat facts with no nonsense advice and useful online links; beautifully dispelling ugly myths while at the same time carefully educating our next generation of nature lovers. A joy to read in its own right, this book will serve well as a valuable prompt for classroom projects and discussion.

For those residing in SE Queensland, be sure to trot into Riverbend Books and Teahouse this Friday the 12th September for the launch of Spud and Charli. Plenty of room to tie up dobbin at the door. 6 pm. Or you can secure your copy of Spud and Charli right now here.

UQP September 2014

Player Profile: Kaylene Hobson, author of Isaac’s Dragon

kaylene hobson pic Kaylene Hobson decided at the age of ten that she wanted to be a writer. But it took her till she was ”much older” to act on it, she claims. Writing was always just for pleasure.  

Now she has released her first chapter book, Isaac’s Dragon, an amusing and captivating story about a boy who hatches a wonderfully clever and imaginative plan to catch his own dragon (Review here).  

Isaac’s Dragon is based on Hobson’s son Isaac, who has autism.  ”It is meant to be the world from his perspective. He spends a lot of his time in a wonderfully magical place that the rest of us don’t understand. It was originally meant as a way for him to know that I understand him, but now it can help the world to understand him and other kids like him better too…..while reading an entertaining tale at the same time.”  

received_m_mid_1409371748082_1b95137c0d750e2993_0 She wants readers to enjoy the story. To be entertained, amused and even inspired. ”But they should also feel a connection with the character – and experience happiness, sadness, joy and disappointment along with Isaac.” Hobson goes on to say, ”Even at a children’s book level – a good book is fun to read but a great book makes you feel. If along the way it also helps children gain self-confidence and helps parents to see the world through the eyes of their children, even for a little while, then it becomes an amazing book.”  

As an author, Hobson has an end goal in mind; a beautiful sentiment in leaving a legacy for future generations of readers. She aims to have written ”the classics of the future, that stay with children long after the story ends and influences them enough to want to share with their children and grandchildren”.  

Whilst running a social skills group for autistic kids, Kaylene met illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn. ”The idea was for the kids to make some friends but it’s the adults who bonded. The kids have had to become friends now whether they like it or not!” Out of a growing friendship, came the business partnership. With encouragement from Ann-Marie, Kaylene published her story through her own publishing company, which she established earlier this year.  

Kaylene explains, ”Dragon Tales has arisen from a desire to publish our own work but professionally and with a distinction from the hit and miss quality associated with ‘self publishers’. I have a background in business and marketing and Ann-Marie is the creative side and together we wish to give the opportunity to other skilled and talented artists to realize their own dreams and share their talents with children.”  

When asked to share advice for new writers wanting to get published, Hobson relates back to the idea behind Dragon Tales Publishing; ”be true to yourself while having some professional backup for the stuff you don’t know.”  

So, what’s in store for Kaylene Hobson and Dragon Tales Publishing?
”Big things!!” she claims. With another installment of Isaac’s Dragon to come, as well as some ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) specific books that Ann-Marie and Kaylene are teaming up on, life is pretty exciting. Dragon Tales will be releasing a new book by Jo Emery soon; My Dad is a FIFO Dad, which is already gaining a lot of attention prior to release.  

Contact Kaylene Hobson and Dragon Tales Publishing here:
Mobile –Kaylene 0421 706 369
Email – [email protected]


Blog Blast! Review – Tottie and Dot

PHold on to your marshmallows because new girls on the block, Tottie and Dot, have invited us all to their megatabulous Blog Blast party. Today with the help of co-hosts, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling, we celebrate the explosive launch of picture book, Tottie and Dot. And what a feast for the senses it is.

Tottie and Dot live side by side at numbers 36 and 38, in a retro-chic, bubble gum coloured world. Beneath skies of teal blue, they share a harmonious aqua and cerise hued friendship of marshmallow tea and apricot sandwiches, ‘side by side’. Even their pet pussycats frolic in neighbourly tranquillity.

tottie-and-dot-3-originalTheir slightly stepford-wives existence seems almost too peaceful to be perfect, although I stress this is more a reference to their spectacular domiciliary set up. There is nothing submissive or docile about these two bright characters. However, social calm is suddenly thrust into the spotlight of competition when Tottie has a radical change of heart and paints her house mauve.

Her benign act of home improvement sets off a chain of competitive one-up-man-ship attempts between her and Dot, until what begins as subtle rivalry between two friends escalates into riotous mayhem. Each is determined not to be outdone by the other.

Dishevelled and in disarray, Tottie and Dot collapse amongst the mess of their jealously realising that there is much more at stake than art deco garden ornaments and strings of butterflies. Their treasured friendship is on the line.

Tania McCartney 2 Tottie and Dot is the latest picture book deliciousness doled up by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling. As with their previous bestseller, An Aussie Year, Tottie and Dot effortlessly teams McCartney’s delectable dream-like story line with Snerling’s candy-luscious illustrations. Sweetly simple statements are anchored on full double page spreads with divinely drawn detail, right down to the tiny-tarred paw prints and gumball pebbled paths.Tina-Snerling-360px

Kids aged four and above will get a real sherbet flavoured blast from this picture book. It’s extreme in colour and action yet beneath the sugar coating, the idea that Tottie and Dot blog blast webfriendship is all-important fizzes away satisfyingly. Treat yourself to it soon.

But wait, the party’s not over yet! For more fun, insights on the book, reviews and interviews with its creators, check out this schedule or just click on the poster.It’s all happening TODAY and today only!


Tottie and Dot is available here now.

EK Books September 2014



How to Launch a Magazine in this Digital Age

Dave EggersBespoke print magazines are undergoing something of a quiet-but-steady resurgence. At least, that’s the way it looks to me, admiring the works of such magazines as Cereal, Another Escape, and Smith Journal, and a few in between from afar.

(I mean, if you haven’t been following what’s happening with Bristol Independent Publishers (BIP), you’re missing out on envying some seriously cool creatives in a seriously cool, creative place, doing seriously cool, creative stuff.)

Which is why Mary Hogarth’s How to Launch a Magazine in this Digital Age drew my attention. Befittingly published in both print and electronic formats, the book is part textbook, part lay read. And it’s incredibly salient and useful.

The book was penned by a university professor aware of both the interest in publishing magazines but the common pitfalls befalling many magazine start-ups. It is, subsequently, a step-by-step guide to planning, funding, and publishing a magazine of choice.

How to Launch a Magazine in this Digital Age contains plenty of advice and more pressing questions to help you nut out whether your magazine idea truly has legs (or rather, whether you’ve thought through funding opportunities and avenues in order to see the magazine exist beyond the launch issue). The sobering fact that some 80 per cent of magazine failing in their first two years makes this a must-read, must-dog-ear kind of book.

Three of the questions it poses are:

1. Why this? Look at the gap in the market. How wide is it?

2. Why us? What experience can we bring to the new title?

3. Why now? Does the magazine fit with the current and emerging trends?

Those questions are delivered straight-up without packing any punches, but I’ll not deny I spent a considerable amount of time thinking them over and how—or if—I could answer them for a project of my own.

The book talks too about the importance of having a USP, or Unique Selling Point, and of thinking not just what a publication would look like and be now, but what it might need to look like and be in five years’ time.

With the entire publishing and journalism worlds unable to discern a clear picture of the future, that’s a difficult consideration to plan for. But an incredibly important one—nail that and you’ve nailed your magazine’s sustainability.

Peppered throughout the book are a bunch of other standalone statements that make you stop and think. These include that:

  • if the majority of your readers are online during their commute, an online version is a must
  • online versions need to offer fast downloads, extra images, podcasts, and more. They must supplement and complement and differentiate themselves from the print editions, rather than being the print versions plonked online
  • readership and circulation are different and should not be confused. Generally speaking, at least two people read every one magazine published
  • what makes a magazine successful is a great idea that taps into a niche market
  • if your magazine has fewer than three competitors, there’s likely room for your magazine in the market; if no competitors exist, there’s probably a reason for that too
  • never save a good idea for next issue. If you use up all your good ideas, you’ll think of more. If you sit on them, you get constipated. And you could get run over by a bus tomorrow
  • aim to make the first issue as strong as possible, then aim for 10 per cent improvements for each subsequent issue
  • there is always a solution to a problem. You just need to think of it in time (and yes, this is rather relevant to the publishing and journalism industries).

How to Launch a Magazine in this Digital Age is a set text for Hogarth’s students, but it should also be a set text for those grappling with the dynamic wider industry.

It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it asks the right questions and provides the right prompts to begin to steer us on our way to being the masters of our own magazine publishing destinies. I suspect I’ll be reading it more than once.

The Problem With Chickens/Chookens

Louise The Adventures of a ChickenAnyone who even vaguely knows me knows I recently adopted some former battery hens. (If by some fluke you’ve missed it, you can follow along via the #OperationChooken hashtag.)

We’re coming up to celebrating one year of Randall and Coo (as I’ve named them) being cage-free (on 3 October it’ll be one year with me, but they were rescued roughly three weeks before I met them).

For almost a year now, I’ve been trying to find some chicken-related—‘chooken’-related—books to devour, only to find there’s either not a lot out there or my research skills are rubbish. It’s likely more the latter, but either way, I’ve come to realise chookens feature quite a bit in children’s books.

Some books I found I was familiar with, many more not. That may be because I don’t have children or it may be just that I never encountered the books when I was a kid.

The books I will shortly ingest include Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken and Henny Penny, the latter of which reportedly aims to set the record straight about chookens thinking the sky is falling in—that’s apparently a misnomer put about by foxes. I’ll also soon be reading the similarly titled Henny, which is about a chooken who has arms instead of wings.

The first chooken book to arrive in the post, though, was Bruce McMillan’s The Problem with Chickens. I’d be inclined to complete that statement with such things as:

  • they’re so adorable it’s impossible to concentrate on work or study while you’re hanging out with them so you’re behind on just about everything you’re supposed to be doing
  • they’re indiscriminate poopers, and especially like pooping places that aren’t grass and are therefore more difficult to clean up
  • they’re impossibly perky morning people, which poses challenges for those of us who are entrenched night owls
  • they’re smarter than we give them credit for and they’ll have you under their thumb and running around organising them treats and visits to the neighbours’ gardens for a variety of bug and worm exploration before you can say ‘cunning, cute chooken’.

McMillan’s characters experience something similar, with their adopted chookens behaving less like chookens and more like ladies, following the protagonists around and delightfully mimicking their every behaviour.

HennyThe problems come when the chookens stop laying. (I’m trying not to think too hard about the parallels with the real world that saw my chookens, Randall and Coo, no longer considered useful under these conditions, and how my adopting them was the only difference between them being alive and free now and being sent to cruel slaughter.)

The story then revolves around the protagonists taking innovative steps to encourage the chookens to lay again (I won’t ruin the surprise, although I’m not sure I feel it made a lot of sense). All the while, the narrative is complemented by Icelandic illustrator Gunnella’s pictures, which simultaneously depict the chookens as beautiful, whimsical, and of unique personalities. Those illustrations also put my amateur chooken stick drawings to shame (and no, I won’t post a pic here for comparison).

The Problem With Chickens is adorable enough, but it didn’t blow my mind in quite the way I’d hoped. So I’m putting it out there: Can you recommend some chooken-themed books I’d be keen to read? Preferably happy-ish ones because I’m already more informed about the horrors of factory farming than anyone would ever really want or need to be. That said, if there’s one you feel is a must-read, please feel free to mention it…


Review – All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon

9780241003312One of my favourite books of 2013 was A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra so when he reviewed this book in the New York Times I took notice.

Set in Russia in 1986 the book follows the events surrounding the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl. The story doesn’t deal with the accident directly but instead on what it means for four characters who are caught up in the inescapable events in different ways.

We follow a gifted surgeon, Grigory, who is sent to the site of the accident to help coordinate efforts and his ex-wife, Maria, who is trying to survive the breakdown of their marriage. We also follow two young boys. Yevgeni, Maria’s nephew, is a 9-year-old piano prodigy who is trying to come to terms with his gifts amongst a miserable existence in a Moscow slum. And Artyom who lives on a farm inside the Chernobyl hotzone. Whose whole life is literally evaporated piece by piece.

Central to the novel though is the end of the Soviet Union. The Chernobyl Meltdown is the tipping point for the end of the empire. No safety or evacuation plans were in place. Nor was there adequate medical aid on hand as to prepare for an accident was to admit weakness in the Soviet regime. The accident and the Soviet Union’s response was the catalyst for the people of the Soviet Union to stop believing in the regime. Three years later the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that the Soviet Union was no more.

Through his characters Darragh McKeon explores the many impacts this has on individual lives. The humanity that some try to cling to and the utter disregard the Soviet regime has for human life. What makes this novel even more relevant and poignant today is the fact that Chernobyl is situated in Ukraine (there is even references to a Korean Commercial Airline that Russia shot down three years before). A moving novel that gives a unique insight into a catastrophic event that still reverberates in the world today.

Buy the book here…

Review – Isaac’s Dragon by Kaylene Hobson

received_m_mid_1409371748082_1b95137c0d750e2993_0 From first time author, Kaylene Hobson, who has sweetly dedicated this book to her own sons, is the wonderfully imaginative tale, Isaac’s Dragon. Including gorgeous pictures by Ann-Marie Finn, author / illustrator of books including A Trip to the Moon and Captain Kieron.   

An extraordinary young boy, Isaac, is introduced to us as a dragon fanatic who spends every possible moment dreaming of owning one for himself. He has difficulty concentrating at home and at school. But if only other people would understand why… he’s hatching a plan to find his dragon, of course!  

Every night he visits his pet dragon in his dreams where they are free to fly over the land, but only to be disappointed to wake up and realise his dragon is not there.  

With studious research, skills practise and a brilliant plan, Isaac is a very determined boy and is certain that he will have his dragon by his upcoming birthday. Confronting the unknown and other magical creatures, remembering valuable parental lessons on manners and compliments, and making negotiations with his little brother, Isaac finally has his dreams realised. But the pet dragon he had longed for didn’t exactly live up to all of his expectations.  

Isaac’s Dragon is an endearing book that addresses real life concepts beautifully. Kaylene Hobson’s main purpose successfully manifests in every part of the story, ”… they (the reader) should also feel a connection with the character – and experience happiness, sadness, joy and disappointment along with Isaac.”  Her own voice is evident, too; the one of the loving, caring and compassionate mother.  

Children will relish the power of imagination, and getting lost in Isaac’s mythical world, while they attempt to determine between fantasy and reality. Isaac’s Dragon is a delightfully told, timeless tale of suspense and adventure over eleven chapters. With adorable sketches by talented Ann-Marie Finn throughout, both boys and girls from ages four to ten will enjoy this creative, engaging and insightful story. Looking forward to more excitement in the second installment of Isaac’s Dragon!  

Read about the story behind the story in a fascinating author profile of Kaylene Hobson to follow.  

Title: Isaac’s Dragon
Author: Kaylene Hobson
Illustrator: Ann-Marie Finn
Publisher: Dragon Tales Publishing

Review – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

the-bone-clocksAfter only reading Cloud Atlas I was already in awe of David Mitchell so I dove straight into his new novel at the first available opportunity. And once again was swept away by the storytelling, the language and the imagination.

The book has been described as “his most Cloud Atlas-y novel since the global phenom Cloud Atlas” and I can’t wait to read his other books. The structure is very similar although doesn’t cascade back again like Cloud Atlas did. This book reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman however David Mitchell’s writing writing elevates the novel to a new level. This could easily be classified a genre novel like a Gaiman or Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August but the depth and extent of Mitchell’s writing does separate him and means his books get the literary fiction tag instead of science fiction.

The novel opens in 1984 in England. We meet Holly Sykes, aged 15, who has run away from home. In the process Holly becomes part of a chain events outside her, and our, comprehension. Holly inadvertently makes a promise the consequence of which will have repercussions for many lives.

The story then jumps 7 years and we appear to start again. Like Cloud Atlas it feels like a whole new story until links between them slowly bubble to the surface and a tiny bits of the truth begins emerging. At this stage, hardly even half way through the book I was totally in love with this novel. I knew I didn’t want it to end and just wanted to continue being lost.

Mitchell keeps jumping forward into the future and other people who are a party of Holly’s story. Each piece reveals a tiny bit more of the bigger picture but is also wonderfully self-contained. I would take a single novel from one of these stories any day. To have them all join up together is even more special and indicative of the genius that David Mitchell is. The climax to the novel tests the limits of your belief but in David Mitchell you trust. And just when you think the story may have reached too far past the incredible Mitchell brings you back to a compelling and evocative conclusion.

David Mitchell fans will absolutely love this book and it will definitely create new ones too. There are references and characters from other books tying everything together into the David Mitchell universe. As a new fan of Mitchell I am going to dive straight into another novel because I am just in awe of his writing and need to get back to his universe as soon as I possible can.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Alexandra Cameron, author of Rachael’s Gift

Alexandra Cameron Author PIcAlexandra Cameron, author of Rachael’s Gift

Tell us about your latest creation:

Rachael’s Gift begins when talented artist, fourteen-year-old Rachael, accuses her teacher of sexual misconduct, but the principal has suspicions that she is lying. Her father, Wolfe, is worried about his daughter’s odd behaviour but her mother, Camille, will not hear a bad word against her. A fraught investigation ensues, culminating in a showdown on the other side of the world in Paris. The story is about ambition, art, talent, truth, how we pass unresolved issues from one generation to the next and a mother’s uncompromising love for her daughter.

9781742613987Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Sydney. We lived in Paddington until we moved to Mackay in North Queensland. When I was eight we moved to a small town in country NSW called Currabubula where I attended the local school where there were forty-eight children from kindergarten to sixth grade all in one big classroom. We then lived in Willoughby, Vaucluse and Randwick. I spent a year in Paris and then moved to London. After several moves back and forth, I currently live in London but I still call Australia home!

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

When I was a kid I had a long list of things I wanted to do when I grew up: one of them was to be an author but I also wanted to be an architect, a photographer, a fashion designer and an inventor. This was also when I was eight.

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

That would have to be my one-year-old son, Hamish… Seriously, I have only written one novel so far, so that would be Rachael’s Gift.

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

Currently I hot desk it around the house. My mac has been moved to the bedroom because the spare room is occupied. There is usually a large window I can stare out of, which helps with the daydreaming up of ideas. I am ordered and I am also chaotic. It’s a case of sliding from one end to the other. There is usually a pile of books on my desk from which I am taking inspiration.

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

I like to catch up on something I have not read but should have – currently its Nabokov and then I might have something that is new and has caught my interest. This was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

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

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Because he totally gets what being a kid is all about.

Later, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s a perfect story that inspires me to be a better person.

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

Anne of Green Gables

I love that she’s a fighter and a writer and a hopeless romantic.

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

Spare time? I run around after my one year old. Sleep

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Tomato pasta. Oooh champagne on special occasions.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My mum. She is an incredibly strong person who brought up five children (without help) amongst other adversities. I don’t know how she did it. I struggle with just one! She read to me everyday when I was growing up.

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

The biggest challenge will be keeping kids interested in reading and books when there are so many other distractions for short attention spans. If kids grow up loving books they will always read, but they have to be encouraged early on.