Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner is a super emotional book about grief and guilt. I expected my heart to be beaten about since last year I read Zentner’s debut, The Serpent King, and wow was that emotionally devastating and incredible. Goodbye Days has the same level of intensity! It’s like being left out in the rain with a bucket to catch your tears…and honestly it can be hard to read at times because it was so raw. But a book that really makes you feel things?! You know that is an excellent story!

The book follows the tragic story of Carver whose 3 friends have just died instantly in a horrific car accident. And the last thing the driver was doing? Reading a text that Carver had just sent. The guilt is heavy on Carver, resulting in severe anxiety attacks and devastation. He’s absolutely hated by most of his friends’ families. But the grandmother of one of his dead friends asks Carver to help her have a “goodbye day” for closure, and he agrees…and it unravels more to the story.

The heartbreak levels for the reader are EXTREMELY HIGH HERE. The writing is so incredible that you not only ache for Carver, you ache with Carver. Just the knowledge that his text “could” have been the reason his friends died is a crippling fact lodged in your mind and you can’t help but see all sides to the story. The writing is so strong though, and I felt such righteous indignation that Carver was going through this and suffering so much when he’s not the only one to blame. (C’mon, his friend picked up the phone too.) Plus I think the book really perfectly balanced adding in jokes and quips and lighter scenes, without severing the heaviness of the storyline, but not making the book one huge bucket of depressing tales.

I really felt for all the characters. Sometimes it’s hard to care when a book starts off with a large portion of the cast already dead. You don’t really get a chance to know them, right?! But there are tons of flash-backs that help you really connect to Carver’s friends. And it’s so hard to read these happy memories, knowing what goes down. I did find the flashbacks a little unsatisfying when they didn’t focus equally on all the boys, though. It would’ve been nice to have equal backstory for them!

SMALL LIST OF OTHER THINGS TO LOVE:

  • Carver’s big sister, Georgia, is the best and SO loving and supportive! I always adore epic sibling relationships in books.
  • It has a REALLY positive portrayal of therapy and mental health plans, and actually goes into detail about anxiety therapy.
  • It doesn’t cure anything with romance.
  • The representation of anxiety is stunningly accurate and well crafted.
  • Honestly it was just so so well written I couldn’t put it down.
  • It was full of tension, as well as fun and lighter scenes!
  • There was so much food I nearly ate my book.

 

Goodbye Days is definitely a heartbreaking and beautiful book! It balances darkness with hope and it was thoroughly heart-wrenching. Definitely a book to read if you’re not sure if you have a heart, because this will find it for you. It’s a story that deals with unfairness and rage and the complexities of grief. It was quite unsettling and upsetting for me, and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome. Carver was a fantastic narrator who was totally easy to relate to and root for. I definitely think Jeff Zentner is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to read basically everything he ever writes of ever.

Anything But Catastrophic – Picture Books about Cats

Cat lovers! You won’t find disaster here. In fact, far from it. These following cat books are brilliant enough to stretch your imaginations, tickle your sweet spots and scratch at your curiosity. And they all so precisely capture the little nuances that make cats, cats.

In this sequel to The Cat Wants Custard by dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, The Cat Wants Cuddles delights us with humorous cat antics and extreme mood swings. Whether being notoriously independent, totally ambivalent or attention-deprived, Kevin is a typical tomcat.

Surly facial expressions and skittish body language emphasise the stubborn and scornful retaliation Kevin assigns to his owner’s requests for a cuddle. Managing to escape the torturous grip of patting hands, and with absolutely no regard for his flatmate, Dog, Kevin finally finds some peace and quiet. That is until a wave of jealousy rushes over him and he commands dominance over Dog for his former lap-position… but that doesn’t last long!

This book is decidedly potent with its bold, primary-based colours and energetic qualities that exude passion and wit, especially those lime-green, telling eyes. The Cat Wants Cuddles is a book that preschoolers will be snatching, cradling and squeezing with both paws.

Scholastic Australia, May 2017.

The Catawampus Cat is full of personality and individuality, and utter charm. Jason Carter Eaton writes a thoughtful and witty tale that inspires his readers to consider the world from a different perspective. Gus Gordon’s mixed media illustrations are characteristically charismatic and ooze with a sway of retro style and a hint of contemporary flair. The characters are flawlessly represented to match their quirky names and traits that Eaton so brilliantly describes.

When the catawampus, aka diagonally-angled, cat enters the town on a Tuesday morning, one by one each of the villagers see things from another point of view. Because of the askew-walking feline, lost possessions are found, relationships rekindled, creativity is sparked and new challenges are triumphed – all with thanks to the power of the tilt. Soon the whole town is lopsided, and they even mark the first Tuesday of the new year as “Catawampus Cat Day” in his honour. But all the cat wants is to be unique, so he sets off… ‘straight’ out of town!

Eccentric, memorable and thought-provoking with the most loveable and endearing character. The Catawampus Cat will be the new favourite for preschool and early years children…it’s ours!

Penguin Random House, April 2017.

Doodle Cat is back, but this time Doodle Cat is Bored. At first this drives him out of his mind, but then he finds a crayon. Experimenting with it as a soup spoon, a spade, a dance partner finally leads the cat to discover it is in fact for doodling… But he already knew that, right? Demonstrating his creative, imaginative, and sometimes crude mind through the use of the crayon is a tiring feat for the red, graphic squiggle that is Doodle Cat. And with one final engagement, he asks the audience, “What will you draw?”

Kat Patrick writes this story with bounce, energy and vitality. The sentences are simple to create an interactive yet highly amusing report from the view of the cat. Lauren Marriott’s illustrations reflect this beautifully. Her choice of fire engine red perfectly assigns Doodle Cat his prominence on the mostly plain white backgrounds. She has also introduced the front cover’s lemon yellow, which features sporadically within the pages, too.

Young children will certainly be ‘drawn’ to both the simplicity of the book but also the scope of curiosity and artistic opportunities it reinforces. Doodle Cat is Bored is bursting with ideas to quell those boredom blues.

Scribble, May 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Force by Don Winslow

I can still remember the first time I read Don Winslow. I had been given a copy of The Power of the Dog as a birthday present with the caveat “wait until you read this”. I was instantly blown away. My first thought was “who is this guy”. After devouring the book I got my hands on everything of his I could read (Warning: there is another Don Winslow who writes erotica, not the same author). I read into how he wrote The Power of the Dog and how close to the truth his novel was and how dangerous his research became. But on top of all this meticulous research was a novel that was entertaining, tragically infused and told with a style unlike anything I had read before. Winslow returned to the same heights with The Cartel but he has outdone himself with his new novel The Force.

Denny Malone is a hero cop in the NYPD. He is the self-declared King of Manhattan North. He heads a task force that fights gun and drug violence directly on the frontlines. Malone works in a world of violence and corruption and he does whatever it takes to defend his patch of New York City. But 18 years of bending the rules has taken its strain and many of those rules have snapped. In fact there’s not many rules Malone hasn’t broken now and he’s about to cross the one rule he never dreamed he’d cross. But Malone doesn’t have a choice. He’s burned all his choices long ago.

Winslow wrote two epics of the War on Drugs and has now written the first true epic cop novel. As always Winslow doesn’t mince the truth. We are not manipulated into liking Denny Malone or thinking that he’s really a good guy underneath. Both Malone and the reader know the good cop inside Malone died a long time ago. But what Winslow demonstrates is the different levels of bad guy, at all levels and on the both sides of the law. Everyone has a price to get what they want and everyone is paying a price in the hope they get paid for another. And the more they pay the more desperate they are to get paid, until there can only be one conclusion.

Don Winslow has written an explosive epic that doesn’t slow down one millisecond from it’s opening prologue through to the very last page. A story equally as shocking in the corruption it shows as the lengths people go to preserve it. A crime classic from an absolute master of the genre.

Buy the book here…

Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology

I interviewed Danielle Binks, editor of Begin, End, Begin: a #LoveOzYA anthology of Australian YA short stories (HarperCollins)

Where are you based and what is your current role, Danielle?

I live in Melbourne, and currently I wear many hats … I’m a young adult and middle grade literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management. I’m a writer, editor and book blogger – and most recently I edited and contributed to the HarperCollins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.

How did something you’ve done in the past help you get this position?

From about the ages of 14–21 I wrote a lot of FanFiction. “FanFic”, if you don’t know, is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.

I wrote a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and Twilight fanfic – just because I loved it, and imagining worlds beyond the end of a television season or the last page in a book got my creative synapses firing.

And actually, when I applied for the university course that set me on this path of books – RMIT’s Creative Writing and Editing program – I didn’t have any of my own creative writing to submit for consideration, so I sent through one of my Buffy fanfic pieces. And I got in.

I honestly don’t know that I’d be here today if I hadn’t found a sustaining creative-outlet in FanFiction.

Gabrielle Tozer

How involved are you in Australia’s enthusiastic YA community?

Very. I’ve had my own personal book review blog – Alpha Reader – since 2009 that I still contribute to today. When I started my book blog, I called it “my solo book club” and I just read the books that I wanted to – which just so happened to be a lot of what I’ve always read and gravitated towards – romance and YA. I’d always write these long, rambling and impassioned reviews of YA books, and eventually that led to me being invited to write about youth literature for the Kill Your Darlings online journal, for about 2 years. I always tried to give YA, and Aussie YA especially, the respect and consideration I didn’t think it was getting from mainstream arts media.

Then in 2015 the #LoveOzYA grassroots movement kicked of and I became a proud supporter of that conversation – until I was eventually elected to help form the inaugural and official #LoveOzYA committee, championing Australian YA.

Ellie Marnie

It’s fantastic that females are writing brilliant Oz YA. Even in the recent past there were outcries about lack of female writers being shortlisted for the Older Reader (YA) category in the CBCA, for example, but this year all 6 shortlisted books are by women. I know there are a few around, and you’ve included two in your book, but where have the males gone?

I think it’s all pretty subjective, really – and balances out in the end.

If you look at younger children’s books in Australia (junior fiction and the 8-12 middle grade readership), that category has mostly been male-dominated, and for a long time. The likes of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Shaun Tan, Jack Heath, Tristan Bancks, John Flanagan, Andy Griffiths, Oliver Phommavanh…

Michael Pryor

Australia and international YA also has no problem spotlighting fine male authors – Markus Zusak, Jay Kristoff, John Marsden, Patrick Ness, John Green, James Dashner, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Ransom Riggs, Jay Asher … I think the guys are doing okay.

The fact that the #LoveOzYA Anthology doesn’t have more male writers came down to availability – we did query others, but timelines and deadlines didn’t match up, in the end … but we got two of the finest writers – period! – in Will Kostakis and Michael Pryor.

Will Kostakis

And what we prioritised more was a diversification of story and genres, as opposed to genders.

Could you tell us about Begin, End, Begin, the anthology of Australian YA short stories you’ve edited?

#LoveOzYA was a hashtag that sparked a conversation that created a movement that led to this book … the #LoveOzYA hashtag was created in response to the onslaught of American blockbuster YA that was dominating our bookshelves. And the idea to create an Anthology riffing on that hashtag and grassroots movement was just about showing people all there is to love about Australian YA – and giving us a way to crack open the conversation about supporting local stories and authors.

At the end of the day I think the hashtag, movement and book are all about encouraging Aussie teens to read Australian stories – so they grow into adults who seek out their national literature, and keep our books community alive and thriving.

How was this title selected?

The theme we gave each of the authors to write to was “firsts”. But writing about “firsts” inevitably leads the mind to think about “lasts”. And we found that this second recurring theme emerged in just about all the stories being written – every beginning was an ending too – and we loved that, we wanted to pay tribute to that.

Jaclyn Moriarty

What genres have you included? Was this deliberate, or an outcome of what the authors wrote?

We wanted a big enough theme that all of these eclectic authors could write across multiple genres and really showcase the fact that “Australian stories” are not just set in the outback or small coastal towns …but that Australian stories are ghost stories. And space stories. And anything-else we want them to be! It was very deliberate.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to Begin, End, Begin – or did they twist your arm?

Well, when I started approaching authors it was all a very hush-hush secret and embargoed project … but myself and Harper Collins publisher, Chren Byng, started by writing separate lists of – maybe? – 30 authors we’d love to work with. Then we came together and picked out where we had crossovers in our wish-list, and from there it was a matter of going down the line and asking everyone if they were available and would they like to be apart of this amazing project?

I will say that since the Anthology came out, I’ve had a few Aussie YA authors approach me and let it be known that *if* there’s a second, they’d love to be involved.

So. Watch this space.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

The theme of “Firsts” and a ten thousand-word limit. And that the story had to be original. Then it was a matter of letting their imaginations run wild …

Was there any author you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future? 

Lili Wilkinson

Yes. And yes. But I won’t say who, because they may be someone I’d like to approach for Anthology No. 2 and I’d quite like any future line-up to be a surprise. But I’ve been asking readers which Aussie authors they’d like to see appear in any future Anthology … and writing down those suggestions too.

There’s definitely a list I’m holding onto.

What have you learned about any of these authors?

I’ve learned that I was absolutely right to have been fans of all of them before embarking on this project … because every single one just astounded me with their generosity and story.

My advice is; don’t just meet your idols – but work with them. See what magic happens.

Who wrote the most unexpected story? Why? 

Danielle Binks

Oh my gosh, – me! I was the unexpected emerging voice in the Anthology, with my story ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ and there were times when I thought I would be too crippled by self-doubt and imposter syndrome to get it done … but I did and I’m proud of it. And a bit surprised, to be honest.

Mine is a story about a little sister, saying goodbye to her Deaf big brother on his last night in their small town. It’s inspired by my own family, partly – and when I initially spoke about it with our Harper Collins editor, she told me that she loved the idea because she’s CODA (a child of Deaf adults). So we both spent a lot of time getting it right and focusing especially on the rhythms, beauty and rapidity AusLan (Australian sign-language). So I’m proud and surprised by what I accomplished.

Amie Kaufman

Did anyone surprise you by submitting their work early?

I don’t think so? … Amie Kaufman surprised me by being a day late, only because she was getting her friend (who works at NASA!) to read over her story and give some feedback on the logistics and feasibility of her outer-space setting.

I wasn’t upset in the least; I thought it was SO COOL!

And I’d still quite like to get a “NASA-certified” sticker on the front cover because of it. HA!

How did you sequence the stories?

My publisher, Chren, put is so perfectly when she said choosing the sequence would be like putting together the perfect mix-tape. I took that advice and made sure there was a balance of genres (so sci-fi, followed by contemporary, followed by surrealism, followed by contemporary) just to hit those different peaks. And also that long and short stories were side-by-side, so readers wouldn’t get two 10K stories in a row, and become a little weary with lengths.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

There was a bit of editing … structural edits for each story, talking out things like character-development and whether or not the story was hitting the right marks at the right times (trickier to do when you have a shorter word-count, and not the length of a novel to ease into dramatic climaxes or subtle denouments). But everyone got there in the end. And there was certainly nobody who needed more editing than anyone else (myself included!)

Alice Pung RoselliPhotography

What do you hope for OZ YA in the near future?

I certainly don’t think that Australian YA is perfect. I think it needs to be more diverse and inclusive, to honestly portray Australia back to its teen readers.

But that being said – I don’t think the representation in Australian YA will get better by us ignoring our national youth literature. I think it will improve by us investing in it, and that’s certainly the route I’m taking.

I’m now a literary agent, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m actively seeking and prioritising “Own Voices” stories (a term coined by American YA author Corinne Duyvis, to identify books about marginalised protagonists written by authors who share that same identity.)

And I’m really proud of the fact that the first YA manuscript I sold was a sci-fi, eco-thriller called ‘Borderland’ – written by a debut Indigenous writer and poet, Graham Akhurst (coming out with Hachette, in 2018).

Melissa Keil

I take it as a huge honour, opportunity and responsibility that I’m now in a position to have a say in the Aussie YA of the future … and for my little corner of the books world, I’m going to do all I can to make sure all Australian stories get told, and that as many Aussie teens as possible see themselves in those stories.

Because teenagers who fall in love with their national youth literature, will one day grow up to be adult readers who seek out Australian stories. And everyone has a story worth telling.

Thanks for answering these questions and for all your work in promoting Oz YA literature, Danielle, and all the best with Begin, End, Begin and your other endeavours.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Review: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

BUY HERE

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts was one of my most anticipated reads for 2017 and it absolutely did not disappoint. It’s full to bursting with sassy dialogue, bloody action scenes, and the most complex and amazing characters of ever. There’s so much love-and-hate relationships that just kept me flipping pages as fast as my eyeballs could gobble the words. And when I finished? I sit in anxious anticipation for hopeful future sequels. Please. I beg. I have needs here.

It follows the story of Tilla, who’s a bastard of a great lord who may or may not be brewing a rebellion. Tilla’s more into sneaking about with her half-brother the stableboy, exploring tunnels, and getting into mischief, so war is not her concern. Until she eats dinner with the visiting crown princess and accidentally saves her life from a murder attempt. Then they’re on the run with a group of unlikely local bastards who don’t get along all that well. But they miiiight just need to change that if they want to survive.

Honestly, the sass levels were what won my heart. When a book starts with two siblings bantering amiably about the snobby royalty, I know I’m in for a winning story.

The cast was quite large, but everyone was interesting and complex. They all had personalities and backstories, complexities and fears and venerabilities. And we’re not introduced to them all in a heap, so that was helpful. I can barely even pick a favourite! I adored our narrator, Tilla, who is (quite frankly) badass. She’s equal parts awkward and fierce, and she’ll do anything for her friends. Her half-brother, Jax, is a big dork and I couldn’t help but fall in love with him too! Their sibling relationship is THE BOMB and they’re so there for each other (also there to make fun of each other, but ya know…sibling love). Miles is the nerdy bookworm who gets understimated when he really really shouldn’t be. Zell is a warrior from the clans and totally Closed Off And Emotionless™ but secretly a big squish. And lastly Lyriana is the wizard princess who will nuture plants to grow and also smite her enemies really viciously if they mess with those she loves.

I loved the plot with the threats of wars, the betraying parents, the teens growing into weapons and strengths while they traverse through the forest in order to save the princess. (Although let’s be real here: the princess saves herself in this one.) The book gets gritty, which I wholly appreciated, because what’s an epic fantasy without high stakes and wild action scenes of blood and stabbing?!? I LOVED THIS.

I also really loved the writing style, which was abnormally modern for an epic fantasy. It was consistently modern though (with the characters using phrases like “badass” and “sucks” etc) so it didn’t feel out of place or jarring. And it made me connect to the story far more, because the jokes were ones I’m familiar with.

Overall, it was fun and exciting and kept the sakes high! Do NOT think your favourites will be safe! I think Tilla is one of the best, most winning YA protagonists of 2017, with her badassery and her sassery. It combines stabbing with explosions and powerful magicians, and adds in characters who fairly leap off the page with their shenanigans. I’m such a fan.

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Where are you based, Gabrielle, and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 11 years, went to university in Canberra and grew up in Wagga Wagga. It’s no secret the YA community in Australia is filled with passionate, supportive and hardworking authors, readers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, vloggers, educators, booksellers, librarians, publicists, editors, publishers etc, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Writing novels is so solitary and I’m an extrovert – well, most of the time – so I adore the wider community from a social and professional aspect, including participation in festivals, launches, catch-ups, book clubs, Twitter live chats, writing sprints, the list goes on.

You seem to be very active on social media. How does this help (or not help) your work? 

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, especially Twitter. I made a horrifying discovery the other day: I have written almost 46,000 tweets since joining in October 2009 (I won’t tell you how many novels I could’ve written with that number of words but it’s in the double digits). I’m quite all or nothing in everything I do in life so I’ll often have to block myself from social for blocks of time using apps like Freedom or SelfControl – but a large majority of the Australian writing community is online now so I can’t see myself quitting anytime soon! On the upside, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook connect me with other writers, book lovers and pop culture addicts, which has been a joy – I’ve taken many online friendships to the real world, especially in recent years. Believe it or not, it can also be a wonderful source of motivation; I often invite other writers to join me for #500in30 writing sprints on Twitter, where we strive to write 500 words in half an hour, so it can be fruitful. Sometimes.

What does your title, Remind Me How This Ends (HarperCollins), refer to? Which came first, your title, the story or something else?

My novel Remind Me How This Ends is about two characters who don’t know what’s next after high school – and the title refers to decision-fatigue, being stuck at the crossroads and feeling like you missed the memo on getting your life together. My own feelings of uncertainty, grief and heartache came first with this novel, closely followed by the lead characters and storyline. The title came well after I’d finished the first few drafts. My husband, who is my first reader, and I had Adele’s latest album blasting at home one day and he suggested the title ‘Remind Me How This Ends’ to me after listening to the lyrics of her song ‘All I Ask’. I knew it was perfect. (Later that day we realised the lyric ‘remind me how this ends’ was a mondegreen – a misheard lyric – and Adele’s real lyric was ‘it matters how it ends’.)

What is the significance of the cover?
Like the title, Remind Me How This Ends’ cover plays into uncertainty and endings – happy or otherwise.The daisy petals represent that classic idea of ‘They love me, they love not’… but you’ll have to read the novel to find out more!

How does this novel differ from your earlier books? 
Remind Me How This Is Ends is a very personal novel. My heart is smeared on every page of this one. I loved entertaining readers with Josie’s shenanigans in The Intern and Faking It, but I wanted to challenge myself to write something real that connected on an emotional level, even if it hurt. Reading it now, I can see I wasn’t in a great headspace during the drafting process – my characters’ pain is my pain – but the wonderful thing about writing is you can unpack your feelings on the page. I’m proud of this one, mainly because I wasn’t always confident that I’d be able to finish it, so it’s extra special to hold a copy in my hands.

Could you introduce us to the major characters?
Milo and Layla are 18-year-old family friends and former next-door neighbours who haven’t seen each other for five years – not since Layla’s mum died in shocking circumstances when they were 13 and her grieving father whisked her away from their small town of Durnan in the middle of the night. Now, Layla is back – showing up at Milo’s family’s bookstore of all places – and things are even more complicated between them. These two friends are lost, so very lost, but in extremely different ways. Milo’s girlfriend and mates have fled Durnan for jobs and university but he’s stayed behind so feels suffocated by his overbearing parents and indecision. Layla’s spent five years pushing away the memory of her mum, but being back in town with Milo triggers the past in a way she never expected…

Is there a character you would like to write more about?
Maybe Milo’s obnoxious older brother Trent. He was so much fun to write. I’ve met many ‘Trents’ during my time living in Wagga and Canberra – his voice was so clear to me during the drafting process.

Could you describe Milo’s family’s bookshop? How would you change it if you owned it?
The Little Bookshop is quaint, sleepy and, like many of the people and places in Durnan, a little unappreciated – mainly because his father is too busy chasing after another dream! Milo and Trent, who both work shifts at the shop, also don’t treat it with the care it deserves either because they’re too self-absorbed with their own lives. If I owned The Little Bookshop, I would change it in many ways – I’d connect with the Durnan community, add storytime sessions for parents and children, and hire staff who are passionate about books!

Characters remember the picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. What other books from your childhood left an impression? 
So many! My parents are former teachers so my childhood was filled with gorgeous stories – and their passion for reading is a big reason why I dedicated my debut picture book Peas and Quiet to them. I still have Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, There’s A Hippopotamus On Our Rooftop Eating Cake, Possum Magic, Wombat Stew, Picasso The Green Tree Frog and Edward the Emu on my bookshelf – and the collection hasn’t stopped growing.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?
I’ve recently finished A.S.King’s Still Life With Tornado, Pip Harry’s forthcoming Because of You, Claire Christian’s forthcoming Beautiful Mess and Catherine Deveny’s Use Your Words. Next on the TBR pile is Madonna King’s Being 14, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race, and Eliza Henry-Jones’ Ache.

Thanks Gabrielle.

It was my pleasure!

My Life as a Hashtag, interview with Gabrielle Williams

I was very disappointed to miss hearing you at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Gabrielle. What did you talk about and what did you particularly enjoy about your sessions?

 I’m disappointed I missed out on meeting you too, Joy. It was a crazy-busy week, and we obviously both had full dance-cards! As for my Festival talk: I have a theory about teenage audiences –10% of them love writing, and really want to be there. 20% are readers, so they’re happy to be there as well – that means 30% of the room are ‘interested’. 40% are pleased to be missing out on classwork, and if they enjoy the talk that’s a bonus. I put them in the ‘open’ category. That leaves 30% of the room at various degrees of active resistance to listening to what I have to say. I figure I’ve already got the ‘interested’ top 30%. The ‘open’ 40% can be persuaded. But it’s those tough nuts in the bottom 30% – the ones who don’t want to be there – who I want to crack. So my talk is directed at them. I talk about what I was like when I was at school (bad), and I read out extracts of my year 11 report (very bad), which generally sends a gasp through the room. I then explain that I’m a professional liar these days because I’m paid to make up stories, but I add that they shouldn’t judge me too harshly because actually, everyone lies. The fun part is when I ask them to put their hand up if they’ve told a lie that morning, and most of the room puts up their hand (including teachers). I then explain that lying isn’t always bad, because it utilises a particular type of thinking called ‘divergent thinking’ which is important for creativity. I take them through a technique I use called Nine Squares – which is divergent thinking made easy – and explain how they can use it for good (coming up with ideas), instead of evil (telling lies). One of the things that I particularly loved about my sessions at the Festival was when teachers came up to me afterwards and said they’re now going to incorporate Nine Squares into their classroom lessons. And when a group of boys walked up to me and said they thought writing sucked, but they’d each bought a copy of my book for me to sign anyway. Well, that right there felt like success to me.

What a great turn around with those students, Gabrielle! Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

I’m a Melbourne girl, and work a couple of days a week at Readings books in Malvern. I’m lucky enough to have made a fantastic group of friends in the Melbourne YA writing community who I’ve met through talking at Festivals and school visits  – Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Emily Gale, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane, Bec Lim, Chrissie Keighery, and Simmone Howell are all people I catch up with regularly. I’ve also become great friends with some Sydney writers (again through Festivals) and catch up with Kirsty Eagar, Melina Marchetta, and Will Kostakis whenever I’m in their neck of the woods.

I’ve really enjoyed the originality of your novels, Gabrielle. Could you give our readers a brief overview of each?

That’s gorgeous of you to say so, Joy. Thanks. My first YA book was ‘Beatle Meets Destiny’ which was about a superstitious boy called Beatle, who meets a girl called Destiny in unusual circumstances, and wonders whether she’s ‘the one’ – only problem being that Beatle already has a girlfriend. My next book was, ‘The Reluctant Hallelujah’, a crazy road-trip type adventure between a group of 5 teenagers who have never met each other, but who have to drive (unlicensed) from Melbourne to Sydney in order to deliver the body of Jesus Christ to his next ‘safe house’. Some people were put off reading it because they thought it would be thrusting religion down their throat – it wasn’t. It wasn’t about religion at all (despite the fact that Jesus Christ Himself featured as one of the characters). In fact, it was an exploration of the themes of trust and selflessness, and I loved writing it because I felt like it was such an original concept. My third book was called ‘The Guy The Girl The Artist and His EX’. It follows four characters (again, who don’t know each other) who are all impacted on by the real-life theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the National Gallery of Victoria by the Australian Cultural Terrorists in 1986. My newest book is called, ‘My Life as a Hashtag’. It centres on a girl called MC who feels like everything is going wrong in her world, so she vents anonymously against one of her best friends on-line, only to watch, powerless, as her rant goes world-wide viral a few weeks later.

As with your other titles, I greatly admire My life as a hashtag (Allen & Unwin). How does this differ from your other books?  

‘My Life as a Hashtag’ is a much more linear novel. It’s ‘straighter’. It’s told from the perspective of looking back over the past year, running straight through from beginning to end, whereas with all my other books I’ve always liked playing with structure. I wanted to have a more tried-and-true structure for MLAAH, because there were a number of important issues I wanted to explore, and I felt like a linear structure would help give clarity to the concepts I was wanting to examine.

What issues did you raise in the novel?

There are a number of themes I wanted to look at: the issue of social media and how teens negotiate it; family break-ups; the identity of self; the politics of boys in female friendships; on-line trolling; the fact that once you post something on-line, you have no control over what people do with it; sibling relationships; ‘blocking’ and being ‘blocked’; and watching a party unfold on social media, when you’re not invited.

How did you create such a strong feeling of dread?

Creating a strong sense of dread was one of the ‘balances’ we worked hard to get right. I say ‘we’ because my editor and publisher were instrumental in pushing me to go further, and pulling me back when I went too far. I wanted there to be a sense of dread, but I also wanted a lightness throughout the book, otherwise the story would have been too grim. The sense of dread is created partly by telling the story from the perspective of the narrator looking back over the past year, which gives the reader the sense that something momentous has happened which the narrator is now reflecting back over.

This novel is very current, especially about social media. How do you know what teens are saying/doing?

The irony of me writing a book where social media is one of the major focuses, is that I’m not on Facebook, I’ve only recently started getting the hang of Twitter, and I’m still nervous about posting photos on Instagram. So technically, I don’t know what I’m talking about! However, as it turned out, my lack of knowledge ended up being to my advantage, because I didn’t make any assumptions about how teenagers use social media. Instead, I interviewed a number of them about how they approach it, the politics of posting, and how they deal with it emotionally. One of the things that I found interesting was the fact that they engage with it differently from even twenty somethings, creating something of a ‘generation gap’ between teens and people who are only a few years older. With respect to the teenagers I interviewed, I was astonished by some of the things they revealed to me (to the point where some them didn’t want to be thanked in the Acknowledgements – they’d rather remain anonymous). Through my research, I learnt about a thing called the secret Tumblr diary, which parents definitely don’t know about, and even friends aren’t privy to. If a teenager has a secret Tumblr diary, it’s the place they go to find a safe (and secret) community with others who are struggling with, say, their sexuality, body image, gender or friendship issues. I found the concept of the secret Tumblr diary both alarming and comforting. Alarming, because if, for example, they’re anorexic or bulimic, there are girls (overwhelming this is a girl issue) called Ana (pro-anorexia) or Mia (pro-bulimia) who give tips on how to purge (vomit) effectively. But comforting because this is where they go to speak to likeminded individuals if they aren’t sure if they’re gay, or trans, or are trying to reconcile other confusing feelings or issues inside their head.

What tips have you learned about successfully using social media while researching and writing this novel?

I learnt that if you want to get the optimum ‘likes’ on Instagram, you have to time your posts for when everyone is most likely to be on-line. Generally a Sunday afternoon is a good time. Definitely NOT a Saturday night.

Have you ever started any trending posts?

No. I think a trending post would be quite difficult to manufacture, and the stuff that goes viral is so random, it’s almost impossible to pick.

What does the cover represent? 

I adore the cover and think Debra Billson did an outstanding job. It’s a photo from an Instagram post, taken the night MC and one of her best friends Anouk have a massive falling out over a boy called Jed. The title and my name are written in a font which has graduated colouring, mirroring the logo of Instagram. It’s so funny to watch adults pick up my book and ask me what the cover represents, whereas teenagers pick it up and instantly recognise it as Instagram.

MC and her friends are studying Jasper Jones and Harvest in English. Why did you choose these two books?

‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey is a current school text that has as one of its themes the idea of rumour and innuendo and assumption of guilt. ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace is set back in the middle ages when stocks in the village square were a form of punishment. Both books – even though they’re both set in an earlier time – have parallels with today’s internet culture: the public shaming, innuendo and rumour, where society makes judgments on people without having the full facts – often without even caring what the real facts are. So long as someone can be the scapegoat, everyone’s happy.

What books are you reading at the moment (or recently)?

I’m one of the judges for the Readings Prize for Adult Literature, so I’ve been reading plenty of new Australian fiction lately. Some of the ones I’ve personally loved (which may or may not make it onto the long or short list) are, ‘Skylarking’ by Kate Mildenhall, ‘The Lost Pages’ by Marija Pericic, ‘To the Sea’ by Christine Dibley, ‘From the Wreck’ by Jane Rawson and ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent. So much great Australian fiction at the moment – we’re really experiencing a heyday. The other book I really want to read is, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders which I’ve heard amazing things about.

I loved Skylarking and The Good People but you’ve given me even more books I must read, Gabrielle.

Thank you for your very generous answers, Gabrielle, and wishing you great success with My life as a hashtag and your other books.

Review: Song Of The Current by Sarah Tolcser

BUY HERE

Song Of The Current by Sarah Tolcser absolutely caught my heart with its levels of epic swashbuckling. I’m always on the look out for delicious pirate books, and this doesn’t disappoint! Also add in a dash of love/hate romance, smuggling, dark power that does not sleep, badass female captains, personified water gods, a small mention of a water drakon, and delicious amounts of fried fishfingers — and you have ourself a most spectacular novel. I can’t love this one enough!

The story centres around Caro Oresteia who is-first mate to her father, a wherry captain. They sail the rivers (and have a small side-business of smuggling) and they get called upon to deliver a secret box. When Caro’s dad gets thrown in jail, she has to sail her ship alone and deliver the box. Except a pirate attack drives her to check out this sinister cargo — and the contents change everything.

I will also emphatically rave over the world building. Most of the book takes place on rivers, and I could just feel the murky depths and the jungles and the wherries catching the right tides as they slink up and down jungle infested rivers. I could see it all! It was perfect and brilliant. #aesthetic Plus it actually had a unique and interesting magic system and an intoxicatingly vicious political aspect going on. I didn’t get confused or overwhelmed. Details were sparse but pointed.

Caro was an AMAZING protagonist! She’s stubborn and feisty and loyal and brave. She’s in love with the water and her boat, and when her dad gets thrown into jail for not smuggling something super top secret and suspicious for the royalty? CARO DOES IT. She gets a letter of the marque and becomes a privateer. Also she will stab you in the eye if you insult her ship.

The romance was just the best, with the love-to-hate trope done to perfection. Caro getting entangled with an important and stuffily vain boy who needs her help. Their banter is exceptional. Mostly because they hate each other. I ship these two. Markos is forever my favourite. He dresses nicely, he has no idea what anything does on a ship (#relatable), and he is badass when he’s finished being vain.

The plot was engaging the whole time! Although all the sea/ship explanations lost me. However it did make the book feel real. There as plenty of sailing and gunshots and sneaking around like skulking pirates.

My only dislikes? Not much! I was just disappointed I guessed all the plot twists and the stakes never felt really high enough for me to be worried for the characters.

This is a completely murky and beautiful tale of rivers and pirates, of smugglers and guns, of sea gods and monsters. It was beautifully and engagingly written with characters I fell totally in love with! I adored how much it empowered women and gave us the badass female pirates we’ve all been longing for. There’s explosions and deathly sword fights and stolen ships and an engaging plot. What more could we want?!

Sharing the CBCA Picture Books with Children

I described this year’s CBCA picture books in a previous post but promised to also write about Bob Graham’s Home in the Rain, which I have done here.

I’ve also added some ways of sharing the shortlisted picture books with children at home or school in case it helps with Book Week activities.

Home in the Rain  is written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books Australia)

A mother and daughter, Francie, are driving home from Grandma’s in heavy rain. The illustrations suggest that they are possibly African-Australian. The mother is pregnant with a baby sister for Francie. They stop en route to have a picnic in the car.

While driving, Francie uses her finger to write names on the foggy windows.

Children could:

Spell words with their fingers using different media, e.g. play-dough, sand, polystyrene balls, or fingerpainting with paint.

Alternatively, if the weather is cold, they could blow on windows to make steam and then write words or names.

This picture book is also appropriate for very young readers, partly because of the interest generated by the animals shown outside the car, such as the baby rabbit diving for cover, the hunting kestrel, and a seagull eating chips.

Children could make cork creatures of the animals shown in the book and hide them around the library, classroom or home.

Out is written by Angela May George and illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)

After reading Out, read other refugee stories such as Teacup, Ziba Came on a Boat, My Two Blankets, The Treasure Box and Little Refugee.

Music/Dance The girl dances at school to different music.

The teacher, parent or carer could play music from cultures represented by refugees in Australia and children could dance to this music.

English The child’s mother has English lessons.

Children could learn a few words from languages spoken by refugees in Australia.

My Brother is written and illustrated by Dee Huxley, character creation and illustration by Oliver Huxley and design by Tiffany Huxley (Working Title Press)

Children could emulate the structure and changing colour of the illustrations in the book by folding a piece of paper to form a left and right hand side. On the left side they could draw or paint in monochrome colours to represent sorrow and grief. Then, beside this on the right hand side, they could illustrate using warm colours to represent happiness and hope.

One Photo is written by Ross Watkins, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Penguin Random House Australia)

At home, children could take photos of family and important things.

Then they could select one best photo of people or something that is important for them to remember.

Print the photo at home if possible, or digitally send to school ready for printing.

Form and display a class montage with one photo from each child.

Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide by Lance Balchin (The Five Mile Press, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

The Mechanica website enables children to make their own creatures https://www.mechanica.com.au/

Alternatively, construct 3-D winged creatures similar to those on the endpapers using found and made materials, such as foil.

Children could also make up their own 2-D creature in the style of those in the book. Present these on a double-page using the format of the book, where there is both an illustration and a written description.

The Patchwork Bike is written by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

Make a large bike as a class. If possible, make it big enough to sit on.

Try to use materials shown in the book:

Bent bucket seat,               handlebar branches

Bashed tin can handles,      wood cut wheels

Flag from flour sack,           small pot bell

Painted on lights,                bark numberplate

Paint Movement Practise the technique of smearing paint to show movement.

Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Little books for little hands to grasp. Big world concepts for small minds to soak up. Board books are often baby’s first introduction to the relationship between sound and words and pictures. They also represent a delightful extension of love between parent and child as their worlds widen. These next few board books ensure these shared reading experiences are both entertaining and memorable.

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

This is the first in the Young Art board book series by young Indigenous Australian artists. Home grown and little hand worthy, it is a brief but merry parade of animals you might find at the Zoo. Some you’d have to look hard for, like the ‘prowling quoll’ and ‘queenly cassowary’ chicks, others are more immediate and recognisable like the ‘surprised lion.’

Button’s stripped bare text is spot on for toddlers and two year olds but includes some jolly adjectives to keep little minds tuned in and turning. I love Wells’ painted and ink illustrations – expression plus! Collect them all for your 0 – 4 year-olds.

Magabala Books February 2017

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla

Meal times at our place are often a mixed plate of dedicated eating, distracted concentration and animated conversation. The Thank You Dish draws on these around-table -scenarios as one family sits down to enjoy their meal.

Continue reading Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

CBCA Older Readers Short List: Waer, Yellow & Frankie

There were three debut authors shortlisted in the 2017 CBCA Older Readers category, signalling the new talent being unearthed in Australian YA. Unlike some short lists in the past, all the authors are female this year, representing the number of females writing YA.

Overview

Most of the novels are contemporary realism, although Waer is speculative fiction and Yellow has elements of spec fiction.

Many of the characters come from working class backgrounds and some are dealing with deep anger, particularly in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

Parents are missing, dead or substance-abusers in virtually all the books. Children are missing in Frankie, Yellow, Words in Deep Blue (where Cal drowned) and Waer (where Kemp is missing). Beach/water settings are prevalent and music features in Frankie and One Would Think the Deep.

The predominance of the colours blue and yellow on the covers reflect the colour schemes published in 2016, very different from the black dystopian and supernatural covers of the past.

In this post, I will focus on the three novels by debut authors because I’ve written about the other books previously.

Waer by Meg Caddy (Text Publishing)

Waer is a werewolf tale, told as an intricate fantasy.

There are three narrators: Kaebha, a torturer, Lycaea and Lowell, who takes his pagan religion seriously, lives in a valley and finds Lycaea almost drowned. When soldiers destroy the valley dwellings, Lowell and Lycaea escape with some others. Archetypes from fantasy such as the journey, battles and hidden identity surface.

War and the displacement of Lowell and others form some parallels with current refugees, ‘To them we’re not people’.

Readers who enjoy Waer should love Megan Whalen Turner’s exceptional series which begins with The Thief. She has a new one out, Thick as Thieves.

Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Aust)

Yellow is a very well written story about 14-year-old Kirra. Her surfie father named her after Kirra Beach, but calls her ‘Yellow’ because of her yellow eyes. Yellow often suggests cowardice but this girl is brave.

The story is set near Byron Bay. Kirra’s father has left the family and her mother has become a drunk. In graphic scenes, Kirra forces her to detox. The words of the popular girls scratch her inside but she decides to fight back. ‘People only have the power to make you feel small if you let them.’ Her relationship with kind Noah seems promising but she wrecks it by getting drunk at his party.

Yellow becomes a ghost story when Kirra causes a dog to drown and then talks to a ghost boy in a disconnected phone box. She tries to catch his murderer, putting herself at risk.

Kirra’s English teacher and the local librarian recommend Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. All books worth pursuing…

Issues of forgiveness arise here and in Frankie.

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Aust)

Frankie is Italian and funny. She was abandoned by her mother and thinks she ‘deserve[s] to fail’. Her younger half-brother, Xavier, who seems to be a thief, finds her and gives her a longed-for Joy Division album. In this book, musician Ian Curtis killed himself like Jeff Buckley did in One Would Think the Deep, but both their music lives on.

Frankie is set around Smith St, Collingwood (where Robert Newton’s Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky and some of his historical novels were also set).

The dialogue in Frankie is smart, with a streetwise voice. The scene where Frankie follows Nate with his ‘blue gaze’ to a ‘fence’s’ house, is chillingly intimidating. When Xavier disappears, the contrast between the lack of energy put into his disappearance compared with that of rich boy Harrison Finnick-Hyde is explored.

There are numerous descriptions of graffiti throughout the novel. Readers could perhaps create their own ‘Small Street Interruptions’ based on Michael Pederson’s website ‘Outside’ http://miguelmarquezoutside.com/.

Pederson leaves quirky temporary artwork (such as roping off a dandelion with a sign, ‘do not touch’ like in an art gallery) in laneways, backstreets and buildings to surprise and encourage people to slow down, be in the moment and recognise surroundings. He attaches them with Blu-tak and removable tape.

The other three shortlisted books are:

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan Aust) which recently won the Indie YA award.

Readers can explore a related Virtual Letter Library http://loveozya.com.au/love/the-letter-library/ .

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn (UQP) was recently shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Ethel Turner award.

Music helps but doesn’t heal protagonist Sam’s residual rage and grief. There is a playlist at the end of the book featuring Jeff Buckley’s Loser, So Real and Grace and Split Enz’s I Got You (which Jennifer Niven also uses in All the Bright Places).

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Aust) recently won the ABIA award for older children, was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Book award and is currently shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie medal.

Zana Fraillon’s next novel, The Ones That Disappeared, about child trafficking, will be published this month.

Kate DiCamillo & Sally Rippin

Kate DiCamillo is a particularly appealing author. Her novels for children are highly popular and some – Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux and Bink and Gollie – have been made into movies

I heard her speak with best-selling Australian writer, Sally Rippin, famous for Billie B Brown, and whose Polly and Buster series has just been released, at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne this month. The event was sold out, with people standing.

Kate’s latest novel is Raymie Nightingale, a gem of a tale in which Raymie hopes to gain her father’s interest by winning a beauty contest. This story is ‘the absolutely true story of my heart’, confessed Kate, whose father had also left their family. Family photos show Kate, her brother and mother but her father is missing. Until Raymie Nightingale, Kate had created fictional fathers in her books, writing instead about missing mothers, in a kind of reverse reality from her own life. Until this book, Kate had only written herself obliquely into her stories.

As a child, she was ‘terrified, shy and worried but was astonishingly good at making friends. That’s what saved me – I could connect’. She loved to read, ‘Books were the most magical thing in the world. I didn’t think humans had anything to do with it… Reading was how I made sense of the world – the doorway in. I’m most in my body when reading a book!’ She now pretends to be an extrovert.

When a child asked if she reads or writes more, Kate responded, ‘Reading is pleasurable. Writing is difficult for me.’ Quoting Dorothy Parker, she retorted, ‘I hate writing. I love having written’ and then added, ‘I’m so much happier writing. That’s not to say I’m happy writing.’ Kate experiences the voice of failure at about 9am in the morning so she tries to write before then and uses ‘that editing voice’ only after 9am. She keeps a journal while travelling and returns to it when writing later. ‘So much of writing is subconscious’. Writing hasn’t become any easier: ‘All you know is you’ve written a novel before but don’t know if you can write this novel.’ She overcomes this by regarding each piece of writing as a draft.

Kate often writes about animal characters, such as the mouse in The Tale of Despereaux and the squirrel, Ulysses, in Flora and Ulysses. Kate loves the word ‘capacious’ and uses the phrase ‘God’s capacious hands’ in Flora and Ulysses to describe Flora’s father’s heart. Kate also hopes to be ‘capacious of heart’.  She certainly does seem to have won many Australian hearts during her tour here.

Some of Kate’s other novels are The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising and The Magician’s Elephant. Her wonderful Christmas picture book is Great Joy.

Some of Sally’s other children’s books are Angel Creek, Chenxi and the Foreigner and the picture book, The Rainbirds.

 

 

 

 

 

YA Books Told In Love Letters, Notes, and Emails

Books tell amazing stories in all sorts of formats. Sometimes they use prose or poetry, illustrations or photographs. And today? We need to talk about books told in love letters, notes, and emails! Because writing is arguably the best way to learn about someone. It’s often easier to confess a secret or be venerable on paper and these books underline that fact!

If you’re looking for a book featuring letters? LOOK NO FURTHER. I have you covered.


LETTERS TO THE LOST BY BRIGID KEMMERER

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This is an absolutely beautiful, but bittersweet, tale of two teens who are dealing with extreme levels of grief. They begin writing to each other on accident. Juliet leaves letters at her mother’s gravestone and one day Declan, who’s working in the graveyard on community service, picks one up and writes back. They begin first an angry communication and then develop friendship through grief and confessions. It’s a relief to both of them to talk anonymously to someone who understands. But as they realise they also know each other in real life, they are worried the other won’t like the “real” them. It’s an absolutely poignant story of heartbreak and being judgemental of people who’s stories you don’t know.

 

 

SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI

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Simon has met the most amazing boy online and lives for their frequent email exchanges. Except one day he forgets to log out of the school computer and a bully discovers his emails. He blackmails Simon — threatening to out Simon as being gay. And Simon isn’t ready for that yet.

It’s a super, super cute story featuring two boys emailing back and forth. The story isn’t wholly told in messages, though, so you get to follow Simon in his everyday life of friends, awkward first love, Harry Potter obsession, drama class, and Oreo appreciation. It’s about being true to yourself and it’s the most heartwarming and special story!

 

ILLUMINAE BY JAY KRISTOFF AND AMIE KAUFMAN

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This is a sci-fi action story told solely in emails, messages, reports, and photos! It’s absolutely brilliantly formatted and the visuals totally take the book to the next level of special. The story is basically about a rogue company destroying a planet and the survivors end up on a damaged ship floating through space. The enemy is closing in and they’re trying to get the ship’s Artificial Intelligence up and active to fight for them. Except there’s also a virus sweeping through the refugees. And the AI is possibly planning to wipe out all threats — which could very well be the people it’s supposed to protect.

You will most likely be clinging to your seat through reading this with heart pounding. The action doesn’t stop and the plot twists are phenomenal.

 

WE ARE STILL TORNADOES BY MICHAEL KUN AND SUSAN MULLEN

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This is a story of two teens after high school: Cath has headed off to college and Scott is stuck working in his family story after he bombed his highschool finales. They’ve been best friends all their lives, so they write avidly to each other as they explore the world of just-becoming-adults. The letters are packed with so much complexity and meaning and even though the entire book is just told in epistolary format, you get to know the characters so well. And you can’t help rooting for them to stop living in denial of their feelings for each other and to follow their dreams and live the kind of life they hunger for.

Jennifer Niven in Australia

American YA writer, Jennifer Niven has been wowing fans up and down Australia’s east coast from the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to Brisbane, then Reading Matters in Melbourne, then Adelaide and further afield.

It is no wonder she is greatly loved. She seems to care for everyone she meets and gives equal weight to answering the questions and concerns of all her readers. She has transformed the difficulties and joys she has experienced in her own life into becoming a brave, ‘honest and responsible’ writer, speaking for those who may not have a voice. She doesn’t like conflict but has become an advocate after writing her first YA story about a boy she loved who suffered from mental illness in All the Bright Places. She poignantly recalls, ‘I lost him to suicide’ and about how she wrote about this relationship and experience ‘as honestly as I could … Pieces of me are in each of my books’. Jennifer has since received thousands of messages about how All the Bright Places has, in some way, saved people’s lives.

Jennifer reiterates that everyone deserves to be seen and heard and inscribes some people’s books: ‘You are wanted’. ‘Life can be dark but there are always bright places everywhere.’

I was thrilled to be invited to lunch in Sydney with Jennifer and a small group of informed young bloggers. Jennifer was charming; a lady who listens and engages. She was very generous with her time; asked us all to sign her copy of All the Bright Places (a lovely, original idea) and showed us a sneak peak of the photo of the young actor who will be playing lead character, Finch, in the movie of All the Bright Places.

When I asked at lunch how she gets into the writing zone as quickly as possible, she explained the importance of music and playlists, including Split Enz’s song, I Got You (her playlists are online). Lyrics are ‘also all about words’, but in a different form.

Even though Jennifer is generous with her words in conversation, she is happy to listen to others rather than dominate the conversation; conversely when writing, she writes more than she needs before paring back the words.

Unfortunately, she’s not able to write while on tour but, despite this, jumped at the chance to come to Australia, agreeing even before she was given the dates.

Jennifer concluded one of her sessions at Reading Matters by sharing her and her author mother’s writing advice: ‘let yourself cry (or laugh or feel); check it in the bus locker (put distractions away so you can focus on writing); and write the kind of story you want to read.’

Thanks to Penguin RandomHouse Australia for the incredible opportunity to meet Jennifer.

Further links:

Jennifer recommends Germ online magazine

Follow Jennifer

My brief review of Holding Up the Universe for Boomerang blog

My review of Holding Up the Universe for the Weekend Australian

Natalie Haynes, Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the SWF

As part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival Student Sessions, I was fortunate to host a couple of sessions with British stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes and facilitate one with Randa Abdel-Fattah and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Natalie Haynes

Natalie became one of the most popular presenters at the festival. She’s probably better described as a performer, though, because she brings ancient history and the ancient mythic world alive and into the present for her audiences.

She reworks stories for her own purposes, drawing on her expertise in the ancient world and on making it relevant today. She stands out because she can share her knowledge on stage, screen and in her books in a rivetting way.

Natalie is a classicist and a comedian, an unusual combination. She used to be a stand-up comic, but retired when she realised she preferred tragedy to comedy. Her quick wit and incredible knowledge enabled her to effortlessly command the stage.

Natalie’s new novel The Children of Jocasta was published in May. It’s a re-telling of the Oedipus/Jocasta/Antigone tale and will make you fascinated by mythic history (if you’re not already). An earlier book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life explores philosophers such as Plato, Ovid and Agrippina the Younger.

Natalie Haynes

Randa Abdel-Fattah & Yassmin Abdel-Magied

In our session about ‘Mono or Multi-cultured’ at the Wharf, Randa Abdel-Fattah, who examines issue of racism, multiculturalism and human rights in Australia through her novels and essays, explored what contemporary multiculturalism and racism look like in Australia today with activist and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Randa has written Does My Head Look Big in This?, When Michael Met Mina and other novels, particularly for young adults, as well as essays. When Michael Met Mina is an important story because it gives both Michael’s view – a popular guy coming from a racist family – and Mina’s – an intelligent young woman whose family was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, forcing her and her mother to flee by boat. The novel airs many issues and opinions – true and false – such as people saying that ‘potential terrorists are hiding among boat people’ and people who want to be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ without offending anyone; to some darker-skinned girls feeling they have to use skin-whitening creams and others being intimidated and vilified. The novel gives diverse viewpoints. It’s great to read because we are exposed to different perspectives and then make up our own minds. It shows the power of literature to create understanding and empathy.

Randa has also been a lawyer and has a PhD in Islamophobia in Australia.

Yassmin is well known through her media appearances and I’ve learned from reading her memoir, Yassmin’s Story (which she wrote recently while in her 20s) that she loved reading Enid Blyton and her favourite character was, as you might expect, George; she deliberately created slang at school; she channels Beyonce in time of need; she loves sharing stories on stage and she learned in debating that she can argue any side of an argument!

Yassmin also won Young Queenslander of the Year in 2015; as a teenager co-founded Youth Without Borders; is an engineer; worked on a rig and loves cars.

I cannot do these intelligent and articulate authors justice in their explanation of structural racism and other issues here. I do suggest reading their books and online articles to gain a greater understanding of, particularly, racism in Australia.Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting

 

Chook Doolan is Back

Award-winning author James Roy and talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford are back with another four sensational books in the popular series for junior readers, Chook Doolan. It is a witty and warm-hearted series suited to sensitive young souls navigating their way through challenging feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.

I reviewed two previous titles here (#3 and #4), outlining these creators’ ability to capture the heart, emotion and relatability sublimely to fit their emergent reader audience. Supportive language structures, short chapters and engaging illustrations allow children from age five to achieve success whilst absorbing every moral and humorous fibre of life within the pages.

Early primary-aged readers will relish the joy and culture shining from the pages in Let’s Do Diwali (#5). Venturing into unknown territory with a tradition he doesn’t know and a crowded event is a daunting prospect for timid Chook – aptly nicknamed for his tendency to scare easily.
When paired with the quietly-spoken Praj on a school task, Chook is presented with the opportunity to learn about Diwali. He is, however, apprehensive about attending the Hindu festival of lights, and subsequently performing well on the class talk. But by embracing the spirit of the culture by wearing a kurta, trying the Indian cuisine and engaging the happy crowd, Chook’s feelings of fear dissolve into excitement. He even feels confident at school to deliver his speech about the ‘awesome’ time he had at the Diwali festival.
This is a valuable story about understanding and welcoming other traditions, and overcoming feelings of anxiety with clearly accessible and supportive practices. Let’s Do Diwali is a jubilant celebration to revisit frequently!

On the Road (#6) is about a family trip to Aunty Liz’s home in Mount Frederick. Chook is unsure about spending time with his younger twin girl cousins. He worries about other things, too, like leaving his pets behind, and having to spend three hours in the car with his taunting older brother, Ricky. Luckily, Chook finds a mutual connection with one of the girls, Evie, through his favourite activity of chess.
This book provides a gentle encouragement that shows serendipitous moments can arise in a safe and supportive environment. A little bit of courage to interact with new or unfamiliar people can lead to some wonderful relationships.

In Un-Happy Camper (#7), Simon Henry Doolan; or Chook, expresses a range of emotions from anxiety to frustration to acceptance and relief. Finding out that his class will be attending a school camp, Chook is no more than unenthusiastic. Snakes and getting homesick are not his cup of tea. All he needs is a few gentle pushes from his mum to convince him that it will be alright. This sensitive, persuasive approach and positive attitude helps Chook through his anguish, and he thoroughly enjoys the school camp…even though they didn’t really go anywhere!
The focus on Chook’s feelings throughout his psychological journey is written effectively to help readers understand their own, sometimes mixed, emotions, and finding ways to ease those discomforts. At the same time the story is injected with humour and intuitively sharp black and white illustrations.

In Up and Away (#8), Chook has been given a school assignment to explore a job he might like to pursue as an adult. Naturally, he is drawn to the job of his father – a pilot. But, there are things about being a pilot that are scary, such as visiting new places and meeting new people. In a cleverly fun way, Chook’s dad teaches him a little about the structure and physics of a plane, which is somewhat reassuring. Whilst waiting for his dad in the Club Lounge, Chook is granted an opportunity to quash his own fears, and impart his knowledge, to help another in need.
This book beautifully showcases the fact that ‘ knowledge is power’, and stepping out of your comfort zone leads to a sense of empowerment and personal growth. Once again, relevant, entertaining and encouraging, young readers will delight in this gratifying story of developing independence.

The Chook Doolan series for junior readers, and in particular young boys developing their literacy skills, is absolutely addictive. These stories of overcoming internal struggles and developing self-confidence are highly relatable, uncomplicated and transparent, as well as pleasantly engaging. Five to eight year olds will definitely be clucking for more!

Author James Roy

Illustrator Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books Australia, June 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

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Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare is a stunningly engaging starter for a new Shadowhunter series! It is a follow-up of Clare’s previous The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, but good news? You can actually read this without having read a single Clare book before! It’s a great intro into the world of nephilim, werewolves, faeries, vampires, and demons. And it did not disappoint at all!

The story follows Emma Carstairs, a training Shadowhunter who’s parents died in an unsolved murder mystery. While the Clave has ruled their deaths as just part of the war, Emma knows it was murder — and she’s determined to find answers and have revenge. Emma is also struggling with feelings for her best friend, her Parabati, whom she’s forbidden by Shadowhunter law to have a relationship with. And as if life isn’t complex enough, the murder mystery ends up involving faeries and it’s illegal for Emma to investigate with them. She has so many laws to try and sneak around if she’s going to get her revenge.

I absolutely adored how incredibly full and rich the story was. It has everything a book should have: humour, witty quips, a murder mystery case, magic, mayhem, pancakes, diverse characters, and an engaging plot that will leave you breathless by the end.

The writing just hooked me in from the first page. It manages to fill in any newbies to the series on Shadowhunter law and culture without giving tiresome info dumps. Plus it mixes levity with the darker storyline and the banter is just so spot on and perfect I couldn’t help but laugh.

“You’re too skinny,” she said as brightly as she could. “Too much coffee, not enough pancakes.”
“I hope they put that on my tombstone.”

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The characters stole my heart with their complexities and just how relatable they were. Emma and Julian are the stars of the story and their denial of their feelings for each other is so insufferably cute. So much angst. So much heartbreak. Emma is the main narrator, but I loved that we also got peeks into Julian’s conflicted mind. Emma has a “LET’S SMITE THE THING” attitude while Julian is more thoughtful and silently dangerous. And their banter and sass was perfect.

“Why did you pull the arrow out?” she demanded…
Jule’s breath was coming in harsh pants. “Because when someone — shoots you with an arrow –” he gasps, “your immediate response is not — ‘thanks for the arrow, I think I’ll keep it for a while’.”
“Good to know your sense of humour is still intact.”

It also has quite a large cast of characters since there are 5 Blackthorn children. Julian is only 17, but also a parent to his 4 younger siblings. I adored how each of the kids just leapt off the page with personality and I never got them confused. I’m particularly impressed at the inclusion of Ty, who is pretty clearly Autistic, and how the story incorporated themes of disability, accepting differences, and empowerment.

Lady Midnight is quite possibly my new favourite Shadowhunter book! (And that’s saying something, since I’m thoroughly obsessed with everything Cassandra Clare pens.) The plot was engaging and suspenseful, the banter kept me giggling through my pain as the tension and problems piled insurmountably high. I rooted for Emma’s revenge and Julian to keep his family together. And I absolutely hope these two get together, law or not. The book has such strong themes of family, friendship, and the meaning of actual true and real love. It’s stunning and clever and the sequel needs to be in my hands.